Self-Reliance Equals Self-Esteem

You might recall reading about the recent deaths of three people at a self-help seminar in Sedona, Arizona. The seminar consisted of a ‘spiritual awakening’ event at a sweat lodge. A woman who took part in the ceremony told The Associated Press that the ‘guru’ who led the event pushed participants too far in what was supposed to be a life-expanding experience — that culminated in people passing out on the floor. According to the report, ‘Within an hour of entering the sweat lodge on the evening of Oct. 8, people began vomiting, gasping for air and collapsing. Yet .. [James A.] Ray [the group leader] continually urged everyone to stay inside. The ceremony was broken up into 15-minute ’rounds,’ with the entrance flap to the lodge opened briefly and more heated rocks brought inside between sessions.’ A homicide investigation is underway.

Tragedies like this are unusual. What’s not unusual, however, is the tendency for people to seek out a ‘guru,’ a ‘rescuer’ or whatever they want to call it. The whole silly notion is best summed up by, ‘Help is on the way.’

The last thing an individual (or a society) needs is someone to rescue them. From what, may I ask? The very notion implies that the natural human state is one of helplessness. “I’m helpless and hopeless, therefore I need someone to rescue me.’ If you don’t challenge that, you will, in fact, become helpless and hopeless. Ever wonder why so many people seem to be depressed? The essence of “depression” is the belief that you are hopeless and helpless. The best way to feed into that is to believe that someone’s going to appear and do for you what, in truth, only you can do for yourself.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s fine to have role models. Inspiration is an important part of motivation. But none of these require someone else to live our lives for us. In fact, the best role models and leaders are the ones who are not overly involved in our lives. We admire them from a distance, and their competence can inspire us to find our own way.

Life is not an emergency room. Occasional emergencies can happen, of course, but we can’t make it our whole basis for living. Psychologically and emotionally, a ‘guru’ is the last thing anyone needs. All we need is our mind, our reasoning, and our sense of reality. Others might occasionally guide or coach us, but we’re thoroughly equipped to be in the driver’s seats of our own lives.

In the Sedona tragedy, the quest for this guru/savior turned fatal. In most cases, it doesn’t. But you’re still harming yourself. Every time you look to others for help to escape the ‘burden’ of living a fulfilling life, you chip away at your morale and self-esteem. It’s hard to imagine how such a thing could be ‘spiritual.’

Controversial author Sam Vaknin, Ph.D., describes the guru in the ‘guru/disciple’ relationship as a narcissist. Vaknin observes, ‘The narcissist’s control is based on ambiguity, unpredictability, fuzziness, and ambient abuse. His ever-shifting whims exclusively define right versus wrong, desirable and unwanted, what is to be pursued and what is to be avoided. He alone determines the rights and obligations of his disciples and alters them at will. He exerts control over the minutest details and behaviors. He punishes severely and abuses withholders of information and those who fail to conform to his wishes and goals.’ Now there’s a sick relationship if there ever was one!

The guru’s need for disciples is unhealthy. His followers need someone to dutifully follow because they lack confidence in their minds and their worth. This, of course, validates the guru’s narcissistic needs. No matter what the context, this sort of thing is everywhere. The only way to protect yourself from it is to have confidence in your self-worth and self-reliance.

Confidence requires trust in your thoughts and your mind. People who lack self-confidence refuse to accept their own judgment, but they’re quick to believe unfounded claims from ‘gurus’ and others who play the part. Of course, none of us are infallible, and facts can prove any of us wrong at any time. But self-worth means that you see your thinking as credible and that you trust the input from your senses. Remember the story of ‘The Emperor Has No Clothes’? Mass numbers of people pretended that the clearly observable wasn’t true, until a small child pointed out the obvious. A perfect metaphor for the courage required to expose the empty pretense and posturing of powerful people and institutions! That’s how people with low self-worth approach life, and they’re the ones who fall prey to narcissistic ‘leaders,’ ‘protectors’ and the like.

True leaders will inspire confidence. They have no desire to take anything away from you. Nobody can steal your self-worth without your consent. So hold onto it and nourish it. Now THAT’S spirituality!