This article was published in the “Cults and Gurus” issue of Tribe, our digital magazine. It’s a better reading experience in the app. You can read Tribe now on Android or iPhone.
What drives someone to become an evil and manipulative guru?
Are some people born with this deep attraction to manipulation and deceit? Or, do they slowly turn into scammers without noticing how low they have gone?
And, what about their disciples? Are they passive victims?
Why are they buying all sorts of absurd lies and closing their eyes to reality? Haven’t they noticed the warning signs? Or, do they prefer to ignore them?
Are guru sand disciples two sides of the same coin?
What if your reality turns out to be so unbearably painful and frightening to the point of despair?
Wouldn’t you be thankfully holding onto the first lie that makes you feel comfortable and safe?
If you’re drowning in the open sea, you’ll try to hold on to the first floater you see without asking where it will take you or at what cost.
I’ve been in this place; let me tell you.
I started my spiritual quest at 15. Despite my young age, the spiritual world spoke very deep to my heart. I found love.
I tapped fascinated into new layers of reality.
I found out I’m much more than I thought I was. I understood I’m part of a much bigger system, like a little cell in God’s cosmic body.
These were overwhelming feelings. However, before you think I was fortunate for finding my path so early, you should know my journey also had a much darker side.
I experienced a mix of excitement and despair at 15.
The traumas I was carrying were more than I could handle, and I was feeling completely alone.
The spiritual world was my salvation and refuge. It was a place without the verbal and physical abuse I suffered at home and where I wasn’t bullied as I was at school. Instead, I was accepted and treated with love. I embraced that path not only with all my love but also my despair.
For years, my spirituality was a way to evade growing up and facing the world. It was much easier to just stay within the bubble of my spiritual circle than live in the aggressive and ruthless society that once had hurt me so badly.
What I didn’t know at that time is that our problems don’t just fade away. You can’t go too far away from your past without being caught by your ghosts. All your traumas and fears will continue haunting your guts until you find the balls to face them.
It was then when I started to distort reality.
Instead of admitting my fear, I pretended I was too evolved and had no interest in mundane life. I thought there was no sense in interacting with normal people since they were not ready to understand life as profoundly as I. What’s the sense of talking about superficialities? I thought it was better to avoid talking to non-spiritual people.
Deep down, I was so broken that I felt I couldn’t conquer my place in the world. I felt I didn’t deserve to be respected. I was frightened. However, the story I told myself was different. I painted myself as a being of light, better, and more evolved than at least 90% of humankind.
Self-hypnotized, I jumped into each spiritual path I found with messianic devotion. Instead of measuring things using my reason, I preferred to paint my comrades and spiritual teachers much purer and more perfect than what they really were. I embraced each philosophy with the excitement of finally finding “the truth”. I became disappointed and broken time after time.
Some of my spiritual teachers were very good people with a lot to teach. I idealized them as saints, just to feel disappointed later when they showed to be as human as me.
Some others were real wolves and knew how to find and explore my insecurities and narcissistic wounds to bend and manipulate me.
Still, others believed to be super-humans on a mission to save the world. Those who believed their own bullshit was the worst of all. If someone can convincingly lie to oneself, imagine what this person can do to others.
I deposited my faith into each of these teachers with excitement and devotion. Each of them disappointed me and took some piece of my naivety until it was all gone.
At a certain point, I had to make a choice. Should I give up spirituality forever? Or, should I try a different approach and face the liar inside myself instead of blaming anyone else? Some of the self-proclaimed gurus I met were real criminals, but embracing the role of the victim wouldn’t help me fix the situation.
My self-esteem was completely shattered. I was manipulated, used, and abused. Yet, they were playing their role. They were pretending to be what I was looking for.
Thanks to them, I understood an obvious but not easy-to-digest truth: nobody can save me.
Every time I was manipulated, it was thanks to my naivety and existential despair. I felt so fragile, lost, and alone that I was ready to deposit all my hope into those who offered me “salvation”.
The decision I made was to take responsibility. I didn’t give up my spiritual path, but I decided to give up “salvation” and face the source of my unbalance.
My spiritual path really started when I decided to stop looking for spiritual comfort and decided to confront myself.
The confrontation was not easy. I had to develop the courage to face each of my fears, visit the feelings I avoided most, and do the things that scared me.
I could never get rid of my existential anguish and anxiety, but I learned to find some lodge for these feelings without letting them hold me back.
I faced my own despair and renounced “salvation” to find my truest spirituality. I accepted myself inside the wild and chaotic cauldron of life and death called existence. I renounced seeking answers to embrace the mystery of the unknown.
It may feel quite comforting to find a philosophy that explains who God is, how the universe works, the rules of life, what you should do, where you came from, and what will happen to your soul after death. I started my spiritual journey seeking these answers.
I thought they would bring existential comfort, clarity, and some meaning to my life.
Much later, I understood that life is much more than my mind can understand, and all our spiritual stories and theories are failed attempts to describe something that goes far beyond the reach of our intellect.
