Spiritual Snobbery: the Dark Side of Lightworkers.

Via Syma Kharal
on May 5, 2015
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spiritual materialism
Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates:

At the first gate, ask yourself “Is is true?”

At the second gate ask, “Is it necessary?”

At the third gate ask, “Is it kind?”

~ Rumi

I recently found myself removed from a Facebook group I had joined that describes itself as “a loving community of spiritual lightworkers intended for sharing spiritual growth, support, information, resources and other helpful tips and tools.”

I believed I participated accordingly by “Liking” others’ posts and sharing helpful resources to support fellow members, such as articles I published with elephant journal and free worldwide distant healing events I offer monthly. I thus figured the removal was an error and requested to join again, but the request was surprisingly denied.

Unsure of what led to this, I contacted the administrators asking if they could share what happened. A few days later I received a reply from one of the two explaining that while she herself didn’t remove me, only admins are allowed to post events. This confused and disappointed me on several levels. First, as there were no community guidelines beyond the group description, I wondered how loving it was to abruptly remove an unsuspecting member who unintentionally broke an unwritten rule. Second, as a community aiming to foster support and the sharing of resources, I wondered how reserving the exclusive the right to post free healing events served the over 10,000 members. And finally, I wondered how kind it was to essentially ban the sensitive healer types the group is meant to serve.

While this isn’t a particularly drastic example, it did get me thinking of other experiences of snubbing in the “spiritual community.”

There was the raw-vegan yoga student who asked me if I was vegetarian and stopped attending my classes—which he had claimed were really helping his back issues—after I replied I wasn’t.

There was the popular yoga studio owner who stated that if I was interested in practicing “real yoga” (instead of attending classes at a local gym with some of the most grounded, loving and inspiring teachers I have had), that I should join his studio instead.

There was the cosmetician at my first and only visit to a Sephora shop whom I had simply asked about a tinted moisturizer for my yoga teacher training in Thailand. Instead of suggesting a product, she took it upon herself to lecture me what yoga is and isn’t about: It’s not about having clear skin, you shouldn’t care how you look, you shouldn’t try to impress others, you need to let go of your ego and just let your skin detox and breathe for once. It wasn’t even so much what she said, but the highly condescending tone she used that took me aback.

My clients, students and friends have expressed similar observations and disappointments in the spiritual community. A friend who started taking yoga classes sadly expressed that after months of trying to befriend fellow students she felt a camaraderie with given their mutual love of yoga, that her efforts were never reciprocated because she perhaps just wasn’t “hippie” enough for them to fit in.

Interestingly, my own inner spiritual snob came out when I met such “hippies” during yoga teacher training. The training was set on a secluded Thai beach with several yoga, meditation and detox retreat centers, as well as the only bars on the island that sold drugs and held night-long raves. At the time, immersed in reading sacred teachings, in awe of the natural beauty all around me and high on the love within my group, I couldn’t understand how or why these “bohemians” could meditate, do beach yoga and sing kirtans (call-and-response devotional chanting), while simultaneously smoking marijuana, doing hard drugs, raving all night, drinking and screaming in the ocean at sunrise and comparing who had sex with more strangers at the party.

Thankfully, I was able to realize what my real problem was: I somehow thought it was my place to look down on them for their “unspiritual” behavior, which in the very moment I did, disconnected me from my own spirit.

While getting on the “spiritual path” can be completely transformational and open us to profound healing, wisdom and miracles, the tools and teachings we practice—no matter what tradition or trend they follow—usually share the same ultimate aim: inner peace and the perfection of love. But when we get so caught up in what we are practicing rather than why, we can slip into the temptation to judge rather than discern, condemn rather than love and exclude rather than accept.

Even with the best of intentions, it’s all too easy to identify with being a “lightworker” and succumb to darkness.

We may guise a condescending remark by ending it with “Namaste” or “love and light.”

We may gossip about someone and say we are simply “honoring our truth.”

We may say things like, “I am not religious, I am spiritual” in an attempt to disassociate ourselves from what we might perceive as the dogmatic and judgmental nature of organized religion, and yet turn around and exhibit the same exclusivity and rigidity that we think have risen above of.

We may share our love for animals while inwardly calling a meat-eater a murderer.

We may gracefully flow into the most physically advanced yoga pose and yet find those bending their knees in forward fold just not good at or committed enough to yoga.

We may think of ourselves as old souls with many incarnations and then deem someone we think isn’t as evolved as us a “new soul” who clearly has not lived many lives.

We may begin our mornings with a loving-kindness meditation and then resent our “totally unconscious” corporate employer the rest of the day.

