10 Obstacles to Sane Spirituality…

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…or 10 Portals Beyond New Age Delusion.

Pt. 1: The Dance of Psyche

I am passionate about the relationships between three things:

> inquiry-based practices (yoga, meditation, bodywork and ecstatic dance happen to be my favorites)

> critical thinking (also called “viveka” in yogic parlance, or discriminating wisdom)

> and shadow work (after Jung – the psychological idea that we have a “shadow” that is where we hide the emotions, experiences, thoughts and aspects of self that we would rather not face. Shadow work then is the process of courageously turning inward to bring honest awareness and compassionate attention to this place.)

Having been a yoga teacher for the last 18 years, and having spent my adult life swimming in the waters of popular spirituality, my sense is that more often than not these three elements are missing both in theory and practice. My sense is that this comes down to one revelatory observation. You may find it offensive, you may think it is untrue, or too general. My hope is that by the end of this article, perhaps you will agree that not only are these 10 obstacles quite problematic, but that they can also serve as 10 doorways or portals that lead to a more sane, integrated next stage of spiritual growth. This requires curiosity about what lies obscured from view underneath or behind each obstacle.

What is this one incendiary insight? Simply this: the basic tenets of the New Age belief system can be understood as an elaborate psychological defense system that is actually in the way of the work with which a transformative, healing and sane spirituality is concerned.

The laying out of these 10 obstacles is intended to be both humorous and instructive, and with each obstacle I will provide one general suggestion and one suggestion for teachers and healers on how to use it as a portal towards integration and sanity.

This article is broken up into two parts for ease of reading and also because obstacles 1 through 6 are more psychological in nature and 7 through 10 will be more philosophical in nature.

So here goes, Obstacles 1 through 6:

The Dance of Psyche.

1) Dissociation – I am in touch with some other reality that you all don’t see and it is more “real” than this world. I use my yoga and meditation as a way of leaving my body and traveling to other dimensions. Its hard because I am very sensitive to this world, I am not really “from here.”

General Suggestion: If this sounds familiar, practice gradually sensing every area of your body  both in savasana and in meditation, as you feel your breath moving in and out. Remind yourself that you are safe. During your asana practice focus on noticing what is grounding, calming or pleasant in each pose. Take it in.

Teachers/Healers – be aware: Dissociation is almost always a sign of unresolved trauma. This person does not need to be encouraged to be even more “out of body” – they are in need of deep healing and integration in order to really be here and live their lives. This is a common way that spirituality can perpetuate a coping mechanism that was used before the person had access to good tools and support. Knowing it for what it is can help us be effective guides toward healing, grounding and accessing real resources.

More here.

2) Denial – now that I believe this new idea I can see how there is nothing bad ever, anywhere, and everything in my life has always been perfect.

This one is also usually a way of pushing out of awareness anything that is painful or evokes fear, shame, helplessness. Once we have done the awareness and healing work we can have a more grounded and less one sided perspective on reality and our lives.

There is literally a split here that has to make “everything” ok/good by denying that “anything” could be otherwise…

General Suggestion: In your practices, allow space for experiencing whichever sensations or emotions may be present for you – without the overlay of any agenda, belief or spiritual identification of how you are “supposed to feel.” Trust the powerful medicine of open, receptive awareness to your own authentic experience.

Teachers/Healers – be aware: This person needs resources to be able to face and work through all that has been left out/denied here. The greater the denial, the greater the pain being obscured by it! Support them in using their practice and community to cultivate the compassion and courage necessary to face their shadow.

More here.

3) Rationalization – karma explains why poor people suffer and how there really are no victims, my last relationship didn’t work out because my partner was a Pisces with a Leo moon and I think she may have been my jailer in a past life, I lost my job because spirit has other plans for me – I just don’t know what they are yet, but I am trusting that the universe has a perfect plan and  is always taking care of me….

Think about how often we hear such BIG statements about everything and always and never and the whole universe etc – think about the sheer size of what is being asserted – how big therefore must the unconscious perception of the pain/fear be that there is this much overcompensation?

General Suggestion: In your practices, stay present with the specific details of your own life, while recognizing that everyone experiences loss, disappointment, and uncertainty. Cultivate a compassionate, accepting attitude that can be present with this reality without having to tell yourself a metaphysical story about it.

Teachers/Healers – be aware: A lot of rationalizing explanations for why things happen and how absolutely everything is part of a big metaphysical plan is usually covering over a sense of helplessness or panic – an inability to tolerate uncertainty or guilt/shame about mistakes and failures.

All of us can learn to courageously tolerate the unpredictable nature of life and the risks we  take again and again when putting ourselves out there. In the words of contemporary poet David Whyte, “Human life is so magnificent precisely because you can fail at it…”

Being supported in owning how we really feel and seeing events without a rationalizing overlay actually helps us be more effective in relating our inner and outer worlds and taking the necessary risks in life while accepting that things may not always turn out as we’d hoped, and exploring what that does and does not mean from a grounded place. It also allows us to access a deeper sense of compassion for the reality of suffering, victimization, unfairness and injustice that is part of the world we live in and of the lives of so many people.

More here.

4) Grandiose Inflation – Because I am such a powerful manifestor I can have anything I want simply by focusing my mind. We are all kings and queens and our power will magnify as we approach 2012. Doing more yoga puts me more in the flow of what the universe is asking me to channel for the benefit of all humanity. On my vision board, I have a photoshopped picture of me with barack obama in a helicopter with big smiles on our faces and money spilling out of our pockets.

