Shooting the mystic messenger: ad hominem attacks and the shadow self

I’ve always liked Caroline Myss. Her attitude of frustration and chastisement make me laugh. People get so upset when they hear her speak because they can’t handle that she doesn’t adhere to their preconceived notions of what a mystic or healer should be like. Reading the comments on any of her youtube videos are a fancy trip through the land of shattered expectations.

People read her books or hear of her reputation and then, when they listen to her CDs or watch her recorded workshops and interviews, they are severely put off by her at-times-gruff and -impatient attitude towards others who aren’t on the same page as her – those who are, in fact, several pages or a book or so away from her, so to speak.

I love her for what she has to offer and what she has to share. I particularly love how human her impatience and frustration are. She is not the mighty alfather counterpart: the palpable and obvious embodiment of a nurturing and compassionate mystic almother. She’s prickly and brooks absolutely no bullshit. In short, she’s… *gasp* …imperfect.

People can’t handle that.

People certainly can’t handle that so-called imperfection in someone who has been positioned as being a teacher of healing and spiritual wisdom.

After all, isn’t she supposed to follow her own teachings consistently and flawlessly? How can she so judgmentally and arrogantly call people ‘stupid’ when elsewhere she espouses not judging people? And then those same people become dismissive of what she has to share, missing out on the meat of the message. They would rather spend their energy shooting the messenger than to look at themselves and discern and discover why they have a problem with how Myss relays her message.

There is a logical fallacy called ‘ad hominem’, wherein you attack your opponent’s character in order to undermine their argument without having to engage with it. And while those critics may believe that they are engaging with Myss’s teachings by applying them to her own way of being, they’re failing to engage with it in a way that shows they’re applying her teachings to their own way of being, as well. They would rather focus on the one finger pointing at her rather than the three pointing back at them. How convenient. How safe for them.

This is what is happening with respect to Caroline Myss and any other in-the-trenches mystic and teacher. Really, it happens with anyone in any capacity. People Want Integrity And Honour. We need it. We crave it. But we keep looking outside ourselves for it, feeling like we need to see it in others before we can embody it ourselves, rather than doing the work to get ourselves where we wish others to be. And if anyone, who otherwise has amazing wisdom to share, shows any hint of a lack of honour or integrity (or any other perceived-as-negative human quality like impatience or frustration), then we knock them off their pedestal and crap-talk them in a flurry of disappointment because they failed to meet our (unrealistic) expectations of what a Saviour is supposed to be. And then we walk away in a huff, consoling our bruised egos with vows to forever never listen to that person again because what a sham they are tsk tsk.

We want so badly to be saved from our woes that we put so much hope and faith into the teachers. Never mind that the teachers themselves are still learning and are telling us to focus on having faith in ourselves. We however continue, collectively, to put our faith in someone outside ourselves. And then we get upset and disillusioned and angry and frustrated and embittered when that person fails to uphold the unspoken agreement of being absolutely flawless and perfect.

In this interview with Lilou Mace, Myss is plainly herself as she always is.

whiteangel7777777 shares in the comments: “I am surprised by her attitude, she comes off being hard and very judgmental, and bitter. I just finished her video on Why people don’t heal, and in it she is saying not to judge people or say negative things about others because it drains your energy and here this is what she is doing almost on every subject Lilou asks about. Was not expecting this…from Caroline Myss.”

whiteangel7777777 appears not to be able to handle Myss’s realness. That is, the reality of her own humanity. She plainly states that she wasn’t expecting this from Myss, phrasing and textually articulating it with the ellipses in such a way as to put Myss on a pedestal while simultaneously knocking her off it.

Ruben Haro comments: “Despite her wisdom, she STILL has a lot of SHADOWS. Beautiful nonetheless, but another intellectual, lineal minded interview.”

He writes as though having SHADOWS is a bad thing. The truth of the matter is that we all have shadows. Part of what we need to do during this lifetime is embrace our shadow side and make peace with it. Suppressing it or attempting to get rid of it only strengthens it. Owning that part of yourself is one of the most humbling, freeing, and important things you can do.

I admit to wondering if any of these people have ever read anything that Myss has written or if their only experience of her is via youtube. I wonder this because she has written about being a modern-day mystic in the real world and not being a traditional, cloistered mystic, segregated and sequestered from society as a whole. Mystics who work and live in this world have far more to balance than those sequestered and cloistered. Instead of the silence afforded them by nature or church or cell, they have to deal with traffic and the onslaught of news and being around the emotional noise of the rest of the world. This grates and rubs. They are confronted with far more opportunities to address their ‘negative’ aspects than the holy hermit mystic who is protected from the stimuli of mundane modernity. And we chastise them for not being the image of perfection that we demand them to be, rather than having a sense of gratitude for the wisdom that they share and a sense of compassion for the challenges they face. When we take this attitude of frustration, we show how much empathy we lack… and we mirror the behaviour that we criticize.

I also admit to wondering whether these critics are aware of their own judgmental responses and whether they know anything about the hardships that mystics tend to face in their own personal lives, in addition to the noise of everyday life.

