Ask Parvati 6 – Seeing Past the Shimmer: Discernment on the Spiritual Path

BY Parvati

Seeing Past the Shimmer: Discernment on the Spiritual Path

April 3, 2011

Thank you for all the questions submitted this past week. In this week’s blog, we take a look at the shadow of spiritual seekers. Please send your questions to be picked for next week’s topic to by Thursday, April 7.

If you have not yet done so, please listen to the meditation for Japan that I recorded recently to support those in need. I am grateful for your help in passing it on.



Dear Parvati,

I have a friend that I find confusing. She is sweet, an active spiritual seeker who volunteers and seems to care for others. But when I am around her, I feel uneasy. When I ask myself why, I feel in my gut that I can’t trust her. She seems spiritually wise, so I find it hard to understand the reaction I have. My gut tells me she is hiding something, like she is not what she seems. How can you tell when a person is truly the light they project or is shining light as a decoy to nasties in their personal basement?

The Shadow of the Spiritual Seeker

Thank you for this question. When I lived in India for a year where I eventually met my guru, I was known for saying that I was seeking yogis, not bogies. As they say, not all that shimmers is gold. And the world of a spiritual seeker is no exception. There are a lot of self-proclaimed prophets who are attached to power rather than learning to serve. As spiritual aspirants we need to learn to discern the fool’s gold from the real gems.

Sometimes people think being spiritual is being a Pollyanna, pretending to be perfect and ok with all that comes, while really feeling in knots on the inside. I am sure you have heard people say “it’s all good”, when you can see terror in their eyes, glazed by a thick dose of denial.

Other people misinterpret the spiritual phrase “we each are expressions of the Divine” and begin to think of themselves as gods, rather than energies in respectful and humble service to a wise, potent, co-creative, flowing force with immensity beyond our wildest imagination.

Thinking of yourself as either better than or worse than another is an expression of the ego and is an easy pitfall for anyone. I find the power of discernment, rather than judgment, to be a key tool on my spiritual journey. It fills me with the possibility to witness that which is, rather than separate myself from the moment and impose my own story on it. I can pause, enquire, feel, explore and see, before I act. Judging something closes my mind to it, whereas discernment supports my choice to co-create with energies that amplify the presence of I AM consciousness. Out of guilt, self-pity, loneliness or fear I may allow myself to get pulled into energies that are tricky and pull me off path. Discernment helps me see that.

Each one of us has a unique life force that flows through us. We each are the gatekeepers of that life force. When we experience energies that do not expansively support that life force, it is healthy to say no to them. It is essential to remember that everything that happens in our life is an opportunity for us to grow. That which we see in another is a reflection of ourselves. That which we cannot stand in another we cannot stand in ourselves. That which makes us judge another is some thing we judge in ourselves.

Trickiness Disguised as the Light

Here is a little anecdote to which you may relate:

I feel I have known Stephanie before. Perhaps it is a past life thing, or perhaps because I feel I have met many people like her on the spiritual path. On this journey to help heal the planet, it is no coincidence that I would meet a woman with such beauty that seems on the same wavelength but also seems to carry a darkness that I sense could act out hurtfully at any moment.

Having sought the Divine through drugs and alcohol, she came to yoga, meditation and healing naturally through her own painful journey. Born out of necessity, she is a good healer. But she must manage her shadow moment to moment lest it take over. When things don’t go her way, she explodes into temper tantrums and exhibits powerful rage. Yet once the heat has passed, she has forgotten all about it, as though it never happened.

In the minds of many people like Stephanie, it never really did. Deeply attached to her self-perception as a spiritual person, in denial about the depth of her own pain, she uses her spiritual insight and energy to try to control the moment, rather than humbly meeting it, because she is too afraid to see her own vulnerability and lack of control, and touch her inner wounds.

We all have an aspect of Stephanie in us but to varying degrees. Some people live by denial and don’t even know it has become their core identity. I have met very few people who I would say are evil. But I have seen evil energy come charging through people, even those I have called friends. Such is the risk when one opens, when one seeks. One must be ultimately discerning on the spiritual path.

