“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.
Stop trying to be perfect: You already are. Yes, each one of us is a work in progress, but that work is perfect in its state of evolution. When you are driven by perfection, you are unable to appreciate who you already are. Try instead to look at what is right about you.
Stop Trying to Impress Others: The people who want to be impressed (in the way I am talking about here) are not worth your time. The people who will judge you without knowing you or based on some criteria that are not even important to you are just not your people. The people who matter will think you are amazing. Pay more attention to them.
Stop Trying to Be Someone Else: If you are comparing yourself to someone who has different talents than you do or if you think that you should be doing things a different way than is natural for you, instead start to appreciate how you do things and what your talents are.
Find What You Love: When you let yourself be yourself, you will naturally be drawn to what you love. But, what you love also shows you something about who you are. If you don’t know what you love, experiment. If you like it, try doing it again and see if it grows into something.
Give Yourself Permission to Do What You Love: Once you find the things you love, do them a lot. The more that you do what you love, the happier and the more satisfied you will be with your life. If you know what you love but you are not doing it, get the support you need to give yourself permission to be happy.
Don’t Waste Time Doing Other Things: Why bother doing things that you do not enjoy? Yes, I understand life has some practicalities that need to be addressed, but once they have been attended to—are you still wasting time not doing what you love? If so, start a plan to cut out the things that are not in line with who you want to be or what you love, and then take action.
Slow Down: We can all get a bit ahead of ourselves. It is not about doing more or doing it faster, it is about really enjoying our life. We can’t do that if we are moving so fast that we don’t even know what is happening. Start by building some real breaks into your schedule.
Pay Attention to What Is Working (Most of the Time): Most of us would benefit from being a bit more positive. There is a place for looking at what is not working, but when we pay attention to what works, we often learn more about it and therefore can have more of it. We also feel better about what we are experiencing. If you see yourself getting negative, find one thing that is working.
Express Gratitude: Being grateful is one of the most effective ways to be happier. When in doubt, find something to appreciate. And don’t forget to apply it to yourself!
Learn to Fully Receive: The emphasis on doing that most of us have been enculturated into leaves us less skilled when it comes to receiving. But how can we have a full and rich life if we can’t receive it? The next time someone compliments you, take it in.
Ready for an even more fulfilling life? See my article here to learn about living in your truth >>> “7 Signs You Are Living Your Truth.”
One of the main issues that people face in their personal and spiritual development is in the cultivation of presence. Many people get so preoccupied with fixing what is wrong with themselves or healing the past that they forget the reason for doing all of this work: to learn how to be in love with their life each day.
Sometimes, we do not need to fix the past so much as we need to learn new ways of being with the present so that we can have more of what we want. In short, the solution isn’t in changing the past but in being more adept at each and every moment. We do this by learning to be more present.
Here are three steps to cultivating presence.
Slow Down: As soon as we slow ourselves down, we witness the chaos that drove us in each moment. This can be our chattering mind or our compulsive drive to keep busy. At first we are uncomfortable, but once we break through, we have access to a type of experience we did not have before. Slowing down creates an environment for cultivating presence.
Pay Attention: As we begin to pay attention to what is happening in the present moment—our distraction, how we are feeling, or something someone said—we begin to see what is really going on with us. Paying attention brings things into conscious awareness, which allows us to work with them.
Acknowledge Where You Are Giving Your Energy: We slow down so that we can create the space to pay attention. We pay attention so that we can see what we are giving our energy to that is detracting from what is now present. Then when we get caught up in something that we do not want to give our energy to, we can reapply our attention by acknowledging that we are doing so.
These three steps make us more aware. It is from this place of awareness that we can be more fully in the present moment and can choose how we want to proceed from this point—direct our energy or be more receptive. We learn what keeps us away from being with the present moment and we can make new choices about how we want to connect, create more joy, or take our next steps.
Cultivating presence can lead to more fulfillment – read more about this important topic here: >>> “10 Ways to Live More Fully.”
Wondering if you are living in your truth? Use these signs to help you see the way.
You are Happy. Not just happy because things are going your way, but really, deeply happy regardless of how things are going. When we are aligned with our inner truth, we feel happy.
You Feel Congruent. When you are living your truth, your insides and your outsides match. You feel you are with the right people doing the right things most of the time.
You Have Lots of Energy. An abundance of energy is the result of being in our truth. Even if facing a serious illness, people aligned with their truth have more energy and are more vivacious than those who might be facing something similar without such alignment.
You Feel Inspired. Being connected with your inner truth leaves you feeling inspired. When you are connected with your inner truth you feel creative and naturally want to contribute to the world around you.