General Suggestion: In your practices invite a sense of genuine humility and calm. Be where you are. When setting goals, ask yourself what steps you can take today that will build toward making your life more enjoyable, rewarding and satisfying. Practice lovingkindness meditation for the part of you that might feel uncertain and afraid of failure.

Teachers/Healers – be aware: What is there to be said? Grounding, grounding, grounding – encourage  goal setting and a positive attitude without becoming completely caught up in an almost manic and fantastical grandiose inflation that overlooks vulnerability and a little thing called “reality” itself.. When positivity becomes grandiose magical thinking, there’s a problem. Ever hear of the tragic case of teacher from “The Secret” James Arthur Ray? Also: the bigger the inflation, the deeper the insecurity and unworthiness. Hold a compassionate space for the vulnerability that is underneath the grandiose posturing.

‎5) OCD – I pay close attention to the signs from the universe. All my apartments have had the number 7 in the address and amazing synchronicities happen every day – like when the song we are champions came on as I was driving to my job interview and i didn’t make it to the job because I had this car “accident” – but get this, the woman was driving a Mercury, and queen’s lead singer is Freddy Mercury and when I checked my astrology it turned out Mercury is retrograde for another 3 days! So the car crash was really a way to avoid starting a job during that inauspicious phase. I muscle tested myself to see whether I should even tell you that and it turned out on the 7th test i got three yes-es in a row, so here we are!

My sense is that a fair number of people drawn to New Age ideas have mild tendencies toward conditions like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. This is then amplified by these kinds of swirling, free-associative beliefs that rabidly assign symbolic meaning and detect synchronistic signs of the pattern that connects all things in every event and detail of our daily lives. This becomes a big obstacle to genuine spiritual depth and maintains a kind of manic wheel-spinning on the surface of life, often driven by whatever we are afraid we might have to feel if we just park the car for a minute. When we do not make distinctions between what is random and what is meaningful, life becomes a flatland of tangential, speculative attempts to squeeze self-affirming significance out of nonsense. The BIG shadow side of this is also a kind of superstitious prison in which the negative/paranoid metaphysical interpretation of events can dominate.

General Suggestion: Slow down your mind. Meditate on the movement of your breath. Don’t count breaths, the numbers don’t “mean” anything – just feel the breath rising and falling as it is. Practice accepting change, uncertainty and randomness – ask yourself if there might be meaning in life that has more to do with love, work and creativity, without the hyperactive attempt to make it fit some mental pattern of numbers, signs and symbols.

Teachers/Healers – be aware: if you observe this going into hyper drive you could be dealing with a real psychiatric disorder, be it true OCD or perhaps bipolar mania. Pay attention, this person may need you to intervene and suggest they get real help. For most of us though, this kind of thinking is more of an expression of a general anxiety about what is beyond our control. Encourage acceptance. The serenity prayer is a good meditation aid.

More here and here.

6) Delusions – me and my friends are channelling a group of spirit beings from beyond the Pleidies and they have so much deep wisdom and information they are imparting. I can feel them all around me during the day, guiding me in what to do next. Sometimes I will be about to make a decision and then I feel them and one of their little alien voices says ” dont do it!” it’s amazing!

The pervasive absence of critical thinking and healthy distinctions between metaphorical or archetypal inner experience on the one hand, and literal belief in other worlds and disembodied beings on the other, makes many a newbie spiritual seeker vulnerable to some wildly delusional beliefs.

General Suggestion: During your practices ask yourself what your own inner wisdom has to say. You have emotional, embodied and intuitive wisdom that is all your own and based in your real life – all of us can train ourselves to be more in touch with these beautiful resources, in fact that is the purpose of spiritual practice. It is also important to use our mental intelligence to cultivate discrimination and critical thinking, so as to stay grounded on the path and stay balanced between our perceptions and what is objectively, demonstrably  true.

Teachers/Healers: Encourage critical thinking. Do this with humor and warmth, but model clarity and frankness at the same time. Encourage an owning of the capacity for wisdom that need not come from some far away and fantastical supernatural place. Keep supporting the gradual fluency in embodied open-hearted awareness that is not at odds with reason. Also be aware that in a small percentage of people this kind of language may indicate some kind of psychotic tendencies – very few people literally hear disembodied voices, and most of those that do  have some kind of mental illness. This person may need your help in steering them toward psychiatric support. More here.

That does it for the psychologically-based obstacles.

Part Two: What is Truth – Obstacles 7 – 10, is up now!

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anonymous Mar 10, 2014 4:31pm

Great article Julian, thanks for sharing. I love how you provide students and teachers practical suggestions for contending with these obstacles in themselves and others. Bravo! Keep up the good work.

anonymous Mar 6, 2014 5:34pm

Interesting article. It evoked powerful reactions from me, which means it was a good article. A lot of it I agreed with and a lot of it made me cringe.

The main things that made me cringe were his blanket statements and attitude towards "New Age" which reminds me very much of people's attitudes to the terms "Witch" and "Witchcraft" and felt the term is being used unfairly. The second thing that really bothered me about this article was his use of a Jungian concept of the "Shadow" while completely ignoring and contradicting other aspects of Jungian Analytical Psychology which work intrinsically with shadow theory, which Jung came upon through enduing his own disassociation to bring these concepts into "this reality" (The Red Book – Carl Jung) The irony in all of this is that even the "shadow" is considered an important aspect of the New Age and like almost all of Jung's work is considered "Psuedoscience" by acadamia standards, which is ironic due to his stance on "psuedoscience". His comment about shamanic journeying / astral projection as being related to traumatic induced disassociation is absolutely bizarre to me.

