Spiritual Toxic Waste
Article ID: 13182
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: July 26th. 2009
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Although it’s rare, there are some people who operate without any conscious form of spirituality. This usually dulls their life and they seem to inhabit a world without much meaning. For those of us with a spiritual element, this would be a living hell. Fortunately, most people do have a spiritual side to them.
That’s not to say they necessarily are religious. Being spiritual means the person has some concept about how the universe works and how they relate to it. It doesn’t have to contain any Maker or be complicated, it only needs to be a model that works for the person and provides some kind of relationship between that person and the way they perceive world around them. Almost by definition, this must include a certain mystical part because there will always be the unknown factor in everybody’s universe.
Having spirituality is an important part of anyone’s mental and emotional health but having one doesn’t guarantee that health. There are some forms of spirituality that are toxic to a person as well as causing a great deal of pain and trouble for everyone around them.
It’s easy to point to another person’s spirituality and say it’s toxic. In fact, there is a long history of people doing exactly that. And not all the examples in that history would be classified as religious wars. But it would seem that every war is at least partly based on the idea that ‘we’ are right and ‘they’ are wrong, ‘we’ have God on our side and ‘they’ don’t, ‘we’ have the spiritual and moral high ground and ‘they’ don’t.
Whenever you think about how another person interacts with the universe, you’re looking, at least in part, at their spirituality. One may not agree with another’s viewpoint, but that is not sufficient for calling it toxic. Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped many from attacking others on the basis of their supposedly ‘wicked’ spirituality. Pagans are acutely aware of this practice when they hear somebody standing up and declaring them to be devil worshipers, baby eaters, and all other sorts of vile creatures.
The irony of it is that many Pagans will turn right around and say that those people are mean and stupid and that their spirituality is the source of those moronic accusations. People who use another person’s spirituality as an excuse to attack them usually aren’t doing so because their own spirituality makes them do it. They’re doing it because they’re mean and stupid. They’re using the other person’s difference of spirituality as an easy target for justifying their actions. And it almost always is easy to find something strange about any form of spirituality.
Pagans often snicker when somebody says something like, “Satan made me do it.” We probably think to ourselves that the person is just using some made-up personification of evil to justify his or her own nasty behavior. The mere concept of such a being existing and having an influence on us is just too much ‘out there’ for most of us.
Or how about, “God told me I have to do it, ” from the guy shooting at a hornet’s nest? Crazy talk, right?
I know it’s crazy… Loki told me so.
See? It’s all a matter of perspective.
Here is where somebody’s going to say, “Hey, wait a minute. This preacher on the tube is calling Pagans some pretty nasty names and quoting that book of his that says it’s okay to kill us!”
Yeah, so? I could probably use their book to ‘prove’ it’s wrong to eat fried eggs on Thursday mornings. What’s your point?
The fact that the guy is using his holy book to justify his stupidity doesn’t mean what’s in the book is mean and stupid. Just because the hammer hits your thumb isn’t a reason to say the hammer is wrong. We’ve got to separate spirituality from the person who uses it to see if the spirituality itself is toxic or only a misdirected ‘hammer’ used by a person.
So what does constitute toxic spirituality? To answer that, we must first understand what spirituality is and how people employ it. I’m of the firm belief that all but the rarest of people has some sort of spirituality. Even those who say they have no religion or don’t believe in a deity will have spirituality. In the strictest sense, any theory about how the universe works and some explanation about how we can relate to that universe is a spiritual system, a spirituality. It need not have any deity or supernatural beings or forces.
However, some part of it must be able to recognize the unknowns in the universe and have some way of accommodating them. And that makes all spiritualities mystical in some way. The reason for spirituality is important here: It exists to give structure and support to the person using it in regard to their perceptions of the events within their universe. It determines qualities of the relationships between events, objects, emotions, and thoughts. It provides meaning and perspective.
So spirituality supports, offers a model that organizes and gives meaning to everything, and accounts for the unknown to a person. That covers a lot of territory and makes a person’s spirituality a very important thing. Spirituality is always complex and in all likelihood is in a continual state of change for everybody. It is also very personal. Since our notion of how the world works and what everything in it means depend on our experiences, it’s probably impossible for any two people to have exactly the same spirituality. Ask a million people how love figures into their world and you’ll get at least a million different answers.
A toxic spirituality is one that not only fails in its support of the person, but also actually undermines that person’s existence. You could say it kills its host.
Let me give you an analogy. Let’s say a person is using a library to do some research. But this library is filled with books that are incomplete or just plain wrong. When the person looks up something, they don’t get good information and will eventually harm themselves and maybe others because of it. A toxic spirituality is like that.