You Feel Confident. There is nothing as good for your confidence as being connected to your truth. When you are connected to your truth, you trust in what is right for you, you know what you know and what you don’t, and you feel comfortable right where you are.
Life is Informative. When you are connected to your truth, life is not a series of challenges to get past but rather a series of events to help you unfold even more. Being in your truth helps you see the informative nature of all things.
You Can Be Generous. When you are in your truth, you naturally have overflow. Being in your truth means not being in all the things that block your truth. As a result, you have an abundance of resources that you can be generous with.
Ready to sink more into living your truth? See my blog post >>> “Uncovering Your Souls True Voice.”
Both self-care and pleasure begin with self-love. As we love ourselves more and more, it creates the conditions for pleasure, for our continued well-being, and for us to really care for ourselves. However, it’s not necessarily a linear process wherein one thing creates the other. It’s more of a cycle: This love creates the conditions for self-care, and self-care opens the door to even more love for ourselves. Love creates an environment for pleasure and the conditions for us to experience pleasure. And then, this pleasure again creates a sense of well-being and welcomes in even more love.
There are various aspects to understanding how to bring in a new skill or develop a new area of our lives, but people often get confused about their personal development because they feel like they are getting conflicting information. This is often because they’re trying to see it as a linear process when it’s actually a multidimensional process. We adjust one part, then another, and then another, and that eventually snaps the whole new way of being into place.
Our self-love is an essential ingredient in developing our self-care and pleasure.
So, what does it mean to love ourselves? I get this question a lot.
There are many behaviors that show that we love ourselves. Primarily, self-love occurs when we treat ourselves with respect, care, and kindness. But it is more than ways of acting toward yourself. It’s also actually cultivating a flow of love through all dimensions of who you are. Learning to love yourself is partly about cultivating the feeling or sensation or energy of love in all aspects of who you are. You allow this flowing love to run through you and into all aspects of your life.
Exercise for loving yourself:
1. Think of something or someone whom you really love, and focus your attention on feeling that a strongly as possible.
2. Expand that feeling through your attention.
3. Take this feeling and apply it to yourself.
Once you have a read on what love feels like, then you can start to access different parts of your experience. For example, while you’re eating, is this self-love present? While you’re with this person, is this self-love present? While you’re taking a walk—and so on. You can see whether this love is present in all aspects of your life and environment. You can look at each one of these aspects by comparing what is present to this strong love. Where you find love to be lacking, you can ask yourself “what would allow that feeling to come in more? What kind of changes in my behavior or in the kind of people I’m around?”
Sometimes you will know and sometimes you can just experiment. If you have trouble coming up with new ideas, then there are plenty of ideas available online. Otherwise, just try something out. For example, perhaps try to be a bit more intentional while you’re walking and then pay attention to whether or not that shifts things. Or, if you try speaking your truth a little bit more in your relationships, does that help? After each experiment, assess whether it strengthened the love that you were feeling or not.
As you experiment with creating a life full of self-love, you to be able to better refine what it is that you’re doing so that you can have more of this self-love in your life. Loving yourself raises your energy, and that allows you to make better and better choices for yourself. It allows you to draw in more pleasure. It allows you the ability to better care for yourself.
For more about self care take a look at my article >>> “On Self Care”
When people think about self-care, they often imagine a list of things that they need to do for themselves. So, they check the boxes, making sure that they’re exercising, drinking enough
water, sleeping enough, eating the right food. All of these things belong to the basic category of self-care. If we are doing these things, then it must mean we are taking care of ourselves, right?
There is some truth to this. These are the basics. This is what we need to do in order to sustain our health.
However, self-care is much deeper than checking these boxes. Our self-care is more about how we are able to take care of ourselves in each and every moment – this includes all of our behaviors, thoughts, and emotional experiences. It is more than diet, exercise, getting enough sleep, and the occasional massage. Each and every act in our life either cares for us and supports us, or it does not.
Our ability to care for ourselves is also a sign of how much we have healed ourselves up to this point in time. So self-care is both a way of seeing how much we have healed ourselves and a
way of healing ourselves.
When we give ourselves something that we didn’t have in the past – if we take care of ourselves in a way we weren’t taken care of in the past, or if we love ourselves in a way that we weren’t loved in the past, or any other way that we give to ourselves something in the present that undoes or rebalances what was done or not done in the past – it is powerfully
healing. So as we give ourselves the care that we may have missed out on, it lifts us to an entirely different place, a whole new level of healing.