His #9 "Regressive Traditionalism" advice is the basis of what the New Age is, looking to the past traditions for insight without dogmatic views and being spiritually progressive with those concepts.

"The New Age is really about the old age, taking ancient spiritual principles and making them accessible to the modern world." – Christopher Penczak (Ascension Magick)

"The New Age involves taking a lot of mysticism from the ancient world and putting it in a modern context." – ibid.

The author of the article does have a lot of great insight, but everything he's discussing doesn't seem to be a problem with "New Age" – but rather the imbalance of any spiritual path. He is equating "New Age" with "delusional". While there are definitely delusional and imbalanced "New Agers" the same can be said about any path.

His association with anything non-physical or scientifically validated as a "mental disorder" makes me a bit uneasy as well. However, the biggest cringe with the article however, came from the overall attitude. The author seems to be asking the reader to think critically, question everything and go inside to see how you feel about the information – when really he's telling you what to believe and how to think with definitive blanket statements and authoritative commands.

While there are a lot of great points throughout his article and some are very important his overall attitude comes across as judgmental instead of discerning and condemning instead of compassionate and helpful. I'm totally fine with different perspectives and beliefs – but I don't find anything spiritual about a teacher who automatically dismisses complex spiritual topics as "mental disorders" while providing a very shallow and limited explanation of those concepts before condemning them and the overall vibe was ironically dogmatic to me.

I'm far from being a spiritual master or anything of that sort, or having all the answers. But as a seeker, with an ever evolving belief structure, that is my current .02 cents at this time in my path. Perhaps that will change. However, like I said, it's a powerful article since it evoked a lot of emotion from me which may indicate that there's a shadow issue involved for me. I just feel like the term "New Age" is beginning to need some reclamation from the projection of others. A few imbalanced "new agers" does not define "the new age".

anonymous Mar 6, 2014 11:15am


anonymous Feb 17, 2014 6:39pm

Absolutely brilliant! I just got out of a relationship with a Pagan. I was brought to them because they asked the universe for me, but now the universe has a different plan, and it just wasn’t meant to be. Well there goes all sense of personal responsibility.

The OCD was spot on! The clock was especially meaningful, and seeing the clock at 11:11 meant that they were instruments in a spiritual awakening. I tried to explain that it’s just a psychological phenomenon in which you look for evidence that confirms your beliefs and discount everything else. Even I now notice when it’s 11:11! But try to explain this actual phenomena based in evidence to someone who is a “believer” is too challenge their core beliefs, and then you get cognitive dissonance. All I can say is I’m glad to be amongst those with a foot in reality again.

anonymous May 21, 2013 11:48am

so much truth here, and yet … still, there is much more in heaven and earth than dreamt of in your philosophy. While we need to beware the extremes of New Age thinking, we also need to avoid throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Miracles abound. However, reality is a trickster. The veil between insanity and reality is thin.

anonymous May 21, 2013 12:15am

I disagree with Julian's disdain for new age methods. Some of them do work, and some of them do really help people. Personally, it's my opinion that every tool can be helpful if you know how and when and for how long to use it. I started meditation and Western Zen 28 years ago.

anonymous May 19, 2013 2:01pm

What a great post. I share a similar passion as you mentioned in your opening. And it parallels a series I started on spiritual objectivism.

anonymous Apr 4, 2013 2:49am

[…] door een artikel van Julian Walker in The Elephant Journal van 6 juni 2011, 10 Obstacles to sane Spirituality , wil ik proberen geheel vanuit mijn eigen perspectief een aantal voorbeelden te geven van wat Ken […]

anonymous Mar 16, 2012 3:04pm

Hey There. I discovered your weblog the usage of msn. That is a very neatly written article. I’ll make sure to bookmark it and return to read more of your helpful information. Thank you for the post. I will definitely comeback.

anonymous Dec 5, 2011 4:20am

[…] within the religious hierarchy. What to speak of how debilitating such memes are on a personal, spiritual, and psychological level. For some reason, anytime you get a bunch of monks held together by an intense body-negative […]

anonymous Jul 4, 2011 12:50am

brilliant love this grounded no bullshit perspective , just watch UG.Krishnamurti he says much the same thing but with his all bullshit approach, feeling his words shook me into my body and reality

anonymous Jul 2, 2011 11:43am

I wonder how many people out there like myself, pragmatics to the core, suffer needlessly because they see the muck and the yuck and refuse " to go to the happy place" because they understand denial is not healthy. They aren't Debbie Downers but aren't Rose Colored Glasses either. Why is this one place where gray area is not considered helpful or healthy?

    anonymous Jul 2, 2011 4:53pm

    I think the ability to see shades of gray correlates to the ability to understand existential irony.

anonymous Jul 1, 2011 10:19am

[…] Attempting to be a good yogi, I didn’t react in the moment. Instead I did my best to give my feelings internal space and to let them play out inside myself. I tried not to magnify or attach to the physical sensations or to the thought patterns the pain evoked. I spent most of the night alone, watching it live inside me and waiting for it to go away. Photo: Lisa Yarost […]

anonymous Jun 24, 2011 9:10am

New Age seekers tend to be troubled to begin with and vulnerable to delusional and, too often, unethical teachers. So, thank you for including the suggestions for those at the front of the room. Brilliant!

