The vast majority of people find their way to spirituality and self help through pain. This means they are in a state of distress. When people are in pain/distress they want two things, they want to heal (which is actual resolution for the problem itself) and they want immediate relief from the pain. But these two things can often be like two roads diverging in opposing directions.
You are familiar with anesthetics, otherwise known as painkillers such as Novocaine or Morphine. The benefits of anesthetics go without saying. But there is a downside to them if they are used in the wrong situations or the wrong ways. Pain exists for a reason. Pain is always the indication that something needs to be paid attention to, done or changed so a person can come back into alignment with wellbeing. For example, the pain of touching a hot stove is calling you to remove your hand. If you could not feel the pain, you would leave your hand on the stove and burn it completely. It is this misuse of painkillers that we need to be concerned with relative to spirituality. To understand more about this, you can watch my video titled: Spiritual Bypassing.
Physical anesthetics aren’t the only kind of painkiller. There are many painkillers that are behavioral and mental that can prove to be just as powerful as far as coping mechanisms go. What I want you to understand is that a coping mechanism infers no actual healing and no actual change. A coping mechanism is by definition a specific alteration that you make mentally, emotionally or physically so that you can manage or adapt to something that is causing you stress. It implies that you are not getting out of a distressing or painful situation, but rather finding ways to live with it. And for so many people, spirituality is just one giant coping mechanism. Religions have been teaching their congregations to use spirituality (and the different beliefs and practices inherent in it) as a coping mechanism for thousands of years. To learn more about this, watch my video titled: Spirituality, The Great Coping Mechanism.
I will never forget the first time I was hired to give a talk at a spiritual event many years ago. It was one of those expos where there are hundreds of booths selling spiritual products and over 30 speakers were hired and scheduled to speak throughout the event. Watching the people wander from room to room to listen to the speakers and watching them with their newly bought products reminded me of watching people in another place I had been… A methadone clinic. It was there that I coined the term “Novocaine Spirituality”. Spirituality can take you down either road, the road of expansion, awareness and healing. Or the road of coping, numbing, delusion and substitute addiction. Novocaine spirituality is the latter. Novocaine spirituality is those spiritual or self help beliefs, techniques, processes and products that do absolutely nothing to create awareness, expansion and change. Instead, it serves as a way to avoid or escape pain.
I’m going to tell you something sad. Many people, even teachers don’t know the difference. They can’t tell the difference between a coping mechanism and something that is genuinely healing and beneficial long term. What they experience is pain relief and assume something is being healed. Feeling better because you had an injection of Novocaine does not mean the broken bone is mended. And many genuinely healing things can in fact cause more pain in the short term. Many people don’t use these ‘Novocaine’ thoughts or techniques in the right way at the right time.
A sadder truth still is that many people in the spiritual field don’t care whether the spirituality they are delivering is simply Novocaine or not. They don’t care because coping and numbing and delusion and substitute addiction is what they, themselves are doing. They don’t care because it is immediate relief. It is what people are desperate for. Because of this, it is easy to sell and it guarantees to keep on selling. People flock to events and sit in the seats eager to get their “hit” of good feeling stuff. But because it is being used as a coping mechanism, nothing in their life actually changes. So their only hope of feeling good again is to come back for a hit again. These seminars and products fail to actually benefit someone at this point, instead, they become like a ‘fix’. People become addicted to Novocaine spirituality for the same reason that people get addicted to painkillers. To understand more about addiction, watch my video titled: Addiction and How To Overcome Addiction.
Am I advocating for no Novocaine? No. In fact, I will directly tell people to use these thoughts, beliefs, tools and techniques. Many of them are incredibly powerful and beneficial tools. What I am advocating for is for these things to be used consciously in the right times and right situations. Let me give you an example. Positive focus exercises can be used to pull yourself out of a downward spiral so you can actually focus on those steps that you need to take. They can also be used to bypass things that really need to change in your life. Using the metaphor, the first is Novocaine used properly. The second is Novocaine used improperly. Almost any spiritual or self-help technique that makes you feel better (some definitely more than others) have the potential to serve as spiritual Novocaine. Here is just a tiny list of things that could serve as spiritual Novocain:
- Positive focus exercises
- Gratitude exercises
- Religious or spiritual beliefs
- Present moment exercises
- Thoughts like “Anything that is happening is supposed to happen” “The physical is just an illusion” “It is what it is” “The universe will take care of it” “Darkness is always drawn to light” “We are all one” “All there is, is love” “You create your own reality” “It’s all perfect and in divine plan” etc. You will notice that thoughts that cause you to feel superior or safe or good or justified pose a particular risk.
- Talking with Spirit Guides and Angels
- Positive somatic resourcing
- Essential oils
- Positive oracle decks
- Listening to inspirational speeches
- Religious rituals or mantras
- Spiritual ‘medicines’ including shamanic plants and/or their compounds
- Workshops, Seminars and expos
- Energy Work
Notice how several of these things that could serve as spiritual Novocaine could just as easily serve to help someone awaken? This is one reason why it’s so hard for people to recognize when they are mis-using a spiritual or self help tool.
It is dangerous when we find ourselves in situations that are absolutely changeable, where we do have the power to diminish or eradicate the stressor, to not realize it. In these situations, in accordance with the illusion of powerlessness we perceive in ourselves, we simply immediately indulge in our Novocaine style spiritual or self-help coping mechanism instead of actually making necessary changes to our life.
When you are looking to get out of distress, you run the risk of selecting a spiritual belief and a spiritual teacher who enables, validates or creates the coping mechanism. When this happens, your ego has hijacked your spiritual practice so as to keep you away from feeling pain no matter the cost. In order to become fully conscious and to make the right choice of spiritual tool to use or to give to other people at a given time, we have to see the shadow side of all of our spiritual tools.
If you are interested in letting go of your coping mechanisms, including spiritual Novocaine, watch my video titled: How To Let Go of a Coping Mechanism. Take a look at the spiritual or self help thoughts, tools, techniques or practices that make you feel better. Make a list of them. How do they help you deal with distress? These tools may genuinely benefit you. But for the sake of this exercise, play the game of devil’s advocate. From this perspective, look for and argue the points against these things. How could each one be a pain killer like coping mechanism? If each one was a coping mechanism, what potential downsides could there be to that coping mechanism? How does each one not work?
By doing this exercise, you can become aware of some of the potential spiritual Novocaine in your life. You can open your mind wide enough to see the potential shadow side of every spiritual and self-help belief or tool you have become attached to. By doing this, you are less likely to succumb to the tool so that it uses you, instead of you using it. Awareness after all, is the primary agent for change.
I am asking you to develop genuine consciousness by taking each one of the spiritual beliefs and spiritual practices you have and ask yourself with an attitude of curious philosophical exploration: How could this potentially be a detriment to me and to those around me and to the world at large? What could be the negative side of this belief or practice?
So often people think they are becoming conscious and awakening, when in fact they are just developing stronger and stronger coping mechanisms. Stronger and stronger coping mechanisms that will backfire one day or that currently harm themselves and the world around them. You can relate to this by imagining that someone thinks they are healing when in fact, they have just managed to hook themselves up to a morphine drip.
Be sure that those things that belong to the spiritual and self-help world are things you are using for your expansion, awareness and healing rather than coping, delusion or numbing.