Spiritual tolerance is simply the practice of loving and accepting things as they are. In truth, a lot of these words—tolerance, acceptance, and love—are synonymous in many ways. True love is complete and total acceptance. In spiritual tolerance, we are practising letting go of our need to impose our ideas and beliefs on others. This is how we offer an expression of love to all, and it can be challenging for many people as they mature on the spiritual path. Old ego ideas like to cling on, and people can inaccurately believe that others should believe the way they do or follow the spiritual path that they are following. But this is not how it is. Even if everyone believed in the same religion, everyone’s understanding of that religion would be different because each one of us is different from everyone else. In this way, spiritual tolerance is a necessity and a practicality of every spiritual path.
The stirrings of intolerance
To really cultivate spiritual tolerance, we have to look at the things we are intolerant towards. What can’t we accept? What are we trying to change? Even good intentions often hide the truth that we are trying to control or manipulate others and the world around us into looking like us or acting like us. But why is this? What difference does it make if someone believes in Jesus, the teachings of the Buddha, or Allah?
These are important questions to tackle. Generally speaking, there are many layers of ego control issues that must be faced. Towards the bottom of the pyramid, we often find hidden motivations around safety and survival because many of the core survival mechanisms that we have are still running on auto-pilot. One such message is that “if others are like me, then I will be safe.” Consequently, people presume that “if someone is not like me, then they are not safe or are a threat.” These core messages are often built off the fear of the unknown or a fear of death, and that drives a lot of unhealthy habits that build up into intolerance, stereotyping, and outright discrimination.
The big bang of spiritual awakening
Even after a spiritual awakening, big spiritual revelation, or major spiritual opening, the old ego messages still try to keep running. So a person who has awakened might still think others need to awaken. This is just a passing phase, however, because the awakened self truly puts no stipulations on life. People moving through other spiritual shifts can really get lost in trying to make the world a “spiritual” place. To those of you who are doing this, I gently encourage you to stop and to go further inward. See what it is you are trying to change, and see how that relates to you. It is an age-old habit for human beings to try and change the external things that reflect internal things that need to change. It is like the woman trying to help her friend leave an abusive relationship while she herself is in an abusive relationship. This is the irony of the ego which tries to futilely change the image in the mirror rather than changing itself.
Meeting others who try to change you
On the reverse side of the issue, many of you will be confronted by others who want to change you. They may tell you that you are crazy for following your heart. They may tell you that you need to believe in a certain guru, deity, spiritual teacher, practice, or something else. Honestly, people will tell you all kinds of things that have absolutely nothing to do with you. That is why going within is so important. The more you rest in your own inner love and inner wisdom, the more you know what is true for you in the words of others. All the rest is just nonsense, and you can let it blow away like a hot summer wind.
In the space of spiritual tolerance, we learn to see others as simply expressing themselves, so there is no arrogance or pride here. Generally speaking, so long as no one is threatening your physical body, most things people say to you do not require much further attention than a smile of acknowledgement. Then go on with your day.
Deepening into your own love
I’ve written about the difference between true self-love and ego love, and essentially, true self-love is complete acceptance of you as you are. In this way, you are tolerant to all your strengths and faults, but you are not blind to changes you may need to make in yourself. Complete acceptance is never saying, “Well, I drink and smoke too much, but that is just how it is.” No, in loving ourselves and finding tolerance for our faults, we also see the course of action to healing unhealthy patterns. For those of you in awakening, it will feel like there is an unstoppable, driving force within you which pushes you into healing. For the rest, all I can say is that regardless of any difficulty you discover within you, you can heal it.
Tolerating the intolerant
Naturally, there will be many people who are intolerant in the world and who do harmful things. There is a great need for people to learn how to be more loving and tolerant of themselves as well as others. But you cannot teach tolerance through intolerance. Consequently, the spiritual path is a challenge to all of us to learn spiritual tolerance, but to also follow the calling of hearts. In so doing, it shows people who are intolerant a new way of behaving. Putting aside truly violent and dangerous individuals, most people acting from intolerance can learn and grow. So I encourage you to be an example of spiritual tolerance and self-love in your community to help others see a new way of living while you practice the beautiful art of being you.
This was first published in the October 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.