By Dr. Manijeh Motaghy

Have you ever had difficulty communicating to a self-claimed spiritual person that they are unkind and causing harm, but they wouldn’t hear of it? Did they continue to think that they are right and virtuous and that it’s the other unwise people who need to shape up? I’ve occasionally met such a person throughout my teachings and coaching. Admittedly, I was one of them once, until I worked not only on self-awareness, but also the skills of kindness, compassion, and effective communication.

The Issue With Self-Claimed Spiritual People

Without serious self-awareness practices, wise competent teachers, guidelines, and spiritual friends who can be kind mirrors, most self-claimed spiritual people continue to suffer like anyone else. They can get pissed off at the world, fear whatever doesn’t go their way, or be hateful or critical of whoever doesn’t think like them. They can be in great denial about their conduct and biases and cause great harm while believing they are good people.

Let’s examine this through an example.

One of my old dear neighbors, who perceived himself as a spiritual person with top qualities of kindness and peacefulness, had at least one pet peeve that I know of. He’d get annoyed by anyone parking on the street in front of his house. Protective of this parking spot, he constantly knocked on neighbors’ doors to find out which ignorant guest had parked there to have them move their car. We all kindly went along and accommodated him, even though it was a public street and anyone could park there.

One day, as I walked outside for a little break from work, quietly walking, taking in the afternoon fresh air, he came up to me and asked if this one truck belonged to “my people.” I said, “No, as you can see, there isn’t anyone parked in my driveway to spill over to your side.” In a good mood, I smiled and gently reminded him that this was a public street and that he couldn’t always prevent everyone who ever came here to not park there. “It’s the street; someone is bound to park there,” I said. That’s when he became agitated, raised his voice, and said that I had dominated the street. That my guests always parked in front of his home recounting events dating fifteen years back.

Since he knew I held retreats and classes at my home, he continued by claiming that he was born a spiritual man and knew what was right and insinuated that I needed to go learn better English, as in I was a foreigner. Perhaps, he was even thinking at the moment that the mess “his” country is in was the fault of people like me. We have taken over! Yap.

I stood there, listened calmly, and when he finally stopped,

With a friendly voice, I said, “Well, you can insult me. It’s okay! But, is that spiritual?” He suddenly stopped and looked at me with wide eyes. When I realized I had his attention, with the same soft voice, I repeated, “You can insult me. It’s okay! But, is that spiritual?” That’s when he realized how contradictory his behavior was to his view of himself. With that realization, this tall, giant of a man who’d become Zeus himself, shouting at me, shrank in size. His eyes turned from bloody angry into a soft gaze and remorseful. He lowered himself to my height and, with a deep, kind voice, he said, “Oh Manijeh, you have always been an angel. I have never seen anything but goodness from you. I am so sorry for my behavior. I am sorry. I promise I will never do this again. I will never insult you. I am ashamed of myself.” I felt his heart of compassion. The heart he believed he had and gave to anger. There was no more to say. I thanked him, and we departed.

In the following days, he kept bringing me fresh fruits and vegetables from a farmers market he’d set up every Saturday and wanted to ensure I believed he intended to mend any harm he’d caused. He wanted to live up to his view of himself. Fantastic. But I don’t think he would have been able to see himself as this angry shouting person, scaring me, had I taken up a fight with him. Can you imagine how many wars get started because people can’t effectively show others’ hostility to them? 

Why Did How I Communicated Work?

As I’ve advanced in my Mindfulness practice, I have come to understand from actual experiences that fighting darkness with darkness, mind with mind, hate with hate, and insult with insult doesn’t stop or improve anything. It only reinforces the original hatred and delusion. It worked because I remained calm. I did not take his desperate attempt to look good by insulting me, personally. I wasn’t offended, but I used the phrase, “insulting me,”  to mirror how unfriendly he was acting. Posing that simple, nonargumentative question, I changed the direction of attention from feeling wronged to seeing his wrongdoing. As a spiritual person, myself, I understand that spirituality, no matter the type, is a path, not a destination. Every opportunity can be a pivoting moment for anyone to learn about themselves and grow from it.

Here are a few recommendations to get a self-claimed spiritual person, or anyone else to see how their actions are harmful.

  1. Being a kind friend without conditions
  2. Holding up a mirror for them without judgment and with loving kindness
  3. Provide the person an opportunity to see for themselves that their behavior and their self-view might contradict
  4. Build the courage and the skill to be open and honest with them without shaming them
  5. Please do not ignore them or build up resentment against them
  6. Understand that even if the person is a spiritual teacher or an elder, they are more likely on a path of growth, not at the final destination
  7. Remain calm and objective – breathe

As my teachers say, “I offer this for your reflection. Take what is useful and leave the rest.”

Manijeh Motaghy, PsyD. OMC, AMT