“It is our own mental attitude which makes the world what it is for us. Our thoughts make things beautiful, our thoughts make things ugly. The whole world is in our own minds. Learn to see things in the proper light.”

~ Swami Vivekananda

During my 36 years as a psychotherapist, I’ve seen many clients who have been victims of people like those Hannah and my friend describe. I call them New Age Bullies — those who, sometimes with the best intentions, repeat spiritual movement shibboleths, with little understanding of how hurtful their advice can be. Some of their favorite clichés are:

It happened for a reason.

Nobody can hurt you without your consent.

I wonder why you created this illness (or experience).

It’s just your karma.

There are no accidents.

There are no victims.

There are no mistakes.

A variant of this behavior is found in the self-bullying people who blame themselves for being victims of a crime, accident, or illness and interpret such misfortunes as evidence of their personal defects or spiritual deficiencies.”

~ Julia Ingram, MA (LINK)

The two quotes above may seem to be contradictory, but they are not.

They represent two prevalent viewpoints in New Thought, one more traditional, the other something new which is emerging (I know that we are not New Age, per se, however, Ms. Ingram’s quote does apply). They lead me to this question (and lots of others, as you shall see):

If thought is the pathway to healing, what happens when your capacity to think, or to think clearly, is itself impaired in some way?

Today, we know much more about the functioning of the human brain and body than was known at the time of New Thought’s founders. We know that depression is very often not the result of “depressing thoughts,” but due to neurological/chemical imbalances. When under the effects of these imbalances, a person may not be able to form the kinds of thoughts necessary for healing the condition. She/he may also be incapable of seeking help. While this is different from the person who has developed a pattern of negative thinking and who can change with intention and practice, this difference may well not be obvious to external observers.





While New Thought teachings say that every condition can be healed, there is evidence that this is not so, and to insist that it is so can be cruel and can deny the process which a person is experiencing. More and more, New Thought spiritual leaders are being confronted with people who are finding many of the absolutist positions and statements of the past to be inaccurate and sometimes harmful.

This statement by Joel Goldsmith speaks to the realization that to truly facilitate healing, one must think in the absolute, not the relative domain – a sentiment echoed by Thomas Troward, Emma Curtis Hopkins, and many others.

“Let us never accept a human being into our consciousness who needs healing, employing, or enriching because if we do, we are his enemy instead of his friend. If there is any man, woman, or child we believe to be sick, sinning or dying, let us do no praying until we have made peace with that brother. The peace we must make with that brother is to ask forgiveness for making the mistake of sitting in judgment on any individual because everyone is God in expression. All is God manifested. God alone constitutes this universe; God constitutes the life, the mind, and the Soul of every individual.”

~ Joel Goldsmith

  • Is there a balance available to us – somewhere between the extremes of “absolute knowing” and belief that our power lies outside of us and we are helpless?
  • A balance which still allows healing for those able to think at the necessary level of clarity, but does not diminish those who may not be willing or able to do so at present, or ever?
  • Is there a more compassionate way to approach mental healing which allows for both beginners and adepts, and for those who experience inner processes which rob them of their ability to use thought to heal?
  • What is the growing edge of New Thought in relation to healing?

The basis of mental healing is to create a consciousness, or a system of beliefs, which is strong enough to change conditions. In the case of physical healing, that means changing conditions in our bodies via a mind-body connection. This often defies our previous conditioning. I came into the Science of Mindteaching with a consciousness that I was subject to external forces – like germs – which, when contracted, required an outside expert – a doctor – to facilitate healing on my behalf. Over time, I came to see that I had the capacity to both heal many conditions myself, and to create a consciousness which avoided many negative conditions altogether. I no longer experienced regular seasonal colds, for example.

While this capacity to heal is authentic, there is also the issue of how we see our evolving capacities – what should I be able to heal and when? Should I feel shame if I contract the flu or if a lover leaves me, or if I lose my job? How should I approach others who are experiencing such conditions if I am not their spiritual teacher, but a friend? How should I approach them if I am their spiritual teacher, with the accountability inherent in such a relationship? Will I simply project my own insecurities onto them and use (or even simply think) some platitude like What’s in your consciousness? as a means of deflecting my own fears?

“Healing depends on listening with the inner ear – stopping the incessant blather and listening. Fear keeps us chattering – fear that wells up from the past, fear of blurting out what we really fear, fear of future repercussions. It is our very fear of the future that distorts the now that could lead to a different future if we dared to be whole in the present.”

