Anyone who has explored the spiritual path for some time has probably come across these rules:
- Ego is something to be destroyed or avoided.
- Negative thoughts and emotions shouldn’t be present within you.
- Attachments cause misery.
- You attract negativity if you think negatively.
- Spiritualists are expected to be happy, light, and positive at all times.
These things may be at least partially based in some truth, but here is why I think they are problematic. These rules teach people what to be without teaching them why or how.
Everyone has dark emotions and thoughts sometimes. Everyone gets frustrated at other people, at traffic, at themselves. Everyone feels a draw to a certain thing or outcome from time to time. I don’t feel these things are in and of themselves bad. It’s becoming consumed by them that is the problem. The issue with self help books and spiritual gurus who push these “only think about now” and “destroy the ego” mentalities is that, to someone who doesn’t know better, it seems as though they are being told darkness or the ego is the problem and not the reaction to it. This results in a whole lot of spiritualists running around chastising themselves and others for not being egoless enough, not being light enough, not being positive enough. If you get upset or need to vent, forget about it! That’s not what spiritualists are “supposed” to do!
I truly believe that having an ego is okay. After all, that’s why we are here! I adore astrology, and astrology is about different colorful manifestations of the ego. Without our egos, we’d know everything and do everything one way, and what would be the point? Having an ego gives us a lens to see the world, and it’s through that lens that we can learn to see the world through other lenses.
Shaping the dynamics between people is also interesting. Imagine reading a story where all the characters are exactly the same, and start off having nothing to learn because they know it all already. There’s no Fool on a journey to learn the world, because everyone already knows it. Why would you read that story? You’d want to read a story where flawed characters learn lessons and grow, because it’s interesting, because it teaches you something about yourself and about the world!
Negative thoughts, dark emotions, and preferences are all a part of that. I don’t think one should run away from these things, and I don’t think the goal in life should be to eliminate the way we participate in the world! That’s where I feel many of these self help theories go wrong in reaching others.
So when do these things become troublesome? When do they become the issue that self help gurus paint them as? When we get so blinded by them we forget about the other aspects of life. When a dark emotion becomes all we feel, when an attachment becomes all we care about, that’s when things become problematic. A lot of people are suffering and struggling and much of it is because they have become consumed by their ego’s perception or their dark experiences, and so these resources are helpful to dislodge them from their cyclical torment. That’s fine, because balance and moderation is the best approach and some people need a little shove in the right direction.
But I do get so tired of seeing “You’re not supposed to have those thoughts/feelings/perceptions!” in a lot of spiritual communities. Having a negative moment is fine! The world’s not going to crash around you if you feel anxious or are in a bad mood! There’s no need to constantly push and berate yourself until you stop feeling feelings and stop having preferences! We’re not meant to be unemotional robots or perfect angels while we’re here!