NEW AGE IRRITANTS

[ACKNOWLEGEMENTS: Thanks to D.B. for passing on to me the take on "triggers" mentioned below, which was brought up on a radio program - I donít recall which one. The other points are original (not knowingly derivative), though I am sure they are hardly unique. However, what really matters is awareness, not uniqueness. This is more true now than ever, since practically everything under the sun has already been felt, thought, and said, and yet, so much of what is known is not lived, and therefore remains as distant from us as if it were "undiscovered." Therefore: why not state the obvious in a thousand different ways, since some words will reach some people, and other words will reach other people?]

CONTENTS: [When Good Ideas Go Bad, Or, Some Of My Favorite New Age Irritants]: Introduction: The New Age. Triggers. If It Bothers You, Itís Because Itís In You. Itís Karma, Man. God Will Take Care Of Them. Love Everybody. Forgive Them. Be Happy Wherever You Are. Be Positive. Donít Be Attached. Serenity = Wisdom. Here Is A Road Map Of The Universe. Youíre Close-Minded. Are You Spiritual? We Are Headed Towards A Great Age Of Light And Peace. Conclusion.

The New Age is a wonderful opportunity, a chance to stretch old formulas of spirituality and make them more real; to individualize and personalize our belief systems; to look around the world and back through time to find what resonates with us; to enrich ourselves with the wisdom of other races and creeds, and experiments of the worldís inner history; to liberate ourselves from dogma, and shake essence free from habit; to custom-make our hearts in the direct presence of the divine, and struggle to reach truths that are not puppet strings, but rather, tools of empowerment and ennoblement. Our souls are no longer to be given away in arranged marriages to othersí visions of God; we are now finally free to marry for love, to reach the true power of God, on the other side of God the Weapon, God the Drug, God the Ego of a Man. We have, at last, in this tremendously hopeful hour of awakening consciousness, the chance to finally be our own co-creators, and to make the world anew from our growing wisdom, which will no longer be spawned and stunted by divisive doctrine, but instead, born from, and nurtured by, unprejudiced experience and multicultural forays which can only draw the world closer together, as diverse paths of learning begin to mingle and to merge and to cross-pollinate. Often mocked for its excursions into the unconventional and the "bizarre", the New Age is actually a fascinating, decentralized whirlwind of yearning, curiosity, and experimentation crisscrossing numerous faiths and interests, which signals the possible rescue of our spiritual life from a demoralizing period of social manipulation and stagnation, and its return to an active and meaningful role as a vehicle for personal transformation and constructive social redemption.

However, the New Age is not without blemishes, and even deep flaws. There are many who attack it, or elements of it, on the grounds of its supposed "high levels of gullibility" and "anti-intellectualism" (Astrology, Tarot, I-Ching, UFOs, Magic, the Fairy-Faith, etc. are not sheltered by the force of the traditional religions, which act as vast mutual support networks insulating their members from the potential ridicule of mainstream science); it is also attacked for its alleged lack of coherence (it is an environment of, and framework for, many individual searches, so some "incoherence" is natural, and, in fact, whenever parts of it do attain coherence they are usually referred to as "cults"); it is sited for its lack of a clear "moral orientation" (it does most often lack the "Fire and Brimstone" method of behavior modification, but usually does contain more subtle forms of advocating compassion and "goodness", which may not, however, conform to some religionsí puritanical understandings of what "goodness" is); and finally, it is chastised for leading us to a new, watered-down, shallow, hodgepodge "religion" that lacks discipline, depth, and authentic roots - a disjointed spiritual chimera made up of half-digested faiths, perfect for the modern worldís short attention span, overconfidence, and preference for hype over substance. (To this it may be said that the integrity and power of New Age beliefs varies from individual to individual, the same as do the beliefs of individuals belonging to the mainstream religions; and that the New Age, by allowing greater range for individual exploration and spiritual decision-making not only leads many away from the mainstream religions, but just as often, by allowing practitioners to amplify the personal space available to them within those religions, enables them to remain.) Here, it is not my aim to do battle with New-Age-bashers from outside the movement, but rather, to provide a critique of some of the things which drive me crazy, from within the movement: which most often, have to do with elements of the external environment, our past conditioning, our still unevolved selves, and our culture infiltrating into the movement, seeping into its soul and taking over its promising forms with exactly the thoughts, attitudes and behaviors we are trying to get away from. But wearing the clothes of the "Buddha", or the one on the road to enlightenment, the S.O.P. - the Same Old Person, manipulating rather than absorbing the ideas of the wise - sometimes manages to pull a fast one on the rest of us. This article is just my way of saying "Headís Up! The S.O.P.ís are among us. Donít let New-Age-Speak fool you or disarm you; even in paradise youíve got to protect yourself at all times." Or, put another way: "Auras wonít stop low blows."

