I’ve always been something of an outsider,
a lone wolf sniffing out my own path
led by the light of my own inner moon
trying to find a home,
trying to find truth.
Modern spirituality is a place I thought I would find it.
But even in this domain, I haven’t found a solid place to lay my head.
The truth is:
I’m profoundly dissatisfied with 90% of spirituality out there.
All this talk of spiritual ascension, enlightenment, self-realization, and “vibrating higher” somehow feels lacking, incomplete.
All this focus on other dimensions, planes of existence, astral beings, and nirvanic bliss feels like avoidance, escapism – running away from what is here right now.
Instead of being something that helps us to experience integration, balance, and wholeness, modern spirituality seems to be tremendously lopsided – it has become a place to numb, bypass or gloss over issues rather than face them. Whereas religion was once the opiate for the masses, now spirituality is.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with using spirituality as a kind of happy-drug, feel-good hobby or source of hope. This is normal and (often) healthy. Not everyone is able to confront reality, and that is okay. We’re all at different stages of growth.
However, the major issue arises when the overarching goal of modern spirituality is to bypass our humanity – to focus only on the “love and light” without getting down and dirty, without doing the real inner work.
(If you want to listen to the rest of this article, you can do so below:)
Table of contents
Spiritual Bypassing and the Rejection of Our Humanity
The denial and avoidance of our humanity occur within nearly every spiritual path – neo-Vedanta, the New Age, Buddhism, esotericism, occultism, Hinduism, Taoism, eastern and western mysticism, even yogic and shamanic paths.
Everywhere I look it seems that there is a shunning, rejection, bypassing or avoidance of our humanity.
Be more “positive” they say. “Good vibes only.” “Manifest more abundance.” “Vibrate higher.” “Focus only on happy thoughts.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of it.
I’m sick and tired of avoiding the raw and real.
I’m sick of trying to stick myself into the “spiritual person” box in which everything is love and bliss and nothing hurts.
I’m sick of the faux spirituality which tells us how to talk, dress, think, feel, and act.
I’m sick of the pressure to be “perfect” and having “transcended” all my shit in order to fit in with those who are on a “high vibrational level.”
I’m sick of oppressive spiritual labels and ideals which create shame and insecurity.
I’m sick of the judgment and rejection of those who dare to be vulnerable and honest about their emotions or weaknesses.
I’m sick of the spiritual narcissism that thinks it’s “better” or “more evolved” than others.
I’m sick of the toxic teachings which reinforce dissociation and the repression of trauma.
I’m sick of the patriarchal philosophies which condemn the aliveness and passion of the body and senses.
I’m sick of all the fake bullshit that masquerades as “spiritual,” “non-dual,” “high vibe,” “awakened,” “ascended,” and “enlightened.”
I’m sick of spirituality that embraces the sacred but rejects the wild within us.
And I’m not innocent – I realize that in many ways, I’m complicit. I’m imperfect. I’m flawed. I’ve had a lot to learn since the beginning of my spiritual path. I’ve believed and adopted inauthentic beliefs and roles. I’ve been guilty of everything and more. But that’s okay.
It’s okay to be imperfect.
It’s okay to keep learning.
It’s okay to keep stumbling and falling.
It’s okay to be a mess.
It’s okay to feel scared.
It’s okay to feel lost.
It’s okay to be both human AND divine.
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You Are a Holy Paradox
It is hard for us as humans to dwell in ambiguity, in nuance, and in the in-between spaces.
Our minds are wired to see the world in black or white, good or bad, this or that. We struggle to understand that we can be BOTH one thing AND another. We struggle to perceive the entirety of our being.
The tragedy of being incapable of dwelling in the in-between spaces – the dusk and dawn of existence – is that we fail to grasp the idea that we are a holy paradox.
In other words:
We are both broken and whole.
We are both perfect and imperfect.
We are both light and dark.
We are both mortal and immortal.
We are both human and divine.
One of my favorite poems ever which perfectly encapsulates this reality is a Gnostic manuscript called “The Thunder, Perfect Mind.” It goes like this:
For I am the first and the last.
I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin.
I am the mother and the daughter.
For I am knowledge and ignorance.
I am shame and boldness.
I am shameless; I am ashamed.
I am strength and I am fear.
I am war and peace.
Give heed to me.
I am the one whom they call Life, and you have called Death.
I am the one whom they call Law, and you have called Lawlessness.
I am the one whom you have pursued, and I am the one whom you have seized.
I am the one whom you have scattered, and you have gathered me together.
The fact that we are a holy paradox is not some kind of dogma – it is a reality that you can experience any time you meditate, introspect, reflect, or practice any kind of deep spiritual inquiry or practice.
