In the realm of New Age spirituality or meditation groups, lots of people seem pretty certain about various spiritual teachings. But what if dogma and certainty are the antithesis of one of the most valued spiritual qualities—the humility of beginner’s mind? What if the minute we insist that we know something is true and we aren’t open to questioning it, we lack the very humility that could deepen our connection with the love, openness, truth, and compassion of the Divine?

It seems to me that any spiritual teaching worth applying in our daily lives deserves to be filtered through our own inquiry with the inner Divine (the part I call your “Inner Pilot Light“). When we fail to enter into humble inquiry about the spiritual teachings that get taught, we make ourselves vulnerable to the imbalances of lopsided dogma, as well as to prideful certainty about how the mysteries of the unknowable universe work.

In preparation for an online class I taught this week about The Shadow of Spirituality Uncensored, I made a list of spiritual teachings that many people I know practice hook, line, and sinker without questioning the validity of the teachings. In making this list and teaching the class, I came to a potent realization—that every one of these teachings has a gem of truth in it, but that in many circumstances, it’s opposite can also be true. In other words, as we develop a deeper connection with our inner Divinity, we come to realize that we must hold potentially infinite paradoxes. The mind craves duality—the certainty and comfort of black and white thinking. Paradoxes create discomfort in the mind. How can something be true and not true at the same time? Yet we learn as we grow that the mind cannot hold a paradox; only the heart can.

I invite you to question the following spiritual teachings, gleaning from them the gems while being willing to entertain the paradoxes, allowing yourself to see how an unbalanced, rigid, or dogmatic adoption of teachings like this may actually be harming you or causing you to inadvertently harm others.

1. You’ll never hurt if you stay present in the peace of Now.

So much of our pain stems from thoughts rehashing painful episodes from the past or anxious imaginings about worst case scenarios in the future, so learning to be present in this now-walking moment can greatly reduce human suffering. That said, as seductive as it is to think this might be an option, avoiding human pain is impossible. When you find out a loved one died, you experience a serious injury, or the love of your life betrays you, it’s going to hurt, even in this present moment. If you’re set up to believe that being present in the Now means you’ll avoid feeling human pain, you’ll be disappointed, and if you try to bypass human pain, you’ll also miss out on the richness, vitality, and joy of feeling the full range of the human experience all the way in your heart and your bones.

2. All pain is caused by limiting beliefs or thoughts that aren’t true.

Spiritual inquiry is at the root of much Eastern philosophy. Because we experience suffering when traumas cause us to ruminate on painful limiting beliefs, such as “I’m not lovable” or “Everyone is going to abandon me” or “Nobody can be trusted,” learning to question your thoughts is a cornerstone of spiritual practice. This kind of tool is very helpful when you’re stuck in cyclical ruminations about long past events. However, some pain cannot be questioned away. When you’re in the midst of acute grief, for example, it’s not helpful to inquire as to whether limiting beliefs are causing your heartbreak. When you’re acutely grieving, you need comfort, support, and permission to feel your painful grief in the embodied depths of your sorrow. Over-intellectualization with mental inquiry can interrupt the grief process and move you out of your heart, where true healing happens.

3. Everything you desire is within your reach via the “law of attraction.”

According to many New Age teachings, all you have to do is visualize, affirm, align your energy, remove your blocks, and PRESTO—you’ll get everything you want, whether it’s a million dollars, the girl of your dreams, or the promotion you’ve been jonesing for. For many, it’s empowering when you get exposed to law of attraction teachings. You discover that you’re not a victim of a hostile universe, but that you’re powerful beyond measure and can participate in the co-creation of your reality, whether it’s healing yourself from illness, calling in the love of your life, or manifesting a successful career. However, there’s a dark shadow to this kind of teaching that suggests that if you’re not manifesting everything you want, you’re not practicing the law of attraction skillfully enough, that you’re somehow spiritually inferior and if only you were “spiritual” enough, you’d get everything your ego wants. While manifestation is a known “siddhi” (spiritual superpower in the yogic tradition), it’s a gift, not a law, and it can be co-opted to feed the ego’s “hungry ghost” of endless and insatiable desire. The “law of attraction” suggests that if only you do it right, you can visualize a Ferrari and somehow, magically, a Ferrari will end up in your driveway. But Divine Will doesn’t work that way. It’s wonderful to learn that you have spiritual power and can participate in co-creating your reality, but when you move to the next phase of spiritual development and realize that even if you could “manifest” every desire on your ego’s infinite shopping list, you still wouldn’t feel fulfilled, you begin to long for a deeper level of surrender. Your prayer moves from “Help me get what my ego wants” to “Make me a vessel for Divine love in the world and help me recognize what that is, because my Small Self doesn’t know what serves the highest good.”

