Over the last few years I have seen the rise of the “anti-guru”: people who have set up their lives, their businesses, and their social media presence around “calling out” others for being false.

Not so terribly long ago, I participated in some of the “anti-guru” type sentiment, and quite frankly, it is easy to. It is not terribly difficult, and doesn’t honestly require that much consciousness, to see that the purveyors of “enlightenment” or anything else spiritual in our culture are false figures.

But they are that way for a reason– they are popularized and supported by a culture that wants such illusions.

It has taken me a long time to understand that people will find what they are ready for and what they are looking for. To appreciate that people are in substantial pain, and more often than not their “truth” will be simply what is known to them already, or what they need to believe out of ignorance and pain.

We move towards our pain and ignorance far more often than we move towards any type of conscious awareness, healing, or change. When someone desires something more than the empty promises of a spiritually vacuous culture that propagates the myth of a magicless society, or one beyond materialist, Newtonian principles, they will look for it and find it.

Or it will find them.

The “anti-guru” is simply the shadow side of the guru.

It is the same energetic dynamics, often the same thoughts and ideologies and awarenesses, simply packaged slightly differently.

If someone is spending a large chunk of their lives in opposition to something, it is a question of why, of what motivation is present there. Is it someone bringing clarity, or social critique? Is someone simply naming something so that people can be aware of it, can move beyond it, can see it with clarity so it is not a stumbling block for others?

Or is it someone who is fixated, obsessed, immersed in a toxic call-out culture that is no different than the chaotic, immersive energies that we might find on any gossip site, like TMZ or People, in the guise of “wokeness”?

What I am not talking about here is social critique, or the educated, nuanced understandings that can drive our culture forward by discussing the merits and issues of a particular teacher, path, or teaching.

What I am talking about here is calling out, the reactionary stance, the setting of our existence in opposition to another, typically without the proper education or information to offer critique, and without the personal clarity to step back and offer something that would drive us individually or collectively forward as a result of said critique.

There is a reason why someone is spending so much time and energy focused on others, and why their focus is a battle with the outer world… rather than a focus on “what is” and a focus within.

It is someone in pain, someone deeply divided within themselves, and while social media can allow for a seeing and hearing of that pain, it doesn’t rectify it. That person just keeps on fighting their war again and again in a loop as without inner awareness and rectification of the shadow, without taking those projections back, they not only are creating a considerable collective shadow (which we don’t need any more of right now) but also an individual and smaller collective one.

Energetically, announcing that all else is false or abusive and setting up your existence around that is an energetically manipulative technique, a protective mechanism that arises from traumatized thinking, that allows for the person to feel “right” in comparison.

If the finger is constantly pointed at people who are “not enlightened”, or “abusive” etc., the mind is engaged in “I vs. the world” thinking, and will then naturally believe the person (the opposing force/anti-guru) doing such finger pointing is authentic, enlightened, not abusive, a voice of clarity, informed, etc… when nothing could be further from the truth.

This is the perpetuation of traumatized thinking, a split psyche that due to trauma or lack of conscious awareness is locked in a hyper vigilant state, continually needing to scan the Universe for abusive or upsetting factors so that the inner self can remain feeling righteous, victimized, and persecuted. So it can continue its behavior of pushing away people (overall) as well as any ideas or realities that do not fit their already formed sentiments.

Due to the lack of awareness, such “anti-gurus” are in fact at high risk of being just as abusive, unclear/mentally unwell, as the people whom they are calling out, if not more.

Energetically setting up our entire existence in opposition to something renders someone the victim, powerless, with the opposing force having the power and capacity to define who we are and what we stand for.

If the opposing force changes, or there is a new popularized movement or teacher that arises, the “anti” must then change who they are, and what they believe, to be “anti” the new thing, no matter what it is or how helpful, or not, that it is.

What you notice about people who cannot claim or see their shadows is that they do live them out, just without the conscious awareness to be able to see how they may be victimizing, vampiricizing, or otherwise shutting out any idea, thought, or awareness that does not exactly correspond to their own brand of thinking or needs to maintain a protected, traumatized state of being.

Doing shadow work for a long time what you find is that people externalize their battles within themselves onto the outer world. What we cannot recognize within ourselves, what we are not consciously aware of, what we repress and deny, we make shadow. We then project that energy onto others until we become consciously aware enough that who we are fighting in the external world is our own projections and inner battles, and to take that energy back within ourselves to rectify it.

Any situation or person that we find ourselves coming up against again and again is the world showing us what we need to internally rectify.

