I recently had a conversation with someone who seemed to be trying to show me that their spiritual study was more advanced than mine by telling me something they knew and thought I didn’t know…in a somewhat condescending preachy way.
At the time, I was taken aback by the tone in their language as they tried to point out this deep understanding that they thought was theirs alone when I shared that I had gained a similar understanding. It felt like a virtual pat on my head accompanied by a “there, there,” as if they couldn’t quite believe that I had also grappled with this question and information myself.
Frankly, I was a bit shocked by the whole interaction, and it took me a few days to understand why. Because, here’s the thing:
Spirituality is not a competition.
It’s not a race. There is no great “finish line” in the sky or hierarchical set of milestones on the spiritual journey. We each have our own paths and our own measurements along the way. Heck, we even have our own timers and starting points.
We, ourselves, get to design, follow, and seek out the spiritual curriculum of our lives.
For some that follows a more pre-designed path, and for others it can feel like a wild goose chase. There are even paths that are laid out by following crumbs, not to mention the countless other ways people pursue faith and spirituality. All of which are equally valid.
The similarity between our paths is simply that all the “finish lines” are defined as the same place: connection with Source. (or God, or the Divine, or Allah, or the Universe, or Nature, etc.) The name we use is most important to us, individually. Collectively, the most important word is “connection.”
Our journeys are varied, and no one journey is more important or more advanced than another. They’re simply different. The teacher often becomes the student, and vice versa, because we are all sharing the knowledge of what we have individually understood in order to foster connection. Connection with each other, and connection with Source.
When we see a “guru,” “teacher,” or “minister” espousing truths, we automatically assume that they are more “enlightened” than we are. But why? The fact of the matter is that they may have acquired different knowledge and understanding than we possess due to study, which they are then able to share in an accessible and digestible way. Their sharing allows others to remember and re-connect faster. The guru does not hold a secret key to the Universe; they are being the connector that they signed up to be. They are fulfilling their role: to study and share in a meaningful way, thereby helping others. It is a profession in the same way a doctor or web developer is also a profession. Their knowledge is not “better” – it is different, and it’s their job to share it. (It’s our job not to put them on a pedestal and make them un-relatable.)
It’s somewhat easier to understand Competitive Spirituality when talking about “gurus” or “teachers,” because there is an identifiable role. But what happens when it’s a friend or family member? An acquaintance or a classmate? Why do some people feel the need to one-up their neighbor in spiritual pursuits?
I can admit that I have been guilty of this in the past, partially out of genuine excitement for something I recently learned and understood, and partially out of a misguided desire to help others by trying to get them to bypass their own path. (And yes, if I’m honest, partly out of ego and insecurity.)
I know that I have previously engaged in this practice that is now so out of integrity to me, which is why I truly needed to ask the question: “Why do we make spirituality a competition?”
It would be easy to say it’s ego, but I think it’s more than that. I think ego combines with our natural desire and inclination to reconnect and “know” who we are and where we came from, in order to make sense of it all. It’s an existential question that has intangible answers, which leaves us in unknowing and therefore trying to set up some sort of system or measurement, resulting in competition.
Unknowing is uncomfortable, and yet spirituality is a process of
unknowing – remembering – knowing – understanding – questioning – and unknowing, once more.
It’s this process that develops our faith muscle, which is the source of spirituality. When faith becomes a knowing there can be no measurement, no competition, only the desire to remember more, for remembering’s sake. And then, ultimately, to help others who cross our path and continue on their journey as we continue on ours.
Perhaps what matters most, therefore, is understanding the simple truth that spirituality is not a competition and then choosing to live our lives from that perspective. We accept that our knowledge and experience is not better than anyone else’s, it’s different. As it should be.
Because, at the end of the day, if we all consciously knew everything at the same time, how could we help each other or undergo experiences to learn and grow within ourselves, and collectively as a society or community? If all paths were the same, traveled at the same time and pace, how would we experience feelings of joy or sadness? Triumph or failure?
We would lose what it would mean to be human, which means we would also lose our inclination to reconnect with each other and Source. Our nature would be lost; we would be lost.
So, for me, even though I was vexed by the interaction, I had to see it for what it was and then choose a different way. It became an opportunity for me to validate and remember my own path. What a gift!
It was a strange gift, of course, but a gift nonetheless. A gift which resulted in understanding the simplest of truths, which will now be emblazoned on my virtual wall of reminders:
Spirituality is never a competition.
And… if we make it into one, we are lost.