To truly create something different, to rise above the standard forms that we have been handed, to reach new levels of collective spiritual insight, we need more evolved leadership.
We may have desires to create something different, but it is up to us to take responsibility and make sure we are walking the walk of being a truly transformational leader.
To one degree or another, leaders in the past have been people who tell others what to do. They direct or inform. In moments, they might inspire, but the inspiration, more often than not, is more of a pointer in the direction where their followers should be headed.
This old model is partly born of a notion that the leader has something in his or her head that the others involved need to learn how to execute on or adhere to. What is more true is that, while a leader might know something about where the group is going, there is quite a bit that is unknown—growth requires a stepping into the unknown. The leader will be just as changed and surprised by the process as everyone else.
When we assume that the leader has the answer and the followers are merely trying to catch up or make it happen, it devalues the contributions of those involved. It creates a dysfunctional hierarchy based on an authoritarian model where one person knows and everyone else learns or follows.
While this works at certain levels of consciousness, where the divine nature, creative spark, and soul essence are not yet being expressed, once we are operating in groups with more consciousness, the old model becomes oppressive.
As a leader, it is easy to think that we have grown beyond this model when in fact we have not. It takes continual refinement to advance beyond established norms of leadership.
To be clear, to embrace new forms of leadership worthy of our collective growth in consciousness, we do not need to do away with all forms of hierarchy—in fact, that is somewhat problematic. We do need, however, to work with these structures in an entirely new way.
In a healthier, more advanced version of leadership worthy of our noble endeavors, the leader is the first person to adjust their behavior. This above all else is what makes them the leader. They do not need to tell others to make changes so that then they can change or realize their objective. They change so that others can also make changes.
As a leader, before making a request, you make the desired shift inside of yourself. If you see a problem in someone else’s behavior, see how it is showing up in your behavior or how you are contributing to its creation.
Following on this, the question when things are not working out is not what does this other person need to do to get on track, but what do you need to do to be a better leader. This rigorous inquiry and adjustment is the foundation of a more advanced leadership.
As your leadership becomes more refined, it is built on listening to what is coming through each individual and harnessing this in service of a collective vision. You are not fearlessly in front barking out commands to those following, but tirelessly attending to the full expression of what is coming through.
This part of leadership often requires sitting back. Not a resentful sitting back, creating a standoff of disengagement and fear, but the sitting back that creates perspective on what is happening, that grounds itself in the larger vision, that holds a light for others to see by.
From this perspective, it is possible to see how to maximize everyone’s potential and grow the collective work. It is possible to see how to help people contribute more and better. With humility, it is possible to put aside agendas about what things should look like and create excellence from what is.
This type of leader looks at each person and evaluates them not only on a collective standard but on their individual contribution. What wisdom does this person have to offer in their approach to the work at hand? How might what is bothering or challenging your actually be a missing piece in making it work?
Or, if a person is making mistakes, not showing up, or being otherwise problematic, the question for the other person from the evolved leader is: “What do you need to make this work for you,” instead of “why are you making this mistake?”
If, after being given the support that they need to succeed, someone is unable to rise to the call of what is needed, this is its own instruction and will most often be evident to all involved, creating smooth transitions and ongoing goodwill.
This shift alone begins to dissolve unhealthy dynamics that people have with authority figures. No longer do people need to prove their worth and value to the leader. They can trust that their worth and value is an intrinsic part of the whole. They know that the obstacles they face will be easier to overcome because they have the support of both the leader and the collective.
These more developed leaders, whom I imagine you are trying to become, do not have followers. You have collaborators who, through their deep respect for your leadership, give their all to a joint creation. These collaborators are fully empowered to be leaders themselves and are capable of being led by others they are working with.
As you make the shift to this more powerful form of leadership, what you are able to create exponentially increases. No longer does one person need to bear the burden of bringing forth the vision; rather, the vision is brought forth from the collective hearts and souls of all who are involved, making it powerful and secure beyond measure.
What is Spiritual Bypassing…And, Is it Really a Problem?