~ Marion Woodman

It is our fear that leads us to “sugar coat” things. Like death, for example. We speak of “transitioning” and “passing on,” avoiding the term “death.” When my daughter died at age 18, many people were quick to tell me about her afterlife experience and how she chose that moment to depart this plane. Our belief system may include a continuing journey of the soul; however, we really don’t know what that is beyond speculation. Ernest Holmes had this to say about reincarnation:

“This idea of reincarnation is held by more people than those who don’t believe in it. Personally, I don’t believe in it, but I don’t know. So I would be ignorant to be dogmatic about it.”

~ From a 1933 Lecture by Ernest Holmes based upon

The Science of Mind, 1926 Edition





But we don’t like not knowing, so we speculate. While I appreciated the attempt at kindness from many after my daughter’s death, it was often painful to be told how she chose this to happen and, as one told me, “she misses you but wants you to know that she is in a better place.” There were others, but you get the picture.

When we sugar coat the issues of life, we often, if unintentionally, diminish the experience of those we are trying to comfort or help. It is a fine and difficult line to walk – how to give solace or inspiration to someone without loading it with my own fearful projections? How to deal with repeated failures by someone to heal an illness or to get their life in order without making it more about me than about them? How to balance the need for personal accountability with someone’s current inability to accept that concept for themselves?

As in all things, I believe that we must begin by doing our own inner work. We must grow in emotional and spiritual intelligence, we must recognize our own fears, addictions, and biases and work to release them. They will surely affect our ability to be a compassionate and wise presence for others. As spiritual teachers, we must set and enforce healthy boundaries regarding issues such as who moves into professional-level classes, and how inappropriate behavior is dealt with in all classes. Many of us need to work on our ability to say NO. A proper NO can be the most affirming thing you can say many times.

In conclusion – we want to teach New Thought principles and practices as widely as possible, however, there are some who are not ready. We must realize that when we reduce our insistence on developing a strength of consciousness necessary for healing because some find it too difficult or take offense, that we may be harming all of our students. And we must try to work with those who are offended or depressed by the rigors of the teaching so that they can come to see a greater truth and not feel diminished – while knowing this may not be possible in their lives at the present moment.

Beautiful Tree in Lake

The high calling of spiritual teacher means that one says YES to the requirement for ongoing personal development, for setting and enforcing healthy boundaries, and for working for the good of all students who come to learn. Nothing less will do. And that means having people in our ministries with issues which do not get healed. While frustrating, it does not relieve the teacher of the accountability to be the best living example of the spiritual teachings that she can be. We continue to do prayer-treatment for them, to express compassion toward them, but we may never see a healing occur for them.

“If we think we can guide our brother aright, while our own feet still walk in darkness, we are mistaken. We must first clarify our own vision, then we shall become as lights, lighting the way for others. But can we teach a lesson we have not learned? Can we give that which we do not possess? To suppose so is hypocrisy, a thing to be shunned. Jesus tears the mantle of unreality from the shoulders of hypocrisy, winnowing from the soul of sham and shallowness its last shred of illusion. We cannot see Reality until our eyes are open; until the light of eternal Truth has struck deeply into our own souls.”


As always, your comments are appreciated!

Copyright 2018 – Jim Lockard






“I’m restless.

Things are calling me away.

My hair is being pulled by the stars again.”

~ Anaïs Nin 

Why take a sabbatical? For a lot of reasons! Maybe you are restless or simply finding less joy and challenge in what you are doing. Perhaps things are a bit stale and in need of a creative tune-up. Or, more seriously, burnout is just around the corner.

There is a primal tension within each person between the horizontal, ascendant nature of spirit, and its horizontal, descendant nature. You can picture it this way:

Vertical Horizontal Slide Image

Those in ministry spend a lot of time in both dimensions conceptually, however, the reality of pastoring a spiritual community is to be living in the horizontal most of the time. You are there, IN PLACE, holding space for the community (probably operating as a family dynamic) you serve and lead; dealing with all the expectations people bring regarding familiarity and connection. The ascendant takes a back seat, except for the occasional retreat or vacation. Therefore, sabbaticals are essential – to take one into the ascendant, away from the familiar and routine, and into the new and unexplored.

Believe it or not, this can be relaxing as well. In fact, relaxation is often something missing from the day-to-day pastoring of a community. There is just too much to do, and those in ministry tend to be Type Aachievers and doers, with perhaps a few control issues thrown in (which often leads to reluctance to take a sabbatical).