These are just some examples of how we may be more attached to the idea of being spiritual rather than practicing the universal spiritual values of love, acceptance, compassion, peace and oneness. The thing to remind ourselves of in these dark moments is that everyone is spiritual because everyone has a spirit. We are all seekers whether we know it or not. We are all lightworkers because the spark of the Divine shines within each of us.

To keep myself in check and monitor any spiritual pretentiousness that creeps up in me, I have developed a three-step process that helps me stay centered in my spirit rather than caught up in my spirituality:

1. Observe Consciously

One of the greatest gifts of spiritual teachings and practices is to help us become aware of our natural human reactions and emotions. We may not be able to control our inner reactions, but if we can catch ourselves as soon as thoughts like, “They are so (fill in the blank)!” come up, we become a witness to our reactions rather than bound by them or identified with them.

2. Accept Compassionately

Once we realize we have slipped into judgement and made ourselves better than or superior to another, instead of condemning ourselves for condemning, we can practice compassion for our own humanness. We can take a deep breath, process our feelings and welcome what we might learn about ourselves.

3. Respond Lovingly

Now that are aware of whatever has come up for us, we can go beyond accepting our human reactions and transcending them by asking one simple question: “What would love do?” The moment we ask this, we bypass our ideas and ideologies and get right to the heart and soul—where all spiritual paths are trying to lead us anyways and yet getting there does not require any specific path at all.

Sometimes the heart will tell us to accept, connect, invite, open and include, and sometimes it may tell us to walk away, speak up, draw a boundary, discern and be firm. But no matter what the heart says, it will always do it from, for and with love.

Whatever spiritual path we follow, how we treat others along the way says nothing about them but only defines us. So the next time we are about to say “Namaste” to someone, let us be mindful of whether we are truly intending to honor and connect with their inner light, or simply trying to outshine them with ours. We can then take a step back, reconnect with our hearts and speak and act from our spirit rather than our spirituality.

Because the world doesn’t need our lightworker lifestyles. It needs, more than anything, our kindness and love.

~

Author: Syma Kharal

Editor: Caroline Beaton

Photo: YouTube still: Hey Yoga Girl

~

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~


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About Syma Kharal

Syma Kharal is a certified and loving holistic healer, spiritual coach, goddess guide and yoga teacher committed to empowering beloved clients all over the world to heal and transform their lives. She shares many free resources and offers powerful sessions and programs to support others in uncovering, healing and transcending the unconscious and even karmic blocks that sabotage their happiness. She guides clients to then joyfully manifest the life of their dreams – the life they truly desire and deeply deserve. Syma immersed herself in the healing arts in her early teens to overcome many personal traumas and painful patterns. All this inner work led her to co-create a life she never thought possible for her, including leaving a draining corporate career to follow her calling, building a thriving global healing practice, manifesting and marrying her soulmate and leaving cold Canada to move to tropical Thailand. For more information, connect with Syma through her website or join her on Facebook and YouTube.

Comments

94 Responses to “Spiritual Snobbery: the Dark Side of Lightworkers.”

  1. Nick says:

    Green consciousness needs to go Integral (see Ken Wilber)

  2. corestarme says:

    I resonate! Yay!

  3. corestarme says:

    Elegantly and eloquently written article, Syma.

  4. mancalledclay says:

    ouuUUUcch…thank you!

  5. Gaby says:

    Thanks for sharing, it's easy to judge unconsciously while trying to defend ourselves, but it's easier not getting involved in things that doesn't concern as. I get sad and worried about some close friends that are deep in ayahuasca but I've learned that it's their life, their choice and the moment that they need to experiment now.

  6. Kerry says:

    Wonderful article! I couldn’t agree more! Thanks for sharing!

  7. Eirenaeus says:

    Wonderful insight into an unfortunately far too frequent occurrence. Thank you for bringing this to light once again. The book “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism,” by Chögyam Trungpa, addressed this same regressive trait in spiritual aspirants over 40 years ago, but it is a timeless issue.