“Spiritual bypassing, a term coined in the early 1980s by psychologist John Welwood, refers to the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with uncomfortable feelings, unresolved wounds, and fundamental emotional and psychological needs.” –Jonathan Toniolo
In extreme cases, it leads to denied or disowned aspects of ourselves that may leak out unexpectedly as we move through life.
We can suspect spiritual bypassing when we are using spiritual tools to avoid uncomfortable emotions, when we have become identified with the goal rather than the process of spirituality, or when we need to appear a certain way to be seen as spiritual.
Just as everyone uses defense strategies, everyone with a spiritual orientation is at risk of spiritual bypassing.
The trick is that one use for spiritual tools is to direct our attention, energy, and emotion toward positive growth. How do we tell the difference between this productive use of the tools and spiritual bypassing?
The answer is not in the tools themselves, but in the reasons that we use them. And it is not a binary system. At any point we may not be completely spiritually bypassing, but it is very likely that it is happening to some degree. We might be productively using our spiritual tools for the most part while also escaping some uncomfortable emotions that need to be examined.
Another area where people get confused about spiritual bypassing is when it happens in conjunction with intense emotions. Just because you have intense emotions—negative or otherwise—it does not mean that you are not spiritually bypassing. Sometimes we choose one emotional experience, even if it is challenging, over the one that we really need to be experiencing if we want to grow and heal.
The same is true for “confronting” realities. We might actively work on one area of our life so that we appear to be devoted to our spiritual and personal development while ignoring the area that is in desperate need of attention.
The bottom line is that it is not the superficial aspects of our behavior that represent spiritual bypassing, but rather the underlying mechanisms and our intent. It is very tricky terrain, and try as we might, we will all likely use spiritual bypassing at some point to cope with our lives.
The questions are—as with most things—to what degree are we doing it, and at what cost? When we frequently use spiritual bypassing, we are at risk of relegating parts of ourselves to the shadows—the disowned aspects of our selves. These parts of our selves are not gone: they are simply removed from our awareness because of our own denial. When we do this, we are likely to act in ways that are not in alignment with our spiritual efforts. If we are deep in denial, we will not even see what we are doing.
Spiritual bypassing is simply a defense mechanism, and, for many, a rather innocuous one—but for those people who are spiritual leaders or avid seekers, it poses a much larger threat because it presents a mechanism by which one can believe that they are on the path while in truth they are quite far from it.
“The spiritual ego can arise before and after liberation. Vigilance is required until the very last breath.” -Mu
Anyone on a spiritual path is at risk of falling prey to toxic spirituality, whether it is their own, that of someone close to them, or a spiritual leader’s. But the behaviors that create toxic spirituality are commonplace, and we can all very likely find at least some minor way that we engage in them. These problems amplify with the degree to which these behaviors are allowed to flourish—be they in our spiritual lives or otherwise.
Below are six signs that bad habits exist or have started to develop.
The Belief That the Rules Don’t Apply to Us: This can start in small ways—for example, with experiencing preferential treatment such as not waiting one’s turn or expecting to be treated in a special way—but can grow into bigger, more egregious infractions, all of which can fly under the radar until a much larger problem has developed.
Justification of Harmful Behavior: This is especially dangerous when behavior is excused through spiritual means. Well beyond preferential treatment is when harm to another person is justified by spiritual reasons as, for example, when the person who creates the harm claims they were told to do so by a spiritual source for the other person’s good or their spiritual development.
Superiority Mindset: You start believing your religion or religious group is the best or that they are better than others because of their pedigree, depth of knowledge, or place along their spiritual path.
Believing That You Are Beyond Simple and Best Practices: You begin to believe that you do not need to practice what you preach and subsequently abandon the foundational practices of your spirituality.
Polarized Identification: This habit involves identifying with the light and forgetting to see one’s limitations. This can range from glossing over problematic behaviors to the outright denial of their existence.
“Do As I Say, Not As I Do” Mentality: You create a standard by which others need to prove their worthiness and level of spiritual purity while your own problematic behavior is allowed to go unchecked.
If we notice that we have begun to slip ourselves, then the foundational practices of love, forgiveness, and respect can go a long way toward helping us get back on track. If we notice any of the above negative traits in another person, we may benefit from assessing the impact of the behavior and making choices that maintain our spiritual health.