4. Everything you judge about someone else is a projection of something you don’t like in yourself.

Psychological projection is a known defense mechanism whereby you project undesirable feelings or emotions onto someone else, rather than admitting to or dealing with the unwanted feelings in yourself. In other words, you judge your neighbor as being greedy, while all the while, you’re greedily withholding love, compassion, and acceptance of the very person you judge, or maybe you’re greedy with waitstaff and only tip 10%. While it’s always helpful to inquire about our judgments because there’s often a great deal of insight we can uncover about our own growth edges and we can grow in compassion of ourselves and others through this practice of self-inquiry, this teaching can be easily misinterpreted as a way to gloss over unacceptable behaviors that lead to disrespect or even outright abuse. It’s fine to find the projections and turn the mirror back upon yourself, but don’t forget to keep your discernment honed, your boundaries clear, and healthy consequences for unacceptable behavior enforced. Paradoxically, it can be true that what you judge is an aspect of yourself; it can also be true that you’re being harmed by a flaming narcissist and need to get a restraining order.

5. Forgive and forget.

Forgiveness is at the root of most spiritual lineages, and when you reach a place of genuine, authentic forgiveness in your own heart, it can leave you nearly ecstatic with relief and true freedom. However, as Robert Masters writes about in Spiritual Bypassing, “premature forgiveness” is really just conflict avoidance in holy drag. Authentic forgiveness requires us to fully feel our anger, hurt, righteousness, dismay and despair before we get to the true forgiveness that sticks. Even once we forgive, we don’t necessarily want to forget. If someone betrays your trust, you may want to dial down the intimacy dial, offering unconditional love but conditional access. If someone keeps needing forgiveness, you may need to withdraw. This may be a sign that someone cannot be trusted with your intimacy and vulnerability. If you tell yourself you’re supposed to forget, and that spiritual people never establish consequences when someone hurts you, you’ll be vulnerable to repetitive violations of your trust and painful traumas to your tender heart.

6. The ego is something to get rid of.

An orphaned child standing in front of a crowd of spiritual seekers approached the guru through her tears and asked for help. He furrowed his brow, turned stony cold, pointed a finger at her, and said to the child, “The ego is a beast. You need to kill it. Do more spiritual practice.” Ouch. What if the ego is not a monster we have to kill, but a wounded child we need to love? What if exiling the imperfect, hurting, or protective parts of the ego doesn’t deepen spiritual growth; it only makes these natural human parts more recalcitrant, as they double down to exert their influence over the soul? What if spiritual growth actually begins when we open ourselves to radical self-compassion and acceptance of our wounded parts?

To join in the inquiry about more spiritual teachings we might need to question, and to listen to a 3 ½ hour dialogue about other shadow aspects of spirituality, such as the 10 “Spiritually- Transmitted Diseases,” how to protect yourself from untrustworthy spiritual leaders, shamans, or healers, and how to see where you might be vulnerable to the shadow as a healer or spiritual leader yourself. We also discuss tools for discernment, conscious discipleship, and self-compassion if you’ve been vulnerable to being hurt. You can register for The Shadow of Spirituality Uncensored here. To those who participated in this lively dialogue, thank you for giving us the opportunity to make this not just a lecture-style class, but a genuine teaching community that took advantage of the wisdom in the room. I hope it helps all of us deepen our discernment, forgive our own shadow, and grow the light in our own hearts.


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  1. John Hautman

    Excellent post. When I feel I know everything it is time to start over at the beginning

  2. Lisa Gardner Saffle

    What are your thoughts about the Sydney Banks’ 3 Principles?

    • Lissa_Rankin

      I don’t know what this is…

  3. Sara Valentine

    This was a really great share Lisa – thank you. They all resonate with me and is right in line with a few things I have been contemplating. One is alignment with is #2. I’ve been in chronic pain in my hips and back for years. So many spiritual healers have all tried to tell me it’s all emotional. I’ve been open to seeing what that might be, inquiring, meditating, asking to be shown what emotion or belief is holding me back from healing – you really begin to feel that you are messed up. Then I found out that I have huge misalignments in my spine causing the pain. I am finally receiving the help needed and am beginning to eliminate this pain for the first time in 10 years! We really need to be careful about assuming all pain is due to emotional issues, karma or old beliefs. Thank you for this article. I would like to share it with my peeps! Namaste. Sara Valentine

  4. Gordon Yumibe

    Do you have any spiritual truths that you can abide by?

    • Lissa_Rankin

      I guess I trust Divine Will, and it’s a mystery to me what that is, so most of my spiritual practice is about surrendering to that greater force of love, listening for guidance, and then mustering up the courage to do as I’m guided. But even that I question sometimes, since I believe Essence has will and maybe sometimes I need to assert my will more and surrender less. The more I go down this rabbit hole, the more I’m left with more questions than universal unquestionable truths.

      • Gordon Yumibe

        I met a teacher/master in my earlier years…he was grounded in the gnostic teachings…he was a writer also..”The Revelations of Hermes, An Exposition of Adamic Christianity”. My teacher’s name was Robert E Birdsong. I was able to spend about two or three years where I would go over an talk with him…him doing most of the teaching/talking!