Now for the bad news: We all have some parts to our spiritualities that are incomplete or corrupted in some manner and quite likely are toxic to us. Nobody can truthfully say they’ve gotten it all right. So the question becomes whether we can root out our toxic parts and change or eliminate them for our own good. This is a difficult task and to set out without preparation is not recommended. This is a large part of the work of the priesthood.
As part of their initiation ceremonies, many Pagans have the title of priest or priestess conferred upon them. Many of these initiates interpret that to mean that they have been given some sort of credential that puts them on a par with clergy from other religions. Indeed, this may be part of the intent of such a title, but it is not the primary reason for using the term ‘priest’ instead of ‘minister’ or some other similar word.
The priesthood is primarily concerned with interpreting, understanding, and perfecting one’s own spirituality. This can be accomplished in many ways and the tradition one is initiated to will present a model by which the newly made priest or priestess may begin their work. As any who have accepted this as their sacred task will testify, this is a work in progress; it is never ‘done.’
There are two steps to finding one’s spirituality and determining if it is toxic or not. The first is a persistent and ongoing review of our feelings, motivations, thoughts, and actions. We need to sit back and look at ourselves with a dispassionate and critical eye, trying to ascertain how our activities can be explained as part of our world/spiritual view. This should be done for our positive experiences as well as the negative ones. In fact, don’t automatically presume that an unpleasant or negative event must have toxic spirituality behind it. Conversely, don’t presume that positive experiences don’t have toxic parts to them. We and the world we live in are much more complex than that.
The second step is to compare these parts of our spirituality with what we know about the rest of it. One comparison would be for compatibility. Does this part make sense, support, and work well with the rest? Or does it seem to contradict other parts? Does it feel good? When taken separately, does it say something about you that you feel good about? If you discovered it in another person’s worldview, would you feel comfortable with that? If not, perhaps you might wish to change things.
Don’t be too zealous and start ripping out the wires before you’ve settled on a better design however. Nature abhors a vacuum and that’s as true in the spiritual realm as much as the physical one. Besides, it isn’t a quick and easy job to pluck out a piece of your spirituality. Remember that we’re talking about a very fundamental element of our personality that determines how we relate to the world even though we usually don’t recognize it as doing so.
Patience and nearly brutal honesty with yourself will serve you better than rushing to judgment and ill-considered action. Consulting with others with whom you have built a trusting and supportive bond is a wise move. It’s more important to understand as much as you can before declaring some portion of your spiritual beliefs to be toxic and in need of a cure. Having someone with whom you can discuss your concerns will help you sort out fact from fiction and true discernment from automatic, knee-jerk reaction.
Much of the same procedure should be used in any attempt to label another’s spirituality as toxic. However, when judging others it is always more difficult to know about their spirituality without a great deal of interaction and communication with them. In some cases, this is neither possible nor even desirable. Sometimes our instinctive reaction is to move away and disconnect and this is often worth listening to. However, if you choose to continue relations and determine that another person’s spirituality is toxic to them, there are a few guidelines you should follow.
Foremost, expect any attempt by you to change them will be met with extreme resistance. Any directed energy on your part will probably cause them not only to oppose you but also fortify and entrench the target of your efforts. And even if your judgments are keen (about it being toxic) and your energy to change their spirituality is surgically precise and effective, you would be unable to replace the missing piece with anything that could help them. Each of us ‘grows’ our own spirituality and any part that is made from ‘foreign materials’ severely tests and threatens the entire spirit of the person.
When a priest or priestess works to strengthen and detoxify their own spirituality, they must always have something better to put in place of the parts that they wish to remove before they do their own spiritual surgery. Otherwise, they will find that the spiritual body itself will grab on to anything that fills the gap and that new piece might be even more pathogenic. The same is true when working with another. The person must have something of his or her own making that will be a suitable substitute before any kind of rework is attempted.
Once again, if you are acting as their spiritual guide you must exercise rigorous caution and extreme patience in the process. Encouragement to explore and heal or detoxify their spiritual body is about the most a priest or priestess can do for another without making a complete hash of the process. Good intentions aside, nobody should attempt to change another person’s spirit without god-like wisdom. And who among us can say they have that?
The truth is that much of what we and others do is inconsistent with our spiritualities. We act and react in ways that are sometimes harmful to us and others; we make mistakes in our lives that show a remarkable lack of forethought, and we rarely consider our spirituality when going about most of our living. So-called ‘primitive’ people, who see their whole world filled with spirits, are often more sensitive and aware of their own spirituality than even the most religious and dedicated among us.
The more we reflect on and investigate our own spirituality, the better we will become at understanding the spirituality of others. Though we all have flaws and troubled areas in our spirits, together we manifest a universe of possibility and wonder filled with mystery and beauty. If we are to purify and make our spiritualities healthier, let us do so with love and trust that the gods we worship will guide us along the way.
Copyright: c 2009 -- Blacksun (aka: Albert dudley)
Location: Everett, Washington
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