10 Signs we’re Suckers for Positivity Hucksters & Spiritual Advice that won’t do us any Good.

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More like: Some Deep Sh*t Written in a Pretty Font over a Photoshopped Instagrammed iPhone Photo.

Another Spiritual Materialism 101 post!

“How the ego uses spirituality to puff itself up.”

Thanks, Natasha, for such a clear title!

DISCLAIMER: don’t worry, there is absolutely no judgement going on here.

Peace and Love are just words. Don’t buy them. Look for the Meaning behind them, and tell the Salesmen to go elsewhere.

This is not a blog about me vs. you, or us vs. them. Even in Buddhism we can find this sense of “we’re better”…whereas the point of any genuine spiritual path, as it’s said in Shambhala so eloquently, is quite the opposite. The good news is we all want to be happy, we just have to figure out how to be so in a way that’s in line with interdependence—not my happiness vs. yours, not poverty mentality, but celebration, basic goodness, community.

That said, I’m not a cult worshipper of  the”live and let live, it’s all good” school of New Agey Passive Aggressiveness. This silly little blog is about our tendency to use spirituality to cushion our ego instead of allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, to change, to awaken, and to be of service, and, to retain a sense of humor along the way. If it insults our egos, well, that’s okay. In fact, it could be good for us! For we are not our egos. Let our bubbles of pride burst, and all we’re left with is vulnerability, sadness, relaxation, chaos.

And “Chaos should be regarded as extremely good news!” ~ ed.

10 Signs I’m a Sucker for Positivity Hucksters & Bullshit Spiritual Advice that Actually Won’t Do Me Any Good.

1. My inspiration of the day came from a tea bag. Or a bumper sticker, poster, image on Pinterest or tee shirt—anything that requires less than the three-second-rule to “take it in.”

*Nothing’s wrong with short, or even superficial. In fact, some of the brightest wisdom has, throughout history and cultures, been simple. Wisdom is not measured by size, nor constrained by depth.

The problem isn’t the tea bag, the problem is if we don’t go deeper, ever, but use spirituality to enable our speediness.

We all need to dive deep once in awhile, to allow wisdom to soak our resistance, to wear our klesha/neurosis, speed and arrogance down, and to learn to rest in the present moment.

2. My inspiring quote of the day wasn’t said by the person who said it, or wasn’t said that way, exactly. See: Coleman Barks’ loosely translated Rumi, Dalai Lama, Buddha, Lincoln.

3. My inspiration of the day ends in an ellipsis…

4. My inspiration of the day is in quotes, quoting somebody who is quoting themselves. (Jacob…)

*The best way to use spirituality to armor our egos isn’t to write blogs criticizing the misuse of spirituality as an armor for our egos, as I’m aiming to do here—clearly, since all I’m attracting is (worthwhile) criticism (that I appreciate).

Rather, the best armor seems to be to share happy quotes and generalized positivity advice.

5. My inspiration of the day involves wishing or imagining or editing my experience, mind or heart in a way that takes me away from the present moment, and from being genuine, and toward a materialistic or spiritual goal

6. My inspiration of the day comes from someone who embodies the opposite of their sage, Xeroxed advice.

*Surest sign of living the words, but not the meaning? We’re unable to laugh at ourselves.

On living Words vs. living Meaning:

7. My inspiration of the day directly contradicts my inspiration from yesterday and not in any profound “zen koan” sense…and neither are actually part of my belief system, but rather a substitution for having to actually figure out what I believe. (thanks, Corti!)

8. My inspiration of the day ends with a smiley face and an invitation to someone’s retreat. (thanks, Michelle!)

*That said, nothing’s wrong with making money doing good, or doing well through doing good. The problem comes with priorities, with inner mission or motivation. The problem comes from someone more passionate about money and fame than being of benefit who allows said ambition to twist said offering without being transparent or forthright about such twist. The problem is not a Big Solid Problem: it’s workable, if we’re aware of it.

9. My inspiration of the day comes from an urgent cause that I’ve supported…by giving a thumbs up. (thanks, Jamba!)

10. My inspiration of the day comes from elephantjournal.com.

POSTSCRIPT: As my friend Scott said when I asked for advice on this little post (on Facebook, no less): “Seriously, the sacred arrives in many forms and sometimes that includes a bag of tea or Daniel Tosh.”

And I replied: “Scott, that’s an obvious take, and I agree. Haiku can be a source of wisdom, it’s not about depth or length or brevity…but there is some sense where we need to slow down and go deeper, at least for a time, and not just skim along the surface of social media and walk along the streets while texting instead of looking around us.”

Any of us can have any relationship to spirituality that we like, of course, as long as we offer said spiritual path the respect and honor to slow down and really get into it. Like with meditation, as with writing, dance or djing…out of a sense of joy and service we study and practice and play. We don’t just pretend and then offer that–that would be selfish and all about image.

It’s an important (and fun) subject: if we’re about puffing ourselves up, we’re actually hurting ourselves and others, instead of helping. We can use spirituality to help, to be of benefit, or we can use it to armor, to make ourselves look good, or feel good temporarily.
And let’s remember: there’s no problem with being insulted, if we can retain a sense of humor, vulnerability, respect for others and thoughtfulness about our motivation. Remember: if it’s our ego that’s being insulted, that can be good for us.



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Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of Elephant Journal & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat.” Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword’s Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by “Greatist”, Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: “the mindful life” beyond the choir & to all those who didn’t know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, touches on modern relationships from a Buddhist point of view. His dream of 9 years, the Elephant “Ecosystem” will find a way to pay 1,000s of writers a month, helping reverse the tide of low-quality, unpaid writing & reading for free online.

