September 10, 2021
How important are truth, integrity, and authenticity to you - even
at the cost of feeling comfortable and being affirmed?
(spiritually transmitted diseases)...
When it comes to
spirituality and the journey of
awakening to our True Nature,
most of us have a pretty good idea of the essential principles to
keep in mind.
Qualities like love, peace, kindness, compassion, generosity,
forgiveness, and gratitude - you know, those stereotypical feel-good
qualities - inevitably spring to mind.
how often do you hear
about the importance of spiritual discernment...?
Chances are... probably
not that much.
Let's face it, even just the words "spiritual discernment" have a
dry ring to them. They kind of sound like they've been taken from
some heavy leather-bound book that has been collecting dust on the
bookshelf for the past 100 years.
I imagine a stern librarian or an 83-year-old Harvard professor of
physics when I think about spiritual discernment...
But don't let the lack of feel-good vibes make you discount the
importance of being discerning on the spiritual path.
Spiritual discernment is the single most essential 'Sword of
Consciousness' you'll need to hack your way through the many
overgrown forests of Bullshit out there...
So... What is
Spiritual discernment is the ability to distinguish between truth
and deception on the spiritual path.
That's it. It's quite simple.
In Sanskrit, spiritual discernment is called viveka and is
said to be the "crowning wisdom" on the spiritual path, allowing us
to discover what is real vs. unreal.
Indian sage Patanjali believed that it was spiritual
discernment that helped us to achieve a "luminous state," also known
as spiritual illumination or oneness.
In fact, in the
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the
cultivation of spiritual discernment is said to be so powerful that
it has the ability to destroy ignorance and address the very
root of our suffering...
Discernment is Non-Negotiable
Many people who begin the spiritual awakening path start off with a
sprightly skip in their step, innocently assuming that the world of
spirituality is a wondrous playground.
There is a beautiful
innocence here that reminds me of the Disney movie called
Through the magical forest, Bambi skips... until he reaches a
clearing where his mother is brutally and mercilessly killed by
There are many spiritual
niches, teachers, and communities these days where spiritual
discernment is neglected, and it reminds me of this Bambi
"Love and light,"
"Just go with the flow," "Trust and allow," "All is Love",
...you'll hear this a
lot, and certainly, much of it has truth and power.
The reality is that
the spiritual path is not somehow magically immune to
misleading, harmful, or predatory behavior.
The reality is that there are monsters in that magical forest.
The reality is that the spiritual path isn't as blissful as
people make it out to be.
The reality is that there are endless ways you can be taken
advantage of by so-called spiritual teachers, guides,
gurus, and paths.
The reality is that there are deep rabbit holes that you may
struggle to get out of.
Hence the need for
aka. the Holy
So let's take off our
rose-tinted glasses and get real for a moment.
In a world full of sharks, spiritual discernment is the boat that
allows us to safely travel through the waters of existence.
But without it, we are left flailing desperately around in the water
while those who feed off ignorance and folly come to feast on us.
Path of Brutal Honesty
In order to practice spiritual discernment effectively, you have
to be brutally honest with yourself...
What do you really
How deep are you willing to go?
What are your true motivations?
There is no use
pretending to be one thing and behaving in the opposite way.
Eventually, you'll be
called out by yourself, others, or Life itself...
only works when you are first crystal clear about your own
internal drives and desires.
As psychotherapist and yoga teacher
Mariana Caplan explains,
To ask this question
ourselves - "Am I committed, or am I just involved?" - and give
an honest answers helps us to make intelligence choices about
which paths and practices are best suited for the spiritual
development we seek.
The problem arises
when we profess one thing and live out another, because we
confuse ourselves and others, and we limit our growth.
If only we could say honestly, and without shame,
spirituality as a hobby," or "I want a spiritual practice
that will give me some inner peace of mind but without any
commitment or discipline," or "I'd like to keep spirituality
as my mistress but maintain comfort and security as my
spouse," or "I want to be seen as a spiritual man or woman
because that will make me more sexy."
Or perhaps we could
use more simple, straightforward language, such as,
"I'm a serious
spiritual aspirant," "I'm a seeker of moderate interest," or
"I'm a part-time, casual spiritual tourist."
It is not wrong to
have such an approach to spiritual development.
We grow from where we
are, and if we pretend to be somewhere we are not and try to
move forward, we are likely to travel in a very crooked line and
become more confused than necessary.
Figuring out where we
stand on the spiritual path is the very beginning of discernment.
13 Dangers of Lacking Spiritual Discernment
Where do I even start?
