As you know I am a leader in the field of spirituality, health and wellness. For this very reason, what I am about to say may shock you. And I am asking you to let it shock you. Let it shock you awake. Let it shake your reality because the reality that you have created, may just be built on shaky foundations.
The reality that we need to look around and see and accept is that most spiritual practice (and this includes health and wellness practice) is nothing more than one giant coping mechanism.
What does it mean to cope? It means to deal with something difficult. What is a coping mechanism? A coping mechanism is an adaptation we make that enables us to deal with a difficult environmental stress that we feel we cannot change or eliminate. The adaptation we make causes us to feel like we have control over the way we feel and behave.
We react to stressors mentally in the form of a thought (like “I can’t handle this”). This then converts into an emotion (like panic). This causes us to have a physical response (like our heart racing and a sensation of unbearable constriction). This then converts into a behavior (like drinking alcohol or running out the door). Coping mechanisms are strategies that interfere with any part of this flow chart of reactivity.
Looking at that definition it is easy to see that you could go left or right with a coping mechanism. You could create one that benefits you and people around you and you could create one that harms you and the people around you. We all grasp this concept because looking at that definition; we can see that drowning yourself in alcohol is a coping mechanism that many people use to deal with the distress of their jobs. Just go to a city like London any time after dark to see how much this coping mechanism is put to use. It is easy to see that this coping mechanism harms not only the drinker, but often the people around the drinker. We can also see that using a coping mechanism, like changing the meaning you have added to a painful experience that is out of your control can potentially greatly benefit the person who is in pain and also the people around them.
But what if the coping mechanism that you thought were benefitting you and the people around you was not actually doing that? What if it was actually a detriment to you and a detriment to the people around you, including the world itself and you just didn’t see it? What I am about to propose is that the spiritual, health and wellness field is littered and full to the brim with these kinds of coping mechanisms and beliefs that feed these coping mechanisms. Coping mechanisms that you think benefit you, but that are a detriment to you and to other people and to the world. The spiritual, health and wellness field is also littered with coping mechanisms that should be used in one situation or in response to one stressor but that should be avoided at all costs in another situation or in response to another stressor.
The coping mechanisms that are detrimental always backfire eventually. They may work to alleviate pain in the short term but they create either worse pain in the long run. Or simply create a different kind of pain. Many of them function like a pain medication. They stop us from feeling pain. But we have to ask ourselves, is this always the best course of action? Sometimes if you use a strategy to numb the pain of a current situation, you stay in a detrimental situation. You just don’t feel it anymore.
We can generalize that there are 8 main types of coping mechanisms.
- Avoidance mechanisms, which help you to avoid the stress.
- Attack mechanisms, which deflect the stress and pain we feel onto other people instead.
- Behavioral Mechanisms, which change what we do in response to the stress.
- Adaptive Mechanisms, which offer constructive help for the distress.
- Cognitive Mechanisms, which change what we think in a situation where we are faced with distress.
- Defense Mechanisms, which enable us to defend ourselves against the perceived stressor.
- Self Harm Mechanisms, which hurt ourselves to try to sedate or resolve the distress.
- Conversion Mechanisms, where our emotional and psychological distress manifests as physical symptoms that act as a communication strategy.
The point of this episode is not to go into detail about the endless list of coping mechanisms that can fit into each category of coping mechanism. The point is get you to see how nearly all of the spiritual tools you have learned, including the ones that I, myself have given you, are in fact nothing more than coping mechanisms. Let that scare you a little bit.
Be brave enough to take a look at your favorite spiritual practices; the tools that you, yourself use to cope with distress. Can you see if they fit into one of these categories of coping mechanisms or not?
I am not suggesting that all of these tools are bad and should be discarded because they are coping mechanisms. I am suggesting two things:
- That by definition, a coping mechanism is an adaptation that we make to something distressing to us that we think we cannot change. Therefore, if something we are doing is a coping mechanism, we must consider that we may just be adapting to something that shouldn’t be adapted to, but that should in fact be changed.
- That many of the coping mechanisms you think benefit you and the people around you, and the world at large, may just be doing the opposite and you just don’t see it from your current perspective.
I am asking you to develop genuine consciousness by taking each one of the spiritual beliefs and spiritual practices you have and asking 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 shadow side of this belief or practice? If you need help with this, take each one and compare it to a full list of specific coping mechanisms (you should be able to find these kinds of lists online by doing a basic search in any online search engine) And it will be easier to see the potential detriment that exists.
For example, one of the common spiritual beliefs that people hold that is assumed to be good for everyone is: It is all perfect, everything is happening in accordance with a divine plan. Clearly, suspending the idea that this belief is either true or not true, you can see this is a cognitive coping mechanism. Now think about the harm this belief could do to someone. They could take no action in the face of atrocity when action is absolutely necessary. They could sit back and watch as a world goes to war and tragedy occurs, letting other people suffer alone as they sit in a space of approval of it. This could be a form of denial, which is in fact a well-studied coping mechanism. Now think abut the harm this could do to other people. Imagine a woman whose child has just been crushed to death in an automobile accident. Imagine how she will feel if you tell her that it is all-perfect, everything is happening in accordance with a divine plan. Now, she is completely isolated in her pain. On top of that, you are telling her that there is no good reason for her to be in pain; in fact her pain is only caused by her ignorance of the divine plan. Guess what, we have a word for this. It is called emotional abuse.
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. We have to see the shadow side of spirituality in and of itself. And yes, this time it is the Atheists that saw it clearly. Most people on this earth find their way to spirituality specifically because they are in distress. Spirituality becomes their way to deal with the distress. So what did the Atheists see that we need to see? They saw that the shadow side of spirituality is that it is one giant coping mechanism. A sedative and a painkiller for the masses. Think about how dangerous that could be. Think about how that could in fact be the exact opposite of conscious.
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. What if the coping mechanism you think is positive is actually negative? What if the spiritual belief or practice you hold to feeds unconsciousness instead of consciousness?
The reality is that we want to be the one who copes with the world the best. These are the gurus and spiritual teachers and the people that we exalt the most. We want to get out of the stress and the pain. So we glorify and worship and idolize and hold ourselves up against the standard of these people who, unlike us, seem to not be in distress within the world at all. But be careful, he who copes with the world the best is often the one who will do the very least to change it. Instead, he will often do the very most to teach everyone else how to cope with it.
If your spiritual practice is something you use to cope with distress, that isn’t wrong. It also doesn’t make spirituality wrong. And provided that you genuinely cannot change a situation that is causing you distress (which believe me is often a matter of perspective), there are coping mechanisms that will in fact benefit you and the world around you. But stay open to the idea that what benefits you today, may be a detriment to you tomorrow. Be open to the idea that what sets you free today, may imprison you tomorrow. Be open to the idea that what you think benefits you and the people around you, may actually harm both you and the people around you. Be open to the idea that these beliefs and practices that we think benefit us, but that actually harm us, may be some of the most sacredly revered and widely held spiritual beliefs in existence.
In a previous episode I said that the dream that will not die in those who have an inclusive consciousness, those who have had a secondary awakening, is the dream of creating a world that people do not have to cope with. And after all, if we are the creators of our reality, there is no good reason to argue that it is better to cope with the world as it is, than it is to change the world itself into something that doesn’t have to be coped with.