This one is kind of a hard post to write if I’m being honest. I already feel as if I’ve been outcast from Feminist groups for asking too many questions, so it’s kind of scary to “take on” a new group. Yet, here I go… A few years ago, I really made an effort to lean into myself a bit more and allow myself to be open to new experiences. As part of that process, I admitted I didn’t know it all. I started experimenting with new schools of thought, and I let go of a lot of structure—some of my closest friends can attest to how I’ve changed over the years. Funny enough though, I think I really just moved towards becoming who I always was in the first place… And I have a lot of sources to thank for these realizations. There have been so many great talks and books, alongside real-life people in my own circle who have opened up new doors for me to walk through. But as I write this, one week away from my Tarot card reading, I can’t help but wonder… have I over-corrected?
In my own desire to leave behind to-do lists and embrace some type of felt presence within, have I walked towards another extreme? In my own case, I don’t suppose I have. However, I’ve certainly met the other extreme. So that is what this post is all about. I’d like to share some of what I’ve experienced in meeting more “new age” types of folks and highlight what I consider to be some red flags about the spiritual community.
Let’s start off by discussing the notion of “enlightenment” and really, “spiritual narcissism”. Maybe the best place to begin is with an example. Last winter, I went to a sound healing party. I met some awesome people there, but I was struck by one person who shared her disappointment about an ecstatic dance party that she recently hosted. She explained that nobody really wanted to “let loose” and dance freely. She suggested everyone was in their own head and couldn’t connect to something beyond. I listened. Then I wondered, “what would I have done?” The truth is, I would not have felt comfortable dancing at that party in a room full of strangers on command. Yet, I would very likely have been comfortable dancing if I was pulled up from the audience at a show and asked to participate. So, what gives? Well, I would argue that nothing gives. A person’s decision or their emotional state during a single moment hardly reflects on their whole being and their ability to connect to something deeply. There are so many ways that a person can surrender in life. Some may like to chant. Some will sing along to the radio without a care in the world about who listens. Some will pour their hearts into something they write or craft. Some may take part in ecstatic dancing. There is no one way… and a person deciding for themselves what to do is how I would feel one can demonstrate that they’re most “free”; yet, for this facilitator, the implication is that everyone who didn’t want to do what she deemed meaningful was somehow a sign that they were just a little less enlightened and a little more inhibited. Sometimes people “like her” will say things like, “I guess they just aren’t ready yet”, and there is such tremendous ego there. What does it mean when a person isn’t “ready”? Essentially, they haven’t yet reached a more advanced stage, right? But who deems what those stages actually are? To be fair, I have used this language at times innocently- or when referring to myself. For instance, three years ago, I would not have signed up for a Tarot reading. But is that actually because I wasn’t “ready” or was I just “different”? In any case, talking about oneself is one thing, but to look outwardly and make statements about another person’s perceived readiness is definitely saying a lot more about the person speaking than the one they’re speaking about.
But it doesn’t stop there. We can unpack this further. Let’s talk about “manifesting” or “the law of attraction”. There are so many places to go here. Firstly, I want to begin by stating that I do believe in these things to a degree. However, I feel that a lot of people who preach (and I use that word very intentionally) these things do so in a really inadequate and narcissistic way. When they advise people on how to manifest the job of their dreams or an amazing boyfriend, why don’t they challenge that right there? Why is everyone so focused on manifesting these external things for happiness anyway? I don’t hear many people talk about their desires to manifest a more eco-friendly world to collectively share. It’s just so self-centered, and having people tell you that if you want to achieve these self-centered things, you should start a vision board and get to visualizing is especially ridiculous. By the way, on this subject, manifestation and the law of attraction has little to do with just “positive thinking”… from my own experiences and learnings, I would say that thought is one part of it, but there’s feeling, and action, too. Yet, people go awry and essentially shame others for not thinking themselves into becoming millionaires. And what about people in developing nations? What about people with unimaginable trauma? Do these people need to just get over it and manifest their happiness? Ummm, no. And that leads me to another point.
This community can greatly encourage toxic positivity in the spirit of “good vibes”. But sometimes, you have to feel your stuff. Meditate and let yourself feel that pain work through you without any rush to get it over with. Maybe it’ll take days. Maybe weeks. Maybe years. I definitely think healing is important and I don’t want anyone to stay stuck in a victim mentality, but suffering is real. Unfortunately though, some new age folks really want to jump through important steps to recovery by telling people that they just need to “put the vibes out there” and it’s all really dismissive of the human condition, I think.
