I've looked at the world through the glasses I was given. Now I've taken them off. It'surprising how distorting the wrong pair of glasses can be.

Things We Don’t Talk About Part 1: Spiritual Smugness

“Do you have a vegan option?” She asked the flight attendant. There was an underlying thread of iron in her voice, pulled taut across her vocal cords.

We were on a flight from Nashville to Austin, and the woman sitting by the window was somewhat agitated. The flight attendant cheerfully said, “I can give you a roll and jam, and would you like sugar with your tea?”

“NOoo sugar!” she replied, hair-standing-on-end-head-shaking offense seeping through her words like rust.

I passed her my extra bread and sent a smile her way, then went back to my book.

It was when we landed that things got really interesting.

I reached up to get my suitcase from the bin above me, and struggled with the weight. When the gentleman standing in the aisle walked past without helping, I felt fury rising behind me like smoke. “I cannot believe that!” my window companion said, thick angry poison flowing with her words, “He is so rude! I can’t believe he didn’t help you. What is wrong with people?”

As she fumed another man helped me and I was on my way, sending a blessings back towards my riled up vegan friend that she might find peace.

I had two thoughts as I exited the plane: First: Perhaps she didn’t quite understand the message of the book she was reading, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. (Patience. Awareness. Fixing the little things as they arise with calm presence. If you haven’t read the book, it’s a classic.)

And second: spiritual smugness causes so much suffering.

One thing we rarely talk about is how even when we are “spiritual” or “evolved” or even “right” it does not give us license to lash out at other people, regardless of their behavior, beliefs, or unconsciousness.

We are all unconscious at times. We all make mistakes. We all have a right to our beliefs and our actions. Respecting other people’s choices, even when we don’t like them, goes much further than any other position.

I used to be seriously spiritually smug. When I was in college and a political activist I saw anyone who was not fighting for change as unconscious, part of the problem, and uneducated. I was fighting the good fight, and if you weren’t with us you were against us. I then transferred that self-important attitude to my spiritual path – secretly believing that my spiritual friends and I were “better” than people that weren’t on a path of awakening/bettering themselves/healing.

Sometimes I still fall into that trap. But the second I catch myself I dig out of the quicksand of spiritual smugness as quickly as I can. Because that type of thinking leads to separation, and anger, and judgment, and a false sense of superiority that is like sugar: it may give you a boost in the short run, but it is detrimental in the long run.

Being spiritually smug makes us feel “right” for a time, which is a potent cocktail of false power. But the price is too high: our happiness. Our humility. Our humanness. When we believe ourselves to be better than others, or we hang on to our right to be angry or bitter or demeaning, regardless of other’s behavior, we are eating anger, drinking bitterness, digesting distain. And we are usually doing exactly what we are accusing others of doing, in some form.

My airplane neighbor was rudely accusing someone else of being rude. The man she was spewing her anger at was just making a choice to not help, for whatever reason. Perhaps he didn’t notice my struggle. Or he was late for a flight connection. Or he had a bad back. Or he was unconscious. Or he doesn’t like women. Or ….. the reason doesn’t matter, really. He chose not to. And I could be offended, or hurt, or angry at his choice. Or I could honor his choice and move on with my day without tripping over my own fantasy of what life should look like.

I've looked at the world through the glasses I was given. Now I've taken them off. It'surprising how distorting the wrong pair of glasses can be.I’m not saying this is easy. Just today I had to do some serious deep breathing to not rant at a friend who was being super negative. There is no magic pill or simple meditation or holy place where you suddenly never react to anyone’s actions. It takes practice, and patience, and turning your attention away from other people’s choices to hold a mirror up to see where you being righteous or reactionary or resistant. Sometimes the reflection is painful. And what I’ve found is that it is always deeply healing to own our shadows and stop projecting them outwards with our spiritual smugness or righteous rage or bountiful blame.

Be gentle with yourself, and others.

Let’s be the people who when we are squeezed by life ooze love rather than hatred or frustration or smug superiority.

And please please go see the movie “Who to Invade Next” by Michael Moore. It is a shining star of a movie to show us where we can loosen our grip on an illusion to learn from other’s examples.

26 thoughts on “Things We Don’t Talk About Part 1: Spiritual Smugness

    1. Thanks so much for this – it came to me just at the right moment for me to actually hear it. Now to see if I can take that step into putting it into practice!

    2. Guilty! I had a slow realization of my spiritual smugness when I judged a friend for being into magick and witchcraft while at the same time I was seeking out psychics and astrologers because I didn’t know where my life was headed. We all perceive this world of ours through different lenses. We ALL are a mixture of goodness and flaws and different points of view. Thanks for posting this article! It’s stimulating a lot of reflection on tolerance. 🙂

  1. Thank you for being aware of all things! I’ve noticed this type of smugness. I’m from where there are not many vegetarians or activists. So when I go into a zone where there is a lot of “spiritually specific” people I am often the one they see and assume that I’m not as “with it” as they are. I’m usually seeing what you described. They are so stuck in what they think is right that they have lost the point of being different. They are then mostly consumed with trying to be what they think they should be in that way: conformed.