anonymous Jun 23, 2011 12:22pm

[…] a recent pair of articles, 10 Obstacles to Sane Spirituality Part One: The Dance of the Psyche and Part Two: What is Truth? I discuss a path out of the delusional, denial-based extreme […]

anonymous Jun 17, 2011 8:59am

[…] 10 Obstacles to Sane Spirituality… […]

anonymous Jun 14, 2011 5:17pm

[…] deeply involved in insular communities full of lies and manipulation, and clinging desperately to crazy beliefs that reinforce pathological psychological patterns. It’s all pretty disturbing, really, and nothing to take lightly. The Serpent & the Tree […]

anonymous Jun 13, 2011 11:45pm

have not seen it…. recommended?

    anonymous Jun 14, 2011 10:09am

    Highly. A beautiful movie and philosophy that resonnates with your reflections on samsara and nirvana! I believe you will enjoy. Thank you again for this post and please keep writing.

anonymous Jun 13, 2011 9:10pm

You have entered a tricky subject and I aplaud you for the courage to do it! (or I aplaud to the little-angry-moment that made you less politically correct and ignited the writing ;). It is very difficult to put it all into words as they are always open to misinterpretations. My personal choice is to quietly bleed and ache from all duality and non-duality based injustices and do allow the "differences" while (wisely?) knowing the dangers of that attitude. But, it seems there are not too many other (sane) choices.Thank you for writing this, something that all people in healing professions, be it NewAge-y or science-based, should read and reflect on! Afterall, isn't religion just another refusal to take charge, be responsible, less lazy and do some research? Oooops, I better stop now. Placebo is recognized as effective, so there again we have that fine line of knowing when to demistify and when not…I hope most healers do know this. I wish!
p.s. Have you seen Pan Nalin's Samsara?

anonymous Jun 11, 2011 3:30am

Hmmm…I am wondering how many of these "pathologies" you would be able to apply to shaman? The reality
is that people do experience altered states of consciousness. Some more than others. Who gets the cornerstone on the "real" reality and what is healthy spirituality? I am not sure that the way that psychology is used here is very helpful.

Individuation is messy and takes people to some dark places. Jung himself heard voices and channeled The seven sermons to the dead. It would be interesting to have this writer have a conversation with Jung telling him to get grounded, breath and get into his body, and to stop overcompensating with his grandiose illusions. More and more I am reading articles that use Jung's concepts, like shadow and synchronicity, in superficial ways, not to mention the DSM.

I am more interested in what the soul is trying to communicate both individually and in the world.

    anonymous Jun 12, 2011 8:48am

    hi kate – great question! thanks.

    i have wrestled with those questions myself for 20 years. here's a basic distinction i think is crucial:

    there is a difference between a) altered states and b) out interpretation of altered states.

    so i think altered states are central in many ways to spirituality. in my book i propose a "spectrum of altered states" from the most integrated, compassionate, insightful stages of deep meditative absorption on the one end, to the most fragmented and psychotic on the other end.

    what is tricky about extreme altered states is that they are so convincing of various supernatural interpretations, but those interpretations are based in a radically intensified subjectivity – especially say in the case of psychedelics, which i think can be an interesting tool, but very often lead to some pretty outlandish and inflated beliefs in people not also doing the work of critical thinking and psychological awareness…

    i think that there is an archetypal, mythopoetic, dream-language that often contains significant psychological information but that also is expressed in a very amplified and fragmented way by people with mental illness. ever notice how the narratives of schizophrenics is so full of gods and demons, prophecies and hidden meanings?

    prior to our knowledge of psychiatric conditions, people with temporal lobe epilepsy, bipolar mania, schizophrenia, OCD or experiencing temporary psychotic breaks were either judged to be possessed by demons or in touch with god.

    the classic narrative of the shaman who has had an initiatory crisis is highly suggestive of one of these conditions. while there are those who undergo such experiences and come out the better for it – i would imagine that the shaman is usually someone high functioning, with good interpersonal skills and an ability to interpret their altered state experiences (be they neurological or psychedelic) in ways that the tribe can go along with…. many are probably just living on the fringes of sanity and have found a way to stake out the territory that the tribe sets aside for those in touch with the "spirit world."

    regarding jung – i think we idealize him at our peril. i love much of his important contribution to depth psychology, but have no doubt (especially having looked at the red book) that he had a quite psychotic component.

    for me the challenge of forging an integrated, contemporary spirituality is that we have to give up a lot of our sacred cows once we are honest with ourselves about what we now know.

    we can have a very meaningful and grounded spirituality that is less preoccupied with extreme altered states and supernatural interpretations.

    i have often wondered if jung could have benefited from some good somatic psychology.

anonymous Jun 10, 2011 9:40am

[…] circulation and releases endorphins. I know for myself, working out even a little just helps put my mind at ease. Try some light cardio or yoga. Since you’re most likely already dehydrated don’t over do it; […]

anonymous Jun 9, 2011 3:17pm

[…] Part One of this article, The Dance of Psyche, we discussed the pervasive presence of psychological obstacles to sane spirituality in the form of […]

anonymous Jun 8, 2011 10:25pm

fair enough! 🙂

anonymous Jun 8, 2011 10:07pm

Great project, Julian. I would venture to add to your general notes to teachers that almost all of these psychological obstacles can be traced to various traumas in development, and that basic study of developmental psychology is a gold-mine for a compassionate and therapeutic view. Dissociation, magical thinking, OCD, and grandiosity may be amplified by new-age excitations and covered over by spiritual bypassing, but they are common to everyone who carries the scars of individuation. Cheers.

