Some time ago, I received an email from a reader stating, “I have evolved past the spiritual understanding of author.”
I chuckled at the reader’s bluntness. He didn’t mince words; clearly, he felt that he had developed capabilities that were not only greater than those of “author” but beyond the “understanding of author.”
Whether or not this is true is beside the point. No doubt there are readers with abilities that are greater than mine, and these may be beyond my understanding. The issue is not your level of development, but the fact that you are striving to develop. One of the keys to growth is recognizing that there is always room for improvement.
In any field, whether it’s sports, the arts, your profession, or spiritual growth there are always going to be some people that are farther along in their development than others. We live in a society where “trash-talking” basketball stars and egomaniacal real estate moguls are idolized. Inevitably, there will be people that feel the need to tell you how much better they are than you. In the area of spiritual development, this is known as “spiritual arrogance.”
By its nature, spiritual arrogance is exclusionary. Unlike the mystic understanding that All is One, people suffering from spiritual arrogance will tell you “they are advanced” implying that “you are not.” Some of the worst offenders are those who have some understanding of the spiritual laws that govern the universe and who have opened some of their inner senses. They are on the path to enlightenment. Where some go astray is when they pronounce themselves gurus.
When that happens, a difference of opinion is often assumed to be an attack on their mastery. I once heard a gifted woman dismiss someone who disagreed with her by explaining, “He’s not one of the 144,000,” implying that he was not one of the chosen ones in the Book of Revelation, but that she was. At other times, I’ve been told to sign up for workshops by self-proclaimed avatars, whose mission is to single-handedly save the earth.
Last year, at a metaphysical conference, an entertainer captured the essence of this illusion. He sang a parody of Carly Simon’s classic, You’re so Vain, renamed You’re so Light. Lyrics included, “All your friends thought that you were enlightened, you were enlightened. You’re so light. You probably think you don’t have a shadow. Don’t you? Don’t you?” The audience was rolling with laughter because they all knew someone that fit that description.
There are two major drawbacks to this behavior:
1) It inhibits your own development. When you already know everything, there’s no room for additional wisdom. This should be self-evident, but additionally just giving the appearance of knowing everything can deter people from sharing their knowledge with you. Who wants to be told, “I already know that?” This shuts off sources of new knowledge. Remember, a wise man can learn more from a fool than a fool from a wise man, and God speaks through everyone, not just avatars.
2) It wastes energy. Anyone who has staked out a position as a guru is forced to conform to this new self-image. This places an unnecessary burden on them. Why burden yourself with having to live up to the expectations of some image? Why waste energy trying to uphold such an image? Why not be exactly who you are, so as to let your true inner self shine through without filters?
In contrast to spiritual arrogance, a trait common to long-term mystics is their humility. Unlike the basketball world, there is no “trash talking.” Attuning with God is not a competitive sport. There is no need to live up to exaggerated claims or false images.
Most long-term mystics recognize that they are a part of the One. They see themselves as students, helping those that might not be as far along in their studies, just as more advanced mystics have helped them in their earlier days. With this viewpoint, they recognize that the “spiritually arrogant” are merely passing through a phase, much as was described in The Surrender of the Ego.
True humility involves the willingness and open-mindedness to accept help and insight from all sources. In Mystic Warrior, the hero, Alec Thorn, illustrates this trait by his willingness to accept guidance from an unlikely source – a florist. Sophie turns out to be one of the wisest characters in the book. Conversely, other characters, oozing with spiritual arrogance, reject outside advice and focus solely on humbling Thorn. Both heroes and villains learn valuable lessons in this spiritual thriller.
Much needless pain can be avoided by recognizing the symptoms of spiritual arrogance. Don’t worry that you might not recognize a true avatar, if one ever does cross your path. There’s a foolproof method for identifying them: you will know them by their fruit.