I realize that it may be an inconvenient truth for many. But the
spiritual path can be tremendously perilous when you don't practice
Here are some of the MANY traps, pitfalls, and dangers present (and
inherent to) this journey, also known as "spiritually transmitted
diseases" (STDs) as coined by Mariana Caplan:
The Spiritual ego
and spiritual narcissism - aka. using spirituality to
strengthen your self-identity
'fast-food' spirituality (cheap, low quality, and unhealthy
teachers who use you for money, sex, fame, or power
(pretending to look, talk, dress, and act like a "spiritual
motivations (confusing the desire for belonging, validation,
or escapism for seeking authentic spiritual growth)
one's spiritual experiences (thinking that you're "extra
special" because of a mystical experience or incidence of
cult-mentality (being in a spiritual community that rejects
individuality, questioning, or any type of personal
difference outside of the accepted norm)
pride/superiority (this happens to seasoned seekers who have
attained a certain level of wisdom, but use that as an
excuse to shut down further growth)
codependence (finding a spiritual guide/teacher who mirrors
your own repressed desires, and vice versa, e.g., your
desire to be "protected" or "saved" and the teacher's desire
to feel special, needed, and loved)
"Chosen-People Complex" (believing that your
group/path/teacher is the best in the world)
Falling for the
cult of personality (bolstering your self-worth by
associating yourself with a powerful, charismatic, or
perhaps enlightened teacher)
Complex or believing that "you have arrived" (prematurely
claiming to be enlightened and to know everything, which
severely limits further growth and harms others)
bypassing (avoiding facing reality in favor of escaping into
feel-good spiritual fantasies)
This is by no means an
Furthermore, all of the above traps arise from one or all of the
The inability to
distinguish reality from illusion (or truth from lies)
The inability to
discern what is
psychological growth and maturing
Lack of inner
work and exploration of shadow motivations
Lack of honesty
and sincerity with oneself
How to Stop
Spiritually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and Practice Spiritual
For a human being who
hungers for truth, what is most beautiful is that which is most
If the road to truth
means having to learn what is untrue and to face unconsciousness
and obstacles within ourselves, the lover of truth gladly
accepts the challenge.
Each time we expose
and face that which is untrue, we are that much closer to what
If our goal on the
spiritual path is to be authentic and sincere lovers of truth, we
need to practice spiritual discernment.
As Indian master
Paramahansa Yogananda once
"Truth is not afraid
If you want to prevent
yourself from contracting the many spiritually transmitted
diseases (STDs) out there, there are a number of paths
you can take:
soul-searching and study yourself
To study yourself is to know yourself.
going on a journey to explore the deepest realms of your mind
and heart. Self-study is synonymous with the idea of
soul-searching: it involves diving deep into places most people
tend to avoid.
Valuable avenues of self-study include,
studying spiritual and psychological teachings, attending
workshops and self-development classes, going to
psychotherapy, getting a spiritual mentor or teacher,
journaling, practicing meditation, examining your dreams,
doing shadow work,
...the list goes on.
There are many forms of self-study.
In fact, simply
reading this article is a form of self-study, so kudos if you've
read this far!
2. Be brutally honest with
Easier said than done, I know.
spiritual discernment means being willing to face the hard truth
and facts about yourself.
If you don't like facing reality, you'll find it close to
impossible to be honest with yourself and therefore practice
spiritual discernment. Honesty and discernment go hand-in-hand,
you cannot have one without the other.
One powerful but simple way of being honest with yourself is
asking the question,
"Why am I
Try your best to dive
deep into the core reason.
If you start
feeling defensive, uncomfortable or threatened in any way,
you have likely found the truth.
If you feel like
you want to run, stop questioning or if you get the urge to
distract yourself with something else, you have likely
stumbled upon the truth.
Being honest with
yourself requires sincerity and integrity.
The good news is that
you can develop and strengthen these qualities by asking
questions such as,
"Why?" and "What
is really going on here?"
Other ways of being
honest with yourself include, for instance:
when you make mistakes
strengths and weaknesses
of your thoughts, feelings, desires, impulses, and
and reflecting on your habits, decisions, judgments, and
humility and the willingness to be wrong
Because being honest
with yourself can be so confronting, it's essential to cultivate
some simple self-compassion.
Make sure that you
forgive yourself and treat yourself kindly, otherwise being
honest will become more traumatizing than nourishing.
3. See from
Look into the
pros and cons and the for and against of what is in front of
To practice spiritual
discernment means to go beyond your limited perspective and
determine what is real vs. illusion.
What do others
say - popular and unpopular, famous and infamous, educated
and uneducated, etc. - about the subject at hand?
Be careful of biases.