TRIGGERS: One of the most important elements informing some parts of the New Age - its deepest strata in fact - is the element of "popular psychology" which has trickled into it ever since Carl G. Jung first insisted on the importance of psychological self-understanding for fortifying mythological and spiritual experience with a connection to the human needs, motives, and tendencies which interact with it, and which, not comprehended, can cause a man to become lost and drown in spiritual experience; to magnify his weakness and hate by means of it; or to use it to deceive, obstruct or mutilate himself. This Jungian fusion of psychology and mysticism made a powerful and lasting impression upon those who would become the forebears of the New Age movement, and today, the perception that the psychological is also spiritual, in that true self-knowledge and morality stand on thin ice without it, is widespread. Unfortunately, some who are adept at manipulating certain fundamental principles and popular concepts of psychology, are also adept at manipulating other people by means of them; the intellectual tool meant to expose oneís subsurface motives, in order to better work on them and defuse their harmfulness, is itself hijacked by subsurface motives - or else deliberately bypassed in the name of self-interest - and used as a resource by unreformed primal motives to dominate others.

In the ostensibly benevolent arsenal of popular psychology today in vogue, one of the ultimate marquee concepts is "triggers." It is a very useful idea, which, used appropriately, can help to promote individual self-perception and healing, and interpersonal harmony. Many times, when we react angrily, or with hurt, to a given person or situation, it is not so much that that person or situation has harmed us as it is that what has just happened resonates and connects with a previous wound of ours, "triggering" a release of emotions which are excessive in the context of the present, but utterly appropriate to the circumstances in the past which created the original wound. A man who has had issues with excessive control and domination by his parents may, for example, overreact to the normal behavior of authority figures who he encounters at work or in school, or reject the advice and opinions of others without a fair hearing, as if he were being threatened, anew, by parental conquest; a person who was, in the past, "outplayed" for the love of a parent by a sickly sibling, who used her half-phony illnesses to monopolize sympathy and attention, may act in surprisingly cruel and callous ways towards the injuries of others, becoming critical, cold, and resentful towards the afflicted, and denying them compassion, as a belated instinct to break through to her parentís affection; while a woman who has been sexually molested or abused may be "triggered" by anyone who approaches too closely, "violating" her now extended need for personal space, or react to an inadvertent or even well-meaning touch (such as is common in "touch-touch cultures") with fear, anger, or a sense of betrayal. Although in the case of true traumas, such as exposure to sexual abuse or violence, the healing struggle of the individual to pacify these "triggers" so that he/she is able to increase enjoyment of life and to function more smoothly amidst the untraumatized is very difficult work which may require the involvement of a mental health professional, in many instances, uncovering the original source of the problem (becoming aware of its genesis in the past), and mentally disconnecting it from the stimulus of the present, is enough (as long as awareness is maintained) to free oneself from the chains of what has gone before. The victim will be returned to the present, renew his capability to act proportionately to what is happening now, and by overcoming his overreactions, increase his ability to coexist with others, as well as cease to commit emotional injustices against others who do not deserve his exaggerated responses to what they have said or done.

