Spiritual Addiction

We’ve all met addicts of some kind. The drug addict whose need for a fix overshadows even basic human needs. The alcoholic who drowns his life away. The coffee drinker who can’t function without a morning cup. The smoker, the binger, the sweet-tooth, and on and on. In fact, we’ve probably all had addictions of one kind or another. Most addictions begin as a form of escape or avoidance of pain then take on a life of their own.

But there is another kind of addiction you may not recognize. Spiritual addiction. Spiritual practice as a form of avoidance. Of course, then the practice gets different results than was intended.

As Rose Rosetree puts it, “The person intensifies existing habits or workarounds that have been undertaken for psychological healing or spiritual growth.

When someone gets exposed to a new teaching that inspires them, it’s natural to have a keener phase. But at some point, we all run into flaws in the teaching, the organization, and/or the teacher. People are human. As in an intimate relationship, the romance phase ends. What happens next depends on the degree of the flaws and our response to them. The difficulty of this transition will depend on the degree of our attachment.

Some reject the whole thing and bail. Some do a reevaluation and form a more mature relationship, separating the wheat from the chaff and focusing on the value. But if the attachment is deep enough, we may ignore or idealize the discovered flaws and continue as if all is well. Or we may become cult-like about it, sacrificing ourselves in the process. We stay a child with the teaching rather than maturing as an adult. We become co-dependant, as in any other kind of relationship.

A major characteristic of this addiction is big upper chakras and squelched lower ones. Thus the person may have great experiences and high ideals but is typically broke, challenged to meet needs, and may develop fragile health or sensitivities. They live in the head rather than the world. Clearly an issue of balance. Practices that emphasize the upper chakras, like some forms of meditation, are thus more prone to this abuse.

Obviously, there are degrees of addiction. It’s very common to have a milder form where life is not the focus of our life. Perhaps we consult with astral beings before making any decisions. Or we reject the world conceptually because someone said it was unreal. Perhaps we deny some of our natural desires. We play at being a monk when we’re clearly not. Or we spend all of our time trying to be present.

In her book Magnetize Money with Energetic Literacy, Rose says: “excessive dependence on affirmations [or other practice] may put a susceptible person at risk for disassociating from reality and developing a spiritual addiction.” She notes that two of the dominant Law of Attraction teachers, Esther Hicks (Abraham) and Rhonda Byrne (The Secret), do not model their own teaching aurically while Donald Trump actually does. (I’ll come back to the book in more detail in a later review.)

The addiction can also be indicated by deferring to the future. “With my practice, all my problems will be solved later.” Or “when I’m enlightened, everything will be perfect.” Do delusions really lead to enlightenment? Or does reality?

A related term is spiritual bypassing. This is where people have a self-concept about being spiritual and feel they shouldn’t have “bad” feelings. It is a focus on feeling endlessly good even if they actually don’t. It’s using spiritual concepts to avoid aspects of life we dislike. And that leads to spiritual addiction.

Another variation is an absorption in spiritual concepts and endless discussion and arguing about “truth.” But the actual work is avoided. This is staying in the head, addicted to ideas about it. The spiritual discussion boards are full of this.

Adyashanti said…anytime we contract from direct experience and spin a story, we have gone unconscious… whatever emotion that happened at that time will be locked into our system.” That’s a key point. Avoidance builds crud in our system, the fog that blinds us to love and happiness. In an attempt to avoid pain, we actually hold onto it.

A lot of it is framing. Do you use the law of attraction for a tune-up? The gratitude rock a few times a day? Or do you continuously try to manipulate your thinking? Are you constantly trying to be present? Are you forever seeking your purpose or passion but not choosing something? Are you able to have a conversation with someone you meet on the street or do you view everyday life as trivial and not worthy of your attention? Can you talk to your family about your life? Are you actually in it? Or have you left the stage?

In many cases, this is so subtle we don’t even realize we’re doing it. And because of the disconnect, we’re actually getting in the way of real spiritual progress. We’re collecting barriers to awakening.

So if you are busily positioning your consciousness to seek the deeper truth, not the human experience, you will live at frequencies that intensify spiritual experiences to the detriment of staying connected to reality” said Rose. The trick is in seeking the truth IN the human experience. It’s really not somewhere else.

