Group Mentality in Spirituality and its Traps
A group mentality is an aspect that is common in all spheres of life, wherever there is a group of people that have come together because of a common interest or a goal. Inside a group, there is a tendency for members or participants to adjust their behavior to the type of behavior that has already been established within the group. The more someone is involved in the group, the higher are chances that their behavioral pattern will be in line with that of the group, such as the way of talking, the way of doing things, and not so seldomly even the way of thinking and feeling.
This is something that can be observed in many groups that exist, and it is related to the so called herd mentality; to the instincts that we all have and that prompt us, when in an appropriate situation, to be in line with the rest of our group so not to stick out, otherwise there being a concrete risk of being stamped out from it. Such rejection would evoke a lot of lower emotions, such as fear, anger, and in some cases even traumas and depressions – all of it to come from those animalistic instincts that make of a human being a social animal. There are also of course people who are antisocial, or prefer to be most of the time alone, but such cases are less common, and even them would probably have the same egos manifest would an opportunity arise for them to belong to a group that they feel drawn to.
In spirituality we can see the same thing happening – a person finds a teaching that they like, joins a group, and starts to identify more and more with the group and its established norms, ways of behavior, of talking, thinking etc., and in that way loses more and more of his or her originality. In spirituality this can be even more prominent than in many of the other spheres of life, because in it are also beliefs involved which a person often time accepts for granted, which further down the line can cause fanatical tendencies and aggressive types of behavior.
There also exist spiritual groups that are more open and ‘neutral’; that have more general spiritual goals, rather than a set of beliefs, theories or tenants that should be followed; or that have fixed spiritual goals, but are more careful about whom they allow to join. However, such groups are more rare, and even there there could be cases of subconscious group mentality. Also, there are groups that tend to be more mature, and that notify their members when they see that such tendencies are surfacing up, but such groups too are rare, as many people like the feelings generated by the group mentality.
The biggest problem with the group mentality are not things such as imitation (which is often done on unconscious level and not necessarily only because we look up to the person or persons that we imitate), but rather it is identifying oneself with the spiritual group or school. When such identification occurs, the egoic emotion of pack belonging is strengthened, and we feel that we should act in the same way as other people from our school or group. If there is a main spiritual teacher in such a school, then a tendency is often to imitate his or her personality traits, and to create a belief system around their teachings. The questioning of the teachings can still occur, but on a subtle level a person creates a new type of a belief system, in which ‘foreign’ concepts, theories, ideas and experiences that has not been said or validated by the main teacher (or some other teacher highly positioned in the group or a school) are often discarded. This, beside taking place when someone identifies with the group, is also related to fanaticism, which is another important topic to discuss and to be cautious of.
There are cases of people who are very scientifically minded, and yet due to their self-imposed conditioning, and also due to the pressure of the fellow members of the group, have developed a religious tendency to stamp out everything that doesn’t resemble the teachings of their group. This is something that occurs regularly in spiritual groups, but still, one would expect of those who went through a scientific education to be more open towards the new, when in reality such cases point out that it doesn’t really matter from which background one is coming from; the subconscious mind and its grips are in many cases always the same.
On the other hand, it is possible to be part of a spiritual group, and yet not identified with it. In that case, the person can still benefit from it in terms of receiving inspiration, motivation and strength, as well as other social and spiritual benefits that would come out of sharing understanding and knowledge about the topics that are part of the group’s discussions etc.
In order to not identify with the group one is in, it is necessary to observe the development of one of the primal ego drives that is related to the sense of belonging, which is an ego that wants to be in a pack and thus fulfill its perceived social and existential needs. Of course, there are people that join spiritual groups who are already quite spiritually mature, who are aware of this type of ego and would not allow for it to develop, but from my observation, majority of people in such groups would develop it, and would not see a problem in it. Moreover, they might not even recognize it as an ego.
The more we study ourselves, the more we see what is developing within ourselves, and thus we can detect when our thinking and feeling start to change in order to align more to the thinking and the feeling form of the group that we are in. When this is detected, it is wise to step back, and reflect on the initial reasons of doing the inner work, and if ‘being part of the herd’ would truly bring you closer to that which you seek.
It is often difficult to make that step back when we detect that something is wrong in the way we started to think and feel, as there might be fears coming up of being rejected, but with time we may realize that even that part of our life, when we are in a group or a school, is part of the great learning that takes place in life, and especially so on the path to liberation. With this understanding and with the spiritual maturity that we might have gained thus far by doing the inner work, we realize that nothing is certain in life, and that the latter will unfold as it should, and that it will unfold in our favor by moving us closer to the Aim of our work, as long as we do the inner work properly and with honesty and love.
HDP, July 2020.