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How to Win the Spiritual Olympics

photo: Rebecca MacKinnon on flikr

“I’m more spiritual than you are.”

Has there ever been a more absurd statement in the history of the Universe?

Sure, there are stranger things to say. Like, “My donkey is on backwards.”

photo: Alex Proimos on flikr

Or “What’s the square root of cake?”

photo: Valberg Larusson on flikr

But surely, “I’m more spiritual than you are” is right up there in the bizarre-phrases category.

The other day, I was having a conversation with someone I had just met. There were a lot of words being transferred back and forth between us, but I started to notice a pattern. It went a little something like this:

I would say something. Then she would say something back. Her response fell into one of two categories.

Category 1 – an explanation as to why I wasn’t enlightened enough to understand what she had just said.

Or Category 2 – a generous and sympathetic attempt to share her enlightened insights with me.

Underneath both category 1 and 2 was the unspoken proclamation: “I’m more spiritual than you.”

photo: Allen Sima on flikr

How annoying is that?

But check it out. Noticing this pattern, I came up with an unspoken proclamation of my own. Here’s how it went:

Thinking that you’re more spiritual than I am is SO not spiritual. Can’t you see that? I guess you can’t. But I can. You know why? Because . . . . . [drum roll please] . . . . I’m more spiritual than you are!

And there you have it. The Spiritual Olympics.

It’s not pretty. Another phrase for the tendency to bring comparison and competition into our spiritual practice is spiritual materialism. But I like Spiritual Olympics. It lays it on the line: Who’s better? Who’s the best? Who’s the most spiritual person in the world?

Can you imagine if there really was a Spiritual Olympics?

I can see it now: People from around the globe gather to compete in a wide variety of challenges designed to assess their spiritual aptitude and agility.

Spectators flock to events like Meditation Smack Down, in which seasoned meditators are tested on their ability to sustain a deep meditative state while being pummeled with over-ripe mangos.    

photo: FutureExpat on flikr

Or High-Wire Yoga, in which yoga masters from around the world are challenged to strike and maintain pretzel-like poses while suspended 1,000 feet in the air over a crocodile-infested river.

photo: William Warby on flikr

Or Pranayama and the Pea, in which contestants sleep on a stack of mattresses with a single pea placed underneath. The competitors then engage in special breathing exercises to determine if the pea under the mattresses is organic or not.

photo: Tim Boyd on flikr

And Affirmation Obstacle Course, in which self-help gurus race through a course filled with death-defying obstacles. The only way past the obstructions is to employ super-charged, mind-altering affirmations. The winner of the event, invariably, is the contestant who has most vehemently affirmed that he or she will triumph.

photo: Philo Nordlund on flikr

Sounds like fun, yes?

Our everyday experience may not be as dramatic as crocodiles over 1000 feet, but those of us on the path know that Spiritual Olympics exists. It exists because our ego comes with us on the journey. It’s part of the deal. And the ego, even an ego on the spiritual path, likes to compare and contrast.

Talk about winning a gold medal! The ego wins, hands-down, in its ability to make us miserable by comparing ourselves to others. It doesn’t matter whether we come out better or worse, it’s still a miserable pursuit.

There’s a phrase I heard years ago: “Comparison is a down-payment on suffering.” It doesn’t get any clearer than that.

When I first discovered metaphysics in my early twenties, I felt so special. In my eyes, I was so much more enlightened than everyone around me. It’s only now that I look back on that time with embarrassment.

Though embarrassment implies judgment, and that’s not very spiritual, is it? And judging my judgment, like I just did, is even worse!

See what I mean? It’s a vicious circle. With no winners.

The answer, of course, is Love. 

photo: Tommy Wong on flikr

The existence of Spiritual Olympics challenges us to love those who are asserting their spiritual superiority over us. It challenges us to love ourselves when we’re asserting our spiritual superiority over others.

It challenges us to love in spite of competition, in spite of comparison, in spite of fear.

That said, it turns out there actually is a test to determine how spiritual you are. You know what it is?

How accepting are you of yourself and others? That’s it. That’s the test.

And let’s be clear. I’m not talking about acceptance in the sense of tolerance, or resignation, but in terms of true, heart-felt allowing of everything and everyone around us.

