Sunday, April 3, 2011

Ask Parvati 6 - Seeing Past the Shimmer: Discernment on the Spiritual Path

Seeing Past the Shimmer: Discernment on the Spiritual Path
April 3, 2011

Thank you for all the questions submitted this past week. In this week's blog, we take a look at the shadow of spiritual seekers. Please send your questions to be picked for next week’s topic to by Thursday, April 7.

If you have not yet done so, please listen to the meditation for Japan that I recorded recently to support those in need. I am grateful for your help in passing it on.


Dear Parvati,
I have a friend that I find confusing. She is sweet, an active spiritual seeker who volunteers and seems to care for others. But when I am around her, I feel uneasy. When I ask myself why, I feel in my gut that I can’t trust her. She seems spiritually wise, so I find it hard to understand the reaction I have. My gut tells me she is hiding something, like she is not what she seems. How can you tell when a person is truly the light they project or is shining light as a decoy to nasties in their personal basement?

The Shadow of the Spiritual Seeker

Thank you for this question. When I lived in India for a year where I eventually met my guru, I was known for saying that I was seeking yogis, not bogies. As they say, not all that shimmers is gold. And the world of a spiritual seeker is no exception. There are a lot of self-proclaimed prophets who are attached to power rather than learning to serve. As spiritual aspirants we need to learn to discern the fool’s gold from the real gems.

Sometimes people think being spiritual is being a Pollyanna, pretending to be perfect and ok with all that comes, while really feeling in knots on the inside. I am sure you have heard people say “it’s all good”, when you can see terror in their eyes, glazed by a thick dose of denial.

Other people misinterpret the spiritual phrase “we each are expressions of the Divine” and begin to think of themselves as gods, rather than energies in respectful and humble service to a wise, potent, co-creative, flowing force with immensity beyond our wildest imagination.

Thinking of yourself as either better than or worse than another is an expression of the ego and is an easy pitfall for anyone. I find the power of discernment, rather than judgment, to be a key tool on my spiritual journey. It fills me with the possibility to witness that which is, rather than separate myself from the moment and impose my own story on it. I can pause, enquire, feel, explore and see, before I act. Judging something closes my mind to it, whereas discernment supports my choice to co-create with energies that amplify the presence of I AM consciousness. Out of guilt, self-pity, loneliness or fear I may allow myself to get pulled into energies that are tricky and pull me off path. Discernment helps me see that.

Each one of us has a unique life force that flows through us. We each are the gatekeepers of that life force. When we experience energies that do not expansively support that life force, it is healthy to say no to them. It is essential to remember that everything that happens in our life is an opportunity for us to grow. That which we see in another is a reflection of ourselves. That which we cannot stand in another we cannot stand in ourselves. That which makes us judge another is some thing we judge in ourselves.

Trickiness Disguised as the Light

Here is a little anecdote to which you may relate:

I feel I have known Stephanie before. Perhaps it is a past life thing, or perhaps because I feel I have met many people like her on the spiritual path. On this journey to help heal the planet, it is no coincidence that I would meet a woman with such beauty that seems on the same wavelength but also seems to carry a darkness that I sense could act out hurtfully at any moment.

Having sought the Divine through drugs and alcohol, she came to yoga, meditation and healing naturally through her own painful journey. Born out of necessity, she is a good healer. But she must manage her shadow moment to moment lest it take over. When things don’t go her way, she explodes into temper tantrums and exhibits powerful rage. Yet once the heat has passed, she has forgotten all about it, as though it never happened.

In the minds of many people like Stephanie, it never really did. Deeply attached to her self-perception as a spiritual person, in denial about the depth of her own pain, she uses her spiritual insight and energy to try to control the moment, rather than humbly meeting it, because she is too afraid to see her own vulnerability and lack of control, and touch her inner wounds.

We all have an aspect of Stephanie in us but to varying degrees. Some people live by denial and don’t even know it has become their core identity. I have met very few people who I would say are evil. But I have seen evil energy come charging through people, even those I have called friends. Such is the risk when one opens, when one seeks. One must be ultimately discerning on the spiritual path.

Just because a person has a guru, and feels they are committed to the light, does not mean that they will act in righteous ways. I have seen practicing yogis and healers fly into a rage when their buttons get pushed, toke up before teaching a yoga class, eat a hamburger before giving a lecture on the necessity of being vegetarian. It takes a certain fierce courage to be willing to face one’s ego and meet the moment as it is, not as we want it to be. It is a kind of death, a death of the temporal to be born again into the infinite. A real gem of a spiritual aspirant will not be overly shiny, but will radiate a warm humility, a potent kindness, a strong, inner steadiness and fierce dispassion. By resting in vast stillness, the infinite light shines through.