    Thank you so much! I’ll see you on the Ignite! webinar, FB page, Tribe page, Facilitator page, and in Teo in June! And, I’ll keep reading WGT 🙂

    -Leahanne

    1. My experiences have been similar to Leahanne’s. I would find myself in “more advanced” spiritual circles fending off veiled barbs directed at my “lack” of spirituality. I always get a good laugh when I hear one of them say “but we’re not judgmental, we don’t judge around here.” I bless those “advanced” souls and have found a more suitable tribe. Great article. Blessings & Peace to All–Bobbie

      1. This has happened to me a lot. It hurts. Very disheartening /: I’d love to find a more suitable tribe that is truly interested in loving guidance. We all start somewhere. Some day I hope to witness to lost youth. Blessings to you 🙏🏼

  2. Truth spoken with grace. At 70 I still have work to do. I ask everyday for patience and compassion for me and others.Thank you Heather for bringing this out to the light. Your insights bring up lots of juicy questions to ponder and act on.

  3. Love your insight into all these aspects of life and being. Been trying to keep up since meeting you at the Universal Consciousness Festival. You always give me something to consider. Though your focus is on helping women, you have much to offer everyone, regardless of gender.

  4. I love the quote ( and I am paraphrasing), “Those who awaken seldom judge those who still sleep.” We all have our own perceptions, our filters through which we experience the world. At best, they add to our uniqueness, enable us to see things from multiple perspectives, and can really spark a good conversation when differences in perceotion are examined. At worst, perceptions can lead to biases and then to judgement and labeling. Labels limit. Just as the voice of my internal judge makes me feel falsely powerful and deters me from seeking my truth, the seduction of external judgement deters me from seeking my truth and from seeing the truth in others’ perspectives. I love your analogy that tjis is like sugar – a quick jolt followed by negative consequences. I have not thought of this as smuggness but it is. I cannot be both student and judge. From this lofty, judgemental point of view, I lose touch with my true path. I cease to be a student, a seeker. I will really have heightened awareness about this now. Hopefully, if I am fully, passionately occupied with seeking, my only interest in others’ paths is how I can learn from them or how I can support them, which leaves no room for comparison or smuggness. Hopefully.

  5. How do hormones play into this? As I move toward menopause, sometimes I feel myself absolutely fuming! Tonight in the sauna the was a mother and daughter who went in and out 8 times total, yes, I counted. Sigh. But I didn’t say anything and was finally grateful that I could even be IN a sauna, how fortunate for me . Thanks for the reminders.

  6. Word! So well articulated and relatable.Thanks HeatherAsh! Helping me better notice my shadow selves and bringing them compassion is a tip I recently picked up. As my sacred judge points out someone being rude or acting badly, I make the statement… “There I go being rude” or “There I go acting badly” …etc. Letting that soak for a minute, my (now confused) judge takes a momentary pause and I find it humbling to see those same traits that ” hooked” my judge, also residing in me in deep areas not normally looked at. What? Yes….Compassion briefly peaks around the corner photo-bombing my judge and noticing….We are indeed all one.

  7. “One thing we rarely talk about is how even when we are “spiritual” or “evolved” or even “right” it does not give us license to lash out at other people, regardless of their behavior, beliefs, or unconsciousness.”

    This statement speaks volumes to me. Recently, I was reviewing the roles in the drama triangle, because even though I would remember the victim and rescuer roles, I never could remember the persecutor role. In this review, i realized, in my pride of no longer being a victim or a rescuer, I lost sight of the role of persecutor I assumed.

    Yep, I do believe ‘Spirit’ is working on me. 🙂 <3

  8. Well said dear mentor, wonderful writer and beautiful human. Your insights and self awareness are always so refreshing and continue to assist me on my journey of discovery, acceptance & recovery of my authentic self. Write on, HeatherAsh, Write on <3

  9. What a powerful statement of how there is a difference between the theory of being spiritual and the practice of being spiritual. Someone close to me adores throwing out many spiritual theories night and day to the point of making everyone run away but in her own life, she is bitter and negative and resentful. I learned a long time ago that I prefer to walk a loving path than try to teach others how to walk a loving path.

  10. I have found my self struggling with “respecting” other choices or actions when it comes to traditions, costumes, or even religion.

    I mean how could one not take actions against injustice if we can not judge others?

    Can you imagine if civil right activists did not
    judge those who discriminate?

    I think is imperative to be conscious in order to take actions.

  11. Thanks for the reminders. They help me let go. There is a woman in the apartment building where I live who can really push my buttons. A brief exchange last night upset me. I had to wonder if I wasn’t guilty of mirroring her attitude, that anything she does is right and everyone else is wrong, right back at her. It is the same attitude as the spiritual smugness the fundamentalists around me as I grew up had. And there is some fear too, because I am sure she was behind management threatening to evict me last year. It’s too hard to find housing I can afford near transportation to let her chase me out. Reading this helped me come to terms with my mirroring behavior.

  12. Wow, what a view! I've never thought LA could actually be all that beautiful, but perhaps you have changed my mind with these photos. Off-leash trails like that are awesome. It's wonderful to know amidst all that concrete, there are still some woflrenudly natural places to explore.

  13. Beautiful share and reminder!!!! Your teachings and wisdom have brought me so much awareness and given me guidance on how to be a conscious human. Thank you ❤️❤️❤️

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