Thanks to the internet and our online world, we’re currently inundated with an overwhelming amount of spiritual information, programs, teachers, memes, thought systems, and beliefs. It’s time for each of us to develop real spiritual discernment to safeguard our spiritual life, both for ourselves, and for those we guide, love, and support.
Not everything that’s on offer is genuine, honest or helpful.
What I share here are TIPS for making sure you don’t give your precious time, money, or energy to spiritual services or products that are not worthy of your focus and support.
I’ve been a seeker for over forty years and a psychotherapist for over thirty. I’ve done more programs, workshops, certificates, and groups than I can recall. And I’ve received more readings, sessions, and healings than I can count. I’ve studied and researched multiple thought systems and read hundreds if not thousands of books in the personal growth, healing, psychology, and spirituality genres.
I’ve finally come to some conclusions and can honestly say that, for myself, 80 percent of what I experienced hasn’t been all that helpful in the long term. And sad to say, quite a bit of it has been harmful, misguided or plain wrong.
I’m not going to name names because each of us must do our own research and come to our own conclusions about what belief systems and modalities work for us. I can, however, offer some tips to strengthen your spiritual discernment as you go about the business of choosing products and services.
1. Healthy Spiritual Hunger Not Addictive Desire
We’re all born with a spiritual hunger that’s normal and healthy. This innate hunger prompts us to seek answers about the nature of reality and about our relationship to the divine.
Addictive desire, on the other hand, is a craving for some kind of immediate satisfaction that lasts for a short time and never truly satisfies, stimulating more cravings. Addictive desire is very human, but in our neediness and suffering, we may reach for things that are destructive for our longterm good.
Genuine spirituality nourishes our spirit by helping us understand our place in the universe and our ultimate purpose. This kind of information tends to make us feel humble, grateful, and hopeful. It doesn’t necessarily make us feel blissed-out nor does it make our lives magically better. However, it does help us come to terms with life and guides us on how to live.
2. Spiritual Buzz Words & Other Marketing Tactics
Start watching for “hook” words that are used in spiritual advertising and put a red flag over them. Words like Secrets, Abundance, Channelled, Ancient Wisdom, Vibration, Frequency, Law, etc., are currently popular buzzwords that get us dreaming and hungering for more; more money, success, love, enlightenment, magic, freedom, etc. These kinds of words tempt us into purchasing products and programs by offering unrealistic promises.
Spiritual advertising works in the same way that regular advertising does—by stimulating our appetites, insecurities, and vulnerabilities.
3. Charismatic Teachers, Big Promises & Shiny Objects
The world abounds with spiritual celebrities, personal-growth gurus, abundance teachers, and channellers claiming special knowledge. Without strong spiritual discernment, it’s easy to mistakenly place our hopes in shiny promises, easy formulas, and persuasive people.
Just remember that even the most accomplished person in the world is just another flawed human being. There are no levels of super-consciousness, no special powers, or magical knowledge. Not really. There is, however, spiritual maturity and wisdom that’s acquired through lifelong study and service.
Some people have amazing talents and gifts, but this is not proof of someone’s t ethical or moral character. Many gurus and spiritual teachers have turned out to be narcissistic, deluded, or self-serving, so do your research, trust your gut instincts, and don’t overcommit yourself too soon. You need spiritual mentors who have high integrity and ethics.
4. Depth, Not Dabbling and Cherry-Picking
Today we have access to all the world’s religious/spiritual systems and personal growth programs. This can lead to dabbling and cherry-picking, taking the bits we like and ditching anything we don’t. This can be fun for a while but eventually, it leads to spiritual shallowness and confusion.
It’s fine to explore the world’s spiritual systems and programs in order to discover what’s best for us. But eventually, we need a clear and coherent spiritual practice for our life. I’m not sure it’s all that effective to have a spirituality that’s a potpourri of this and that—whatever suits us at the time. This kind of mishmash approach allows us to dodge our own blind spots and avoid true self-examination.
Most of us have grown up in a highly commercialised world where life is seen as a smorgasbord of personal preferences and choices. But spirituality is not about sampling the world’s spiritual fares but about embracing beliefs that give meaning to our lives and that support us to live in integrity, compassion, and love.
