When most people come into any particular religion or spiritual discipline, they tend to have a mental image and perception of what it means to be “spiritual.” For example, what comes to mind when you hear the term “spiritual?” What do you think of?
If you’re like most people, you picture a thin person wearing flowy clothes and a dreamy smile, perhaps sitting still in meditation or walking around saying “Namaste” and reeking of patchouli. They probably have long, messy hair, or locs, or a bald head, wear no make-up, and speak softly in quiet, measured tones. They utter long, confusing sentences filled with New Age jargon. And they never, ever – ever – get angry.
This is a fictitious character. A stereotype. Like any stereotype, there is some truth to it. You will find “spiritual” people who fit this image. But it’s dangerous to purposely adopt this stereotype in an attempt to be “holy.” Why?
Because spirituality does not have a uniform. And there is nothing noble about being “nice.” When I use the term nice here, I am NOT referring to being a good and decent human being. You don’t even have to be “spiritual” to be a good and decent human being. What I’m referring to is the stereotype of “nice” that many “spiritual” people aspire to.
There is also nothing good about never getting angry. If injustice doesn’t make you angry, you are not spiritual. By angry, I do not mean screaming, cursing, or hitting. That is an undisciplined, out-of-control fear-response to the emotion of anger. Anger is a visceral response to something we don’t want to be happening. The anger itself is neither good nor bad. Like any emotion, it is just information. The anger is informing us that something is wrong, according to our own value system.
For example, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was angry about racism, bigotry, and segregation. He saw the grave injustice of racism, and he knew it was wrong. Everyone knew it was wrong, but the power structure benefited from this unjust system. King did not look upon racism and simply tell people they should “think positively.” He did not say things like “Racism isn’t a part of my reality. I live in love.” No, he saw an injustice and, while LIVING in love, he absolutely used his anger to motivate himself and thousands of others to DO something about it. The Bible does NOT say “Anger is a sin.” It says “Be angry and sin NOT.”
When so-called spiritual people adopt the stereotype, and pretend to feel nothing other than love and joy, they do themselves and others a grave disservice. Not only do they practice deception (and, more importantly, self-deception), they render themselves unfit to help people who may genuinely be suffering. People who are suffering need authenticity from the people trying to help them. I can’t count how many times I’ve either experienced or seen someone try to share something painful in their lives, only to be turned away and rejected by some spiritual person who can’t sully their pristine ears with anything “negative.” The uncomfortable expression on their “spiritual” face, along with their quick exit, informs the hurting person that they cannot be helped, and that no one really cares.
The result is fake people with fake smiles, hiding their true feelings from one another. It leads to inauthentic communication, lying, secret or double-lives, and self-deception. It causes people to downplay their real problems because they don’t want to be rejected by all the “positive” people around them. Instead of being of real service to hurting people who need spiritual help, the “spiritual, too-nice” person can only spout pious platitudes, and hide from any reality that bums them out.
This inauthentic behavior often backfires, leaving the “too nice” person vulnerable to abuse by unscrupulous people who understand the deceptive game they are playing, but know how to play the game better.
Narcissists, sociopaths, con-artists, etc. prey on the “too nice” folks. These predators understand that the Too Nicers are just fearful people who care more about what other people think than about their own authentic experience. The predators understand that the Too Nicers get an ego boost from their “spiritual” personas. The Too Nicers talk a good game, but their lives, attitudes, emotions, and behavior do not reflect a deep knowledge of spiritual principles. The predators can then use a fake spiritual message to lure them in.
This is how many people get sucked into cults, predatory religions, and even abusive personal relationships. The “spiritual” victim falls for the superficial words of the con artist – because both of them are playing a similar deceptive game! The predator makes the “too nice” victim feel “more spiritual,” by appealing to their ego, making them feel elevated and special, separate from the rest of the negative world. Two fake facades interact, but only the predator is aware of what’s really going on. The Too Nicer ends up being exploited, abused and discarded. Sadly, in abusive relationships, some Too Nicers even conclude that God Himself WANTS them to suffer! It’s their “cross to bear.” Suffering, then, gets elevated to the status of spiritual practice, rather than the red flag that it really is.
If you find yourself feeling superior to others because you are just “sooo nice” and other people are not, it’s time to rethink that. Whenever you can be nice and authentic at the same time, you are doing great! Wonderful! But there will always be times when, to do the right thing, you must stand your ground and oppose what someone wants to do – or what they want YOU to do. They might not “like” you when you refuse. But, to say “yes” in that moment would be a violation of your own standards and boundaries, an act of self-abandonment and low self-worth. If you discover that someone is using or abusing you, and you go along with it just to “be nice,” you are co-responsible for the abuse. You are not to blame, but you are responsible.
The world does not need any more “nice” people. The world needs principled, strong, moral, disciplined, and courageous people who are willing to hold the world to a higher standard. Spirituality is reflected in the overall progress of our own lives. It is not a fictitious character that we play on Sunday.
In order to become spiritual, you do NOT have to:
- Shave your head (or grow locs)
- Wear flowing robes
- Speak in a soft, affected voice
- Allow people to abuse you
- Get people to like you
- Go along with what others want you to do
- Eat any special diet
- Avoid wearing shoes
- Stop wearing make-up
- Or pretend you don’t have the normal range of human emotions
And, it is PERFECTLY OKAY to:
- Get angry
- Feel bored sometimes
- Not smile 24/7
- Have occasional financial trouble
- End a toxic or unfulfilling relationship
- Not be skinny
- Not do yoga
- Laugh loudly
- Be friends with those who are not “spiritual”
As long as you have a daily spiritual practice, and are seeing genuine progress in your own life from month to month and year to year, you are spiritual. Don’t pretend that you have no problems. Find safe people to talk to – people who will actually listen to you – people who will not slap you down with pithy sayings, or tell you to “stop being negative.”
If you get angry about something, that’s okay. Figure out why you’re feeling angry. Is it really just a bruised ego, or are you noticing a true injustice? If the anger is justified, learn to transmute the anger into effective action. Go ahead and sit in meditation, but then get up, and see if you can do something to help the situation.
All of our emotions – positive and negative – are valuable. They provide information. They allow us to participate in the full human experience. Our struggles teach us valuable lessons and make us stronger. If you try to share the burden on your heart with someone, and they blow you off with a condemning “Oh, wow, how did you manage to manifest THAT??” Ignore that person. There are many reasons why you may be experiencing a particular problem. Maybe you did “manifest” it through a series of negative thoughts and habits. Or maybe not. Maybe that experience is a blessing and a gift, which you will only understand in hindsight.
Real spirituality is not for the simple-minded. It is not a dress-up game or something to impress others. It is challenging, life-altering work, and it requires our full, honest, authentic participation. Being too nice is a way of hiding from that. It’s a coping mechanism that may have protected you from abusive adults as a child, or gotten you friends in school. But, now that you are an adult, you can choose to let go of coping mechanisms and step into a more authentic expression of YOU.
Peace and love,