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*Warning: some well-deserved, strong language ahead!
Throughout recorded history, spiritual people—from whatever walk of life—have foretold some sort of great awakening, whether it’s the “revelation” of St. John in the New Testament, the arrival of the Age of Aquarius amongst New Agers, or the moksha of Buddhism.
But since the outbreak of COVID-19 across the world in early 2020, the idea of a great awakening has been given more urgency by spiritual folk. We need look no further than the spiritual groups on social media, or the vlogs of the self-professed gurus, to witness that we are being affronted by a barrage of memes and pious platitudes admonishing people to “wake up” from the slumber of their “three-dimensional existence.”
Whether we actually like our three-dimensional reality and are perfectly content in our so-called slumber is another matter altogether, but suffice it to say that, as with most things, spiritual people seem to know what’s best for everyone else…
What we really need to wake up to is modern spirituality itself. Before I argue the case for why let’s start with a bit of context.
Out of the ashes of the New Age thought of the 1960s, a new phoenix has been born: the cult of the lightworker or, more generally, the new New Age movement, which is, essentially, a more mainstream and diluted infestation of the countercultural movement of the 60s. More and more, we see people believing in channeling, crystals and energy healing, manifestation, and so on.
But why are people increasingly drawn to this movement, or what we might call “modern spirituality?”
Because they need it. Because at some point in their lives, they experienced trauma and sought out spirituality as the salve to their wounds, for it provides them with an escapist belief system to repress their pain. Spirituality has become an emotional and psychological crutch; and once people become dependent on it for their healing, then they begin to get sucked in by its bullshit.
For example, the obsession that New Agers seem to have with promoting self-love and self-empowerment is a mindset borne from trauma and low self-esteem. In moderation, and with a degree of realism and humility, the idea of self-love can be positive and contribute to healing; but in excess, it can result in a mindset of entitlement and narcissism. Mantras such as “I am deserving” and “I am perfect” (which we often find spouted by the law of attraction gurus) leaves little room for humility and personal growth, for if we truly believe we are perfect as we are, then what’s the incentive for further growth, spiritual or otherwise?
The truth is, we aren’t perfect. No one is, for what is perfect, anyway? Perfection is such a subjective notion that irresponsible, sweeping statements such as “I am perfect” are pretty much redundant. If you believe you are perfect, then by whose standards? An attitude of self-perfection is merely arrogance in disguise. To be human means to be imperfect: we are flawed creatures, but we have the potential to learn, to grow, and to be more—and that is the beauty of our humanity.
If only certain “spiritual” people had the humility to see it.
Coupled with this, the invention of dichotomies between the “three-dimensional” and the “five-dimensional” (or put simply, the difference between the human and the spiritual aspects of our being) serves to remove our focus from our lived, human experience, and instead seeks escapist routes to the fifth dimension, whether through extended meditation, excessive positivity, or a belief in the law of attraction. This New Age philosophy promotes bypassing: rather than face our fears, our flaws, and ultimately the rawness of our feelings, it is much easier to escape into a fantasy world of love and light—a world where we see ourselves as perfect, and a world where we are so immune to (or scared of) someone bursting our escapist bubble, that we view other people as “unawakened” simply because they are different or disagree with us.
The irony is, the lightworker who escapes to such fantastical worlds is the one who is asleep and dreaming: the very philosophy of the lightworker sends us into an escapist slumber, which is detrimental to our wholeness of being, focusing only on the fluffy, love and light crap rather than embracing our full reality—and our fullest humanity—in all its messiness, pain, and uncertainty.
In many ways, modern spirituality is a superficial form of spirituality that picks and chooses the “best” or most uplifting bits from the history of spiritual thought, such as self-love, self-empowerment, and positive thinking. This is the fast food, bite-size spirituality of the meme generation: rather than delve into the deepest and darkest recesses of our souls to fully explore our shadow, face our monsters, and integrate our pain into our conscious reality, lightworkers would rather skim past all of that messy, painful work and instead float positive memes around the internet under the pretense that they are “spiritual.”
But they seem to miss the vital point that spirituality is our lived reality. It is not a far off realm, or indeed a higher state of being divorced from the world: it is the here and now. It is our highest highs and our lowest lows; it is every aspect of our lived experience that embraces the fullness of our being, both human and divine.
The most common memes that infect social media tend to promote self-love, self-empowerment, good vibes only, and anti-narcissism, which, in its typical escapist and self-delusional manner, denies the fact that we all have narcissistic traits. Somehow, lightworkers consider themselves exempt from that. But the one thing that, for me, sums all of this up is the lightworker’s mantra of “love and light,” which is dangerously synonymous with spiritual bypassing.
Modern spirituality provides us with many tools for bypassing and self-ingratiation: excessive self-love verges on narcissism; excessive positive thinking leads to repression, sublimation, and downright self-delusion; and the law of attraction leads to an attitude of self-entitlement. Indeed, it is no surprise that new New Age thinking, epitomised by The Secret (2006), was born out of—and is perpetuated by—millennials within a culture of increasing materialism, narcissism, and entitlement. It is, of course, also the meme generation.
