Have you ever found yourself in a spiritual competition?
It starts innocently enough. You’re chatting with the woman next to you in yoga class. The conversation turns to meditation. You start comparing notes: how many years you’ve each been meditating, whom you studied with, how many hours a day you spend on the cushion.
Before long, the conversation veers into sticky territory. Are you and your yoga neighbor in a contest? It feels like you are.
Who’s been meditating longer? Who has the superior teacher? Who’s the best meditator in all the land?
You’re not sure if it’s you or her, but one (or both) of you has something to prove. And it’s not pretty.
That’s right, my friend. You have just experienced one of the stranger aspects of the spiritual path: The Spiritual Olympics.
Another phrase for the tendency to bring comparison and competition into our spiritual practice is spiritual materialism. But I like Spiritual Olympics. It lays it on the line:
Who’s better? Who’s the best? Who’s the most spiritual person in the world?
Can you imagine if there really was a Spiritual Olympics? How crazy would that be?
I can see it now: People from around the globe gather to compete in a wide variety of challenges designed to test their spiritual aptitude and agility.
Spectators flock to events like High-Wire Yoga, in which yoga masters from around the world are challenged to strike and maintain pretzel-like poses while balancing on a pole 1,000 feet in the air over a crocodile-infested river.
Or, Meditation Smack Down, in which seasoned meditators are tested on their ability to sustain a deep meditative state while being pummeled with over-ripe mangos.
Or, Pranayama and the Pea, in which contestants sleep on a stack of mattresses with a single pea placed underneath. The competitors then engage in special breathing exercises to determine if the pea under the mattresses is organic or not.
And Affirmation Obstacle Course, in which self-help gurus race through a course filled with death-defying obstacles. The only way past the obstructions is to employ super-charged, mind-altering affirmations. The winner of the event, invariably, is the contestant who has most vehemently affirmed that he or she will triumph.
Sounds like fun, yes?
Our everyday experience may not be that dramatic, but those of us on the path know that Spiritual Olympics exists. It exists because our ego comes with us on the journey. It’s part of the deal. And the ego, even an ego on the spiritual path, likes to compare and contrast.
Talk about winning a gold medal! The ego wins, hands-down, in its ability to make us miserable by comparing ourselves to others. It doesn’t matter whether we come out better or worse, it’s still a miserable pursuit.
There’s a phrase I heard years ago: “Comparison is a down-payment on suffering.” It doesn’t get any clearer than that.
When I first discovered metaphysics, I felt so special. In my eyes, I was so much more enlightened than everyone around me. It’s only now that I look back on that time with embarrassment.
But then again, embarrassment implies judgment, and that’s not very spiritual, is it? And judging my judgment, like I just did, is even worse!
See what I mean? It’s a vicious circle. With no winners.
The answer, of course, is love.
The existence of Spiritual Olympics challenges us to love those who are asserting their spiritual superiority over us. It challenges us to love ourselves when we’re asserting our spiritual superiority over others.
It challenges us to love in spite of competition, in spite of comparison, in spite of fear.
That said, it turns out there actually is a test to determine how spiritual you are. You know what it is?
How accepting are you of yourself and others?
That’s it. That’s the test.
And let’s be clear. I’m not talking about acceptance in the sense of tolerance, or resignation, but in terms of true, heart-felt allowing of everything and everyone around us.
It’s not about how long we can meditate, or how easily we can stretch our bodies into the perfect yoga pose. It’s about accepting and allowing everything exactly as it is.
And if that’s not worthy of a gold medal, I don’t know what is.
Z Egloff is the gender-flexible love child of Ram Dass and Lily Tomlin. She lives for 3 things: spiritual growth, silliness, and soul-satisfying acts of creativity. Visit her blog @ Life in Z-D: A Goofball’s Guide to Enlightenment http://lifeinzd.com/
Editor: James Carpenter