How To Be Ultra Spiritual According to JP Sears

By Juliet Elisabeth 02/19/16

The Fix Q&A with emotional healing coach JP Sears on how his viral video helps interpret popular support groups.

JP Sears: Treating Addiction Spiritually and Scientifically
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“First what you need to understand is being Ultra Spiritual has nothing to do with actually being spiritual ‘cause no one even knows what that actually is. Being Ultra Spiritual means you look spiritual.  So let’s get started. Practice competitive spirituality. Silently-slash-passive aggressively you’re gonna want to compare how spiritual other people are to yourself. Judging other people to be less spiritual than you makes you a better person than them and that’s exactly what makes you more spiritual than them.”

So says JP Sears in his ultra-funny, ultra sarcastic “How to be Ultra Spiritual.” Watching this, I was instantly reminded of those select people in AA meetings who make it a point to announce how spiritual they are and how much they wish you’d work more on your spirituality. The type of people who report in how often they prayed, how they got down on their knees and prayed, and how they meditate in their cars, on planes, and indeed on toilets.

Sears’ cleverly comedic YouTube videos, on a variety of subjects such as introversion or meditation, have complete credibility because he works as an emotional healing coach and teaches internationally where he “empowers people to live more meaningful lives.” He travels the world leading retreats, holds workshops and online seminars and has been certified as a Holistic Coach Advanced Practitioner from Columbus, Ohio’s Holistic Coaching Institute. Previously, he was a faculty member at the C.H.E.K. Institute from 2006 until 2013.

Everything JP Sears addresses though his coaching and classes can be applied to a person struggling with addiction or learning to live post-addiction—breaking patterns of dysfunction, reducing stress, and addressing the causes behind one’s pain. So The Fix asked Sears to analyze and interpret some common parts of four of the most popular support groups: Alcoholics Anonymous, Women for Sobriety, Secular Organizations for Recovery and SMART Recovery.   

Let’s start with Alcoholics Anonymous which claims it is a spiritual program and alcoholism is a spiritual disease. AA claims it is “spiritual not religious.” To quote again from the aforementioned Ultra Spiritual video: “Rebel against dogmatic religious terminology by dogmatically using spiritual terminology. You’ll want to keep your eyes closed extra tight on this one, so that you don’t see that you’re actually still subscribed to the exact same belief system that you’re rebelling against. Because now you’re expressing the same concepts with new words.”  

AA members can pray to any Higher Power: God, unicorns, doorknobs and so on. There are 12 steps not 10 commandments. They pray the “Lord’s Prayer/Our Father” at meetings, not church services. They have a confessional 5th Step, not the sacrament of Confession. Is this “spiritual” or is it “religious”?    

Great question and this would have everything to do with the eye of the beholder. My perspective is in religion there’s a middle man between us and the higher power whether it’s god or a unicorn; that in a nutshell is my perspective of spirituality. That’s when the individual has a direct experience with the higher power without the middle man. 

The first step is about admitting one is powerless over alcohol. Powerlessness is replaced with finding a Higher Power. You wrote in the article, “Reclaiming Your Power”:  An important truth about every person is simply that the amount of power we seek in our lives is always equal to the sense of powerlessness that a part of us carries on the inside. Can one regain power without a Higher Power?

Here’s my version of that: There needs to be a power greater than self for a person to reclaim their true power, in my opinion. I don’t think the person needs to have the terminology to call it a higher power. If we don’t acknowledge there’s some sort of power greater than ourselves, whether we call it mother nature, community... then we are pretty much rooted in our power trip of our own ego.

AA claims one needs to completely get rid of anger or it can kill the alcoholic, but non-alcoholics are allowed to be angry. You wrote an article titled “Making Friends with Your Anger.” How does one make friends with their anger? 

I don’t think anger is ever the problem. Honestly, if alcoholic or non-alcoholic, I think trying to avoid one’s anger is a huge problem. Whether that’s avoiding it through drinking, avoiding it thru dissociation, disconnecting from ourselves mentally from one’s self, it is my opinion that for a person to be healthy we have to allow ourselves to healthily express our anger and I think making friends with our anger has a lot to do with giving ourselves permission to be human. Which means we are allowed to be angry and we see anger as a healthy expression. The other side of that would be when we judge our anger to be a bad thing that simply drives us to repress and avoid our anger, which is very unhealthy in my experience. And that approach makes anger our enemy which keeps us in an emotional battle with our own emotion. Looking at our anger is an important part of making friends with our anger. Avoiding our anger, that’s exactly what can drive addictive behavior.

In one of your YouTube videos, you praise Forrest Gump for following his heart. One AA slogan is “Keep it simple, stupid.” Do you think that’s meant to be rude or a reminder to follow one’s heart? Another slogan is: “Let go and let God.” God fixes your problem, and you let it go. Do you feel this is an effective strategy considering you wrote an article titled “Don’t Get Over It”?

Keep it simple stupid, I have no idea what the intention of that phrase is by the way the author [said it]. The way I interpret that is a potentially powerful way to keep space in our lives for our heart. And that would be opposed to strictly living in our head which means we’re disconnected from our feelings so we might be functioning in a very intellectual way but that’s at the expense of disconnecting from our feelings. Let Go, Let God. I do believe that can be a very dangerous statement when taken at face value. What a lot of people will do with that is go into denial of their actual problems and deeper pain while believing that they let it go. So to me there’s a big difference between saying let it go and even believing let it go versus actually letting something go. So I think one of the other dangers of the Let Go, Let God mentality is it can advocate a sense of shame about our pain that we still haven’t resolved. To me, truly letting something go means we have to ambitiously accept it and feel it and process it. Much like digesting food, it has to run through our full system before we let go of what we don’t need anymore.

