Namaste, are we really Spiritual?
A lot of people across the globe today are riding the wave of spiritual awareness. Beyond the superficial differences of gender, colour, religion, and identity — a desire for self-actualisation and freedom is innate in all human beings.
Nobody, deep down, wants to remain stagnant. This drive is so powerful that we have progressed tremendously in the material realm with the boom of technology, comfort of luxury, and convenience of instant gratification.
But, this has been at the cost of increased stress levels, health disorders, interpersonal friction, and lack of inner peace.
When the latter part of the equation above becomes the norm and we stop finding happiness with external experiences, objects, and people — the seeker in us awakens.
This awakening can be a beautiful experience or it can be completely earth-shattering. Either way, it is a process of ascension and letting go.
But during this process, the unfamiliar territory and past patterns might lead us to act in unconscious ways, which are often met with denial and defensiveness when highlighted.
So, take a deep breath in and out, create space, and let us embark on a journey of questioning the deeper parts of ourselves as seekers of the truth.
The Illusion of Separation
Every spiritual tradition’s core philosophy is that the biggest obstacle to spiritual growth is the EGO. But, the irony is that the initial aspiration to evolve spiritually needs fuel in the form of ego as a driving force.
Ego is not the enemy and it’s more about how we channelise our desires and ambitions. Ego can be used in healthy ways such as having healthy self-esteem, uplifting humanity, or serving a higher purpose.
But, we often find it disguised in the unhealthy manifestation of arrogance, greed, insecurity, and jealousy. Societal conditioning plays a huge role in this guise of separation.
Separation leads to conflict and we experience this internally with the upward pull of our higher nature (peace, kindness, compassion) and downward energy of the lower nature (greed, envy, arrogance).
We also project this split on the external world with other people. We subconsciously perceive ourselves as spiritual, ethical, walking the path of righteousness — while thinking everyone else in the world needs more Yoga, discipline, and awareness.
It is great that we recognise the suffering and ignorance in the world, but sometimes we tend to project our unconscious wounds on others and bypass our inner work. After all, it is easier for the ego to look at flaws in others rather than ourselves.
The Ego Trap
“I don’t eat meat”, “I don’t drink alcohol”, “I am not interested in material gains”, “I am not Tamasic”, “I know a lot about spiritual matters”, “I am living better than those in the rat race”…
Are any of these thoughts and beliefs familiar to you? Perhaps they may have been a part of your inner narrative, or maybe it is something you have heard other Yoga practitioners and teachers say.
This perception is usually layered with a subtle form of superiority. Each one of us is constantly judging other people — consciously or subconsciously — for their appearance, skills, principles, and behaviour.
This comparison is a human tendency and one may either feel better or worse about themselves depending on the object/person of reference. But, we are indeed judgmental and that’s the reality in our virtual and physical worlds.
This could stem from a genuine concern for the ignorance of humanity, or from a place of unconscious arrogance.
Judgment is not necessarily a wrong thing. We need observation and judgment as a foundation for discernment and accessing intuition. But, the intention behind judgment is key. And most often, our judgment is from an egoistic perspective.
Even people on the spiritual path are a victim of this thought process. I admit that I have judged others for their actions or choices, but I now recognise that it was from a place of spiritual superiority because “I am a Yoga practitioner and teacher with an experience of X number of years” and the perception that… “others are living unconsciously”.
Often this projection culminates into Spiritual Ego, driven by a lack of self-acceptance and empathy. The world becomes a mirror to what lies within.
The things that trigger us and those who push our buttons are a subtle reminder of what is repressed in ourselves because it may not be a pleasant reflection.
Spirituality as Escapism
The spiritual circles have an interesting concept known as Spiritual Bypassing, a term introduced in the early 1980s by John Welwood — a Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist.
Spiritual Bypassing is a “tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks”.
Life is a beautiful marriage of joy and sorrow, success and failure, pleasure and pain. But, we cling obsessively to the ‘good things’ because we have developed a strong aversion to the struggles and pain.
The result of this one-sided approach to life causes an increased sense of struggle, even with minor inconveniences. The reaction is often finding comfort as an escape in food, technology, social media, intoxicants, relationships, and more.
Now, one may argue that these are all a part of life, so where is the escape? It is how we interact with these aspects and how they can serve as distractions to avoid looking at our own mess.
We can also have the ‘healthier’ distractions in the form of exercise, professional work, spiritual practice and concepts. Only you are the best judge to deem how much of it is optimal, so they don’t turn into obsessions and compulsions.
When spirituality becomes a reason to run away from our challenges and frustrations — it is nothing but escapism.
Watching numerous videos on YouTube to gain knowledge; Practising yoga for endless hours everyday; Spending hours on social media as an excuse for spiritual growth; Avoiding the challenges in life as they are ‘impermanent’; Being ‘detached’ from emotions and relationships; Unrealistic positivity as there is only ‘Love & Light’…
These are some examples of how we might be using spiritual practices and beliefs as an excuse to deal with or run away from life’s roller coaster journey.
While occasional retreats are encouraged to recharge the body and mind, the real measure of spiritual progress lies in how we adapt to adversity and embrace uncertainty.
The premise of Yoga lies in moderation with everything and balance being the key.
Swami Sivananda says, “Eat a little, drink a little, smile a little, frown a little, laugh a little, dance a little, sleep a little, meditate a little, do asana a little.”
When we do a little bit of everything with awareness and love, we create space for the daily and seasonal tides of life to flow. We don’t run away from the material world, but rather embrace it as an extension of divinity.
“Yoga teaches us spirituality, not by running away from life, but by running into life with total awareness, total conviction, total faith, total belief in the completeness and the fullness that ‘I am’.” — Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati
The Power of Humility
Namaste, in Sanskrit, translates to — “The divine in me bows down to the divine in you”. But, how many of us truly feel this humility and divine essence in ourselves and others?
When we look beyond an ego-centric life of I-Me-Mine, our faith in a higher power strengthens and we feel the presence of the omnipresent divine. One may refer to this as God/Guru/Universe/Creator or whatever term that resonates.
This realisation can be a humbling experience as it removes the veil of ignorance. It takes the burden off our shoulders with a subtle yet profound realisation that everything in the world is just the way it is meant to be.
To think of it, do we really have the authority to decide what is right or wrong for others?
A handful years of experience and knowledge of certain yogic techniques or philosophy does not make us responsible for others. It rather enables us to be responsible for our thoughts, feelings and behaviour.
But, experiencing that power within is impossible without divine grace. When we are bestowed with grace, we begin to realise that we have very little control on external factors.
We learn to accept people as they are. We embrace situations as they come, while being grateful for the joys and learning from the struggles.
We realise that everyone is on their individual journey and exactly where they need to be. Some people might seem lost, some might seem arrogant, some might seem impractical, and some might seem enlightened.
But, the truth is that we are all following a divine plan. The creator is there to ‘fix’ things. All we need to do is stay consistent on the path and keep moving forward.
And when we pursue this with faith and perseverance, we naturally and energetically begin to transmit Yoga beyond words, techniques, and concepts.
To paraphrase one of my teachers, “The highest form of Spirituality is beyond rituals and practices. It is living every moment with loving awareness, while having faith in a higher power”.
So, are we really spiritual? The answer can vary with the phases of life as the spiritual path is not a linear one. But, it is upto us to look within and find a truly authentic insight to this.
I hope this article offers a gentle nudge to reflect on your relationship with self, other living beings, and the divine. Feel free to share your thoughts below if this resonates.
May we all be compassionate and peaceful! Om Tat Sat.