As of late, however, the growing familiarity of "triggers" in psychological pop culture has led to a manipulation spree, in which transgressors in the present seek to shut down the legitimate responses of their targets by painting the present as nothing more than an extension of the past, and blaming ghosts for the damage which they are, in fact, actively perpetrating in the here and now. In other words, I commit an offense; but when you respond to that offense, I claim that your response is an overreaction linked to the past. I have set off a trigger, but the true culprit is not me, I insist, it is really someone else, or something else, that happened to you long ago. From being the victim of my injustice, naturally endowed with the right of self-defense, you have now been transformed into a person who needs to do more inner work in order to sort out your problems, as well as a perpetrator, who is actually striking an unwarranted blow against me because you have not yet been able to overcome your emotional haunting. By this clever means of manipulation, I have disowned my transgression, slipped it into the past and hidden it in the actions of others, disarmed your natural reflexes of self-defense and self-assertion, and deflected your attention from the real battleground. A concept capable of bringing insight and depth has been corrupted, and if you are not alert, it will be used to dominate you.

Beware the misuse of "triggers", and the SOPs who will try to shut you down with them.

IF IT BOTHERS YOU, ITíS BECAUSE ITíS IN YOU: This is another darling in todayís bag of popular psychological concepts, and it also has great use and validity when properly applied. A lot of times, when we find that certain people irritate, disturb, or annoy us, it is because we recognize, in them, certain traits or characteristics which we hate or cannot accept, which we share with them. Our rejection of these people therefore becomes a mechanism for rejecting, or containing, those parts of ourselves which we dislike; we spare ourselves the torments of self-loathing by hating ourselves invisibly and externally, through the medium of other people. One good example would be the intense hatred felt by homophobes towards gays: an attitude of utter contempt which has frequently been shown to stem from suppressed homosexual instincts within the very men who claim to despise gays most. In similar ways, we may react against nerdy traces, wimpy traces, mean traces, outcast traces, vain traces, overintellectual traces, ugly traces, and a thousand other unwanted reflections of ourselves embodied by those we choose to disdain in the place of ourselves, victimizing and distancing others because we have not yet found ways to be at peace with ourselves.

So far, so good. By becoming aware of this tendency, we are able to deepen our exploration of ourselves; and to use others to point us, like a compass, towards the work we need to do within our own souls, whether it is a work of acceptance or a work of overcoming (Iím like that? No way, thatís got to go!). We can also use this awareness to spare others the wrath of our self-hatred, and to take our internal battles back inside, which is where they belong. (Why should others be cut down in the crossfire of me fighting me?) On the other hand, just as in the case of "triggers", this concept can be misused, and turned against the fruitful purpose for which it has been conceived. If you donít like a certain behavior, a certain attitude, a certain personís conduct or bearing, the SOP who wants to neutralize you can simply counter: "You donít like it because itís in you." Not an atom, not a molecule, it is implied, but an entire arm or leg of what you hate. In practical terms, that can translate into: "Who are you to object? Youíre not any better than them." How do you dare to criticize someone for eating all the sweets, when you, too, have your hand in the cookie jar? (You must, because you are so upset by someone else devouring the sweets.) Applied mechanically, universally, by rote, this useful concept rapidly degrades; it denies the possibility that someone can be reacting to what he is not, rather than to what he is - that someone may hate bullies without being an incipient or thwarted bully; it also disrupts the solidity of the affected individualís moral stance, draining away some of his power by dragging him down (he imagines) to the level of those he opposes, and downgrading his idealistic perspectives and projects into nothing more than the psychologically-induced products of a divided, even tainted personality. - Yes, I know, we are all complex beings rife with nearly infinite possibilities of "good" and "evil", and it is no boon to the world when we ride out amidst the real lives of others believing we are the "white knight" - and yet, by means of this little manipulative trick, this little shift of perception, the dose of righteousness needed to be effective may be deconstructed, and the potential hero, covered with the shame of false self-awareness, may be induced to withdraw from the struggle of the world, believing he is not fit to contribute to its betterment. Disgraced by his imaginary fall, he crawls away broken, while those not so sensitive to the findings of self-analysis, are left free to carry on.

Go ahead, I say: be natural, let yourself be bothered without fear of what it may reveal about you! Certainly, be honest with yourself, be strong, explore and grow; but donít let others turn your ideal of honesty into an open pipeline for pumping their own controlling ideas into your head. Good hearts must never let their ability to love be disarmed. And sometimes, outrage is the natural response of love.

