I notice a common tendency in ‘spiritual’ circles for people to label themselves in ways that imply a great deal of spiritual attainment, and others in ways that imply a low level of spiritual attainment. So, I might call myself ‘evolved’, for example, or ‘conscious’. If I were female, I might describe myself as a ‘goddess’. People who I clash with, on the other hand, I might consider ‘toxic’, and adhere to the mantra that I must ‘clear toxic people out of my life’.
The problem with this is that no human being is composed exclusively of either light or dark. While I’m committed to practices that build self-awareness, such as practicing yoga asanas, sitting for meditation, and journalling, calling myself ‘conscious’ or ‘evolved’ would suggest that I had reached a destination, which is quite contrary to my experience: in fact, the more I practice, the more I realise how much more I have to learn. It would also separate me from those people who, for whatever reason, I deemed ‘unconscious’ or ‘unevolved’. This seems to me antithetical to a practice whose very name means ‘union’.
There are, of course, people in the world who are extremely disturbed, and whose needs for support and healing run deeper than most of us can address. Avoiding contact with such people may be necessary to protect ourselves. More commonly, though, I see people being stigmatised as ‘toxic’ simply because their ideas run counter to those of a dominant group, or they’ve fallen into a disagreement with someone who is unwilling to engage with them. While it’s impossible to speculate on another person’s motivations with certainty, it seems to me that this is often an attempt (perhaps subconsciously) to assuage guilt and offload responsibility for conflict to someone else.
I’m comfortable with a worldview that reposes divinity in humanity. What I’m not comfortable with is the identification of divinity with humanity. If I think I’m ‘conscious’, or ‘evolved’, or a ‘goddess’, how do I address the primal aspects of my being? How do I deal with the fact that I still have – and always will have – an enormous capacity for improvement? What do I make of the fact that I need to eat, shit, and sleep, not activities that deities are renowned for?
In truth, we’re all toxic to some degree. We all say and do things that harm others. I teach yoga, an activity usually thought of as ‘spiritual’, and yet I travel by aeroplane enough that, if each person on the planet were allocated a carbon budget below which catastrophic climate change could be avoided, I would spend mine many times over. That’s both damaging to the biosphere and a reflection of the gaping income inequalities that characterise global society.
I don’t believe it makes me a ‘toxic person’, however, any more than sitting regularly for meditation makes me ‘conscious’. I contribute what I can, and I’m constantly looking for ways to improve. Actually, I think that’s true of all of us. We’re all flawed, and yet we’re all giving it our best shot. What could be more divine than that?