Ethics in spiritual work have not changed. The teachings have remained the same for as long as we have been writing them down, and most likely for longer than that. There are not new ethics to discover—we know to be kind and offer understanding as much as possible; we know not to lie, cheat, and steal and instead to be honorable; and we know not to harm others, especially for our own gain. This and so many more ethical stances have been taught to many of us.
“Ethics has nothing to do with external considerations. It is independent of time and space, beyond fashions and civilizations. It is derived from the foundations of the Ancient Wisdom and the essential nature of man. ” — Danielle Audoin
But there is sometimes a great chasm between knowing and doing. We all struggle with this to some degree, but we do have a sense of what is right and wrong, and it is up to us to take appropriate action.
We can, however, easily fall into the trap of contextualizing our ethics: Our lie is OK because that other person would have reacted badly to the truth. Our actions were justifiable because we are only human, after all. That person deserved retaliation because of the way they acted.
Being an ethical person does not mean that we make the same decision in any given ethical dilemma that another person would also make in that situation, but rather that we adhere to our ethical code regardless of the situation. If we do this, we can consider ourselves ethical.
One large problem that we have at this point in time is the number of people who perhaps have attained a certain spiritual knowledge yet have not made an ethical commitment or developed this understanding.
And, then of course, there are people who have neither understanding nor ethical practice. In a world desperate for spiritual connection, the superficial trappings of a wise tradition can be enough to find followers.
If you are a spiritual person, the most important place to focus is on your ethical development. This is not magical power, extensive knowledge, or a large following. Your ability to know and live by your ethical code is what will make the difference in your own life and the impact that you have on others.
“We practice ethical behavior by creating the intention to follow a particular ethical guideline. We do this for the purpose of spiritual awakening, not for the purpose of being “good” or escaping criticism–either internal or external.” –Robert Brumet
Once we have committed ourselves to an ethical code, our job is to live and learn by it.
We will have many chances to grow in our understanding of how to be a good person; as we do this, we will grow in our spiritual depth and move in the direction of enlightenment. Inevitably, many of us will face difficult circumstances that pose an ethical dilemma.
These challenges hold the potential for great spiritual wisdom and are the moments we have trained for in our ethical practice. In each of these moments, large and small, we become a light for others, ultimately fulfilling our mission to be a spiritual being.
It is ethics — not yoga pants, indigenous jewelry or obscure spiritual artifacts — that make a spiritual practitioner and ultimately a spiritual leader.
Many people are taught, starting in their childhood, that someone else knows better than they do. While learning to recognize external authority and to honor alternate perspectives is important to our social development, flat-out believing what you are told because it comes from an “expert” or someone who appears more advanced than you is something that most of us do at least every once in a while—and many of us do it a lot. This does not mean you need to summarily reject it, either—by developing your own inner wisdom, you can strike a balance. Seek out resources that help you honor your innate wisdom.
Dis-empowering to the core, this belief leaves the person thinking “why bother?” There are many ways to slice it, but we each have power. First, one dedicated person is often what gets a movement started. Second, in each moment, we are having an impact on many people. This impact can be instrumental in lifting a person up so that they may then choose to do the same for someone else. One of the reasons why people feel discouraged is that they look at the impact they do not have rather than at the positive impact that they do have. Try noticing what good things come from your noble efforts.
While not everyone can have a Maserati, abundance in general and wealth specifically is within your reach. The fact of the matter is that we don’t all want the same thing, especially once we get in touch with what we really want instead of what we think we want. When you do the work to get clear on who you are and what is important to you, you will see the abundance you already have and develop ways to bring in more of what you want—whether that means billions to fight the system or a quiet place to read a book.
“If I am suffering, then I have done something wrong.” Karma is based on the idea that for every action, there is a response. This is not a punishment—it is a teaching. It is a way to fully understand our own actions, heal, and ultimately grow. When we experience adversity in life, it does not necessarily mean that we have inflicted suffering on someone else. Sometimes we have; however, sometimes we have just chosen a difficult experience for our own growth and insight. Looking at our lives though the lens of being punished does not help us become more mature and responsible: it makes us more fearful. Focusing on what you have learned from the challenges in your life yields much better results.
Putting the deeper philosophical debate aside, this is meant to address skirting our responsibility by making the argument that “it is all in your head,” or minimizing our own view because it is, well, “just our own view.” If we all had wildly different conceptions of reality, we would likely find it difficult to interact. We believe that most of the time, if our friend shows up to dinner, our friend also believes that they are at dinner. We share so many of these little truths in our life that to proclaim they are not there when it would be convenient for them not to be seems a bit contrived. However, this trick is used more often than you might guess to get you to doubt your perspective or question the facts. We can honor each person’s unique perception by using each person’s subjective truth to gain a deeper understanding of the total picture and to build connections rather than as a covert tactic to undermine our responsibilities.
