It’s my opinion that some new age beliefs (many of which I previously held) didn’t stand up to the test of this past year. This is part two of my exploration of beliefs that could use an upgrade. You can read part 1 here.
When I first began consciously cultivating my intuition, I took it for granted that I should always trust my vibes. That was the prevailing wisdom, as far as I could tell. At least, that’s what everyone seemed to be saying on Hay House Radio, which I listened to frequently back in the aughts.
Actually, universally trusting my vibes was helpful at first. The more I listened to my intuition and acted on it, the more validation I received that my intuition was on to something, and the stronger my intuitive hits became.
But over time, I’ve learned that intuition isn’t that simple. There are layers to it. There are nuances. There are some things I just don’t know, and information I don’t have access to. There are questions with more than one answer, and sometimes those answers conflict.
And during this past year, it’s become increasingly obvious that “always trusting your vibes” is problematic for another reason. If you believe your vibes are inviolable and you should consequently never mistrust them, you run the risk of mistaking unconscious biases or assumptions for “vibes.”
This appears to be especially likely when fear is involved. I’m thinking of the increase in hate crimes against Asian people over this past year. Covid, and all the trauma that has come along with it, scares people. For some of those people, associating the pandemic with China leads them to commit atrocities against Asian people.
It’s not in the least bit logical. It’s blind, reactive, unexamined emotion. Sort of like how metaphysical teachers (and I’m sure I have been guilty of this) describe intuitive hits or “vibes.” I remember once hearing Doreen Virtue admonishing her radio show listeners not to discount their intuition with something she called “logical override.” (Again, this is a concept that can be helpful sometimes, but obviously not all the time. Not if you’re ignoring the logical override, for example, that says that Asian people don’t deserve to be punished for your fear of Covid.)
But even when fear isn’t involved, we hold unconscious biases.
In his bestselling book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell writes about taking a test called the Race Implicit Association Test (IAT). This is a psychological exam that measures your immediate reactions to various stimuli in order to gauge your associations: in this case, with race. Even though Malcolm Gladwell is half Black, all three times he took the test, he “was rated as having a ‘moderate automatic preference for whites.'” About these results, he writes:
So what does this mean? Does this mean I’m a racist, a self-hating black person? Not exactly. What it means is that our attitudes toward things like race or gender operate on two levels. First of all, we have our conscious attitudes. This is what we choose to believe…But the IAT measures something else. It measures our second level of attitude, our racial attitude on an unconscious level – the immediate, automatic associations that tumble out before we’ve even had time to think. We don’t deliberately choose our unconscious attitudes…we may not even be aware of them. The giant computer that is our unconscious silently crunches all the data it can from the experiences we’ve had, the people we’ve met, the lessons we’ve learned, the books we’ve read, the movies we’ve seen, and so on, and it forms an opinion…
The disturbing thing about the test is that it shows that our unconscious attitudes may be utterly incompatible with our stated conscious values. As it turns out, for example, of the fifty thousand African Americans who have taken the Race IAT so far [this book came out in 2007], about half of them, like me, have stronger associations with whites than with blacks. How could we not? We live in North America, where we are surrounded every day by cultural messages linking white with good.”
Perhaps you’ve heard a statement to the effect of “Everyone is a racist, and if you say you’re not racist, you’re wrong.” Or perhaps you saw the meme that was going around from Corinna Rosella (@riseupgoodwitch) that says “Maybe you manifested it, maybe it’s white privilege.” Malcolm Gladwell’s experience with the Race Implicit Association Test demonstrates just how deeply racism and privilege have embedded themselves into our psyches. Saying “Everyone is racist” or “white people are privileged” isn’t about shaming anyone or calling them bad. It’s about respectfully pointing out that we’ve all been raised in a culture with historical inequality and deeply rooted bias. In the US, for example, it’s only been 156 years since legal slavery was abolished. That’s why many of us don’t have to look too far down the family tree to find ancestors who were slave owners or slaves. And, of course, watch any popular American movie since, well, movies have existed, and you’re likely to see mostly white people, and to see – almost exclusively – white people in leading roles. To imagine things like this have no effect on our outlook and behavior is fantasy.
That’s why, if we want to effectively combat systemic racism, we need to actively question our “vibes.” It might not be accurate to say unconscious racism is actually a vibe, but it will behave like one – and we will continue to mistake it for one – if we fail to bring it out into our conscious awareness.
(Whether or not you agree with all the author’s positions, the book Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor contains lots of helpful exercises for bringing our unconscious biases to light.)
Vaccine hesitancy is another example of unconscious bias masquerading as “vibes.”
