“From ancient times down to the present, there is found among various peoples a certain perception of that hidden power which hovers over the course of things and over the events of human history.” —Nostra Aetate, Second Vatican Council
“Truth is not a reward for good behaviour, nor a prize for passing some tests. It cannot be brought about. It is the primary, the unborn, the ancient source of all that is. You are eligible because you are. You need not merit truth. It is your own….”. ― Nisargadatta Maharaj
The Commodification of the Mystery
It’s been around a long, long time. Rather than nurturing the notion that things of spirit or Spirit are as commodifiable as the air and therefore accessible to everyone, we humans have a long tradition of making access to that imagined ‘other’ limited. Limited by distance of salvation, tithe, practice, creed and other enoughness.
In this modern era, though, there appears to be a unique recipe for it to come together in a confounding way. False prophets, sham shamans, and the value of celebrity combine with the fascination with the exotic and quick-cure culture, to feed upon what people are most afraid of: being alone and not having enough. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle, this corporate spirituality, that appears to have enough momentum that sussing truth from fiction, all while searching for the ‘authentic’ and ‘organic’ nature of life, is all but impossible for those seeking help.
Taglines and clickbait promise health & wealth & a found-soul if we’ll just subscribe to the newsletter or buy the limited addition CD set with hints and allegations of information you must have to know The Truth. Snake oil sales has moved from the back of a wagon to the flood gates of globalization and the all-encompassing internet. With each new ‘scientifically proven’ ‘advancement’ in beauty and wellness products, the production machine crank out the same old newness with little regard to the truth of the matter. As if it’s just another cog in the machine of materialism.
We’ll buy into oversimplified creative, ‘spiritual’ practices to create our own abundance, find our True Nature, Ascend and Awaken straight into the “Five Minute Meditation that will Change.Your.LIFE” as a way to connect everything but ourselves. We’ll buy the packages, products, videos that claim to bring us to ourselves but won’t look in the free mirror right in front of us long enough to actually see.
Memes and notions and potions for learning compassion, making connection to creators and Creator; retreats to holy rivers and journeys to everywhere but self and neighbor abound. And the more exotic they sound, the more we buy. Whether it’s the discovery of how Jesus healed or the newest ayurvedic compound, there’s a marketing and production machine waiting. Preprinted labels provide the short-cut to your pantry shelf and feed the desperate mind, body & spirit the same emptiness in a pretty package. We’ll buy a little something more from an online store but avoid the real connection with spirit by engaging with the faces around us.
We’ll shout how we feel too much but won’t touch ourselves–our hearts or bodies–so cannot know how deeply those from whom that feeling is emanating. While desparately seeking meaning or The Other, we miss the connection between ourselves and others. As if there must be a short-cut that we can’t quite see.
It’s all about the marketing; how to frame the holy or the fear of never knowing it in a way that will help maintain a separation. Communion as sacrament, not merely sacred union that is always and all ways.
We live in an amazing time. There are some who, already ahead of history, have given this era names like the New Age (come around again, perhaps?). One in which New Thought and New Religion are perceived as emerging. As we seek that connection & community, we are faced with a conundrum. A quandry that divides our attention and the same community we seek connection with. Blending all that Newness into the past without eliminating it entirely or ignoring inconvenient truths is not easy. Technologies abound connecting and disengaging us. For every silent extinction, newfound discoveries of genus and species remind us that we’re not all that genius; for as much as we think we know, there is so much more we don’t. And we don’t want to admit that.
I’d like to think that the adage of ‘the older we get, the less we know’ would carryover into this. As we learn to navigate this age where cultures cross and morph, languages feel lost and stories no longer fit, we have the beautiful opportunity to dance through this differently than our forebears.
Old, comfortable, reliable habits, though, appear hard to change. To create meaning now, it often appears easier to attempt fitting the old into the new somehow; a sort of repackaging. Sometimes that works. Sometimes it doesn’t. It seems to me that the effects of the Industrial Age–so often condemned and simultaneously taken for granted–help keep us in that comfortable habit. Even as we attempt to look to the familiar in new ways, there are trappings of convenience, gratification and packaging.
