Bug Fixes and Performance Enhancements for the Conscientious Seeker
I used to resent it when mainstream journalists use the term “new agey” as an insult. When I came across it used that way in a magazine, I was like, “This same exact issue has an article about yoga and a blurb about meditation and an infographic about the health-boosting benefits of nature. Oh and a monthly astrology column. Ungrateful much?”
Now, though, after witnessing the behavior of many a new age guru and new age seeker during the troubling events of the previous year, I understand how “new agey” could possibly be seen as a pretty gross thing to be.
In the 1980s, psychotherapist and Buddhist teacher John Welwood coined the term spiritual bypassing, defining it as a “tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks.”
If you’re a new ager, or a witch, or if you’re among the significant percentage of people who describe themselves as spiritual-but-not-religious, you may have noticed the spiritual bypassing extravaganza that so overtly took over many of our online communities when COVID hit…And also a few months later when the Black Lives Matter movement became more visible after the killing of George Floyd…And also roughly half a year after that when insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol.
You may have heard the phrase “The only way out is through.” But instead of going through these challenges with everyone else, many alternative spiritual influencers, adherents, and practitioners tried to go around them.
They attempted to rise above the threat of COVID by being healthy or positive or spiritual enough.
They tried to make the virus and the racism and the police brutality disappear by denying they actually existed.
And they desperately formulated alternative narratives for all these news stories with a murky, conflicting, often covertly racist and anti-semitic cocktail of conspiracy theories including (but not limited to) stories about reptile people, space lasers, and a child trafficking pizza parlor.
But before I start to sound too self-righteous, let me go back. When I first learned there were new agers who thought Trump was a “lightworker,” that the virus was a hoax and that masks were a way for “the people in power” to “make us comply,” and that vaccines contained tracking devices, I was dumbfounded. I saw all of it as a bizarre and unforeseeable turn. Not to mention, I was furious. But then I looked more deeply and I discovered not only that the philosophical underpinnings of the new age were laced with problems, but also that I was personally perpetuating some of those problems.
…I mean, not intentionally! Accidentally. By not recognizing them within my very own belief system.
It’s interesting to me to remember back to New Year’s 2020, when my coven and I were talking about how it was going to be “the year of perfect vision.” We imagined – because of the name, you know like 20/20 – we would see things more clearly than we ever had before. And maybe 2020 (and the first part of 2021) didn’t allow me to see everything perfectly, but it definitely brought a lot of things into greater focus and a lot of other things into the light.
For example, believing we create our own reality has a dark side: blaming people for not thinking positively enough when they are poor, sick, or disenfranchised. There’s another name for that: victim blaming.
While I had heard this criticism of new age thinking in the past, I dismissed it by telling myself not all new agers were guilty of this or that the critics just didn’t really understand. But over this past year, like so many of us, I began looking more deeply at the privilege I was born into, and how I could be more effective at creating positive change. One of the ways I did this was by reading The Life You Can Save: How to Do Your Part to End World Poverty.
Then, one day when I was cleaning house and listening to 101 Power Thoughts by Louise Hay, I heard her say this:
“There is so much money and so many riches in the world; far more than we know. If it were all distributed equally, within a month or so, those who have money now would have more, and those who are poor now would once again be poor. For wealth has to do with consciousness and deservability.”
Suddenly, that didn’t seem so true, or so helpful. Because in The Life You Can Save (by philosopher and global thought leader Peter Singer), I had recently read these words:
“…in 2009, four Harvard and MIT graduate students studying development economics decided to see what would happen if they gave poor families in Kenya money with no strings attached. What would they do with it? One view is that if you give poor people cash, they will spend it on alcohol, prostitutes, or gambling, and in a short time they won’t be any better off. Another view, favored by many economists, is that no one knows better than the people themselves what will benefit them, so why not give them the cash and let them decide? The students decided to find out, using their own money to give participating families the equivalent of about $1000. The results were promising. Many of the recipients used the money to replace their leaky thatched roof with a metal one that enabled them to keep themselves and their food supplies dry. In the long run, the roof paid for itself, because thatched roofs have to be replaced each year, but poor families were unable to save up enough to buy a metal roof. Spending on alcohol, as a proportion of total income, did not increase.”
He then goes on to describe what happened when these same researchers provided cash transfers to families in extreme poverty over an extended period of time:
“Their results, which are borne out by other trials of cash transfers, have demonstrated that giving money to poor families:
- Does not reduce the amount that adults work, but does reduce child labor;
- Raises school attendance;
- Increases economic autonomy;
- Increases women’s decision-making power;
- Leads to greater diversity in diet;
- Stimulates more use of health services.”
So, obviously, in contrast to Louise Hay’s statement, giving money to people who need it helps them build wealth and wellbeing in the longterm.
…But the bit about reducing child labor stands out to me. I never had to labor as a child, did you? Was Louise Hay thinking of child labor when she said what she said? Because I really can’t imagine a poverty stricken child thinking their way out of working in a sweatshop. Being able to attend school because your family has a bit more money, on the other hand, does seem like it would probably help.
Does our mindset affect our ability to earn and retain money? Of course. But that doesn’t mean privilege doesn’t exist, or that people who are poor brought their financial hardship upon themselves.
So, moving forward, let’s definitely continue to look deeply at our limiting beliefs about wealth and prosperity so that we can open up to more abundance. But let’s also be aware that just as some people were born into more privilege than we were, others were born into far, far less. And, if we’re lucky enough to have a surplus of wealth, let’s share it whenever we can.
(Here’s my favorite charity for doing just that.)
Similarly, we have to stop victim blaming when people get sick or run into any other kind of challenge. For example, I also heard Louise Hay say (in that very same recording), “As I keep my thoughts positive, life brings me only good experiences.”
Even though I still value a lot of what Louise Hay taught, the Buddha was closer to the truth when he said “All life is suffering.” Or, at least, all life contains suffering. Some lives more than others.
Some of us will get COVID. Some of us will get cancer. Some of us will experience poverty. And all of us – at some point – will feel grief, heartache, pain, devastation, and loss.
And none of that says anything about our morals, character, or degree of spiritual evolution.
Victim blaming not only hurts the victims, it also hurts us. Because we will not escape suffering, no matter how positively we think.
So instead of trying to avoid challenges by thinking positively enough, let’s use our spirituality to help us move through our challenges with grace. Let’s learn how to open our hearts to our struggles and to have compassion with ourselves as we face them.
I wanted to write about some other problematic concepts I recently realized were baked into the new age – like fetishizing purity, oversimplifying intuition, mistrusting science, and saying “everything happens for a reason” – but this is already starting to get a little long. If y’all like this post, maybe I’ll revisit this topic in the future.
(Update: here is part 2 in this series about rethinking new age concepts. And here is part 3.)
Did you have any similar epiphanies over this past year? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Oh that Louise Hay line about deservability has been eating at me the last few years. I still really value a lot of her work, but … ick. Thank you for writing this — I’m just sorry it took me so long to get around to reading it.
Tess Whitehurst says
Teryn, I’m glad you know what I mean! And thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment. This is probably the blog post I’m most proud of writing. In addition to the other two in the series. So thank you again. ❤️