  8. Sally says:

    Exquisite clarity. Thank you. <3

  9. Sampuran Preet says:

    I agree. Thank you for writing this 🙂

  10. Camila says:

    Spiritual people are just people. I came to that realisation years ago in my early 20s when I attended a “yoga get together” and 2 people started to make fun of an old italian guy walking in front of them on the sidewalk moments earlier, they were joking about how fat his legs were. Every one laughed. Or the many times my friend working at Juice For Life in Toronto would observe the people coming out of yoga class with their rolled up matts, making demands on the staff and yelling about their juice arriving a few minutes late. Or the many times I experienced incredible levels of selfishness from my roommate who would only talk to me when I was listening to her complain, as soon I started to speak (about anything related to myself and not her) she would have to do. She deemed herself an ver spiritual person, she had already been “rebirthed” and participated in many new age therapies, as well as an avid yoga practitioner. I no longer see “spiritual” people as different from anyone else (especially if they call themselves that). We are all looking for identity and a way to understand our place in the world. The happiest and most genuine spiritual people I have met almost NEVER talk about happiness and spirituality. They show it to you with their actions.

  11. Casey says:

    “Maitri Karuna Mudito Upekshanyam” are a few of Patanjalis remedies for overcoming the suffering of life. This group is also known as “The Four Immesurables” by the Vajrayana Buddists. It’s ok to act nicer to people and hope they act nicer toward us and we don’t or they don’t, we both feel it. I’m in complete agreement with zenguitarguy here that we need authentic teachings and need to take the time to practice them. The great thing about living in a place built on the freedom of religion is we can practice whatever we want, religiously. Even if it’s something we invented that has no results. To all the humble seekers, make sure what you are putting all your energies toward has been tried and tested and can offer the actual results it claims to offer.

  12. There should be a fourth gate and I think that this is even more important than the first three: Is it in line with what your heart feels?

  13. Carissa says:

    Its so refreshing to see that I am not single in my frustrations with this topic.

    Partially why I haven’t started teaching. While in yoga training, my teacher would say,” Honor your body, this is your practice, there is no wrong or right way.” Then proceeded to say that it upset her & claimed the action rude when yogi’s/yogini’s did different poses rather than the one she was teaching at that exact moment. Not to mention my teacher neglected me during the whole teaching and I never understood why I felt like she did not like who I am? Leaving me less than confident when I “graduated” having no feed back during any of our reviews. 🙁

    I got to see the “darkside”, if you will, of yoga and it completely turned me off to actually teaching. I am definitely not soft spoken, calm, or delicate in any why which is how most yoga teachers present themselves & make it seem as if that is the only way to teach. It was very sad for me because I had thought I found my calling, then realizing that I couldn’t handle the spiritual “pressures” that went along with it.

    Since then, I am nostalgic of my old practice before training. I haven’t been able to enjoy yoga the same since.

  14. John Bernstein says:

    for me, this is an important consideration as I have gone through my own sense of being “more advanced” or “higher” or “better” on a spiritual path. Feeling a sense of false spiritual pride was something I felt as I grew in my awareness. I came to my senses when I realized that we are all spiritual, we are all on a spiritual path, we must distinguish between ego thinking and spiritual thinking. Now, As I expand as a spiritual being, I know that I am the same as everyone and I walk my personal wisdom path with what I call confident humility.

  15. Mb says:

    While the overall point of this article is a good one, the opening anecdote is difficult to sympathize with. Anyone who’s been a member of an open group with a spiritual focus, on Facebook or elsewhere, has almost certainly had the experience of the group being overrun by people who join not to participate in discussions, but solely to flood the feed with their event announcements and other self-promotional materials. This is so common that there’s nothing at all surprising about a group like this having a “ban on first offense” policy about advertising, particularly when said advertising comes from someone who doesn’t otherwise participate in the group.

    Hint for future use: clicking “like” occasionally and posting links to your own articles on other sites does not entail participation in a community. Try actually engaging in conversation and getting to know people and you may find you get a different response.

  16. don't follow the rabbit holes! says:

    what would freedom do?

  17. triptopine says:

    Beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing this wisdom.

    I remember getting ready to lead kirtan one time, talking excitedly with a friend, and then tripping over my ego when someone walked in and told me "sssshhhh!" So funny!

    This is actually the topic of my new book: There Is No 'Other': Ego vs Heart. (www.timbirchard.com)

    Thank you again, Sister. Namaste!
    Tim

  18. Manning says:

    I am so grateful for this article as it validates years of what I have felt regarding a relationship with an energy practitioner in my life. Thank you for your courage and authenticity to bring this to light.

  19. kaninikabnrjee says:

    This is such a wonderful article. It completely blew my mind. I loved every word of it. Thank you very much. Indeed a nice insight.

  20. John Arnaud says:

    Excellent points. My teacher called this phenomenon the "spiritual ego," which is basically the same thing the mind does to everything: turns it into yet another constructed position/layer of identity that must also ultimately be shed. So, if you are lucky enough to wake up to your spiritual ego (or have it pointed out by someone else!), turn all the compassion you've been cultivating toward yourself and smile: it's the journey.