A contributing influence is that many spiritual teachers are monks or the students of monks. Their teaching is overtly or subtly influenced by a monks practice of withdrawal from life, not a householders path to find God right here. Transcendence vs immanence.

Rose mentions that as consciousness rises and spiritual presence grows, it puts pressure on people to change and evolve. This is encouraging more people to shut down or become addicted to avoid this. Yet it’s a wave of awakening that we can follow to our fulfillment. Avoidance only keeps us with what we don’t want.

This is not to say everyone doing the mentioned practices is addicted. It’s not the practice, it’s how it’s used. How we are with it, the same as all attachments, including the mind and ego. Don’t be shocked if you find a little of yourself in this. It’s quite common. Most of us have been there at one time or another. The key is of course to recognize it and see the avoidance. Hence this article.

Rose suggests one simple cure is to limit your spiritual practices to about 30 minutes a day total. Mainly in one or 2 blocks of time. The rest of the time, you’re living life here, not second guessing it. Not trying to be what you’re not. The witnessing observer or presence develops naturally from within. It cannot be forced or faked.

The key is balance. Not leaving the cloth in the dye (spirit) to soak excessively but to bring it out to bleach in the sun (world) and make the dye fast.

Rose’s article on the subject is worth reading. She talks about it from a broader perspective with more solutions.

And don’t be hard on yourself. The object here is clarity not blame. Blame is just giving you something else to avoid.
Have fun and dance, like Howard would. Or Krishna.  😉

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22 Responses to Spiritual Addiction

  1. Julie says:

    I love this article, Davidya. Balance is so important. I think the 30 minutes a day recommended by Rose Rosetree is a surefire way to bring a person out of spiritual addiction. Simply because, if one only does 30 minutes a day of spiritual activity, one is forced to find other ways to fill the rest of the time! Ways that don’t encourage and continue the imbalance, but bring a person out of it into a fuller expression of life.

    Of course, if a person doesn’t have an imbalance to begin with, whatever amount of time they are doing may be just fine. But for someone in the addiction phase, only 30 minutes is like cold water to their head!

  2. Davidya says:

    Hi Julie
    Thank you. And exactly. The 30 min. is a recipe for an addict. If your life is in good balance of inner and outer and your spiritual progress is unfolding nicely, there is no need to cut down.

    I plan to attend a silent retreat next month. But I don’t plan to stay there. It’s a spiritual holiday and I have projects awaiting my return.

    I do find it a useful perspective. I’ve behaved in addicted ways in my past but life came along to give me a push.

  3. Julie says:

    Yes, that’s a good point about balance of inner and outer life. Also balance of activities that thrill the spirit with activities that thrill other parts of the human self: creativity, exercise, communication, etc. Human type things, at least for those on the Householder path.

    For me, I’m ok as long as the majority of my time is in normal day-to-day activities. I like yoga and meditation for example but they can’t be the main course of the dinner, so to speak. They work, for me, better as side dishes.

    When I tried for a while to build my life around those two activities, it didn’t work. It was important for me to develop out of the lollypop aura (big third eye, not as much else going on) into fullness in many areas.

    Life coming along to give a push? It does that to me too (gentle laugh).

  4. Davidya says:

    It can be very comforting to stay in a little bubble of peace and not want to come out. But the trick is, if we want that peace to stay, we have to be able to bring it out into the light of the world.

    Yes – a great point. Finding those things that thrill our soul in the world. That bring us out, that express what we have, that bring us satisfaction. Its hard to find those things if you’re in avoidance. This is not to say ongoing happiness comes from activities – it comes from within. But unless it’s expressed in activities, that happiness can become pretty quiet. 😉

    Yes, I did much the same. Became a meditation teacher and was focused fully on becoming enlightened. But my life wasn’t really structured to support that and I had some baggage to resolve first. Not to mention a couple of wonderful children to bring into the world.

    Because I have strong cosmic perception and strong wisdom gifts, it’s very easy for me to “go lollipop”. But I finally clued in to the need to ground and be in the world. Thats really helpful because now I don’t have to be pushed that way so much. Some of those old reality checks were pretty intense. (big, full laugh)

    Thanks Julie.

