Organized spiritual practice or “organized religion” as it is commonly called attempts to take a set of practices and organize it in a way that it would grow faster and bigger than if it were not organized. The problem with it is that instead of being an all inclusive process or organization, it typically, and sometimes purposely becomes more exclusive than inclusive.
I was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, a very Roman Catholic area of the United States. Growing up in this area, there seemed to be a Catholic church every few miles. It was no wonder why, as I moved to other areas of the country, there seemed to be a lack of Catholic churches. I bring this up because it was my experience, and this church is probably the best modern day example of organized religion. As I grew older in the church, there were some teachings that I did not particularly agree with, and questioned my own faith in some cases.
As a result of charting my own path through a core Shamanism curriculum, then writing courses on the subject, I felt that some of my chops (skills) needed sharpening. One of those was what laymen may call meditation. Meditation or Journeying as it is called in Shamanic Practice, is core to a successful practice. I felt that maybe I could learn only that piece of Shamanism better by studying from someone or some organization outside of practicing Shamanism. My thoughts on this were shaped by the utter lack of any teachings on the subject in the school where I studied. In fact it bothered me so much, that I made it a point of dedicating a whole unit of my own course to nothing but meditation.
A few months ago, I happen to read a book as the result of who I knew had followed this particular person in the first half of the 20th century. As luck would have it, the book was about a particular type of spiritual meditation practice. I was excited to know this, and was ready to jump in. Finally, I thought, this maybe what I’d been searching for. Before the book reading was complete, I sent a donation to an organized spiritual practice non-profit that teaches this particular method of meditation. Within about two weeks, I received a call from one of their administrative personnel telling me that I was rejected off hand, because the method was not compatible with Shamanism, and I’d be getting a refund. It was also patently obvious that the human on the other end of the phone had no idea what Shamanism was, and wasn’t interested in knowing. I wasn’t surprised or disappointed, because, in the interim, I had researched the organization, and most of the reviews said that the organization was rigid and inflexible.
Also, in the interim weeks, I had found some literature on the method and begun practicing it on my own, with direction from a spirit guide, as we call it in Shamanism. Not only were the basic steps of the method revealed, but it was also revealed that we were chosen because it was our purpose to blend the meditation method in question into our Shamanism courses. The instructions were so specific that units and paragraphs in the course were pointed to as strategic, and would have maximum effect. So, what was I to say to the monk on the other line? I said nothing, because fortunately, they weren’t the only game in town, and I’d moved on by that time.
Along this same line of thinking, I happened to see a wonderful documentary over the holidays about all different spiritual beliefs of the world. They studied ancient and more modern belief systems, and the gem in the documentary was an in-depth analysis of the formation of the catholic church. All I could think is WOW. A political ruler was responsible for the contents of the new testament as the church had become state sponsored. Many gospels were left out for political and controlling purposes. People were chastised as heretics and even killed for their type of practice of Christianity. What piqued my interest was that some of these gospels and practices seemed to have basis in things that appealed to my personal practices, and it seemed ashamed that someone like myself, who’d been raised in this church, wasn’t even aware of the alternative thoughts on controversial topics until more than half my life had occurred, and I’d long since given up on the institution.
I used these two institutions above as examples of what happens when well meaning and genuinely good intentions are corrupted with politics, and possibly money, greed or power. They become the creatures that their spiritual teachings despise. They become rigid, inflexible, intolerant and unbending in their interpretations of issues that don’t fit the norm. In addition to the two above examples, I’ve had much the same experience in schools that I have either been a student or instructor. One specifically taught Shamanism, and one was a Jesuit institution. These places seem to have so much noise surrounding them, that you forget the very reason you are there in the first place. To achieve the right balance is obviously the real trick to success.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve spent a majority of my professional career as a CPA and systems consultant, so I’m very well aware of the need for organization and efficiency when operating any group or company or non-profit. I think the challenge lies in doing it in a way that you don’t damage the glorious teachings and goodwill that brings the group to that point in the first place. I’ve also had some of the greatest and glorious feelings of warmth and joy in these same places. And now, looking back at these experiences, it makes you really feel the need to research these types of organizations thoroughly before getting involved. But remember that at least in my experience, the places and people that I may feel hurt the most are the very same people that have brought me love and warmth.
Mark Glynn, CSP