It’s not about how long we can meditate, or how easily we can affirm our way out of a jam. It’s about accepting and allowing everything exactly as it is.

And if that’s not worthy of a gold medal, I don’t know what is.

photo: cliff1066 on flikr

How accepting are you of the world around you? And – here’s the tricky part – how accepting are you of your lack of acceptance?

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30 Responses to How to Win the Spiritual Olympics

  1. Squirrel November 22, 2011 at 8:41 am #

    good morning, z! happy tuesday! happy thanksgiving eve eve, too! 😉 the square root of round cake is PI. 😉

    how accepting am i of the world around me? and how accepting am i of my lack of acceptance? i like to think that i’m completely accepting of the world around me 100% of the time… however… that is not at all the case. for me, my acceptance of the goings on around me ebbs and flows, and when it’s ebbing, i know that there is something in me that i am not accepting. there is some kind of resistance or friction going on within and i get to step back and look at that and do my work around it. hence, i am fairly accepting of my lack of acceptance.

    except when i’m not. when the “committee” is occupying my head screaming into a megaphone that i’m not supposed to not be accepting and “get over it, you’re not that important”, etc. and i can’t appease it, it’s all bad. and it’s all good. i usually seek prayer at that point. i get out of my head by seeing a practitioner or talking to a friend in our community who won’t cosign my bs but will listen compassionately and remind me of my Truth. like that.

    i had a point but went off on a tangent and i don’t remember what it was. and i can accept that. :)


    • Z Egloff November 22, 2011 at 9:15 am #

      Good Morning, Squirrel!! (Doesn’t that sound like a movie? It would have to be Disney. But then it also sounds like “Good Morning, Vietnam,” so we might have to go dark. Though Disney does dark. But I digress. . . .)

      Speaking of tangents, I think it’s awesome that you can accept them. Tangents are the key to life! Tangents rock! Tangents are . . . . what was I saying?

      Oh yeah. I think it’s awesome that you can move outside of yourself when you get stuck. For me, that’s often the only thing that works – Seeking Help. Whether from a person or just from the Divine. Or Disney, of course. But that goes without saying. 😉


  2. Jo Lauer November 22, 2011 at 8:47 am #

    I am fully, totally, lovingly in acceptance of your mind as a most amazing place to hang out. Thank you so much for sharing it with us!! (pummeled with over-ripe mangoes???) Chuckling with appreciation as I go into my day…

    • Z Egloff November 22, 2011 at 9:09 am #

      And I am fully, lovingly in acceptance of your acceptance of me! And my acceptance of you! I think we’re both totally evolved. I think we both ace the test. 😉

  3. kathleen November 22, 2011 at 10:09 am #

    Hey Z
    I’m in the airport pondering what you’ve written and judging my ability to type on this tiny keyboard with my thumbs.
    Jst had to let u know the answer to the question in your list of silly statement is obviously….. Pi
    Happy thanksgiving!

    • Z Egloff November 22, 2011 at 10:37 am #

      Hi Kathleen,

      Ah, Pi! Of course! I should have known. Since it’s almost Thanksgiving, would it be Pumpkin Pi?

      Have fun back East!! Safe and happy travels to you!


  4. Cecilia November 22, 2011 at 11:18 am #

    Ahhh, Z. Once again, your honest yet humorous presentation of a life experience relates in perfect parallels to mine. I had several experiences with a human being from whom I felt emanating the same underlying tones of, “Well, my spiritual way is better. No, not better – BEST.” It certainly started that awful contest of justifying my own practice, spiritual and personality-wise, and even made me feel I had to clarify with others that they felt it too.

    Alas! How 2-D of me. What a glorious opportunity to exercise perfect love, and the exact spiritual practice I know is right for me.

    • Z Egloff November 22, 2011 at 2:56 pm #

      Ha! 2-D. Very funny. I love it!

      I guess you’re a human being, just like the rest of us. It really does crack me up when competition enters the realm of spirituality, in me or in others. It’s a sure sign that we’ve lost perspective. But then we get to be gentle with ourselves about that, don’t we? Perhaps I can be the BEST at being gentle!!! 😉

  5. LaLaLaLaLa November 22, 2011 at 11:28 am #

    I thought cakes had round roots. And do we get to eat the mango mash? Love your examples, and I am more accepting of others than myself a lot of the time. I am sometimes surprised to feel how much I love me, knowing myself as I do. More and more, I ride for longer periods on that love wave. Your sense of whimsy helps the medicine go down. See you tonight!

