On Spiritual “Gifts” that Come with a Price Tag

I’ve been thinking about the problem of exchanging spiritual teachings or practices for money. You know what I’m talking about. The $5,000 yoga retreats, $250 chakra cleanses, $500 medium sessions, $1,000 light-healing appointments….

Don’t get me wrong; I understand that there are unavoidable expenses when one chooses to make a practice out of their healing ability. One needs to rent office space and pay for all associated utilities… pay for materials (like acupuncture needles and yoga mats)… pay their staff (bookkeeper, events organizer, etc.)…. It costs to be alive. I get that.

But that’s not my issue. My issue is when spiritual teachers claim that their gift is God-given, or bestowed by the Universe, or something. They’ve been anointed, they claim. They’ve been called! They’ve been chosen! And they always have a justification for why they charge a fee before “sharing” their “gifts.”  I’m a human too! I have bills to pay! We all have to struggle in this world!

But I’m not buying it.

Because think about it.

If the Universe (or God, or Spirit, or whatever you prefer to call it) gives you some sort of spiritual gift…. and it’s your divine purpose to use that gift to help people…. then why would that same Universe/God/Spirit put you in a position where your gift was the only way you could make money?

 

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The way I see it, if you accept the premise that the ability to practice your divinely-imparted purpose in life is contingent upon whether people pay you for it, then you must also accept that

  1. the Universe/God/Spirit only wants to help & heal people who can afford it,
  2. that God’s will is still subject to the whims of our human economy,
  3. that the Universe can give you this amazing ability but it can’t meet your financial needs, and
  4. that we can change people but we can’t change the economy. That we can have f#cking super-powers in a one-on-one context, but we are completely powerless beyond that.

I do not see how the above premises are compatible with the concept of a divinely-ordained spiritual talent. For that reason, I’ve drawn the following conclusions:

  • If it is truly a divine gift, it should be able to circumvent ordinary circumstances and human-imposed limits
  • If it is truly a divine gift, it should be available and accessible to everyone — especially people who can’t afford it!
  • If it is truly a divine gift, you’d probably be called to practice it with disadvantaged populations  (Isn’t it interesting how most spiritual “masters,” “teachers” and “healers” have a largely white, upper-class client base?)
  • If it is truly a divine gift, the Universe should provide you with a way to heal others without harming yourself (by, say, going into debt or starving)

So if you’re unable to give your spiritual gift to others without receiving something in return, then (A) it’s not a gift, and (B) it’s not divine.

Why not say “I like doing this healing thing and I happen to be good at it, but I’m not in a position where I can do it without charging people”?
Go ahead, be a healer.  Just stop calling yourself divine. I’m pretty sure God’s will isn’t subject to capitalism. If you want to help people, that’s great — but it’s not necessarily mystically ordained, and it doesn’t automatically make you a Lightworker or Starseed or Indigo Child or whatever. It’s okay to be an ordinary person who enjoys helping people but also has to pay bills.

Basically what I’m saying is: watch that ego trap, it’s a real doozy.

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All of that said, when striving to make spiritual exchanges less egotistical, it’s not enough to simply remove money from the equation.

For example, my cult leader Arachne imposed a spiritual experience on me that literally saved my life. No money was exchanged. However, I became indebted to her in other ways. She wasn’t seeking money, but she was seeking power and control.
Friends have shared similar stories about being “spiritually blindsided,” “spiritually dominated” and otherwise deceived, even in contexts where money was never involved.

So what makes a spiritual gift, a gift?

Meaning: Under what circumstances is it actually beneficial for someone to share their spiritual gifts with you — whether that means sharing an intuitive dream they had about you, or using touch to heal your pain, or manipulating your energy field?

In my experiences with spiritual healers (and I’ve had plenty, both good and bad), I’ve come to find some key differences between the harmful ones versus the helpful ones. Hint: it has very little to do with how much they charge.

 

Harmful spiritual healers:

  • brag about how enlightened or advanced they are
  • expect/demand recognition for their talents
  • will try to heal you without your permission. They do not bother to obtain your informed consent.
  • show off their abilities. They use their gift to stroke their own ego.
  • leverage their “intuition” to control others’ lives (for example: If they don’t like your new boyfriend, they’ll say “My intuition told me you should break up with him.”)
  • don’t believe you are capable of helping yourself, and that you must completely surrender to them
  • patronize you for attempting to use your own spiritual gifts. They feel a need to stay above you.
  • assume that if it works for them, it must work for everyone
  • lambast other spiritual healers. They refuse to consider that other people may be as gifted as they perceive themselves to be.
  • are impatient about the process
  • blame you (or anyone but themselves) when the healing doesn’t work
  • still practice when they’re stressed, sick or angry — they don’t care how their bad mood will impact you as their patient
  • discourage you from taking medications or using any sort of tool (like a cane or hearing aid).

