Writing the Wrong
Pray, Eat, Beware the Dilettantes
Fundamentalism is worrisome. The greatest threat to humanity the Western media would have us believe is Islamic fundamentalism. I feel there is another pernicious cult-like threat stealthily bearing down on us: the hipster-spirituality movement, because it is creating a generation of narcissistic megalomaniacs, who think they are more enlightened than everyone else. We are already disconnecting from one another at an alarming rate, imagine what spam spirituality that condones and encourages selfish, individualistic behavior will do to us and our environment.
We have all met, at some point, someone who says, “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual.” What the hell does that even mean? Looking back, more often than not, the person who has said that to me, indulges in serious gossip, back biting, and narcissistic behaviour, and has convinced herself that all their sins are expiated with a well-placed Paulo Cohelo quote or a Rumi stanza, delivered on her MAC Book Pro from the comfort of her zen inspired meditation room.
What I have found is that truly spiritual people rarely advertise their spirituality. It does not occur to them. It is like announcing their gender, it is unnecessary, redundant. It is also almost separating them from it. One does not remark constantly on how they have lungs and use them to breathe as if it is a novelty and they are disconnected from it. Their life choices and day to day interactions with those they love, and more interestingly, with those they dislike, or mistrust, are clear indications of their level of self awareness and centeredness. And, yes, spiritual depth. Also, those who trumpet their transcendence, are usually in a hell fire hurry to establish their image and are just as interested in creating a brand of who they are. In other words, they are out to market themselves. Their agenda is expansive, it is focused on the exterior; it is about attention, and adulation, the very opposite of divine introspection. The really clever “spiritualists” have discovered that it also allows them to continue their self indulgent behaviour in plain sight and even with the express permission of those around them because, you see, it’s all in the service of a SPIRITUAL QUEST. That’s another thing: I am reckoning that the truly spiritual do not seek or need the approval or permission of anyone. Because, even though they struggle at times, their consciences are more or less at peace; their self esteem is not tied up in their well crafted facade, but in the intrinsic belief in oneself, and the divine laws of the Universe.
The way spirituality is being branded as some type of shrink wrapped mysticism, all shiny and easy to sell at Whole Foods (an overpriced health food market) really appeals to the self-indulgent types. It is tinged with turmeric and smells of lotus petals, the kind of stuff Woody Allen made fun of in Annie Hall. The key word here is easy, which is counter intuitive. To maintain spiritual balance is a struggle, it can never be easy. One must come to terms with one’s flaws and limitations and gain self acceptance, the toughest test of all. Easy is not something that comes to mind when I think of the divine.
The fact is the masses in the West are bereft. I see it everyday, I feel it. A new study shows long commutes contribute to divorce and depression. Conversely, more people are out of work now than ever before. Osama might be dead but the threat of violence is still all around us. The US will most certainly not stop their real politick agenda of forcibly bringing other countries to their knees, and so will still be energetically despised. Economically, the US is not as powerful a contender as in times past; this has and will have long term consequences on our day to day lives and, also the lives of people in other nations. So, now, our cell phones are also killing us, everything these days causes cancer. I would not be surprised if I hear someday that reading will kill us-- I am pretty sure the Creationists, who are trying to keep evolution from being taught in school already believe that. Thus, I cannot begrudge anyone the search for peace and a modicum of sanity in an increasingly high speed car chase world. It’s just that looking at quick fixes while disavowing our loyalties and shirking our responsibilities, which fast track Nirvana espouses, will probably not attain that peace for us.
The irony, of course, is that as much as the Occidentals look down on us Orientals, they are increasingly turning to the exotic East to find spiritual peace; a peace that is for sale to the highest bidder. So, naturally, the way this stuff is being sold involves yoga and meditation and a cross pollination of Hinduism, Buddhism, the occult and the mystical arms of the Judeo-Christian tradition, such as Kabalah and Sufism– all with the appropriate gear and accessories. I get no less than four catalogues a month selling yoga pants made from “breathable bamboo.” And, this stuff is expensive, so again, like organic yams, is really geared towards the wealthy and privileged. A friend of mine, whose father taught yoga for FREE at a park in New Delhi for years, remarked that charging for yoga somehow undermines its value. Spiritual retreats are also expensive. At a centre in upstate NY, a weekend meditation/yoga retreat costs 300 dollars a day, and this is only if you are willing to share a toilet with strangers. The single mom, juggling two jobs and taking classes part time (yes, she does exist; she is a student of mine) is also in great need of a “retreat” but has to save up for it, you know, like a normal person. Again, easy, is not what spirituality is about, but when I asked if she believed in God, she said, “Of course!” and was shocked I would even ask her such a thing. She did allow that sometimes she thought He was asleep on the job, like when her house burnt down. Despite all that, for her, it IS easier but with entirely different connotations. It’s simply about faith.
Why do I feel I can take self-righteous pot shots at the insta-bliss types? Because, gentle readers, I was one of them. You name a crystal, chances are I bought it for its healing properties. News-flash, as far as I know there is no gem--precious or otherwise--that can cure a broken heart. Nor, is there any type of transcendent meditation, incense, astrological readings, reiki, chanting, channeling, regression hypnotherapy, kundlani yoga or dream analysis (I have tried them ALL) that can heal a soul that has been traumatised until it is good and ready to be healed. Yes, one has to put in the time. I still meditate, or try to. I still have furious (mostly one-sided) arguments with God; I still read my horoscope (apparently, on the 5th of June someone who has been trying to undermine my reputation will be thwarted by a trusty Scorpio ally); I have a rose quartz stone that I clutch when I am feeling lonely, plus hands on healing and the exchange of energy is something I know works. I have experienced it. None of that has changed, but I no longer think any of these things will fix what ails me or somehow reverse my inherent character flaws or instill in me an imperative sense of wonder and gratitude that I am still tooling around this bizarre clambake we call life. That is entirely up to me. If I lose sight of my obligations to my family, friends and community, nothing on this thankfully, somewhat still green earth, will save my sorry soul.