Spiritual people are not the crazy ones

By Kim Michaels

 

The next logical step for civilization

Why is our society so dysfunctional when it comes to giving people true self-esteem? I grew up in Denmark, which means I received a very typical modern, western upbringing. Denmark is a small Scandinavian country and for decades it has been fairly affluent. My parents were lower middle class and although they were not rich, they never lacked anything. Consequently, I received an upbringing, where I neither lacked material nor psychological nurturance. Compared to people I have met in other nations, I was a spoiled child because I never really had to struggle for anything.

This was in sharp contrast to my parents and grandparents. My great grandfather worked most of his life in a factory in order to provide for his 13 children. My grandfather only had 3 children, but he also had a factory job, which during the 1930s was tough. My father had to find his first job as the second world war started and jobs were really scarce.

I am telling you this because it shows that for my parent’s generation, the main focus of life was to improve their material conditions. After the second world war, Denmark, as the rest of the western world, was focused on providing people with stable jobs that could give them a reasonable standard of living—materially, of course. Psychological concerns, such as self-esteem, simply were not on the table, and I am in no way blaming my parents or society for that.

Yet looking back, I think it is fair to say that as far back as the 1960s Denmark and many other western nations, had achieved a situation, where people who applied themselves could attain a stable and relatively affluent standard of living.  That leads to a logical question: “When a sufficient material standard of living has been achieved, what is the next stage in the evolution of a society? Is material growth all there is or is there more to life?”

In Denmark it seems there isn’t more to life—at least most people haven’t discovered it. I moved to the United States in 1987 in pursuit of my spiritual goals, and I did not visit Denmark again until 2006, so the contrast was quite noticeable. I was amazed at how affluent people had become during those 19 years. Denmark has long had a philosophy of spreading the wealth as exemplified in the slogan: “Few have too much and none too little.” And it was amazing to walk around my hometown and see how much more affluent people were than before I left. 

Yet were people happier than before? Not that I noticed, although there was a certain sense that life was good and a stronger optimism than before. In fact, international studies have established that Denmark is the country in which people are the happiest. Even Oprah Winfrey did a show about the happy people in Denmark, portraying it as the fairy-tale country that in some ways it is.

Yet at the same time, Denmark has a high rate of divorce, and it has high rates of substance abuse and suicide. A growing number of people receive psychological treatment for depression or more severe mental illnesses. In fact, in 2012 a national association in the health field predicted that over the coming several decades mental illness would become the greatest national health challenge. 

So how can we explain this? As material affluence grows, why don’t people automatically become happy or content? Instead, they start dealing with all kinds of psychological issues that previous generations rarely even noticed. What gives?

You can cite all kinds of sociological and psychological studies, but I would like to invoke Occam’s Razor: All other things being equal, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. So here is what I see as the simplest explanation: Material wealth isn’t enough for us human beings. Having material affluence and security will not automatically make us happy or give us self-esteem. The obvious reason is that material wealth is an external condition, whereas self-esteem is an internal condition. The great lack in the western world is that we have approached material growth as an end in itself instead of seeing it for what it really is: a means to an end.

But what end? The question we have not asked ourselves as a civilization is: “Given that we have achieved material welfare, what’s next—what’s the next logical step?” The obvious answer is to work on people’s psycho-spiritual welfare. The problem here is that we have not asked ourselves another question: “What’s the purpose of life?” We have not asked ourselves this question because we have gotten ourselves into a philosophical blind alley where it seems like there is no answer.

Most people have long ago abandoned the traditional Christian perspective, where the purpose of life is to follow the will of a remote God by being obedient to a church on earth, thereby avoiding hell and being rewarded in a distant heaven. All we have found in its place is scientific materialist philosophy, which says we live in a universe where everything is determined by chance. How will an evolved ape, confronted with a random universe, ever find a purpose for life? 

Can we human beings actually be happy or content, if we don’t have a sense of purpose, a purpose that seems real and worthwhile to us personally? Can we find self-esteem, if it seems like our individual lives have no meaning? I think the growing mental health problems abundantly prove that we can’t. 

I also think they prove that when we get our material needs fulfilled, we start working on higher needs, namely those related to the psycho-spiritual aspects of life. Previous generations simply didn’t have that option, but we do and we can’t escape it.

 

A natural phase in human evolution 

Take a look back through the corridors of history. We see many societies, where people had to struggle in order to survive physically, spending all of their time, energy and attention on making a living “by the sweat of the brow.” Take for example the medieval feudal societies, where peasants were slaves, because the people who owned the land also owned the peasants. What has society been going through since then? What is the real change that has happened as a result of the scientific and industrial revolutions?

Past societies were elitist, meaning not only that a small elite owned and controlled everything, but also that it was only the members of the elite who had leisure time. With leisure time I mean that people did not have to spend all of their time and energy on making a living, giving them the opportunity to pursue other things, such as contemplating the purpose of life. We can look back at the scientific revolution and see that most of the prominent thinkers and scientists were sons of well-to-do fathers. This gave them the time to wonder whether the earth really is the center of the universe or why apples fall down from the trees. 