“But this is all an illusion,” many people say. “There is no ‘one’ here doing anything” say other Vedantic traditions.
Certainly, on an objective level, the ego is an illusion. Go and practice deep meditation and you will discover that.
But if everything is an illusion, why don’t you go stand in front of a truck and test that theory out? After all, the truck is an illusion, right? (Yep, didn’t think so.)
As the great Indian philosopher and yogi, Sri Aurobindo once wrote,
The impersonal is a truth, the personal too is a truth; they are the same truth seen from two sides.
The reality is that we live in a 3D consensus reality. We are both human and divine. We are made of flesh, bones, and blood – but we are also divine, limitless, and eternal.
The problem is that people prefer to worship divinity and shun the humanity. This leads to the denial of our innate wholeness and the avoidance of dealing with our wounds, shadows, and baggage.
Inevitably, spiritual concepts and words can – and will – be twisted and used by us as ways to escape or avoid reality. In fact, spiritual ideas and truths are almost guaranteed to be used as methods of bypassing the hard work that we need to do.
It’s very easy to become intoxicated with promises of love, light, and eternal peace – while avoiding the reality that you have to do the deep inner work of self-exploration and radical letting go to evolve to such a level.
The Power of Down-to-Earth Spirituality
What if enlightenment were less about fireworks and eternal bliss and more about dissipating the illusions we have about what life itself is? About becoming more authentic, compassionate, and real — and stopping our pretending? About letting the protective layers of our personality structure crumble? About becoming progressively more effective agents of transformation and of the alleviation of suffering the world, beginning with ourselves? … I have come to believe that although different paths have different goals, an authentic and integrated spiritual path should make us more real and human, not less.– M. Caplan
It might not be as popular as tripping out on rainbows, communicating with angels, or traveling to other dimensions, but down-to-earth spirituality is needed by humanity more than ever before.
Without grounding spirituality within the human experience, it becomes a dissociated and disconnected fluffy cloud into which we escape from daily life. Instead of solving our problems, it causes us to repress, deny, or disown them.
But burying our issues doesn’t solve them. Avoiding our messy humanity doesn’t excuse us from human foibles and flaws. Focusing only on “ascending” won’t help us to face our shadows.
We need to both ascend and descend. Only once we descend into the mysterious realms of our psyches and journey through that dark metaphorical forest can we ascend.
To me, the deepest form of spirituality is one that seeks integration, balance, and wholeness. As psychologist Carl Jung once wrote,
Wholeness is not achieved by cutting off a portion of one’s being, but by integration of the contraries.
Down-to-earth spirituality is about integrating ALL aspects of our nature – the good and bad, the nice and nasty, the beautiful and ugly, the sacred and wild combined.
This grounded spirituality is about cultivating and exploring all sides of our nature: our logic and intuition, our mind and soul, and our heart and body.
Down-to-earth spirituality, in the words of integral philosopher Ken Wilber, is about waking up and growing up. In other words, it’s about becoming fully human and taking self-responsibility for our lives as well as learning how to transcend the limited ego self.
True inner peace, wholeness, and love come when we are able to sit with the entirety of our nature, understand it, accept it, and embrace it.
True spirituality, in my perspective, is being able to sit in that twilight space of paradox: of embodying the sacred and embracing the wild within us.
How to Embrace the Sacred and Wild Within You
The impersonal is a truth, the personal too is a truth; they are the same truth seen from two sides of our psychological activity; neither by itself gives the total account of Reality, and yet by either we can approach it.– Sri Aurobindo
To honor both the sacredness and wildness within you is like giving yourself the deepest and most loving embrace you could ever receive.
You’re no longer denying, rejecting, or disowning any part of your nature.
You’re no longer putting on spiritual pretenses or carrying exhausting ideals.
You’re no longer shaming or rejecting your imperfect humanity in favor of a polished spiritual facade.
You’re no longer trying to be something or someone you’re not.
Instead, you’re striving to embrace ALL that you are – nothing excluded, rejected or disowned. This is the essence of authenticity and non-duality.
To embrace the sacred and wild within you requires integrating spiritual practice with psychological growth and healing.
You must seek to explore your core beliefs, unconscious mindsets, toxic habits, defense mechanisms, shadows, and unhealed wounds – or everything hidden within the contents of your mind – and seek to cultivate clarity, balance, and healing.
Parallel to this psychological growth and maturing comes spiritual growth and maturing. Spiritual practice entails anything that helps you to transcend the ego and experience your eternal ever-present nature. Examples could include mindfulness, meditation, shamanic journeying, yoga, and nature immersion.
