When we think about cultivating our inner faith, we do not often consider how closely faith ties into spiritual arrogance. The topic of spiritual arrogance is vast and deep. But when we feel into how this subtle aspect of ego-driven identification has unfolded within ourselves and within those around us, certain patterns can become quite clear.
Spiritual arrogance is when we believe our process of spiritual self-inquiry or unfoldment is better than someone else’s process. When we believe that what someone else is doing should be changed, shifted, or re-imagined through the lens that we insist, sometimes emphatically, to be better.
In a yogic self-inquiry practice we have to be very careful of our spiritual arrogance. This is especially true for those of us who have been practicing for a long time. We have to look at how it sneaks out toward those closest to us. For like so many of the clingiest vines, it is the environment nearest us that our arrogance tends to constrict. Those sneaky tendrils can be born within even the most adept and mature spiritual seekers.
How can this look? Have you ever been in the midst of a painful process, during which you are watching closely an intimate friend or partner dealing with an intense health issue, relationship, or personal worldview, and you keep getting tripped up by your opinions of how you think that should play out, causing real rifts between you and your beloved?
Do you ever experience any version of the following thoughts?
“I cannot be near these people anymore because they are not very conscious.”
“Why isn’t everyone in a process of self-inquiry like I am? Why are they so stuck?”
“If my beloveds’ did what I’m doing, then they would surely suffer less.”
“I’ve seen that the world does not exist as I once believed and I can’t stand being near people who continue to live in the small dramas of their existence.”
Even if your intentions are noble, if you begin to expect those around you to take the courses that you are taking, to investigate the concepts that are consuming your practice, you are stealing from someone else’s process. In Yoga, the practice of not-stealing is called Asteya, and it is one of the great foundations to our inner practice. (Asteya is one of the Yamas, or foundational ethics, of Yoga).
Asteya and the Spiritual Arrogance of Stealing from Others
When seen clearly, Asteya can be a beautiful lens allowing us to view how our ego often creeps in to run the show. It relates to how we steal from those around us. This can occur in time, by always being late or over-exhausting our own boundaries to flake out on showing up when promised. It can occur in agency, by trying to control and manage those around us to conform to anything from our personal dietary restrictions or political beliefs. Stealing from others can show up in spiritual unfoldment, by being totally dedicated to our own path and judging others for being “less conscious,” less spiritual, or less evolved in some meaningful way. Ouch. Who does this notion hurt more: You or the person you are judging?
The Guidance of Faith
Can you see how faith silently sits and watches like a great big open space? If we are unaware, we can continue to delude ourselves by stealing from those around us, judging silently or openly, and enacting our superior ways? Do you have faith that you are the divine? That the universe does not end where your skin begins, leaving you as this great inner island that has to navigate life and either sink or swim? That, because you are the divine, so is everyone and everything “out there,” and that they too are in the same process of returning and remembering their own divine just as you are, though in their own unique way?
Of course your way is going to be different from your beloved’s way. The divine loves nothing more than uncoiling in every possible direction then walking back home to itself through the great dance of remembering in endless possibilities.
Lessons found in Examining our own Spiritual Arrogance
What we learn about our own spiritual arrogance is truly rich material. We begin to see how our own illusion and our blocks persist even after years of dedicated self-investigation. We also can begin to set some healthy boundaries into our world. Perhaps it really is unhealthy for you to engage in relationship with someone else in your immediate world and their process at this time. When you allow someone fully their process and that person really is not interested in turning toward their divine self-remembering just yet, or their path really is causing you great pain, then perhaps it’s time for you to stop digging in so hard to do the work for that person. Perhaps it is time to then walk away compassionately, staying curious, open, and available to shifts in that road.
In this way we can see that developing compassion is not a lesson in passive disengagement with life, taking that California attitude of “It’s all good, man.”
This is a dedicated and curiously alert plunging into our own faith in our heart to return us to our deepest self, and to honor the fact that those around us are doing the same thing even if it looks queasy or horrible to our eyes. Even if someone doesn’t do the same type of meditation or mantra recitation that we do, or eat the same foods that we believe to be better, that person too is the divine slowly remembering herself.
Moving forward with Faith
These are the deeper lessons of faith. These lessons allow us more compassion, more spaciousness in our hearts, a lot less tangled up judgment towards the other, and a much smoother ride into our sense of inner boundaries and limits born of that open heart. Life gives us all of the material we need to move forward, and may we continue to do so toward that inner remembering of the stillness that has always been and will always be and that is recognized through the curious heart.
About the Author:
Cynthia Abulafia has been instrumental in the creation and leadership of Yoga Soup’s 200 Hour Teacher Training, is E-RYT 500, YACEP (she teaches continuing education), IAYT (Yoga Therapy), and Pilates certified, and holds a Masters in Nutrition. She has over 25 years of study with world class teachers in several schools of Yoga, including Yoga Therapy, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Vinyasa Krama with Srivatsa Ramaswami, modern flow blends originating at Yoga Works in Santa Monica, and many beloved meditation, Advaita, non-dual Tantra, kundalini-Shakti, and self-inquiry teachers. For more info: www.cynthiaabulafiayoga.com
(Reprinted from LA Yoga magazine)