While in the past just a small elite had leisure time, since the 1960s the general population has also had a growing amount of time on their hands. This is simply one of the greatest resources available to us. Most people haven’t yet recognized it as a resource (thinking they have to kill time through cheap entertainment), but millions of people have indeed seen it as a resource and have made use of it. Some of us have done so by pursuing a distinctly different approach to life, a radically different way to live.

I believe that when future historians look back at our time, they will see that one of the most significant developments of the twenty-first century was that so many people achieved the leisure time, that allowed them to start working on their psycho-spiritual needs. Just look at how many millions of people in the western world have – over the past several decades – abandoned both traditional religion and scientific materialism. Instead, they have made great personal strides in carving out a world view, that is not a compromise between the two old ones, but that leap-frogs them completely. 

The revolution in consciousness that many of us have lived is truly an unprecedented phenomenon in known history. Never before have so many people had so much leisure time, and never before have so many of them spent it on pursuing the illusive, abstract goal of raising their consciousness.

I believe this development is the next logical step for modern civilization, and I believe those of us who have pursued it are the forerunners for a new stage in humanity’s  evolution. As always, we have been portrayed as outcasts by mainstream society, but after 36 years of walking the path, I have lost all need to hide my spirituality. I don’t believe the spiritual people are the crazy ones, and I build my case on Einstein’s definition of insanity: “If you keep doing the same thing and expect different results, you are insane.” If you keep pursuing higher and higher material welfare, and expect that one day people will automatically become happy, you are insane.

Happiness and self-esteem are inner conditions. Our mistake in the West has been to believe that if we give people affluent material conditions, the inner condition will simply fall into place by itself. Yet the deeper reality is that we human beings are not material beings; we are not biological robots. Our inner condition is not a product of our external circumstances. And that means our ultimate challenge as human beings is to learn how to consciously master our inner condition. While our lives are consumed by material needs, we simply don’t have the surplus to work on this. But as soon as our material needs are taken care of, our psycho-spiritual needs step forward and demand attention. 

In fact, for many of us it is completely natural, that these needs demand our full attention. This was pointed out many years ago by the American psychologist Abraham Maslow, who defined a pyramid of human needs. At the bottom was what I have called our material needs, but at the top was what Maslow called self-actualization needs. We can define a natural progression in the evolution of an individual psycho-spiritual being. For a certain phase, we work on the lower needs, but then there comes a phase, where our lives are all about self-actualization. And we live in a time, when this is the case for a growing part of the population. We can fight it or we can embrace it—individually or as a society. I believe embracing it is far better than resisting.

 

There is another way to live

Those of us who received a typical western upbringing have been given a very disempowering view of ourselves. We have been exposed to two belief systems that each claim to give a complete and infallible view of what life is and how it works. The only trouble is that the two views are incompatible, meaning they cannot both be true. 

From a very young age, I remember being conscious of the thought that neither of them was true. I felt both belief systems failed to answer my questions about life, and their claims contradicted my own inner experience. What I sensed as a boy was that even though mainstream Christianity and science can seem very different, they actually have one thing in common: both of them deny that there is a spiritual side to life and a spiritual path that we can all follow.

Materialism obviously denies the existence of God and anything beyond the material universe, so it also denies the spiritual path. We are products of our genes and our environment, with very limited options for changing our state of mind. These claims simply did not resonate with my own inner experience and with my inner knowing about life. 

Yet Christianity also did not present a world view that resonated with what I knew to be true in my heart. It says we are all sinners by nature, which I simply refused to believe, even as a child. Also, it presents life as a process of waiting for an external savior, and this never resonated with my inner knowing, because I sensed we have the potential to do something to improve ourselves.

Obviously, most people in the world have likewise been exposed to the incompatible world views of materialism and some form of religion. And most people react in one of two ways:

  • Some pick one of the belief systems, accept it as infallible and then simply don’t think beyond what that system defines as acceptable or true. They don’t ask questions beyond the mental box defined by the system.
  • Others feel neither system is really true, but they have never found anything beyond the two systems, so they ignore or suppress their questions about life and focus on the material side of life.

I could never take either of those approaches, and in the last few decades I think a steadily growing number of people likewise feel that there must be more to know about life than what is presented by these systems. Many people feel like there is a missing dimension to their view of life, and many also have the sense that we can do something to actively improve ourselves.

This has always been my inner reality. I simply knew, in a way I never doubted, that I am not a disempowered being. I even knew we are more than human beings, as that word is normally defined. My personality and identity was not created and set in stone by some remote God in the sky. Neither am I an evolved monkey, a combination of my parent’s genes or a product of my environment. I always knew I am a unique individual, and my highest potential is to develop that individuality. I also knew that although outer factors can influence my inner life, I have the potential to take dominion over my inner world and master my own psyche. 

I obviously could not have put words on this as a child, yet deep within me was the knowing, that I have the potential to systematically and consciously raise my consciousness. I also sensed that this is the real purpose for my life and that it would take precedence over everything else. This was an inner knowledge that no one had given to me. I was born with it, and for the first 18 years of my life, it lay dormant, waiting for an outer trigger. Yet as soon as that outer trigger was there, I embraced my inner knowledge and I have never looked back.