Cartoon - Control Issues - Calvin

Calvin & Hobbes

Indeed, one of the most prevalent addictions in our society is workaholism – the addiction to work, to being (or at least seeming) productive constantly. Ministers often develop a sense of their own indispensability to their ministry, making the idea of taking a sabbatical something to be resisted, even feared. Sometimes, those in the community project their own sense of the need to be productive onto their minister(s), imagine that, and the idea of a sabbatical is seen as a way to be lazy or to escape responsibility. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, sabatticals result in greater overall productivity and creativity – and should be encouraged by members of spiritual communities. And members should continue to show up while the minister(s) is on sabbatical. If you need your own break, take it at another time.

I took my first (and only) sabbatical after 18 years in ministry. It was for six weeks (which would be the minimum that you could actually call a sabbatical), and I spent it in France, with my wife, Dorianne. We stayed in an apartment in Paris for three weeks, then spent a week in Lourdes at a conference, then a week in Bordeaux, and finally a week in the Loire Valley. During that time, I had no real contact with my spiritual community, other than to send a couple of videos back for them to show on Sundays. I did some reading and writing, but mostly enjoyed exploring the places we were visiting. I returned rested, relaxed, and rejuvenated – ready to bring new creativity to my spiritual community.

Before I left, I prepared the soil, if you will, by getting some people ready to step up to greater levels of responsibility. I must have done this well, because no one called me while I was gone, and when I returned, all was in order.

A sabbatical is something that, in my opinion, should be part of every clergy person’s contract/letter of call. A paid leave of six weeks to three months should be included every three to four years. The board and other leadership need to see this as an essential aspect of the package in order to keep the minister at his/her best and most creative. The balance of the vertical and horizontal elements is important for any person, and, as noted above, pastoring a spiritual community tends to naturally favor the horizontal over the vertical. A sabbatical can help to restore that balance in addition to its other benefits. This quote sums it up nicely for me:

“Whatever it may be that your soul, your heart needs may you find it easily, eagerly, gently, wondrously, and healthfully. May it open you up and make you kinder, wiser, whole and healed. May it make the world around and within you brighter, sweeter, spacious and nurturing. May you have rest when you need, energy to do good, laughter like mountains and tears like a spring rain. May you have mind and heart that open readily and release graciously. May your life go well and joyfully.” 

~ Leigh Shoju Loesch Macaro


 Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard


“Nothing is perfect. Life is messy. Relationships are complex. Outcomes are uncertain. People are irrational.”

~ Hugh Mackay 

We can be certain that there is an Intelligence in the Universe to which we may come, that will guide and inspire us, a love which overshadows. God is real to the one who believes in the Supreme Spirit, real to the soul that senses its unity with the Whole.”

~ Ernest Holmes

We find ourselves in times for which few, if any of us are prepared. Human societies and cultures are changing more and more quickly, and there are no maps for where we are headed. No one has been where we are headed before, and the rate of change is so fast there is no “ramping up” process where existing knowledge has the time to adopt new knowledge for smooth transitions. Our institutions – church, government, business, science – used to show us the way forward, but they are disintegrating before our eyes, along with our trust in them.

integrity-4We used to be sure of many things – however as we have learned more about ourselves and our world, we have seen that much of what we were sure of was false or incomplete. We are beginning to realize that often, it was the very institutions in which we trusted that were misleading us for reasons ranging from innocent to malevolent. The traditionalist values that held western culture together for hundreds of years, despite wars and other tragedies, are being abandoned by many as relics of a past that no longer serves us. The values which are emerging in their place demand a differently constructed society. This has both positive and negative impacts – we are too likely to throw out the stabilizing values of traditionalism with the values that no longer serve. Our doubts can become all-consuming.

“Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd one.”

~ Voltaire

Those of you who are familiar with the Spiral Dynamics™ Model (an increasingly essential area of knowledge) can see how the model applies here, but I am not going to focus on that in this post.

Poster - Old Ways New Doors

There is a dynamic tension between the myriad uncertainties of life and the need to have some degree of certainty in our faith in the Intelligence of the Universe. This tension is increased with the growing uncertainties that come with a time in which many of the “certainties” that we grew up with are being challenged or toppled. Those who have developed an evolutionary approach to life will handle this better than those who have not.

“As an adolescent, I aspired to lasting fame, I craved factual certainty, and I thirsted for a meaningful vision of human life — so I became a scientist. This is like becoming an archbishop so you can meet girls.”

