Spiritual Study Groups: Are the Inmates Running the Asylum?
When we speak of spiritual growth or unfoldment what we are really discussing is our degree of understanding our own mind. Why this is important is because when we are talking about 'enlightenment' or 'illumination' what we are really pointing to is our own degree of mental clarity or mental health. This is important to understand because there can be no genuine enlightenment and there not be a corresponding degree of mental health or wholeness. This does not mean that spiritual practices cannot be traumatic, in fact, they should be. The trauma is not a result of the practice, but of the practice pointing out to us where our neurotic tendencies and habits reside and how they are activated. By knowing this we can dissolve or deactivate them and thereby remove a block to our relaxed and natural state of mind we call enlightenment. If your path is too smooth you are doing something wrong. If your path is too rocky then you are doing something wrong. If your path has its peaks and valley, along with stretches of calm plateaus, then you are probably doing something correctly.
This is also the very reason why there can be no such thing as collective enlightenment. Each person must work with their own mind and its contents. Others can help us, and we can help others, but our help is limited by our own actual degree of mental health and wholeness. All too often we find people who find something that is good for them – at least for the moment – who then want to share it, or rather force it upon the world. This need for collectivism is itself a neurotic function of the individual's failure to grasp the limitations of their own actual degree of inner awakening. While it is important to work with a group so that we can see our strengths and weaknesses manifest with others who may be in a position to help us, it is important to realize that the group is not the work, nor the result of it. The spiritual community, as far as human beings are concerned, is a workshop of ideas. Not all workshops produce the same quality of goods. So, pick your friends carefully, and your spiritual friends even more carefully. If the 'inmates are running the asylum' then you must seriously question the quality of spiritual instruction and awakening that can take place for you within that group.
Remember, in the end it is all about your understanding of yourself, and your ability to actualize fully and completely your own inner potential. Spiritual practice is a solitary path taken by individuals who may or may not chose to walk and work together for a period of time and mutual support (this is what churches, schools, lodges, and orders are for), but it is not a collective enterprise wherein all members are considered equal regardless of their degree of active participation in their own inner life. Each of us will reap what we sow, and not reap the work or rewards of the other. It can be no other way, otherwise there would be no need for spiritual instruction and practice, as the singular enlightenment of one would be the de facto enlightenment of us all.
For more information on how to organize a spiritual study and practice group see: