Healthy Beginnings

Be wary of dangers on your spiritual path

Beware of dangers that exist on your path to spirituality.

While working as a psychology intern in a federal prison camp years ago, I had the chance to speak with a Native American inmate who performed a weekly sweat lodge ceremony for the other inmates.

He described how he conducted the service: “In a wood fire I heat the rocks that will later be placed inside the lodge. I want the rocks to be very hot so that they will produce a lot of steam when water is sprinkled on them. It becomes like an oven in the lodge. I make it as hot as I can so that only those who are most committed to the purification process remain. Those who can’t stand the heat leave. The ceremony selects its own participants.”

In alchemy, there is stage of transformation called the “calcinatio.” The chief transforming agents in this phase are fire and heat. In purifying a substance, great heat is sometimes applied to burn off impurities and isolate the desired metal, such as gold.

Heat transforms; it can purify; and it can facilitate the combining of two substances to create a third substance with its own unique properties.

Psychologically, “calcination” symbolizes the containment of emotions (such as anger or anxiety) in order to promote self-restraint and healthier forms of self-expression. In addition, the process of containing the “heat” of your emotional life — rather than running away from it through alcohol or drugs, as one example — leads to psychological growth and integrity of the personality.

The prison sweat lodge leader sought to apply this alchemical principle to the inmates who attended his sweat lodge services. He believed that the intense heat would not only cleanse the body of toxins, but also purify the souls of the participants and purge the sweat lodge of what he considered to be spiritual pretenders.

Sadly, he was misusing a spiritual principle to promote his own spiritual arrogance and that of his loyal attendees. Through these ceremonies, a sacred ritual was turned into the equivalent of a frat house initiation rite.

It became a competition to see who can tolerate the most physical pain, and then equated that tolerance level with spiritual development. Unfortunately, all that it was really producing was men with seared lungs, blistered skin, and inflated egos.

Spiritual growth and maturity can be derailed and hijacked by evil in various ways. Spiritual competitiveness is one of them. Who can fast or meditate the longest? Who can do the most difficult yoga pose? Who attended workshops by today’s latest and most popular spiritual teacher/author? Who has gone to more holy lands, met more medicine men, had more peak experiences, toured more ashrams, pursued a healthier diet, or built more habitats for the poor?

Our inherent tendency to egocentricity can turn a spontaneous urge to spiritual growth into a cancer of spiritual arrogance. Rather than serving the soul or God, the ego serves itself and our persona (public image).

Sometimes, sensing our underlying arrogance, we may even put on a false show of humility in an attempt to convince ourselves—and others—that we aren’t really arrogant or spiritually competitive.

We thus become members of the “Secretly Superior Society.” Fortunately, this society has no formal meetings because all of its members are too secretly superior to admit they are members of it.

Dr. Andy Drymalski is a Nevada-licensed psychologist and Jungian psychologist in private practice in Reno and Carson City. He specializes in psychotherapy for depression; grief and loss; life transition issues; personal growth; and Jungian dreamwork. To learn more, visit or call Andy at 775-527-4585. Enjoy his blog at