ITíS KARMA, MAN: Beyond the world of pop-psychology, of course, the New Age contains a vast repertoire of spiritual ideas filtered down from Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam (especially Sufism), Native American practices and belief-systems, European Paganism, Occultism, Parapsychology, the "New Physics", etc., etc. Among the most potent and widely circulated of those ideas is that of KARMA, the Eastern philosophical/metaphysical concept which holds that each and every one of our actions in life produces consequences, according to the laws of cause and effect which permeate and underlie the Universe. Over time, the concept, as it has mingled, here, in the West, with our prevailing religious traditions, has become somewhat Christianized, and is now frequently focused on rewards and punishments. A person who lacks compassion or moral discipline, and treats others badly, is said to incur "bad karma", which will lead him to experience problems and difficulties after he has reincarnated into his next life; whereas a person who behaves nobly and kindly to others, and successfully holds his negative qualities in check so that they do not injure others, is said to incur "good karma", and will enjoy a future life that is comparatively blessed; or even "escape" the cycle of birth, death, and reincarnation altogether, to merge in blissful and eternal oneness with the Universe (attaining the state of Nirvana). In its more elegant, Eastern forms (Hinduism and Buddhism), Karma is not a simple equivalent to the Christian concept of "the good go to Heaven, and the bad go to Hell." It is less vindictive, and more a kind of scientific outcome, as certain actions (reflecting certain inner states) create corresponding forces of attraction, which draw towards the agent of those actions the experiences necessary to lead his personality closer to the divine spirit of the Universe, with which he is meant to fuse. For a man who has lived self-centeredly and thoughtlessly, with little empathy or concern for others, it is natural that he may have to undergo some harder lessons in order to finally understand the truths he would not previously acknowledge or find a way to live by, when all was "well." Perhaps if he experiences disease, or violence, or poverty, or betrayal, or loss, or abandonment first hand, he will learn to no longer dismiss the suffering of others; and that is the key that will unlock the door to his own compassion, bringing him closer to the divine spirit. This is not really retribution, at all, it is more like chemical bonding, in which certain unbound charges within a molecule attract those correspondingly "receptive" atoms which "fit" into the "open ends" of their structure; which, in the parallel case of Karma, logically but not willfully leads towards the "completion" of the individual. Or, put another way, one might say that the Universe is constantly working to "recapture" and "ingest" its lost parts - the individual bits of consciousness which have escaped it in the form of the human mind, and barricaded themselves from the Divine Whole with their divisive egos, which defend their false separateness with ignorant desperation. Like the ocean, the Universe waits patiently for the water that has fled from it, into rivers and lakes, to return, to flow back into it or fall into it as rain. Karma, by gradually disciplining the human soul to return to divinity, is the force pulling the lost parts back towards their true home - not to death and extinction, as the isolated ego dreads, but to reunion and inclusion in the greater grandeur of the Universe.

At the same time, having said all this, Karma is, undeniably, a moral concept and ethical motivator, and it is natural in the West, given our conditioning, that traces of Heaven and Hell have been read into its dynamics. It should not be surprising that this concept, Westernized and simplified as it has been, has also been kidnapped by many self-serving interpreters of the New Age in order to support attitudes and behaviors in direct opposition to its true intent. Now, for example, when a pseudo-Buddhist SOP sees a poor man, or a blind man, or a diseased man, or a homeless man fleeing from a war zone, he may tell himself: "They are paying off their bad karma", and suddenly the unfortunate one is reduced to being nothing more than a past-life criminal receiving his just deserts. In the same way, when he sees a person suffering and in need, he may tell himself that to try to alleviate that personís suffering would only be to interfere with their karma - to get in the way of the lesson which the Universe has given that person to learn. Likewise, his own affluence in the midst of othersí despair triggers no impulse of generosity; or, at best, it induces him to put up a smokescreen of token philanthropy to disguise his addiction to material things. Surely, his beautiful life now is a well-deserved reward for past-life deeds and actions. Rather than being selfish or callous, he is "proven" by his comforts to be great-souled; he imagines himself to be the beneficiary of his own wonderful heart, which has attracted the blessings of the Universe, and feels he deserves his hoarded blessings as much as the unfortunate deserve their suffering.

