For seven years, I’ve been researching what I hope will be a future book—Sacred Medicine. This journey of discovery has landed me with shamans in Peru, Qigong masters from China, kahunas from Hawaii, energy healers in the U.S., and faith healers in Bali. I set off on this Sacred Medicine journey as a naïve, gullible doctor, disillusioned with the limitations and corruption of the conventional medical system and curious about all the unproven, unscientific anecdotes about radical remissions that were happening when patients put their trust in people with alleged spiritual healing power. Much of what I discovered in my research for my book Mind Over Medicine did not meet the criteria I used for that book, which was that I would only make statements I could back up with evidence-based scientific data. I couldn’t ignore all those stories and phenomena I kept bumping into which couldn’t be proved scientifically. For example, what about all those people who went to Brazil and claimed to have miraculous healings from the healer John of God, who allegedly channels dead physicians and performs psychic surgeries reported to cure blindness, resolve chronic pain, cure cancer, and help the crippled walk again? Was this real? And if so, how did it work? Could we learn things from these healers that patients could apply to their own self-healing? Could we teach medical students how to use these techniques to augment conventional medical treatments? Motivated by my inquiries about what really makes the body sick and what really heals, I stumbled around in what I thought was the arena of lightworkers, but all I found for the first three years were people corrupted by the shadow of spiritual power.
My #1 conclusion so far: Just because someone has spiritual power doesn’t mean they have spiritual ethic.
I almost quit my research, but just as I was about to quit, I met some healers who were mature, ethical, willing to share their wisdom, and seemed to be getting real results. So I’ve been slowly and methodically traveling the world to try to uncover what’s true and not true about spiritual healing.
John Of God Goes Into Police Custody
As part of this book research, I was scheduled to go to Brazil to check out John of God for myself in July 2019. I was originally supposed to go four years ago, but a series of synchronicities landed me in Australia with a bunch of Aboriginal healers instead. Now I know why my guidance protected me. The Washington Post and The New York Times both just reported that a warrant had been put out for John of God’s arrest and he has surrendered to authorities after 300+ women have accused him of sexual abuse when they were seeking healing.
This year alone, as #MeToo hits spiritual communities, we have seen the disillusionment and devastation as millions of disciples, students, patients, and parishioners who trusted hundreds of Catholic priests, Advaita Vedanta non-dual teachers, Tantra and yoga gurus, shamans, and healers, experience trauma at the hands of the people they trusted to support their spirituality. This can lead to spiritual trauma as believers mistake their trust in the guru for their trust in God/Goddess and conflate the two. In other words, if you had a deep, meaningful experience with someone like John of God and feel devastated to hear that he has been arrested on charges like this, you may make the mistake of feeling disillusioned with God/Goddess, confusing feelings of distrust in the spiritual authority figure with distrust in God/Goddess. In order to avoid making this devastating mistake, which could interrupt our trust in the Universe and in Love Itself, we must be very gentle with ourselves and each other when we discover we may have put our trust in the hands of someone who may have violated that trust.
The Shadow Of Spirituality
Earlier this year, after yet another guru fell, I hosted a teleclass The Shadow Of Spirituality, and hundreds of people showed up to tell their own #MeToo stories and learn the discernment tools all spiritual seekers must know in order to protect themselves from spiritual leaders who abuse power. (You can sign up for the class here.) I hadn’t realized when I first embarked upon one spiritual pilgrimage after another in search of the truth about spiritual healing that I would learn more about spiritual discernment than I would learn about how spiritual healing works.
Fortunately, this discernment has helped me identify the people on the planet who are doing real, valuable, effective, ethical spiritual healing work, and from what I can tell, spiritual healing is not a hoax. It’s very, very real. But once again, just because someone has spiritual power, DO NOT assume that they are enlightened or that they have moral development or that they won’t abuse their power to get laid, get rich, or get famous. Perhaps the lesson we can learn here—one we are learning over and over again—is that it is our responsibility to practice discernment, to trust our inner guidance and own our own power, and grow in our capacity to distinguish the shadow from the light.
We need not, however, throw out the baby with the bathwater!
After this news broke, I spoke to several of the gifted healers who I trust, people I have studied with as research for Sacred Medicine—and they are saddened by this news. Several felt devastated because they believe John of God is really a gifted healer, and they’re afraid people will mistrust spiritual healing as a valid healing modality because of the painful and abusive choices he may have made. (Remember, these are accusations, not convictions, but I also believe we have to believe and support the women who claim to have been hurt.) So please, dear readers, let us separate the healer (who is human) from the healing (which is connected deeply to the Divine within).
