Why Spirituality Makes Some People More Annoying.
And how to avoid being one of them.
There’s a certain type of person that gives spirituality a bad name. I’m not talking about people who believe in God or reincarnation, or that karma keeps a cosmic ledger of our good and bad deeds. I’m talking about the kind of person who tells you about how spiritual they are before they’ve even bothered to ask you your name. Like vegans, or people who have done a lot of travelling.
Just like vegans and perennial travellers, they draw you into a competition without your permission. Only instead of being about who cares the most about animals or who’s visited the beach most unsullied by tourism, it’s about who has the most pretentious understanding of the nature of reality. They’ll start by talking about their yoga practice or how often they meditate, and then they’ll up the ante by talking about their chakras or their third eye or their astral perineum. They’ll keep going until they reach the point where they believe something too esoteric for you to go along with and that’s the point you’re closed-minded and they’re not.
It’s like having a conversation with one of those automated answering services. You get to say yes, or no, and occasionally a short summary of what you want to say, but that’s it. The rest of the conversation is prerecorded.
But why is this? What causes this correlation between spirituality and douchebaggery? After all, isn’t spiritual practice supposed to make us kinder, wiser, more loving people? Personally, I’d say yes. But the spirituality that has grown out of social media and abominations like competitive yoga also makes it really easy to confuse the terrain with the destination. It’s easy to go on Instagram, read a few poignant quotes about the universe giving you what you need, and forget that your life is still your responsibility. Yet as time goes by, it seems this interpretation is becoming ever more common. I think that there are a few reasons for this.
First of all, there’s the fact that the spiritual community offers the perfect cover for disingenuous people. I’m not trying to say that all spiritual beliefs are disingenuous. I’m just saying that if we’re too afraid of appearing closed-minded to say that an angel didn’t just tap you on the shoulder to approve your choice of romantic partner, we’re already on the bottom third of a very slippery slope.
It’s almost taboo to say out loud, but spiritual teaching is often painfully imprecise and incoherent. It sounds just good enough to provide a dopamine hit, without making enough sense to be meaningful or helpful. In this way it can be interpreted in however the listener wants to interpret it which is rarely going to be the way that requires self-examination and personal accountability.
Secondly, there’s the guru/student relationship. How many times do we need to have it demonstrated to us that devotion to any human being rarely works out well for either the devoted or the devotee? Humans have an instinctive drive to abdicate personal responsibility to a stronger leader, and whether we’re more inclined to be the person with the power or the person giving it up, we’re unlikely to find happiness at the end of our respective rainbows.
The Buddha’s advice to “kill the Buddha if you meet him walking down the road” might be a little dramatic, it points to the importance of always being willing — and feeling able — to question what is being taught and how the teacher lives out their teachings.
Next, there’s the fact that spiritual teachings, at least the social media versions, give a free pass to those looking to justify their self-centredness. When this kind of person discovers spirituality and learns that they’re made of stardust or crystals or whatever, they’re given permission to believe that there’s nothing they need to fix. No hard questions they need to answer about themselves. That they’re perfect just as they are.
Behaviour that would ordinarily be considered selfish or self-centred is now fine because they’re “respecting their truth”. When people get sick of their bullshit and leave, it’s the universe removing the things that don’t serve them from their lives. This brand of spirituality is nothing more than a way of enabling people with borderline personality disorders to convince themselves that the problem is everybody else.
But perhaps the greatest source of unhappiness in the spiritual world is the search for certainty in a universe which doesn’t offer any. Spiritual people who claim to possess some secret truth are annoying for the same reason that anybody who tries claim to certainty is annoying; they’re liars. The truth is that none of us is certain about anything. And the only thing we know for sure is that we’ll continue to not be certain about anything until we die. If you want to pretend that you’ve figured out the secrets of the universe that’s fine, just keep them to yourself.
Although that’s the paradox, right? Imagine if Jesus Christ himself appeared in front of you and said: “Yep, it’s all true.” And he whisked you off to heaven and showed you the endless fields of clouds and the angels whose genitals had been worn away with pleasure but it was fine because every day they reappeared more virile and beautiful than before (look, you have your vision of heaven and I’ll have mine, okay?).
And then Jesus takes you to hell and you see the people having their fingernails pulled out and their heads boiled in lakes of lava. He shows you the jagged, rusty implements that the imps use to remove the genitals of the damned so that they can be given to the angels.
Imagine you see all of that. You’re certain of it. And then Jesus brings you back to Earth and he’s like “ok so if you want to avoid going to hell this is what you have to do.” And you only have to do those things for 75 years or however long it turns out to be, and then you get regenerating genitalia for eternity. You’d have to be an absolute monster not to tell everyone about that, right. The logical, humane thing to do with certainty would be to go and preach in the streets.
If you were certain you had the key to eternal happiness and you weren’t a monster, you wouldn’t be charging $500 per person for seminars. You wouldn’t smile condescendingly at people who weren’t at a high enough spiritual vibration to understand the doublespeak you used to spread your message. You’d be one of those people raving at people to repent their sins. That’s what certainty looks like. At least certainty coupled with any kind of decency.
But of course, this Mcspirituality isn’t about helping others, it’s about the struggle for control. Yet the highest goal of true spirituality, if there even is such a thing, is to accept the fact that no such control is possible. It’s to give in to the flow of the universe, not because you’re convinced it will bring you happiness, but because you realise that every other choice brings you further misery. Life is like a raging river that’s going to spit you out at some unknown point in the future and you have no say in when or how or what will be waiting for you when it does. Claiming to be certain of what’s going to happen next as you’re carried along just makes you look like a moron.