  5. Lori Ann Lothian says:

    Yes. That has been my experience that pre-awakening, in my seeker days, I was a spiritual addict. If a reader looked at my chakras I am sure I was top heavy. :-). So much freedom in losing the need to transcend. The realization that up and down, there and here, now and then, are all collapse-able has lead to a new appreciation of life, and yes, even energetic literacy.

  6. Yes, thanks, Julie. And also big thanks to you, Davidya.

    How bold we are, to raise such counter-culture ideas in your community of the spiritually adventurous.

    It really takes courage to renounce so much of one’s renunciation, doesn’t it?

  7. Davidya says:

    (laughs) Well put, Rose.
    Trapped in the escape pod, to use a SF analogy.

  8. Davidya says:

    Hi Lori Ann
    Yes, I spent a hunk of time in lollipop mode too. Even some online chakra quiz caught it. Life brought me lots of grounding experiences to compensate. (laughs)

    And yes – where is there to transcend to when it’s already here? So many dualities to collapse until there is only One left.

    Thanks for saying hello.

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  10. Julie says:

    I agree, Davidya. The peacefulness can be…a little too peaceful. You seem to know exactly what I mean. There is a lot to be said for soul thrill, and finding those activities that spice up life. I like your phrase “happiness expressed in activities”. Just so…

    Thanks for talking to me! I appreciate your gifts for wisdom, and, you know, even more so, your willingness to share that wisdom. So generous.

  11. Davidya says:

    Hi Julie
    Right – the 2 fullness. The fullness of inner peace, freedom and bliss. And the fullness of expression of that in the world. The first is wonderful but unless we bring it into the world it can be pretty flat. And that enlivening it in the world also means enlivening it in others and helping them on their path.

    Thank you. It is only in sharing that knowledge finds its purpose.

  12. Rob says:

    Ah yes thanks everybody for the great discussion. I definitely see myself in this. Leaving the peaceful bubble a step at a time.

  13. Davidya says:

    Thanks for the comment, Rob. And remember real peace isn’t in any bubble. 😉

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  17. Daisy says:

    David, I was wondering if you know of anything memory loss due to over meditation?

    My friend and I are noticing this memory loss in some of our friends who live and work at a local ashram. Part of the practice is positioning consciousness constantly, and some days 3 hours of meditation.

    We are actually concerned, the people who show extreme memory loss have been living at the ashram and or being in their particular practice from 30 years to 2 years.

    Instead of functioning like a well oiled machine, sometimes its gone more of a nutty professor, but more detached and numbed out.

  18. Davidya says:

    Hi Daisy
    Yes, I’ve known people who over-did it.

    There is a couple of things. When we live disconnected from the mind and emotions, the memory doesn’t make new impressions. Even in the physical brain, there is a close tie between emotions and memory.

    If we spend little time in the body/mind, we also detach from prior memories. We kind of become “spiritual” zombies. The person themselves tends to experience life in a vaguely pleasant dream-like state.

    However, if you want to make real spiritual progress, you have to integrate the inner with the outer or there is nothing to contain the inner space. It just drifts away with the smallest breeze. If you study meditation formally, you’ll find examples given like dying the cloth. In order to make the colour (spirit) fast, you dip the cloth in the dye (meditation), then put it out in the sun (activity) to bleach. Repeat until the colour no longer fades.

    Unfortunately the detachment you describe is not the result of witnessing, of established consciousness. Rather it is the result of not living in the body, of not making the cloth fast.

    From a Yoga perspective, they are in effect practising aversion, the avoidance of pain, (numbed out). This actually cultures Tamas (inertia), not sattva. They’re living like someone who refuses to get out of bed in the morning. They just want to daydream.

    The other issue here is it sounds like they’re behaving like renunciates but trying to be in the world at the same time. They’ll fail at both. There’s a good chance their practice is for renunciates, including the mantra. A renunciate mantra like Om will cause material things and relationships to fall away.

    It can be nice to have a retreat and step out of the world here and there. But few people are suited to do that long term. The people I know who fell into this typically clued in or were pushed out of it by circumstance or resulting health problems at some point. But not always.

    For friends, all you can do is point to alternative perspectives. They’ll often be identified with the teaching and treat disagreers as a personal attack or an attack on the guru. You can ask how many have achieved enlightenment with this approach, assuming they’re not deluded about what that is.