Spin Doctors and ego tricks

The ego is a tricky place. It only seeks self-service. As such, it is a voracious consumer and life force constrictor. It can be trickiest to see the ego in people who are spiritually minded. Having adopted a certain skill in the unseen, it is easy for people with spiritual knowing to learn how to manufacture perceptions that manipulate and twist reality to suit their own shadow. They know how to turn situations around to make it seem like it is you who is off path. This is a powerful aversion technique, and sadly, it is really they who most lose out. Through manipulation and often heavy doses of denial, the opportunity to look within is side-stepped. I call these people Spin Doctors.

To help avoid this shadow tendency, yogis are classically taught by an enlightened guru who has the fierce ability to mould the aspirant’s consciousness so they may have purity of heart and use subtle spiritual power only for the good of all. Many spiritual aspirants are unaware that they use spiritual energy to amplify their ego attachments. Learning to navigate through that tendency is part of an ongoing aspect of spiritual maturation. Our shadows lie dormant in the corners of our personalities until situations that push our buttons and go against our will activate them, giving us a chance to see them, if we are humble and courageous enough to do so.

A Call to Compassion

I believe we are all a lot more alike than different. I would say that the light you see in your friend is a reflection of the light you see in yourself. And the shadow you sense in him/her is a reflection of your own discomfort with your own inner shadow.

Whether you are acquaintances or are best of friends, whether you hang out every day for the rest of your life or never see the person again, is secondary to the opportunity to grow from this now and deepen your own spiritual awareness. I would see this friend as a gift from the universe for you to learn greater discernment, practice tuning into what you are feeling in the moment and acting in a way that honours your inner voice.

Next time you are around this person, ask yourself:
  • Do I feel expansive now? If not, how come? If yes, how come?
  • Do I feel safe now? If not, how come? If yes, how come?
  • What wonderful qualities do I see in this person? How are these aspects of myself?
  • What can I not stand in this person? How are those aspects of myself?
  • Can I allow myself to just be, watch this person/situation as it is, without reacting?
  • Does it feel rooted, vital and expansive for me to stay with this person now? If yes, stay. If no, go.

As a tool to learn discernment and develop compassion, I mention above to ask yourself in the moment if it feels rooted, vital and expansive to stay with that person or move along. This question is a powerful litmus test to see if the sparkly, Pollyanna side in you is in fact masking your own shadow, as you hang out with someone who may be doing the same. If it does feel rooted, vital and expansive to stay, then do so and fully relax and meet the moment in all its wonder. If it does not feel rooted, vital and expansive to stay and you choose to stay, then you too would be playing the shimmer game by remaining. It is far more honest and compassionate to all involved (which includes you!) to kindly choose to interact no longer, wish the other well, and move on.

The gift here is in the power to discern what feels expansive and supportive for you and learning to accept both yourself and others exactly where you each are at. We don’t need to be friends with everyone, but I believe we are called to learn to love everyone, equally. By “love” I don’t mean a sentimental attachment, but a commitment to be real, honest, open, humble and courageous in this moment. By “love” I mean developing the state of witness consciousness, to see all of life… the beautiful, the painful, the glorious, the ugly… unfold as it is.

Love is like a flower that blooms in the fertile soil of self-love. As we learn to love ourselves exactly as we are, we become able to love others as they are by seeing through appearances and being present for what is, without judgment, attachment, fear, guilt or trying to change the outside world to suit our needs. In every moment we have the choice to embrace our evolution or resist it in some way. By rooting our actions in self-love, by practicing discernment through non-attachment, we can learn to cultivate timeless love and see beyond temporal, manufactured sparkles into eternal, expansive light.


  1. I am going to think about your questions in relation to the key people in my life to make sure I am connecting only with those with whom I enjoy a balanced, expansive and mutually supportive relationship. I have a feeling that even those I have been closest to in the past may not make the cut. It will be important to exercise detached discernment as you advise. Thank you very much for this post.