Here again, there is a paradox – we must seek to both mature and dismantle the ego. Maturing the ego (as in developing a clear and healthy sense of self) is needed in order to prevent unhealed wounds, neuroses, and shadows from rearing their heads and taking over our lives.
In the words of John Bradshaw,
Paradoxical as it may seem, your ego needs to be strong enough to let go of its limited defensiveness and control. You need a strong ego to transcend ego.
Failing to psychologically mature alongside your spiritual growth can be tremendously limiting and dangerous.
For example, the vast majority of scandals out there involving spiritual teachers (think Zen Buddhist leader Eido Tai Shimano, Buddhist teacher Sogyal Rinpoche, Yoga leader Bikram Choudhury, American spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen, etc.) who used their students for money, sex, or power happened due to an imbalance in psychological development.
As yoga teacher and psychologist Mariana Caplan writes,
We cannot assume that simply because we have had profound experiences of spiritual illumination or enduring insights, all aspects of our psychology have been touched by our awareness … Rarely does heightened awareness take the place of the necessary and humbling task of learning to feel and digest our own psychological pain, or of the gritty challenges of dealing with human relationship, self-hatred, shame, sexuality, and intimacy with others. Spiritual insight can, but often does not, penetrate psychological conditioning.
We need to strive for balance. In order to practice embodied and down-to-earth spirituality, we must psychologically and spiritually mature. Exploration of our body, mind, heart, and soul – the unification of all parts of our nature – is imperative.
But how can we psychologically and spiritually mature?
Here is a simple map that Mateo and I have developed and crystallized over the course of many years. These steps also form our core principles – or that which is at the center of everything we strive to do here and in our lives:
1. Walk your own path
Embrace being different. Honor your inner wolf. Permit yourself to be an outsider. Go the path less traveled. Find your meaning in life. Challenge the status quo. Dare to be unorthodox. Celebrate non-conformity.
1.1 Be true to yourself
Practice radical authenticity. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Do what feels true and honest to you. Defend your integrity. Listen to your calling.
1.2 Be a rebel
Question everything. Be a free spirit. Rebel against the norm. Embrace your inner misfit. Celebrate your wild and untamable Self. Don’t accept anything unless it makes sense. Ask, “Is this true?”
1.3 Be passionate and sincere
Practice deep sincerity. Be fervent about the pursuit of truth, depth, and understanding. Be open, receptive, and humble. Be genuine and serious about the spiritual path. Be wholehearted (not lukewarm).
2. Be fiercely discerning
See through the veil of deception. Unmask falsehood and hypocrisy both within yourself and others compassionately. Illuminate the darkness and practice shadow work. Explore what is reality versus illusion. Be discerning and clear-minded. Ask, “How am I/others being dishonest?”
3. Know and accept yourself
Strive to be self-aware and understand who you are at every level. Explore your strengths and weaknesses. Investigate your body, mind, heart, and soul. Practice inner work and soul work. Practice self-compassion and learn to love the beautiful and ugly parts of yourself. Trust and honor yourself. Discover and dissolve the blockages obscuring your Inner Light. Listen to the small, still voice inside. [Read more about self-awareness and how to love yourself]
4. Embrace your humanity and divinity
Permit yourself to be both human and divine. Practice embodied and down-to-earth spirituality. Integrate spiritual practice with psychological growth and healing. Strive to wake up and grow up. Use logic and intuition. Ground spirituality in daily life. Seek integration, balance, Wholeness, and to unify all parts of your nature. Honor your wild nature and divine spark of Soul.
5. Awaken to your True Nature
Practice the power of mindfulness and presence. See your interconnectedness with all beings. Commit to relaxing identification with the false self. Investigate your True Nature beyond name, identity, and form. Ask “Who am I?” and practice self-inquiry. Open your heart, trust, and let go. Recognize your boundless and eternal Essence that is always and already here. [Read more about self-inquiry and rediscovering your True Nature]
I’m not claiming this is the path. There are many paths up the mountain.
This map is simply what I have found to be true and what I respect and stand for. Also, the process of growth, awakening, and integration isn’t linear either. The path through that forest is often a spiral: when you reach the end, you have only just found the beginning and vice versa.
To give you a place to start on your journey of embracing both your sacred and wild nature (if that calls to you), I’ll pose a few questions. You’re free to record your answers in a journal or ruminate over them in your own time:
- What wild part of me am I rejecting?
- What do I value the most about my humanity?
- What does authenticity mean to me?
- When I picture wholeness, what does it look, sound, or feel like?
- How can I spiritually mature?
- What path does my soul feel called towards?
- What shadows are lurking within me?