But, of course, this take is one of pure convenience. It is a way of short-circuiting the challenge to transform which is at the root of Karma; a way of infiltrating Karma with the limitations that it is meant to steer us beyond, subordinating it to the status quo, and turning it from a force of personal evolution into a justification for not evolving; it is a way of defending the lowest parts of oneself with trappings of nobility and pretended respect for the divine; a way of giving a spiritual stamp of approval to indifference, of "blaming the victim" and preserving the world of dog-eat-dog by quieting oneís guilt through "wisdom" that is utterly disconnected from the Universe: wisdom that runs, in a closed loop, from the Me-First culture back into oneself. It is a spiritual form of Social Darwinism; the lotus position turned into a hangmanís noose. What a terrible corruption of Buddhism, whose essence is Compassion; what a terrible misuse of Karma, whose essence is spiritual growth and ever-increasing empathy! Suffering is a way for the soul to learn and grow, just as extending oneís hand to those who suffer is a way for the soul to learn and grow. Will our world learn only one half of its lesson?

GOD WILL TAKE CARE OF THEM: This belief, when misapplied, is a popular New Age irritant. It most often is a derivative of our Christian heritage, our belief that God will uphold justice no matter how it seems, if not in this life, in the Beyond. The good will not be lost, no matter what travails or disasters may consume them in this existence; they will end up on their feet in Heaven, living beside God and his angels on the other side of the mugging known as life. On the one hand, this is a highly comforting belief, one that gives hope to the afflicted and solace to the aggrieved, and helps to preserve our precious allegiance to justice and to the moral principles which make us beautiful, in spite of what sometimes seems to be the low "survival value" of ethical behavior. On the other hand, the concept that "God will take care of them" is also a terrible tool for disassociating from the world, and leaving calamity untouched by our intervention. Why should I trouble myself to help others, since, in the end, all will be well, and God will provide for those who are in need? As one famous inventor of maxims once said: "God gives all of us the courage to bear the misfortune of others." In its most extreme case, the concept leads the soldier to slaughter man, woman, and child, and to absolve himself of the consequences of his minigenocide, his machine gun or his cluster bomb, by telling himself: "God will sort them out." I shall reap the guilty and the innocent alike with my sickle, and God shall sift through the fallen and redeem those who deserve life in his everlasting Kingdom, and leave the damned to perish. I cannot truly kill those who God loves, only erase them temporarily from the landscape of this earthly fantasy. What a terrifying means of evading responsibility! On a less drastic level, the concept consolidates our indifference and apathy, we numb ourselves to the disasters of the world at the same time as we fortify our position on the side of history: Iím sorry for everyone whoís starving in Africa, God will take care of them. Iím sorry for the people being blown up in the war, God will take care of them. Iím sorry for the people buried under the rubble of the earthquake, God will take care of them. Iím sorry for the homeless, God will take care of them. Christian love becomes an act of self-delusion, we step out of our prayers and leave them hollow: mere rituals, designed to placate our conscience and to spare us real effort, real sacrifice. We delegate our moral task to God, entrust others to miracles and resurrections that we ourselves do not rely on or accept as legitimate measures of succor. We run away from the fact that God most often accomplishes his work through us, and avoid the exhortation to love, which is meant for the earth, and which, if it is true, will generate action, not remain locked up in abstract formulas which merely imitate compassion. I love you as I watch you drown from the riverbank. Humanityís afflictions will not be solved by "long-distance healing"; anyone can light a candle and imagine he is involved, as the world crumbles around him.

Of course, there are limits to what we can do, bound, as we are, by finite levels of energy, enmeshed in our own life problems, our relationship issues and family responsibilities, our jobs. "God will take care of them" is, many times, an expression of our limitations, and a form of spiritual self-defense, invoked to prevent our hearts from being overwhelmed by a world that is far too chaotic and tragedy-ridden to be rescued by any one of us, far too heavy to be borne upon the shoulders of any one man, or million men. The sensitivity of the beautiful soul needs barriers, filters, to keep out what it cannot endure, and so, in some ways, inevitably, and in some measure, it must harden and withdraw. "God will take care of them" is, for people such as this, a way of preserving their ability to manifest compassion while at the same time protecting their emotional limits; a means of letting in enough suffering to elicit their love, and then shutting out anything in excess of what they can bear (which is given back to God); a kind of "cell membrane" which both absorbs and blocks, and permits survival within an environment that contains not only what is needed to live a soulful life, but also what could overpower and break a sensitive soul.

