Being part of the personal-development world as well as a resident of ‘alternative’ Brighton and part of the ‘psychedelic’ community I often come across attitudes which appear to call out for truth yet seem to embody, erm…well, a lot of bullshit. And especially now, after a globally eventful year which has caused many to question the future ahead, I thought it was particularly relevant to have a look at a few of these mindsets. As always, it’s all to do with our own self. People complain about the state of things, thinking it’s completely unrelated to our own state of mess. Hopeless pessimists tend to take on the victim-mentality, blaming external forces for our inevitable doom. On the other hand, delusional optimists prefer to think ‘everything will be ok’ without taking any meaningful action and in a very similar way, put responsibility in the hands of some (unseen) mysterious power.
But no real change is ever possible without self-honesty and sincerity.
I’ll first give you a personal example. I’ve just yesterday passed by a homeless person sitting right outside my local Co-op down my street (homelessness being an ever increasing problem here in Brighton). It was about 11pm, around 2 degrees, I could barely feel my hands and feet. All I could think of was quickly getting my pack of almond milk and getting back to my heated home, to finally snuggle in my very warm and comfy bed after a busy day. Seeing this man, I couldn’t imagine what it must be like for him. His face and closed eyes were screaming of despair and loneliness. I felt his pain and wondered how he would get through the night without freezing to death. Literally. Literally! But did I invite him into my house for the night? Take a guess. Not only did I not, but passing by him I could barely bring myself to even properly look at him as I found it disturbing and shameful too; acknowledging his miserable existence, in this very moment – breathing right next to me, without actually doing anything about it. My mind tried rationalising this by saying that there are so many homeless people (and this particular spot by the shop is often occupied by someone), it’s not like I’m going to invite them all over to my house now for winter. Or it said that I’m not the only one living in my house and I know the others wouldn’t be happy with this (filthy) stranger sleeping on our sofa. My mind was arguing it’s simply NOT PRACTICAL and that’s it’s not my problem to solve. My practicalities had top priority over his survival. Over his actual life. Or should I say – my comfort came first.
This was extremely disturbing to me, just until I fell into a long restful sleep under my fluffy duvet.
“Sincere thought means thought of concentration (quiet awareness). The thought of a distracted mind cannot be sincere. Man’s mind and his behavior are one, his inner thought and outer expression cannot contradict each other. Therefore a man should set up his right principle and this right mind (principle) will influence his action”. ~ Bruce Lee
Many people who consider themselves more ‘spiritual’ or self-aware, seem to think they’ve got it all sorted and that the troubles of the world are to do with everybody else who’s not as ‘conscious’. So let’s have a look at some of these ‘conscious ideas’.
The first bullshit approach is the notion that if we just sit and meditate everything will be alright. I hear this a lot – apparently it’s the answer to everything, along with Googling it. Now don’t get me wrong – of course I fully support any kind of mind-work and in fact I do agree that it’s the most important and actually the only real starting point. I believe it’s essential we know our own selves and minds and how to use them positively, creatively and powerfully. But it’s still not a substitute for real action. There’s a difference between using meditation to find our own peace (which yes, I agree, global peace won’t happen without) and the concept of ‘I’m just gonna sit here and meditate and send good vibes and the universe will take care of it’. No, the universe won’t take care of it, it’s too busy creating and annihilating galaxies. The universe won’t do anything without you. You’re part of it and it needs you. And surely, as an expert meditator you would know that in fact you are the universe…? Learning, transforming your own awareness and passing it on is great and again it’s the only starting point to changing human experience, but it’s only a tool, not the target or an end. So this encourages complacency and avoiding responsibility. It’s an easy way out. While you might be sitting there humming on your yoga mat thinking you’re doing your bit for humanity, there are people out there who need real help, whom we can help, even with small gestures and actions. And these people aren’t only in some far away land you can choose not to read about in the paper, but all around you; in your own neighbourhood and community.
“Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check. But that is not what I have found. I have found that it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.” ~ Gandalf
So this brings me to the next point – ‘community’. A popular concept among the ‘conscious’; wanting to share and collaborate. But this is also relevant to those who view themselves as switched on, educated and who believe the problem lies in the ‘others’. The problem is that people mostly validate the people who are most similar to themselves. ‘Spiritual’ types are no different to any other group – they like to associate with others who share their beliefs, opinions or backgrounds. This includes many who perceive themselves as inclusive and open-minded. I’ve met, personally or through work, people from all backgrounds – whether labelled as business people, hippies, media techies, hipsters, artists and many others. Many of them have in common two major things: the way their mind and emotions work, and the thinking that people of other ‘types’ differ to them in the way their mind and emotions work… Most people seem to have no interest whatsoever in engaging with those who are of a different ‘group’ or being open to the fact they might actually learn something from them or share stuff in common with them. It’s not uncommon for me to be asked by ‘new-age’ types about my reasons for working with business people. As if people in business are any less worthy or don’t have family, friends, values or hearts. We complain a lot about the direction of the world and politics and lack of tolerance and respect for others, but where is ours? How often do we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, really listen to them, try connecting or making friends with those who have a completely different outlook? How often do we genuinely care about anyone who doesn’t appear to be more like us?
