Dear reader

Why do I write about pitfalls of spirituality?

My purpose with this blog is to crystallize and share my thoughts and experiences, in the hope that you and I may benefit from them. From 1993-2005 I practiced a so-called spiritual method (Sahaj Marg). Ultimately I realized that this method - and especially the organization around it (Shri Ram Chandra Mission or SRCM)- was contrary to some deep spiritual layer in myself. I came to some clear conclusions, and also to some still developing insights.

One still developing insight is that almost everybody is looking for some form of spirituality in their life. Therefore there are many spiritual methods and movements, often with similar pitfalls to the ones I experienced.

Many people follow a well-trodden path which is defined by the group in their immediate vicinity. Others are prompted by their heart and/or head to look for spirituality that makes sense on a personal level. Spirituality gives fulfillment -humanity as one, universal love growing, one with the buddha- as well as direction through life's tough questions.

I write about the pitfalls of spirituality because so many others seem to write mostly about the bliss of their own approach to spirituality. This bliss to me actually seems a pitfall.

Understanding the pitfalls I deem essential to gain more spiritual insight. For me this actually translates into a lighter and more loving heart. I do not believe that understanding is the key issue in spirituality. But I do believe that misunderstanding can block key issues (although to which degree probably varies with each person).

Please bear with my frequent use of I feel, seems to me, in my not so humble opinion and so on. It is to emphasize that I do not consider any of my opinions to be more than that. I cannot bring you universal truth. In my not so humble opinion [imnsho] universal truth is a major pitfall in spirituality.

Dear reader, I hope you find something worthwhile on these pages. Friendly reactions, which may be as critical as you like, are always welcome.

Tips how to read this blog

* Please start with the closing remarks (click on the link), they should provide a balanced perspective on this blog.

* There is a list of 20 pitfalls in the sidebar. Clicking on a pitfall will provide a number of posts in which that pitfall is discussed to some extent.

* If you have time, consider starting with the oldest post, and simply going through to each next post. This probably gives the most faithful ;-) reading...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Cognitive dissonance 6: boundary control & Santa Claus

Since I'm stuck inside with swine flu (pandemic H1N1/09 officially), why not continue the thread on cognitive dissonance?

Still, the following example of boundary control might strike you as ... childish. Consider the common practice of Santa Claus. Most young children in the western world are made to believe that this fairytale figure really exists, and brings them presents around Christmas...provided they've been `good'.

To maintain this elaborate charade, adults and older children lie and cheat. Even the television and other media play along. Still, for any child, inevitably the cognitive dissonance of the situation grows to a point where it can no longer be avoided. Sometimes the child finds out for her/himself, sometimes the child is told by others that Santa is in fact a deception. (This can be a disturbing experience, although to many it seems relatively harmless.)

But until that moment, the parents (mostly) try to control what information about Santa is available to the child. By keeping secret that they are the ones buying the presents, by asking others to keep silent about the charade, etc. etc.

This conscious effort to shield the members of a group from `outside' views and information is part of what I would call `boundary control'. Also part of it are the attempts to explain away inconsistencies, to cover up contradictory activities, to limit interaction with `outsiders'/`unbelievers'/..., etcetera.

#######

Anyway, it might surprise you that children already have complex motives and mechanisms for avoiding the cognitive dissonance arising from the Santa Claus deception. Be it consciously or not, it turns out that many doubting children are afraid that if they stop believing in Santa Claus, then there will be no more presents and no more fun-time at Christmas.

#######

But that is not the main issue for this post. We were discussing the Inner Circle of a Spiritual Movement, and its possible conscious efforts to control the doubts and misgivings of the followers of the Movement. In my not so humble opinion, for many if not most spiritual movements (religions included) these doubts and misgivings are often well-founded (see also the list of pitfalls in the sidebar of this blog).

Especially charismatic groups cannot function when there is too much visible doubt in the followers or a clear contradiction in the Theory and/or the practice of the Leader/Inner Circle.

So let's discuss some of the common forms of boundary control that Inner Circles use:

1) Intensive recruiting of new followers
2) Limiting contact with `outside' world views
3) Blackening of former followers
4) Partial truth & secrets (but this was already discussed intensively in previous posts)
5) Stressing the need to forego rationality (likewise already discussed in previous posts)
6) Limiting free discussion between members, that is discussion which is not in some way controlled or influenced by Inner Circle orthodoxy.

$$$$$$

Ad 1): a for me striking insight from Galanter's book was his observation, that intensive recruiting of new followers is a conscious instrument used by many charismatic groups to control the cognitive dissonance of existing followers.

The mechanism behind this is obvious, once you think about it. In order for a Universal Truth theory to make sense, it must be universally recognizable...If the Theory promises that out of the Movement shall come a New World Order, then it is rather disheartening if after 50 years of intensive proselytization still only one in 50,000 (say) has been attracted to this Truth.

So new followers are a boost to the rationality of the whole Movement. `See, what we say makes sense, because how would we attract new people otherwise?'. This mechanism is frequently used by the Inner Circle (I have seen this in my own former spiritual movement Sahaj Marg) in the following way:

* The number of followers is reported as much higher than it is in reality.
* `Senior' followers are exhorted to devote time and energy to spreading the Message
* Growth in numbers is seen as very important and duly rewarded
* Decline in numbers is frowned upon, and often blamed on inadequate conduct of members - the attractivity of the Theory is not to be questioned. Members are expected to be shining examples, thereby attracting family and friends.

#######

To be continued with 2) 3) and 6) from the above list.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Frank,
Sorry you have the flu - hope that you are 100% soon.
thanks for doing this. it's really been a tremendous help to me. would like to comment more later.
By the way, the book is helpful too so thanks for the recommendation.
Sincerely,
May you be at peace and may all be at peace and free from the oppression of SRCM
"Triple Gem"

frank waaldijk said...

thank you triple gem for the encouragement to write this blog. i'm glad it has helped you. kind regards, frank

#####

for now, i'm getting near the end of writing once more. i just have this thread on `cognitive dissonance and boundary control' to finish, and then will probably take another break until something else strikes me as interesting enough to add.