Sobonfu Some has said, “There is a deep longing among people in the West to connect with something bigger — with community and spirit. People know there is something missing in their lives, and believe that the rituals and ancient ways of the village offer some answers.” I don’t disagree. However, I’d add this: we want it the easy way. The way that has been paved through mechanized processes and the need to industrialize everything. With that comes the interplay of marketing machinations, the perceived feeling of safety via regulation, illusions of authenticity, and veiled suggestions of something beyond separation.
In the same way we’ve turned willow bark into mass-produced acetylsalicylic acid, we extricate yogic principles or a spice from exotic lifestyles as panaceas for other modern ails. There appears to be a now-rote way we do things: find a sliver of something to hack our life and grab it for as long as it’ll hold our attention. Retreats abound for becoming a shaman or learning how shamanic teachings can help one become more abundant. We can click through to a website, self-diagnose almost instantly, hop onto a wiki page about a plant, and self-treat until there’s not an instantaneous response we want to feel, then we’ll click-hack again. Each time, well-intentioned but simultaneously choosing intentional blindness as well.
It feels like one of the reasons we perpetuate this cycle of packaging slivers of spirituality, of hope, is that we believe relationship with ourselves and between us and things of spirit is quid pro quo. To receive the blessings of our innermost selves or be in communion with the extraordinary nature of something outside of ourselves, we must give up something: money, ego, suffering. And all the while we opine the the potentialities of Oneness, find more ways to charge for it, access it, and repeating the process of commercializing something that is not a commodity, maintaining the separation from that Thing with which we seek communion..
There are generations of potential magic-makers, healers, artists coming behind us and as we navigate this emergence, we have the opportunity to do things differently, to show them that things can be different. That the yearning can be met gracefully, even through growth pains, seems obvious but we have to support each other. And that’s difficult for those who choose to operate outside the standard economic and spiritual structures.
Beyond capitalism, there are other systems designed to limit access to the invisible. Across cultures and continents we discount folks of a certain age. In the same manner some cultures used to discard their elderly, many of chosen to do the same with young people between the cute stage and who have yet to reach the age of elder. As if the moment they hit the terrible tweens, they’re written off as not old enough, smart enough, or wise enough when many are wise beyond their years and were, like me, born to bring their gifted nature to the world. They are absolutely necessary and valuable and capable and we right them off. Old Ones often bring me to their kin, each of whom are magnificently gifted, who refuse to engage in their gifted nature because being taken seriously takes more energy than they’ve got.
There are those trying to do things differently but unless they show up packaged in a particular way, we pooh-pooh, denigrate and castigate them because they are although they may be ‘enough’, they’re too much.. We like the ‘weird’, market it even, but only if it fits how we think it should—weird, but only so much that it doesn’t push us too far beyond our comfort zone. If it doesn’t align with how things ‘used to be’, pretty, punky or funky enough, we won’t bring them from the fringes into the fold. We may appropriate their ideas but we’ll leave them outside the community.
There are those who have a deep desire to learn their own connection to ways of the past, to meet their path to a maker in a way that makes their heart hum and they are turned away because they are not white enough, brown enough, old enough, true enough. They are not mere seekers but gifted peacemakers and healers of many ways and cannot access the most holy to them because those who want to maintain control seek to hoard information rather than share it.
And we do all this while shouting for “change” but maintaining notions of separation: culturally, politically, and spiritually.
We have created and perpetuate structures that do not serve us. We can often identify it when it’s manifest in the political or economic realm but in the material-spiritual, we tend to miss it. We’ll attempt in some ways to maintain a status quo, simultaneously hanging onto the minutia while choking the very heart of the matter off from its very life force.
As one of those whose loss of identity in a time of restructuring and eradication of systems that no longer serve humanity, I’m hoping to change the above. I’ve said that my mission is to help people redefine matters of spirit for themselves. I’d like to bring an entire sea-change, beyond the individual for that redefinition of spirit.
In addition to the potential we have in this time, we are in an era where there is increasing evidence of the loss of hope. To reengage hope on a communal, global scale, we need to move past the aeons held idea that access to the mystery, to the deeper than the stars magic, to the God-stuff is held for only people of ‘enough’.
I hope others will choose to join me.