I’ve gone through many iterations of myself: from a naive, ambitious, and shallow young man, to a selfish, fearful alcoholic, and finally, to a person who is coming to find peace with themselves – but I’ve always been a seeker; I’ve gone down every road in life: including the spiritual one.
From a long influence of the Stoics and Marcus Aurelius, I considered myself a pantheist: one who believes the divine spark is in everything. I’ve also had some quite mystical experiences using entheogens, including a meeting with “the fairy godmother of the soul” on DMT. I am by no means a closed-minded person.
That does not mean, however, that I accept everything – or that I am against rejecting things I once accepted. I had a professor once, in a community college class, who taught me to question things, to be objective. There is perhaps no more important skill in life than that of separating signal from noise. And there’s a lot of fucking noise in life. The most dangerous of which, looks a lot like signal. It’s engaging, it’s enlivening, it feels good, and it sweeps you up – but this does not make it true. You make it true by believing in it. And that’s the danger.
I came to realize a couple nights ago that all my esoteric and mystical seeking was not getting me any closer to the reality I desire. And that’s a bitter black pill, but one I needed; for it’s very easy to go down the New Age rabbit hole. The problem is, it has no end, there is no objective truth to it – just a lot of people peddling “magical thinking” – and a lot of mind-games to play with yourself. It’s not unlike being in a mirrored labyrinth, wherein every concept creates another illusion, trapping you deeper.
This is by nature, a challenging topic, because the New Age movement is based on a lot of things I have long been interested in (Ancient mysticism, New Thought, The Human Potential Movement, and vague concepts like “energy” and ‘thinking creates reality’.) It’s challenging to reject what appears as pure positivity and good vibes – but when it’s bullshit, you have to.
It’s important that I make some points about the New Age movement. It has been an important stepping stone in liberating human consciousness from the chains of religion. It’s also led many people to be more at peace, more empathetic, more conscious of their impact on the planet, and more open-hearted. It is by no means a wholly negative evolution in human consciousness, and it’s certainly one that is growing ever more popular and more inclusive to persons of color, LGBTQ, and different faiths and interests. It’s hard to go in a bookstore today and not find a section on Witchcraft, Magic, or Astrology, which are experiencing somewhat of a resurgence – if I’m gauging the collective accurately through the filter-bubble of Instagram.
I’m even drawn to New Age women, and have fancied myself perhaps dating a “healer” type. I could also easily be described as a New Age man – I enjoy full moons, I wear a quartz crystal around my neck, I go to yoga… Those things are part of my appreciation for nature and myself, and I don’t plan on changing them… Again, we’re trying to separate the signal from the noise, the wheat from the chaff.
To that end, there’s an abundance of noise.
For a couple years now I’ve had a growing anti New Age sentiment brewing within me. It began as I observed how many people in New Age communities seem to have an almost puritanical “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” mentality, wherein they ignore large parts of life – god forbid they “lower their vibration”. This willful ignorance is often propped up by a belief that “all is one” or in the concept of “divine perfection.”
Now, I’m not one for conspiracies – outside of my own – but it would seem just as religion was used to program the masses into submission, New Age beliefs have similarly castrated the human soul and tamed the human spirit. Why resist when “all is one” – why fight for change when there’s a “divine plan”, and why be an individual when you can “surrender your ego” and your “self” to take up your own bit of divinity – not just as a child of god, as Jesus saw man, but as god – as a “creator”.
I often wonder what a mind like Richard Alpert’s could have done had he not ended up in India and surrendered himself to his “guru” to become Ram Dass. Steve Jobs comes to mind. But even then, from his barefoot days at Reed College to taking LSD and traveling to India himself, Jobs is no savior. Just another baby boomer who turned into a company man (The Walter Isaacson biography of Jobs is a good read for a look at his human failings). Looking back on every New Age figure throughout history I don’t see a tangible impact beyond perhaps “raising the collective consciousness”. But where it has risen in some areas (Empathy, ecological awareness), it has fallen in others (Individuality, objective thinking, rationality). Ultimately, it’s just another form of tribalism. Another in-group. Additionally, being New Age or having read all the New Age books does not grant one any sort of special wisdom or awareness – only perhaps a belief in their own “specialness”. And the New Agers can be just as shallow and superficial as anyone else. And perhaps you might be too if you were going to a Vegan retreat in Bali or a multi-thousand dollar trip to Costa Rica to do “Aya”. Often they’re quite privileged, these spiritual types. And it’s a shame only the upper classes have access to the increasing quality of available experiences, whether they be reiki healing, float tanks, intravenous Ketamine infusions, or even yoga. Try eating healthy in a food desert. No one is calling the New Agers ascetics, and the old spiritual path of renouncing material possessions has been usurped by an “abundance consciousness”. The belief in “The Secret” or “Manifestation” or “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success” is enough to make me barf today.
The fact is, from my own experience, I can tell you, no amount of belief is going to save you. While New Age thinking can certainly bring deeper levels of inner peace, a belief in your own divinity is not much different from the old Judeo-Christian beliefs in an afterlife – it’s the same shit: “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” Again, we keep inventing gods, even ourselves, but we’re not elevating the human animal, we’re still elevating the human above the animals.
Yet we’re still looking for what Carl Sagan called “a reassuring fable.” We keep fucking inventing religions. New Age is just the newest one, another “anthropocentric conceit”. Only, we are the gods now. Are we so shamed of being human that we have to invent something above us? And by doing so, lower ourselves in our own subconscious estimate beneath the “divine” or the “higher self”.