Perhaps you’ve had the experience of trying to educate a vaccine hesitant friend about how much safer Covid vaccines are than Covid or about all the vital ways vaccines have improved human health and life expectancy, without making the tiniest bit of progress toward inspiring them to get the shot. There’s a reason for that: vaccine hesitancy isn’t about facts. It’s about vibes.
On April 29th of this year, The New York Times published an article called Vaccine Skepticism Was Viewed as a Knowledge Problem. It’s Actually About Gut Beliefs. Author Sabrina Tavernise writes,
In recent years, epidemiologists have teamed up with social psychologists to look more deeply into the “why” behind vaccine hesitancy. They wanted to find out whether there was anything that vaccine skeptics had in common, in order to better understand how to persuade them.
…[They] found that skeptics were much more likely than nonskeptics to have a highly developed sensitivity for liberty – the rights of individuals – and to have less deference to those in positions of power.
Skeptics were also twice as likely to care a lot about the “purity” of their bodies and minds. They disapprove of things they consider disgusting, and the mindset defies neat categorization: It could be religious – halal or kosher – or entirely secular, like people who care deeply about toxins in foods or in the environment.
…”At the root are these moral institutions – these gut feelings – and they are very strong…” [said researcher Jeff Huntsinger], “It’s very hard to override them with facts and information. You can’t reason with them in that way.”
I think it’s great to value liberty and question authority. These are healthy attitudes that probably attracted us to alternative spirituality in the first place. But when we pair these attitudes with blind obedience to our own “gut feelings,” even at the expense of logic, reason, and our own safety, we effectively cancel out their benefits.
I’m reminded of the warring factions within my psyche when I go to the dentist. Experts say, obviously, to go. My instinct is, emphatically, not to go. The discomfort and vulnerability I feel when the dental hygienist pokes around in my mouth combined with my memories of intense pain from prior dental procedures tell me something is not right and these people want to hurt me and for goddess’s sake stay away. And yet, I go. Because I know, in this case – gut feelings notwithstanding – the experts are right.
If you have a dog or a cat, you’ve been there when their vibes were telling them to avoid the vet at all costs. It breaks my heart to hear my cat’s plaintive meow from his carrier during the entire ride to the vet. Still, we know – even if our dear animals’ vibes are telling them otherwise (and they are) – that regular vet visits and shots are incredibly likely to prolong their lives and improve the quality of their lives. We also know (in the case of animals that go outdoors) their immunity will help keep the other animals in your neighborhood safe.
Of course, I realize vaccine hesitancy isn’t quite the same as not wanting to go to the dentist or vet. It’s not as simple as discomfort, vulnerability, or aversion to pain. But I’m drawing a parallel because these are all examples of times when gut feelings are doing their best to persuade you (or your pet) of something that is both harmful and untrue.
And that brings us to the elephant in the new age bookstore: QAnon.
In episode 1 of the HBO QAnon documentary Q: Into the Storm, former gossip columnist and present day Q-tuber Liz Crokin says,
“Literally nothing would surprise me. So if you tell me that aliens are real and that the earth’s flat, or whatever…there is nothing that–I expose people that literally rape and eat babies. To me, if that is able to exist in this world, I think anything is possible.”
When she explains how she initially got into QAnon, she says,
“After Q dropped his first drop, I just immediately knew this was legit. I just knew it intuitively. I started researching some of the things that Q was posting and everything resonated with me and everything added up.”
I hope it’s as clear to you as it is to me that Liz Crokin’s intuition, in this particular case, should not have been trusted. In addition to being a conflicting mishmash of failed predictions and baseless theories, QAnon is antisemitic, racist, violent, and played a major role in the Capitol riot. It’s hard to think of a better example of how problematic trusting your vibes can actually be.
On second thought, no it isn’t. The Catholic Church imprisoned Galileo at home for life and forbade him from teaching because he said the earth revolved around the sun. That’s how (intuitively) certain they were that he was wrong.
I still believe that cultivating our intuition is helpful. You actually do have a powerful inner guidance system that you can learn to use with great benefit to yourself and others. It’s not my intention to dissuade you from accessing your intuition. It’s my intention to dissuade you from following it blindly or oversimplifying it, like hate criminals, dogs and cats who mistrust the vet, Liz Crokin in 2017, and the Catholic Church in 1633.
Gaining intuitive mastery includes not just learning to trust your vibes, but also learning when to question your vibes and when to temper (or even override) them with logic and facts.
Your intuition has levels, layers, and nuance. And sometimes it tells you things that just aren’t true.
I have more to say about New Age beliefs and practices that could use an upgrade, so I’ll be continuing this series next week. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts! I read every comment, so please chime in below.