There is an expression used in music, which emphasizes the role of the performer (who can elevate mediocre material to greatness and ruin a masterpiece): "Itís the singer, not the song." In the same way, "God will take care of them" is, I believe, a spiritual truth which can give comfort and peace in the midst of chaos and pain, at the same time as it provides the well-meaning with a mechanism for being "good" within their limitations, and the morally evasive and callous with a mechanism for "washing their hands" (a la Pontius Pilate), and severing the rest of Humanity from their own egotistic self-absorption. Itís a concept which should neither be ditched, nor misused.

LOVE EVERYBODY: This is an imperative which massive segments of the New Age have inherited from Christianity and the life and message of Jesus. Freud railed against it in Civilization and its Discontents, considering it to be a demand that is both illogical and unattainable. My own feeling regarding this "commandment" is that it is habitually misapplied, and often more likely to lead to hypocrisy, self-denial, internal conflict and disempowerment, than it is to real love. All of us, of course, start out with our primal baggage, a full arsenal of survival tools inherited from our "animal past", which includes anger and hate, as well as love; and it is upon this foundation that we must construct our visions of utopia, building upwards from what is real, from who we really are. In spite of all the negative PR, there are times when anger serves us, and our moral principles, quite well: times when it prepares us to stand up for something, infuses us with the strength not to be broken, drives cowardice out of our moral fiber, empties the submissiveness out of our hearts, makes us capable of rising to the level of our beliefs; anger is sometimes love wearing armor, love ready to fight, love that has made the decision not to roll over; a force that equalizes the pressure of injustice pressing in on us with the power of justice pushing back; the emotional wind that the sails of a great idea may sometimes need in order to move in the world. Anger is not always proud, violent, egotistic, and low. It may also come from oneís moral heights, and be alloyed to lofty insights or to the indispensable basics of being a human being; why automatically retract from a natural biological defense-response against transgressions, when that response is given on behalf of a person who is threatened, or of an ideal that is betrayed? In the Bible, itself, anger is frequently shown to be sacred. Listen to how the prophets rage against hypocrisy and injustice. Consider the fury of Jesus when he confronted the moneylenders in the Temple. Even in the Bible, our ultimate sourcebook for "love everybody", anger is rampant, and sometimes holy. To reject anger, a priori, without first examining the specific context of its manifestation, including its possible causes and potential benefits - to remove it from our human tool kit altogether, simply because it conflicts with our image of what a "spiritual" person should be - strikes me as a terrible mistake, more likely to castrate the soul and to render it defenseless in the face of transgression, than to elevate it. Are our moral codes really meant to turn us into passionless eloi, who lack the inner fire needed to stand by our brothers, or to react against degrading or even deadly abuse?

In my opinion, the moral man does not overcome human nature, or rise above it; rather, he learns how to work with human nature, bringing his nobler qualities to the forefront, while finding ways to harmlessly appease or vent his baser qualities, or else bond them to his virtues, harnessing their vigor to strengthen higher concepts; transforming them with consciousness, and defusing their danger by combining them with elements of mind and heart that will not let them be used in selfish, hurtful ways. Anger is a fuel. As long as the pilot retains awareness and discipline in its use, the vehicle will go where he guides it. Sometimes, it is better to use the fuel of anger, than to face the world with an empty tank.

Therefore, I say to you, do not try to love everybody. Do not clench your teeth in a forced smile, while your insides are being eaten alive by rage, donít paralyze yourself by trying to be what you are not. Donít swim against the current in a crisis, swim with the current, with consciousness. Do not let the pain of others mean so little to you, that you can watch them be robbed, raped, and murdered with utter calm, loving those that ravage and destroy them. In practical terms, your ability to respond will be ineffective. Donít spread your love so thin, it will only erode the impact of your solidarity, and dilute your love into the equivalent of non-love.

