This year I haven't written much on this blog myself (notwithstanding andrew p.'s long article I just copied in three parts last week).
But there is a subject that has crystallized lately which I want to write about: participation in a spiritual movement isn't always beneficial, and can even cause real damage to people. For this reason, one can now find several avenues of counseling available to former members of cults and sects. You can find some links in the sidebar of this blog, but there are many more sites dealing with the fall-out of bad experiences in a spiritual movement or cult.
It would be beyond my reach to address all the types of such damage (which involve a large range, even from psychological to physical violence). But there is one type of damage which as far as I can tell hasn't been extensively described on the internet, and which on the large scale of things perhaps doesn't weigh quite so heavy, yet which can affect individuals profoundly enough to merit a mention on this blog, I believe.
Perhaps it is appropriate to call this type of damage `spiritual damage'.
One might well wonder why I still devote time to writing about the pitfalls of spirituality [and truth be said, this past year I didn't write so much ;-)], having left my former guru and his movement Sahaj Marg already more than 5 years ago. After all, a negative experience usually takes some time to overcome, but often people come to terms with it and move on.
This goes for me too, I think, mostly...but I also observe a difference in my outlook on spirituality and my expectations in this field, perhaps especially with regard to the capacity of people to organize and/or promote spirituality.
After my negative experience with Sahaj Marg, I find myself largely incapable of simply believing in any organization proclaiming lofty goals. Often I have the feeling that I see similar patterns of marketing and deception, or that I would see these patterns if I was more in the know about a certain organization.
This is not limited to spiritual movements or organizations with a definite `spiritual' signature, but reaches as far as NGO's tackling hunger, disease, poverty, environmental issues, human rights, etc.
So the one word which describes the feeling I am left with from my former spiritual movement is...deception. And I think that the damage that I feel from this deception goes deeper than damage from being deceived by say a conman or even by a dear friend.
Somehow, if I must make some sort of analysis, it seems that what is so discouraging about this deception is that this deception is helped being maintained by very good-willing people, many of whom kind and oriented towards a spiritual way of life.
In the end, I believe it comes down to this: in order to maintain a rosy feeling of well-being and a false sense of `special purpose' in our existence, many benevolent people will willingly help maintain the deception that a false guru / spiritual movement offers. The attraction of life-as-in-some-spiritual-fairy-tale wins out, at the cost of truthfulness and real betterment, in my not so humble opinion.
Thus, instead of building for a world where true spirituality thrives within and between people, we add to to the conglomerate of religious / spiritual divisions and falsehoods and deceptions.
So what, nothing new under the sun...right?
But regarding my 12 years of participation in a spiritual movement, what if I had devoted my time and energy to a worthwhile cause instead? And why can I now no longer bring myself to organize something for people like me, who still wish to see this world becoming more spiritual, and who also look for spiritual development in themselves?
So that last question somewhat describes the spiritual damage I feel. Because although I still believe that most people look for spirituality on some level, I no longer believe it possible to organize something that will help speed up spiritual development in this world. And I used to be a person who devoted a lot of time and energy to trying to organize such things, both in my work and in my free time.
In any such organization, how long before we start flocking around a new false guru?
On the other hand, without organizing something, without making some sort of difference in numbers, the many voices of the many people like me will likely be drowned out by the clamour coming from all sorts of organizations with less spiritually oriented objectives, religions and spiritual movements included ;-). And also, in this way the many positive aspects of spirituality will come less to the fore.
Therefore, a challenge seems to rise up: how to maintain a spiritual outlook on life, how to see the good in people, how to endeavour for a better world, and yet not be drowned out too much, and yet not add to some deceptive set-up coming from an organization with lofty goals....
So far this challenge has been too heavy for me. How would it be to have an organization with no members and no leaders...no ideology too...and certainly penniless, which would nonetheless bring people together in a spiritual atmosphere and which would make a voice heard petitioning for spirituality instead of materialistic gains...?
Such an organization might see me at its meetings, from time to time. Because nowadays, I find less opportunity to exchange on spirituality, and to work together with a focus on this common goal of a better world. Not out of lack of goodwill in the people around me, but because there is no facilitating `structure', few facilitating `occasions'.
I hope to have described some sort of spiritual damage which may (or may not, we are all different) occur from participating in a spiritual movement. Summarizing: having put one's true faith in a so-called `Very Spiritual Person' and in the often good-willing followers of the accompanying spiritual movement, it can be a serious let-down if this VSP and his/her movement are finally perceived as untrustworthy.
This let-down often has serious emotional fall-out, for which nowadays there are many counseling options. But even when this emotional fall-out is not so bad, or when it has subdued, there can well be residual damage. This may, I believe from my own experience, well result in a subsequent distrust of other initiatives for the benefit of mankind, and a lack of enthusiasm to join groups with even just a slight spiritual orientation.
Seeing this damage for what it is may, I hope, form part of the cure.