anonymous Jun 8, 2011 4:28pm

Well done. Earthling spirituality well written 🙂

anonymous Jun 8, 2011 11:57am

Your observations of the foibles of yoga practitioners and newagers is not limited just to them. As a long-time Wicca teacher, I cannot tell you how often people come to me not to learn but because they want me to validate their self-delusions of uniqueness. They're 'too spiritual for this world' or 'the reincarnation of (usually someone fictional,) or 'my lover in a previous life' or some other nonsense. (Have you encountered 'otherkin' yet?) They not only believe they're entitled to their personal reality — which they are — they believe it's perceptible by everyone else and that we're all required to accept it as real. And they genuinely believe their delusion entitles them to special treatment. And when I tell them as gently as possible that I'm only interested in sane people they go away hurt and angry, convinced I've been unfair and deliberately hurtful. I'm as fond of a good fantasy as anyone, but I prefer it on paper, not in my face.

    anonymous Jun 8, 2011 1:59pm

    ah good observation dana – i empathize and am glad to hear form someone in a different but related field who is coming up against similar obstacles and attempting to point it out in the name of something more sane and grounded!

anonymous Jun 8, 2011 11:10am

the new age spiritual community has created two fallacious constructs:

1) the straw man of a rational scientific cold oppressive white male colonialism that destroys meaning and wonder and connection to the spirit world.

2) the idealized romanticization of tribal people as being our lost link to some supernatural intuitive earth-based spirit world of matriarchal embodied, emotionally rich wisdom.

both of these are patently untrue.

    anonymous Jun 8, 2011 11:15am

    the enlightenment also marked an end to divine-right-of-kings monarchy which was the basis for colonialism and missionary zeal. it was in fact enlightenment values that started the long journey out of the oppressive and murderous colonialism you rightly detest!

    in fact it is precisely in cultures that DID NOT go through the enlightenment of the 18th century that we still see such horrific abuses of human rights and such rigid application of tribal and religious oppression of women, ethnic minorities, gays and anyone who dares to refute a iota of the dominant religious dogma.

    anonymous Jun 9, 2011 9:47am

    The “rational” scientific cold oppressive white male colonialists did and do destroy meaning and wonder and connection to the spirit world (and the inner world). Eugenics, for instance, is rational, scientific and a construct of white male colonialists. As is modern global finance ala the IMF and World Bank. Meaning and wonder was destroyed in the industrial revolution and for many working in say, a factory that makes Apple products. Meaning and wonder is destroyed in those who are sent to acquire PTSD even as they deal it out. The spirit world is destroyed with every new poison deemed safe-enough and every mountain and forest destroyed in the name of “progress.”

    That white men happen to have become the predominant oppressors doesn’t mean that Quakers didn’t and don’t exist- not any more than it makes any human able or unable to be cruel and/or kind. If there are doubts that colonization is over, please read up on the Congo- the “dirty” work has been outsourced, but the purpose and plunder is the same; “enlightened” countries keep “enlightenment” for themselves, with force if necessary.

    To rationalize cruelty is to devise an enemy, as is done here with the “new age” community. Has/does it cause more harm than pharmaceuticals and the “rational” doctors that popularize and push them? For their “irrationality,” does needing just the right gemstone equate to the habitual sorrow the coal industry has always brought?

    Romanticizing a people is not new or exclusive to the “new age” community (Les Indes Galantes, the Ramayana’s vanaras come to mind, as do the diagnoses in this article, tinkling as they do not with righteousness but the self-righteousness condescension of papa pop-psychology). The religious romanticize their leaders, atheists romanticize science, as if they weren’t constructs; it’s normal and fun, and sometimes necessary, though usually perhaps a distraction. As logic requires a closed system to function, so too is the rational bound by name, form, and motive. If you’re speciesist it is rational to poison your neighbor’s dog if it keeps you from sleeping. But I question that it’s rational, and not a romantic notion of oneself, to diagnose a group with disease, immorality and dysfunction, and provide the real way to live if intuition, natural expression or self-governance are valued.

      anonymous Jun 12, 2011 12:09pm

      nice poetic riff – i agree with the general tone and much of the detail – but not sure what you mean about any of this destroying a "spirit world." can you clarify?

      i think again though it is a mistake and a fallacy to equate the giant leap forward in the 18 th century that was the rational enlightenment with the continuing legacy of colonialism that stretches back to the 1400's.

      the very humanist ideas of democracy, equality and freedom that you are championing here are enlightenment values.

      the fact that those with power have and continue to exploit weaker people is not an expression of the enlightenment values at all – rather it is an unfortunate effect of our animal nature and the the fact that we seek dominance and are greedy. tribal peoples massacred and enslaved one another too – and in fact the enlightenment was a successful attempt to eradicate a particular type of oppression, namely monarchy and religious dictatorship.

      you are blaming the wrong source and actually using the spirit of what you are decrying to do so.

        anonymous Jun 13, 2011 11:41pm

        Enlightenment values were racist, from Locke to Kant to the known hypocrisy of “all men are created equal” to the economic systems they created. Colonialism, imperialism, call it what you will, is much older than some 600 years, as are notions of free speech, education for all, gender and species equality, and democracy, and the enlightenment did not usher these in any more than protestants or the flux of ideas global enterprise generated. It was not those few seeking to level the top (with democracy, equality and freedom for those it deemed capable of the privilege), that initiated real egalitarianism, but a religious few devoted not to apathea but to agape. While their various ideas and ideals did not evolve in a vacuum, coffee giving coffeehouses, new ideas giving new possibilities, and there is a positive influence of both apathea and laissez-faire industry, the stratification enabled/continued (intended and not) by enlightenment thinking is not a fantastical invention of new-age drips, even as drippy and strung out on drool as this and its companion article presents them.