So that “anti-guru” calling out New Age practices in one breath and teaching New Age practices without awareness in the other allows for not only himself, but everyone who has this divide within themselves, to magnify this energy as well as to become completely and totally stuck in it.

It is always a question of if you want to participate in someone externalizing an unrecognized aspect of themselves. If you want to join their fight with themselves, their tear down of themselves.

Or if there can be discernment, a questioning of whether further awareness would lead someone to see the humanity in others, to develop compassion for where people are, to understand why people are where they are– which leads to no longer needing to project, vilify, or battle with aspects of self that are too painful to acknowledge within.

When we lack conscious awareness, our lives are spent in blind reaction. We cannot support or celebrate others. All others, especially those who think, act, or believe differently than we do are deemed “dangerous”.

Something or someone to react to, to deny, to vilify, to dehumanize, so that we can keep our conceptions of reality intact.

What you begin to see is that so much distorted information is out there, so much inaccurate information, because belief is often weaponized to shield the self from reality.

It is much harder to work through the pain, to use that energy to be guided to do something for this world, something that would benefit it rather than to tear it down.

In the case of prior victimhood, it is then a question of if the person has worked through the trauma and mentalities surrounding it to be a clear, initiated adult advocate for the issues that inspire them.

Or if the pain is still so omnipresent and the individual so blinded by pain and reactivity that all others are painted with a broad brush, the projected persecutor is a role being placed upon everyone that may remind them in some small or large way of their trauma; a projection onto others who serve to distract the person from healing their inner pain, from doing their own inner work. To serve to further the isolation and trauma of an inner self, an inner child, that has deemed the world, and the people in it, dangerous.

What is speaking in the latter is a traumatized child and its protective mechanisms, not an initiated adult, not a clear perspective that offers nuance, clarity, and the embodied skills and realizations of an adult state.

At best, our pain can drive us to bring something to the world. Something of benefit, something of compassion and worth. I think of John Walsh of America’s Most Wanted who has dedicated his life after extreme sorrow and loss advocating for victim’s rights.

The impact of trauma can allow for us to truly see and feel compassion for the suffering of others. Those who have been through the most, who have known the depths of suffering, are often those who find the light– who are the guardians, healers, and caretakers of the world and the people in it.

But it is always a question of if someone is in a place where they are simply perpetuating pain, lack of clarity, isolation tendencies, and trauma responses, or if they have worked with themselves to the point that they can bring something of an initiated adult perspective, with clarity, groundedness, and conscious perspective to their cause that will truly benefit it, that will do more than just bring more pain and chaos into the world that is already suffering under the weight of so much ignorance and fractured thinking.

It is quite easy to get sucked into someone who every day has a new guru to denounce, a New Age practice to fight against.

It is chaotic energy, gossiping energy, and we enjoy it just as the secret part of us enjoys watching Real Housewives, or police chase videos, or news of the latest celebrity trial. Or that cannot help but look at the car crash on the side of the road.

It distracts us from our lives, it dissociates us, it perpetuates separation, rather than grounding or assisting us to become better people, to do better things in this world, to become healthier and more whole and more consciously aware.

It is ironic that even topics like spiritual bypassing, trauma healing, Animism/Shamanism, spiritual awakening/enlightenment and things that are intended to connect us deeply to the Earth and to one another– to truly see our shared humanity– are currently the greatest fodder for people to perpetuate traumatized thinking and “us vs. them” dynamics.

The basic question at the end of the day is what our motivation is, what is driving us. If we are doing something that increases health and connectivity, embodiment, healing of trauma, and truly seeing within or whether it is a fixation, something that the Universe is presenting to us again and again in an effort to show us what lies unhealed within, and we are unwilling and unable to see the link between what makes us so reactive in the outer world, what we set ourselves against in the outer world, and what is going on within ourselves.

We set ourselves against reality for a very good reason: at some point we deemed that our reality was too painful to bear. An unrooted mythic reality takes its place, one in which breaking down the egoic defenses and mythic notions that serve to separate and console our inner traumatized selves would cause for past trauma to arise, for ignorance to need to be replaced by wisdom and embodied experience.

And we can so easily become the bystander of an internal fight that someone else is stuck in, and might not cause for us to do anything but to celebrate our externalized shadows with one another; to pat one another on the back for purportedly reducing “toxicity” or other issues in the spiritual community while doing nothing to rectify that toxicity whatsoever.

It takes conscious awareness to build, to offer insight, embodied (lived) perspective, and to truly teach others. While social critique and a discussion of merits is often necessary, the mentality to tear the world and everything in it down, the mentalities that lead to spending a bulk of our lives tearing others down, reveal a lack of consciousness as well as a lack of educated, informed insight that can speak to “what is”, that can speak to what is regarding spiritual topics from a place of direct experience and adult, embodied wisdom.