- In what ways am I disowning my light?
Answering these questions will likely give you some illuminating responses and reveal some potent inner truths which you can begin to work with.
(If journaling is intimidating to you, learn more about how to journal.)
Love All That You Are
Honoring both your humanity and divinity comes back to love.
To love and embrace all that you are is your birthright.
When most people think of love they picture the warm-and-fuzzy kind. But love is so much more than that. Love is also ruthless self-honesty and authenticity.
Love is being able to sit in the storms of your ugliness and burning shame and say to yourself, “It’s okay, I understand, I forgive you.”
Love is being able to gently cradle yourself through your darkest night of the soul and deepest pits of despair.
Love is being able to pick yourself up out of the filth and grit of daily life and still see your divine worth.
Love is being able to cut through the shit and live your own truth.
Love is believing that you are lovable and worthy, despite how others treat you.
Love is reclaiming the power you have projected and taking responsibility for your life.
Love is all these things, and so much more.
So, dear sacred wild one, may you give yourself permission to be both human and divine.
May you honor your wild nature and eternal soul.
May you embrace the wild wolf within.
May you come to truly experience – and embody – fierce and unconditional love.
Lots of love.
Thank you for this wonderful article. I have seen that all is illusion. I am in this illusion. I am grateful for this illusion. I would not be able to have any experience of other without creating/co-creating reality. I love and accept everything. Light and dark, good and bad, etc. All Duality is illusion. I love duality. I love having the experience of being and doing. WOW!!!!!!!
Thank you for this exceptional article, which for me is the best you have posted. So much to explore!
Blessings, with many thanks.
This has to be one of, if not the best and truest pieces you have written. Supebly worded, for me, so very very true and deeply personal. There were too many part’s of what you’ve written for me to quote that I too have discovered as I’ve moved and made it through the different and varying stages of my spiritual growth and healing practice, as still continue to. One though, that became abundantly clear very early on to me, and that I have since said to others hundreds of times, is that ‘You have to do the deep, and often tremendously painful inner work’. That will not happen magically, through any amount of positive thinking, during meditation or anything, that part, is for us to discover, disect, understand, move through, come back together and grow and mature as an evolved human. Once again thank you for this great message. Stay true. Angela.
This is such a beautiful and truthful text! It came to me perfectly in time and in life
I recently came to some insights and made a video that says some of the same stuff.
I think this is truly your best article and I am very thankful that it lasts someone is talking the truth. All this love and light nonsense has me up my ass with confusion frustration and fury. People need to hear like it is.
This path is not fairy farts and fucking rainbows.
I especially resonate with this article as lately I have been coming to struggle with what is seemingly my bisexuality and constantly trying to figure out if I am one or the other when in fact maybe there are no labels and I have a hard time accepting that because for some reason I have an idea that I must be one or the other.
Such an excellent article ! Thank you
Recently I was telling my husband that “spirituality” has turned into what “religion” has. Not all of it bad but to much wanting to tell the people what’s right and wrong, acceptable or not. I love to learn and hear new thoughts on things. I backed away from spirituality (what’s on the internet and books) and had a conversation with God telling him that I was backing away, but continuing in my way of asking him for guidance. Everything was starting to feel very alien to me. After I had my talk with God I felt much better and feel more whole again.
Holy Crap Batwoman! The content really spoke to me, resonated with me and validated what I am going through as I seek to be real, authentic and embrace the sacred and profane wild aspects of the nature. I have been a seeker since I was a teen and have seen and been through just about every spiritual angle. I still study as lot, read books and keep looking for the takeaways and dismissing the bulshit. I have learned to listen to my bullshit meter (intuition) and connect with what is true and real for me. I am a rebel, a maverick, scoundrel and spiritual scamp. I hear a different drummer, I no longer look for happiness in all the wrong places as I realize I create my own happiness and true happiness is within me as well as pain and dysfunction. It’s all OK. I so loved the article and appreciated the audio version. You got a great voice. Thank you so much!
Hi dear ones,
These words hit me right in all my feels. Loved every-everything about this post. “Good vibes only” make me sick and being told to always cheer up and think positive…no. That’s not me. Not all of me anyways. There’s sooo much more to the human experience and people really miss out on all the beauty in being in a melancholic state for example. Spending time with my inner muse while in that state is so rewarding for my creative spirit. Why should I run from it, trying to make it go away at any cost?!
We are all on a spectrum; if we can be one thing – we can also be the other and that’s the magic of it all.
So thank you!
I really appreciate you and the work you do!
With love & gratitude, Erika in Sweden
Bingo!! You hit the nail on the head…And the truth shall set you free….Well Well