Fundamentalism is not only found amongst the religious.
2: a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles <Islamicfundamentalism> <political fundamentalism> From http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fundamentalism
Growing up, I learned about God through a group that taught that there was one way (a strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles) to understand God and the experience of spirit. Any approach outside of their approach was wrong if not outright evil, leading to damnation. I was not allowed to have my own thoughts – any I had were always molded to reflect the approved doctrine. I was not encouraged to question or to use my mind. I was also taught that other groups which claimed to be like our group wasn’t really like our group because our group had the Truth and “those people” were deceived and unless they woke up to the truth they too would be damned for eternity. It was a very rigid, dualistic experience of life which required an authoritarian, hierarchical management.
This was not great for me because I was born with a researcher’s mind. If there was a personal God, that God gave me an inquisitive spirit and then placed me in the middle of a community that did not approve of inquisitiveness! I enjoy reading and learning new things and exploring ideas. And I love history (which I’ve come to realize is doctrine’s worst enemy). The researcher’s heart is anathema to the beliefs of the community I once gave my life to.
Eventually I had a fork-in-the-road moment. I was unwell emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically from years of trying to reconcile what was for me* cognitive dissonance. I had to choose between taking care of myself or remaining a part of the community. When I chose the scarier road and allowed myself to slowly hold up to the Light everything I had been told was Absolute Truth, I lost my community. Dualism breeds separation and fundamentalism breeds duality.
I fought the mental prison that was for me* the fundamentalist approach. It was a terrifying, depressing, anxiety-inducing ride down Nihilism Avenue. As I went along I thought about turning back, repenting and picking up where I left off, but I couldn’t un-know what I had learned so I just continued on, not really knowing how this would all turn out for me in the end. (Spoiler alert: it turned out well. I’m not nihilistic, I experience joy and I am immensely grateful).
And then what? Where did I go?
Because I have had experiences throughout my life that didn’t fit into any of the scientific or traditionally accepted cultural norms, I ended up where most of the misfit toys go: the metaphysical community. I was overjoyed to find people who seemed to live and let live while also knowing how to be a source of encouragement and support when needed. It was in this new world that I was encouraged to rejoice in being alive for the sake of being alive, to find value in myself, to help other people just for the hell of it, and to trust. It was also the first community I ever belonged to that didn’t want to control me or how I experienced my spiritual life.
My Reiki teacher was one such person. She came into my life at a time when I was in the process of dismantling the only framework I knew and she offered to teach me an organizing principle from which grow – Reiki. And she gave me that foundation without ever making me feel controlled or managed. She knew how to teach Reiki so that a person could integrate it into his or her experience.
Huzzah! I was overjoyed to find “my people.” But as I mentioned at the start – fundamentalism doesn’t belong to just the religious – it has the potential to exist in any group, including psycho-spiritual, spiritual, and subtle healing communities.
But, isn’t there a difference between adhering to a structured practice and fundamentalism? Of course! Using Reiki as an example, I don’t take issue with the attunement ceremonies, the graduated levels of learning, the hand positions, or any other structure-providing aspect. I can personally see a value in each of those aspects and see how they help to define the practice of Reiki – to set it apart as its own unique healing approach. And I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with setting apart different approaches. This gives us a framework in which to work and learn.
I believe we need to learn how to view structure, boundaries, and guidelines differently so that we aren’t requiring a “strict and literal adherence to them” because when we shift our focus from the intention behind the act to the act itself we negate the effect of the intention. When the thought forms we are creating are no longer intention based (healing for the highest good of all beings), but instead become about regulation of practice (am I doing this right?) we have moved from Heart space to ego. And when we insist other people meet our “strict and literal adherence” to our understanding of the practice, that is egoic desire for control.
In recent weeks I witnessed a few exchanges which lead me to write this article. As you can imagine, based on my background, I am sensitive to fundamentalism and I was triggered by these exchanges. Here are some examples of what I saw and how I personally interpreted them.
“As a Practitioner Master/teacher, I call foul.”
My master teacher status gives me the authority to tell you that you do not understand the modality correctly.
