Are you a spiritual fraud?
Because I am. Just wondering if you are too.
But before I talk about what a fake I am, let me go back a few days to what has been – for me – the most notable news story of the month so far.
On Wednesday, June 5th, the bodies of two Brooklyn self-help gurus were found in their apartment. Lynne Rosen and John Littig died of asphyxiation after inhaling helium, leaving behind suicide notes apologising for their actions. At this stage there are no reports of why they took their lives.
Littig was, according to his web site, a motivational speaker, workshop facilitator and personal life coach. Rosen was also a life coach, speaker and consultant.
Rosen and Littig’s company was called “Why Not Now”. The pair hosted a monthly radio show on WBAI called “The Pursuit of Happiness,” where they urged listeners to seek happiness and embrace spontaneity.
The pair encouraged people to take risks, be spontaneous and follow their intuition – to live their bliss. John Litting was clear on this:
“Intuition and impulse are extraordinarily important things in life. You will not be well-served if the impulse is shut down or you think about everything too much. Sometimes you just do it.”
So what happened to this couple? How is it that people who talk of happiness and teach spiritual principles can be so desperately unhappy themselves?
It is not my intention to pass judgment on John Littig and Lynne Rosen. If I did so it would be rather hypocritical of me, as I have felt all the feelings and experienced many of the things that I suspect they did. Nor are they different from many, many people in the self-help movement and “spiritual industry”.
So what did they experience? We have no definite information from official sources. However as my “job” is that of an intuitive (amongst a few other hats I wear), and I do have a strong sense of certain issues surrounding the couple.
Both Lynne Rosen and John Littig lost hope.
There is a strong sense of depression around John. There is also the idea of financial debt, the feeling of being a failure, that there is no way out. No future.
Lynn was deeply confused, looking to Littig for help. My perception is that there was a co-dependency issue. She also had a strong desire to escape, to “go to a better place”.
For both there is the overall belief that there is a better existence awaiting us on “the other side”.
In the end they felt themselves to be frauds, unable to live up to their own teachings.
They gave up.
I am now going to move onto discussing something I refer to as “spiritual fraudulence”. Let me just emphasise that this is a common issue in the self-help age. It is relevant not only to the lives of Lynne Rosen and John Littig. It is almost pervasive amongst generation X and even more so for generation Y.
Spiritual fraudulence occurs when the reality of our lives, and especially our inner worlds, becomes greatly dissociated from the face that we show the world; and different also from what we are willing to admit to ourselves about our emotional well-being. Spiritual fraudulence is a significant issue in just about all spiritual and religious traditions, and amongst their organisations and teachers.
The essential problem is that people within these organisations – and the individual teachers themselves – find it very difficult to embody the ideals that they teach. The mind attempts to personify an ideal – to be happy, spiritual, Christ-like, Buddha-like etc. – but the ideal remains distanced from the reality.
Christianity, for example, teaches us about the compassion of Christ, the importance of forgiveness, and the love of God. Yet in reality the history of Christianity has been dotted with war and bloodshed, intolerance and persecution. In recent years there have been endless sex scandals involving the clergy. The hypocrisy and the lies are astounding.
The history of the Church is largely a history of spiritual fraudulence.
If only it was merely the Church that is guilty of this! But no. To some degree it is true of almost all religious and spiritual traditions, both ancient and modern.
It is also true for all of us – we the spiritual seekers of today. The human ego does not differ that greatly from person to person, nor in its expression from group to group.
The ego emerges from your biology, and the need to stay alive, drive away competitors, establish safety from external threats, to procreate and to seek power and gain attention. Hatred, anger, judgment, violence, jealousy and narcissism define the human ego. It gets attached to ideas and beliefs, believes that it is special, and demands that God give it what it wants.
It is also very stubborn and highly prone to self-delusion. Part of the ego’s desire to be special is thinking that it is spiritually advanced or above others.
It is prepared to do this even though there is a very big price to pay to maintain the delusion.
That price is keeping itself imprisoned in a world of separation and alienation. The ego refuses to surrender to the present moment, to what is real in the here and now. It can never really know life, and it can never truly love. For its nature is to attach importance and meaning to ideas and objects, and strive relentlessly to make sure that those attachments are not threatened.
