April 11, 2010

Spiritual Materialism and Where to Point the Finger. ~ Tamara Levitt

I’ve kind of had it “up to here” with spiritual materialism: people spending $200.00 on yoga outfits, the abundance of self-proclaimed gurus taking ancient Eastern spiritual principles and repackaging them into fragmented Cole’s notes versions, and films that suggest if we simply repeat our daily affirmations we’ll attract the perfect partner and a high paying job. And if it doesn’t attract them, we must be doing it wrong. Suddenly, personal growth is all about outcome. Everybody’s jumping on the spiritual bandwagon. But hey, it’s hip. It’s cool. It’s fun. Let’s all chant, “Namaste,” together!

I don’t know . . . Personally, my spiritual path hasn’t always been so hip, cool and fun. It has often felt beautiful, but along that path there has also been pain. When I was in my early 20s being spiritual wasn’t hip at all. I spent my evenings hanging out with people 30 years older than I was in Buddhist and meditation classes. I remember feeling isolated, with my mind full of questions, wanting to share my path so desperately. I felt such frustration that everyone my own age was hanging out in bars getting wasted instead of wanting to discuss concepts such as impermanence and emptiness. It was a lonely time. Even now, I consider myself a happy person, but my current path is by no means a simple one.

I’m grateful to have connected with an abundance of authentic, aligned seekers and feel no lack of sangha. But similar to when I was younger, I still feel disconnected from the mainstream. Before, this disconnect was due to an absence of spiritual support, and now it involves me questioning the authenticity of fellow seekers and the teachings available. I find myself concerned about what the Westernized spiritual movement has become.


One of my favorite books is Cutting through Spiritual Materialism by Chogyam Trungpa. In it, he offers the following passage about spiritual materialism:

“Walking the spiritual path properly is a very subtle process; it is not something to jump into naively. There are numerous sidetracks which lead to a distorted, ego-centered version of spirituality; we can deceive ourselves into thinking we are developing spiritually when instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual techniques. This fundamental distortion may be referred to as spiritual materialism.”

I love this quote. It resonates deeply with my experience that walking the spiritual path can be so complex. And part of the reason spiritual materialism irks me is because I feel a responsibility to assist others in their paths, to offer guidance and save them from the struggles I’ve endured. I feel a responsibility to encourage questioning and discernment in order to avoid unconsciously falling prey to blind faith.

Another quote from an unknown source comes to mind: Every time you point the finger of blame, your hand reminds you that there are three fingers pointing back at you and that’s the place to look.” I strive to keep these words in mind, and as they pertain to my own spiritual materialism it’s profoundly easy to catch myself: I observe myself reinforcing my ego, I find myself desiring material goods, and I’m aware that I judge others. Don’t get me wrong. I realize how ironic the entire context of this article is considering the theme. Here I am judging people’s choices, how they teach and practice, making claims about right and wrong, when I’m clear that there is no right or wrong. I have to ask myself,

Why am I so concerned about how others choose to practice?

Where do I get off judging anyone? Am I so perfect and enlightened? Far from it! Alas, it’s not my job to change the world and save people. It’s my job to walk my path, allow others to do the same, and support them when they ask.

So, yes, we can now find yoga studios selling expensive yoga gear on every second corner. And, yes, there are an abundance of workshops that promise to change your life in a weekend (and charge you an arm and a leg). But in the end I have to ask myself, Are these all such bad things? Different things work for different people. Haven’t I needed to go through extensive exploration of my own and learn what felt right through what felt wrong? At least now as opposed to when I was young, a person can find the support they seek fairly effortlessly. I am deeply grateful for that.

So until I’ve reached enlightenment, at which point none of these things will bother me anyway, I’ll do my best to concern myself solely with my own practice and continue to support others’ choices regardless of what they may be. I may not become a fan of yours on Facebook but in the end, we’re all in this together, non? Hell, I’ll even end here with a cyber-group hug and a big ol’ namaste! 😉

Tamara Levitt (aka @SuperSpiritGirl) is the founder of Begin Within Productions. At her website, she shares resources, blogs, original music and videos designed to inspire and assist others in navigating the world of today. Her production company creates multi-media properties (including books, television/film projects and ancillary) to entertain, educate and empower individuals.

For the past 15 years, her dedication to her own personal development, through study, contemplation, meditation and integration has been paramount. She has actively explored a wide variety of spiritual practices, traditions, and healing modalities. Tamara can be hired for life coaching, speaking engagements and works as an empowerment facilitator.

Tamara’s websites are Begin Within and Begin Within Productions.  Subscribe to her blog, follow her on Twitter and view her videos on Youtube.  

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