Beware the Enlightened Narcissist
There is a quiet movement happening that aims to bring our species and collective consciousness closer and closer towards enlightenment. Books by people like Eckhart Tolle, Graham Hancock and Rick Strassman, along with countless podcasts including, occasionally, the ever-popular Joe Rogan Experience, all look to push past the barriers of reality and steer us towards our more spiritual side—the side we were allegedly never meant to lose touch with in the first place; our true nature. With such a movement comes the inevitable rise of narcissism through Instagram posts, how-to articles, YouTube Vlogs, and more—all boasting ones own spiritually woke path and how you must follow suit. And so I say, “Beware the enlightened narcissist.”
I believe there is a spiritual side to all of us. There is more to our consciousness than what we currently understand—a lot more. I think those depths are worth exploring through meditation, Yoga, certain literature and beyond. When I was 14, I was entranced by The Secret. When I was 18, I discovered meditation. When I was 27 I marveled over Eckhart Tolle’s seemingly easy transition from depressed individual to enlightened guru. I get excited over the idea of a spiritually-rich future for humanity and in today’s age of turmoil, fear, and uncertainty, it is romantic to hope that our planet’s next big chapter may be a transcendental one.
But as I’ve grown older, I’ve also developed a heightened awareness of the danger of enlightenment—or rather, the quest for enlightenment—falling into the hands of a narcissist.
Dr. Deepak Chopra describes enlightenment as a self-aware being who has tapped into unity consciousness and the understanding that love is the ultimate truth.
In a 2017 Dr. Phil episode, he had a guest who claimed to be enlightened. This ‘enlightenment’ had caused extreme hurt and jeopardy to the guest’s family. In the episode, it is revealed that Alex lost $200,000 of his family’s savings in his obsessive quest to open all his chakras, which he then claimed to have done—faster than anyone, no less.
He sat on Dr. Phil’s stage with a knowing smirk, claiming to know all of the answers to life’s greatest questions, while his wife sat across from him in tears. This was not the man she married. Even the Dalai Lama claims to not have all the answers—yet Alex from Dr. Phil does and the pain he has caused his close friends and family is irrelevant. Deepak Chopra appeared on the same episode citing that there is such a thing as “pretending to be enlightened” and that’s when I became enlightened to the risk of an egomaniac finding nirvana—or at least claiming to.
I began to think of social media and the number of enlightened beings who appear on there, gloriously sharing about their newfound, or at this point, ‘old-news’ awakening. They are experts; forever visiting sensory deprivation tanks, always showcasing their Yoga breakthroughs or meditating (never failing to capture a photo). And make no mistake, I am not critiquing those who document their health and mental wellness. That is certainly a positive thing; and something that can encourage others to find their own vulnerability in taking care of themselves. No. I am talking about those who spin those same posts into framing themselves as something holier than the average person. I am talking about the enlightened narcissist. Because of my many interests, my Instagram “Discovery” page is often filled with accounts by ‘woke’ individuals. Their advice is often, I find, troubling. Cut out the negativity in your life. Those who criticize you are still asleep—they don’t understand you. Here’s how to accelerate your enlightenment. Start lucid dreaming tonight! Open your root chakra today! And so on…
If enlightenment is the true shedding of the ego, does all of this not further feed the ego? Does talking endlessly about how enlightened you are not negate the enlightenment in the first place? An online presence is, after all, an identity; an avatar of the ego you associate with. If you were truly enlightened, would you feel the need for social media at all?
Even Jim Carrey who, while never outright claiming enlightenment, appears to speak from a spiritually awakened place in his 2018 documentary, Jim & Andy. He, at times, seems boastful, lecturing and condescending in both the documentary and in interviews where he chooses to suddenly teach red carpet reps that they are made of nothing but atoms, none of this matters and one day they will understand—as he currently does. Would an enlightened being—one who understands love as the ultimate truth—not patiently accept the egoic mindset of those around them with grace?
I have a problem, too, with the advice to run away from challenging situations or negative emotions/those we label as ‘negative people.’ True, there are some in our lives who are detrimental to our overall well-being but they are few and far between. Almost everyone we encounter serves a mutually beneficial purpose, if not just to teach us about our own emotions. The greater challenge and one we can strive for in meditation is allowing those emotions (anger, hurt, sadness, frustration) to come and go, just as they are, without labeling. They are neither good nor bad.
I’m not enlightened. I have had moments of great clarity and I strive to get back to those but I fall victim to the same things we all do. At times, my emotions and fears set anchors in my mind, rather than behaving as passing ships in the sea. And thus, the great tug-of-war within me prevails as I continue my daily practice.
I believe striving for enlightenment should be a goal for all of us. But beware of those who claim to have the key. Beware the enlightened narcissist. There are some enlightened individuals out there, but I believe far less than what appears to be. If these enlightened experts, online gurus, influencers, and spiritual beings were to take a moment to re-evaluate—perhaps even spend a little time offline—they might just find it was their ego talking all along.
Indeed, the more we post about our spiritual awakening; the more we boast, compare and ask, “Is this enlightenment? Am I enlightened yet?” the further we move from shedding the ego and the further we move from unity and love as the ultimate truth.
About the Author
Nicholas Arnold is an accomplished writer, performer, filmmaker, and speaker. His writings have been published on many online journals and he speaks to youth about leadership, goal-setting and embracing failure. He has made a career out of honoring comedian Jerry Lewis. When he’s not prat-falling on stage he is working at bettering himself. Find out more about Nicholas at https://www.imnicholasarnold.com/