This week, more than three articles popped up in my various social media feeds using the term “evolved” to describe a partner’s spiritual status in a relationship.
Take it from me—a former anthropology major—“evolved” is not a spiritual status. This misconstrued definition of evolution is dangerous and has become a sneakily-acceptable way to judge another person’s life experience, which is an otherwise spiritually inappropriate thing to do.
So let’s clear a few things up:
1. Evolution is not individual.
One does not evolve. Evolution occurs among an entire population, over a really big chunk of time.
It is not individual and will not happen over the span of one’s lifetime. Thus, we do not evolve spiritually. We may experience growth, maturity, paradigm shifts in thinking, maybe even enlightenment, but this has nothing to do with our evolutionary status.
If you’re reading this, let me assure you that like me, your evolutionary status is currently “human.” Nothing more, nothing less.
2. Evolution is not linear.
Being “evolved” has nothing to do with our spiritual or personal progress. Evolution is not a linear process in which an individual progresses up a ladder.
The popular misconception of the term evolution is what has lead to The Great Chain of Being—a hierarchy of life on earth which incorrectly states that humans are highest in importance, while less fortunate creatures are at the bottom. It features the popular image of man evolving from perceived oaf to the refined and sophisticated beings we are today.
On this linear chain, the assumption is made that earlier man is less evolved and thus worse off than today’s man. This simply isn’t the case. Australopithecus afarensis, for example, is not a primitive or less refined version of Homo sapiens—we’re simply different. We did not start off on one end and strive to achieve our current form because it’s better. It just happened. The species evolved as a result of environmental shifts and changes, not as a result of progress.
Likewise, a single celled organism living 3.5 billion years ago was no more or less better than one living today in the hydrothermal vents in the ocean, nor are they more or less better than humans or other animals living at any time on the planet. They’re different. Their purpose is different. Their adaptive qualities are different, and are largely based upon the environments in which they developed.
3. Linear thinking leads to judgment and ego boosts.
It bothers me to hear people use the term “spiritually evolved.” Besides being used incorrectly, it implies that there is a start and end point to spirituality, and backs up the misconception that evolution is a linear process.
It’s also super hypocritical. If we’re on a spiritual path, we should know better than to judge someone else’s progress. Using the word “evolved,” doesn’t give our opinions any more sophistication or credibility.
4. “Spiritual evolution” is a miscommunication of what we really mean.
When we say that someone isn’t as “spiritually evolved” as we are, it’s usually because the other person doesn’t think as we do and isn’t at the same place we are—and that doesn’t work for us.
There is an important difference in implication between, “We’re not in the same place” versus “He’s not as evolved as I am.” One is fairly neutral and acknowledges that two beings can be in different places, where as the other is laden with judgment and expectation.
5. Judgment leads to a lack of compassion.
We live in an age where everyone is encouraged to do more, be better, keep up and strive further, which affects our level of compassion for one another.
A person may never be on the same path as us. This doesn’t make their experience any less important or necessary. Maybe their current path doesn’t work well for us, and hell, maybe it doesn’t work well for them either, but it has nothing to do with their place in evolution and it doesn’t permit us to judge them.
When we’re caught up with placing people on a linear scale of success, we focus too much on expecting them to climb the ladder of progress, and too little on accepting their experiences and exercising compassion for them.
So what do we do if we’re working hard to live a life of spiritual awareness and we come across someone who isn’t living up to our standards? Instead of judging their path, leave them be and move on.
As spiritual homework, I often like to ask myself what about the other person is triggering me. It’s often that I see myself in them in some way, which requires my attention for resolution. Maybe I can relate to them, as I once had a similar outlook that I’ve since changed to one that works better for me, and it frustrates me to see them living in what was once my past. In this case, I have to remind myself that just because it works better for me now, doesn’t mean it’s better for all now.
We must also forgive ourselves for judging others and for using the term “evolved” in the wrong context. All that’s required is putting forth the intention to act differently next time.
Author: Marisa Falconi
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Image: Siddharth Bargate/Flickr