Considered a very ‘spiritual’ idea. Let go of your attachment to this physical world and life. And the more ‘advanced’ you are in your process, the more removed you are as the more you realise this world is one of ‘illusion’ and therefore there’s no need for real engagement. So sure, seeing through the illusion of it all and recognizing the bigger picture is a step forward and I’m all for it. But the point isn’t to ‘leave’ this world behind as it’s no longer significant. It’s even the opposite – to take part in it more fully and truthfully. Imagine a video game. Knowing it’s a game, would you therefore decide not to play, or to carelessly press buttons ‘cuz it’s not real and doesn’t really matter? Or would you play a video game to stay put and watch nothing happen? Of course not, that would be pointless. No, you play the game doing your best to make progress, maybe even learning or exercising your brain in some way, and you enjoy it – not taking it too seriously – knowing it’s not real. If you want to advance in whatever stages of the game you completely get into it. You balance detachment with engagement – you know you’re a player and you give it your all.
So real detachment should in fact bring more presence. Knowing the ‘unreal’ nature of things should help us be more conscious and feel even more in this world. Unfortunately though, this idea again creates complacency, allowing problems to continue as ‘it doesn’t matter anyway’ and avoiding taking any responsibility. But what about bringing forward more fearlessness, more passion, compassion and integrity – for the same reason that ‘it doesn’t matter anyway’…? This world is for us to experience, and whether it’s ‘real’ or not or what’s beyond it, doesn’t change the fact that right now, we’re here with an opportunity to make a difference to this experience, not just take off and remove ourselves from what’s going on. True detachment brings more connection, not less.
The law of attraction / power of intention
These are some of the favourite concepts people bring up in the world of self-development; ‘new-age’ and business alike. And again, similarly to meditation, this is great stuff and very true to a degree. It’s also an essential starting point. But once more, it also brings about laziness and avoidance of responsibility. We don’t miraculously turn into all powerful beings just because we wish it and imagine it. We still need to do the work. ’Oh, why don’t I just sit here and visualise and things will magically materialise’. No. Nothing will happen without your directed action. Move your ass.
Secondly, these popular ideas about manifesting your ‘true potential’ and becoming some master of the universe can create lack of empathy towards others less fortunate. We forget that this opportunity is reserved to us the privileged. We have the freedom, resources and time to spend on exercising these abilities and skills. Not everyone is in this position. In fact, most of the world isn’t. And this isn’t necessarily their ‘fault’. Circumstances (and pretty random ones at that) have determined that many endure suffering you’re very blessed you’ll never have to experience. At this very moment they’re fighting for another opportunity to breathe. Stating that ‘everything’ is an expression of what we (subconsciously or not) ask for or focus on, implies that all people are asking for their pain and this is simply untrue. We say or think this ‘cuz we feel the need to reason things we don’t want to accept. Unfortunately though, some things simply suck with no further explanation. Shit happens. Yes, there are many who subconsciously choose the ‘victim mentality’, but there are also those who have been genuinely victimised. We may not like this but it’s how it is. If you think people’s suffering is always their ‘own’ doing alone, your experience and perspective are actually pretty limited and you’ve obviously been dealt a lucky enough hand to not experience the world’s worst horrors. So this creates lack of compassion towards those we think should just use their power of intention and ‘follow their dreams’. You might think politicians are ‘out of touch’ with ‘ordinary’ people. Well they’re not the only ones. Go out and speak to people who never had the opportunity to ‘master their destiny’ ‘cuz they were too busy surviving.
‘Love and light’
Another new-age or ‘spiritual’ common phrase. I find this one particularly delusional. For two main reasons. First, the denial of the ‘dark’. We don’t want to deal with it; not for real. Sure, we might discuss it as a concept, acknowledging its place in the paradox of life and death and maybe even quote one of Jung’s famous sayings on the topic. But we’d really rather not look into our authentic own. Not truly, not honestly. ‘Spiritual’ people like to be perceived as always peaceful, content, balanced and full of joy. But dark is valid, valuable and purposeful. For example, fear could teach you about presence. Grief might teach you about value. Anger might motivate you to take action. Greed can direct to gratitude…list goes on but that’s a topic for another post. So most of the time we prefer to look away from what we deem as ‘wrong’, unacceptable or just not very pretty to look at or admit to. Self-honesty is too discomforting. Ignorance is bliss. This comes out of fear – and therefore perpetuates more fear. This is the exact opposite of what this phrase supposedly tries to spread.
“I must also have a dark side if I am to be whole” ~ Carl Jung
Secondly, this brings in complacency again and distance rather than real connection. Instead of direct loving action, we hide behind these meaningless words, secure in our self-centredness. Will my sending love and light to that homeless guy help him keep warm and get through the night? If your house was on fire, would you be happy with people simply sending you love and light? And never mind the fact that this love is often reserved only for those in our own groups we identify with – going back to what I’ve already mentioned…
Of course there are no quick-fix solutions to the state of the world. But honesty is a good place to start. First and foremost with ourselves. Developing more compassion and connection on an everyday basis, with our own dark selves as well as with others’, facing our own faults and responsibilities even when we don’t feel like it. Speaking up for what matters, taking a clear stand rather than just standing by or wishing it away. Discussing and listening, and contributing when we can, even in small ways. Making Love more real and not just an empty word. Words are powerful – we should use them truthfully. A ‘Happy New Year’ won’t take care of itself.
More truth, less BS.