Life is like the most beautiful flower you can find. For years I looked at the flower without really seeing it. I was too concerned about analyzing the color of its petals, trying to understand its patterns and dissect the magic formula behind its smell. The day I gave up trying to understand the flower, I could finally feel its beauty and enjoy its smell.
Connecting with life from my heart brought me to a state of presence much more fulfilling than any incomplete answer I could ever find.
Breaking through to the other side
It took me years, but I came to find my path.
I could tap into my nature and make peace with myself. The knowledge I achieved was helpful for me and others.
In the beginning, it was an amazing feeling. The choices and efforts I made started to fructify.
I reached a deep understanding of myself and life. I learned to employ my knowledge as a tool to help people overcome their struggles to find their balance.
In shamanism, I found my place and function in the world. It was right then when things started getting dangerous.
In the beginning, it was just a few people seeking healing or spiritual advice. However, more and more people got to know about me by word of mouth, and when I noticed, my life already changed.
Having people from every continent see me and a circle of loyal disciples around me made me feel useful and fed my vanity.
I must confess, I enjoyed the attention. I almost believed I was something between an enlightened being and a spiritual pop star.
Maybe I would have gone all the way down this path to end up believing I was a guru if a bitter feeling of frustration didn’t start popping up from the depths of my belly.
For years, I dreamed about the place where I finally arrived, but after the first euphoria was gone, I found loneliness.
Despite all the attention, I felt I was not being seen. All they could see was the shaman. Actually, even the shaman they were seeing was not the real one, but their own version, created by them to fit their expectations. It was someone they believed could protect and help them. It was someone they hoped would have the answers to their existential questions. It was someone they thought would be above human struggles and necessities.
The people around me were so eager for my knowledge that they didn’t notice when I was tired, hungry, or needed to be alone.
Morning calls to tell me about dreams and ask for interpretations were constant. I could rarely enjoy a meal among friends without being asked every sort of question about spirituality or demanded to solve someone’s emotional issue or existential struggle.
Some people confronted me, suggesting I shouldn’t charge for my services due to their spiritual nature, as if a shaman doesn’t need to eat, live, and pay the bills.
And the weirdest of all, some people, instead of saluting me with the basic “Hello, how are you,” saluted me with sentences like “Hello, how am I?” or “Hi, what do you see in me?”
If I was more loving, patient, and attached to the alpha shaman status, I would have probably embraced the role. However, that was not the case.
It felt like a prison.
I realized I didn’t want that, which was an enlightening moment. I broke through my vanity and climbed off the tower that was constructed to put me above the “mere mortals.”
I realized that the whole point of my spiritual quest was not to make me feel special but to make me more human, heat my heart, and feel closeness.
Being a powerful and wise spiritual leader was appealing to my ego, but it didn’t speak to my heart.
When I looked back to reevaluate my journey, I understood that I could only find my path when I stopped chasing for gurus and took full responsibility for my spiritual life.
Having people relying on me to live their spirituality was contradictory to my own path in a certain sense. Seeking a guru would give them comfort but wouldn’t help them achieve the same level of maturity I achieved.
It was not easy to close the spiritual center and deconstruct the image of the omniscient shaman. It was painful but liberating.
I ended up learning how to use my knowledge to contribute to the evolution of my fellows without creating links of dependency. I also found the most joyful and productive kinds of interactions with people.
I’m committing my life to shamanic knowledge. I have lost count of the times I spent developing and ripening tools for self-understanding and self-development. I’m dedicated. Consequently, I do it very well. However, it doesn’t entitle me to be above anyone else.
Yes, I know how to bring people back to their personal power and how to put them in touch with the wide and beautiful universe they bring inside.
However, each human being has something to teach me in exchange. Every day I learn something from the people around me, and I love it. I’m still an apprentice, and I want to die as an apprentice.
There’s nothing as boring as believing or pretending to know everything. There’s nothing as stupid as wasting the opportunities we have to learn from the people around us.
If your spirituality makes you feel distant from people or creates any hierarchical distinction that doesn’t let you see and interact with the ones around you as equals, it’s better to get rid of your spirituality. Try to embrace the much more enriching experience of living your humanity with an open heart.
Love yourself first and everything else falls into place
It may sound conceited or narcissistic to focus on loving yourself first. But it’s not.
The point isn’t to believe you’re better than others or to accept things about yourself that you really do need to change.
It’s about developing a healthy and nurturing relationship with… you!
Loving yourself is about committing to who you are, understanding the many different nuances to your identity, and showing yourself a level of care and intimacy that we usually reserve for other people.
Unfortunately, we’re not taught how to love ourselves from an early age. And we end up caring about what others think of us rather than focusing on what we need at a more fundamental level.
This is why we partnered with Rudá Iandê to produce a free masterclass on transforming our relationships through the practice of self-love.
It’s currently playing on The Vessel (one of our partners) but only for a limited time.
<< The Art of Love & Intimacy with Rudá Iandê >>
Thousands have attended and told us that the masterclass has completely transformed their relationships for the better.
It’s a must-watch and we couldn’t recommend it more highly.