        Apathea is wonderful, but if divorced from agape is permissive of most any cruelty; it is not just how you choose to look at things, but where and at what you choose to look. Enlightenment thought favors notions about property and the superior vs. the other, over sharing and difference vs. potential, and gave license to abuses of people and land with continued and diffused slavery, and the taking of limited resources to supply endless need. This attitude did and does destroy the spirit world, whether it’s considered to be the intelligences of plants and rocks, or an inner world exclusive to humans. The huge but gnarled tree is useless to the carpenter, but gives home to critters, and shade and community to people.

        Disagreement does not require an enemy, but an enemy, a natural other-or-else, requires disagreement, and worse!

anonymous Jun 7, 2011 7:55pm

Well, -I- am passionate (or at least mildly interested) about the presumptuous misuse of the English language, and thus annoyed by your rip-off of the phrase "evidence-based decisions," which actually means something and distinguishes such from less rigorously analyzed decisions, to create the meaningless "inquiry-based practices." Why bother except to elevate a rather mundane thought? And as opposed to what: habit-based practices? Denial-based practices? Randomly-adopted practices? So, your incendiary insight which, as a 70-year-old I find as hackneyed as Coue's aphorisms, is verified by the rest of your post.

Other than that, your writing is funny, if not terribly insightful.

Eighteen years, eh? I'd stick to teaching technique. If any great insights are to be found let the student find them for himself.



    anonymous Jun 7, 2011 10:17pm

    what a wonderfully ascerbic comment – guess i hit a nerve!?

    when i say inquiry-based practice i mean as opposed to the way yoga and meditation are often taught as almost faith-based. in other words there is an a priori metaphysical belief system that underlies the practice, instead of an intention to inquire – to be open to what arises, to find out what is true without preconceptions.

    having a practice be inquiry-based is for me about moving beyond quasi religious beliefs into an experience of simply attending to body mind and heart with an attitude of curiosity and open-ness.

    this attitude of inquiry makes space for the shadow material that is often avoided, judged or denied by spiritual ideology.

    including the critical thinking piece helps us to make sense of both the philosophical inquiry and the experiential process without falling prey to so many of the fallacious interpretations of shifts in brain state equating to some kind of supernatural revelation of the ultimate nature of the universe and other canards.

    sorry you didn't like the article – thanks for caring enough to try and shoot me down.

anonymous Jun 7, 2011 6:30pm

i enjoyed this,
really interesting post, be careful though, i often see this "De-mystifying" attitude as very helpful because of Viveka like you said and Krishnamurti was a primary exponent of such a philosophy. remember that we are always creating our own limitations with words, and the very fact that we can speak as "humans" is very mystical and there is alot in question about the nature of life. denial of the mythic life has severed alot in society and i cannot say that the "age of enlightenment" or western skepticism has helped the people grow in a more "human" way. we speak words, myths and spirits are as real as the words you tell yourself are, no matter how well accepted or how rejected they are. Aum

    anonymous Jun 7, 2011 10:21pm

    the post enlightenment shift in the west is 100% towards greater humanism and greater humanity!

    freedom from religious tyranny, freedom from the monarchy, equal rights being granted progressively to minorities, women, gays, the kind of personal freedom that has allowed millions to explore a spiritual tradition from a culture across the world, the democratizing of knowledge via the scientific method, democracy itself, human rights etc etc….

    myths are important – when interpreted with intelligent metaphorical thinking. mythic literalism is what continues to drive the madness of religious war that threatens the existence of civilization and perhaps humanity itself…

      anonymous Jun 8, 2011 7:41am

      You're channeling Kant and Hume in your opinions and hypotheses. Not quite rational, myself, but I get where you're coming from …

      anonymous Jun 8, 2011 10:57am

      100 %???? …the killing of thousands of indigenous cultures and calling them irrational and superstitious is human huh? i dont know which college you went to but im sure everyone will agree with you.

anonymous Jun 7, 2011 3:29pm

this is hilarious and brilliant! looking forward to the next installment.

Bob Weisenberg Jun 7, 2011 2:53pm

What a fine discussion you've created here, Julian. Thank you.

Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

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anonymous Jun 7, 2011 1:58pm

Excellent article! Can’t wait for the next installment.

anonymous Jun 7, 2011 11:04am

hi padma

i like this line of inquiry – thanks!

my sense is that spirituality has to do with the essence of being human. self -awareness, curiosity about the cosmos, how we form values, how we continue to grow and develop and transform ourselves in response to our actual lives and the real world around us.

i think there is a stage of spiritual growth wherein we relinquish supernaturalism, narcissistic magical thinking, mind-body dualism and the hope that some mythic construct might be literally true in a way that rescues us from existential dread.

spiritual practice is essentially about our inner lives and how we relate to our emotions, thoughts, beliefs, bodies, histories, longings etc….

when we can see that a certain stage of spiritual life is about believing improbable if not impossible notions in order to hide from life's realities – then i think utilizing psychological awareness to deconstruct those defenses is in the service of spiritual growth.

when we see that a certain aspect of that stage lies also in beliefs that contradict science and reason, then using those tools to try and reconcile spirituality with reality is good medicine too.