This is not to reject the value of Jesusí words and insights, for love does, indeed have great power. But forcing yourself to try to love when it is not in your system is counterproductive and destructive to your potential contribution to the world. The key, if you are going to love people who are irritating or outraging you, is to actually get love into your system, and that doesnít occur by trying to force a square peg into a round hole. In the case of people who you dislike, it really begins by getting over the idea that they are innately "evil" or "malicious"; by trying to see where they are coming from, what are the wounds, fears, insecurities, or misconceptions that are generating their attitudes and actions, and what are the conditions that have shaped their behavior. That creates understanding, not love, but it is a step in the right direction. When one understands others, when one humanizes them just enough not to succumb to the mythology of their utter monsterhood, oneís emotional resilience vis-ŗ-vis their transgressions is enhanced, and the options and possible strategies for dealing with their behavior increase. For me, I am satisfied with attaining understanding, without pushing things to the next level, to love. Sometimes, understanding naturally leads to love, but if it does not, it is still a hugely expanded terrain for working in. Is it not true that fairness and respect are near equals of love, and many times, loveís better? And I say: Peace is more likely to come from understanding, than from trying to force oneself to love against oneís true feelings, for invading and conquering oneself with unnatural "goodness" merely weakens the Ideal of justice in oneís heart, and on the earth, and lays the seeds of greater, and less controllable expressions of fury in the future, once the inevitable let-down occurs. For there is nothing worse than to think oneself a saint, and awaken as a fool; nor any greater source of rage than that produced by the abject collapse of oneís unrealistic expectations. (The tiger, always a tiger, has only his own fury; the tiger who tried to be a dove must be twice a tiger to escape from his folly.)

Love Love, it is the greatest power in the Universe. But do not oppress yourself with it, do not obey what is not there, for then you will only be a captive of what is not real. Seek to stand by your moral codes but donít enforce them with an illusion, build them with the blocks of what is actually in you, and work slowly to transform, never wandering beyond what is genuine. Remember: the drink of the Gods is poison to Man. Man must live according to what Man is, and shape his highest visions with the material of his true capabilities. Pretense is fragility; authentic visions always start from low places.

FORGIVE THEM: Forgiveness is a beautiful virtue, and, in fact, most of the worldís disasters may stem from the omnipresence of vindictiveness, and the irrepressible spirit of revenge which seems to animate the perpetual motion machine of violence that we call history. Wise men have said that the ancient Biblical promise of retribution, "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" will only leave the world "toothless and blind" ; while Jesus provided Christians with an amazing example of forgiveness, when he called on God to forgive those who had, so unjustly and so cruelly, nailed him to the Cross. Forgiveness, is, indeed, an attribute which our world needs, and without which it is probably doomed to self-destruct. And yet, it, too, has its proper place and time, its proper context for manifesting. To prematurely forgive is, in some ways, to demean the value of all those, including oneself, who may have suffered at the hands of injustice. It is almost certainly to impose an unrealistic moral expectation on oneself that can only sap oneís vital energy, deepening the impact of the blow already received from the outside with additional wounds of self-negation and dismissal. Forgiveness may need time to come into oneís life, and it should be given time. In the New Age milieu, there are too many SOPs who under-empathize with the wounded in their effort to uphold a theory (neo-Christian forbearance) and an image (the neo-imitation of Christ); they demand that the recently offended forgive those who have just injured them, and even condemn the abused for holding onto a "grudge", not comprehending that, for a certain amount of time, at least, a "grudge" may actually be a necessary and life-giving form of self-respect. What is really over the top is the way that some SOPs mentally assault the already injured with this dogmatic formula-mandate to forgive, when they themselves have never gone through a comparable experience. What kind of nobility, what kind of spiritual attainment is this? One example that comes to mind is the case of some Christian-derived New Agers who, in the past, claimed that Jewish survivors of the concentration camps should forgive Hitler and the Nazis for the Holocaust, rather than "remain stuck in anger and resentment" against their former persecutors. While it may be true that the rest of history cannot be turned into "an eternal appendage of the Holocaust", which is what some critics have said, by the same token it is clear that no one living outside of the Holocaust experience has the right to demand that a concentration camp survivor forgive his tormentors, forgive the killers of his family, forgive the attempted extinguishers of his race. The decision to forgive or not forgive is an absolutely personal one, belonging to the one who has suffered, to the one who has been wronged. If he or she is truly able to forgive, it surely must count as an act of great courage and spiritual development (beyond my emotional means, I would think). But just as valid must be the feelings of those who could not forgive, whose sense of violation and lost love would not permit a reconciliation; whose perception of history, and sense of obligation to the future, would not let the perpetrators "off the hook"; who would not forgive (and in some ways seem to liberate) archetypes which might reappear tomorrow . How could anyone dare to demand that these people forgive, and to condemn them if they did not?

