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“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.    

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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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