as far as "enlightenment" i think it is a mythic notion amongst mythic notions…. it has perhaps some poetic value, but it also can be seen as another one of what ernest becker calls "immortality projects." it is a fantasy that human beings fill in with their own deepest longings and spiritual fashions…. to the yogi perhaps it is the notion of becoming one with brahman after death and getting off the wheel of rebirth, having burned through karma in this life and become as unattached as possible to the maya of the world. to the buddhist it might represent becoming completely free from the neurotic clinging and aversion that creates suffering. to the guru follower it perhaps is about knowing the "ultimate truth" of the nature of consciousness, the universe and god. to the new ager it is a mish mash of all these things, combined with perhaps developing psychic powers and perfect memory of your past lives….

having tried on each of these different interpretations of the quest for enlightenment in my life, i can honestly say i came to a point where i saw it was just another illusion – just another attempt to find some kind of shangri la, to get away from the messy business of being human, it is pie in the sky and generally leads to unscrupulous individuals running a shell game based on claiming to be enlightened in some mystifying, vague, pretentious way. at some point i started to notice that everyone who claims to be "enlightened" uses various manipulative language tricks to shore up the power that this gives them and keep the acolyte chasing the always just beyond their reach carrot of the ultimate spiritual prize.

letting this and all other magical, mythic, otherworldly, metaphysical fantasies go has turned out to be the doorway into another stage of spirituality that locates the sacred in our human experience and embraces the limitations, struggles and realities of being human as the only journey we have.

    anonymous Jun 7, 2011 5:31pm

    As a Buddhist who is very lazy and busy at the same time there is very little that I would disagree with in your response. If in fact you are doing what it is you describe: "i can honestly say i came to a point where i saw it was just another illusion – just another attempt to find some kind of shangri la"…" letting this and all other magical, mythic, otherworldly, metaphysical fantasies go has turned out to be the doorway into another stage of spirituality that locates the sacred in our human experience and embraces the limitations, struggles and realities of being human as the only journey we have." This is actual practice as laid out by Buddhist Yogi tradition. Being honest with our own limitations, seeing and realizing the illusory quality in all we are chasing, Stripping down the hut of our minds. We live in a world where we believe that medicine which only suppresses the symptoms is actually a cure for a disease we will never seem to pinpoint. Where the shadow is the object of concern…nevermind who or what is casting it.


      anonymous Jun 7, 2011 8:31pm

      ah thanks for that padma – much appreciated!

    anonymous Oct 5, 2013 12:52pm

    "letting this and all other magical, mythic, otherworldly, metaphysical fantasies go has turned out to be the doorway into another stage of spirituality that locates the sacred in our human experience and embraces the limitations, struggles and realities of being human as the only journey we have."

    Thank you for this article and for this clear response to a sincere inquiry. It speaks to all the things I've found troubling along my own "spiritual" unfolding. I've come to this same conclusion. Thank you again, it's good to hear the voice of spiritual sanity!

anonymous Jun 7, 2011 9:43am

In reading numerous blogs and hearing opinions on "spirituality" I am not sure what spirituality means anymore. We have begun to equate spirituality with psychology. I am not saying this is bad, just an observation. Implimenting a spiritual life needs to have a motivation to begin on a path. What is it that moves us and what is the goal? Dare we say that enlightenment, in a Buddhist sense or Native American "shamanic" sense, is the goal? Or are we saying now that being spiritual is following a method of psychology to become mentally healthy and has no result of enlightenment? I know of no therapists who have attained enlightenment through psychological method. I agree with your methods of checking one's own mind. I am curious, though, about what you think being "spiritual" means and what should a healthy spiritual life result in? Does it pertain only to ourselves or should it include others? How does it effect us at death and do you think it matters at death? Please consider these questions as sincere and not as some Buddhist debate. Rather, I want to know your views on this.

Bob Weisenberg Jun 7, 2011 8:33am

Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

anonymous Jun 7, 2011 7:06am

As long as there’s a problem, you’re ok.

anonymous Jun 7, 2011 2:25am

Interesting post and very many valid points,which i am glad were made, for the new age “escapee’s” from reality, yet the feeling is that a certain linear mindset is still present, with deeper connection to source, the intuitive side is greatly enhanced and the universal divine guiding hand is innately visible in every nuance of your life. Also yoga “is” a path to enlightenment, and has however in the west and esp, in the USA been watered down and turned into an exercise/spiritual health practice, which has validity in itself, and is obviously there in that form for those at that level of their journey. There is no judgement just observation for information sharing. In the end following the way of complete unconditional love is the path i find most fulfilling, and wish you all to experience that connection with source, with much love steven…….

    anonymous Jun 7, 2011 11:10am

    feel free to judge and express opinions!

    my position is that one can cultivate the emotional, intuitive, embodied and rational without leaving anything out.

    very often in our postmodern western zeitgeist there is a kind of backlash against science and reason in favor of feeling and intuition – this leads to an overcompensation in which as long as something is non-linear it is embraced as being "spiritual" this is in my opinion incorrect, superficial and dangerous.

    every single spiritual idea should be open to critical thinking and reasonable analysis. i say this as a long term yogi, meditator, ecstatic dancer and healing bodyworker. nothing is ever lost from authentic spiritual processes and philosophies by including a rational lens – and in fact many a silly swindle or self-deluding talisman can be taken off the table as a result.

      anonymous Jun 8, 2011 2:51am

      My point is , is that I have been freed by stepping out of judgement, judgement is that level of reality where you still believe yourself to be separate from source and therefore judge it as something separate from self.Consciously you will say -of course I believe that – BUT DO YOU REALLY KNOW IT – KNOWINGNESS IS THE KEY, WHERE IT IS PART OF YOUR BEINGNESS