As Jesus was written to have said in the deliciously-blasphemous Thomas Gospel, which the Church has long rejected:
“If the flesh came into existence because of the spirit, it is a marvel. But if the spirit (came into existence) because of the body, it is a marvel of marvels.”
This I say, is the truth. In the words of mythologist Joseph Campbell, “All the gods, all the heavens, all the hells, are within you.”
They are merely what Jung called “archetypes of the collective unconscious“. Inborn, man-made remnants from evolution – from thousands of generations of belief in myths and religions, which were born of pagan gods and goddesses before them.
And I imagine the first gods were no more than the outward personifications of the inborn instincts of early humans. But we have to go forward. Turning each of ourselves into gods is a step back – and no less grandiose, egoistic and conceited than the Egyptian rulers or the Emporer Constantine, who thought he was a “divine avatar”, a god on earth.
The concept of avatars dates back to the Hindus. Krishna was one such “avatar”. Nowadays, instead of worshipping external deities, we are returning to the self-deification that the ancient rulers practiced. And it’s very telling in this age of self-worship, but it’s not at all grounded in the reality that joins us as a species. I’ll be the first to preach self-love, but I do not preach self-worship. That kind of thinking is out of touch with the humility that comes with accepting the darkside in each of us. As Jung wrote, “I’d rather be whole than good.” Thinking of oneself as purely “good” is a surefire way to being shortsighted about yourself and thinking you are better than others.
Man created god as an archetype – a model – for man. But it’s a hollow one. One that denies the innate sacredness of life in favor of some “divine” presence above us. When Nietzsche wrote that “God is dead”, he meant the archetype of the god in the sky, but we refuse to let go of the “god” within and so are internalizing the godhead into the human, which might seem a beautiful thing, were it not completely infantile. We don’t need to be loving the perfect, divine god: we need to be loving the imperfect, animalistic human.
And you’re welcome to hold onto your beliefs, but I’m letting mine go. I removed over forty New Age, spiritual books from my library last night. Of course, I’m not throwing out the baby with the bathwater – I kept my books on yoga, meditation, mindfulness, business success, and even my Buddhist and Hindu texts. But these are practical, life enriching philosophies that have stood the test of time. I cannot say the same for the New Age spiritualism that is preached by so many charlatans, from Deepak Chopra to Oprah. It’s all a fucking con. And if you follow it, like I did, you’re going to find yourself in that mirrored labyrinth – wondering if you’re problem is that you don’t believe in yourself enough. What a trap. But we keep creating it.
If anything New Age spirituality is a barrier to self-love – a blockade to success. It’s just another separation of man from himself. Another door on his heart that says, “You have to knock for it to be opened.”
New Age is completely disempowering because it’s not rational – and when we lack logic and rationality, we are rudderless, lost. We don’t need belief, we need self-esteem, self-worth. We don’t need divine love, we need human love. And we don’t need The Secret, we need cause and effect.
As I read this morning, in Brian Tracy’s book ‘Flight Plan‘:
This turn in my personal evolution is one I am thrilled about. Maturity, it has been said, is the ability to see life more clearly.
I want to accept my mortality, without illusions, without any comforts. It’s this life I am interested in. And while I’m taking a more naturalistic worldview, it’s not to my detriment at all. It’s the opposite. It’s empowering me with real truth. By no means does this mean I no longer believe that “consciousness and energy are the same thing somehow”, as Joseph Campbell once said to Bill Moyers. I still believe this. And I believe my consciousness has an effect on others – the same way my energy can be intuitively perceived by animals and children. But there’s no longer any voodoo to it. The god in me has come down to earth. I want to be a human.
And I want to be the best goddamn human I can be. Full of compassion, love, dignity, honesty – all the things that make one valuable to themselves and those around them.
I believe in the sacredness of humanity – not of gods. I see this same sacredness in animals. I believe there are timeless energies that are worth holding up as examples for how to live. They are values – ethical rather than moral. I’m not interested in “right” or “wrong” – I’m interested in what is beneficial and what does not cause harm and suffering. And there are a lot of people suffering.
What we need as individuals is compassion. Not the kind that comes from seeing everything as divine or godlike, but from seeing everything as living, vulnerable, fragile, delicate.
This planet is a living thing. No doubt about it. From the oceans we evolved from to the land that nourished us. It’s incredible. It’s real magic. I don’t need to play anymore games about my identity. I am wholly human. Now, maybe we live in a simulation, but it’s still grounded in a biological reality.
I’d like to close by talking about our cousins, the great apes. I went down the ape rabbit hole last night, in a quest for answers. I wanted to know how to be human.
And I found some great answers, about what it means to be human, from the chimpanzees.
I highly recommend you watch the following:
If you found that as interesting as I did, you’ll want to read these too:
I think you’ll find more in the above video and articles about what it means to be human, to be a good leader, to play the game of life, than you will in all the spiritual New Age books you can find.
And, if you’ve read the above, I’d like to pose a hypothetical question to you:
If a chimpanzee could read, what benefit to his success and the wellbeing of its troop, would any New Age or spiritual text be?
I’d say the answer is none. Because life is not about getting caught up in head games about whether you are a “god” in your own mind. It’s about being confident in yourself as a human, it’s about being altruistic and beneficial to the other humans on this planet. And you can have your monkey motives, and want to mate too. That’s okay too.
We evolved from monkeys – whom we ought to properly revere as our ancestors – and having gone to the gods and back, I want to return to an apelike consciousness, one deeply grounded in reality – freed from the traps of wishful, magical thinking, and comforting fables. So, take your “all is one”, “divine plan” and shove it up your ass where it belongs. The final truth is: we don’t need to learn to be gods – we don’t need more spiritual leaders – we need to learn to be humans and we need more truly human leaders.