However, there are a number of things that get in the way of receiving this deep healing through our self-care. For example, we may have learned ways of caring for ourselves that we were taught were helpful but actually are less so. Someone could think that they’re eating in a healthy way because that is what they’ve been taught is healthy, unaware that what they’re eating is actually really harmful for them. This type of misconception can happen in every area of our life. What we eat is just one example.
Another way that we become limited in our ability to care for ourselves is through our thoughts and perceptions about who we are and what we deserve. We cannot care for ourselves if we believe that we’re not worthy of it. These beliefs, which we often learn in our childhood, teach us to cancel out our wants and needs. We become blind to what it is that we need. We become out of tune with what it is that we’re wanting or needing in any given moment.
Because of this, we might reach out to various different things that are maybe less healthy, less useful, less caring of ourselves. In part, self-care is actually learning what it is that we need. Like, what are these things that maybe we’ve lost sight of yet are truly supportive of who we are and who we want to be and how we want to live our lives: one is the habits that we develop, another is the way that we have lost sight of what is good for us.
There are also institutional structures in place that actually lead us away from caring for ourselves. We’re taught to evaluate ourselves based on our ability to persevere and work really hard. We are taught to evaluate our own goodness according to how much we sacrifice for those around us. As we become aware of these cultural influences on our ability to care for ourselves, we can peel back another layer of what has been getting in our Way.
Self-care is a foundational element to doing personal development work. It is both an act that keeps us healthy and one that heals us. There are a number of challenges to being able to really care for ourselves. Recognizing the obstacles that are in the way of our self-care will help us to be more prepared in our efforts and proud of our successes.
For more about self care take a look at my article >>> “On Self Care”
Our pleasure shows us where we are in alignment. It is a natural built-in system that shows us what is right for us. However, not all experiences we might label as pleasurable are created equal.
It is helpful to learn to differentiate between types of pleasure. For example, eating a piece of chocolate cake might feel good in the moment, but that does not necessarily mean it is in alignment with you. To determine whether it is or not, you need to pay attention to the entire experience. How do you feel after you eat the chocolate cake? Does it continue to be a pleasurable experience?
It is also helpful to pay attention to the quality of the pleasure. Is it consistent throughout the layers of the experience? Using the same example of the chocolate cake, it might feel good in your mouth but not in your body. Or, maybe it negatively impacts our emotions because it’s more food than we actually need and we know it, and so we feel a little uncomfortable about having eaten it.
This approach applies to all experiences in our lives: How we feel at work, how we feel in our relationships. As we pay more attention to our pleasure and learn to really listen to it, we strengthen our ability to navigate through life.
Another thing that gets in the way of using pleasure as our guide is having a negative relationship with pleasure, which can make you feel bad about something that is actually good for you. Your conditioning distorts the picture of what you are experiencing based on ideas about what you should or should not enjoy. The opposite can also be true: we can be conditioned to feel pleasure associated with things that are not good for us.
The basic experience gets distorted by misconceptions and misinterpretations of events that take what would be a simple mechanism for determining what is right for us and make it confusing. It would be wonderful if it were as easy as a pleasurable experience automatically being in alignment with your needs so you could say yes to it and welcome more of it into your life. And if it were not a pleasurable experience, then you could redirect and go in a different direction. Once we get past all of the conditioning, this is true—but that takes some time to do.
It may seem as if, given all this conditioning, it is impossible to trust how you feel about things. However, the trick is not to cast pleasure aside and start trying to figure out what is best through your mind, but instead to dive more deeply in and practice paying closer attention.
To use pleasure as a guide—and it is a very useful guide—you can start to pay attention to where you might be filtering or misinterpreting the information that’s coming in about what is pleasurable and thus learn about what does or does not work for you in any given situation. As you pay attention to all aspects of your experience around an event that you consider pleasurable, your understanding of what is pleasurable will become more refined. As we become more and more refined, it becomes easier to have that simple relationship with pleasure—if it feels good, then it is good for me. Then you will be able to use pleasure to cultivate the things, the people, places, situations, and activities that you want in your life.
As you do so, you will feel so much better and better in all aspects of your life because you are creating a life that is in alignment with you. And as you cultivate this, it will actually raise your overall energy. Your energy will start operating at a higher level, which continues the refinement process of your pleasure and allows you to really hone in on what is working for you and what is best for you through what feels good. And then your pleasure will become this incredibly valuable tool for creating a life that feels really good and is in alignment with who you are.
For ideas on designing a more pleasurable life, take a look at my article >>> “How to Bring More Pleasure into Your Day-to-Day Life”
Depression is a clinical term used to label a group of behaviors and internal experiences associated with a depressed mood. It is also a clinical diagnosis. Depression is different than being sad. Sadness is a normal part of life and, as long as you are not feeling it all the time, it is actually a healthy thing for you to feel. It is important to realize that learning how to be happy again after depression looks slightly different for everyone.