      Critical thinking can lead to this point – of believing but not actually knowing -, as it is as i can deduce from your writing a highly intellectual balanced reasonable scientific deduction of self evident fact. The highest form of spiritual ego delusion, it's final and desperate quest to misguide you in your yearning for wholeness, and the inevitable fall from power for the ego. The ego like the shadow government( its macro embodiment) will stop at nothing to fool you like any well established religion giving you fact and fantasy as in your so called stage magician …It took me 26 years to uncover that one and I have been on the path far longer, if you want to quote figures which really mean nothing…
      Truly Julian you remind me so much of myself from earlier years with your passion and will and desire to protect the innocent spiritual seeker from the rippoff artists, for it has most likely been a very challenging journey for you too, yet let your anger fuel the right fire, or else the only one who will end up getting burnt is you…….big, strong, tough and resilient as you are, you are in a war with yourself, you can let it go at anytime and find true peace and guidance, but you need to ask for it with every ounce of your soul and mean it. And if thinking of doing that brings resistance, then you can be gaurentee'd , seno'r is still in control…i wish you much love and peace for your future journey…….

    anonymous Jun 7, 2011 11:11am

    oh and thanks for the compliments btw. 🙂

anonymous Jun 6, 2011 10:01pm

arrgggh – i just made some edits and must have hit the wrong button – because i lost my view count and it is showing up as a brand new article now with 7 views instead of 500….. can anyone help?!

    anonymous Jun 6, 2011 11:05pm

    Well…using the principles you outlined in obstacle #4, I focused my mind and manifested the view count back to 516! And (mark my words) the view count on all your future articles will magnify in number as we approach 2012.

    After that…all bets are off.

      anonymous Jun 6, 2011 11:36pm

      nicely done – i bow down to you oh great magical guru.

        anonymous Jun 8, 2011 10:09am

        That's happened to me, too. For the record, my "Gym Class Yoga article" was nearing a thousand hits before the view count got reset (apparently due to a glitch I had nothing to do with).

          anonymous Jun 8, 2011 6:44pm

          email bob weisenberg about this and they can look into it for you and correct it.

anonymous Jun 6, 2011 9:41pm

can't wait for faux non-dualism!

anonymous Jun 6, 2011 8:22pm

Oh, Julian, you're so right! I love number 4 especially! If I put it on my "vision board" or "put it out there", it will come true without me having to do anything else!
I'm looking forward to the rest of the ten!

anonymous Jun 6, 2011 7:38pm

Very well-written post, Julian. Was rather surprised to hear about the James Arthur Ray incident. It is easy to fall prey to any new-sounding breakthroughs in the spiritual community, if one is not cautious enough. I like the way you put it, "be open-minded, but not to the extent that your brains fall out" 🙂
Oftentimes, I notice adopting a school of thought happens as a result of ego, to an extent it colours your entire perception and affects critical thinking. And what is the ego? nothing more than the dysfunctional side of ourselves. While we must work towards the goal of becoming more compassionate, empathetic individuals through our spiritual practice, it is equally important to stay grounded in reality. Many, including myself, have used spirituality as a salve to push back issues I don't want to notice, which surface sooner or later. It is easier to step out of myself through talking to a friend, a challenging yoga practice, journaling, or some creative pursuit that involves me totally.It becomes easier come back with a perspective and see the denial, dissassociation playing out like it is.
It may sound like a naive approach, but seems to help. Your post has been timely. Thank you 🙂

anonymous Jun 6, 2011 5:41pm

Say it like it is Julian! I love your humor and sincere invitation for us to get real and let go of spiritual pacifiers. I believe that the yoga community is evolving out of some of our immature thinking. I think at first some of these concepts felt like a deviation from mainstream culture and ideals; but now we are seeing that they are very similar to concepts we thought we were rejecting. For example denial and disociation don't just look like being an alcoholic or shopping addict but it can look like someone wearing mala beads believing that they can chant their way to inner peace or just think positive thoughts and "manifest" whatever they want. Unless they are doing some serious shadow work along with the chanting and positive thinking; they are probably perpetuation denial and avoidance just like the addict. Yoga is about being AWAKE. To ALL the parts of us. Our beautiful parts and our ugly parts. I think a dialogue like this is vital amongst yogis, thank you Juian!

    anonymous Jun 6, 2011 6:35pm

    very well said hala. thanks!

anonymous Jun 6, 2011 4:05pm

Hilarious! Must be sooo weird to come from North America!! A friend of mine just came from a hot basin full of yoga freaks from Thailand's beach scene and said he was talking to someone who said he was channelling aliens and how the stargate was real. Oh sigh. Thanks for writing with compassion and humour!

    anonymous Jun 6, 2011 6:35pm

    it is a wild and whacky spiritual community…. the challenge as many have said is to be open minded – but not so much that your brains fall out! 🙂

anonymous Jun 6, 2011 3:39pm

Thank you for this sane post. While I don't think that New Age concepts are necessarily BS, they certainly should not be used as spiritual Band-Aids. I look forward to the next installment!

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Julian Walker is the founder of http://www.yogateachergradschool.com/ where he supports new and established yoga teachers in living their dreams through business development. He is a writer who has been teaching yoga since 1994, and co-teaches the Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind Yoga Teacher Training in LA with Hala Khouri.Julian’s writing is featured in the book 21st Century Yoga available on Amazon.com.