Updated: Jul 18
As some of you may know, I've considered myself a spiritual person for about 6-7 years now. I've learned so many things upon coming into this journey (a lot of which I wish I knew about earlier, but, I digress), and of course there are still things I am continuing to learn because that's just the nature of life. But, I'd be lying to you if I didn't admit that I've spent most of my time limiting my understanding of spirituality as a "healing journey." I've spent most of my spiritual journey ruminating about my traumas, my hurt, and how I could get better because that's what I was taught that spirituality was: healing. But, over time I began to notice that I wasn't getting actually better. I became much more self-aware, but nothing was really stopping these harmful cycles that I was trying to bring to an end in my life.
When we get introduced to spirituality here in the U.S. it is really tempting, particularly to those of us that are survivors of severe trauma: the tarot readings that tell you a little bit more about yourself, crystals that can apparently improve your mental/physical health, a community that preaches so much about love/oneness, a promise of healing, and a fluffy narrative that your pain is meaningful. We buy into this because it's "safe." We buy into this because we need to. We buy into this because we want a reason. We buy into this to find community. We buy into this because we want to discover a sense of purpose; hope.
Spirituality gives us the incentive we need to move on and find a sense of direction when we're feeling lost in our lives and disconnected from ourselves. But unfortunately, that's exactly where the trap begins.
Allow me to clear a couple of things up: using healing practices in your spirituality is healthy, but limiting your spirituality to self-healing isn't. Let's talk about why.
I recognize spiritual practice objectively as a vow to recognize the importance of connection through prioritizing love. I truly feel like that's a goal we all aspire to within our spirituality, no matter how we phrase our intentions. Whether the intention is "I want to learn more about myself spiritually" or "I want to heal myself" or "I want to connect more with my body/improve my health." The root of all human fulfillment is our proximity to connection. So with this understanding of spirituality, we can start to understand how a very individualistic idea of spirituality like "self-healing" can be very limiting.
When we set the intention of our spiritual practice as self-healing, it can easily become all-consuming. We're consuming tons of content that are telling us how we can be better, why we're troubled, and where we're supposed to be. This, at first, feels comforting because it seems like we're finally getting some sense of direction and purpose when it comes to our own self-improvement, but the truth of the matter is: it is not healthy to be consuming self-healing content every single day. It doesn't actually help us improve, it gives us validation to ruminate on the past and our traumas, and takes us away from the present moment where the real "work" needs to be done (and just affects our overall joy in our lives). This kind of habit promotes further disconnection within ourselves and teaches us to internalize self-improvement as a chore. This causes us to become very militant with getting "rid" of all of our "shadows," (the parts of ourselves that we deny, disown, reject) which isn't realistic, nor an obtainable goal. These parts of ourselves that we don't like were formed for a reason, typically for our own safety/protection. The urge that you're experiencing to get "rid" of these "shadows" is you just understanding that these habits/perspectives/fears that you've adapted aren't doing their job of efficiently meeting your needs anymore, and that is a very expected part of growth.
So no, the desire for self-improvement isn’t harmful in itself, but our ways of self-healing can really dig a very deep pit for ourselves when we forget that there is no end to healing. Self-improvement is not a destination more than it is a journey, because we’ll always be learning and unlearning in our lives. And if you do fail to remember that, you'll never feel fulfilled with yourself.
It is more productive to internalize the importance of knowing your own limits with self-improvement in your spiritual practices and understand what your own personal journey should look like depending on your personal needs and boundaries because no spiritual practice is a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. Your practice is meant to be personal and attuned to your needs, and it will also be subject to change as your life continues to change! Listen to your intuition and greater judgment about the things you'd like to keep constant while learning in your journey.
But this isn’t your fault as an individual person trying to find your way that you have a limiting idea of spirituality, because these experiences don’t exist in a vacuum. Western spirituality is obsessed with self-improvement. And it is because of its roots in white supremacy, capitalism, and ableism.
We are consistently taught that the “quality” of the work we do is a direct reflection of our (human) value and what we deserve, especially here in America. Unfortunately our spiritual beliefs aren’t really much different.
If we meditate enough we’ll reach nirvana, if we pray/repent enough we’ll be forgiven of our sins, if we repeat enough affirmations we’ll begin to manifest money, if we get rid of our ego we’ll understand true peace, if we are modest enough we’ll be in closer proximity to godliness, if we love ourselves enough and work on our karma we'll finally reunite with our twin flame. And the list just goes on and on.
These hyper-individualistic beliefs permeate our spiritual beliefs because they're a reflection of the systemic oppression we experience and the society that we are born in, but they're not an accurate reflection of how we should be connecting with ourselves and working through our traumas (some of which are because of systemic oppression).
We can never reach our full potential as spiritual beings when capitalism continues to permeate our practices because capitalism is a form of spiritual imprisonment and prioritizes self-abandonment.
These hyper-individualistic ideas of endless self-improvement and spiritual perfection that are taught to us only capitalize off of our desperate need for self-approval, and induce more shame. We will never feel fulfillment with our journey if you feel like there's always some "goal" you should be aspiring to.
This shift in understanding is crucial for redirecting our focus in our spiritual practices that are healthy: focusing more on practices that center joy and find satisfaction with where we are, instead of the pursuit of constantly focusing on where we feel we need to be.
Spirituality is not all about healing because life is not all about healing. That is not life, that is labor. And remember that spirituality is not a full replacement for other kinds of professional help you could be getting for your healing process if you need that.
So once again reader, I say to you: it is okay to not have all of your "work done" within yourself, because you truly never will. Sometimes, it's okay to let that be enough.
Know when it's enough.