  2. This is a question I could have asked - and if I had asked it on a few occasions in the past, things might have gone differently in my life or in those of others. I have been one who tends to paste on the Pollyanna smile and deny when something in me is screaming to get away from what a deep instinct knows is harmful and non-evolutionary.
    More seriously, I have been one who enables others in harmful, non-evolutionary actions, because I have felt compelled to placate, console and support someone to make them "feel better", without really understanding that it is not at all compassionate to make someone "feel better" about continuing in bad choices. I am not one given to too much regret of the past, but if I were, it would not be a lack of gentleness that I regret the most. Rather, I would regret all the times and all the ways I did not stand firm and fierce in my own knowing. That standing firm IS love. I have seen how my apparently kind, placating actions have actually allowed "shimmery" people such as you've described to only go further off their own path. In my life, I have seen two spiritual people implode spectacularly into darkness - one, so much so that they entirely and venomously renounced their Satguru - and I have seen that I tried at first to placate them instead of calling them on their non-evolutionary trajectory. I have seen that this took me off-path too. I feel sorrow about this sometimes, wondering if they might not be lost now if I had stood up for dharma instead of trying to please them. But I know that ultimately, they have made their own decisions, and all I can do is learn from the experience so I don't repeat it.
    I have also seen that many people who project the shimmer are also very good at buttering up people who believe the shimmer and don't call them on the stuff that lies beneath. I have been in the position where I have enabled, and gotten a hearty dose of "Thank you. You are so wonderful and compassionate. You make me feel so much better" in return. It is an energy that feeds the ego, feeds a feeling of "I am right to do this" and feeds a desire to continue in this position of enabler, further disconnecting from one's own knowing and one's own path. I understand this buttering-up to be a manipulation of spiritual energy such as you've described. True discernment, true love, is unmoved by such praise, sees trickiness for what it is, and will not engage with it.

  3. More on this... it has actually taken me a lot of time to be able to be honest with myself about what I'm feeling when I'm around someone. Too often, I get caught up in what I think I should be feeling. There was one person a year ago that I would speak with, and afterwards I would feel upset and angry on their behalf based on what they were telling me. But I also realized eventually that at no point in these conversations did I actually feel rooted, vital and expansive. I began to realize that I didn't like it when they kept calling me and it was dishonest of me to say it was no problem. As I became quieter in myself, I began to see that I was dealing with someone who was so disconnected and suffering in their own right that they were being an emotional vampire feeding on my kindness and support as well as my indignance on their behalf, and that it was not helping either of us for me to remain and enable this dynamic. My truest dharma is to pay attention to my own feelings and what I am truly able to handle, instead of what the Pollyanna in me thinks I should be able to handle. And if I know that the energies in a situation would take me off-path, it is honest, loving and sober to say to someone, "I'm sorry, but this is beyond my capacity to handle." The only person I can really save is me, and I can't save me or anyone else if I'm being Pollyanna.

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  5. Maybe it's because of Asperger's (aka autism spectrum), but I don't understand or get any of this. The ins and outs of interpersonal relationships, shimmery or otherwise, are almost totally beyond my capacity.

  6. These posts have been so timely for me. Thank you to Parvati and Pranada - I don't want to go into detail, but this post and comments are helping me to better deal with a couple of current situations. I love the rooted, vital, expansive question...really, all the questions are ones I want to keep in mind when I'm with someone and feeling triggered in some way. Thank you again.

  7. Keval, I don't think you're giving yourself enough credit here. This is less a post about interpersonal relationships per se than it is about simply tuning in and knowing what YOU feel, what YOU need. You know that you feel more safe and comfortable around some people than others - compare sitting next to Amma with sitting next to someone talking angrily on her cell phone. You feel better being with Amma. That's your discernment. It's like how a temple feels better than a Tim Hortons.
    What this blog is about is when you're around someone you logically think should feel expansive and safe to be around because they're spiritual and they look like they're doing all the right things, yet somehow something doesn't feel right for you. If you've never experienced that, that is ok. I would say, though, that I don't think it's an Aspie thing. My experience has been that when I am suffering, down on myself, beating myself up, the broken record of "I suck" in my mind drowns out what I'm actually feeling in the moment related to where I am and who I'm with. The most important thing, I think, is as Parvati says, to develop compassion and love for the self. From there, you can see clearly.

  8. Thank you all for these comments. Keval, do you have a specific question about this blog that I may try to answer? Thanks for letting me know how you felt in reading it. Do take heart in that relationships are challenging for most of us. You are not alone there.

  9. I seem to be a bit behind on the reading, but I follow your blogs faithfully and find them very helpful and informative. I have difficulty with discernment and find it hard to figure out what feels truly expansive for me or what feels good because it feeds the ego and masks my own shadow, as you call it. There is real honesty required and it's a process that develops when I learn and understand more about myself. I guess I have to learn to listen to and trust my inner voice more.