Narcissism in Spirituality: Detachment vs. Immersion

(Revised and updated on June 25, 2011)

Note to Christians: While this post refers to religious methods other than Christianity, there do exist both ascetic and immersion sects in Traditional Christianity. As well, there exist both ascetic and immersion sects in Mystical Christianity. For example, the traditional priest/nun path (i.e., Catholic) and the shamanic Christian path. I think of Edgar Cayce as a particularly exemplary example of a Shamanic Christian.

Several months ago I ran across an interesting post on another blog entitled Detachment vs. Immersion in Spirituality. I really liked the way the author, a shamanic healer and teacher, described the differences between two main types of spiritual approach. (I also greatly appreciated his candor and insight about several touchy subjects.)

The post does a good job of describing the difference between detachment (ascetic) as a formal spiritual path, and engagement/immersion (shamanism), as a formal spiritual path.

My impression is that the author is genuine. Whenever a real shaman says something like “you might find yourself wishing you hadn’t contacted me,” you can usually count on doing a lot of work that challenges and refines your ego and your perceptions of yourself, others and the world around you.

And that’s a good thing.

NARCISSISM CAN CREEP INTO BOTH APPROACHES

What many of us have witnessed, while observing people who are formally or informally pursuing either an ascetic or shamanic path, is that narcissism can and does creep into both the ascetic and the immersion approach.

While ascetics are detached and do indeed often have more than a little psychological pathology (not psychopathy), and aversion to real contact with real human beings, so do many hedonists who are drawn to the shamanic path. Hedonists often simply use shamanism as an excuse and a description for engaging in what is merely selfish indulgence in pleasure-seeking activities that negatively affects others and of course, themselves. Yet they certainly don’t see it that way. Don’t try to assert this to some of them. They’ll argue and even bring out the black magic. I’ve been on the receiving end of that. I now simply ignore these types of people.

Ascetics often believe that they are “above it all” while remaining detached from full or partial engagement with other human beings. When one is engaged with other human beings, one has to compromise and admit that they don’t always have all the answers. That facilitates growth. East Indians historically had the right idea: in one’s early life one was a householder and family person. When that phase of life was completed, one withdrew from the world to contemplate.

Many hedonists who proclaim that they are shamans or serious students of shamanism take drugs in the name of “personal growth” and “spirituality” while working with facilitators and teachers of questionable training and ethics. They often practice an adulterated form of sexual tantra, engage in sex work for profit as an ongoing lifestyle, flit from partner to partner, participate in orgies and selfish polyamory (there are very few people who can do polyamory unselfishly), do and deal drugs, show off as performance artists, etc.

The sexual tantra that these people practice is often a bogus version of the real thing. Some of these people end up as well-known leaders and/or esteemed local community members due to their self-confidence, talent and of course their fat bank accounts acquired from family trust funds and/or various sorts of legal and illegal activities, or a sugar-daddy/sugar-mommy kind of arrangement. A former friend of mine used to call them “the community of lost souls.”

DO NOT MISTAKE A HEDONIST FOR A TRUE SHAMAN

One must not mistake these often quite shallow hedonists for true shamans, as many of them assert they are. They are often very wounded people running around like chickens without a head pursuing this and that enlightenment method, following this or that teacher/ workshop leader/ author/ guru for protracted periods of time, taking this and that drug, etc. Fortunately, some grow out of that frantic narcissistic stage and go on to accomplish serious self-work and even begin to effectively help others (accent on effectively).

Many hedonists are people who experienced early traumatic injury (also called “narcissistic injury”) and go on to exhibit many narcissistic traits. They appear self-confident and even arrogant, and they’re often quite talented and accomplished in a chosen profession or artistry. The problem is that, to a large extent, many of them have put pretty appealing frosting on top of rotting garbage: their persistent unresolved roiling emotions or a deadened numbness and surprising lack of sensitivity toward others.

Many of these lost souls posing as wise facilitators and teachers never grow out of their love of “the good life.” We see these “aging hippies” — and young ones too — quite a lot at certain kinds of festivals and in certain geographical areas. So beware. That free spirit who seems so cool and wise might just be a psychic vampire, a narcissist, and you might just end up as their next prey.

BEING INVISIBLE AND ANONYMOUS

Recently I had breakfast with a long-term friend, one of the extremely few persons with whom I keep in contact from my former spiritual community. We’ve both pretty much arrived at the place where we eschew all “spirituality,” “theology,” and “systems,” especially organized forms of same. I had been particularly enamored of ascetic, ego-annihilating forms of spirituality and had finally seen the light, realizing that it was crippling me and keeping me from truly engaging in and enjoying life.

Now that I am older, all I want is to simply enjoy life in peace. I live a pretty simple life and have very few food/drink vices, which are kept within reason. My problem has been more about viewing far too many of the normal things in life as “not being spiritual.” Things like a wild stadium full of fans watching a baseball game, or enjoying happy hour at a bar. Drag racing or dirt biking or hanging out at the river and the dog park. Simple things like that. Simple things that can be and are fun, within reason.