Seek to expand your
understanding as far and wide as possible.
realizations and discoveries of others are the missing pieces of
the puzzle that inspire us to connect with a greater
4. Listen to your primal
Your intuition or gut instincts are a manifestation of
When you "feel something is off" it's often because deep down, a
part of you (whether on a heart, mind, and/or soul level) calls
Pay attention to how your instincts feel in your body.
spread through you when faced with a tricky decision, an
ill-intentioned person, or even a dangerous situation?
some people feel
butterflies in their stomach, pressure in their head, a lump
rise in their throat, a feeling of dread, or like me,
tingles up and down the spine.
Learn to tune into
your body and how it feels in different situations to understand
its unique language. (A regular mindfulness-based meditation
practice can help you develop this.)
Connect with that wise and primal part of you and use it
as an ally.
5. Seek and be receptive
Get feedback from trusted friends, peers, teachers, and
One way to test both yourself and others is to seek out a
psychological or spiritual advisor and ask them to help you see
where you're going wrong.
A competent and honest psychological/spiritual advisor won't be
interested in affirming you at the cost of being truthful.
Instead, they will help you to see any spiritual or
psychological diseases you may be carrying - and how to remedy
The next step is perhaps the hardest:
will you be
receptive and listen to the observations?
It can be difficult
and confronting for the inflated ego to handle
honest feedback as the entire purpose of the ego-self is to
protect, pretend, and hide.
So be gentle with yourself but also be open to growing and
It's okay to feel
emotionally reactive, but don't let that prevent you from
accepting and integrating the truth.
questions (and test your theories)
If you suspect something within yourself or another may be
false/disingenuous, get to the root of it and ask questions.
Examples of questions
you could ask include:
Is this true?
Am I being genuine?
Are they being genuine?
What is an opposing perspective that might be equally as
What is this perspective/belief lacking?
Am I/they spiritually bypassing?
Why does this not feel right?
What is missing here?
Is this intuition or fear speaking?
Are there any hidden motivations here?
There are an endless
amount of questions you could pose, but the ones above provide a
springboard for you to do some detective work or create your own
The next step is to test your theories.
If you suspect
that a public figure you admire and follow is not being
authentic, test your theory.
Go through their
work and see if you can find any instances of transparency,
humanness, or vulnerability.
If the person is
presenting an invulnerable image, something is most likely
We are all human
after all, and even spiritual gurus aren't exempt from
weakness and messiness.
7. Reflect and evaluate
Self-reflection is a vital stage in spiritual discernment.
How else will you
discover where you may be going wrong?
The easiest and most
widespread way to self-reflect is through learning how to
Journaling is simply the process of writing down your thoughts,
feelings, and discoveries in a journal or notebook.
I recommend creating a calm and atmospheric space for this
Light a candle,
burn some incense, make yourself a cup of tea, and put on
some soothing music if it helps.
into a reflective mindset requires you to be quiet, still,
and removed from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
You don't need to
dedicate a lot of time to this activity - just ten minutes a day
will do - but obviously the more time you can spare the better.
Find a time of
day in which you feel particularly lucid (or mentally clear)
and make a habit out of exploring your thoughts, mindsets,
feelings, habits, beliefs, and shadows.
Start with one area of life that you would like to evaluate,
for example, your relationships, work life, family
commitments, personal goals, habits, addictions, patterns,
Next, explore your thoughts and feelings towards this one
area of life. You don't need to write a whole book - just a
few lines or even words are fine.
After that, go a little deeper. Explore any dark or looming
feelings you've been experiencing surrounding this topic
such as anger, anxiety, frustration, depression, jealousy,
(Equally so, you
may like to explore any overwhelmingly positive feelings you
may be having such as joy, ecstasy, immense gratitude,
Finally, explore why you might be feeling these strong positive or
Answer the following
How are these
thoughts/feelings impacting you?
What uncomfortable truth might be buried beneath them?
What might you not be considering?
What might you be bypassing, escaping, or ignoring?
Reflect on your
Although this process can be difficult and challenging at times,
you'll find, with time, that it's worth every ounce of effort doing
- it leads to a kind of self-illumination.
As Henry Miller wrote in his book Tropic of Capricorn,
Everything we shut
our eyes to, everything we run away from, everything we deny,
denigrate, or despise, serves to defeat us in the end.
What seems nasty,
painful, evil, can become a source of beauty, joy, and strength,
if faced with an open mind.
Discernment is Like a Sword...
It cuts through all
of the deception, traps, and BS.
It truly is one of
our greatest tools of protection on the spiritual path.
I hope this article has
emphasized just how essential spiritual discernment is on the
To close, I'll leave you with a few inspiring quotes on spiritual
Sound judgment, with
discernment, is the best of seers.
Discernment is the
ability to see things for what they really are and not for what
you want them to be.
We must learn to practice the art of discernment in making
choices without judgment, to monitor carefully what enters our
Where there is not discernment, the behavior even of the purest
souls may in effect amount to coarseness.