It takes more conscious awareness to realize why people prefer illusion to clarity. To realize layers of this, to move beyond basic reactivity to see the suffering and humanity of people who need to believe what they do, who are stuck, who are traumatized, and to have compassion for people being where they are and who they are.

To have compassion for ourselves for being who we are, and for whatever internal battles we still have left to resolve.

To accept people as they are, to see that people are where they are and believe what they believe for a very good reason. That reason is often pain, and a corresponding need to comfort, separate, or deny pain because the pain would be too overwhelming to deal with (or to deal with at the time it occurred).

That we believe what we were taught to believe, what we were conditioned to believe, and that to believe anything else requires someone who is intensely motivated to do the inner work required to question and move beyond those beliefs.

To reckon with our own falseness within, to remove our masks, to take what we notice and pay attention to and obsess over in the outer world as something to reconcile within ourselves.

In the case of truly needing to oppose a force in our reality, that work cannot be done unless we have become fully informed and educated about that force.

After being truly educated, then the dynamics of that force can be revealed. This does not happen if we remain ignorant about what we are opposing.

We go back to the thought of the New Ager opposing the New Age but not recognizing that he is espousing its core tenets.

Education needs to take place so nuance and humanity are seen. This is not a uni-dimensional villain or a sports team to root against. These are people, and they believe what they do for a reason. That reason may be pain, it may be ignorance, it may be delusion, it may be conditioning. It doesn’t matter. You knowing who they are and what they believe so you understand them is the key to not only seeing their humanity, but successfully opposing them.

It also prevents the widespread (and ever-increasing troubling spread) of ignorance; of people ill informed about the subjects they are spending their lives in battle against, and of the cosmic irony of people lambasting what amounts to their own ignorance and parts of self that are unconsciously participating in what they are opposing.

If you are able to, see your shared humanity. There is some pain, some beauty, some truth, that you share with someone that you believe you are opposing. If you are opposing a movement, religion, spiritual path, or grouping of people, read their work, interact with them respectfully (seeing them as human and not just responding out of defense mechanisms: such as blind emotive reaction to cloud your field, or self-righteousness or dehumanization to shut new information down) so you can understand them.

Realize that they may not be doing shadow work when you do this. Forgive them, and realize that they still can be incredible teachers. See their humanity and why they are in pain to react like they do, why they may need to preserve their reality at all costs and defend it beyond what might be reasonable, rational, or in any way connected to reality.

Now, see the person (movement, group) as representing an aspect of yourself that you have denied, repressed, split off from, or simply were not conscious of prior.

What would happen if you could see this as a part of you? What emotions would arise, what qualities are you denying, what conditioning have you not traversed, what are you projecting onto others out of your own lack of awareness and integration? What would you know to be true if you consciously took back this shadow and claimed it as a part of yourself?

It is easy to point to the extreme figures in our culture, the extreme hatred and ignorance, but that hatred and ignorance proliferate because it thrives on “us vs. them” dynamics; it also thrives because we collectively create such shadows– our projections onto the “extreme racist” allow for us to remain ignorant of our own unrectified shadows– the secret racism, classism, sexism, and other ignorances and divisions– remain within ourselves. It is up to the people willing and able to look towards these things to do so, because others are not in a place of personal responsibility, willingness or consciousness to be able to do so.

It is likely that your conceptions of reality would change doing such a thing, and this is often where resistance is. We are so used to spending our lives in these battles, we are so used to fighting ourselves, and doing battle with the outer world, that we might simply be afraid of having less to distract or occupy our time with. We may not know what to do with the energy, we may not be aware that we can stop the endless battles.

Most likely, we would find another battle, but over time the battles dwindle doing this type of work, and the resistance of an inner warrior scratching her head when the war is over, unsure of what to do with herself now, can find a new path, and can use the tremendous amount of energy she was utilizing to wage war against herself in the outer world to do something to be of benefit of the world, to do some small part to solve the large societal issues of our day, both through inner work as well as by now having the time and energy that once was used in waging war against oneself to actually go out and be of service to someone or something in the world.

To bring healing, and awareness, and evolution, rather than more toxicity, gossip, division, ignorance, and pain to our world.

If you are interested in this line of thought, I suggest my book, The Body Deva, as it is a form of self-inquiry. You can utilize it to inwardly question, and heal, what divisions you see within, as well as without.

Mary Mueller Shutan is a spiritual healer, teacher, and the author of several books, including The Shamanic Workbook I: Cleansing, Discernment, and Ancestral Practices.