An Open Letter to Spiritual Seekers: Disillusion is Part of the Path
Often on social media I am witness to the disappointment of spiritual seekers who have discovered the “dark side” of whatever modality or community they had previously embraced.
It might be a Roman Catholic who is fed up with abusive priests. It might be a tarotist who is disappointed by infighting. It might be a yoga student who got groped by the teacher in class. It might be a Wiccan who is tired of an ego-tripping High Priestess.
In each case, in each rant, blog post or tweet, I hear the same sentiments. “This is someone who should have known better.” “I expected more from someone in their position.” “Given the doctrine, this behavior is hypocritical”. In most cases, I agree. There are a lot of posers in every spiritual community, and most of them should indeed know better.
So often, the spiritual seeker goes away mad. They leave a path that has provided them something important, something vital, because they are disillusioned.
Sometimes, walking away is the right thing to do. Not every spiritual path is for every person. Not every community will resonate for you. Sometimes, tastes change, and that’s OK. Some leaders and teachers truly are frauds, and should be avoided.
But if you are thinking about walking away from a path that you love, because of people whose behavior you don’t love, please think again.
Whether we are talking about dance class or drum circle, any community that forms around creativity and spirituality will draw unto itself a wide variety of people, all of whom need healing. From those folks, teachers and leaders will emerge. Generally, those who show the most talent and find the most healing are the ones who take on leadership roles. Sometimes, however, the ones who have the largest egos, or the biggest insecurities, will be the ones with the drive for leadership.
Our leaders, our teachers, our priests and our gurus are human, too. The ones whose service is based on ego probably won’t serve you very well. The ones whose service is borne of a true desire to serve may still irritate and disappoint you, but they will serve you nonetheless.
The same is true of the dogma, doctrine and practices of our various modalities and traditions. Sadly, most of everything we are and do is in some way borne of something less than our desire for a great origin myth would prefer. The “ancient and mysterious” tarot began as a game only five hundred years ago. You probably won’t find much authentic Hindu practice in the yoga studio on Main Street. Wicca has been pretending to be an ancient religion since the 1950s.
But does any of this make tarot, or yoga, or Wicca, or any other creative, healing or spiritual pursuit less worthwhile? The answer depends completely on the seeker.
When you set out on your journey as a spiritual seeker, you enter into a contract with the Universe. You will find human teachers along your path, but your ultimate advisor on this course of study is the Universe itself.
The disappointment and disillusionment that you will inevitably find along the way is not meant to deter you from your spiritual path. The disenchantment that you experience is a necessary part of your spiritual path. Your disillusion may drive you away from a teacher or tradition that doesn’t appeal to you, or doesn’t feel ethical or appropriate. Your disillusion helps you define your path and your identity.
When you become frustrated with your teachers because they’ve let their humanity show, an opportunity for growth has presented itself.
When you see the mistakes your teacher is making, you recognize your own growth, and your own skill. Sometimes our most helpful teachers teach us what not to do, by example.
How you react to those mistakes is another opportunity. Can you gracefully step up and make a difference in your community, without disrespecting your teacher?
Can you accept your teacher’s authority, despite their capacity for error?
Can you break ties with a teacher or a community without drama or bad feelings?
The energy with which you take your next step will determine whether you have taken this opportunity for spiritual growth.
If a leader is clearly breaking the law, abusing people, or something equally heinous, react with the full weight of your anger and indignation, and contact the authorities.
If a leader is simply demonstrating their humanity, enjoy your opportunity to demonstrate your growth by acting in a way that honors people for where they are on their own path.
No human is perfect. Too many of us try to deify particular humans, so that we can place our trust in them. We mistake our spiritual journey as one where we must find our perfect teacher, or our perfect path, or our perfect community.
Progress on the spiritual path comes when we realize that those things can never exist.
Then comes clarity, where we can find value in our teachers, traditions and communities, even when we know the best and the worst about them.
So often, I hear people saying, “I think I have found the teacher (or path, or community) that won’t disappoint me.” My answer is, “I hope not!”
The only reason you would never be disappointed is if you never truly explored, never truly thought for yourself, and never truly grew. Exploration, introspection and self-determination are the goals of the journey. When we stop looking for perfection in others, we start finding peace within.
When we are disappointed with our teachers, it may be a sign of our own increased skill and knowledge. A good teacher knows this, and appreciates when it happens. A smart teacher will learn from her students, and let them pick up the tasks where they excel.
Disillusionment is the gift that replaces false expectations with true understanding., and allows us to embrace the nature and purpose of our humanity. Aren't those things all spiritual seekers are hoping to find?