“No, you can’t experience this modality’s healing without the ceremony conducted by a Practitioner Master.”
This example is particularly useful because it shows the underlying fear that serves as a foundation of most fundamentalist attitudes which is: You can’t do what you want to do without me or someone like me and this gives me purpose, makes me unique, and gives me authority and that authority gives me control.
“There are plenty of etheric healing modalities you can learn using the energy you already have, but that’s not the modality I’m a Practitioner Master of. And anyone saying that doesn’t channel the energy I do.”
I am the arbiter of your experience of “my” modality and of your understanding your experience. I reject your autonomy to be self-determining in your personal healing experience of my modality because your interpretation does not reinforce my interpretation.
“The modality I practice is a discipline. Please don’t attempt it without proper training.”
If you aren’t willing to approach my modality the way I have, then you will be doing it wrong. And my modality can only be done properly by those who have learned it through the proper channels of which I approve.
To me, these exchanges indicate that somewhere along the way, the finger pointing at the moon became more important than the moon. Are the modalities meant to be served or are we to serve each other through our work with the modalities?
We don’t need to have a religious background to have fundamentalist tendencies. Society instructs us – now more than ever in the US in particular – to be staunch, to pick a side, to be willing to impose and defend your authority.
My intention is not to be cynical. I would love to give people the benefit of the doubt and I often do – but we also have a responsibility to be honest with ourselves and each other and one great way to get real with myself is to question my motives. Why is something so important to me? Why am I getting worked up? Why am I taking this personally? Why do I feel the urge to ensure people see it or do it my way? The answer is usually seated in fear.
What am I to do about this?
My reaction to fundamentalist attitudes is “No way, you don’t get to decide – for me or for anyone else!” I feel fearful. And to cope with my feelings of fear and insecurity, I have a habit of taking on the role of an archetype I’ve battled most of my life: the hero. *This is where my fundamentalist tendencies play out. And that happened the past few weeks – I wanted people who were part of those discussions to know that they could decide for themselves! That they didn’t have to do it anyone else’s way! That they could have their own experience. But that’s not my job – my job is not to make sure anyone knows anything. Why was I upset? Because I was being shown a mirror. Being someone’s hero isn’t that far removed from insisting a strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles that I happen to have.
So what is my role?
If someone wants to explore empowerment and responsibility, then I am here to explore that with them. If not, or if not with me – that’s okay too.
So if you feel like considering it, I’ll offer these ideas to explore:
- You have the right to reject fundamentalism in any form from any person or entity trying to control your experience or the way you integrate an idea. Including me.
- You have the right to walk away from spiritual bullying.
- You have the right to question any idea, ideology, and any teacher.
- You have the right to stand in your own understanding.
- You have the right to have spiritual autonomy.
- You have the right to make any spiritual or healing practice your own. This includes any traditional or institutionalized spiritual or healing art form.
- You have the right to question anything someone presents to you as absolute. This includes ideas or traditions from any traditional or institutionalized spiritual or healing art form.
- It is healthy to question something that doesn’t resonate with you.
- A teacher empowers. A teacher does not enslave with ideology.
On a side note: what does open, non-dualistic discussion look like and feel like?
When I am in a healthy discussion with others about our subtle energetic pursuits, the most helpful comments are self-referential. “I experience, I feel, I have noticed, I wonder….” The most instructive conversations lack an assumption of universal correctness. And the discussion participants assume that their experiences and their understanding of their experiences cannot be automatically applied to all people all of the time. Because no one is taking an authoritative tone or posture, people feel safe to be open and share. When we take the concept of “wrong” out of the equation – it’s amazing what people will tell us! It is this kind of discussion that I chew on for days if not weeks and it is this type of discussion that most influences me. And I am very fortunate to have these types of discussions far and away more frequently than other types.
The subtle realm in which we work is not a dualistic realm. For every statement made, there is an equally potent paradoxical statement. This is the beauty of the ever morphing, ever expanding, ever evolving work. If we stand still long enough to create a rule, let alone enforce one, we create inertia and take ourselves out of the subtle realm of non-duality and dare I say, out of our Hearts.