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July 22, 2020

Don’t Buy into the Illusion: How Capitalist Spirituality Fails Us.

Emily Williams

Are you depressed?

Have you been feeling anxiety? Grief? Fear?

“Try this practice, pill, exercise, art; buy this thing, travel here, achieve this…and so on.”

Have you seen this before?

I know I have—far too many times.

I’ve bought into the idea of a “fix” for life’s woes on many occasions, and while it has brought me many valuable tools that I employ to help center when these intense feelings set in, I can honestly say that, after years of searching and practicing and “taking this” and “doing that,” I still find myself fighting the voices of self-doubt and the merciless depressive episodes.

What’s up with that? Why am I not fixed?

The answer: I was never really broken—and neither are you.

We live in a consumer culture—one that is set up around buying things and complying with the idea that everything you have ever wanted to feel and be lies on the other side of perfection, or money, or fame, or any other number of marketable products or ideas.

As a healer—as a spiritual practitioner—I am here to tell you (much to the dismay of the many “capitalist marketed spirituality” peddlers out there) that no amount of anything will alleviate you from the roller coaster of feelings that make up the human experience. And this is a good thing.

I’ll begin with my story, though this idea can be applied in every story, every life.

My family was never the “Let’s get through this together! We’re a team!” sort of family. We were marginally functional, at best.

I know everyone’s family has their imperfections now, but at the time, it certainly felt like I was robbed of something that seemed to be the backbone of every highly functional person: familial support and encouragement.

I always believed that if I could just get away from my family— if I could just find people to give me the accolades, the support, and the emotional connection I always wanted, I could finally be free from suffering.

Then it was dating. I had a series of flaming failures and self-destruction. Heartache, and longing, and sorrow plagued my life and gave me a million reasons why I was simply broken, why I would be experiencing the emotional lows. And believe me, they definitely contributed.

I searched for the soothing balm to my internal wounds through substances and was led down a dark tunnel illuminated only by my experiences with psychedelics.

I found yoga, and I ditched the alcoholism, believing this would fix me.

I bought into the spiritual path—and it was definitely one of the best things I’ve ever done—but it didn’t put a complete stop to the internal feeling I had that I was forever reaching into the cosmos for some sort of answer, or perfection, or enlightenment (whatever you’d prefer to call it).

The Buddha said, “Existence is suffering,” and my lord, did I fight this idea early on in my journey.

I found myself thinking, “Well maybe if I just complete this task, or meditate this many hours a day, or do this many sun salutations, or have this diet, or achieve this goal, maybe then I can feel okay.” It helped me, but not in the way I originally expected.

Meditation, psychedelics, a well-rounded yoga practice, right living, right eating, reading mystic texts, and spending time in nature didn’t put an end to negative feelings, but they allowed me to better understand the fullness of life and the richness of suffering. They allowed me to see the full picture from the inside out, and taught me the discipline (of mind, body, and spirit) that was necessary to bravely face these feelings.

Instead of a bad mental health day leading to me setting fire to my relationships and job, I began to look my depression right in its sad and disruptive little face. I gave it a name. I sat in its confines in the four walls of my little home yoga studio.

I poured it onto a canvas and allowed its words to drip steadily from my pen revealing a beautiful and unrelenting truth of this human existence: life is a series of bad feelings, good feelings, good feelings disguised as bad ones, and bad ones disguised as good ones.

I learned that the only chance I ever had of feeling “okay” came from my ability to sit down in the muddy water and let myself sprout roots into its rot; to let flowers grow out of its muck.

There is not and never will be a person, place, event, cream, pill, program, or even spiritual practice that will eradicate the many times in which I have suffered and will suffer. And, although I sometimes despise it, this is a gift.

It is the gift of acceptance, the gift of grace, the gift of creative drive. It is the gift of being a human being, however much we would like to escape it, however much it truly, honestly, heartbreakingly sucks.

So to the person out there contemplating the destination more than the journey, I say this: take a deep breath, hold for a moment, and release.

Close your eyes and listen closely to the world around you. Allow its current state to just be.

Sit in the muck, or the joy, or the chaos, or whatever state your world may be in.

Put down the advertisements, take a moment off of social media, tell someone you love them, and take stock of what you have instead of buying that thing you think will finally make your world complete.

The practice of presence is free and without this radical acceptance, personal peace is a pipe dream that, no matter how much knowledge or physical comfort you acquire, will always be just out of reach.

Without this fundamental mindset, no amount of yoga classes or healing sessions will lead us to use these unpleasant feelings to better understand ourselves and to relate to the world around us—because in order to be useful, it must be felt.

You are not broken.

You are a perfectly imperfect human on a journey with only one, true destination: the present.

The rest is simply the salt, and spice, and heat that moves us forward.

~

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