It has been 84 years since Yogananda visited the US and began teaching about self-realization.
Since his arrival yoga studios, wellness centers and fellowships have become popular in an effort to liberate oneself and others from suffering and spiritual ignorance. On the surface, it appears that there is growth in consciousness towards self-realization. The problem is that I have also seen a surge in spiritual trendiness over the past 10 years.
A brilliant egotistic scheme masking the spiritual emptiness that lives underneath the Ganesh tattoos, Om tank tops and bodies stretched across colorful Yoga mats.
I know this to be true because my ego was part of that tribe.
In the early days of my self discovery quest, I stumbled upon Shamanism. After several years, of beating drums and building medicine wheels, I began running empowerment groups. The pages of every popular self-help book were memorized and crafted into the everyday language I used to communicate with others.
I earned a graduate degree in counseling to add validity to my inner wisdom. I thought I was more evolved than others, only I had experienced many failed relationships. I noticed that suitors and romantic partners idealized me, mistakenly believing I had more positive than negative reactions to the stress of life.
They projected their own goodness onto me. They based their impression of me based on my clothing style, language and way of life. Then as soon as they witnessed how I was actually coping with life stress, they walked the other way.
I believed it was possible to be a deeply evolved spiritual person who was capable of healthy relationships—but all the while I was privately suffering with self-loathing thoughts. A history of trauma and deep suffering were written in every page of my journals. My best friend was alcohol. I had turned against myself on many occasions, creating chaos and drama in my life. I had deep scars from self-abandonment and a corrupted belief system about myself.
This unconscious spiritual illusion began to morph and grow more clever in disguise. I met someone who I experienced healthy love with at the start. It was easy and non-toxic. I slid a ring on my finger and had a family. Financial pressures revealed themselves and led me to drift into corporate America. The letters MBA were to follow my last name within a couple of years.
Tibetan prayer flags were hung across the driveway of my lavish home. My spiritual quest continued in the form of trips around the world receiving blessings in every country from monks to priests. I wore stylish hip bohemian clothing. My child went to a private school. I had my chakras balanced once a year. African drums were carefully placed near the stone fire place. A bowl of crystals and rocks sat near the entrance of my home. Guests entering were cleansed with sage and became intoxicated by the energy of a surreal and peaceful environment.
I thought I had achieved the perfect balance of a deep rich inner spiritual world and the model of a successful external world.
Privately, I was suffering on occasion. Despite, everything I had built in my life. I still felt unlovable and unworthy. I used alcohol to cover this pain. I was unhappy. I felt a void inside.
After a decade of marriage, this spiritual illusion was shattered by poor choices that I made in response to feeling overwhelmed. I hurt people. I hurt myself. I lost all control. Shame was spiralling into darkness, and there was nothing enlightened about the way that I coped with the unbearable pain of my own life.
The constriction into a smaller sense of self had me trapped into a cycle of guilt, despair and hopelessness. I drank until I lost consciousness. I cried. I screamed. I was barely functioning. I couldn’t go to work. There was a no loving presence within me.
I had no God. I was going through a divorce and losing my family. I self-destructed.
A year later, I temporarily picked up the pieces. I thought it was my spiritual self that had returned. I had a Reiki session. I took a Yoga Class. I smudged. I deactivated my dating apps.
I even fell in love again.
Then came more bad decisions and the old relationship patterns reappeared. People fell in love with my spiritual trendiness believing that I was the ideal partner. Once they realized that I had a broken spirit their unconditional love and acceptance speeches were null and void. Emotionally charged break-ups followed. I was still using my outer earthy appearance to hide the emotional torment that I experienced on a daily basis.
This illusion was becoming more and more difficult to maintain.
However, it was unconsciousness at the time. I carried my journal in a buddha bag purchased on a trip to Bali. I’d sit at raw juice bars journalling while I nursed severe hangovers from late night drinking binges. I had an enlightened vocabulary. I could quote Rumi. My yogi clothing covered my fragmented sense of self. I received a new tattoo every time I hit a low point, thinking it would somehow improve my mental health with reminders and symbols on my skin. I went to therapy drunk at times. I traveled around the world visiting shrines, mosques, and temples. Somehow, I believed these trips were increasing my goal of being spiritually awake. At the same time, I wasn’t even sure what being spiritually awake even meant.