  21. Roots Yoga & Fitness says:

    I completely agree. Thank you for saying what I have been thinking for years. Unfortunately our culture gets caught up in how the New Yoga looks on us instead of how we feel. Most of the so called Yoga Festivals promote green living, self awareness, conscious growth and health. When in reality the drug using party culture come out to do Black Light Yoga while on "molly", party all night with Moby and wake up still tripping.
    It is truly sad to see this happening and I for one will not support these types of Festivals or activities. I do not judge, I just do not choose to participate. Unfortunately this puts me in a category of the outsider or the yoga teacher who isn't cool or fun. Well, I would rather follow my heart and path than follow the main stream, haters will hate. I choose love.

  22. Kevin says:

    Just a friendly fyi, I think you may have missed the entire point of this article.

  23. Cassandra says:

    It's a relief to read someone who feels the same way that I do. It seems to incongruous to me that individuals who talk about loving acceptance and harmony one moment, sometimes feel comfortable the next moment expounding to me all the ways in which I am not good enough. In some instances it's obvious that it comes from a place of concern, and the intent is to guide and be helpful, but sometimes the distinct impression is that this lecture is not in any way for my benefit. It's so the speaker can feel proud and superior, largely at my expense, which is distinctly unkind.

    Sharing is about more than knowledge, it's also about kindness and gentleness… otherwise it's like coming across some kind of spiritual dictator who's only interested in controlling me. Great article! Thank you so much for showing me that I'm not just overly sensitive, some people are pushy so and so's.

  24. Ash says:

    Yes, this! You are awesome and I kind of want to join this badass community 😀

  25. Marie says:

    I share your point of view Cassandra, well said

  26. Frank says:

    Thank you Syma for this article. I too have been removed from facebook groups because of my habitual honesty gets me in trouble. I am a massage therapist, well now I call myself an Holistic Practitioner. I am slowly distancing myself from the holier than thou attitudes of those out there. We are suppose to be a compassionate bunch, all I see is cutthroats to say the least. The difference between science based work and energy work is nonexistent. Energy work has the science behind it, all you have to look at is the inferred cameras and night vision technology out there today. Even Einstein said everything is energy. So with that said, I feel your dismay when it comes to the so-called like minded we are suppose to share our interests with. My lifestyle is my work and my work is my lifestyle. I do my best to live a clean healthy way, so I am the example I try to set for others. I see the hypocrisy in all this, yoga, meditation, massage therapists, doctors and list goes on. We are here to work together and help heal those in need of service, not to compete or get drunk and stoned on our off hours. I gave up on my expectations of most things in this life, I see people and things as they are and sometimes people and things aren’t what they appear. We have to hold ourselves to an extra higher standard because of the sacredness of what we do. Finding those who don’t see it as sacred is disheartening but, we have to try and educate them and show the public the proper way things are done. This ran longer than I intended so, I apologize. Have an amazing day.

    Frank

  27. John Hoag says:

    Judge not..
    Wonder fully…
    Enjoy everything and everyone…
    Incredibly. ..

  28. Linda says:

    This was excellent

  29. riaswift says:

    I think being spiritual has become a fad. It's the newest thing. And I disagree that most people are spiritual. You are only spiritual if you are in touch with that side of yourself. I also think the term Light worker is a catch phrase that people use without any understanding of what it means. But you will only know that when you are there. People who are truly living this life don't call themselves anything. There is no need. It is only those wanting without understanding who discuss such topics. A true master never says he is a master. He just is and others know it. It isn't just living from the heart but the connection of the heart with the Source that makes the difference and that takes quite awhile to get to. It is a practice. It is a way of becoming that cannot be described in words. And one doesn't get there in their youth, usually. People would be better served to stop tryng to explain the unexplainable and humble themselves to invite in the Divine. Otherwise one is on the wagon but it is going nowhwere real. Namaste is not about seeing the Light in another. It is about having the G-D within honor the G-D within the other. Again, almost impossible to discuss.

  30. Rowan says:

    A good friend and wise woman once caught me in the middle of trashing someone who failed to live up to my spiritual standards, and reintroduced me to the old retail/food service adage, “You got time to lean, you got time to clean.”

    If you have the time to spend looking for weaknesses or failures in others’ practice, you certainly have plenty of time to spend on introspection and examining your own practice, and looking for ways you can use that practice to improve yourself and the world around you.