        I followed his teachings for many years…in my early fifties I started becoming illuminated (enlightened)…a process that took several more years before I received a message that I had become fully illuminated.

        Maybe something you can relate with is that he said humanity were on two distinct paths…one was the “Head” path and the other one was the “Heart” path…one thinks his/her way forward/upward and the other path was where one felt his/her way forward/upward.

        Everyone has to tread both paths eventually…the paths converge into the Straight path where both sides of ourselves are merged in a “chemical marriage…”

        The Creative source also had to give a little heart to the head path and a little head to the heart path because there was a big tendency to become too imbalanced…

        None of my life would not have made any sense to me without these teachings…they took me down this path which I never would have been able to do…

        At some point, everyone will meet whoever they are meant to…as a way forward…

        I haven’t been able to say too much before about this to many others…I have been “told” that I have already merged with my other half and am whole…

        At some point it is a great advantage to have teaching one can adhere to…once started it becomes essential to follow it…now that I feel as I have come out the other side…I can see the similarities and differences of other teachings..

        The greatest advantage of following this passage way to the end is that I have gained my freedom…in the same way…I have had to leave many others behind….but in the same way…I have become connected to everyone…the Father/Mother/Son…and the Creative Hierarchy…

        It might sound grand and illustrious…truth is that it takes everything I have…I feel the darkness and the souls of many others who are struggling and lost as well…the path becomes higher and steeper and the pitfalls are myriad and devastating because much more of life depends on it….

        So be good…you may ask me anything you wish as well. I am a master/teacher/healer.

        Thank you for responding!

        Sincerely yours,

        Gordon Yumibe

  5. Lois Henrickson

    Excellent… speaks eloquently to the paradoxes and rabbit traps on the Path.

  6. Kathy @ SMART LIving

    How important to always remember that there are always two opposite perspectives to everything. Whenever we carry anything to an extreme there is almost always a shadow brought out to balance the wholeness. Much better to recognize the yin/yang of all things and to seek out that balance.

  7. Melissa R Lamoureux

    Omg soooo necessary!! Thank you for writing about exactly what I’ve been feeling for the last year. It’s a very necessary dose of practicality and realism when it comes to these teachings. I was in a relationship for many years with someone who would use the teachings of Abraham-Hicks, and various other modalities to gaslight me and use spiritual bypassing as a way of relating. Wowzer. It took me a while to wake up, but I realize now it was all part of my path of becoming more discerning and also trusting my own inner compass more rather than relying on a spiritual teaching/framework from which to live my life. Thank you Lissa!! <3

  8. Jill Lord

    So perfect. Thank you Lisa!!! <3

  9. Emma Harper

    Yes Lissa!!! Number 4 and 6 feel so resonant for me right now! Love you girl! keep telling it as it is you beautiful Goddess xxxx

  10. F B

    Thank you for your posting… Some aspects you’ve written I agree with, while others, I would recommend you consider further inquiry into your subjects, in order to reveal other truths that are awaiting discovery!

    Such as… (Paraphrasing) “Needing to embrace our hurt parts”… Where do we “learn” that we are “hurt” (aside from obvious personal experience(s) like placing our hand on a hot stove, or skinning our knees!)? How do we know that we are truly hurt “emotionally” (by someone’s actions or inactions), or is this aspect of emotionalism, something we learned by experiencing and observing other’s behaviors and responses, then adopted as our own, simply because we “learned” that their expression concerning these matters are/ is “real”?

    When we adopt other’s “stuff” (making it our own!), this aspect is learned limited ego and has absolutely nothing to do with authentic feelings!… There’s a huge difference between; authentic experience, and inauthentic experience… One stems from putting our hand on a hot stove and deciding we don’t want to do that again!… And the other, is a learned behavior we observed then adopted as our own, thinking that “this is how we are supposed to react and/or respond to a situation”… The later usually creates unnecessary gerbil wheel drama (usually where we learned it from to begin with)!

    It’s time for an update to what is; “fake” (spinning us around on the preverbal “gerbil wheel” resolving nothing!) and “what works”, embracing a new paradigm that creates true effectual healing and solution based results! Wishing you the best in your efforts and journey to awaken everyone to their real and true Selves. Namaste…

  11. Michele FitzGerald

    My first introduction to you was through your TedTalkx. The concept you now embrace relates to, in my experience, to the wisdom of women, their ability to be aware from within and to let the mind be led by the heart. It all relates to love and the one true fulfillment in life. We do not live in a world bent to this concept; I find it interesting the direction you are taking with it to commercialize the concept. Indigenous peoples provide great examples through their medicine people, to act as conduit between mystery and reality for the purpose of living healthy and productive lives, to be in this world but not of it. We are beings with purpose if only we equate love to health. Thank you for sharing your story.


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