When Carina broke up with a boyfriend who had cheated on her – twice! – she resolved not to date any man unless she was sure he had a strong commitment to ethical behavior.
She focused on herself, took up yoga and meditation, and started attending discussion groups about relationships.
It was at one of these discussion groups that she met James, a charismatic proponent of “spiritual relationships”.
Through James, she was introduced to the world of Tantra and sacred sexuality, where even sexual intercourse becomes part of your spiritual practice.
Carina felt that she had finally found the missing piece of her spirituality – a way to celebrate all of life, including sexuality, as Divine.
James was a skilled lover, and Carina discovered that there are many different kinds of orgasm, some of which took her to out-of-body experiences and sublime states of consciousness.
James was the “spiritual leader” in their relationship.
He was more advanced on the spiritual path, and he could easily see when she was lost in her lower chakras, confused, or too attached.
Hints of Unease
It was many months before Carina identified that she was feeling uncomfortable in the relationship.
She talked to James about her unease, and he pointed out that her lack of trust and surrender was an obvious cause of unease.
She redoubled her efforts to trust him and to follow his spiritual guidance.
He had been right about everything, after all, and she had never before had such amazing spiritual experiences during sex.
She had known from the beginning that she was not his only lover, and this didn’t bother her.
The time she spent with him was so intense that it was nice to have a few days between sessions to integrate.
She didn’t like it when he canceled plans to meet her at the last minute, but she understood that she shouldn’t be attached to something, just because it was on her calendar.
When they had been dating for about a year, James met Aisha and fell in love.
The time he spent with Carina reduced almost overnight from three sessions per week to one, or even one every other week.
When Carina told James how painful she found this, he pointed out that she was too attached to him, and to their time together, and that she needed to cultivate a more spiritual, detached attitude.
The Moment of Awakening
Carina tried to adapt to the new schedule, but she found James less and less loving, less and less attentive, less interested in conversation and cuddling, and more focused on their sexual practice.
She found herself losing motivation for her work, being too emotional too eat properly, and becoming very sensitive to tiny triggers in her environment.
She broke down in James’ arms one night and poured out the story of the things which had devastated her just in the past week.
“You’ve really changed,” he said. “You used to be such a spiritual warrior, but these days you are such a drama queen.
You are lowering the vibration of our relationship with all this over-reaction and attachment. Are you in this for God, or are you in this to gratify your ego?”
At that moment, it dawned on Carina that James was, in fact, an asshole.
Why We Fall For Spiritual Assholes
Spiritual values are an amazing contribution to a relationship.
Unconditional love. Mutual evolution. Witnessing consciousness and holding space. Seeing the Divine in another human being. Having someone see us as Divine.
Unfortunately, the ego can pick up on the spiritual terminology (without grasping the underlying concepts), and use spiritual language for egoic purposes.
In James’ case, the spiritual language allowed him to control the relationship, stay in his comfort zone, and to avoid looking at his own contribution to Carina’s stress and unhappiness.
Spiritual egotists have often picked up a range of useful relationship skills.
These can range from sexual techniques and hacks, using flowers, candles, and incense to turn lovemaking into an erotic ritual, active listening skills, and the ability to remain steady and present in the face of strong emotion.
All these skills can make the wrong people, very attractive prospective partners.
Why Don’t We Recognise Spiritual Assholery?
The defensive use of spiritual words to avoid deep genuine connection only shows up gradually over time, often over months, or even years.
And, because there is a small element of truth in the spiritual asshole’s argument (if we were, in fact, completely detached, their behaviour wouldn’t actually upset us, after all), we focus on ourselves and our own weaknesses, rather than asserting our boundaries and our right to equal consideration in the relationship.
Ironically, if we were, in fact, completely detached, we would be willing to say “If you can’t keep your appointments with me, I am not willing to spend time with you.”
It is our attachment that keeps us playing the spiritual asshole’s game.
Now, I want to be fair here…
Asshole is a strong word, and I am using it for emphasis. Most spiritual assholes don’t realize they are assholes.
They just think of themselves as spiritual.
Most spiritual assholes are simply coping with their own childhood wounds in ways that make perfect sense to them, and they think that the world would be a better place if everyone else used the same coping strategies that they use.
How To Avoid Spiritual Assholes
- Trust your gut. Any time that any spiritual guidance makes you feel uneasy, contracted, less free, or less true to yourself, something is not right.
- Check the fruits. Talk to the person’s ex-partners, spiritual teachers, housemates, and anyone else who has known them intimately. Are people enriched by their contact with this person?
- Take your time. Wait until the honeymoon period (usually six to 24 months) is over before making any major commitment to the person.
- Sweat the small stuff. Test this person’s ability to handle conflict by insisting on talking through small conflicts and irritations until they are harmoniously resolved.
- Give them a test sniff of your dirty laundry. At a time when you are well-resourced and don’t desperately need emotional support, open up to them about something that you find challenging. See if they are consciously listening and how well they empathize and support you.
- Ask your friends. You will be amazed how fast your friends can smell a spiritual asshole. Usually much faster than you can!
The world is full of spiritual assholes, but it is also full of brave, generous, spiritual warriors, who will stand in the fire with you and not look back. Exercise discrimination, and you can have a true spiritual partnership.