Just because a person has a guru, and feels they are committed to the light, does not mean that they will act in righteous ways. I have seen practicing yogis and healers fly into a rage when their buttons get pushed, toke up before teaching a yoga class, eat a hamburger before giving a lecture on the necessity of being vegetarian. It takes a certain fierce courage to be willing to face one’s ego and meet the moment as it is, not as we want it to be. It is a kind of death, a death of the temporal to be born again into the infinite. A real gem of a spiritual aspirant will not be overly shiny, but will radiate a warm humility, a potent kindness, a strong, inner steadiness and fierce dispassion. By resting in vast stillness, the infinite light shines through.

Spin Doctors and ego tricks

The ego is a tricky place. It only seeks self-service. As such, it is a voracious consumer and life force constrictor. It can be trickiest to see the ego in people who are spiritually minded. Having adopted a certain skill in the unseen, it is easy for people with spiritual knowing to learn how to manufacture perceptions that manipulate and twist reality to suit their own shadow. They know how to turn situations around to make it seem like it is you who is off path. This is a powerful aversion technique, and sadly, it is really they who most lose out. Through manipulation and often heavy doses of denial, the opportunity to look within is side-stepped. I call these people Spin Doctors.

To help avoid this shadow tendency, yogis are classically taught by an enlightened guru who has the fierce ability to mould the aspirant’s consciousness so they may have purity of heart and use subtle spiritual power only for the good of all. Many spiritual aspirants are unaware that they use spiritual energy to amplify their ego attachments. Learning to navigate through that tendency is part of an on
going aspect of spiritual maturation. Our shadows lie dormant in the corners of our personalities until situations that push our buttons and go against our will activate them, giving us a chance to see them, if we are humble and courageous enough to do so.

A Call to Compassion

I believe we are all a lot more alike than different. I would say that the light you see in your friend is a reflection of the light you see in yourself. And the shadow you sense in him/her is a reflection of your own discomfort with your own inner shadow.

Whether you are acquaintances or are best of friends, whether you hang out every day for the rest of your life or never see the person again, is secondary to the opportunity to grow from this now and deepen your own spiritual awareness. I would see this friend as a gift from the universe for you to learn greater discernment, practice tuning into what you are feeling in the moment and acting in a way that honours your inner voice.

Next time you are around this person, ask yourself:
  • Do I feel expansive now? If not, how come? If yes, how come?
  • Do I feel safe now? If not, how come? If yes, how come?
  • What wonderful qualities do I see in this person? How are these aspects of myself?
  • What can I not stand in this person? How are those aspects of myself?
  • Can I allow myself to just be, watch this person/situation as it is, without reacting?
  • Does it feel rooted, vital and expansive for me to stay with this person now? If yes, stay. If no, go.

As a tool to learn discernment and develop compassion, I mention above to ask yourself in the moment if it feels rooted, vital and expansive to stay with that person or move along. This question is a powerful litmus test to see if the sparkly, Pollyanna side in you is in fact masking your own shadow, as you hang out with someone who may be doing the same. If it does feel rooted, vital and expansive to stay, then do so and fully relax and meet the moment in all its wonder. If it does not feel rooted, vital and expansive to stay and you choose to stay, then you too would be playing the shimmer game by remaining. It is far more honest and compassionate to all involved (which includes you!) to kindly choose to interact no longer, wish the other well, and move on.

The gift here is in the power to discern what feels expansive and supportive for you and learning to accept both yourself and others exactly where you each are at. We don’t need to be friends with everyone, but I believe we are called to learn to love everyone, equally. By “love” I don’t mean a sentimental attachment, but a commitment to be real, honest, open, humble and courageous in this moment. By “love” I mean developing the state of witness consciousness, to see all of life… the beautiful, the painful, the glorious, the ugly… unfold as it is.

Love is like a flower that blooms in the fertile soil of self-love. As we learn to love ourselves exactly as we are, we become able to love others as they are by seeing through appearances and being present for what is, without judgment, attachment, fear, guilt or trying to change the outside world to suit our needs. In every moment we have the choice to embrace our evolution or resist it in some way. By rooting our actions in self-love, by practicing discernment through non-attachment, we can learn to cultivate timeless love and see beyond temporal, manufactured sparkles into eternal, expansive light.