Now here is the key. Spiritual ideals and rituals – including all the stuff that you read about in self-help books – are a favourite target of attachment. There are no ideas or concepts – no matter how pure or “spiritual” you think they are – that are exceptions to this.
This includes the very words you are reading now.
When the mind or ego attaches itself to a spiritual ideal or philosophy the result is the expansion of the spiritual ego. The spiritual ego is what the mind creates so that it does not have to live the very spiritual ideals it worships. This is a truly insane agenda.
What lies behind this silly little game is the mind’s terror of the “fall” it must take to actually live the ideals it espouses. It has to surrender control to the present, to what is real. That means that it has to let go of the dream of a better future, and especially the dream of being elevated above everyone else and life itself.
The second issue is that letting go into presence requires that a person feel all that is within themselves, including the emotional body. And most of us carry a lot of pain. Indeed it is this emotional pain which was largely behind the creation of the ego in the first place, way back when we were children.
My fellow self-help gurus and life coaches are amongst the very worst offenders. Many of the spiritual and self-help teachers I see – both those who are well-known and the little ones like me – are spiritually fraudulent. Their overall motivation stems not from the “big I”, but from the ego. For this reason they just cannot walk the talk. As soon as the workshop is over and the last participant has left the room, their mind is wondering around full of doubt and fear. They drive home and scream at the idiot who pulls out in front of them. Then they set the next agenda to secure control over the world and to shut out the silence of presence.
If they are particularly foolish, spiritual teachers go public with their fraudulence. They go on FaceBook and rant about how horrible and shitty humanity is, all the while complaining about how they are not getting what they want.
Many times I have dealt with people like this. All it takes to bring out the “little i” is some misplaced sense of grievance, and the judgment and rage explodes from them. I could list many examples.
But I won’t, as I would be a hypocrite.
We are all spiritual fakes sometimes. After all, we are only human. And therein lies part of the problem. In so many spiritual traditions and cultures we are supposed to be perfect, to be Buddha-like or Christ-like. But you are not Christ or the Buddha. You are just you.
I am just me. And your imperfection is perfection itself.
Yesterday I was complaining to someone about how truly awful it is that I have to put so much time and energy into online book promotion, even when the recent results have not been as good as I’d hoped for. Yes, life has been unfair to me of late. With my book promotion I have even followed, to the letter, the detailed advice of one best-selling Kindle author. This fellow has gotten rich best-selling his books about how to sell your books best. Indeed he best-sells tens of thousands of books a month. That’s why he’s a best-selling author, no?
I applied Mr Best Seller’s advice to the letter. And it has made absolutely no difference to my book sales.
But that is what most of us do at least sometimes, no?
Who is your favourite spiritual teacher? Now, picture that teacher in your own mind getting back from his/her latest public gathering in a particularly shitty mood, swearing out loud and kicking the cat.
Now you get what I mean.
Yes. Hard as it may seem to believe, every self-help and spiritual author you have ever read lives a life which sometimes – maybe often – deviates from his own teachings.
And as far as I am concerned, that is perfectly fine. The problem is not allowing the “small I” to run the ship of your being for a while. The problem is that many remain there, while pretending that they are living life from the “big I”.
Most of the time they are not aware they are doing this. Remember the bit about the ego being sneaky?
My essential point is that the real problem arises when we have no default position from which to shift out of that ego state. Many, many people on a spiritual journey find their default position has unconsciously become spiritual ego.
They are unable to relax into presence. There is nowhere to go when the darkness descends, and the world does not grant them what they want. When this occurs for an extended time they become very frustrated, angry, disillusioned. They may even hate themselves because they know they cannot walk the talk.
None of us can walk the talk all the time. None of us is perfect, and the world will never give us what we want all the time. That is not how Spirit works. “Spiritual” philosophies like the naive law of attraction, as found in The Secret, can be quite harmful because they tell people that they can have whatever we want. They wrongly suggest that the focus of life should be upon manifesting our desires. The inevitable result of this false teaching is that the spiritual practitioner becomes angry and bitter when the world refuses to manifest his will. Then he turns upon himself, as he knows that he is a “failure”.