    • Z Egloff November 22, 2011 at 2:59 pm #

      Only the meditator gets to eat the mango mash. At least, those were the rules in the Spiritual Olympics I participted in! 😉

      Glad you’re riding on the Love Wave for longer and longer periods of time. There truly is no better wave to ride than that one.

  6. Juliana November 22, 2011 at 11:34 am #

    Hi Z!

    What a delightfully humorous and humbling expose (of sorts!) on the little paradoxical play we all share in on. Oh yes! Thank you, Z!

    Here’s to the ebb and flow in practice (remembering again and again, a million times!). May we have more “serious” fun, playfully practicing our way towards radical acceptance – perhaps, the Platinum Medal! (Thanks also to Tara Brach, who wrote a wonderful, compassionate book called Radical Acceptance).

    Of course, our movements towards the God qualities of acceptance, compassion, love, generosity, peace, etc. are kindly symbolized by a compass rather than a gauge. (I think it was Pema Chodron who I’m borrowing the compass image from.) We are all fellow travelers who thankfully have some awesome compasses to help guide our way.

    Thank you Z for helping us remember to laugh on the journey! Love to you! :-)

    • Z Egloff November 22, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

      Hi Juliana,

      Welcome to the world of the goofballs! Good to see you here!

      I love the compass metaphor. Yes! I seem to have a continual movement of forgetting and remembering, coming again and again to my Center. And I love that the compasses of my loved ones are also there to keep me on track!


  7. Kathy November 22, 2011 at 1:34 pm #


    • Z Egloff November 22, 2011 at 3:01 pm #


  8. C.I. November 23, 2011 at 4:43 pm #

    This sparked a stream of consciousness for me (or “tangent”, if you like) about competing in general. And then right down to the basics: “My baby is developing faster than yours (walking, talking, crawling on his belly like a reptile), potty trained, etc.” — small franchise on MISERY, that one, cause yours is never ahead in EVERYTHING !
    OR who’s more food-conscious: “EEWW, you got that at COSTCO..?!” That
    one caused a co-worker to ask if I was a food bigot
    I have trouble accepting my ambivalence about certain homeless people, the loner guys that resemble “hobos”. Do I approach as one human to another, offer food, water, money (as the bible quotes Jesus)? Or do I remain in my plastic bubble and act like I didn’t just see suffering….?
    In my 20’s, I was also insufferable in the rarified air of practicing TM and proselytizing it to my family or any other captive audience.

    I’ve had my “ashes” often enough to know better now, just another mortal trying to get thru as best I can.

    Thanks for starting these ponderous threads (from the Ponderosa) ! Your blog is K-E-W-L !


    • Z Egloff November 24, 2011 at 12:52 pm #

      Thanks, Little Joe!! (Ponderosa reference, just in case you were wondering. . . .)

      I think this whole comparison thing is endlessly tricky. It never seems to let up. And yet it also seems to get less treacherous, the longer I’m around. Wait, am I comparing how I am now to how I used to be?! No!!

      I appreciate your ponderous threads and the many questions you raise. All worth more pondering. . . .

      Happy Organic and Free-Range Turkey Day!!


  9. Marion November 23, 2011 at 6:43 pm #

    Hi Z,
    I think my brother coined the phrase “Incense Olympics”, after the Catholic Priest who married my nephew was swinging that smoky incense burner over his head, around the altar and down the aisles towards the congregation. We were all freaked out that my accident prone cousin, might get hit in the head by that thing and never recover.
    However, nothing prepared me for the gold medal “Incense Olympics” event Ron and I just saw in Martin Sheen’s new movie “The Way”. Without giving too much of the movie away, it is about the pilgrimage made by sinners and saints from the Pyrenees in France, to the Cathedral of Saint James (Santiago de Compostela ) in Spain. This Botafumeiro(another name for incense burner) is one of the largest in the world. On religious occasions it is brought to the floor of the cathedral and attached to ropes hung from the pulley. The Botafumeiro is carried and swung by eight men in red robes. I read somewhere that, when the pilgrims arrived at the Cathedral of Saint James, they were tired, dirty and smelly. In order to alleviate the odor it was necessary for the gigantic incense burner. It was also believed that incense smoke was a prophylactic against plagues and epidemics. Who knew? Just another example of Spiritual Olympics!
    Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

    • Z Egloff November 24, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

      Hi Marion,

      Welcome to the world of the goofballs!! Good to see you here.

