I read an article yesterday by a spiritual teacher instructing his followers to act from their “highest self.” He was beseeching his readers to be more loving, more kind, more wise; not to act on their emotional reactivity, but to take a wiser approach; the approach their “highest selves” would take. This sounds like lovely advice. It sounds really good, and moral, and righteous. The problem is that it’s not real.
This advice asks people not to act on their emotions, not to act on their normal drives, but to identify with some supremely loving, wise, “higher,” saintlier version of themselves. And to pretend to be that. What happens is everyone walks around pretending to be “spiritual.” Believing that the “higher self” is some kind of doormat, who has no emotions, preferences, or courage to speak up is a mistake. This is fake spirituality. This is religious dogma with a new name. It’s not authentic. It’s not honest. And it’s psychologically unhealthy.
Yes, the ultimate truth is love. Yes, the highest vibration is that of love. Yes, when you feel divine love and bliss you love everyone. And yet, this does not mean that you allow yourself to be abused. It does not mean that you become passive. It does not mean that you don’t ever get angry. It does not mean that you don’t have feelings, or a personality, or boundaries. It does not mean that anyone can just say anything to you, and you don’t care, because you are “so evolved.”
Identifying with your higher self, and trying to play the part is just that, playing a part. It is a utopian ideal that is really just an uninvestigated projection of a religious concept of “goodness.” Spirit is ruthless. Spirit isn’t soft, and sweet, and nice all the time. Evolved beings don’t act like saints; they are far more self-loving and honest than that.
“For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self.” Thomas Merton
Imagine a close friend invites you to her birthday party, but you don’t want to go. If you identify with your “highest self” (as this teacher instructs) you would believe that the “right” thing to do is to go, even if you don’t want to, because it will mean a lot to your friend. “I have to show up to support my friend. It would be selfish to say no.” People believe that their “highest self” would go to the party, because the highest self is infinitely giving, and generous, and would never selfishly refuse to do something for another. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.
This example is exactly what’s wrong with identifying with some image of what you think an evolved version of you would do. It masks the reality with phony spirituality. It’s a new persona you’re pretending to be. A new identity that you’ve adopted that isn’t real. It avoids the uncomfortable human stuff, with pretend love and fake kindness. It forces you to sacrifice yourself for another, because you believe it’s the “right” thing to do. This is a terrible form of spiritual bypass, which denies the real human experience, and the requisite lessons to be learned.
The only way to access actual love, not phony “highest self” sort of love, is to go within and get to the vulnerable truths inside. I’m not advocating acting on emotional reactivity, but rather going inward and investigating that reactivity, and then acting from inner truth. Meaning, doing only that which you actually want to do, and saying no when you want to say no. (This seems obvious until you actually try to implement it in your life; only then you begin to see how scary this actually is…) It is only by developing self-love, authenticity, courage, boundaries, and the cessation of seeking love and approval outside oneself, that real love can be given. Everything else is just more pretense, judgment, and mind games.