On a side note, I am not anonymous. AA claims anonymity is a spiritual principle. Is it?

I would say it’s a personal principle not a spiritual principle. My intention is not to just be counter to AA on this, but to me anonymity is a personal principle where it provides the privacy necessary where the person feels safe enough to hopefully open up. I think when we go beyond the personal nourishment we get from anonymity, I think stepping beyond the personal into the spiritual means we no longer have the need to hide through anonymity, but we have the ability to connect without hiding our identity. And I would just add to that it is a very appropriate healing step to give ourselves the personal privacy and anonymity for the period of time that we need it. It’s probably not forever but we all need some degree of it before we can step boldly out into the world without apologizing for who we are.

In AA the alcoholic is described as egotistical, selfish, controlling and playing God. Is AA projecting narcissist traits onto members who have a variety of different personality types?

I would say there perhaps is the projection of narcissism. I think the benefit of acknowledging any addict as a control freak is that it highlights the arrogance of the addict’s ego. In other words, it highlights how much the addict’s ego is controlling their life. And I think to me it’s important in order to be able to live beyond the limitations of our ego we first have to humbly acknowledge the limitations of our ego and acknowledge the power hunger that our ego has. I would add to that a challenge with acknowledging the inflation of our ego is we can start developing shame of our ego. To be able to look at ourselves and say, “Hey, my ego is very arrogant. Very narcissistic.” And that can be therapeutic if it helps humble that person’s ego. And at the same time for another person those same words that are said to them, “You’re narcissistic. You’re controlling,” that person may interpret those words not as humbling, but as shaming. One person can be liberated by those words and another person can be hurt and wounded by those words. Those words are very powerful and the power of anything has the potential to heal or harm. I think equally as important as those words would be helping people understand how to hear those words in a very powerful healing way.

In AA’s 6th step one lists their character defects, such as fear, envy, gossiping, anger, and dishonesty. In comparison, Women for Sobriety’s fifth affirmation reads: I am what I think. I am a capable, competent, caring, compassionate woman. Which spiritual strategy is better, listing affirmations or listing defects?

For me both are necessary for wholeness. I think our defects acknowledged, not shamed but acknowledged, help us recognize how we’ve been getting our needs met in a disempowering way. For example, if someone’s gossiping they’re getting their need for connection met not in a very empowering way but the best way they know how in that moment. So acknowledging how a person’s getting their needs met- their defects- for me it’s very important before you can go beyond the disempowering have to recognize the current way you’ve been getting your needs met. It’s just like you can’t get out of a jail that you don’t know you’re in...There’s great benefit in bringing in nurturing self-empowering affirmations. The seed for the powerful affirmation won’t be able to take hold unless the soil’s been rototilled through acknowledging our defects.  

As its title suggests, Secular Organizations for Sobriety is not a spiritual program. Instead of listing defects or affirmations, SOS suggests exploring which emotions may put one in danger of drinking again after they’ve quit. Similarly, SMART Recovery views “substance abuse, alcohol abuse, addiction and drug abuse as complex maladaptive behaviors with possible physiological factors.” Their program evolves as new science evolves, but AA does not do that. Is providing scientific and medical facts compatible with spirituality?

From my perspective both the science, the emotions, [are] absolutely compatible with spirituality. For me spirituality is inclusive of everything. I think the discovery of new science is absolutely worth acknowledging and integrating and at the same time I don’t think that will ever replace that pure simple connection with that person’s emotions. And without the science, when we’re just connected to our emotions, we could be refusing to accept great information that can work in our benefit.  

SMART Recovery deals with all addictions—cocaine, pain killers, marijuana, alcohol, smoking, gambling, eating and sex. It is frowned upon in AA to mention other addictions. Do you think all addictions have similar root problems?

I do. For me the root problem of any addiction is that the person is principally addicted to not feeling how they really feel. And with that said, treating the external symptom of an addiction to a substance is important. I think there’s great benefit to specialized approaches for treating the given expression of an addiction. And with that said, at the core I believe that all addictions have the common ground of the person being addicted to not feeling how they’re actually feeling.

Wouldn’t spiritual programs be more spiritual if they embraced their fellow support groups and expressed gratitude for their efforts to also help people trying to kick addiction or beat alcoholism? 

I agree with that. I do think the different treatment programs there would be more spirituality involved with acknowledgement [of] the benefits of other programs. I think any given program would be very appropriate for some people and not appropriate for others. I think there’s a good fit based on the individual. I think that all healing is facilitated through unity not division.  

Much of JP Sears’ works can be directly applied to a person going through recovery. Writing as a Holistic Coach, in an essay titled “Conscious Creation,” Sears writes: “We of course are not able to change what actually happened during one of life’s events, but what we can do is change our perception so that we have a new version of an occurrence that no longer causes pain or discomfort. By acknowledging that one’s perception is the source of all joy or pain we can realize our power to transform our dark shadows into radiant light.”

Whether one finds AA’s or WFS’s spiritual solution helpful, or SOS and SMART Recovery’s secular and behavioral science-based solutions helpful, the programs have abundant similarities as well as major differences. We cannot all be Ultra Spiritual and nor do we have to practice a concept of spirituality that conflicts with our beliefs. There is no perfect program except for whichever program works for you, no matter if you are religious, spiritual, secular, humanist, or atheist. 

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Juliet Elisabeth is a freelance writer and independent contractor as a research analyst focused on the healthcare field; also an artist and mother of two. Activist for choice in recovery treatment. Her blog is AarmedWithFacts.