Most spiritual communities start with high ideas of making a positive difference in people’s lives through the products they sell, the ideas they promote, or the path they provide. In a world where options are plentiful, and these groups can be joined or left with a click on link, the tendency to “people please” is part of the program.


By Kellie Schorr

Like most modern couples we met online.

I was a discouraged writer with a list of appointments and hopes I wanted to bring to life. It was the perfect planner designed to help me crystallize my visions and bring my dreams into the real world. It had so many boxes to check, spaces to create and lists for my ideas I felt like I was spinning every time I opened it.

We spent gallons of time together—dreaming, drawing, planning—our love affair was better than the very best Hallmark Christmas movie ever.

That first year, when our time together ended (because everything is impermanent—especially when one half of the relationship is a calendar), I went online and bought the next year, then the next. Along the way, the company that created the planner grew into an entire community of people dedicated to making their dreams come true, or at least getting to the dentist on time.

Not only were filler sheets and stickers offered, you could purchase a quarterly check-in with the creators where meditation, sage burning and intention sessions were offered.

There were chances to buy Qi Jong sessions with the company founder or, if you didn’t have extra cash, there were monthly email letters about the law of attraction. You could get on the Facebook group (reserved only for planner buyers) and share your deepest thoughts or talk about what gel pens work best with the paper.

It became more than merchandise. It was a movement—and eventually a spiritual community.

Then, like an asteroid colliding with the earth, one post changed everything.

“I just got my 2024 planner, and I noticed the word Monday is missing. There are also some dates that are wrong, like it says, Tuesday 12th then Wednesday 11th. Are these mistakes going to be corrected? Should I return my purchase?”

You’d think this innocent question would, at best, get a couple of “care heart” emojis and a response from customer service.

Instead, it got loads of likes, an equal amount of little red angry faces, an acidic response from the company founder saying that the Monday issue was not a “mistake” but an intentional decision to enhance spirituality.

Within a day people who complained about the actual errors were accused of “demanding unattainable perfection,” “being rigid,” and “putting negative energy into the universe.”

Faster than you can say, “Well, that escalated quickly,” a group of middle-aged ladies and stay at home moms who wanted nothing more than to show their new stickers and brag about how they colored the cover were cutting each other down like Children of the Corn.

The leaders addressed the missing “Monday” with long sentences of mumbo-jumbo about “the bravery of forging a new synchronization of what alignment days without word-baggage can do, because many people fear ‘Monday’.”

About the actual wrong dates, people were told to “lean into the discomfort.” What?

Unhappy with being gaslit about whether Monday was an actual thing, people responded with their own vicious assessment of others who couldn’t face the reality of a weekday. The leaders then began deleting any post they decided was “negativity.” Soon all that was left in the group were posts that said, “I just got my planner and I love it!!!”

Still, occasionally, for a least an hour or so, a courageous comment would appear like a Banksy protest on a wall, that said, “It’s not negative to expect a calendar to have correct dates!”  Then, while the community stood in awe, the comment and the commenter would disappear.

If you have spent any time on social media you know this is not uncommon.

Groups that center themselves around Live, Laugh, and Love often end up at Lash, Trash, and Loathe.

Why does it happen? How can we see the red flags of these groups before we sink precious hours and dollars into them? There are a few things they have in common.

The Rose is Always Pretty if you Forget About the Thorns.

Toxic positivity is one of the shout-out signs that a community is eventually going to put you on the short end of the compassion stick. While “Good Vibes Only” is a fun, and even desirable, theme for an afternoon with friends, in the long-term it boils down to a sticky reality built on denial and repression.

When a community only encourages or accepts a sunny side spin it limits critique and honesty. A painful event may someday be a lesson or turn out to have a good quality, but when it’s still painful it is important for people go to able to say, “I hurt.”  The more people repress their doubts, fears, concerns or disagreements, the less authentic and the more authoritarian a community becomes.

Roses have thorns.

That’s not all they have. That’s not all they are. If you’re skilled you can handle one without getting stabbed, but you need to know they are there in the first place. In a group that expects you to praise the rose and ignore the thorns, you’re just asking to get hurt. “Real Vibes Only” is a better alternative.

It’s Fragile at The Top

To me, the best dharma teachers always set aside the last 10 to 20 minutes of a teaching for questions, clarifications and disagreements. As one teacher told me, “If a teaching cannot stand up to a question, then how can it stand through anything?”

However, in upstart “spiritual communities” where leaders may or may not be classically trained, the inability to be questioned is a big red flag.

Reviewing communities where abuse occurs or members feel entitled to ridicule, reject or attack other members, the presence of a leader who is “always right” or “never asked” is a sure bet. It’s not disrespectful to bring up a feeling, point of accuracy, or concern to someone in leadership. In fact, it is responsible and shows your investment in the group.

If the leader of your community is “never wrong” or responds to a question by saying you are simply too “negative,” “inexperienced,” “unenlightened” to understand, you may want to consider find a leader who is far more accountable and a lot less frail.

All Candy and No Kale

Most spiritual communities start with high ideas of making a positive difference in people’s lives through the products they sell, the ideas they promote, or the path they provide. In a world where options are plentiful, and these groups can be joined or left with a click on link, the tendency to “people please” is part of the program.

True spirituality involves insight, joy and freedom, but it also requires diligence, awareness and responsibility. Communities that want their people to just experience good things and have good times, without bringing up the challenges and changes of a spiritual approach set themselves up to become massive disappointments.

By skipping the healthy, harder parts of being—such as boundaries, authenticity, vulnerability, and forgiveness—spiritual leaders become parents who let you eat candy all day then don’t know why you feel sick.

Respectful discourse during disagreements is hard.

It takes self-regulation, generosity, and energy. If the group isn’t willing to build a foundation from both the easy and the tough parts of being in community, it will implode when the winds of challenge blow.

In a world where war, chaos and fear swirl around on the daily, it’s natural for people to look for respite in groups that are uplifting, hopeful and full of light and spirit. When those groups fail to live up to their stated goals, it can be disheartening and even harmful.

While there is no way to predict what will happen in any group, there are signs your group might be headed that direction.

If you experience toxic positivity, leadership fragility, or a lack healthy boundaries and discipline, step back and ask if this is the best place for you to grow, or a place that is on the verge of mean.

As I prepare for the new year, I decided to leave my perfect planner and its spiritual community behind.

I went online, found a planner from a stationary company that has no interest in being my interpersonal guru. I bought a book with wonderfully designed “wide open spaces” for all my dreams and doctor’s appointments.

The price was right. The dates were right. The future is wide open.


Photo: Pixabay

Editor: Dana Gornall


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