Disembodied Spirituality: Is it Really Zen or is it Dissociation?

One of the quickest ways to identify a toxic spiritual teacher (or follower) is by how emotionally detached they are in the way they talk about the human experience.

Many of them will discuss pain and trauma as ideas and concepts, but without any real compassion behind their words.

This is because their coping mechanism for dealing with their own trauma is complete emotional dissociation.

Emotional dissociation is a disconnection from one’s own feelings and it’s a coping mechanism for pain. Sometimes when the nervous system becomes overloaded from stress, your brain detaches from emotion so that your body can continue function.

Some people have dissociative episodes when they experience acute trauma, and some people live in a permanently dissociated or emotionally numb state due to complex trauma during an abusive childhood.

I was one of those people until I was about 32. My approach to spirituality was through a lens of pure logic and total emotional detachment. I never considered how disembodied many spiritual teachings were because I, myself, was completely disembodied.

And that’s effectively what these spiritual teachers tell their followers to do: dissociate from the human experience, shun negative emotions, only experience life from your upper chakras.

They’ll heavily emphasize the mind and perception and higher awareness and never talk about emotions or what it means to feel… because they don’t know what it means to feel.

They spread toxic spirituality devoid of real compassion because they have an inherent lack of empathy. You can’t imagine how another person’s pain feels if you don’t allow yourself to feel your own pain.

They can’t teach you about healing trauma or embodiment because they haven’t healed their trauma or learned to embody the fullness of their emotional being. They just live in their heads. They invalidate the feelings of trauma survivors because they invalidate themselves.

They can’t teach you the tools you need to navigate the human experience because they’ve tapped out of theirs. They can only teach you how to dissociate, the same way they have.

Disembodied wisdom leads one to only know life as a concept and not a reality. Which goes a long way to explain why they all think the world around them is an illusion.

Spirituality and holistic wellness is supposed to be about the mind, body, and spirit, but a lot of toxic, ungrounded spirituality completely ignores the entire body part and only focuses on the mind or the spirit.

Beware of any teachings that consistently pitch you any form of the following, as it is and indicator of being ungrounded and disembodied:

  • talks condescendingly about “the monkey mind”
  • talks condescendingly about the “flesh suit”
  • views self as being separate from the body (and subsequently, the world)
  • talks about emotions as though they are ideas and concepts, rather than real experiences
  • dismisses the validity of emotional experiences in favor of higher awareness
  • believes the mind is all powerful
  • encourages emotional detachment

A spiritual practice that lacks embodied empathy is simply covert narcissism dressed as faux-enlightenment.

Learn how to identify a credible spiritual teacher.

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