Many spiritual principles are harmful—not helpful.
As a yogi, that might seem like an odd thing for me to say, so bear with me.
On a daily basis when coaching and counselling, I see and experience just how damaging certain spiritual principles can be. I cannot tell you how often I have sat across from someone who says, “I know I should be more forgiving/compassionate/accepting/grateful/positive.”
You see, the problem with adopting spiritual principles is that they often become just another “should,” and where there’s a should, there’s usually shame—the sense that there is something wrong with us, with our feelings, or with our experiences.
Let me give you some examples:
>> You don’t get the promotion you were excited about and had worked hard for. You feel disappointed, frustrated, and disillusioned, but spiritual principles say that you just need to accept it. It obviously wasn’t meant to be—trust the universe! Spiritual principles say be positive and be grateful for what you’ve got; at least you still have a job!
>> A loved one treats you terribly, says some awful untrue things, and then cuts you off completely. You are devastated, heartbroken, and also a little outraged. Spiritual principles say you should be compassionate and not take it personally—they are obviously having a hard time right now.
>> You had a dysfunctional upbringing (most of us did), and as an adult you start to see how affected you are by the issues that your parents never took responsibly for dealing with. You are now left sifting through a messy emotional inheritance and doing the healing work they didn’t care to. You feel deeply hurt and desperately angry by a lot of what you are uncovering as you explore your story. Spiritual principles say that they did the best they could and you need to find forgiveness.
I could go on.
We adopt spiritual principles because we believe that they will benefit us and elevate our lives in some way. We also have a culture that encourages us to do so because it has an unhealthy addiction to all things positive, and perpetually struggles to honour the whole, holy, human experience. We are told that acceptance will gift us peace, that gratitude and positivity are how we access more joy, and that compassion and forgiveness are the keys to personal freedom.
In truth, what I see time and again is spiritual principles simply becoming another way to silence and shame ourselves and deny how we really feel. We may find momentary soothing in a quick-fix spiritual bypass, but in the long run, authentic peace and freedom will remain elusive—but why?
Because the reason we cannot access natural states (like peace and joy) with ease is because we have become blocked from them. Blocked by what? Suppressed emotion clogging the subconscious—what we could also call the cellular system or body mind. Because we live in an emotionally dysfunctional culture where few people know how to feel fully, and healthy human emotions like frustration and rage are taboo, most of us have been pushing down feelings since we were old enough to name them.
Even our sadness is only acceptable to a limit. How many times has a well-meaning someone tried to comfort you by saying, “Oh, don’t cry”? Did it support you in continuing to purge the pain? Or did you begin to reign the release back in?
We need to learn to feel fully. This is not to be confused with over-emotionalism or over-dramatising everything challenging that happens to us. It is simply to learn to connect with and be honest about what we feel in the body, and express rather than repress that experience.
To do anything other than this is to simply compound the problem, because the greatest irony of all is that we can access acceptance for the lost promotion by grieving it and honouring the immense disappointment. We can come to compassion for the loved one who treated us terribly by grieving the loss and raging at the injustice. We will fall across forgiveness for our dysfunctional families simply by allowing ourselves to cry and scream and shake and shout and do what we have to do to let it all out. This too is a grief process. It will come in many layers and likely take many years, but the forgiveness we ultimately come to feel will be genuine rather than being yet another way to side-step our pain.
Clearing our inner emotional blockages is in many ways the process of healing itself. Healing is a process not just of feeling, but of grieving. As we learn to express our emotions in healthy ways and grieve each and every loss—big or small, past or present—we find ourselves moving through waves of changing emotion as the energy takes its own natural course through the body. Once the energy of each emotional experience is fully expressed and discharged, the system begins to settle, the storm clouds clear, and we suddenly find ourselves feeling at peace with what is and what has been.
You see, acceptance, compassion, forgiveness, and gratitude are not principles—they are experiences, and if we try to force them upon ourselves prematurely, we actually block ourselves from ever being able to access them authentically. So, in my experience, if we scrap the principles, learn to feel fully, and honour it all, what we were seeking in spiritual ideals will effortlessly emerge from within.