~ Matt Cartmill

With increasing complexity comes a greater array of positive and negative outcomes of newly emerging values systems. A case in point: one of the “gifts” of the newly emerging Levels of Existence is social media. This aspect of the internet brings us into the world of instantaneous communications in multiple directions. We are no longer passive consumers of news from a town crier, newspaper, radio, or television newscast – we can engage and deliver content of our own creation or we can multiply the effect of content by sharing it. The responses can be instantaneous and unfiltered – and offer a rude awakening, as we discover the degree to which others hold our ideas and viewpoints in contempt. We are swept away by social media exchanges that trigger our emotions and demand fast and strong input if we are to get our point across. We are all amateurs at this.

“Amateurs [are] just regular people who get obsessed by something and spend a ton of time thinking out loud about it… Raw enthusiasm is contagious. The world is changing at such a rapid rate that it’s turning us all into amateurs. Even for professionals, the best way to flourish is to retain an amateur’s spirit and embrace uncertainty and the unknown.”

~ Austin Kleon

The pace of exchange on social media, along with the vitriol that has become part and parcel of the experience, leaves us no time to simply sit with an idea before responding. We get emotionally caught-up in the flow and act like an addict seeking a fix as we seek to convince others of our opinion, or, failing that, we make sure that they know the error of their ways (to put it mildly). In turn, we are subjected to screeds and venom from people we thought we knew better, hardly know at all, or never heard of before (some of whom are not even human, but “bots” designed to carry messages and spread ideas, true and false).


In this respect, social media reflects the need for greater emotional and social intelligence (LINK) (LINK) in our culture. Being on social media is, all too often, like being in the sandbox with immature children. We find that those who have yet to develop a healthy level of emotional intelligence often need an enemy – someone or some set of values to defend oneself from and to attack when it is safe to do so. Social media can provide such cover – it is impersonal enough that many say vitriolic and hateful things that they would never say in person.

“The real existence of an enemy upon whom one can foist off everything evil is an enormous relief to one’s conscience. You can then at least say, without hesitation, who the devil is; you are quite certain that the cause of your misfortune is outside, and not in your own attitude.”

~ Carl Jung

And yet, it is increasingly essential for many of us to be online and involved with social media. There is also an addictive quality to the experience (LINK).  Some abstain (or try to), but find that they are missing a valuable form of connection with others who may not be available by other means. How do we engage in this arena as keep our sanity? How do we approach it in a healthy way?



Develop your Emotional & Spiritual Intelligence.

It is something to explore in future posts. As always, your comments are welcomed!

A thousand times I have ascertained and found it to be true:

the affairs of this world are really nothing into nothing.

Still though, we should dance.

~ Hafiz 

Beautiful Dance

Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard





In Parts 1 & 2 of this series (LINK), I wrote about the nature of toxic behaviors in a spiritual community, some of the consequences and how those affected by a toxic spiritual leader can respond. In this post, I look at what the spiritual leader who is drawn to toxic behaviors can do to facilitate healing for themselves and their community. It is rather long, but I believe that the topic warrants it.



“Physician, heal thyself.” ~ Luke 4:23

Spiritual leaders are human beings and subject to all of the issues, flaws, difficulties, illnesses, and character flaws which come with humanity. Many come to believe that their role as spiritual leader carries with it an imperative to exceed that humanity – to be an exemplar of some kind of spiritual perfection. This is something that they may have come up with on their own, adopted from the opinions of others, or been taught in ministerial education programs or by other spiritual leaders. And while it can be said that it is important that a spiritual leader be able to teach spiritual principles at a level that allows the members of the community to learn, AND that the spiritual leader should exemplify the level of spiritual realization that she has reached. None of us will do this perfectly; we bring whatever is unhealed within us into leadership and, ironically perhaps, by assuming such a role, we call what is unhealed into awareness.

In his writings about the Shadow as an element of repressed human dynamics, Carl Jung wrote: “How do you find a lion that has swallowed you?” The difficulty of finding and admitting to our own flaws can be daunting, because of our human tendencies to deny them and to see our actions as being better than they actually are. We rationalize our behavior through a process of self-justification driven by an inability to face the truth of ourselves.

Healing ourselves requires humility at a minimum, and ideally, surrender. Humility gives us the power of honest self-examination; surrender opens us to whatever it will take to facilitate our own healing. Without a sense of humility, we in New Thought can become blind to our own issues and simply repeat positive affirmations that do not really connect with our emotional self – so nothing changes. The hubris of seeing oneself as spiritually enlightened to the extent that no one else can possibly help or even understand us is, unfortunately, all too common a trait in New Thought spiritual leaders. This leads to toxic behaviors.

