THE MINE IS BIGGER THAN YOURS PHENOMENON IN SPIRITUALITY
Just the word spirituality conjures up all kinds of references, implications and ideas in people’s minds. From spiritual character of thought to incorporeal, from delicately refined to sacred or devotional and from the essence of religion to supernatural. Irrespective of what spirituality means to a person, there is a sense among those driven by spirituality to get to a more spiritual level and make progress towards a spot of attainment. If this was not true, the person would simply not be driven by the spiritual pursuit and would be pursuing something else instead. This is the basis of the “mine is bigger than yours” phenomenon in spirituality. While the phenomenon has its roots in concepts like the “peacock tail effect” in evolutionary psychology, the word bigger here doesn’t merely refer to size. It refers to a higher level of sophistication, eliteness, some form or the other of superiority and a greater degree of authenticity or quality if you like. Apart from the base ideas of superiority of one religion over another, this phenomenon shows itself up in multiple ways especially in an age of power yoga and power spirituality. The following are some ways in which you might see the “mine is bigger than yours” phenomenon manifest itself in the world of spirituality:
The Inner Circle Syndrome
Spiritual leaders all over the world might have experienced this at some point of time or the other. In many Ashrams or Retreats there are likely to be one or two key spiritual leaders who are at the so called helm of affairs. It is quite common in such situations, to see some followers losing focus on their spiritual pursuit and aiming to get closer to the Guru or spiritual leader, to become part of their inner circle. There are some who even go to the extent of wanting to be the “favourite” follower or disciple. While there is nothing particularly wrong with this, it simply isn’t what a spiritual journey is all about.
The Journey Destination Conflict
There are several roads that lead to the destination of the spiritual experience and many a times, the spiritual experience is the road itself. There is an unsaid clash of different mindsets here. While one set of people pursue spirituality to get to a final point of bliss, enlightenment or whatever you choose to call it; there is another set that attributes more importance to the spiritual journey rather than the destination. Of course there is a third group that gives equal importance to the spiritual journey and the destination or see no difference between the two. While each of these mindsets has some kernel of truth in it, it certainly doesn’t establish the superiority of one mindset over the other. All it establishes is that people need to pursue spirituality based on what works for them.
The Duration Myth
The duration factor plays a crucial role in people’s perceptions of a spiritual practice. While there is no debate on the fact that with time and practice one gets better at anything including with a spiritual practice, duration is not certainly an indicator of spiritual progress. It is almost as if a quick path or easy access to a spiritual experience is not real or authentic. There are some who have had profound spiritual experiences in their very first attempt or class while there are some who have had a life changing spiritual experience on a particular day after many years of practice and there are still others who might have been on a trek in the mountains or just watching children play at a park and had an awesome spiritual awakening. Another dimension of the duration myth is related to the actual duration of the spiritual practice itself. For example, many meditators see the ability to meditate for extended periods at a stretch to be more advanced than meditating for a few minutes a day. Though it might require a certain amount of practice and ability to even sit in the same position for more than an hour, it is certainly not an indicator of the quality or level of one’s spirituality.
The Experience Trap
It is not uncommon in any spiritual practice for people to have interesting experiences at different points. These experiences could be anything from a feeling of immense peace, to stillness or even feeling the presence of god in one’s own sweet way. What mostly gets missed out is that spirituality is beyond these experiences. Unfortunately, many individuals get sucked into or sometimes even get addicted to these experiences. Worst still, people even equate the nature of the experience to spiritual progress. This is nothing more than a ludicrous way of reducing spirituality to a mere set of experiences.
A Spiritual Experience Needs To Be Complex
No it does not. There are talks by some spiritual gurus that specifically state that if someone can describe a spiritual experience to you then it is not a real spiritual experience because a true spiritual experience cannot be described in words. While an extended spiritual experience could be more difficult to explain than some simpler feelings and emotions, it is certainly not a metric of the calibre of the experience itself. It is perfectly possible for someone with a good enough vocabulary to explain the range of feelings and emotions that one has experienced during a spiritual trip and that does not take away from the quality or genuineness of that experience. On the other hand, it is also true that some deep spiritual experiences are nothing more that simple feelings like gratitude, humility, peace, love and togetherness which are well understood by most people.
Worshipping The Unknown
This is an extension of the previous point and a corner stone of sorts when it comes to the entire idea of spiritual comparison. In many parts of the world the whole idea of spirituality leans heavily on God, mythology and other beliefs. A belief is something that one has conviction in and takes for granted; something that is held as true despite the odds. So the concept of belief is foundational to spirituality. Even with respect to spiritual experiences, our treatment is no different. When someone has a spiritual experience that is inexplicable, unclear and perhaps incomprehensible, it is given greater importance than an experience that is more direct and clearly understood. For instance, when a person is involved in a spiritual practice and experiences a series of colours passing through their closed eyelids, feels a burst of energy from their gut and transcends into a space of peace and tranquillity like never before, it is treated as a blessed event. Perhaps one that is showered on the person by the almighty and one that the person was “lucky” to have experienced. On the contrary if someone sits down for a spiritual practice but gets lost in thought for the next hour thinking of his or her school days and school friends and feels great and light in the head at the end of it, it is treated as a daydream. This is also the same reason why an out of body experience is treated as a more spiritual experience than the feeling of bliss while lying on your couch on a Sunday afternoon reading your favourite book.
The truth is that no spiritual experience is better or worse. Driving a bigger and fancier car is no superior to riding on a bullock cart or vice versa. They are both different experiences and have their own places in the scheme of things. The same applies to spirituality. To grow spiritually, one needs to be one with the spiritual pursuit and experience. Stepping out of that and focusing on ideas like superiority of the spiritual experience and spiritual tenure takes people several steps back or at best keeps them marking time.
Article inUnlearn Consciousness Section, August 2014 Issue of Complete Wellbeing Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran