Sunday, November 05, 2006

Spiritual Halls of Shame 

“Give me chastity and continence – but not yet.”   – Augustine of Hippo

What is going on with our religious and political leaders these days?   Catholic priests are revealed to have been molesting children for decades, politicians fighting to protect children's online safety from predators are themselves predators, and now we find that Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals and outspoken opponent of gay rights has been having monthly sex and meth meetings with a gay prostitute who had advertised in "Rentboy" magazine.

How have things become so topsy turvy?   How can we know if people in positions of authority and integrity are behaving in ways that are appropriate for the respect they are given?   How are these beloved ones able to lie so extensively to cover their hidden misdeeds?   And most importantly, from where do these plagues of hypocrisy and transgression come and how can we address and bring the problem into a proper balance?   What can we learn about ourselves from these troubling circumstances?  

I wrote some of my thoughts about this phenomenon in the book Secrets of Spiritual Happiness:

"If we expect perfection from those who have achieved some greatness or shown a willingness to serve society, then we box these people into a life that fits into our expectations.   They may feel obliged to put on a face that doesn't reflect their inner beliefs.   Eventually, that distorted outer face may foster an inner environment that brings about distorted actions that go against their own religious, political, or essential beliefs -- giving even more fodder for more gossiping.

"Instead of coming into their own deeply guided relationship with God or their own deep wisdom, some spiritual, artistic, and political leaders may have to spend much of their time and efforts worrying about how their actions will be perceived by the "viewing public," or the "voting public," or by those tabloid journalists who are licking their chops in hopes of finding the next explosive or salacious rumor to reveal publicly. This is how society unintentionally brings down its greatest achievers, with these gems of humanity being crucified again and again by the errant soldiers of judgment, animosity, jealousy, and greed."

Having to put on false faces to fit into everyone's culturally limited beliefs and expectations keeps public people, such as politicians, religious leaders, and others in positions of perceived respect who are expected to give guidance to the masses from being able to actually follow their own inner guidance -- or to properly wrestle their demons if you think in those terms.   If you've never done anything that some in society would think was shocking, well then I'd have to say that you may not have had a very full, rich, or interesting life. The problem comes when people get so out of balance with their outer persona and inner promptings that they lose touch with who they are and begin to play separate false and distorted public and private roles.

Social conformity, while perhaps more neat and manageable for the government, is not always ideal for a powerful and vibrant spiritual quest. There's nothing wrong with variety, and there's nothing wrong with spiritual people being a little outside of the box.   Look at spiritual pioneers like Peace Pilgrim, and even Jesus, in his time.   When a spiritual person is in a position where they have to fit into the expectatons of large groups of people -- as with a priest or other public figure of perceived stature -- they end up in a position where they have to lie.   Otherwise they'll have to suffer the discomfort of being attacked by thoughts and words of judgment and argument.  

People love to judge each other.   We've all got a little obnoxious Simon Cowell inside of us, snapping off nasty barbs as we go through life.   At the same time, we have a Dalai Lama who only wants to see the best in everyone.   As with everything else in the vastly complex realm of our many layers of consciousness, we get to set the radio for whatever channel is right for us at any particular time.   Sometimes a little Simon Cowell is just what is called for.  

But with spiritual people being some of the most judgmental folks around, their so-called leaders are often kept in a cage of what the flock and the church administrators have decided is right and appropriate. This means they find themselves being guided by outer schedules and spiritual beurocracies rather than being guided by their own powerful inner communion with God.

This combination of receiving great respect and responsibility coupled with being under the control of fitting into so many people's opinions, whether in politics or spiritual organizations, seems to have the potential to create extreme personality aberrations in which these public and spiritual authorities perhaps have to separate off an inappropriate part of themselves, where it only festers and grows in the dark like fungus.  For Congressman Mark Foley, this distortion took the form of writing risky, childish, sexual emails to young congressional pages; for preachers Haggard and Fallwell, a whole lot of Catholic priests, and many eastern monks and gurus, it has taken various forms of digression. 

This is why a successful spiritual journey is usually conducted away from people, in solitude, with freedom of thought and expression. For a spiritual being and seeker, aloneness and freedom can be priceless.  As I watch spiritual public figures topple left and right, I offer thanks to God and my own stubbornness that I have been blessed with a peaceful life of solitude, even with the significant challenges that have come along with this blessing.  

Ultimately, on the spiritual journey to higher consciousness and purity -- and I know that some of you won't want to hear this -- people are often nothing but trouble.  Once I was speaking with a spiritual teacher from India, and he commented on how many Indian gurus come to America and misbehave here.  My response was that some of them were probably fine when they came, but got corrupted by the people who came to see them -- like those "new-age yoga babes" who like to practice their "flirting yoga" with spiritual teachers. 

Of course, human beings are also great and divine and sometimes compassionate and caring, but for the most part they aren't such great company for those who are focused most strongly on their spiritual evolution.  And as we can see, you can't count on them to keep a secret!  Personally, while doing my spiritual practices and creative service over the past ten years, I've much preferred to be alone with just the company of my little cat Angel, who at least was always honest, and almost always extraordinarily peaceful and loving. Angel had her own natural spirituality, and wouldn't even go after the many birds who would gather, hopping around her as she napped on the outside table.  So some spiritual people are like Angel and not so easily tempted by the lower animalistic temptation, but others are.  Such are the myriad ways of life.

“I never resist temptation, because I have found that things that are bad for me do not tempt me.”

-- George Bernard Shaw

Certainly there are spiritual beings and teachers who very naturally have risen above base lower temptations, however, even great spiritual people still have personal lessons to learn and old karmic afflictions to work though.   While part of their being may have evolved to reach into the purest realms of spiritual essence, they're still here on this physical planet, and their very presence here shows that there are still lessons to be learned and experiences to be experienced.  But no, we want them to be Santa Claus, and to fit into every image of spiritual behavior that we can muster up.  Otherwise, we'll complain. And this is how we create the monsters within our saints.

On one hand, spiritual people belong to the whole world, but on the other hand, they do not belong to this world at all. Their focus should not be on the same worldly interests as the culture within which they live. For ages, our spiritual elders have arisen naturally from a deep aspiration to live a spiritual, disciplined life.

The problem with today's media culture is that some of these spiritual figures become famous and end up getting drawn into doing all kinds of acrobatics to please everyone, including donors and investors who may barely have a spiritual bone in their being. Then the sincere spiritual servant can become dishonest and distorted, perhaps resulting in a fall from grace in the eyes of the world.  Some of these fallen public figures may ironically find their first glimpse of inner peace and freedom once their sham is exposed -- after they go off to rehab and write their memoirs.

Of course, many also have the support of friends and loved ones come up in a more precious way than when they were in their lofty positions. That's when they get to learn more about what friendship looks like, even if it may seem to be rare and far between. Let us send blessings for the wellbeing of all the public servants and spiritual beings in our world.