One reason that spiritual leaders become toxic, by which I mean significantly out of alignment with Source, is that they respond to the actual and perceived pressure of their position in unhealthy ways. Unresolved Shadow issues operating below the surface of consciousness often sabotage the best of intentions and produce distorted behaviors. Fear of how one is being or might be perceived can drive one to create a false persona so as to manipulate others into seeing one in a certain way. This need to be seen in a certain light is the opposite of humility; at the extremes it becomes narcissism.

When the spiritual leader who is out of alignment is truly challenged by a difficult personal or professional situation or trauma, he may have no one to turn to for support. This can create an overwhelming sense of loneliness and separation – it can all seem so unfair.

“Try to let what is unfair teach you… What is unfair can be a stern but invaluable teacher… You can be shaped, or you can be broken. There is not much in between. Try to learn. Be coachable. Try to learn from everybody, especially those who fail. This is hard.”

~ David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

At one end of the spectrum of toxic behavior in spiritual leaders is what Jungian James Hollis calls “reflexive niceness.” This is the state of being reflexively unwilling to say or do anything that might cause distress or disagreement in another person. This makes holding others accountable very difficult, if not impossible; it allows emotional bullies or those who express excessive neediness (a reverse bully) to have their way in a spiritual community. It can also lead to an atmosphere where people are afraid to speak up for fear of upsetting the spiritual leader, or where people feel that they have to support a needy spiritual leader. So things get repressed until the pressure builds, often resulting in an explosion of anger, followed by feelings of shame.

“The opposite of reflexive niceness is integrity.”

~ James Hollis, Jungian analyst

At the other end of the spectrum are behaviors that are clearly harmful and even illegal. Every spiritual leader of any denomination who has engaged in harmful behavior has been aware of what they were doing – at least at some level. One does not have a sexual affair with a married student or take funds out of the treasury without authority and not know what he is doing. So the question remains – why is the decision so often made to go ahead with the act and the subsequent cover-up rather than to seek healing support?


Some point to a lack of organizational support for spiritual leaders who might be in crisis or who are engaging in harmful behaviors, or considering doing so. Indeed, across many denominations, there is inadequate training in self-care and deep self-awareness in ministerial education; and there is a failure to develop a culture where seeking help is seen as a strength, rather than a weakness.

Some denominations have structures of authority that allow a central authority to intervene in local issues when there is toxic behavior; some have assistance programs to minister to spiritual leaders with significant problems. New Thought, with its tradition of near-autonomy of local member communities, often lacks the authority to take quick and decisive action in such cases, and does not have adequate assistance programs in place even if a spiritual leader does seek help. Ethical complaints must be received and, in actuality, can only be investigated fully with the cooperation of the local community, including the spiritual leader. Permission may be delayed or even denied, and in extreme cases, local spiritual communities have left an organization rather than submit to an investigation.

Often, the best option is for the spiritual leader to take action to resolve his/her own issues. While some will do this, others, as we know, will not. This means that there will be dysfunction and even harm done within spiritual communities where the spiritual leader is unwilling or unable to take healing action on his own behalf.


Here are my suggestions about what a spiritual leader who finds himself or herself behaving or being tempted to behave is ways that are out of alignment with spiritual principles can do. Such behaviors may include a range of things from the highly destructive (abuse of self or others) to the merely incompetent (such as failing to hold community members accountable; mismanaging resources, etc.). I will write this section in the second person.

  1. Increase and amplify your own spiritual practices. Make them conscious again. Do them rigorously and regularly. Go deeper. Work on forgiveness of yourself and others.
  2. Seek help. For many issues, a mentor or coach might be what you need. Someone to give you honest feedback, someone you trust enough to be truthful with about what is going on with you. Perhaps you need to consider therapy or analysis for issues relating to compulsive behaviors or to thoughts or actions which harm others.
  3. If you have addictions that affect your spiritual leadership, get into a program and onto a path to whatever kind of sobriety that you have lost.
  4. If you are guilty of serious ethical or legal violations – strongly consider admitting this to the appropriate authorities. Begin the process of getting your integrity back – within yourself first, then with others. Decide to have no secrets.
  5. If you are confronted with an organizational investigation, cooperate. This is your pathway to renewal and to making amends.

These are suggestions, and they all make the assumption that a spiritual leader is fully aware of her/his issues and willing to move toward a healing resolution. I know of many colleagues who have reached out to me and to others to help them deal with issues that are of concern to help them to get back on track before things get out of hand.