  19. Daisy says:

    Thank you for the informative response.

    By the way the meditation is self inquiry. I do think they teach in a real way. As in to follow the source of the “I,” idea. I would assume this is not a “householder” type meditation looking at the tradition it comes from.

    You actually gave me some advise before on RR’s blog that this was not a practice for beginners and may induce a fight with the ego. Also that results with this practice could be very “dry.” I took your advise and stopped.

    I was told this teaching would help us be in the world but not of the world. I’m a regular at the RR blog, and have been using Rose’s services. I can now see the problem with this for someone who is not called to be a renunciate

    I am not trying to convince any of my friends of anything, but the one that asked is questioning the teaching herself. I only go there on a part time basis in a paid position because of a sincere request by the management due to a need that they have. I no longer participate in any way in programs or sat sanga.

    I really do love everyone there, they have been very kind and I do respect everyone’s choices about there own lives.

    The description you gave in the “spiritual zombies” paragraph reminds me of how it felt to be a marijuana addict.

    Thank You David for all of your time, and Happy Blog Anniversary!

  20. Daisy says:

    By the way, out of over 30 years, there MAY be one that woke up. They all had personal access to the guru almost constantly if they lived at the ashram.

    By the way, the teacher is no longer “in the body,” and the co-founder has retired.

    Once a year they have an enlighted being visiting for a couple of months. He makes himself available for meetings with anyone who request.

  21. Davidya says:

    Hi Daisy
    Yes, Inquiry is often taught in the context of renunciation. In the “non-dual” community in particular due to it’s roots. Plus, any practice done for hours a day makes it renunciate. There simply isn’t time to ground that. I once had a 5 hour a day practice that combined several things. Difficult to be in the world effectively with that kind of schedule. But I tried. Professional space cowboy in several ways. (laughs)

    I can also note something else here about the practice. Inquiry is useful, but only if there is also a transcending practice that takes us beyond the mind. Unless we have regular experiences of source, or enough Atman is already awake, there is no reference point for inquiry of the I. In that case, it’s just the mind asking itself what it is. This can easily fall into mind games and concepts of being detached.

    The Vedas refer to inquiry as an advanced practice you begin after a time of service followed by a practice of meditation. At a certain point, I’ve noticed it arises spontaneously. But here and there, not for hours.

    The ego reference is because the ego does not want to be seen. So when we practice inquiry without that sense of source, it can become the ego reflecting on itself and using past spiritual experiences to play at being something more. (I’m explaining a little extra for other readers)

    I recall when I realized the ego was playing at being the Self and making a drama of fighting with itself to distract from seeing through it. I had no idea how I’d ever get past that. Happily I didn’t need to. It’s not the ego that wakes up. 😉

    The “dryness” is because it is not balanced. It may culture detachment but not refinement. Rose and some other things address the refinement side.

    In my experience, true detachment arises with the witness, the conscious observer that underlies all experience. We observe but are no longer caught by the objects of experience. Then we are in the world but not of it. Not conceptually but from who we are.

    Eckhart Tolle has some inquiry-like techniques for culturing this. But as one teacher observed, this helps culture the observer after the awakening rather than create it in the first place.

    The degree of contrast of the detachment varies and once established, will slowly fade as we approach Unity. In other words, even a legitimate detachment is temporary, a stage.

    If you’re comfortable with it, a little inquiry is not a bad thing. I’d simply pay attention to how it feels, don’t force it, and notice how it affects you. If there is strong peer pressure, you have to be careful too. It needs a bit of innocence.

    I go to some satsangs and events with a guided meditation component but I’m very conscious of the dynamics and circumspect about some of it.

    And I’m also aware that some friends are flowering beautifully and some are stuck, going in loops.

    You’re quite welcome, and thanks.

  22. Davidya says:

    On your second comment, which came after I started my reply above, it has been interesting to watch many of the old organizations where the former leader has passed. Often the replacement is not as great a light or may even be more of a figurehead. The organization tends to stagnate then. It’s a common issue in organizational evolution.

    Many of them are failing to attract young people and show signs of a slow or fast fade. Students of course can be fickle as well, wanting the celebrity guru.

    The book American Veda talks of this trend.

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