 

Helpful spiritual healers

  • are honest about who they are, their credentials and training, and their level of experience in their field
  • do not boast or brag about their gift. In some cases, you may have to find out about them “by accident” because they believe in letting the universe orchestrate their affairs.
  • will explain what they’re going to do and ask whether you’re ready and willing. They give you a chance to make an informed decision, and allow you to change your mind at any moment, even during the process.
  • will only use their gifts on you if you ask first, if you give them permission, or if it’s extremely urgent (such as a matter of life or death)
  • are happy to teach you their methods so that you can learn to heal yourself and become self-sufficient
  • recognize that they must meet you where you are, and will never patronize you for not ‘being at their level’
  • recognize that different things work for different people. Maybe reiki isn’t helpful to you. Let’s try something else, then!
  • are comfortable referring you to other healers, books, resources, etc. They don’t feel the need to “claim” and be your singular source of information.
  • are patient and understanding. They take the time to listen and fully understand your problem before proposing a solution, and they do not rush the process.
  • are accountable to some sort of authority. They acknowledge their limits and apologize when they mess up.
  • will be honest about their state of mind. If they are in a bad mood, they will let you know that they aren’t in the right headspace to work with you right now.

 

Sometimes a healer has qualities from both lists, so they have some maturing to do. Sometimes a person is well-intentioned but in the wrong field. Sometimes a bad healer can seem like they’re good for you. There’s a lot to consider when choosing a healer, just as there’s a lot to consider before choosing a doctor or school.

 

As for me personally, I find that the most healing experiences are the ones that happen synchronistically. In other words, it’s more often when I’m not looking for a healer (because I trust that everything is going to be okay, somehow, someway) that I cross paths with one. My good experiences with healers are always preceded by receptivity and consent, whereas the bad experiences are preceded by my own desperation, vulnerability and disempowerment.

But I don’t know. Maybe that’s just me. 😉

How about you all? What have you learned from your experience(s) with spiritual healers? Leave a comment below!

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2 thoughts on “On Spiritual “Gifts” that Come with a Price Tag

  1. HIIIII! So much to say to so much of this. But In particular, this post reminded me of a favorite article/writing from a site I stumbled upon by accident some years ago and continue to return to. It’s from some Seattle-based now-deceased buddhist teacher – and there’s a really lovely writing on “being gentle with oneself” that I often return to and a few others….but he wrote something i reread recently on “the uses and abuses of satsang” and i found it SO resonant and helpful to hang my own thoughts/experiences off of….will share it here:

    http://thewayofseeing.com/article_satsang.html

    “Satsang: Uses and Abuses

    “Spiritual growth is not signaled by unusual experiences but by the increasing fullness and satisfaction in your ongoing life.”
    by Ken Russell

    Too much has been made of the blessing of the guru. Many believe that satsang, (being in the presence of a guru either by yourself or in a group) is sufficient for growth, that just being with a guru will eventually cause enlightenment. Satsang does confer real benefit, but being in the presence of the teacher cannot by itself effect change as if by some miraculous power. This is a myth fabricated out of the hopes of people wishing to avoid the real work of self-transformation, a myth capitalized on by false or deluded teachers. Being accepted as a student and just simply being around a teacher, even when the teacher is fully evolved, is no guarantee of meaningful change. To truly benefit from a real teacher, students must provide the effort necessary to incorporate the teachings into their lives so that the possibilities they have glimpsed become part of their lives. The true teacher points students toward their possibilities, in the deepest sense.

    You may have observed that people can study with teachers for years with little change. If I let my students hang around me, we could have satsang one evening a week; we could have a group of people, raise hands and hum and chant, perhaps dance. Something would happen, something dramatic and uplifting. The students would have all kinds of experiences. Then they would discuss the experiences and convince themselves that something spiritual was happening. In fact, such unusual experiences may not be spiritual at all, and they do not change people; they merely entertain them. It becomes an event they look forward to, perhaps as a relief from their unfulfilled lives.