But some will continue down a destructive pathway for a long time. Some of us need to “hit bottom” or to flirt with true disaster before a course correction will be attempted. For those cases, the organizations must develop and apply the kinds of investigative programs and remedial actions that can ensure the safety of members of the spiritual communities affected, and, which have the authority to hold those spiritual leaders to account while working to find a healing solution.

Even when things might be falling apart, there is a possibility for good to emerge.

“Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life. Knowing this gives me hope that human wholeness — mine, yours, ours — need not be a utopian dream, if we can use devastation as a seed bed for new life.”

~ Parker Palmer

The healing process may be long and difficult, but it is the only way through. We cannot simply leave a situation unhealed and expect that the community will thrive – it doesn’t work that way. When a spiritual leader is toxic, there is great stress put on the entire communal system and everyone in it – including the spiritual leader. It takes courage to move from such a situation into a path of healing. But that is the way forward.

As always, your comments are welcome – however, I am asking that any comments about specific cases not include specific identifying information (names/places), for what I think are obvious reasons. I am available for personal consultations – contact me at for that purpose.


Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard


A child somehow enters the enclosure housing a male gorilla at a Cincinnati zoo. Employees shoot the gorilla; the child is rescued. We have all heard the tragic tale of Harambe. Social media is flooded with stories, comments, theories and – OUTRAGE!!!


The sanctimonious tone of many of the stories and comments in this case (and, of course, in dozens of others), sound as if everyone is suddenly an expert on gorilla behavior and zoo protocol.


Oh, and on parenting, where one’s sense of expertise may come even more easily.

How is that child’s mother not in prison, for crying out loud?!?!?!?

“Obviously, losing track of a child doesn’t in itself reflect poorly on anyone’s parenting ability. It’s basically a cliché that children are the world’s greatest escape artists. All of them, little Houdinis, wriggling out of whatever contraption you put them in and just vanishing.

But Outrage doesn’t care. It isn’t a question of what’s true, but rather a question of what will satisfy its appetite.” ~ Eric Dorman (LINK)

At times like these, our sense of self-righteousness arises and often becomes “The Beast called Outrage.” When we believe that we are right AND that our rightness has a strong, unassailable moral underpinning, we do not hold back; we do not respect the “false opinions” of others. Often, we lose sight of the humanness of others and the distinct possibility that we may not have the whole truth at our disposal.

“We blame the mother not merely because we think we’re better than her. We do think we’re better, but sanctimony is just a symptom. We blame her because we need a fix.” ~ Eric Dorman


We become addicted to our self-righteousness and sanctimony and to their expression in the form of outrage. We see this in our political opinions – the vilification of anyone who is not our chosen candidate who is the ONLY ONE who can deliver us into the only possible future that we can live with. Those addicted to sanctimony will not compromise because compromising does not deliver the fix, it is a let-down.

“While there are many drawbacks, self-righteousness can also be heady, seductive, and even… well… addictive. Any truly honest person will admit that the state feels good. The pleasure of knowing, with subjective certainty, that you are right and your opponents are deeply, despicably wrong.

Sanctimony, or a sense of righteous outrage, can feel so intense and delicious that many people actively seek to return to it, again and again. Moreover, as Westin have found, this trait crosses all boundaries of ideology.

Indeed, one could look at our present-day political landscape and argue that a relentless addiction to indignation may be one of the chief drivers of obstinate dogmatism and an inability to negotiate pragmatic solutions to myriad modern problems. It may be the ultimate propellant behind the current ‘culture war.’” ~ Dr. David Brin (LINK)


Our politics is one place where those who strategize campaigns have found it to be very effective to get supporters to see themselves as being better than the supporters of their political opponents. They use the media very effectively to build self-righteousness and sanctimony in supporters and to encourage resentment toward and de-humanization of opponents – to show outrage at anything the opponent or their supporters say or do. The evidence shows that they do this all too welladdictions are easy to feed..

I have no doubt that every spiritual leader reading this post has people in their ministry who fit this description, or who are affected by people who do. Often, as a result, the spiritual leader avoids the issues at hand – politics or anything controversial become  forbidden topics from the pulpit or in the classroom. Because how are we do deal with those who jump into outrage in a spiritual setting? Isn’t it better to avoid the outbursts that may infect others and perhaps cause people to leave the community?

So walking on eggshells becomes the norm; avoidance of anything controversial becomes the standard; and fear becomes the most powerful force present in the ministry. How easily it happens!