Sometimes, we battle our way through a bad bout of depression and come out on the other side, only to find ourselves still feeling sad. While this can be a frustrating and disappointing reality about life “after” depression, it is important to acknowledge that feeling sadness can be an indicator of positive progress. Depression often leaves us unable to feel anything at all, let alone sad. It may not be your first pick for your team, but sadness truly has its hidden virtues.
The truth is that “after depression” just isn’t a reality for many people. Depression is actually a lifelong challenge that we learn to live and work with, more and more effectively. So, it’s understandable that knowing how to be happy again after depression may seem far-fetched or unattainable to many. And if you’re depressed, you should not be ashamed about that experience or of asking for help. If you are in that “after-depression” space, it can take a bit to get back to regular habits.
Here are some tips to help you get back on track.
1. Give yourself time to be sad: If you are still feeling sad the most important thing you can do is give yourself space to feel that way. Be deliberate. Sit on the couch for an hour and let yourself be sad. Then, get up and get moving.
2. Start slow: Often times depression leads to inactivity which can push us out of the healthy habits that we might have at other points in our life. Don’t expect to jump straight back into all your activities. Give yourself lots of time to slowly bring things back. It is good to push yourself, but don’t push too hard.
3. Make it easy: Sometimes what was a small step for us when feeling better is a huge step after being depressed for awhile. The smaller and easier you can make your new activities, the more likely you are to succeed. Give yourself that chance.
4. Acknowledge your progress: It can be easy to be critical of your abilities and your progress, especially if you have an anxiety disorder that exacerbates this behavior. It is vital that you acknowledge each new and beneficial thing you add to your life. You just ran an emotional marathon and now you are showing up at the gym. This is no small thing.
5. Choose the lesser of two evils: Our perspective gets skewed when we are depressed. We lose sight of what is good for us. When you are recovering from depression, you might feel as though you are choosing between something that is not so good and something that is worse. Try and choose the easier or slightly better option.
6. Take a day off: Yes you want to get back on track, but if you give yourself a moment to breathe, it may help you get where you want to go faster in the end.
7. Stick with it: You did not get to where you are in one day. You won’t get to where you want to be in one day either. Keep making efforts and you will see results, even if it takes time. You’ve got this.
Mental illness isn’t something you can just will to go away, but there are treatments that can help you deal with your depression.
If you’re still feeling sad after your depression, I hope these actionable tips help you. Life is a continuous journey and it usually isn’t a smooth one, especially if you’re learning how to be happy again after depression. Whether you suffer from depression or not, the best thing you can do for yourself is build up these life skills and techniques so that you can put them into place when you’re able. My LifeWork Community program is a great way to help you build practices that will support your wellbeing. Click here to learn more.
Happiness can be a surprisingly fickle thing. Sometimes, a new routine or a new perspective can revitalize your life and sense of well-being. Other times, change presents a challenge to our happiness. Learning how to make your joy and energy resilient to the drain that life’s changes sometimes leave us feeling is a key to safeguarding your happiness.
All too often, we forget that happiness is a skill, and that being skillful takes practice. Here are 5 small things you can do every day to practice your happiness skill-set and safeguard your joy.
The first few moments of your day can set the tone for the rest of it. So, start each morning with a quiet moment, an affirmation, a journal entry, or any other activity that helps you tune into your feelings and intentions for your day.
Your focus channels your power. Unfortunately, we often focus on what makes us unhappy rather than what brings us joy. Make an effort to recognize what’s going well in your day and be present to the things you enjoy.
This may seem like a no-brainer but it’s actually something we often overlook. What brings you the most pleasure and happiness? Time alone or time with others? A home-cooked meal or take-out and a movie? Becoming conscious of the things you most enjoy means that you will choose them more often.
To yourself, your partner, your child or co-worker. Make a point to express your gratitude for what’s working in your life. Showing your appreciation will immediately make you and the person you’re thanking feel more positive. And, by expressing gratitude for the things the people around you do, you reinforce the positive behavior as well as the positive feeling.
Slow down and savor the good parts of your life. Pay attention when you’re eating something delicious. Choose to really listen to your friend while they’re talking. Take the time to notice what’s around you on your daily walk or drive. The more you can use your five senses to be present to what you’re experiencing, the better.
Life is always a mix of things. No matter how bad a day seems, there’s always something in it that’s positive. Use the list above to help you focus in on the good that’s present in life’s simple, daily events. These simple things can add up quickly and drastically increase your happiness.