Someone wrote on my Facebook page that they don’t believe that someone who rapes women could possible heal disease through spiritual healing. I understand this point of view. It makes sense to make that assumption. But what other assumptions come along with this belief? Do we believe that someone with the power to cure cancer is immune to immoral behavior? Do we assume that a spiritual healer is a god in human form, with none of the foibles common to humans? Do we assume that powerful healers have done all their own trauma healing and are therefore immune to getting hijacked by their traumatized parts? If so, no wonder people get so disillusioned!
Interrupting The Story Of “If He Can Heal, He Must Be Enlightened”
As I wrote on Facebook,
Here’s the story I think we need to interrupt. People assume that if someone has spiritual power this means they are “enlightened beings” and therefore not vulnerable to abusing power. We now know this is simply not true. You can harness all kinds of spiritual power if you’re willing to go the dark route. Some shamans are practicing full on black magic. I don’t think it’s a matter of a) because he may have abused women, he must be a fake OR b) some of the the healings are real so therefore the abuse allegations must be lies. I think it’s entirely possible that a) some of the miraculous healings are real AND b) he abused his power, just like so many humans do. We can see from the history of priests and gurus that spiritual leaders are no less vulnerable to abusing power than people with worldly power or financial power or celebrity power. Power is power, and if you’re not vigilant about making ethical choices, surrounding yourself with people who will call you out on your shadow parts, power will corrupt you.” (You can follow the conversation on my Facebook page here.)
Spiritual Power Does Not Mean You’ve Healed Your Trauma
I would like to believe that spiritual power means someone is morally mature, sexually ethical, psychologically healthy, and emotionally developed. It would seem wise that someone in a position of spiritual authority would see an expert therapist to clear all their core traumas, using modalities like Advanced Integrative Therapy (AIT), Internal Family Systems (IFS), or Somatic Experiencing (SE), the three trauma healing modalies I have studied and deeply respect. But the truth is that far too many people with spiritual gifts, power or realizations fail to do the deep trauma healing work that is a necessary purification in order to be truly trusted with this kind of power.
This is not meant to excuse people like John of God. Again, if he committed these crimes, we need to stop him. But it does mean that we can be curious about what had to happen to him as a child in order to set him up to abuse his power and violate the trust of those who sought healing from him in this way? And for those of us (#MeToo) who have a tendency to give our power away to people in positions of spiritual authority, what had to happen to us as children to make us long for Perfect Mommy or Perfect Daddy who would make all our decisions for us and tell us what to do? I’m not in any way trying to blame people who are abused by spiritual leaders. I believe people in positions of authority need to take responsibility for healing their own trauma so they aren’t tempted to abuse their power, and this includes admitting the part of them that makes a bid for power and longs to feel powerful, perhaps because they felt overpowered as children. I can’t speak for the people who have been traumatized in this way, but I can see in myself the naïve, innocent part that just wants someone else to make my decisions for me and tell me how the big, confusing, baffling world works. It is my responsibility to tend to that part, to be intimate with that part, to love that part, and to get help healing that part so I am no longer vulnerable to being controlled or overpowered by spiritual leaders (which also helps me avoid controlling or overpowering others with my own spiritual authority).
Resist Spiritual Bypassing
When news like this arises, people have a tendency to either lightwash the situation or they dehumanize and demonize John of God and all the other fallen gurus. When you practice lightwashing or what John Welwood calls “spiritual bypassing,” you cut others far too much slack, bypassing your justified feelings of anger, disillusionment, disappointment, fear, or sadness and rationalizing or writing off the alleged abuses of power with all kinds of spiritual platitudes. When you point the finger and go on a witchhunt for all predators, feeling self-righteous and justified in dehumanizing anyone, you separate yourself, casting yourself as superior and the one you dehumanize as inferior, and this makes dehumanization possible. Love loses and hate wins, as we’re seeing all over the planet right now.
So how do we look directly at the shadow and speak to it, demanding justice and standing fiercely against everything this is not love without demonizing the very humanity of people who may need our support as they come face to face with their own darkness? How do we help the women who have come forth and told their stories to police authority figures? How do we help them feel validated, understood, and believed? How do we honor the courage it takes to stand up to your abuser without casting John of God as a monster? After all, this is a man who’s now in police custody and probably going to jail, and if these allegations are true and the justice system serves justice, he’s likely to be ostracized, imprisoned, lose his job, his reputation, his money, and possibly “the casa” where he’s been working and living. How do we stand in the ferocity of the #MeToo movement, calling out with full-throated courage “THIS IS NOT LOVE!” without dehumanizing the perpetrators? I don’t know. The whole thing hurts my heart.