DON’T TALK ABOUT SPIRITUALITY, JUST LIVE IT

I’m tired of theology and dogma, and I am especially weary of spiritual community dysfunction and all of that tedious annoying stuff. Why do I need a system? Why do I need a theology or a concept? Why would I want to be part of a dysfunctional community with a lot of narcissists running around?

How about just living life, taking it at face value?

Like my friend said, it’s nice to be invisible. Nice idea. I had thought of it as being anonymous. I no longer carry around any spiritual concepts or airs. I hang with extremely normal, down-to-earth, run of the mill people — people who may or may not go to church, follow a spiritual path or even believe in God or The Force. They simply just ARE. They simply just EXIST. And they seem a heckuva lot happier than far too many spiritual people I’ve known – metaphysical or traditional.

And I don’t want to talk about religion or spirituality. (And while I’m at this: not politics either, though that could change, lol!)

WHAT IS THE REAL MOTIVE FOR BEING RELIGIOUS, SPIRITUAL OR A SERIOUS STUDENT OF ANY PERSONAL GROWTH METHOD?

People have lots of reasons for being “religious” or “spiritual.” Too often, it’s simply a way to feel good about themselves while not doing any real work on themselves or truly living the precepts of their chosen focus. Too often, their ideology is filled with unrealistic notions about who people should be and how they should conduct their lives, even to the point of attempting to legislate behavior — and even consciousness! — such as refusing to accept that someone is born gay, always was gay and always will be gay. (Note: I am heterosexual.)

BEYOND CONCEPTS AND SYSTEMS

Therefore, all the spiritual training I’ve had, all the “knowledge” I’ve acquired, all the “insights” and “wisdom” I came to in my younger years, all of that’s fine. Now, however, I simply view my life as having been greatly enriched by those things without having to think about them consciously, or fit in with a certain group of people, or reach any particular real or imagined goal.

It feels like I’ve gone back to square one after going off on a decades-long tangent. It’s not that there was anything wrong with large parts of that tangent. It’s that there were (and are) unresolved issues from my childhood, young adulthood, and full adulthood. And those are the things I’m working on now. I thought I was working on them back then; I don’t think so.

Part of the current work includes learning how to let go and truly relax. Just play, and just “be.” Now that I’ve gone LC or NC (little or no contact) with the 3 main narcissists in my life, and especially since my Narcissist mother is gone (buried), accomplishing that is far easier.

JUST “BE”

In my former spiritual community, we always used to talk about “just Being.” You know, just BE. Just shine!

Maybe some of us just might actually figure that out before we exit this existence!

For the record, I think immersion is far scarier, far more intriguing and ultimately more fulfilling than asceticism. It all depends on what your soul needs and responds to. (Actually, asceticism can be a form of immersion, but that’s another discussion.)

While I am currently in a resting mode and not at present interested in immersion, I’m no longer hiding behind asceticism or concepts about what spirituality should be, or what it should look and feel like.

I was inspired to include a photo of Wolf, so here she is:



7 thoughts on “Narcissism in Spirituality: Detachment vs. Immersion

  1. Enjoyed your post! I know why I’m ascetic. Exhaustion drove me to it and I immersed myself in that and reclusiveness. Then it became a comfortable way of life. I just don’t need that much crap, or even activity for that matter. Although the requirement for money may force me into activity soon, but luckily I don’t need much money because my needs are simple. The taxes I have to pay in this town are obscene. It hardly seems fair that I have to pay the man more than I would pay myself for a year’s worth of goodies, few in which I partake. Oh yeah, this isn’t about politics. I liked what you said about the pretty facade on top of the rotting garbage. I think truly spiritual people truly care about the health of the earth as well as the health of its communities.

  2. Hi again, and Happy New Year.

    Just re-read over your post, and found it is perfect timing, again, with a little more life lived and lessons learned. Thanks again for a good read!

  3. I have a post someplace about a similar subject. The absolute most spiritual people that have influenced me the most were anonymous, quiet, unassumptive. They just did their good work and went on with life.

  4. Hi,

    You know, I also spent about a decade total, with interruptions, sitting in quiet meditation, working with others in silence, watching my breath and practicing a technique called self-inquiry. It was an attempt to “experience” things, you know, “really experience” what goes on. My father died during this time. I was totally detached emotionally. A decade and a half later, I finally felt the loss. I finally “experienced” the grief and sadness, instead of detaching and trying to “get it” that it was only a body.

    I believe this kind of spiritual practice can be harmful to some people. People who blame themselves for everything may not do so well with “taking responsibility for all that is felt and created.” And when there are narcissists to deal with, there will always be hurt feelings. I refuse to take responsibility for other people’s wrongdoings. I know we all make choices, but being conned, tricked, manipulated, lied to, blamed and all the things a narcissist does, is crazy-making and hurtful.

    I’m busy these days, but am glad to have come across your blog and I look forward to visiting again when my personal situation is less stressful.

    Blessings and Peace to you! And, cheers to the “external” world!

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