“Contradictions, whether personal or social, that could once remain hidden are coming unstoppably to light. It is getting harder to uphold a divided self….The trend toward transparency that is happening on the systems level is also happening in our personal relationships and within ourselves. Invisible inconsistencies, hiding, pretense, and self-deception show themselves as the light of attention turns inward….The exposure and clearing of hidden contradictions brings us to a higher degree of integrity, and frees up prodigious amounts of energy that had been consumed in the maintenance of illusions. What will our society be capable of, when we are no longer wallowing in pretense?”
~ Charles Eisenstein
A blog post by Harv Bishop (LINK) this week brought up a very significant question about leadership and shadow in New Thought organizations and spiritual communities. The Eisenstein quote above came to mind as I thought about the dynamics of the question – it is ultimately one of integrity.
The topic of the post is about how some practitioners (trained spiritual prayer partners) in Centers for Spiritual Living (CSL) spiritual communities have become alienated due to rigid requirements about financial support to their spiritual community and unfeeling/unskilled leaders essentially failing to see their humanity.
I believe that the issue goes much deeper and has a number of “tentacles” – some organizational and some psychological – which have led to this moment when this issue is being addressed out loud (at least in the blogosphere and on some social media). This is more complex than it might seem at first glance, both for leadership and for followership. Let’s examine a couple here.
One organizational issue is the structure of the Practitioner system in Centers for Spiritual Living. Bishop writes, “These highly trained professionals pray for and help people change their thinking. They can be thought of as the special forces of the New Thought movement. Practitioners serve as prayer volunteers within churches and do not receive a salary from their sponsoring churches. They can charge clients for their services if they start a private spiritual counseling practice. Becoming a practitioner is also a first step to ministerial studies.” To become a licensed practitioner takes about 4 years of study with testing along the way. Once licensed, there are requirements for ongoing education, etc. Practitioners serve “at the pleasure” of the spiritual leader of a spiritual community.
The original idea of Ernest Holmes in the 1920’s was to teach and license practitioners who would go into private practice, generally following the successful model of Christian Science at the time (Holmes studied Christian Science briefly). This was before the idea of churches or spiritual communities had been introduced into Religious Science (Now CSL). The 6-week course at the Institute in Los Angeles resulted in a license to be a Practitioner of Religious Science and do Spiritual Mind Treatment for clients.
Well, so far so good. However, it was soon learned that some of the folks who became licensed were doing all kinds of things under their license which were not at all related to being a Practitioner of Religious Science. No need to go into detail, but the Institute and Dr. Holmes came to see that they could not enforce policies on these independent actors. So, after grappling with a number of alternatives, it was reluctantly decided to start churches with ministers to whom the practitioners would be assigned. The ministers would oversee the practitioners, who were still thought to be professionals who would earn their main living from being a practitioner.
Jump ahead nine decades, and we have thousands of practitioners around the globe, with perhaps a small handful (if any) making a living from their efforts; most practitioners today barely make enough to cover their license renewal fee, if we are to be candid. An increasing number do not charge for their services at all.
The organizational issue is that the practitioner program as it operates today is very different than the Founder’s vision, yet the basic structure and expectations have changed very little since 1930. The only significant change is that the 6 week program has been expanded to at least 4 years. Spiritual leaders feel compelled to perpetuate the idea of the Founder, at least to a degree, and thus find themselves in a very difficult position in terms of setting expectations. So, a major issue involved in Harv’s post is this:
CSL is perpetuating an obsolete model with expectations based on past practices which do not reflect how the modern practitioner functions.
“For us to remain relevant and contemporary we will have to slay some sacred cows.”
~ Edward Viljoen
While organizational and structural issues such as this put leaders and followers at a disadvantage, we are each accountable for our own responses to conditions. If I am approached by my spiritual leader and questioned about my financial giving (assuming there has been an agreement regarding expectations in advance), and I feel shamed because my current conditions include insufficient funds to keep my agreement, then is the spiritual leader the cause of my feelings? Even if the spiritual leader is unskilled at having a compassionate conversation, am I not accountable for my emotional reactions? And if I would respond to such a question with a feeling of shame, does that mean that it never should have been asked? I am wondering about the desirability of having developed a sense of spiritual grit or resilience – is that not something one might expect of a practitioner after all of their study and practice? One quality of good followership is personal accountability, another is emotional intelligence, both are tied to integrity.
