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.

 

An Annoying Epiphany

Skimming through Caroline Myss’s Sacred Contracts, I came across this underlined statement: “…choice is your greatest power. It is an even greater power than love, because you must first choose to be a loving person.” p. 17

The night before my recent birthday, I had planned on going out to an event. It had been in my calendar for weeks and I was very much looking forward to it. It was to be an early birthday present to myself. However, by the time I needed to really start getting ready to leave for this event, I had concluded that the series of unfortunate events and miscommunications of that day and the day before had robbed me of any ability to do anything other than lie down and cry myself to sleep. I was completely devastated at missing out on seeing friends and participating in something that I knew would have fed my starving soul. I napped for two hours and came up to have some dinner. I spoke with my partner and discussed what had transpired from my perspective. He gave me his perspective. While I was no longer faulting him, I was still deeply angry that it all happened the way it did, causing me to miss out on something so important to me.

When I awoke the next morning, my birthday, I was still in that state of anger. By this point, I was deliberately using my mood to cast a shadow over everyone who came near me, and I project my emotional state with sublime expertise. I have no poker face. After awhile, I started asking myself if I really wanted to stay angry on my birthday. That would be a lousy birthday present to myself, and that’s when things started to crumble. I thought to myself: Continue reading

Redefining Love

10 things you might not know about love
By Barbara Fredrickson

This article from CNN is just a teaser for Fredrickson’s new book, “Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become”. She couches these 10 things as lessons she has learned while writing the book.

Full disclosure: I agree 100% with what she states here in these lessons. I first read this article back in January or February and then again a couple of days ago when a friend posted it on the Book of Faces. I agreed with it the first time and nothing has changed in the past few months to alter that. I haven’t read Fredrickson’s book, but I’ve got it on hold at the library, so, soon.

There are two things that strike me most about these lessons. The first is that I’m completely enamoured of people who are able to find physical, biological evidence of something we generally perceive as intangible. It brings me joy. What? It really does! And no, I haven’t read Molecules of Emotion by Candace Pert, yet, but it’s on the list. I have read The Heart’s Code by Dr. Paul Pearsall, which I really enjoyed, despite the leaps of logic in several places. He could have used a more knowledgeable editor to point out some flaws in his arguments (or should have listened better if they were pointed out), but there’s a core element in his research that supports some of what Fredrickson lists in these 10 lessons, namely the link between love and eye-contact and the synchrony of biological functions when love is shared between individuals. I’ll be interested to learn whether she cites any of his work in her book.

The other thing that I really appreciate about Fredrickson’s 10 Lessons is that in presenting her findings, she makes love completely and utterly accessible:

“Love, as your body experiences it, is a micro-moment of connection shared with another.”

“In reality, you can experience micro-moments of connection with anyone — whether your soul mate or a stranger.”

“Love is a biological wave of good feeling and mutual care that rolls through two or more brains and bodies at once.”

This reminds me of a few things Amanda Palmer said in her TED Talk. When she worked as an 8-foot bride, and people dropped in money into her hat or her jar, she would offer a flower and “some intense eye contact.” She then says that she had

“the most profound encounters with people, especially lonely people who looked like they hadn’t talked to anyone in weeks, and we would get this beautiful moment of prolonged eye contact being allowed in a city street, and we would sort of fall in love a little bit. And my eyes would say, ‘Thank you. I see you.’ And their eyes would say, ‘Nobody ever sees me. Thank you.'”

Here we have anecdotal evidence outside of the research of both Pearsall and Fredrickson of eye contact and the emotion of love. Here we have that “micro-moment of connection shared with another”.

When I first heard Palmer’s talk, this part really stood out for me. Anything that makes love more accessible and more universal and not something über special and SCARCE hits me where I live. It speaks to me in a way that resonates so thoroughly as to be unable to deny its inherent truthfulness. Love is a micro-moment of shared connection with someone, no matter who they are. That person on the subway you’ve never seen before and will possibly never see again: your eyes meet theirs for a couple of heartbeats, you both smile, and you both feel brighter, lighter for that moment and a bit thereafter. And it’s an experience you can think of forever after and it can bolster you, lift your spirits. That’s love, plain and simple.

On a personal note, I find it curious that there are certain friendships I have where I feel comfortable telling the other person that I care about them, even care deeply for them, but I don’t want to say that I love them, even though I know that’s exactly what it is. It’s as though that word holds too much baggage and expectation, when it’s just honest truth.

There. Is. So. Much. Cultural. Baggage. Surrounding. Love.

What I find interesting is that the blog post that has, far and away, gotten more hits than any other I have ever posted anywhere is the one entitled, The BS We Believe About Love. It’s still getting looked at over a month later. People are ready for a shift in perspective with respect to how we think about love, and the brilliant article by Justine Musk that I link to in that post really addresses a lot of the baggage we have associated with Love, up to and including the idea of a Soul Mate.

In Fredrickson’s 10 Things article, she writes, “In reality, you can experience micro-moments of connection with anyone — whether your soul mate or a stranger.” Here, Fredrickson is referring to our cultural definition of what a soul mate is — that special person you connect with so well as to believe this person completes you, is your other half, etc.