My mother used to say, “There is no rest for the wicked.” Religious views and centuries of shame aside, when we step out of integrity, we are cast out on the turbulent seas of our own making. The level of that turbulence will be in relationship to what we know is right.
Having integrity is not about following someone else’s view of what is right or wrong, even if that person is a spiritual teacher, a parent, or a good friend. It is not about following a doctrine or a diet. It is listening to the truth of our heart and the wisdom of our soul in the process of choosing what is right and good.
It can be easy to berate ourselves when we notice a step out of integrity. The right step being so obvious, how could we, why would we, choose another way? But these momentary lapses of judgment represent areas where we have not yet blossomed into the fullness of who we might one day be.
In this moment, we do not yet have the strength to realize the highest and most noble aspects of ourselves. These moments also serve to alert us to what work still needs to be done, where there is a need to strengthen our resolve and let go of our baggage.
When we attack ourselves for our mistakes, we are not able to learn as fully from them. We divert our attention from the important task at hand, which is bringing ourselves back into integrity so that we might once again be able to benefit from the well-being it bestows.
It is helpful to remember that if we innocently make a mistake, this has a different effect than when we knowingly act in ways that are out of integrity. It makes no sense to judge ourselves harshly for something we were simply unaware of. However, once we recognize our errors, we are responsible for and to them.
It does not matter how much we try to fool ourselves: we know what is right. We know when we have chosen to act in ways that are wrong. We feel the impact whether we try to hide it or not. If we play cat-and-mouse games with the truth, we are deeply out of integrity. And although we can do so for a lifetime, at some point, there will be a reckoning.
Accountability is a central mechanism of integrity.
The path of integrity requires taking responsibility for our actions with compassion for the parts of ourselves that are still growing. We do not let ourselves off the hook, but we understand that sometimes we will fail. Mistake are inevitable; our job is simply to correct ourselves and get back on track.
This can be hard work in a world where integrity seems scarce. It can be challenging to know what is right, and even more challenging to follow through on that. While we can be aided to act with integrity by those around us, the true answers to what is right can be found in our hearts.
In a world where so many people so often act in contrast to their values, we might also wonder if is it even safe to try to act with integrity ourselves. Are we not putting a lamb before a wolf? What is the price that we might pay to try in this kind of world?
However, integrity offers its own protection.
This does not mean that harm will not come your way or that you will not get confused in situations that are designed to confuse you, because even the best of us fall or get taken down sometimes.
Being in integrity means that your heart is clear and therefore less easily taken advantage of. It means your mind is clear and therefore less easily corrupted. It means you know the truth of who you are and therefore are not a pawn for others.
Integrity is a blazing sword of protection and clarity. To wield it, we need to deeply respect ourselves and others. And, from this place of respect, choose to do what is right—plain and simple—each time we are faced with a choice.
To have this is to have an inner peace regardless of the circumstances.
If we want to accept ourselves more it is helpful to see how we do not accept ourselves. Answer the following prompts to see where you might not be accepting of yourself .
• One thing I have a difficult time accepting about my life, but deep
down know is true, is:
• Some of the things I feel I need to accept about my life that may be
difficult to accept are:
• The reason I know these things are difficult to accept is:
• I will know that I have fully accepted these things about my life when:
• This stops me from accepting these things about my life:
• I would accept these things about my life if only:
• I am afraid that, if I accept these things about my life, then:
Integrity: 1.) The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.
2.) The state of being whole and undivided (Dictionary.com).
Integrity is doing what is right each time you have a choice—or otherwise, it’s owning up to your mistakes and making amends. The following is a list of things that you can do to have greater integrity in all areas of your life.
Do what you say you are going to do. When you make a commitment, stand by it. Yes, it is true that things happen and plans change. Sometimes you will need to break a commitment because it is the choice that has more integrity, but this should be the exception, not the rule. If you make lots of false promises or do not follow through on what you say, it might be time to buckle down and make some changes.
Be who you say you are. Similar to the last point, don’t present yourself as something you are not—in big or small ways. Learn to honestly portray yourself; if that is difficult, explore your insecurities or lack of self worth.
Tell the truth. This does not mean you need to crush people under the truth of your personal perspective—just be honest and forthright in all of your dealings.
Clean up your messes. Mistakes happen. Yes, it is better to prevent them—but when they do happen, you should own up, apologize, make amends, and do whatever else needs be done to take responsibility for your part.
Don’t take responsibility for what is not your fault. You are not obligated to take all the responsibility for a situation wherein you are not the sole actor. This would just be lying to yourself in a different way. Own your own mistakes, and let other people own theirs.
Know your shadow. Our shadow is the part of us that we do not see. Mostly, it contains the parts of us that are considered socially unacceptable or too painful to know and integrate into ourselves. When we do not know our shadow, it leaks out in ways that we are not aware of, which can cause harm. When we know what we have put in shadow, we can choose not to use it or we may put it in service of the higher good.