5. Knowledge, Not Spiritual Merchandise and Toys
It’s big business right now selling spiritual items such as crystals, cards, candles, statues, books, and energy devices. Some of these can be helpful or beautiful, but don’t let this become an addictive substitute for true spiritual knowledge. Know that spirituality is not about having more stuff, even spiritual stuff. We don’t want to become spiritual consumers but spiritual beings who cherish truth, love, and understanding.
Some spirituality and personal growth programs are quite materialistic, focusing mostly on abundance and prosperity. While financial stability is important to most of us, it’s not the core of spirituality. Someone having wealth or success is not a sign of spiritual superiority—some people are just good at business.
A lot of what passes for spirituality today is actually spiritual entertainment (music, colour, celebrations, rituals, memes). But spirituality isn’t entertainment, although it may be highly fulfilling and interesting. It’s about learning about truth, growing in maturity, and developing a personal connection with the divine.
6. Professionalism and Service, Not Spin and Hype
By doing our personal spiritual work, we slowly develop qualities such as patience, fortitude, resilience, forgiveness, and compassion. We become less egotistical and more humble. We naturally gravitate towards authentic values and away from any kind of hype, spin, or charm.
A friend of mine signed up for a session with a practitioner on the basis of her attractive website, but the practitioner turned out to be inexperienced and unprofessional. Sadly, there are many practitioners, healers, and readers who have glamorous “spiritual” websites but are unable to live up to their marketing. Make sure the people you pay to help you are legitimate, experienced, and safe.
7. Spiritual Maturity and Service, Not Merely Self-Help
One way to know if a spiritual program is sound is whether it requires you to mature in spirit. Is the program mostly about getting things for yourself? Or is it about deepening your integrity and learning to serve? The two are not mutually exclusive of course, but the first without the other is a self-help method, which has its place but won’t be enough for the spiritual hunger inside of you.
Another way to assess a spiritual program is to see whether it asks for money in exchange for a series of graduated seminars offering ever-higher levels of consciousness, enlightenment, or healing. This is different, of course, from a straightforward educational program which has a graduated curriculum of courses. Spirituality isn’t a maze of secrets, tools, and powers, and shouldn’t be sold as such.
Cultish thought systems and spiritual narcissists abound. We hear almost daily about abuses of power, sexual exploitation, and financial manipulation in all kinds of spiritual and personal growth groups, ashrams, churches, and organisations. We must do our due diligence and carefully assess the safety and credibility of any teacher, pastor, or thought system we follow.
8. Truth, Not Power or Magical Experiences
Sincerely ask to be led to truth and you will be. This means being willing to change your beliefs, no matter how uncomfortable, as you learn and grow. I’ve had some major u-turns in my life after discarding teachings that didn’t serve me. At times, I’ve surprised people with my about-face decisions, and it hasn’t always been easy. But each time I’ve done this, I moved towards a more mature and honest spirituality.
Never stop asking for truth until you find the right answers. This way, you’ll gradually find a trustworthy spirituality. If something feels “off” to you or doesn’t add up, keeping asking questions until you’re satisfied that a teacher, program, or system is worthy of your focus.
9. Spiritual Loneliness, Boundaries and Self Protection
Spiritual loneliness is real in a world that’s fragmented and hungry for answers. Plus, we all go through times when we’re lost and confused. It’s during these times that we’re most vulnerable to thought systems and groups run by narcissistic people motivated by a desire for attention, fame, or profit.
While there are no guarantees we won’t run into deceptive people no matter how careful we are, we can know our own vulnerabilities and have boundaries to protect ourselves. Spiritual fakes do exist, so be careful.
If in doubt about a group or teacher, talk to an objective person about your concern. Pray, journal or meditate on the matter until you reach clarity. Don’t override any red flags or things that strike you as questionable. A healthy spiritual group or teacher is respectful of questions, doubts, and debate.
10. Substance, Not Memes and Soundbites
Watch out for social media posts that offer simplistic, feel-good spiritual memes that tickle your fancy or stimulate your hopes for magical answers. True spirituality is a profound process of self-examination, lifelong learning, and deep exploration of the big questions in life. It’s not a quick-and-easy formula for getting what you want or becoming spiritually superior/enlightened.
Spirituality is a lifelong journey that transforms our heart and teaches us to love and serve.