What I loved most about this particular interview between Caroline Myss and Lilou Mace was that Lilou asked Caroline about her own hardships and, at first, she refused to talk about them, saying that she didn’t know how that could possibly help anyone. But then she started talking about the seizures she’d had and how terrifying the unpredictability of the condition was, and I found it to be the most important part of this whole interview – possibly one of the most important elements of any online interview or workshop I’ve yet seen from her. She was human enough to want to withhold that information because her experiences were hard and humbling and it’s not fun to revisit those experiences because doing so calls up a sense of powerlessness that makes us feel extremely uncomfortable, no matter the level of faith we have. But I am deeply deeply grateful for what she shared. It helped me frame my own experiences of being in the trenches and learning to navigate some fairly grueling and out-of-the-ordinary experiences.

All of this reminds me of how judgmental I have been in the past with other wisdom-sharers. There is an extremely talented person with whom I have had the pleasure of working, who is well-regarded in her field and very adept at what she does. And she smokes. And I find that hard to reconcile still, even though I have a far better understanding of why I have that judgment there. I have, in the past, thought to myself: “How can she be so skilled and so talented and still not be able to beat a nicotine addiction? How can I respect that? So many other people have quit. Why can’t she? How can she be powerful at all and still have this fault? How can I possibly believe anything she has to say if she can’t get it together and stop smoking?”

In “Saint John of the Cross: Life, Poetry & Teachings of Saint John of the Cross (1542-1591)” by Timothy Conway, he quotes Saint John’s writings in which he states: “the holier a man is, the gentler he is and the less scandalized by the faults of others, because he knows the weak condition of man”.

We demand integrity of others and when people whose teachings we respect appear to fall short of our expectations, we tar and feather them. But rarely do we ever look at them with compassion, nor do we look at ourselves to determine if we show as much integrity as we wish those “disappointing” teachers demonstrated.

We are still looking outside ourselves for Saviours, instead of looking to ourselves. When we do this, we fail to see the value in the faults of others and what they can show us about ourselves. When we see imperfection in those whom we expect to be perfect and then chastise and admonish them that imperfection, it shows us how critical, judgmental, and unforgiving we are with regard to our own imperfections, flaws, and faults.

None of us are perfect and being intuitive does not mean that we are automatically spiritual. Myss plainly says that it doesn’t take anything particularly special to be intuitive – that gamblers are some of the most intuitive people she knows. Gamblers are not known for their integrity or their compassion. Accompanying this assertion is the reality of the juxtaposition of positivity and negativity/integrity and hypocrisy/honesty and falsehood contained within a single person, whether gambler or mystic. It brings forth a more realistic perspective of the multidimensionality of each of us. The “both…and” of existence.

“There is nothing about intuition that you should associate with a good person. ‘Oh, I’m intuitive.’ The implication from a lot of people is, ‘I’m holy. I’m special.’ Oh for God’s sake. Some of the most intuitive people I know are gamblers. You don’t think criminals are good intuitives?! Are you crazy?! Why haven’t they been caught? What do you think the Wall Street guys are, if not damn good intuitives? Snap out of it! You can’t afford these mythologies that allow you to think this nonsense – that this is a high-voltage spiritual skill or that eating cucumbers and tomatoes somehow or other makes you a better person – and pinenuts and powerbars (yech!) – than if you ate a steak. What makes you a better person is having integrity and not betraying yourself or someone else. I’d take someone who ate catfood and I knew was honest than someone who ate all that organic junk but couldn’t ever say an honest thing. Gimme a catfood person with integrity any day of the week.” 15:58-17:34, Caroline Myss- Medical Intuition: An Exploration into the science and art of healing – 2014

It is our shadow self that makes us believe that we have a free pass in criticizing another person by pointing out their perceived flaws. It is our shadow self that dismisses what another person has to say because they don’t like the packaging it comes in. It is our shadow self that refuses to look at our own flaws because it is afraid of what might be there. It is our shadow self that inflates the ego and idealizes ourselves over others. Coming to terms with that means eschewing the holier-than-thou ad hominem attacks in favour of the more truly holy attitude of forgiving people their faults and showing them the compassion you would want them to show you when you face your own challenges.

This is coming to terms with our shadow self.

When we are able to do that, we are able to get more out of life because we are free to see more of the picture. It’s much like climbing a mountain. The people farther up the mountain see a different view than those who haven’t made it that far. But the ones who’ve climbed farther aren’t any better than anyone else for having done the climbing. They are no more worthy of respect and dignity and honour than the person at the corner store who was crabby to you because she was having a bad day, or the person who is homeless because they lost their job and became too overwhelmed to be able to keep things together.

We’re all human, after all. And if the person who has a wider perspective on life wants you to see what she sees and is frustrated that you aren’t willing or ready to see it and can see all the collective hardships that come from not being able to see certain parts of the overall picture, then she’s frustrated and that’s normal and human and an aspect of her shadow self. Getting angry with your friend because she’s so excited for you to come visit her a few miles up ahead but omg you’re taking forEVER to get there and she can see what you’re doing and wishes you would see things her way so that you can get to see the cool things she’s seeing… well… that’s all normal, too, and an aspect of the shadow self.

I’m not going to defend the frustration or harshness that Myss can and has embodied in her talks and interviews, but neither will I defend the criticism of those who refuse to take a look at their own lives to see if they’re living up to the standards they expect her to live up to. However, I will say that I understand both sides of the situation and feel for both sides. Neither side is wrong and both perspectives deserve validation and acknowledgement.

The trek is arduous, my friends. It is arduous and amazing, challenging, and very dark at times. The vistas can be so stunningly and breathtakingly beautiful, though. Be soft in your judgments, kind with yourself and with others and work very diligently to be unabashedly and courageously honest with yourself about who you are and how you move through this world. You’ve already come so far.