Stereotypes of the Spiritual Person
Stereotypes of the Spiritual Person
Conscious Living Column - Vitality July 2013
By Gord Riddell and Kathy Ryndak
In the many years of working and studying in the spiritual field, we have often been asked to differentiate between what is considered spiritual and what is considered religious? It is a good and important question as often all spiritual philosophies and practices are lumped together as being of a religion. It doesn’t seem to matter that there are hundreds of religions and just as many spiritual practices; inevitably they are put in the same basket and labeled as though they are but one experience. This is especially true for individuals that have had less than stellar experiences with religion, or more commonly known as the “church” while growing up. “Spirituality” really is a very vague term. It means so many different things to so many different people. It is being used here to refer to intentional (i.e. directed consciously) practices that develop the mind/body connection causing it to change the perspective of the self, and over time, lessen suffering of the self and others. The important part here is that it is intentional; a decision to do various practices which will over time change how one experiences them self and the world at large.
Religion, on the other hand, is the structure, the building, into which spirituality is nudged in, redefined, have laws established with which everyone ideally must follow and finally, named. At the heart of all religions exist the very essence of spirituality, whether clearly visible or lost under a myriad of man-made laws and interpretations, the spiritual underpinnings which inspired most religions are there for all to find, with a little work. Conversely Spirituality, at its heart, is not religion but only more spirituality. While religion has worked to delineate, define and structure its spirituality for the masses, Spirituality is neither defined nor structured, although some practices may require prescribed rules, each individual can participate on their own or within a group practice, experiencing with their own mind and body, the meaning of such activities and ultimately bringing it into their own understanding and life. While there are many religions and many spiritual practices, each chosen path has its own trajectory. They do not all lead to the same place nor the same experiences. One direction may lead to the healing arts, another to the mystical path of any one of the world religions, and yet another working with mystical angels and demi-gods. No matter the path, all roads taken do not go to Rome but they do lead, over time, to the heart of the human soul.
Spiritual Qualities or Stereotypes
All spiritual practices or religious experiences are uniquely individual and defined solely by the internal awareness of the many levels within each human. We are attracted to those spiritual practices with which we resonate. It can be our intellectual, emotional or our soul level which identifies the attraction to a specific pathway. We may stay with the same path from the beginning or move from one to another.
Over time there appears to have evolved a checklist as too what a spiritual adherent and a spiritual teacher are supposed to be, act, think and appear. A rule book with has more ‘thou shalt not’s’ rather than a statement or list of the attributes which propel anyone along the spiritual path. Perhaps this developed image is closest to the archetypical image of the Wise man/Sage with the long flowing robe and beard that searches ceaselessly for the answers, the truth, to the world’s most mystical questions. It is a stereotype that encompasses the idea of perfection in human form. Perhaps it is the guru or yogi who emanates a radiance of love and caring, never wavering in their embrace of every human condition without judgment or a Mother Theresa embodying outreach to all who need help and to be cared for. A loving personality of pure love, peaceful calm and judging no one, can best describe the stereotypical expectations we may have of a person on the pathway. Combine that with refraining from unhealthy behaviours, such as a glass of wine in the evening, smoking, fried foods, too much sexual activity, add them to a list that takes being human out of the human experience.
Words like striving and perfection play out as important recurring ideas when considering the qualities of the spiritual person. Certainly the very concept of spiritual denotes action. Spirituality is something we do, and it is done through our spiritual practices and through our life. The important part is the striving, continually moving forward. It is not capped with an outcome. We do not know where the path leads we just know that it is the place for us to be.
The idea of perfection becomes problematic in so far as it does not exist, at least within human form. When we project this perfectionistic construct onto others, we rob them of their humanness. We create such a judgment as to obliterate the soul journey of the target of our projection. Every person, including those who are our spiritual teachers struggle with the many limitations placed on us by our humanness. We are here for a reason, even many reasons and why anyone is here we are not privy to. Aside from the reality that teachers are human and subject to all that is human; the good, unhealthy or indifferent, they continue to progress further along their own path knowing they have chosen a difficult trajectory. Anyone who enters and embraces the spiritual path has taken on an accelerated learning curve. Circumstances and events will always speed up the pathway of the spiritual seeker. Most often there is very little control as to the speed of learning once we have set foot on the path and there is not a teacher out there that would have it any other way. The rewards are great and journey can be difficult. In some ways we never reach perfection and in other ways we are already perfect. The important part is the striving, not the outcome. A spiritual person progresses in spite of difficulties. Difficulties nourish our soul and make us invincible.
An additional problem with these stereotypical images occurs when everything we project onto others and expect of others on a spiritual path, we also tend to believe about self. If we are judging others from a perfectionistic purity, you can be sure that is extended to our self. If such a non-flaws attitude exists it will be next to impossible not to be unnerved by such a decree that we simply sit on the sidelines but never fully commit to the path. This is one the those perfect examples of being able to talk the talk but never try walking the walk for fear people will see right through us. Not being able to live up to our own expectations of our self can be a debilitating place to be. The projection of extraordinary qualities and expectations on others and our self creates an impediment to our spiritual growth. It is also unfair and judgmental to assume that we could presume to know spiritual qualities for all and extend those limitations to others.
Spiritual misconceptions can obstruct spiritual progress. Yes, there is such a thing as spiritual progress. Like anything else, as you practice, you get better at it — and not just in terms of brute skills, but in terms of observable changes to the mind, and maybe even the brain. Let us support those who struggle on an accelerated path and who’s progress may not be as chartable as a marathon race but they are chartable nonetheless.