As in all cases of negative behavior and addiction, this one results from a failure to learn and practice New Thought principles. Someone who does not regularly attend services and classes; who does not have a regular, vibrant and creative practice every day; who allows their mind to dwell on fear based thoughts; who does not pay attention to their thoughts and feelings as they occur and change direction where warranted; such a person is ripe for addiction to self-righteousness and the attending outrage.

So that covers pretty much everyone in the average spiritual community, doesn’t it? Not that all of them, or even a majority will succumb, but there will be at least a few, and they can hijack a ministry.

The answer is to minister to these people, and to the entire community – because all are affected by this – with a determination to teach principle, to promote spiritual practice, and to encourage compassion. This means that transparency is part of the community’s way of being – when there is an issue, it is spoken about in the most loving and supportive way possible, but it is neither avoided nor ignored. Of course, this requires that the spiritual leader take a look at him/herself for signs of such an addiction. We are not immune.


When addictive patterns are present, effective ministry encourages deep personal questioning so that the problem can no longer be denied. This is done best not through confrontation, but by opening to awareness. Only then will someone in an addictive pattern have the possibility of moving toward healing. Grace (radical self-awareness) enters when there is a tiny hole in the wall of denial. Self-righteous sanctimony builds a strong wall against other ideas and opinions, and it must be gently but firmly approached so that the opening for grace can occur. The issue here is the addiction to self-righteousness, not the rightness or wrongness of the position itself.

The idea is to get people to see others, with different views and opinions, as people like themselves. To open to the possibility of seeing beyond dogmatic rhetoric (often gleaned from other sources) to the realization that there is much in common. And ultimately to see that their well-being is not dependent upon any opinion or candidate or political platform or idea about parenting, but on the realization of the spirit within.

This is the essence of New Thought teachings, and when we forget it – and we all do from time to time – it is important that we be reminded. This political season will be challenging enough without spiritual leaders failing to minister to those who are so impacted by the fear and negativity of it all. The idea that at least some of the anger that we see is driven by an addiction is, I think, a compelling reason to act. Our calling is demadning more of us.

Beautiful Stone Altar

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Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard


Spiral Dynamics - new spiral


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In Part 1 of this series (LINK), I wrote of the human tendency to become attached or addicted to forms. This basically means to become so attached to things being done in a certain way that you –

  1. Do not look at other ways of doing them.
  2. May become blind to the fact that the way you are doing things isn’t working well anymore & that there are other options.
  3. You may refuse to believe any messages that contradict your attachment.

We in New Thought have an advantage in dealing with this kind of thing, or at least you would think that we do. Our advantage is that New Thought principles include the need to look at reality without attachment, to see deeply into our own motivations and to stay centered and focused on what works in our lives, and to recognize change as something that happens from within.

Given that these principles are strongly associated with New Thought, you might expect that our spiritual leaders would not be as likely as others to fall into the attachment/addiction trap.

But I see it happening all the time.

Without going into a litany of what is not going well, let’s just say that there are an awful lot of New Thought spiritual communities in various stages of struggle.

The attachment/addiction trap, in its many forms, including the ones described in this series, arise because we do not attend to our spiritual work, which inhibits our ability to be effective in the world. Too often, we fail to do deep Shadow work, we fail to do consistent (in every sense of the word) spiritual practices, we fail to hold ourselves accountable to the development of our own self-mastery. And we also often fail to examine the world around us and the evolutionary implications for the future of our ministries.

Change is nothing new. Religion, spirituality, churches and all of the trappings have changed over time. The difference today is the rate of change. The movement from one form of being in spiritual community to the next used to take hundreds, even thousands, of years. Today, it is taking decades – and things are speeding up. We, of all people, ought to see ourselves as masters of change.

“At the point of mastery, when there seems nothing left to move beyond, we find a way to move beyond ourselves. Success motivates. Yet the near win — the constant auto-correct of a curved-line path — can propel us in an ongoing quest. We see it whenever we aim, climb, or create with mastery as our aim, when the outcome is determined by what happens at the margins.”

~ Sarah Lewis

In the past 50 years in the United States and Canada, the rate of church attendance has been cut nearly in half – even more among some age groups. This means that what used to work – basically, opening the doors of a church or center – is no longer a guarantee of success.

Spiral Dynamics™ and other models tell us that this change is driven by the evolutionary nature of human cultural development. Since all evolution represents both a move toward greater complexity AND a means of adaptation to an environment, this current cultural evolutionary process can be seen as evolving at a faster rate than ever before in human history. What used to take a long time, now happens very quickly. The model tells us that the evolution of human thought toward greater complexity is driven by the rate of change of the world around us. That rate of change is speeding up, hence, we are being called to adapt to change more quickly than in the past.