      Incense Olympics sounds scary!! I had no idea. I guess it’s going on everywhere. I’d heard about “The Way,” but haven’t seen it yet. Now I’m even more intrigued. Gold medal Incense Olympics! What a thought.

      I think that the list of events in an actual Spiritual Olympics would be endless. LIke you point out, different cultures have different ways of pushing the envelope. It would be interesting to see what happened. . . .

      Happy Turkey Day to you and Ron and your family!


  10. Lili November 23, 2011 at 9:15 pm #

    Love it Z!!! Happy Thanksgiving xo Lili

    • Z Egloff November 24, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

      Hi Lili!!

      Happy Thanksgiving to you too!! Love to you and your family!!


  11. Cat November 24, 2011 at 12:47 pm #

    Oh what fun! Hi Z! Loved the “princess and the pea” idea of judging whether or not the pea is organic…ha! Loved it all, actually. Good chuckling for my day! Hope you are having a happy holiday! C

    • Z Egloff November 24, 2011 at 1:02 pm #

      Hi Cat,

      How marvelous to see you here! Just checking in on Z Olde Blog before heading off for a feast with Melissa and family. . . .

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post! Stop in again some time!! :)

      Happy Holiday to you!


  12. Jill Shinn November 27, 2011 at 12:11 am #

    It’s such an amazing process from, “I’ve become a spiritual person, Aren’t I superior to the average dweeb;” to, “Oh my gosh—just feeling superior to the average dweeb makes me almost inferior to him;” to, “There I go again, comparing myself to others and calling people dweebs.” This goes on for years, maybe lifetimes, and that’s okay. It’s all part of the journey.

  13. Z Egloff November 27, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

    Hi Jill!

    The best part, for me, is being able to laugh about it. Everything gets a whole lot easier when I remember to laugh!


  14. Alicia November 29, 2011 at 4:18 am #

    This is beautiful.
    It reminds me of my class in college called “Diversity”, which every student had to take before you graduated. It ultimately became a competition of who didn’t judge more and resulted in people being upset because they found out they judged. Let me explain. A very outspoken girl in the class decided to do her film review on Fifteen and Pregnant which is a very old movie about a fifteen your old girl who gets pregnant (shocking based on the title!) and all the struggles her and her family goes through due to the baby. Now, this girl was the “Judgment Police” and would call anyone out when they had a stereotypical view on something or disagreed with a societal norm. She had an argument for every topic we talked about and also fired everyone up. Moving on, this girl gave her presentation on how it was a shame that this 15 year old year ruined her life and the lives of her family because she was irresponsible. She then went on to say all the options the girl could have done and what the possible outcomes would be. She then ended the presentation, we were all speechless, with the fact that she is proud to never judge anyone. I saw the professor rise slowly and our eyes did not leave him. It was a ping pong battle between the girl and the professor. No one moved. We were all ready to go at her with our fangs out. The professor simply thanked her for her point of view and said he appreciated that she never judged. He then stated that we were dismissed and a great lesson has just been learned. The girl left with a smile on her face but most of the class still in our seats sat there. We had no words. Looking back, how could we tell her not to judge if we spent the entire class judging her and not appreciating her point of view. Appreciating a person validates their worth as a person. Respecting a person validates their worth in society. Loving a person validates all the is good in the world.

    • Z Egloff November 29, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

      Hi Alicia,

      You have some great stories! This is a really good one. Even reading it, I found some judgement coming up about that student. The teacher sounds like he handled it really, really well. What a dance we all do, eh? This learning how to be Love is not always easy. But it’s certainly worth it!


  15. Karen M. Naumann December 2, 2011 at 11:29 am #

    Hey Z! Z on! ENJOY! Your an Inspiration! :) Love karen N.

    • Z Egloff December 2, 2011 at 12:46 pm #

      Hi Karen,

      “Z on” – that’s a new one. I’ll have to practice that. 😉



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