Four Tools for Creating an Ethical Organization (group, program, family etc…)
I believe that most people want to do the right thing most of the time—so why is it that they so often don’t, and what can we do about it? Whether it is in the place we work, a program we have created, or even our family, what supports the people involved in the best possible way?
When people are in environments where speaking up comes with consequences, they are under pressure to achieve unrealistic goals, ethics are either not talked about or only given lip service, and the leader is seen as not walking the walk, they are likely to make bad choices—small or large.
Drawing from an article in the Harvard Business Review by Ron Carucci, “Why Ethical People Make Unethical Choices,” the following offers four straightforward ways to create more health in any group you lead or are a part of.
Create an Environment Where People Can Speak Up: When people are able to voice their concerns, they both help the group grow and create an opportunity for problems to be solved. Additionally, when people are able to speak up about problems that they see, they are less likely to use unethical means to solve those problems. This type of environment is created less by what one says and more by the way one responds when feedback has been given.
Create Clear and Achievable Goals as Well as the Means to Meet Them: Performance goals that are unrealistic—whether because of the goals themselves or because there are not the means to meet them—encourage unethical behavior. People are stuck between a rock and a hard place: not meeting the goal or cutting corners to get it done. This is amplified by the amount of pressure that is put on people to achieve the unrealistic goals. Unrealistic goals over an extended period of time not only encourage unethical behavior but also decrease the motivation of the people who are involved.
Talk About Ethics: If you want ethics to be important, then make the conversation about them central to what it is that you are doing. Make it clear what the ethical standards are for your group, and be an example of what those behaviors look like in action. This is further supported by including ethical considerations in each aspect of what is being done.
Set a Positive Example: Especially if you are the leader of the group, it is important to act in a way that conveys ethical integrity. This takes into consideration that many people have been disappointed by leaders in the past and will likely be expecting you to do the same. Take extra time to not only walk the walk but to help clear up any misunderstandings that might be generated so that you may help to build a trusting environment.
Any kind of power is a magnifier. One main source of power comes from our financial standing. However, commensurate with financial power is moral power, which is a power that has indelibly shaped our world by bringing out both the best and the worst in people, individually and collectively.
It is not helpful to simply avoid money or spiritual knowledge so as not to be corrupted by it. This only leaves people who are less thoughtful in charge of our world and our souls. But how do we move forward on our life paths in ways that both support our spiritual advancement and ensure that we cause more good than harm?
After a number of personal and private events that have pointed to the repeated misuse of power by spiritual leaders, I have been thinking hard about how we spiritual seekers can be more responsible with our own power.
While the misuse of power is disturbing wherever it shows up, it is particularly disturbing when it involves those people who are ostensibly meant to be guides for our spiritual development.
We expect these leaders, consciously or unconsciously, rightly or wrongly, to show us how to be good people—people with refined inner consciences. We assume this will be demonstrated through both their examples and their teachings.
They do not need to be perfect—in fact, a spiritual teacher’s human limitations can be their best teaching tools—but they at least need to be above the worst acts of exploitation and abuse. Shouldn’t they have figured out how not to perpetrate hate crimes, support extreme injustices, and harm innocent children?
Unfortunately, as it seems, many have not.
And others, while not making the worst of mistakes, still falter and blur ethical lines.
All people make mistakes in the course of their lives. All people deserve to be forgiven and to have the opportunity to set things right. But if you have harmed people, isn’t that a sign to return to the foundations of your spiritual practice? Isn’t one of the foundations of spiritual practice acknowledging your mistakes and truly making amends?
Again, I do not think that spiritual leaders need to be perfect paragons of morality—in fact, I think that this perception is in part what creates these problems.
My questions are simply these: How does someone who commits themselves to a spiritual path come to act in this way? What makes it possible to grow in spiritual insight and power and still be able to justify the exploitation and abuse of others? And, for all of us who are on a serious path of spiritual development, is there anything we can do to ensure that we do not also go down the same road?
The answers are many and nuanced, but the main issue is perhaps the result of spiritual versus psychological development. While true spiritual development requires a continual practice of ethical and moral growth, it is possible to grow in spiritual skills without growing psychologically. This means the person gains spiritual skill and power but does not have the psychological development to hold this knowledge.
