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Casting Light on the Pitfalls of 21st-Century Spirituality


Narcissism: There's a thin line between narcissism and "following your bliss." Without some degree of sacrifice for the greater good, self-discovery eventually leads to plain old self-indulgence. Be aware of your tendency toward excessive self-centeredness even as you work to heal and love your self.

Superficiality: 21st-Century Spirituality is often accused of selling superficial and sunny answers to life's complexity and pain. Spirituality must not be used to protect ourselves from the rough-and-tumble of real life. Any worldview suggesting that thinking positively always protects you from harm, or that there is something wrong with you if you suffer or fail, or that healing isn't often complex, is offering superficial promises.

The Never-Ending Process of Self-Improvement: You can become so obsessed with your own self-improvement -- your story, your victimization, your faults, your fears -- that instead of becoming free, you end up caught in an endless loop. This myopic kind of focus on the self also leads to social apathy. It just isn't true that your self- empowerment and self-healing will necessarily lead to the health and happiness of others and of society. We have to participate in the improvement of more than just ourselves.

Instant Transformation: Just as the never-ending process of self-examination seduces some people, some are disappointed when they don't achieve inner peace after reading a book or taking a daylong workshop. Spiritual awakening takes patience, hard work, and the grace of God.

Desire for Magic: Don't throw common sense out the window in the search for God. The need to believe in all-powerful teachers, angelic visitations, UFOs, and other unexplained mysteries can obscure the ordinary magic of everyday life, proof enough of God and the miracle of life.

Grandiosity: In democratizing spirituality and bringing it to the daily life of each person, each one of us risks becoming a messianic little pope or a humorless saint. If you find yourself becoming unbearably profound, feeling that you are somehow different from others and destined for sainthood, perhaps you are suffering from grandiosity.

Romanticizing Indigenous Cultures: There exists a kind of reverse prejudice in our politically correct times that just because something or someone is from another culture, especially an indigenous or minority culture, that it/he/she is somehow more valuable, spiritual, or wise. "Whenever teachings come to a country from abroad the problem of spiritual materialism is intensified," writes Chogyam Trungpa.

The Inner-Child Tantrum: When praying, remember that "no" is also an answer. It is good and holy to know what you want, respect your own needs, and honestly ask for what you deserve. But it is also important to know how and when to humble yourself to the greater and wiser will of God.

Ripping Off The Traditions: Many modern seekers skim off the ritual trappings of a tradition with little respect for the depth behind them. This trivializes powerful and elegant systems of spiritual growth that often demand years of study. There is a difference between carefully creating a spiritual path that includes genuine practices from a variety of traditions, and flitting from flower to flower like a drunken honeybee.The Guru Trip: Harry S. Truman lamented, "Memories are short; appetites for power and glory are insatiable. Old tyrants depart. New ones take their place. It is all very baffling and trying." Perhaps the most baffling and trying aspect of 21st-Century Spirituality is the disparity between spiritual teachings and the behavior of teachers. Men, women, Western, Eastern, fundamentalist, New Age, modern, or indigenous -- none escape the temptation to abuse power. Things to be wary of; extravagant claims of enlightenment or healing; the minimizing of the hard work that accompanies any true spiritual or healing path; the excessive commercialism that betrays the deeper spiritual message; and the blind adherence of followers to charlatans (be they gurus, therapists, preachers, healers, or teachers). With their deceitful double standards, some gurus, therapists, and teachers have given mentorship a bad name.

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