Who does this “self-help” stuff help, anyway?
“There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own Soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
~ Carl Gustav Jung
I have a friend who posts regularly to elephant journal. It’s how I came to know about it, and when I saw the tab ‘non new-agey spirituality’ I knew I was in the right place, and started contributing my writing.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I was in to the new-agey thing for a while. In fact, it may have seeped into my heart chakra a bit too much—’cause now I rebel against it, like a Catholic trying to recover from a too-strict upbringing.
My parents, both raised Catholic, spared me from dogma and ritual—I was free to find my own foundation, just as the new age/motivational/positive thinking/self-help movements started becoming popular. A voice I connected with back then was Melody Beattie, author of Codependent No More. She wrote like someone who faced her soul, knew what I was feeling, and helped lead me through my suffering with her words.
As I began to build a solid foundation within myself, and became a bit more financially prosperous thanks to an inheritance, I found Marianne Williamson who in one of her books, reminded me I am a goddess. I attended a Unity church and shook hands with Jesus—my inner Christ, that is—seeing that the majority who speak for him do not define him. But, by the time the Law of Attraction took over with The Secret (I thought What the Bleep was more substantial and useful) I was getting over new-agey spirituality. My Unity clan started feeling like high school, cliquey, with little acceptance for who and where I am.
I decided to leave the land of the positive thinkers (as if I ever entered). It just didn’t mesh with all of the troubles in my life. Financial troubles. Marriage troubles. I was becoming involved in the political unrest of Bush, Gore and then 9/11.
The world stopped.
My life, with all of its comforts was no longer comfortable. I wanted more and in my wanting I came back to myself, again. I began writing more, wanting to be a Melody Beattie for others, but quickly realizing I had too much darkness to work out before I could do that.
This was the beginning of many, many years of what I call soul work. Deep. Intensive. Soul work. Now, as I’m coming out of that time, I look around and wonder two things: how can I help? And what in the world has this new-agey movement done for people?
It’s where my ego, I suppose, gets to come out to play and rebel. Hence, this post.
Is the new age movement feeding and validating the externally comfortable?
Is the new age movement for the spiritually ambitious? Those who want to look, do and feel good?
One piece always missing for me in most of the self-help, new-agey books (and forget about the books that are “channeled”)is the process. After the world stopped, and my world collapsed, I began listening to Wayne Dyer’s, There’s A Spiritual Solution to Every Problem. It is true, his trolley strap metaphor of reaching toward higher consciousness, was helping me. But it was also making me feel bad about myself.
Yes, but Wayne, what about when I feel like crap? What about when I am so depressed and falling apart on the inside and the outside that I can’t seem to have one higher thought? What then, Wayne?
Well, maybe he would have told me what he told the audience during his last talk on PBS last week: if these “higher” thoughts don’t feel natural to you, then you have problems. Umm, yeah. Now what?
Should I enter into a deep, dark, self-discovery process maybe? Yeah, but who’s leading this movement?
We change things from the inside. Deep inside. This is why the simple tactics of the new age don’t work. They work temporarily, sure. They might work for those who are financially comfortable. Or even for those who have yet to hit a wall or who hit it once and think everything is okay now because they are children of God. But, many of these new age messages are dependent on will power, which will ultimately break down.
For me this new age “religion” was a station to pass through. Not a place to stay and hang my hat. There’s not enough there as I grow and change. We are far too deep and expansive to stay in any one paradigm, even one that is so captivating.
I think these movements have brought us a wonderful reminder. We are not beings just filled with sin and shame. We are actually full of love. We’re full of light. We have a spark of the Christ or Buddha consciousness inside of us. We did need reminding.
But, our light will never leave us. It’s there. It’s not something we have to worry about or even contemplate. It’s there in moments. It’s there completely for us at the end as we put on our courage and face the shadows.
I mean this makes sense, doesn’t it? Where we must go next? We have remembered the light, even seen and tasted it. Now we go into the shadows and deal with our darkness. We face the threads and themes inside, and become conscious of them. We must listen to the notes, the songs they play. While we dig deep, and experience the pain Jung speaks of, we need guides who have been there. We need teachers who have traveled to greater depths, and then resurface to speak of what they found to help point the way.
It is not helpful, however, to hear teachers tell us how we could or should be thinking to bring “all abundant blessings” our way. Some of our abundant blessings don’t have pretty packages that we might brag about to others. Some we might deny instead, and do, as Jung says, “anything absurd to avoid facing our own souls.”
