Would we ever consider that there might be competition in a spiritual community? Is it possible that we ever believe that some people are more spiritual than others, more perfect, more enlightened, or simply “more than”?
We know that some authors write about levels of enlightenment. Due to human nature these teachings might cause us to rank ourselves in a way which positions us lower or higher than others. Do we feel diminished because we don’t seem to be as elevated as we should be?
These questions came to mind recently when hearing someone lamenting the fact that they always felt they didn’t seem to measure up to others in their circle of church friends. Is it possible there is an unspoken hierarchy within ones’ spiritual community? If someone spends more hours in the week within the four walls of the church, are they considered a better person or a more spiritual person than another who only appears for holiday services? If someone has enrolled in and taken more classes than others, are they viewed as better? And even worse, do we ever judge ourselves and feel we don’t quite measure up to where we “should” be?
It may be best as the old aphorism states, “mind our own knitting” and pay no heed to what others do or how others act. Comparing our spiritual journey to others isn’t helpful in any way in our own growth. As we often do in competing and comparing, we most always fall short. We may look at another as better because they have taken classes, because they volunteer in more roles, because they have earned designations or degrees but at the end of the day there is no barometer measuring our progress toward living out our divine purpose in this world.
Consider our Master Teacher, Jesus. He was not a person of degrees, licenses, designations or titles. Yes, he was called Rabbani or Rabbi. This was not bestowed on him by an institution but came as a loving name of respect that came from others…nothing he applied to himself. He, in fact, was one of the most humble of his cohort as described in the books of the Bible. He didn’t hang out with the bigwigs and muckety mucks of the Temples. He always found himself among the common people, the beggars, the lowest on the socio-economic scale, not the big donors or tithers to the temple, but always living with the least of the least. He found his place in the world never competing with others, never comparing himself to anyone. He entered the world and fully lived out his life living simply, loving completely…. everyone. He did not strive to be “best in show” or highest in the food chain of piety in order to live out His calling. He just was-living out his purpose without attempting to climb the spiritual ladder of success. He never asked us to be anything other than our true selves.
What if we just showed up simply and completely, fully in love, peace and joy, not comparing ourselves to others, not worrying if we are moving up in the hierarchy of spirituality, not being a better Christian, Jew, Muslim as compared to others. What if being ourselves 100% was the real essence of perfection? What if we did not consider ourselves “less than” because we were not viewed as a model of perfection in whatever faith tradition?
This is NOT the way of our world. As a part of today’s society, we always have criteria, benchmarks, goals and ways to measure performance. Is it possible we subject our spirituality to the same yardstick? Yet we often say that our faith is personal and individual and that our path is our path. We might agree that our divine purpose is ours and ours alone. It is important to only view ourselves through OUR lens, not that of other individuals, advisors, gurus or even teachers. When once told that I was not fulfilling my meditation practice unless I meditated twice a day for 20 minutes, I immediately felt like a failure because as a beginning practitioner, this was something I simply could do not, so I stopped. Why set myself up to be a failure especially with a practice such as meditation which can be so life- changing and beneficial?
About the same time, I was told that my exchanges (aka prayers) with The Divine must include such and such words and phrases in order to be “right.” At that point in my own spiritual development I might as well have been trying to say my prayers in German (a language I have great difficulty grasping) because others’ words were not my words.
Advice and guidance are helpful, self-judgment and spiritual perfectionism are not. Bringing our own true selves to the game of life as best we can, doing the best we can is the essence of our connection with the Divine and with our own divinity. Recently, I walked in a group headed toward the same destination. Some powered ahead without concern for anyone among the group who was behind. One in the group walked with lesser abilities than the others and began to drop back. As a few of the people noticed the slowing pace (due to the slower walker) they also slowed their pace. The conversation and the chitchat, camaraderie and closeness of the sauntering few became a bond for the group rather than the urge to arrive at the destination. Ultimately, everyone arrived, and we reconvened; however, those who had charged ahead had not experienced some beautiful communication and sharing while moving at the slower pace. Yes, they did arrive first, (would we say they had won?), but at what cost? Ultimately, no one cared or remembered who got to the destination first. Most importantly, no one was left behind and alone.
Competition and comparison have never been the stuff of enlightenment, yet modern society encourages us to get ahead, strive toward a goal, be a leader, move up the ladder, gain the recognition, earn the title. Maybe it is time to rethink these modern attitudes especially in our yearning toward being our best selves rather than in comparison with the best selves of others.