Spiritual Imposter Syndrome

This article comes from my own struggle in talking and teaching spirituality. I have written about this before, so won’t go over it again, but this is like the 4th version of this site. I created and deleted 3 sites because I felt I wasn’t ready. I felt like a fraud, that people would discover I’m not qualified to talk about these things.

Funnily enough, I know about impostor syndrome. Have even written about it a few times. But I thought to myself: It isn’t impostor syndrome if it’s true, is it?

The reason I’m writing this article now: I was thinking about how Gurus go bad, and how so many have scandals. There are multiple reasons for that, and I will go into more detail into that in a later article. But while thinking about it, I realised something: While many people like me (and I know a few) are very hesitant about putting ourselves out there, there are 2 types of people who don’t have this problem:

1. Narcissist types: You know the gurus talking about love and peace, and then inviting attractive female students into the back room for “extra” practice? If you don’t know any, you haven’t spent much time in the community.

2. Religious fanatics: They never doubt or question themselves, because THEY HAVE THE TRUTH DAMMIT! And they will shove it down your throat whether you want it or not.

And so we reach a situation where the only people talking about spirituality are the ones who have the least experience in it; in fact, those who are the most hostile and harmful to genuine inner spiritual experience. While people who have had inner spiritual experiences are sitting there with their doubts and Gee wizz I’m not good enough, better spend another 10 years meditating

Spiritual Imposter Syndrome

I don’t know if anyone else has noticed this. I’m sure other people have, but I haven’t heard anyone talk about it much. And that is: Imposter Syndrome in Spiritual Circles.

Us spiritual types are told we have to be humble, quiet and forgiving. We are fed these heroic (and increasingly, it seems to me, bullshit) stories about ordinary Joes who go up mountains and return fully enlightened, their Kundalini risen, their Chakras open, and a “Fully Certified Enlightened Master Level 9000″ Certificate from the Association of Enlightened Gurus (AEG).

But what if this view is wrong?

The Enlightenment Line

We view enlightenment as a racing line– if you cross the line, you are enlightened. If you fail– then you might as well vote for Trump, as your life is ruined!

At least, I did. I kept waiting for the “enlightenment” line to come, so I would be like so totally enlightened, unlike all those other materialistic fools.

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And I kept pushing off living my life. I would be happy when I was enlightened. I would not need my shitty job as I was going to reach Nirvana soon. I now know these to be examples of spiritual bypassing.

I now feel we can and should help people whatever stage we are at.

Not all good teachers were enlightened

Alan Watts was a best selling teacher of Eastern Spiritual Teachings, and his work touched millions (and still touches, as his books still sell and his lectures are now on Youtube) . Yet, he couldn’t live the life of a spiritual master and died of alcoholism.

Helen Schucman channelled the Course in Miracles, one of the top books on spirituality I have read. But she admitted she couldn’t follow its teachings in her own life.

I share these examples to show that you don’t need to be a Super Duper Nirvana Master (SDNM) to touch people’s lives. You don’t even need to have mastered the teachings yourself.

Adyashanti’s guru was an unknown housewife who spent her first year sitting alone in her teaching studio, before the first student even turned up.

She was completely unknown in her life; never wrote a bestselling book, never had a famous pop star or movie actor promote her teachings. And yet without her help, Adyashanti, whose work has touched millions of lives (including mine), could not have reached the heights he did.

I share this example to show you don’t have to be conventionally famous or well known to touch people’s lives.

One final objection

Of course, I have another objection! This post is more for me than anyone out there.

The objection that comes to my mind: But what if I’m really not qualified to teach? What if I don’t have imposter syndrome, I just genuinely 100% am a fraud?

And yes, I also have the answer to that.

Teach the lessons you learnt on your journey. The mountains you climbed, the ones you failed to climb, the ones you climbed but then realised they were the wrong ones, where you bled on the path and how others can avoid the pain.

We all have our own journey, but the world has 8 billion+ people, and quite a few of them will share our pains. If we can help one person, we have done the Universe’s work.

As an example, there are places where I strongly disagree with the standard spiritual advice:

  • I never found meditation really useful

Online people boast about how they sit for 2 hours daily, but I found after 15-30 minutes, 2-3 times a week, the benefit I get from meditation not that great.

I found more use in:

a) Journaling

b) Challenging my thoughts, using methods like The Work by Katie Byron

c) Asking my Higher Self for guidance

In my experience, people who sit in meditation for 2 hours daily become very good at meditating, but that doesn’t always translate to good in the outer life.

Similarly, the spiritual world is very into the psychic world– crystal healings, psychics/astrologers, OBE, 3rd eye opening etc etc. While I too spent time in these, now I think they are a golden prison. Worse than that, I believe these supernatural beliefs are actively harmful to the spiritual life.

And these aren’t shallow beliefs, these are things I have bled over and things I have cried over.

And this is my main point to overcome Spiritual Imposter Syndrome: Talk about the places where you struggled and how you overcame them. Treat it like a talk with a friend and not a scientific paper. It is your personal experience, you don’t have to worry about coming across as a PhD expert.

I want to end with a Marianne Williamson quote:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

From A Return to Love

Related: Spiritual Arrogance, the opposite of this problem.

Next: I will write about why gurus go bad, which is the article I started out to write 🙂