This is not to say that the leader(s) have no accountability, of course they do – but it comes down to a very basic issue – am I my own authority? Is it reasonable for others to expect me to meet my obligations or, if I am unable to do so, to reach out and have the necessary conversations with those who are counting on me? If the answer is no, where does that leave us?
“We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.”
~ Carlos Castaneda
That first “tentacle” is unique to CSL, as is the practitioner program they utilize (although other organizations may have similar issues structurally). The second tentacle is more general and has to do with the underlying psychological factors which affect us all, particularly in relation to how leaders lead and how followers follow.
“A leader is a person who has an unusual degree of power to create the conditions under which other people must live and move and have their being, conditions that can be either as illuminating as heaven or as shadowy as hell. A leader must take special responsibility for what’s going on inside his or her own self, inside his or her consciousness, lest the act of leadership create more harm than good.”
~ Parker Palmer,
quoted in CREATING THE BELOVED COMMUNITY by Jim Lockard
No organizational system can fully overcome psychological (mental and emotional) issues. This is why employees and especially leaders are often subjected to psychological screening and developmental training over time. We all bring our unresolved childhood issues with us into the workplace, into our spiritual community, and elsewhere. We then project them onto others, unconsciously seeking healing through the process of mirroring and modeling. When we remain unaware of this process and its dynamics, we generally do not heal; we perpetuate the dysfunctions of ourselves and others within the group. We cannot be in integrity with our true selves because we have created barriers to that very connection,.
“Our unwillingness to see our own faults and the projection of them onto others is the source of most quarrels, and the strongest guarantee that injustice, animosity, and persecution will not easily die out.”
~ C.G. Jung, Depth Psychology and Self-Knowledge
The difference between the workplace and spiritual community is that we should be able to expect the latter to be a place where compassion and healing are prized and available. But as humans insufficiently aware of our own unresolved issues, we are limited in our capacities to express these positive qualities. When someone’s behavior strays too close to one of my shadow (repressed) issues, I will lash out in some fashion – perhaps by invoking my “authority” as spiritual leader or by relying on the most rigid interpretation of rules and policies as a means of protecting myself from being too vulnerable in that moment. And, it is likely that the practitioner, or staff member, or congregant with whom I am engaged will be doing their version of the same thing. The results of such dynamics often include shame, guilt, frustration, anger, etc. But that is not the end – then the blaming has to start, finding a scapegoat (the individual, the organization, the teaching) and having that repetitive inner dialogue about how I have been harmed through no fault of my own, and so on. This may lead to triangulation, gossip, withholding of presence and support, and the like. Sound familiar?
“The effect of projection is to isolate the subject from his environment, since instead of a real relation to it there is now only an illusory one.”
~ C.G. Jung, CW 9ii
“It is much easier to deny, blame others, project elsewhere, or bury it and just keep on rolling.”
~ James Hollis, Jungian analyst
On top of all of this, what it means to be in spiritual leadership has changed since the time of the Founder; indeed, it has changed since this 21st Century began and continues to evolve. Mew Thought spiritual organizations, like most others, have not been sufficiently responsive to these evolutionary processes to substantially uplevel how leaders are trained (much less to have effective and coherent programs to re-train leaders already in the system). We will muddle along, doing our best (which is often enough in the moment, but generally insufficient for the transformational times we are in), making our mistakes and hopefully learning from them. The reality of massive tectonic cultural and whole-system changes – cultural evolution (LINK), climate disruption, political unrest, economic unfairness and uncertainty, massive human resettlement, global health issues – means that we have to develop different ways of leading, new models of ministry, new healing modalities, understanding living systems (LINK), and more. And, we have to be as graceful and compassionate as possible in the face of these challenges and the inner transformations they demand of us.
As I reach this point, I realize that there will have to be a Part 2 to this post – Part 1 describes that it’s raining, so Part 2 will be necessary to try and explain how to build an ark. There may be more after that – it is a rich vein of leadership awareness we are opening. I hope that this adds to the important conversation which Harv Bishop has started.
“Mistakes are not just opportunities for learning; they are, in an important sense, the only opportunity for learning or making something truly new. Before there can be learning, there must be learners. There are only two non-miraculous ways for learners to come into existence: they must either evolve or be designed and built by learners that evolved. Biological evolution proceeds by a grand, inexorable process of trial and error — and without the errors the trials wouldn’t accomplish anything.”
~ Daniel C. Dennett, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking
As always, your comments are welcomed!
Copyright 2019 – Jim Lockard