Thursday, January 5, 2012

Standing One's Ground In the Face of Spiritual Challenges

Last night I had a three hour argument with someone close to me about my spiritual practice. This was someone from whom I had every right to expect support, or at least tolerance. He is a lifetime Pagan, he has unusual lifestyle choices of his own and emotionally he certainly should be in my corner. And perhaps he even is--in his mind.

But what came out of his mouth was fairly outrageous. The underlying message was one of arrogance ("I am more of an authority on all things mystical and spiritual than you are even if I've never practiced shamanism in any form"), presumed authority over me ("I don't believe in X, Y or Z mystical practices and neither should you; you should follow my lead in what to believe") and dismissiveness ("No, your beliefs are wrong, because I say they are wrong"). In addition he tried to convince me that I should submit myself to the scrutiny of a professional debunker in order to "prove" my beliefs. (What the hell?)

It gets worse. He has shown an alarming disregard for my rights and boundaries in this matter--such as when I caught him fiddling with my ritual tools ("I'm just making sure you're using them correctly") and placing an image of his god on my altar ("He did it, it's not my doing"). When confronted, he became defensive and spewed even more of the above at me, ignoring completely that it is not his right to touch my power objects, any more than it is his right to try and tell me what to believe. In short, his words and behavior were toxic, and before I accepted my path wholeheartedly they would have sent me into a frenzy of self-doubt.

But that was then.

He seemed absolutely amazed when I instead stood up to him. And hurt, which is ridiculous considering how he had been treating me. We talked it out, but I honestly worry that he is too wrapped up in his cynicism and belief that He Is Right for this to end in any way but more arguments.

Ultimately, though, he could not shake my belief in my spirituality; the only thing he managed to shake was my belief in him. That also seemed to shock him; after all, I was directly challenging his presumed authority over me in this matter. But the point was not that he eventually had to back off; the point was that he could not make me doubt.

Every once in a while you will run across people who will challenge your faith, rights and boundaries. Your challengers will range from skeptics demanding undeniable proof in scientifically verifiable fashion, to the spiritually deluded ("You're going to Hell"/"You can't be a shaman without X piece of paper that you paid a pile of money for"/"You can't be a shaman because you aren't part of an indigenous culture") to the inexplicably motivated ("I know that the word "shaman" is the most widely used term for your spiritual practice, but HOW DARE YOU USE IT.") How does one handle a situation like this?

1. Take deep breaths. The calmer and more focused you can be the better.

2. Do not internalize what they are saying to you. Just because they presume authority over you and believe themselves to be right does not mean you have to buy into it.

3. Don't take it personally. Chances are that the person you're dealing with is so blinded by their own issues that they have no idea how much of a jackass they're being.

4. Remind yourself of your right to your own path, your reasons for being on the path, and the spirits who have chosen you. Do not let yourself be swayed away from these by someone else's words.

5. Choose your battles. Stand up to them verbally if you feel it is necessary. If it is possible, walk away. Remember that it is not your job to convince them of anything. It would be better to be able to have an evenhanded conversation on the subject, but some people will just not be able to give up Being Right long enough to listen to what you have to say.

6. Purify. Smudge, take a salt bath, seek out more positive company, and otherwise do your best to leave what was doubtless an uncomfortable conversation behind you.

7. Check in with Spirit. Make a small offering, go journeying, talk to your Guides. Reconnect. Get back on the horse spiritually.

A challenge to your spirituality should not be viewed as an attack where you are being victimized; that places you in a position of weakness. Instead consider the challenge as just that: something for you to rise to and overcome. You are stronger than you think. And even if you're faced with someone too egotistical and stubborn to bother arguing with, your victory in this matter does not lie in winning a verbal argument. Your victory lies in remaining steadfast in your spiritual truth.


  1. I hate those kinds of people. Thankfully none like that have been family members or friends. If they were they'd quickly find themselves not in my circle. And how rude to tough your alter! Good for you for sticking up for yourself.

  2. I have one to deal with. It's all right, though--one person is not that much. I have a friend whose Pagan path is questioned by every single person close to her. :/

    Anyway, I was able to draw a lesson from it, which hopefully will help other people.

  3. *Hugs* I'm sorry that happened to you, I know how it feels... but I'm glad you stuck to your guns and stood up for yourself. :) If you need to talk or anything you know where to find me.

  4. I'll be OK. I shared this not so much to vent as to show how other people might be able to benefit from my experience. The real battle for one's spirituality is internal; as long as you don't let spiritual challengers shake your faith, you're golden. Winning an argument with them is far less important.

  5. I appreciate your post. I often get the same thing from many people. But intruding upon your altar is taking it a step too far, if you ask me.

    Excellent topic.

  6. I had to do a bit of squawking at him for that, but it has not been repeated since the incident. So that's good at least.

  7. I can feel your frustration trying to argue a spiritual point, but I might suggest that you see things from a different perspective. Stuart Chase wrote:
    "For those who believe, no proof is necessary.
    For those who don't believe, no proof is possible".
    I choose to view an experience such as the one you described as a lesson. I believe all things happen for a reason, I can gain a valuable lesson from "discussions" like this if I am receptive. Three hours? Sometimes it might be better to just agree to disagree and leave it. If your friend lives with you or has regular unsupervised access to your possessions, maybe a written agreement signed by both of you in less heated times could be of benefit. Then, if a violation of your space occurs, you can calmly remind him of the agreement. I would think that to continue the "discussion" just gives the others point of view more energy.

  8. I appreciate your comments. Actually I believe that we are largely on the same page.

    Believe me, if I could have ended the conversation before I finally managed it I would have. Unfortunately, he lives with me and, to put it bluntly, would not shut up. I was a bit of a captive audience, as I had a cold and couldn't leave. And he was convinced, in his stubborn way, that it was a "healing conversation" that had to play out (until I agreed with him). Which meant, yes, three hours of defending my faith while he followed me around pontificating at me about how wrong I was.

    Years ago, before I accepted the path wholeheartedly, he would have gotten to me, or at least left me in tears. Instead I endured a siege designed to make me doubt, and calmly told him that I was going to continue with my practice regardless of how he looked down on them.

    The whole thing was a lesson in the sense that I was able to take what I did and show other people how they might be able to use the same methods. But it was also a test, one which I passed--not easily and not comfortably, but I did. Three hours of lecturing by someone whose opinion I normally value, and I was not swayed. Compared to that most conversations of the type will be easy to deal with.

  9. I am glad you have a good feeling with the experience, for this is what matters most. Each of us has our path, and as such each is uniquely qualified to interpret our steps. It is difficult to transcribe an experience of any kind into words for others to interpret; those of spiritual content far more so. I applaud your courage in putting yourself out in the world's vision as you have done. You are obviously a very special person!

  10. *blush* Thank you. The truth is, though, that I'm no more special than anyone else. This work I'm doing, though, it is special.

    ...crap, I think I just quoted Kevin Spacey's character from Se7en. O_o

    ANYway, my hope is to help people, one at a time or in little groups, be it from the writing or direct work. We'll see how it goes, but so far so good!

  11. Just goes to show how it is people who create judgement and superiority complex, etc... and not necessarily the religion or spiritual belief! Very, VERY unusual for an individual on such a path! Sorry that happened to you!! Light & hugs! Love your blog. :)

  12. Some people are just that stubborn, I guess. He's actually a great guy in a lot of other ways, but that night I had to suppress the urge to scream. Thanks for all, and I'm glad you like it. I hope to provide a lot of resources for people.