Many spiritual seekers participate to some degree in this strategy. Much of a spiritual practice then becomes, in fact, a flight from clear seeing and its implications. Harvard psychologist Jack Engler gives us a very helpful list of some of the ways in which AVOIDANCE of the real can motivate our so-called spiritual paths. For some of us, spirituality can be unconsciously driven by:
- A quest for perfection and invulnerability. We may feel especially prone to the quest for perfection if we feel all too imperfect, or if we have been badly hurt and don’t want to ever have to feel that vulnerable again.
- A fear of Individuation. We may be anxious about stepping out into the world, assuming responsibility for ourselves and our life, shrinking back from competition, comparisons, or achievement.
- Avoidance of Commitment and Accountability. We might conveniently relabel this avoidance spiritual “detachment” or, in New Age terminology, “just going with the flow”.
- A Fear of Intimacy and Social Involvement. It’s striking how many of us drawn to spiritual life have a history of difficulties with intimacy and closeness in relationships, or disappointments in love, and how being in a spiritual community allows us to feel a sense of belonging without resolving these underlying fears.
- An Inability to Grieve and Mourn Important Losses. All the spiritual teachings and practices about “letting go”, “renunciation” or “detachment” can actually substitute for a genuine facing of personal grief and loss, and the painful feelings associated with it.
- An Avoidance of Feelings. So many drawn to spiritual practice have difficulty with strong emotions like anger, sadness, and disappointment. Spiritual traditions label these as kleshas and as unwholesome, and so we may take this to mean we shouldn’t feel them, and then we feel guilty or unspiritual if we do. Sometimes the experience of pleasure and sexuality seems to be even more problematic for the people drawn to spiritual practice.