Let’s talk stereotypes promoted in these circles next. There’s a lot of really amazing and authentic people out there who may fit the mold in this community – you know the one. But even those people are more complex than that. There are layers to us all. Similarly, there are lots of people who may not check off any stereotypical hippy boxes at all; does that mean they aren’t really operating at a “higher state of consciousness”? Who knows? Here’s another place where I would appreciate a little more humility from this community. Talk show host, Bill Maher once said on the subject of God that he didn’t know, and therefore, he knows that nobody else knows either. I think there’s power in collectively realizing we can’t really know anything with full certainty. So, sure, signing up for a Reiki journey can make many people feel something deeper. But maybe it could also harm people who aren’t in the right state. And there are many people who don’t desire it even if they are good candidates for it. But again, what difference does any of that make? Does being “open” mean you always say “yes” to everything. And who are you proving this awakening to, anyway? If you start saying yes out of social pressure – in this case to those within the spiritual community, then you are no better than a religious zealot or a structured accountant who colour codes all of his or her files. But on that note… are those people less conscious? Maybe. Maybe not. Who knooooowwwws? And besides, isn’t life genuinely more interesting when we can be all sorts of things even if they seem contradictory? I say, be a person who speaks about chakras in one moment while you organize notebooks in the next. Support farmers markets and local libraries during the daytime and have rough sex at night. We’re allowed to do it all without being boxed into one type of person, and sadly, I think this community makes a lot of assumptions about the types of people who fully belong.
Let’s chat about gurus, guides, and leaders now. Alan Watts, Eckhart Tolle, Sadhguru. These are all names that you’ve likely heard of before if you are orbiting these communities. You’ll see their quotes on Instagram feeds constantly and people refer to them as if they’re holy. But, wait for it: they’re not. Again, I’d like to provide a disclaimer here. I do enjoy all three of these men (funny, by the way, how there seem to be more men with these enlightening messages, eh?)… I’m guilty of sharing their quotes, myself. Yet, I think it’s important to note that I don’t always agree with them. For example, Eckhart Tolle said that people should enjoy experiences in life without worrying about what to label them. In principle, I agree that we shouldn’t over-obsess about this because it can really suck the fun out of life and force them into unnecessary boxes, but as I plan to write about soon, I simultaneously think that language is beautiful and can have positive impact. So, here’s an area where—as much as I love Tolle—I don’t FULLY agree with what he puts out there. If you want to encourage the masses to question things and challenge authority, it defies your very message when you put up other people on a pedestal and appeal for them to be worshiped instead now. It’s just repeating the same thing you say you want to steer away from. For what it’s worth, I think we can all learn from each other. And some people with more experiences can absolutely “share more”, but at core, we have what they claim to have too… it’s something that’s within us and if it’s a “felt presence”, then just feel it. Connect to books and talks and platforms like these that can help discover yourself more. Don’t rely on any of these sources to tell you everything with some definitive guarantee. It just won’t happen.
Finally, let’s talk about the trendy phrases. I’ve mentioned a few already like “manifesting” and “good vibes”. But how does “divine feminine goddess” sit? What about “transcendence”, “aura”, “source”, “truth”, “oneness”, “sisterhood”, “awakening” etc., the list goes on. Again, I will call myself out here, I use some of these terms and I don’t have any need to demonize them. As a word-lover, some resonate more than others. But I do think it all begins to look a little cult-like when we start to just throw these words around without being able to even define them ourselves. I realize the reply here is that we’re not supposed to define them. These are terms that should be left subjective and open to interpretation. Okay, great… so why don’t we diversify this a bit? And with respect to the whole divine femininity thing, what do we do with quieter females who don’t have a desire to openly affirm their goddess energy with one another? Are they banished from the circle? What language should they use instead that will be accepted instead of judged—because let’s be clear—this community can absolutely judge. My earlier mention of a colour-coding accountant would certainly elicit some immediate assumptions and reactions from the types of people I’ve met over the years…
Now, my whole point here is not to trash anyone or anything. In fact, I think my frustrations here stem from how much I love this kind of stuff, actually. My walk with my spirituality has been profound and eye-opening, so I do care. But I once heard on the subject of patriotism that people who love their countries the most are often the ones who criticize it the most greatly. They demand more from it. They want it to be better. Perhaps that’s resonated with me more than I realized. I love so many of the messages our community has to offer, but I don’t love how easily they can become distorted and how much they can confuse already vulnerable people who are clearly searching.
As you continue on your spiritual path, I just want to re-affirm that it is okay to have reservations about people you meet along the way who seem to say all of the “right words” and take part in the “right activities”. It’s good to remember that you are a critical thinker, still. Being mindful does not mean you do not think. Question everything – starting with yourself, but also everything around you. Get in touch with what connects you to yourself… maybe for some of you, that will take you into a sensory deprivation experience. Maybe some of you will practice yoga and develop a meditation practice. Some of you may stop eating meat and create those vision boards (happy manifesting). Some of you will find your ways into temples, while others will prefer to silently retreat and meditate in black rooms or underneath a canopy of trees in a forest. All of it’s cool, but none of these things are prerequisites, and any person who tells you that they are is wrong at best or lying at worst. This is YOUR path. Don’t forget that.