The Error Of Idealizing Spiritual Leaders
Personally, I have been guided by many teachers I love, respect and admire, people I love and trust, who love and trust me. If I ever made the mistake of putting them on a pedestal, (and trust me, I did), I inevitably felt disillusioned. When I learned to see them as beautiful, richly tapestried imperfect humans, I still learned great wisdom but I no longer experienced those feelings of being blindsided and betrayed when I finally discovered their humanity. I’m sure others have put me on a pedestal, too, and if they get close enough to me, they see my humanity too. I hope this humanizes our relationship rather than destroying it. We need to resist the temptation to idolize humans. HUMANS ARE HUMANS, and this means we’re all vulnerable to abusing our power and being abused by others who abuse power. None of us are immune.
Again, this does not excuse people in positions of power that abuse their power. With great power comes great responsibility. If we dare to play in powerful territory, we must must MUST learn to come into right relationship with power, and in order to do this, we have to prioritize healing our own trauma. Personally, I am still in therapy myself. (Again, let me plug AIT, IFS, and SE.) I still have teachers and guides because I too am vulnerable. Being in a position of power makes you vulnerable. If you don’t know that, you could be the next #MeToo perpetrator. There but by the grace of God go you or I. . . .
How Do You Avoid Being Victimized By Someone With Spiritual Power?
Study the shadow of spirituality! Here’s a reading list to get you started:
Mariana Caplan’s Halfway Up The Mountain
Mariana Caplan’s Eyes Wide Open
Robert Augustus Masters Spiritual Bypassing
Robert Augustus Masters Bringing Your Shadow Out Of The Dark
A Few More Tips
- Be very wary of anyone who ever asks you to give your power away to them.
- If someone tells you they’re touching you sexually against your will because you need a sexual healing, scream and run away if you can. (Some people freeze instead of fighting or fleeing in this situation, and if this happened to you, be gentle with yourself. You’re not alone.)
- If someone physically or verbally abuses you in the name of “I’m saving you from your ego,” get out.
- If anyone dehumanizes you, shames you, judges you, attacks you, or otherwise harms you in the name of “crazy wisdom” or any other spiritual teaching modality, recognize the signs of an abusive cult leader and protect yourself.
- If you challenge a spiritual authority figure and they get defensive and refuse to at least listen to and entertain your challenge, pull away. Any spiritual leader who really cares about helping you open your heart and trust your guidance will be curious and open if you challenge him or her and will always turn you back to the guru you can always trust—your own heart.
- Look for spiritual leaders who keep turning you back to your inner guidance. As Mark Nepo says, “This is the only thing worth teaching: how to uncover that original center and how to live there once it is restored. We call the filming over a deadening of heart, and the process of return, whether brought about through suffering or love, is how we unlearn our way back to God.”
The Guru Within/Your Inner Pilot Light
This “spot of grace” where you unlearn you way back to God, which I call your “Inner Pilot Light” is the best guru you’ll ever find. These days, I still seek out the wisdom of other people I love and trust, but more and more, I also lean inwards, seeking guidance from my inner wisdom. I seek out a community of practice within my personal Soul Tribe, and I also host an online Soul Tribe for others who are needing that safe space to learn to trust their own Inner Pilot Lights. (Join the Soul Tribe here.) As Thich Nhat Hanh said, “The next Buddha will be the sangha”—the spiritual community. Together, in a community of practice and purpose, we can connect with the guru within each of us and hold each other accountable to our intentions to follow the still, small voice of truth, love, and spiritual guidance, which whispers to each of us in many different ways—through intuition, dreams, synchronicity, visions, downloads, and other forms of communication.
The Daily Flame
Perhaps the time of giving your power away to healers, gurus, or spiritual teachers has passed. Perhaps that was a necessary part of our evolution, and we have outgrown it now. If you’re interested in learning tools for making contact with—and learning to trust—your own Inner Pilot Light, sign up for the Daily Flame, daily love letters from your Inner Pilot Light, and you’ll get 30 free tools for making a deeper connection to this inner guru. Or preorder the Daily Flame book.
I know it sounds funny—follow my guidance so you can get in touch with your own! But that’s not what I’m saying. YOU HAVE THIS ALREADY! Your Inner Pilot Light is seeking you far more devotionally than you may be seeking this spark of divinity. You definitely do not need me or anyone else as an intermediary. This guidance costs nothing, is available to you 24/7, and can be fully trusted, once you learn to discern this guidance from all the other chatter in your head. Tools like the free daily emails or The Daily Flame book or the 30 tools I offer are just ways to help you play in the realm of inner guidance. Not sure if such a thing would be helpful for you? Check inside. Ask your Inner Pilot Light. Trust yourself.
Brokenhearted and motivated to help us all walk each other home,
PS. My husband Olivier and I are leading a kind of Soul Tribe Winter Solstice event in Muir Beach, CA in the SF Bay area December 21. Read more and sign up here.
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