There is a longstanding split between the psychological and spiritual approaches to development, each one wanting to stake a claim on “the best approach.” Many spiritual people believe that their spirituality is an advanced stage of development that puts them above the need for psychological refinement. Many others don’t even know the different uses and purposes of these two different systems. It is perhaps more beneficial to see the two as mutually supportive approaches where one without the other not only limits our growth, but also sets us up for significant problems. If, for example, I am a gifted healer and medium but I have not yet resolved my inner misogyny or contended with the shadowy aspects of my sexuality, then I might function excellently as a healer and medium but still be challenged by my human beliefs and unacknowledged desires.
Many mystical traditions account for the need for psychological growth as well as spiritual development. In these cases, most often the psychological maturity of the person is seen as a necessary precursor to their use of certain spiritual tools. However, in a world where many of the teachings of the mystical schools have been lost or corrupted by unhealthy power dynamics, the seeker is often left without a clear path.
I have seen many spiritual people abandon their psychological development, believing that they have expanded beyond it, only to be diminished by that lack. They overly identify with the spiritual part of their experience, which allows for their human drives to operate more and more in shadow—sometimes with the complete denial of their existence.
While I believe that the secular and the spiritual leader are very different in many ways, I also believe that one key problem they have in common is how their power distorts their view of what is ethical. This power, especially when the ego attaches to it, can result in many unhealthy distortions that lead to harmful behaviors.
Spiritual leaders face the unique pitfall of being able to easily rationalize—to themselves and others—that their behavior is sanctioned by greater powers and is therefore justified. But this is simply their ego. More dangerously, followers of such leaders are all too likely to project their own disowned spiritual power onto the leader, making it even easier for that leader to believe in the propriety of their actions. This puts the spiritual leader—or anyone on this path—at a great risk of losing their way.
Things really start to get out of hand when the spiritual person starts believing that they are the same as the spiritual wellspring they draw from, which tends to result in their losing the connection to their human nature. And, because transcendence of the human experience is a part of most spiritual paths, it is very easy for the spiritualized ego to “jump the gun” and see itself as more advanced than it truly is.
The problem can be succinctly termed “spiritual bypassing”—when we avoid our human suffering with spiritual tools, skills, or mindsets. The remedy is to engage in rigorous psychological development—to emphasize the experience of the more fundamental and human aspects of the self so as not to lose sight of them while spiritually advancing. When we are truly on the other side of our human issues I have no doubt that we will know.
We can protect ourselves from gross oversights by tempering our advanced spiritual development with humility. If we recognize our limitations and the perils of advancing without attending to our limitations, we are more likely to act in a measured way, build a solid foundation, and not seek spiritual power that we are unable to wield in a healthy way. Unfortunately, there has been so much oppression of people’s spiritual nature that it is challenging to hold both humility and empowerment. This is perhaps one of the greatest challenges of the era.
We also benefit from not seeing the tools or the skills as the destination. For example, a specific diet or giving up one’s possessions are tools to create more awareness about how one operates or where one’s weaknesses are—but this does not make one more spiritual, nor does it ensure that we are immune to the misuse of spiritual power, just as being psychically open or knowing a lot of spiritual information does not imply a level of moral spiritual development. If we confuse the skill or knowledge with the development thereof, we have fallen prey to our own ego and we are at risk. If we support others in believing this confusion, we have slipped even further. The solution is to stop our obsession with the spiritual light show, the profound wisdom, or the latest uncovered gift, and get on with being a good person.
Three of the most powerful things we can do to keep ourselves awake as we grow and develop are to put ourselves in situations where our motives are questioned, to put ourselves in environments that are not “spiritual” by design, and (like everyone else) to put our spiritual practices in action by living a regular everyday life. In short, we remove the things that insulate us from knowing the truth about ourselves. We ask to be shown our limitations. And we live side by side with our brothers and sisters.
My prayer is that all the spiritual teachers and seekers continually find their way back to their hearts, that they have the courage and humility to see their transgressions, and that they have the willingness both to make amends and return to the source.