But one bypassing tactic that sticks out like a sore thumb is the “good vibes only” school of thought.
Superficially, the good vibes tribe appears enticing and has a faux-spiritual-new-age ring to it; but adopting this positive-attitudes-only philosophy to life is one of the most emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually detrimental attitudes we can have.
So, what are the consequences of excessive positivity, other than escapism, self-delusion, and spiritual bypassing? One inherent danger of avoiding negativity and conflict is that we become people-pleasers, surrendering our authenticity for the sake of approval from others. Moreover, when we are sucked into the cycle of seeking positive vibes and avoiding conflict, we are, in fact, stunting our own internal growth and may become “negativity-phobic,” meaning that we develop an aversion to conflict that can result in, ironically, negative behaviours and attitudes. For example, repressed emotions such as fear, anger, or jealousy are consigned to our shadow self but eventually surface and manifest in the form of emotional outbursts, irrational thinking, unsociable behaviours, or even an addiction to substances.
Let’s look at conflict aversion a bit further. One thing I have noticed within spiritual communities—on social media in particular—is that regardless of the environment or context, so-called spiritual people do not like critical thought. Whereas the ability to think in a rational, impartial, and inquisitive way in order to elicit the truth of something is the underpinning logic of critical thought, it is generally perceived by spiritual folk to be something bad, because open questioning that reveals flaws and exposes logical fallacies in their thinking is generally avoided, frowned upon, and is almost immediately shunned by spiritual people, along with the person making the critique. They are simply dismissed as a troll, a narcissist, or an unawakened person. When you play the “you are unawakened” card, you can hardly lose, for such an attitude is seemingly unassailable on the surface, but is in fact entirely subjective, not to mention arrogant and self-delusional.
When someone questions a lightworker’s unquestioning allegiance to the spiritual dogma, which is largely spewed out by self-ordained gurus on social media, some of them get defensive and cling even tighter to the bullshit they have been fed, either out of fear, denial, or both. Indeed, some people in the spiritual and self-help communities tend to be highly reactive toward any form of criticism or emotional conflict and are at best passive-aggressive and self-righteous in their attitude toward anyone who disagrees with them. For example, if a logical, rational person contended that the law of attraction is merely a pseudoscience, then the typical reactive spiritual person would deduce that all science is erroneous, purely to defend their precious belief in the law of attraction. Such a reaction is not only a logical fallacy but has the hallmarks of an ignorant fanatic whose very sanity is questionable.
Indeed, for all the ways spiritual people denounce narcissists (because if you’re not an empath, which is trendy these days, then you must be a narcissist), they are culpable of the most heinous breed of narcissism: spiritual narcissism. When confronted with criticism, the spiritual ego goes on the super-defensive and resorts to ignorance and self-delusion rather than facing criticism directly. Spiritual folk seem to nurture strong ideals about life purely based on (somewhat empty) spiritual rhetoric such as “all is love,” “think happy thoughts,” and other such nonsense. That might be good for them, but when someone who has a sound, rational argument that shits all over their spiritual safety net, then they can’t seem to cope emotionally and therefore have recourse to the usual rebuff: “you are unawakened.”
This manner of reactive behaviour is rooted in unresolved trauma, a combination of arrogance and ignorance, and our old enemy fear: fear that they might be wrong and fear that their spiritual beliefs are no longer pacifying or creating a comfort bubble around them. They can’t stand to lose their spiritual crutch, even if it means living in ignorance, repressed pain, and self-delusion. When criticised, some spiritual people also get angry because their ego (although these same folk claim that they are egoless, which is the height of egoism) doesn’t like to be challenged or disproved. Rather, the ego wants to feel spiritually righteous and demands the laziness of “good vibes only” because, in that fantasy land, there is no challenge, no fear, and no shadow self to overcome. In the world of love and light, they are always right.
Attempting to create a “good vibes only” life limits our psychological and spiritual growth, but what is arguably more detrimental—not to mention paradoxical—is that seeking this kind of life means that we are in a constant state of resistance to our lived reality. But our lived reality is the essence of our spirituality: it is what we learn and how we grow; it is highs and the lows of life that nurture our soul and make us stronger, wiser, and more inwardly attuned to ourselves. Anything else is simply bypassing, escaping a version of ourselves that we find undesirable which, ironically, also contradicts the lightworker’s notion of self-love, for if we truly loved ourselves, then we would embrace all aspects of ourselves: the good and the bad, the ugly and the beautiful, the flawed and the successful, and the fearful and the courageous.
But what if this “awakening” that lightworkers and New Agers preach about was, in fact, waking up from the bullshit espoused by the escapist, self-entitled, and narcissistic New Age community itself? We need to wake up from the bypassing and the dreamland that modern spirituality promotes by challenging its assumptions, its hypocrisies, and its contradictions. Instead, we need a version of spirituality that promotes balance—the integration of light and dark—for such is the only means by which we can achieve oneness and truly engage with our lived, human experience.
Because this is what it means to be spiritual: it’s the fullness of being, oneness with ourselves, and engagement with our lived reality, not at the expense of our humanness, but fully integrated with it.