One of the most common deflection tactics used by insecure teachers in the spiritual subculture is what I call “deflected reality” or “debased reality.” When you offer a critique of a teacher, call out poor behavior or questionable morals, or question the teacher in any way you are told you are being “negative” or “defensive.” Or the teacher will say something like “maybe you should look inside yourself for the same qualities as I am just a reflection of you.” Maybe sometimes you’ll hear, “It sounds like you are really triggered right now, and maybe you should look at that, as your reactions are all about you.”
In of themselves, there is nothing wrong with these ideas. We should always do some self-reflection when we are in a moment of criticism. Any of these ideas can be true.
They CAN be true.
It doesn’t mean they ARE true.
And I will say that if a teacher immediately becomes defensive and lobs one of these at you, you are most likely right in what you see and they are insecure about being called out. Sometimes teachers are wrong. Good teachers know they can be wrong and know they will never get past the potential for being wrong. Good teachers know that when they are right, it doesn’t mean they are universally right nor is their knowledge necessary or appropriate for everyone’s path. Good teachers can have their own opinions and speak up for them without simultaneously denigrating or disrespecting your opinions.
At the very least, a good teacher will say something like, “Thank you for that, I can certainly take a look at what you are saying and consider it” even if they maintain their point of view. They have every right to their point of view and you have every right to yours. Sometimes those viewpoints will be compatible and sometimes they won’t, but a good teacher will never force compatibility and agreement where it does not naturally exist. They may offer ideas, thoughts, and teachings, but at the end of the day they will leave your opinion up to you.
I can’t tell you how many times I was called “dark, negative, and cold” for having boundaries in my early days of practice. I can’t tell you how many times I ignored that little voice telling me something was off because I was assured over and over by others that I was wrong in what I saw and felt. Since I didn’t trust myself as well back then, I thought they were right. This weird feeling I had must be wrong because my teacher must be right and all these people are telling me they’re right as well. It never occurred to me that I could be manipulated by a teacher or that others could be under their influence because I was young and naïve and thought, “they wouldn’t do that, they’re a yoga teacher.”
I know, I know, I’m giggling now too.
But when you’re first into the spiritual subculture it’s easy to be dazzled by fancy sounding language and tactics that debase your reality. It’s easy to just go along with the crowd as well. We all want to belong. We don’t want to be the one pointing out the emperor is actually naked and open ourselves to feeling isolated and alone. It just seems easier to pretend. The drive to belong is incredibly powerful and is used by the insecure to promote capitulation and agreement to maintain a sense of control and superiority.
Friends for my two cents: belong to yourself first. Learn how to listen to and trust yourself. Belong to your own heart, your own intellect, and your own unique take on the world. When you take time to do that, guided by teachers who really know what they are doing, then you can more easily pick up the spiritual BS when you hear it. It becomes very clear, and you will steer around it. You won’t have any problem calling out that the emperor has no clothes as he processes on by, and to extend the metaphor, you probably won’t even be at that parade anymore.
Spiritual practice is about helping you develop a good and accurate internal compass and a personal relationship to that which is greater than us, not about unquestioning devotion to a person or dogma. Never lay down your critical thinking and trust your gut. If something seems off, investigate it. Remember my friends that you are precious and you are worthy. You have the right to question those in whom you place your faith and trust. A teacher who is secure with themselves and what they know will not become defensive when you question them. They will invite your opinion, listen to you, and allow you to reach your own conclusion without trying to convince you of anything. They may offer their point of view, but they won’t force it on you. And if you choose to reject it, they won’t shame you for doing so. A good teacher helps you towards your own personal relationship with life and the universe, not imposing what they believe on you. Then, when the time is right, they set you off to create on your own. They know you are connected to the same guidance as they are, and they trust that connection to take you exactly where your path is supposed to take you. They have faith in you, in your strength, individuality, and point of view. They truly and in the best sense of the phrase, love you.
A few points to remember:
1. You are not being negative for calling out poor behavior.
2. You are not being negative for having an opinion.
3. You are not being negative for disagreeing with others.
4. Your sense of reality is valid.
5. You are never to blame for a teacher’s insecurity or poor behavior.
6. Good teachers invite questioning and disagreement.
7. You have every right to healthy boundaries and to say “no” to teachers.