  31. @AhimsaYogi says:

    Ha ha ha…. Love this. Heard (& used) it plenty when I was in the restaurant industry 20 years ago, but never heard it used for spiritual practice & judgement. Brilliant. 🙂

  32. Elle says:

    There’s nothing mainstream about the culture. You sure sound like your judging. So sad to see this happening? That is very ignorant. I follow my heart and my path, and I choose love. But you’re right, haters will hate.

  33. Elle says:

    ” I somehow thought it was my place to look down on them for their “unspiritual behavior.” ”
    That is profoundly ignorant. Good article though.

  34. Wolfgang says:

    So you finally saw the dark side of all these New Age "spiritual" trust fund babies. Better you saw it sooner rather than later.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Most of us are fos. None of this is important. Take care of your family and yourself and those you care about the most. Check your ego. Manage your home and work life and stop 'posting' things on the internet. No one cares, I promise you!

  36. Steph says:

    At the very core of all of this is that no matter how enlightened we may become, we are still human. In the words of Stuart Smalley: “It is easier to wear socks, then try to carpet the whole world.”.

  37. SheleighLove says:

    Excellent article – thank you for writing & publishing it! So well thought, said & written.

  38. BlueLapis says:

    Guilty as charged! Lol. I was just telling someone the other day how I realized that I’m very judgmental of other people who judge. Wonderful article and so timely for me. Thank you!

  39. Susan b says:

    This is the best piece written on spirituality that has posted on elephant journal in a loooooong time. Thank you.

  40. Olways says:

    This is an age of disinformation and pretension ruled by ignorant new age morons using borrowed buzzwords like “karma”, “healing”, “chakra balancing”, “light workers”, explaining how yoga means “union” without having an inkling of what that union is or feels like, explaining terms like “guru”as remover of darkness without ever having experienced a guru, etc etc.
    If you understood even the basics of the complexities of karma you’ll know that every real master advises against messing with others’ karmic makeup (read for example, Aghora by Svoboda to get some idea about the repercussions etc)
    90% of the west does yoga for physical well-being and making a bunch of money off it doing 3-6 month “teacher training courses” which is a frikking joke. Except for some serious schools like Sivananda / Iyengar which provide rigor in training and others run by existing masters (eg. Isha Foundation etc), many others (specially most training programs run in the west / provided primarily by westerners) are part scam.
    The reason is simply that acting on incomplete knowledge will have its own consequences at some point.
    The most important aspects in any serious spiritual practice are:
    – purity of intent (single minded purpose to break through, not for example to make money to survive etc). All phenomena like bhakti, devotion, humility etc are a consequence / get their power because of this
    – purity of technique (learn from a genuine established source / master / medium)
    – consistency of practice (obviously)
    That’s it. The rest (eg. finding a personal guru in the flesh, or guidance from higher realms etc) happens automatically when you are ripe for it.
    Hippie ravers are also evolving at their own pace but if they’re delusional about being spiritually advanced then it’s their problem. Of course thy’ve gathered much experience and learning along the way but most of that experience is more like seeing the trailer rather than living the movie

  41. Lucy Dias says:

    Fantastic article! It’s funny how most of us go on judging others for their behaviour and words, but don’t know notice our own shortcomings. I am indeed guilty of this. I’ve become aware of my own judgemental behaviour towards others just a couple of months ago. I’ve been since more focused on my own journey and what needs improving. I’ve realised I’ve got nothing to teach. We are all alone on a soul journey together. No one can live our journey for us the same way we can’t tell others how to live their lives or judge them for what they do. It’s important to look at others as perfect, pure love, beyond their egos. We are all love, pure essence. The egos are just stories we made up, not to be taken too seriously. X

  42. Hillary says:

    I encounter this spiritual snobbery regularly in my very progressive community, and can say first hand that it hurts. It really does not feel good when you feel looked down upon because you are learning or processing difficult life circumstances, or you are simply different. I'm sensitive, very aware, observant yet many people I interact with will treat me as if I'm less than. Im soft spoken, and very connected to the spiritual world and it sometimes gets to be too much. I try my best to be kind to everyone nomatter, but lack a powerful grounding force. I value my few relasionships with people who truly don't judge and I can connect with deeply. They are a very rare breed. But in a way it strengthens one to be true to themselves and stand with your chin up in the face of snobbery or judgement.

  43. Pualani says:

    I don't know how anyone else works it out, but in my own mind I may do the judging, but it's to my standards to what I could not or would not do in similar situations. People are left to do as they do on this plane, all I can offer is advice from experiences and a helping hand if asked for one. Oldie but goodie, "you can lead a horse….you pretty much get the gist. I'm am no where near perfect, to judge one on one's own behalf. Beautiful writings:)thank you for the insight.

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