I read a post on trauma from a very popular “teacher.” He’s new to the world of light, love and miracles and has an enormous following. Since I was in a trauma, a violent car crash five months ago that totaled my vehicle and landed my 11-year old in the hospital, I found the post lacking in any compassion or understanding or really, anything useful. It was filled with simplistic and shallow words.
In fact, a commenter said she wished she could feel the way he does and live the way he suggests, but she just can’t right now. And she felt bad for this. Another person responded, not the popular teacher, and said his post did not go deep enough into the emotional pain and could not touch her there. By responding to her in this way, he acknowledged where she is in her process.
We know when someone touches us, and it is usually because they carry a substantial thread of compassion and wisdom, which can only come from living deeply and consciously and honestly. Anything else in this time where so many are experiencing great change and loss is condescending and not truly helpful
On the other side of the coin of superficial and simplistic, is a woman named Anita Moorjani, who Wayne Dyer had on the PBS special. She had “died” and gone over to the other side, and returned. Wayne asked her for some reason if positive thinking was enough.
Immediately she said, no. “Positive thinking is not enough.” For her, she shared, it was another mask for people pleasing. She said simply, instead, “It’s about being yourself.”
Being ourselves is sometimes easier said than done. It might take a lifetime to recapture and live from that authentic place. For this woman it took her death to get there.
I’m almost 40, and I am just beginning to be myself. Just last week, I realized how much I tend to live introspectively. There is a steady vibration within me of reflection, which can often feel and look sad or “moody.” In some circles it is considered negative. I believe I have tried to change my own vibration, and the new age/self-help/positive thinking movement was the perfect remedy, but it never really worked.
Moving forward for me personally, I thank my chakras I didn’t teach or publish when I was immersed in the teachings of this movement. I was forcing myself to be kind, when I had arrogance, self-righteousness and perfectionism to face. I felt ashamed when I wasn’t Mother Teresa-like. No one’s energy was as pure as mine. And I was comfortable. It was easy to feel abundant and as though I was attracting all good things, which only encouraged my ignorance.
My blog isn’t overflowing with comments and likes, and I’ve been told people would read more of my posts if I were more positive and joyful. Still, I’m going to continue in honesty. I’ll keep being myself. I have no desire to will myself happy or to make myself think positively. I contain the darkness and the light.
I think the truer spiritual movement moves us to be in a place where we have uncovered enough to not be afraid, at least for a while, of anything that is inside of us. As long as we are afraid, there will be maneuvers, religions, ego, and the absurd to help us deflect.
When we dig deep we become like the character in the movie, A Beautiful Mind. We see the threads within us and fight the contradictions. Hopefully, we arrive at a place where we truly see them and don’t play with them. But first they have to be seen and completely engaged with so that we know what is inside. We do this to be free, and we do this so that we can truly help others.
“Times are difficult globally; awakening is no longer a luxury or an ideal. It’s becoming critical. The earth seems to be beseeching us to connect with joy and discover our innermost essence. This is the best way that we can benefit others.”
“Dig up craving root and all…As a tree, though cut down, recovers and grows if it’s roots are not destroyed.”
It is hard to obtain human birth, harder to live like a human being, harder still to understand the dharma, but hardest of all to attain nirvana.
Connecting with the joy, discovering our innermost essence is what we must do. To hear the Buddha’s wisdom also gives us perspective. Dig up root and all—hardest of all to attain nirvana. We need more “old age” wisdom and the wisdom from within to captivate us now, and to bring it forward as Pema points out.
Like the Buddha, we must find the middle path. We do have shadows that we cannot keep denying. We have battles inside that we can’t keep ignoring. We have stored up emotions that we can’t keep projecting and “negative” thoughts we can’t keep smearing with popcorn and sprinkles and all things delightful.
And we also have joy. Light. Love. It’s all together. It not about choosing one or the other as the new age movement has us believe. This idea teaches separation and keeps us “imagining (and willing) figures of light” instead of doing the work of “making the darkness conscious.” The Buddha was to have said, toward the end of his physical life, “I am the happiest of mortals. No one is happier than I.”
Now is about consciousness. Not being positive or negative. Not choosing fear or love. Not staying away from “negative” energy. Instead paying attention to what is right now. Inside of us, remembering it’s a process and there are still billions in pain. Let’s really wake up and find the middle way. Don’t worry about your nirvana. It’s there, forever waiting.
Editor: Kate Bartolotta