If the pursuit of alternative spirituality is your bag (or something you’re vaguely curious about), know that it is in no way related to whether you choose to visit a Reiki master for attunement, refer to the chakras by their Sanskrit names in everyday conversation, buy handmade and vegetable-dyed yoga pants or a monk-blessed crystal medallion, juice fast, or change your name to Sapling or Morningstar or something you pulled out from a Google search of the Bhagavad Gita.
I’ve had enough of this “packaging” of New Age spirituality—not because I think it’s a load of unsubstantiated hokum but, if anything, because I believe quite the contrary (for the record, I’m all for juice fasting and consider yoga pants the superlative compromise between wearing PJs all day and flattering one’s ass, and I’d highly recommend Eastern Body, Western Mind to anyone curious-but-wary about the chakra system). At its best, the New Age movement induces the globalization and rebooting of spiritual traditions, which an individual can choose to explore to promote introspection, compassion, calmness, direction. It’s not about dismissing science—whether one wants to attribute these results to “divine energy” or “the placebo effect” is a mere technicality, if you ask me.
I’m saying that whatever “enlightenment” is, it doesn’t discriminate on the basis of your friends, income, or vernacular (i.e, using buzz phrases like “manifesting abundance” and “holding space” and “goddess energy” is indicative of one’s social identity, but not necessarily of higher consciousness). It’s not something someone else can teach you, and it’s definitely not something you can buy.
Sure, I have some pretty strong opinions about what is and isn’t “the right way” to go about my yoga practice and which classes are and are not “worth” going to, but that doesn’t mean I think you’re damned to a life of spiritual impotence if you aren’t doing yoga “the right way” according to me. Similarly, I don’t think you’re damned to a life of spiritual impotence if you never once touch a yoga mat in your life.
Ultimately, yoga—or anything, for that matter—is worth what you get out of it, not how much money you spend on it, nor how much some authority tells you you’re getting out of it. A great teacher of yoga (or anything else) will inspire you to empower yourself—even to the point of confidently adopting an independent practice at home. And the bottom line is that yoga (for anything else) isn’t for everyone—and that’s fine. Who cares?
For some, inner peace is attained through golfing. For some, painting. For some, base-jumping. For some, caring for animals. For some, geology. For some, doing hallucinogens in the woods.
For none, buying a $700 hoodie emblazoned with sacred geometries at a music festival. For none, benevolently trying to provide salvation for the uninitiated by touting the merits of their particular school of yoga or style of meditation at the exclusion of all others. (You hear it among yoga teachers all the time: “Oh, but those Kundalini yogis, though. They’re psycho.”)
An old friend of mine recently tried to sell me on an expensive weekend meditation retreat. When I told her I was happy at the moment with my own way of doing things—or, moreover, that my curiosity to explore a style of meditation didn’t amount to $800—she immediately chimed in with, “But this guy teaches us that most of us are meditating the wrong way, and that it can be energetically damaging. He has a very specific method.”
“Well. Fortunately, I don’t really meditate in the first place, so at least I’m not damaging anything, yeah?”
After a while, it starts sounding a lot like opposing religious sects trying to claim new subscribers, preying mainly on those who feel lost and want something to throw their faith, or money, at.
Really, wisdom has no shortcuts, and isn’t cultivated on the path of least resistance. Consider any spiritual leader who’s ever inspired the awe of millions—from Jesus Christ to Amma—and what they did to get there. In each case, the path they took was far from luxurious and, moreover, was profoundly individual.
Paying for healing sessions and seminars and retreats, or adopting certain lifestyle changes meant to be “cleansing” or “grounding”, can be enriching and beneficial—just like eating well, going to a day spa, or taking a new class. There’s nothing wrong with any of them, if you feel like you’ve gotten something out of them. However, they’re just that—forms of enrichment, self-indulgence, self-care. They shouldn’t be exalted as righteous stepping stones to enlightenment—particularly not the exact stepping stones—or signs that you’re more “plugged in” than the masses. While Ayahuasca can be a means to finding deeper purpose and meaning, so can discovering a consumptive love of snowboarding.
And when it comes to things as personal as one’s path to feeling connected and fulfilled in their life, who is anyone to say how that should be done? That’s about as invasive as someone coming in and telling you how you should masturbate, or what you should write in your journal. I once drove by a church in Oregon with a marquee sign that read: “Counting the sins of others does not make you a saint.” Besides being a pretty progressive for a church to say (if you ask me), it’s something every one of us should be telling ourselves, continually—even more so if we think we’ve “transcended” to something higher. Idealogical imperialism isn’t an exercise in goodwill.
My best friend put it as elegantly as I could ever hope to. She was telling me about a girl she hosted—a super airy-fairy chick from Boulder, one of those angry, hateful “enlightened” types who kept taking offense in my friend’s mode of existing until it eventually blew up into a fight (so much for all that spiritual practice).
“So you know I meditate, and I have that corner in my room that’s sort of set up as ‘my space’ that I meditate in….Then this girl is in my room, and she says, ‘You know, I could get all Buddhist on you and say it shouldn’t matter where you meditate.’ And I’m just thinking, ‘Hey bitch, I like where I meditate, what’s it to you?’”