In her article, Musk references Caroline Myss’s definition of soul mate:

A soulmate is the person who makes your soul grow the most.

A soulmate, she added, could be anyone. Anyone. A lover, a spouse, a friend, a family member…or even an adversary.

I love that she includes adversary here because it’s important that we consider this with respect to people who’ve helped us grow. I would add to Myss’s definition by stating that if love can manifest in a shared micro-moment of connection, then a soul mate can be someone who makes your soul grow the most in that moment, or at that particular time in your life. Someone who provides some sort of insight that really launches you forward on whatever path you’re on. If love can be shared between anyone you can connect with, even so briefly as a shared micro-moment of connectivity, I believe that, as a corollary, a soul mate is anyone who helps further your growth in a profound way but not necessarily “the most” overall. It could be a single positive or negative comment from a teacher, a squeeze of your hand from a nurse during a moment of need that sends you on a cascade of realizations about how connected we all are, a friend who finally accepts your help thus releasing all the pent up assistive energy you’d been holding onto for far too long… It could be all three of these things and so much more.

We have this notion that soul mates are one in a million. They are golden needles in The Grand Haystack of Interpersonal Relationships, the holy grail of quests for each of us. And I won’t buy into it. I can’t. This cultural concept we have about soul mates creates an emotional environment of scarcity and lack, deprivation, depression, profound loneliness, ill-placed expectation. And it makes me believe that we’ve got it all wrong. I really love what Myss has to say about soul mates, but I’m taking it a step further.

If we can have one-night stands and accept those as reality, if we now know that that moment of shared eye contact and mutual smile with a stranger on the street truly is a micro-moment of love — if we can “fall in love a little bit” with an absolute stranger, then I believe we also have the capacity to accept the notion that someone can be our soul mate In That Moment. A shared micro-moment of growth through connectivity.

What this means is that we can have multiple soul mates across the span of a single lifetime. Myss’s definition already removes soul mate from romantic love, but it’s still limited to whomever makes your soul grow “the most”. What about, “the most” that year? Or that week? Or that day? Or that era in your life? Or on that matter that’s been a sticking point for you for the past 3 decades that you’ve finally been able to work through? Challenging our socio-cultural definition of soul mate creates an opportunity for us to expand our definition of both love and connection to the world around us. Both are made more accessible and universal.

Does this, then, cheapen and diminish the concept of soul mate? No. Not inherently. Let’s return to one of the 10 Things from Fredrickson’s article:

8. Don’t take a loving marriage for granted.

Writing this book has profoundly changed my personal view of love. I used to uphold love as that constant, steady force that all but defines my marriage. While that constant, steady force still exists, I now see our bond as a product of the many micro-moments of positivity resonance that my husband and I have shared over the years. This shakes me out of any complacency that tempts me to take our love for granted. Love is something we should re-cultivate every single day.

If love needs to be re-cultivated each and every day, at every opportunity, then this dismisses the idea that if we fall in love with someone then that love will last forever. Divorce statistics and breakups prove this already, but there’s a part of us, generally speaking, that really REALLY wants to believe that love lasts forever between two people, that, if once, then happily ever after. The marketing geniuses at jewelry stores really exploit this romantic ideal and to our collective psycho-emotional detriment. Never mind song writers. And Don’t even get me started on fairy tales and Disney. Not here, not yet. I’m saving that because WOW. I want to be able to do it justice and I haven’t done nearly enough research there.

Love is not a thing that automatically lasts forever between two people. “Love is a biological wave of good feeling and mutual care that rolls through two or more brains and bodies at once.” It is something we can fall into, the way we fall into step with one another. The way we can be on the same wavelength. The way we can work harmoniously with each other, finding resonance in what the other person thinks and how they express themselves.

It does not serve us to believe that having multiple soul mates throughout our lifetime cheapens and diminishes the idea of what a soul mate is. What it does, instead, if we really look at it, is lend itself to an aura of absolute gratitude for all those people and, yes, even animals, who have helped us grow, expand our perspective, help us advance on our path, and become more ourselves. Conscious awareness of all those micro-moments, all those moments of tenderness and trial, all those opportunities for growth bring us closer to Love.

Love is so much more than we believe it to be and so different in many ways from how we think of it. It is what helps us grow emotionally and spiritually. It is what helps us live longer, through boosting our immunity and health. It is what makes us feel safe. It provides innumerable positive feedback loops that echo throughout our lives and radiate outwards towards others.

The biggest cumulative lesson in all of this is becoming consciously aware of all the ways love touches our lives, all the different guises it comes in, and all the ways that we confuse it for what it isn’t.

Fredrickson is spot on when she chose the title for her book: Love 2.0. We’re ready for a newly expanded and updated version of Love. A new definition. What’s actually happening here, though, is not that love is changing — we are. Love isn’t getting updated, we are collectively evolving toward a more expansive vision. Love will always be what love has always been. We’re moving towards understanding that much of what we called love isn’t love at all. We’re moving towards understanding that love doesn’t have nearly as many limitations as we’ve placed upon it. It’s far simpler and far more pervasive and expansive than we still have yet to imagine. Slowly but surely, we’ll get there. Together. With shared micro-moments of love nudging us onward.