There is a simple solution to all this. We must make simple presence the default position in life. We must not set our default position within the world of belief and expectation, of spiritual philosophy and grandiose futures.
This is what I did the other day when I found myself being a spiritual fraud. Not long after complaining to my friend about my lack of book sales, I sat down and surrendered to presence. Breathing fully into my body and into the real world of the present moment, I fully acknowledged to God all the thoughts, attitudes and feelings that were circulating within myself, including all the judgment, anger and pain.
Within moments it was all gone. All the beliefs and expectations vanished too. My attachment to book sales vanished into nothingness, and I was free.
Freedom is a space of infinite potential within the present moment. This is the space of “I don’t know”; that sense of “I know nothing”.
In such moments I do not even know who I am. I am simply silent surrender.
And that is when the most beautiful of all human experience unfolds.
If there is one thing that the unfortunate story of Lynne Rosen and John Littig teaches us, it is that there is no such thing as perfect happiness. Happiness comes and goes like the wind. While there are many things we can do to encourage it, I do not believe that it should be the basis of the spiritual journey. Nor even the life journey.
Make peace your essence. It arises spontaneously from the moment, and it is as free as the air we breathe. And it is very, very simple. It is also incredibly powerful, for it may harnesses the forces of Grace.
And Grace, by definition, is beyond our control. You cannot wield that power. You simply allow it.
Of course, none of this negates the importance of common sense when dealing with depression or mental illness. Don’t be afraid to seek help – including professional help – if you need it. You cannot do it all yourself, and if you isolate yourself you may actually worsen the problem.
In relationships the Grace of presence can fill us.
But no matter what you do or where you find yourself, just be here. Now. It is from this foundation that you can then move through the world of space and time, and create your world. But this will not be the forced, rigid movement that emerges from the mind’s quest for power and control. It is flow itself.
You will find that there is an infinite power that comes with you in each and every one of those moments of surrender. As you yield to it, your momentary attachments fall away like sands through a child’s fingers. That is the joy of perfect presence. Presence passes playfully before us, smiling, teasing us. Inviting peace.
4 thoughts on “Faking it for God: Are you a spiritual fraud?”
That’s incredibly honest and beautiful, Marcus. I just went to hear a talk by a world-famous spiritual teacher I won’t name, and while it would be presumptuous to call her a fraud, there was an incredibly restless, know-it-all energy to her, massively attached to getting across her message. If there was serenity, bliss, peace and love in her heart it sure as hell didn’t come across to me.
If someone has that presence it almost doesn’t matter what they say; just to be with is enough – it becomes satsang rather than lecture, with nowhere to go, nothing to be persuaded of.
Thanks, Simon. I’m just a small fry in the spiritual teachers’ community, but I know it is very easy to develop an attachment to your own ideas and the “selling” of them. There are some teachers who can do that without developing a spiritual ego. Eckhart Tolle is one, as is Leonard Jacobson, who I have mentioned many times here. I have to say self-described spiritual folk are the most difficult to work with when it comes to shadow work!
Marcus, I agree with you, the most notable news story of the month so far. I was discussing this issue with a dear friend, who shared your article with me. I have noted for some time, The End of Improvement. We can trace the roots back to The Master Key System, the personal development book by Charles F. Haanel (1866-1949) that was originally published as a 24-week correspondence course. Napolean Hill gave credit to his work. As it has been out of copyright, works like, The Secret have recycled the idea of improvement ad nauseam for decades and with the internet, the exploitation has exploded. The actual genesis goes back to, The Improvement of the Mind by Dr. Isaac Watts in 1752. It Was commissioned by King George II as a manual for the New World and it’s citizens. From the Cosmic point of View, our true Presence, as Consciousness cannot be improved, only clarified and enlightened. It is truly sad that Lynne and John faced the emptiness of all this and could not transcend the pain and suffering of this karma. I am truly grateful for your perspective Marcus, as it is time for an upgrade to this sector to Pure Knowledge and Wisdom and for all of us to be true to PRESENCE.
Thanks, for that historical perspective, John. Of course my perspective is nothing new, just timeless awareness that many before us have come to understand.