Ask Deepak: Understanding Spiritual Materialism
Each week, spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra responds to Oprah.com users' questions with enlightening advice to help them live their best lives.Q: I have been on a spiritual journey for 20 years and have studied many different approaches to spirituality. I work at encouraging others to trust in the process of life. At present, I am in a financial situation that magnifies a belief in lack and limitation. At the same time, I am aware of the spiritual lesson this opportunity has come to teach me—trust. It is as if I can see clearly both sides of a glass that is separating the outcome of the lesson from the lack and limitation I seem to be stuck in, and I cannot break through the glass to the other side. There are many instances in my life that have proven the existence of God and his miracles, but at this time, even remembering those times does not seem to help. Can you give me any information that may help to create a spiritual breakthrough? I feel this is now or never, and if I don't succeed, then I will prove to be a spiritual hypocrite.
— Letta F., Greensboro, North Carolina
To begin with, this isn't a case of now or never. By putting pressure on yourself, you are closing off the channels of help and support. I am not being mystical here. Spirituality is about consciousness, and whatever expands consciousness serves to open up subtler realms of experience. At the same time, whatever closes down your awareness and contracts it with fear cannot be considered spiritual. In other words, I detect that you would like to love and trust, yet—at the same time—a powerful instinct leads you to be anxious and apprehensive. This is the two-way glass you describe in your letter.
If I may, let me talk about "spiritual materialism," because I think it applies to many readers. When we ask God or spirit to bring us money—disguised in the more polite term, abundance—then spirituality descends to the level of getting and spending. From the ego level springs all the insecurity that makes us want to protect ourselves with money, status, possessions and various worldly things. Certainly providing for yourself is important. It's not that God gives more if you live up to certain standards and gives less if you don't. There is no all-seeing judge above the clouds keeping tabs on who is naughty and nice. To think in these terms is spiritual materialism.
Why do so many people fall into such thinking? The reasons are not hard to find. We live in a material society, and in America it's particularly harsh because there are few, if any, safety nets. The hidden side of prosperity and success is the fear that if you fall, nobody will catch you. Moreover, we have been filled with simplistic promises about God saving the poor and weak, like an all-purpose rescue mission. And even though there are countless prayers that go unanswered, people cling to wishful thinking. Told as children that God is looking out for them, people see no alternative but to cling to those beliefs.
Which is why, in the end, spirituality is a path that every person must walk. The path only leads inward. It doesn't lead to a teller's window where you exchange lack for abundance. I know I'm throwing a splash of cold water, but when you stop believing in illusions, there's space for reality. The reality is far greater than money or anything material. As you walk the path, you discover your true self, and as that discovery deepens, peace and security become a permanent aspect of yourself. Fear has been disguising your true self. Ego has been enticing you to measure your progress by externals.
Yet what really matters is a process that allows you to switch your allegiance away from spiritual materialism while finding a new allegiance in being awake. With expanded awareness, you find life has more to offer than you ever knew about. I can't predict whether anyone will become rich or poor. But you are right to trust in the process of life, so long as that doesn't turn into fatalism. There is a right and good place for you in this world; it opens to you when your awareness is open enough to perceive it.
Next question: How do I find myself when I feel so lost?
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Deepak Chopra is the author of more than 50 books on health, success, relationships and spirituality, including his current best-seller, Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul, and The Ultimate Happiness Prescription, which are available now. You can listen to his show on Saturdays every week on SiriusXM Channels 102 and 155.
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