It is impossible to make it through a day without making some kind of error in judgment. You spill coffee, knock something over, forget to do things, and the list goes on. If you are really self-critical, you might hold onto these small errors, but most often they can easily be let go of.
However, the bigger mistakes are often not as easy to excuse. You might hurt someone you care about, make a poor ethical choice, or make a bad business decision. Sometimes, you hold onto these mistakes for years, unable to forgive yourself.
Just as forgiving others can set us free, so can learning to forgive ourselves. The following are some steps that you can take to clear the slate through self-forgiveness.
Give yourself space to grieve your losses. When you make a mistake, you are usually aware of it because it causes some type of pain. You may lose a trusted friend, self-respect, or an opportunity. Giving ourselves time to grieve what we have lost honors not just the part of us that made the mistake but also the part of us that has lost something because of it. When you acknowledge what you have lost and give yourself time to grieve, it softens you.
Understand why/what motivated you. Sometimes you make a mistake because of a lack of insight or information. Sometimes you make a mistake because of emotional pressure or intensity. But very often there is a clear understanding that you did not do the right thing. Understanding why you made the mistake allows you to empathize with yourself for the choice. It also helps you understand how you can avoid doing it again in the future.
See the intelligence behind your choices. It might be hard, if you just did something that you consider really stupid, to find the intelligence in it. While it might be a stretch in some situations, more often you can find a reason that is smarter than you thought. Maybe the choice resulted in more clarity. Maybe it brought something to the surface so that it could be cleared.
Put it all in perspective (big picture). Seeing the parts of the choice that were productive or supportive can help us get a broader view of the situation. What seems at first like a big loss might ultimately result in an even bigger win. Our defeats might result in a stronger character. And what about all the things that you have done right? Maybe this was a big mistake, but look at your track record. Perhaps you have made many more right decisions. Or, after a long stretch of mistakes, you have become ready to turn the corner. That is a huge step forward and puts you in a different relationship to your mistakes.
Honor and affirm the essence of who you are. No matter what you have done, there is a ton of good in you. It may be hard to connect with that when looking at your mistakes, but it is there nonetheless. When you are struggling with forgiving yourself, it is helpful to think about the core of who you are. What can you do to affirm this essence, especially at these times?
Commit to a new direction. It can be easier to forgive yourself when you make a decision not to make the mistake again (when possible). Making a commitment to a new direction means that we have acknowledged the error of our ways and decided to do something different. Being accountable to yourself and others through making better choices helps you feel better about yourself, and it is easier to forgive yourself from this place.
There is a point where you will realize that forgiveness is a necessary ingredient to your happiness: that you might as well start down the path of forgiveness because there is no other way to freedom. This is true of others, and this is true of ourselves. Carrying the weight of past errors does nothing to correct them—forgiving yourself does.
Self-acceptance is not the result of what we have or have not done in our life. No matter what the outside looks like, whether it’s fabulous or not so fabulous, we may still be unable to accept ourselves.
When we look for deeper acceptance through accomplishments and accolades, we have fleeting moments of self-approval but we do not get the long-term benefits of self-acceptance.
Self-acceptance is unconditional positive regard for ourselves no matter what. “Unconditional positive regard” is a term created by Carl Rogers that means “the basic acceptance and support of a person regardless of what the person says or does.”
We know that we have stepped into a deep level of self-acceptance when we can answer the following question with a “yes”: Do I know that no matter what I discover about myself, I am good and worthy of love?
We are all mixtures of some wonderful things and some not-so-wonderful things. Everybody has limitations as well as strengths. Self-acceptance means we are able to see and love both the good and the challenging aspects of ourselves.
One way or another, most people struggle with self-acceptance, whether it’s because of what we’ve been told by society and our caregivers or that we just came up with some idea that who we are –our whole self—is somehow not right. So we push away these parts of ourselves or try to minimize them, and as a result, we become cut off from our full selves and thus less—less alive, less happy, less real.
However, self acceptance is not just about seeing who we are and being OK with it. It also requires us to see our shortcomings and challenge ourselves to be more. Not from a place of lack of respect or disrespect for ourselves, but rather with great care and honoring of our true nature and deepest potential.
Self-acceptance does not mean self-indulgence. It means deep respect for all of who we are.
Our ability to love ourselves completely and our ability to ask ourselves to become more are two separate but complementary pieces of being healthier, happier people. When we see our limited behavior, limited way of being, or a less than perfect choice, are we able to accept it and love ourselves unconditionally? And, can we at the same time remember that self-acceptance does not mean that we melt into our limitations and indulge them? Self-acceptance is about loving ourselves so much—so completely—that we are able to acknowledge our faults while being willing to step into our potential.
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.