Another effect of this speeding up of the rate of change is that there are few, if any, models to show us the way forward – we have never been here before. New Thought’s founders made reasonable decisions in following the established models of western Christianity in designing the forms through which spiritual community would function. They opened churches and people came in, in part, because just about everyone went to church and it seemed familiar, even if the message they heard was not.

But times have changed, and rates of church attendance are much lower than before. Another evolutionary change is that there is no longer much if any social stigma to not going to church. In fact, in some places, it is the opposite – there is a social stigma if you do go to church. These impacts are more significantly felt by younger people.

While those in the Baby Boomer generation may be comfortable with ministerial robes, stoles, choirs, and the like, the Millennial generation sees these trappings as old-fashioned and irrelevant to their lives. And by the way, the Baby Boomers and Generation Y’ers are leaving spiritual communities as well. These phenomena are not isolated to a single age group.

Those spiritual leaders who observe this phenomena and do not see a need to at least begin to explore alternative forms of ministry and spiritual community are going to have a rough road ahead. But we have covered this ground before.

What to do:

You might begin by doing a little research. There is a big picture element to this and there is a small, local element to this as well. You may be in a location where Sunday attendance is steady or growing, or your community may be an exception – growing in attendance while other local spiritual communities are getting smaller. I recommend that you look at the larger picture as well, because you, and your area, may be a temporary anomaly in a larger wave of change that will come to your doorstep eventually. I would look at the data. The Pew Research Center website is a good place to start (LINK).

Then I would begin to have conversations – with your peers, with your members, with anyone interested in the topic of change – and see what you can learn.

Be open to looking at different ways of doing ministry, both inside and outside of your organization. As I said before, we do not know what is coming next, we have to make it up as we go along. It is likely that the next few decades will be a time of great confusion and many ideas, most of which do not gain traction. In other words, a time of great creativity. You can be in the midst of this or on the sidelines.

Are you vision-driven? Do you have a clear purpose for your ministry that is not attached to the form through which it is expressed? Is your vision real, or are you just going through the motions? This is important for you to know.

One thing is certain. To the degree that you are attached or addicted to the current form of your ministry, you will find it either difficult or very difficult to be open to change. And change is already here.

Now for a few tough questions that will no doubt be on your mind. They are here to get you thinking about all of the contingencies involved in major transformation:

  • In thinking about new models, we have to consider whether the ministry is the source of income for people – minister(s), staff and others. What portion of your community’s income comes from the Sunday service?
  • What would it look like if much of that income went away?
  • Does the business model for your ministry require that it be the sole or primary source of livelihood for people? How many people?
  • What income do you need to generate to pay those people?
  • If the Sunday service diminished significantly, what would happen to your business model?
  • If your service went away, would your real estate needs change?

Ask questions of your organizational leadership. What are they doing at the organizational level to prepare spiritual leaders for an uncertain but creative future? Are there plans in place; courses in the ministerial education programs; segments of conferences and conventions, and at regional meetings and in online forums; are they researching the trends and looking outside the organization to capture great ideas and bring them to you? If not, why not?

Finally, look at your Sunday service experience, which isn’t going away, at least for a while. Is it fresh? Does it have a good mixture of vibrant and quiet elements? Does it reach a wide spectrum of people in a meaningful way? Do you change elements fairly often to get people used to change?

What is the purpose of your Sunday service? Are you looking at the Sunday service as a means of developing the culture of your community AND as a way to help people deepen their spiritual awareness and practice? Or is it just a show with live music?

Try to see it through “new eyes.” If that is hard for you, ask a few people who do not come to your community to come and give you an evaluation. Be ready for them not to like it, but listen to what they have to say. Note that asking your existing members to evaluate your service will most likely result in some people liking some things and others liking different things, and no one wanting anything they like to change. Chalk it up to human nature.

Can you reasonably say that your Sunday service will be a good bridge to whatever is coming next, not something that will slowly (or not so slowly) wither and need to be replaced before resources run out?

So there is much to review, to give your attention to, and for you, as a spiritual leader to do. This is where to start.

“I have no interest in the justification of circumstances or producing guilt in others by assigning obligation. I am interested in providing an opportunity for people to experience mastery in the matter of their own lives and the experience of satisfaction, fulfillment, and aliveness. These are a function of the self as context rather than thing, the self as space rather than location or position, the self as cause rather than self at effect.”

~ Werner Erhard

Next, we will explore the relationship of the calling to ministry as a factor in how we respond to change.

Beautiful Flower Lotus