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anonymous Jan 20, 2014 1:41pm

I enjoy much of the content on this site, but articles like this do have a bit of a “I’m more spiritual than you” vibe to them, and I’m not sure how that is helpful to anyone? Everybody is at their own place in their spiritual journey and it is not for us to judge them for it. If somebody is having a rough time and a quote on a tea bag or in their social media feed helps them to shift their perception and get them to a better place so that they can get out of bed and face their day, than what harm is there in that? I say, more power to them. Is that a permanent fix? No. But, it is a start. Absolutely, they are going to need to go a whole lot deeper than somebody else’s one-liner to heal their hurts. But, if it sparks some inspiration within them and gives them hope, then it’s a nice beginning. There are a lot of people out there who are hurting and who really desire a better way of living, an awakening of their own. However, they need guidance and support – not ridicule for the vehicle or way in which they choose to take the steps on their journey. Same with the people who offer these positive notes to others. They are making an effort to effect positive change in the world – why criticize them for it? There are plenty of people with ill-intentions that those criticisms can be reserved for, if judgment must be made at all. Just a different perspective on this subject…

anonymous Jan 20, 2014 1:41pm

Also, so many of these pretty-fonted Instagram truisms are actually quite flippant and dismissive of people's lived experiences.

anonymous May 13, 2013 6:25pm

Hi Waylon, Yes – love the analogy of crack cocaine. I think what you are saying in a very non-threatening way is that there is a temptation for people to exploit some of the great thinkers of our time in the pursuit of narcissistic source. There's definitely a lot of 'image management' that is going on in our current environment, by which those vulnerable to it may be seduced. Now that social media is so prevalent more people are now exposed to more ideas. This is great in so many ways. In the past for someone to access these ideas, they would do so via conversation, meeting in groups/at universities/book or sport clubs/etc or they would go to the library and read or go to the bookshop and buy a book and read the whole book. This would mean that as well the protective wall wisdom can offer, there would hopefully also be a connection to depth/vulnerability and real feelings Vs 'novelty feelings' that are so fleeting that they're just entertainment. This all under the guise of cultivating resilience. Ironically, I do sometimes think the shallow interpreters are the more resilient and maybe there is something in that for the deeper thinkers plagued with deep feelings and quests for knowledge. There's more than one way to live a life, and my way isn't more 'right' than somebody else's. However, I definitely think there's a line that's being crossed into dishonesty/exploitation and this is what disturbs me, rather than the possibility that ignorance is bliss.

anonymous May 12, 2013 3:08am

Waylon, you've actually managed to write an article that makes me believe in the collective unconscious by articulating all that is passive aggressive/false about the current social media environment that has been a) repelling me and b) provoking guilt. I do believe all of us are vulnerable to sounding like cliches when a) falling in love and b) entering a spiritual path. Both very genuine. However, I think social media has opened the flood gates to spiritual materialism (a term i've embraced with the enthusiasm of the validated). Shallow and momentary one liners or social media attained PhDs have an infuriating effect on me. It's the dissonance. The untruths and the shallowness that rile me under the backdrop of do-goodedness which equates to attack/defence/ego. Then I'm all annoyed/angry and feeling bad, when this stuff is said under the guise of 'inspiring', is actually a poison arrow of passive aggressiveness. Anyway, thank you for your very well articulated and open to criticism article.

    anonymous May 12, 2013 10:03pm

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Here's another something I wrote specifically about the Fast-Food-Speedy-Spiritualization of social media, that manages to exploit Rumi and such without actually listening to the message: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2012/06/rumi-is-so

anonymous May 8, 2013 5:57am

"6. My inspiration of the day comes from someone who embodies the opposite of their sage, xeroxed advice."

Funny, then you quote Trungpa speaking about charlatans? The guy who drank heavily, smoked and had sex with his students. Or maybe that's why you quoted him in the first place?

Thanks for the read!
Daniel @ Yoga for the Mind

    anonymous May 8, 2013 8:56pm

    Good question, if it's genuinely offered. Re: Trungpa Rinpoche, he was open and transparent about all. He was alcholic, and I've covered that here: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2009/04/was-chogya

    As for sleeping with his students, it was consensual as far as I know, and moreso (he asked my mother to sleep with him, she declined, they were close student/teacher for 10 plus more years, no pressure or weirdness).

    As for smoking, that was a part of his general F-U to the New Agey he encountered, and he did so publicly and, dare I say, elegantly. But most importantly, he would have welcomed your cynicism, and challenged it, and delighted in it. I'm more bothered when there's a lack of openness about unconventional behavior–that's where hypocrisy sets in. I don't really care if folks are doing x y or z as long as it doesn't hurt others, and hopefully, in the case of Trungpa Rinpoche, might even be a means of service.

    You may enjoy: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2010/05/joni-mitch

      anonymous Jan 2, 2014 9:44am

      I am a committed, active Shambhalian, and with every passing year I am able to grasp his transmission of the dharma more and more. That being said, I know for a fact that his behavior hurt people, and his alcoholism was prolonged suicide.
      I will never be okay with that, and it is a struggle for me to separate the man from the message.
      Some things about Shambhala baffle and confound me, but I have faith in the path..the dharma.
      Not my job to judge how people come to it, even if it is in sound-bites. I came to it via Eckhart Tolle, lol.
      I'm glad the universe is willing to use anything to remind us of the ultimate truth of life.