    The true blessing of the guru lies in the sense he or she gives you of your own unrealized potential, a sense of what you really are under all the conditioning, and the tools and understandings he or she gives you that you need in order to work on yourself. And, of course, the encouragement to keep at it. The possibilities shown by the teacher of what you can be in your fullness—those possibilities can initiate the process of change. I witnessed this in my own life when I met Joshu Sasaki Roshi, a Rinzi Zen master. Before meeting him, I had been working intensely on myself through whatever psychological tools seemed most appropriate—gestalt therapy, bioenergetics, encounter groups, reality therapy, and so on. Yet something was lacking in my life. I felt an undercurrent of dissatisfaction. No matter how much “progress” I made, something was missing.

    When I met Sasaki Roshi, I had a profound sense of being with someone who was present in a way I had never encountered before, and I knew this way of living to be of the utmost worth, a way of being fully alive while at deep peace. While I chose not to be his student, the sense that he gave me of my own possibilities radically altered my life. I shifted from psychological exploration to an investigation of the spiritual dimension. His presence has been with me all these years as an inspiration and a prod to my growth. Once I sensed the real possibilities of being, it was hard for me to stop anywhere short of that. This is the true blessing of a real teacher.

    A phenomenon that confuses many people is the energetic presence developed by certain individuals, a palpable field of energy around them that can be communicated to others. This energy field is not spiritual. It is just a subtle extension of the ordinary material world. It is about as spiritual as magnetic fields or electricity. It impresses us because it is so out of the ordinary that it appears miraculous. We might be awed by it the same way an aborigine would be awed by seeing a flashlight for the first time. We then mistakenly attribute special qualities to the person who created the field, particularly if the field induced altered states of consciousness in us and we experienced unusual phenomena. (Such energy fields can also be produced by group activities—there is a creation of a larger field in which we are caught up and carried along, also leading to interesting experiences for us. If you have ever been to a sporting event, a political rally, a protest, or an intensive group workshop, you have a sense of this group contagion.) It is interesting, exciting, but in no way spiritual.

    Yet we become confused because we believe that the very positive emotional states associated with energy fields are spiritual. It is true that these highly enjoyable states can be byproducts of spiritual growth, but to mistake this enjoyment and pleasure for spirituality is to miss the point. In a highly informative video called Hitler: A Career (Turner Home Video), you can see people going through religious ecstasies in the energetic presence of Adolf Hitler. I highly recommend this video as a sobering experience for anyone who does not understand that energetic or emotional highs have nothing to do with spirituality.

    In the mid-seventies, I learned an aspect of what has become transformational psychology. It involved channeling energy to others, generally producing altered states of consciousness. When I incorporated this in my teaching sessions, it allowed students to have very unusual, moving experiences that they relished. But I noticed that the students were not changing as quickly as they had in earlier, seemingly duller sessions. They were becoming addicted to the highs of the experiences, becoming so focused on these things that they neglected the more essential work needed to bring change into their daily lives. I no longer incorporate energy work in my teachings, finding more prosaic approaches to be far more effective in fostering lasting changes. The sessions may not be as exciting for students, but that is more than adequately compensated for by the increased fullness of their lives between sessions. And that is what matters—their lives are the focal point, not the sessions.

    While altered states of consciousness can open windows of possibilities for people—such as when a habitually tense and apprehensive person experiences a sense of joy and release from anxiety, thus providing the recognition that a better way of living is possible—if the teacher keeps on repeating such experiences, no matter how pleasurable or appealing they maybe for the student, these experiences hinder rather than help. Students must learn how to touch into these spaces for themselves, by themselves. It is the responsibility of the teacher to show students how to do this, how to create a sense of openness in which the conditioned aspects of the personality fall away and the deeper aspects of being emerge. The false, incompetent, or deluded teacher can hook the student on the pleasurable aspects of the experiences, and the student will then focus on these rather than on the changes needed for growth.

    Anyone who has learned to work with energy can create situations that alter the state of consciousness of others. And these approaches are so widely disseminated these days through books, tapes, and workshops that people who may be psychologically unbalanced or simply opportunistic are learning and using them. This energetic phenomenon is not in itself spiritual. It is the use made of this altered state of consciousness that is critical. When it stands out as being the most wonderful thing in your life, something you eagerly await, you may find yourself addicted to it as you might to a drug or power or sex.

    You then become distracted from the real work of transformation that—contrary to what appears in popular books—is often mundane and uneventful. Spiritual growth is not signaled by unusual experiences but by the increasing fullness and satisfaction in your ongoing life. It is our conditioned personality that has been raised on TV soap operas and the Hollywood version of life that craves the drama of highs. To settle for these highs, followed by the inevitable lows, is to miss the fullness of our selves. The spiritual is the vastness in which these events, and all others, occur.”

    Liked by 1 person

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