If you’re a spiritual seeker, you’re probably committed to climbing ever higher on the spiral of understanding. In your quest, you keep looking, searching, mining every book and video you can find, intent on finding the answer that will solve all problems and bring total and enduring peace. The uncomfortable truth? You—and I—might just be spiritual gluttons.
The concept has apparently been around for a while. Sixteenth-century monk St. John of the Cross described the tendency in Dark Night of the Soul: “Many can never have enough of listening to counsels and learning spiritual precepts, and of possessing and reading many books.”
Today we buy the newest spiritual books, subscribe to the latest New Thought newsletters, enroll in the leading spiritual retreats and classes, and spend hours sitting at the feet of the most popular mentors. We feverishly click on the links to all the metaphysical websites we can find, watch endless lectures on YouTube, and buy affirmation cards, calendars, t-shirts, and bracelets.
We dash from one chunk of wisdom to another. We cram all the materials into our minds, longing for them to reach our hearts, and hoping feverishly that somewhere the final answers will appear. And we do all this with much pride in our exhaustive hunting.
But nothing fully satisfies, and we repeat the round. We become self-help guru junkies, addicted to our next quick fix of spiritual truth.
Why do we do this? I like the explanation of holistic counselor Michael Swerdloff in a 2014 blog post:
I think it is very easy with all the conferences, trainings, seminars and classes available to us today to continually think we need more—more wisdom, more knowledge . . . . This does not even take into account all that we have access to on the internet. In our culture, the concept of more is at the center of our value system. Why would our spiritual journey be exempt from the belief that we always need more?
There’s a desperation to these cravings for more, as if stuffing in the next gem of truth will magically supply all we need. But in reality, all we seem to get is spiritual indigestion.
My friend Ella kept searching like this. She’d tell me excitedly about the latest guru, author, or teacher she had found. Before each new discovery, she’d say, “I know this is it.” But after she’d read every book, heard every recording, and taken every course, she’d report with an edge of desperation, “Nope. This wasn’t the one.” And then she’d reel off a list of criticisms and inconsistencies she’d noted.
Realizing Ella had spent a lot of money and gained only ongoing confusion and frustration, I suggested (gently, I thought) that she might consider settling on just one or two teachings or teachers. She reacted as if I’d attacked her.
“Oh, you have all the answers!” she shot back. “How about giving me some credit for exploring?”
I apologized, saying that I meant only to help. She hardly bought it.
Did Ella have to find fault with every new discovery? I wondered. Were the criticisms her way of not taking in the truths, not learning, not really wanting to grow?
As soon as I had that thought, I ruefully recognized myself in it. Years ago, after buying the three volumes of A Course in Miracles, I had dipped into the Workbook. Almost immediately, though, I stopped reading. Then I boycotted it for months. Why? Oh, please! The language and diction were too obscure, way too esoteric. You had to read it fifty times to get it. And the text constantly referred to humans as “he.” In this day of inclusion, that’s an insult to women! I was indignant and almost sorry I’d bought the books.
I see now that my objections kept me away. I was depriving myself of admittedly sometimes difficult and radical but nonetheless very inspiring teachings. Finally, I rejected my righteous carpings and inched back into the lessons.
We don’t have to search frantically for the next extravagantly promising “enlightened” piece of information. With some judicious choices and a little discipline, we can reach the answers for any situation that confronts us as well as the peace we crave.
If you suspect you are spiritually gluttonous, think of yourself instead as spiritually judicious. You do have the prudence, wisdom, and discipline to halt the binge and choose the right resources.
A suggestion: Set aside ten to twenty minutes, and then declare your intention with your own affirmation: I will gravitate to exactly the right page/passage/words.
Next, with all the materials you’ve collected, listen for guidance. Instead of gorging on the huge spread before you, let your Inner Guide lead you to one or two books or passages and read or listen to just these. If you find your mind wandering, acknowledge this and come back to the passage you’re on.
A treasure I return to is Unity minister Mary Kupferle’s Trust in the Goodness of God (Unity Books, 2000), replete with uplifting essays. An essay in this book helped me recently with a client. Her dissertation chair was insisting on the draft much sooner than my client had originally told me it was due. When I saw her email, I bristled, cursed, and shouted out loud to myself, “No way!” A little later, I got a severe headache. Recognizing the source, I almost pawed through the stack of metaphysical books within arm’s reach on my desk, feverish for any answer.
But I spotted this reflex as my tendency to spiritual gluttony and instead took a few deep breaths. Kupferle’s book was on the top of the pile, and I opened it. My eye immediately caught the essay “In Everything . . . I Trust God!” Her words guided: “If something seems too difficult for you to handle, remember that you are not alone in any situation. . . . God’s presence is within you. . . . Infinite wisdom is within you. . . . Surrender your thoughts and feelings to God and quietly remind yourself: In everything, I trust God.”
These words immediately soothed me. When I went within and asked for guidance on what to do, shortly the answer came: I could shift another less pressing project one place down on my list so I could give this client’s work the needed immediate attention. I had to forgive myself too for the earlier reaction of anger and resentment. A great sense of peace came over me, and the headache disappeared.
Every time I became unsure or angry again, I repeated the affirmation “In everything, I trust God.” The work went smoothly, and I completed it on time.
As my experience illustrates, we need repetition of the truths we seek. Old negative habits of mind can be hard to crack, and repetition and replacement are key.
Repetition of favorite passages that truly touch you combats spiritual gluttony. We don’t need a surfeit of metaphysical main dishes. We learn that our preferences, or an occasional new dish, are enough.
The real key is to trust. Trust your choices and guidance, ask and listen, and know you will be led to the right answers. We’re often called to leap off the precipice of uncertainty. As Kupferle says, “Be assured that when the time comes, you can ‘let go and let God.’”
Perhaps even more to the point is Joseph Benner’s assurance us in his book The Impersonal Life (DeVorss, 1979): “Now, if you have had enough of teachings and teachers, and are sure that within you lies the Source of all Wisdom, these words will bring joy unspeakable to your heart. . . . Be still! And KNOW,–I AM,–GOD.”
The solutions we seek, whether from a person, a word, a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph, a picture, a vista, will appear when we trust. So let us have the courage to turn within to the Source. Trust yourself, your intuition, your Inner Guide to lead you away from spiritual gluttony and to every judicious right answer.
© 2023 Noelle Sterne