Fear and insecurity cloaked itself by manifesting as controlling behaviors in my romantic relationships. I was highly reactive. I chose companionship over comparability. I couldn’t let anything go. I was afraid to feel my feelings. I was co-dependent.
I was scared.
Then it happened, the dark night of the soul. A close friend knew of my suffering. She explained that she needed to spend a least a few minutes every day to check in with herself in order to restore her sense of well-being. It involved making herself a cup of coffee, reading inspirations passages, checking in with herself then journaling.
She said it was her daily spiritual practice.
Then she asked me the most simple question which had the greatest impact on my feelings, thoughts and actions. She said, what does your daily spiritual practice involve?
Immediately, I felt frozen, but awakened instantly to the realization that my sophisticated ego had hijacked me into the trance of a spiritual trend—unconsciously, I had become a spiritual fraud. My pursuit for self-realization had taken the wrong direction.
My outer spiritual life had become an attractive shell hiding the fragile vulnerable abandoned self that was desperate for my attention and love on the inside.
I never deceived anyone on purpose. I never meant to turn against myself. I was completely unaware. I believed the thoughts about myself to be true. I light of the realization, surrender was the only option. I began to reconsider what is meant to “be” spiritual. It came to me that it requires self love with no addictions or attachments.
Being a spiritual person requires daily devotion and practice. I fell to my knees and began to pray. I sobbed uncontrollably. I begged the divine for forgiveness. Being spiritual means letting go of the old self, breaking up with the past. It is a recovery process from years of self-abandonment. My best friend alcohol and I had to break up. This meant that I had to have courage to feel all my feelings.
And I vowed not to use humans to fill my God-shaped problem.
I chose to love myself endlessly and not wait for anyone else to do it ever again.
True spiritual seekers move towards self-realization.
Spiritual progress can be evaluated a in many ways. We can bear witness to ourselves via questions like:
- Do my thoughts, feelings and actions align?
- Do I react or respond to difficult life stress?
- Are my responses to difficulties based in love and kindness?
I have made progress stepping out of my own darkness and into the light. My mornings begin with gratitude practice, where I focus on being blessed to be alive another day. I light a candle, burn incense and focus on my third eye. Then I ask a question, place a hand over my heart and wait for the answer.
All of this takes consciousness, presence and practice.
I kept asking myself where my blocks were as a part of investigating any unmet needs. While backpacking in Bali, Indonesia I learned that Hindus start each day with an intention. And they revisit that intention several times throughout the day to make sure their actions are in alignment. I have tried this and it works. I highly recommend memorizing a few mantras and repeating these phrases throughout the day to overcome struggles and recenter in the present moment with more balance.
I talk to God. I ask for any spirit guides and angels to protect and strengthen me.
I pray several times a day.
An important part of a spiritual practice is connected breathing and meditation.This can unlock stagnant past emotions that need to be freed from the shadows and incorporated into a newly found loving presence.
Being spiritual means being honest and authentic. It means getting good at going towards the warmth when times are tough. It is important to consider how we project ourselves via text, in person, at work and on social media.
We need to take a good look at our inner world, get honest with ourselves to see how our inner and outer worlds align. If they don’t match up, it may be time to focus more on your inner life. For me this meant actually drumming instead of displaying my drums as objects. I am now the drummer in a Kirtan group. I attend bi-weekly group meditation. I spend a lot of time in nature to feel the aliveness of the divine at work and to reflect how everything is changing and nothing is permanent. This helps when I feel stuck in a difficult emotion—I remember that it will pass.
I have begun to trust the process. I journal daily. I take breaks throughout the day to check in with myself. I go inward and pay close attention to my body—is there tightness in my chest or an empty feeling inside? Then I give myself what I need to feel whole instead of seeking it externally. I let things go and let things be.
For the first time in my life, my outer trendy spiritual style has become reflection of the rich inner life that I am building on a daily basis. No matter how brilliantly our outer mask wears its disguises to protect your venerability and pain, it’s never too late to start building a daily practice along the true inner spiritual path of self-realization.
Author: Melissa Rondeau
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Wimena Kane at Flickr