As soon as I awakened to my inner knowing, I embraced an approach to life, that is radically different from how I was brought up to live. I started seeing my life as having a clear goal, namely a radical, fundamental change in my state of consciousness. I started seeing life as a gradual process, whereby I systematically approached that goal. In a nutshell, I started seeing my life as a spiritual path that has these major components:

  • There is more to know about life than what is dreamt of in the philosophies that dominate our society. In fact, there is a vast body of teachings available, that can help us understand that the material world is only the tip of the iceberg and that there is an immense spiritual world beyond the “surface layer” we see with our conscious awareness.
  • Acquiring spiritual knowledge will not only satisfy our curiosity and help us answer the fundamental questions of life, but it will also empower us to do something to actively raise our state of consciousness to a higher level than what is considered normal for most people. In other words, we all have a far greater potential for our mental powers than what we were brought up to express. And by following a systematic path, we can unlock that potential. 

By raising our consciousness we can give a greater service to life and fulfill our spiritual purpose for coming to this planet, even raising the planet to a higher level. This can give us a deeper sense of meaning than the traditional belief systems.

By raising our consciousness, we can eventually manifest a state of consciousness similar to what has been demonstrated by certain spiritual teachers. This will not only give us a deeper form of self-esteem, it will also set us free to move on in a higher realm, that is far more fascinating than this world.

Let me just make it clear that I am not saying that I think all people should follow the same path I have followed. I did believe this 36 years ago. At that time I had a breakthrough experience, and it showed me that spiritual growth is the ultimate solution to the problem of man’s inhumanity to man. At our present level of consciousness, we will never overcome war and conflict, but this can be done by raising our consciousness to a higher level. 

Nevertheless, over the past many years, I have come to realize, that although my vision is true, human beings are at many different stages of development—and that is perfectly okay. Not all people are ready to embrace conscious spiritual growth, and given that we are all individuals, each person has his or her path to follow.

My point here is that we who have dedicated our lives to spiritual growth are not crazy, and we have nothing to hide. In fact, I believe it is time for more of us to “come out of the closet” and openly demonstrate our spirituality. It is even time for us to demand a basic respect from the rest of society, because we are certainly no more “out there” than many other minority groups, which have received greater recognition in recent decades.

I believe that in the coming decades, people who are “spiritual but not religious” will have a greater impact on society and will help facilitate certain shifts. Yet for that potential to be fulfilled, I think we need to deal with several issues that I will address during this and coming books. And one of them is obviously that many spiritual people lack self-esteem precisely because they are spiritual—and thus never really fit into a non-spiritual society. More on this shortly.

 

The futile quest for material self-esteem

My overall point for this chapter is that many people embark on a quest to build self-esteem through material means. The reason for this is that society does not teach us what the self is, and it gives us a choice between two belief systems that both take our self-esteem into the gutter. Do you want to see your self as a sinner that goes to hell or as a monkey that goes nowhere?

If you step back and take a look at modern society, you can see that so many activities are driven by an unrecognized desire to build some kind of self-esteem by doing or acquiring something in the material world. I have met people who spent their entire lives seeking material wealth and who achieved a very comfortable lifestyle. Yet when I looked into their eyes, I saw that their souls were empty and in pain. They might have had a sense of self-esteem for a while, because they had a big house and fancy cars. But now they are starting to realize that they can’t take it with them. And they are wondering, if there perhaps is a way to build a form of self-esteem that can endure after they “shuffle off this mortal coil.”

Many people – especially men – seek self-esteem through sexual conquest. I once “enjoyed” a car ride with two guys, who spent hours talking about the women they had slept with. One man had his count up to 29, and that made the other let out a long whistle. Yet that was nothing compared to a man I met later, who after his divorce went on a “search and undress” campaign. He managed to sleep with over 2,000 women, before he realized that he wasn’t going to find self-esteem between the sheets. He then turned to the spiritual path and has since then started building real self-esteem.

Many women go on this quest for self-esteem by trying to live up to an ideal built by the advertising industry. They accept an ideal for beauty that no woman can actually live up to, because it is created from two kinds of silicon, namely breast implants and computer chips. No woman ever had perfect skin before Photoshop, and no women ever had large breasts AND a slim waist before plastic surgery. 

I still remember flipping channels one night and catching a television program on extreme sports. I was completely shocked by the sight of a person skiing off a 100 foot high cliff without knowing what was down below. And what kind of self-esteem do you get from letting your life hang in one fingertip on the side of a cliff? Not to mention swimming with sharks or jumping over a deep canyon on a motorcycle. Can 15 minutes of fame really give you a lifetime of self-esteem? My own father spent a lifetime pursuing self-esteem through material means. And I still remember the emptiness in his eyes during late-night conversations just before he died.

What I have come to realize is that SELF-esteem simply cannot be found outside the self. And the only way to get to know the self is by following the spiritual path. Which means that only we spiritual people have the potential to take society to the point where it can actually teach people self-esteem.

 

 

Copyright © 2012 Kim Michaels

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