Forgiveness is a personal choice, an intimate part of the journey of each and every one of us. When it corresponds to our understanding and true emotions, it may be profoundly healing and even world-changing; given before its time, however, it is little more than a denial of the worth of those who were harmed, and an inappropriate signal inviting the unreformed transgressors of the world to continue. If we respect others, we must respect their healing process, and the autonomy of their decision to forgive or not forgive. Beware the manipulative SOP who seeks to turn you into a punching bag - perhaps his own - by forcing forgiveness down your throat!

BE HAPPY WHEREVER YOU ARE: There is validity in this exhortation, as long as it is comprehended with flexibility and applied with moderation. All too often, we torment ourselves with some unreached ideal, with some future stage of life to come, and focused on living in the embrace of that golden age, fail to find or to connect to what is positive in the here and now, instead dwelling on what is lacking in the present in comparison with the future we imagine. The gap between what we want and what we have, between our vision and our reality, makes us miserable and depressed, or sometimes only half-alive and numb: neither agonized nor ecstatic, trapped in a no-manís land of emotional non-commitment; we pass by opportunities to live, as we wait to live; overlook beauty that is humble, in loyalty to beauty that is grand; fail to dig wells, in homage to a distant reservoir. In some ways, there is a switch to life, and many times we fail to turn it on. Not only do we sacrifice huge portions of our existence by refusing to immerse ourselves in it, looking beyond it, instead, and hollowing out the present to give to the future; in so doing, we also fail to learn the most rudimentary techniques for attaining happiness, which depends upon us learning from our interactions with daily life and finding ways to adapt, cope, and fine-tune our perceptions in accordance with it. Without that experience in conscious living, we may, in fact, never be able to attain happiness, even in the dream world we are postponing our living for; for paradise also hurts, and we simply may not have developed the tools necessary for enjoying it, and preventing its inevitable monkey-wrenches from sabotaging our joy. Since happiness is, when all is said and done, more a state of mind than it is a place, it is imperative that we find the time and means to cultivate that state of mind, and neither numbness nor habitual dissatisfaction are adequate mediums for its growth.

In order to get more out of the present, even in difficult times, and under difficult circumstances, there are many possible techniques: various forms of meditation are useful, in that they may help to "clear the mind" of stressful and debilitating illusions which overload life with distractions which hide its preciousness, or else force it to shut down in self-protecting numbness; exercises in attaining perceptual shifts may also be practiced, which are conscious and controlled imitations of the experiences individuals go through when they "awaken" from real-life nightmares to realize that there were many beautiful things in their life and the world that they once "took for granted" and failed to appreciate. People who have been imprisoned, or experienced serious illness or loss, will often have moments of "seeing things with new eyes", and this is something that all of us can learn to do without the stimulus of being traumatically ripped from the possibilities we once ignored, as long as we have the discipline to practice.

So far, so good. "Be happy wherever you are" seems to be a way of telling ourselves to live right now, not to put off life, because now matters; and who knows if what we dream of will ever come to pass, or if it will simply dangle in front of our eyes and out of our reach forever, like the grapes of Tantalus, stealing away what is close with what is far, what is tangible with what is uncertain, and what is real with what may only be illusory. As Epictetus, the ancient Stoic once wrote (and here I paraphrase): we each have, within us, the alchemic power to transmute our leaden lives into lives of gold. Reality which comes from the outside is actually experienced inside, and through our perceptual, spiritual, and philosophical control over what happens inside, we are able to reshape experience into forms that are bearable and even aesthetic.

However, "Be happy wherever you are" also has a serious down side, one which the SOPs have not failed to misuse. When wielded against the unhappy as an immutable canon, it can provide a means for withholding oneís compassion, as well as become a way of spiritually sanctioning injustice, by shifting the burden of attaining happiness upon beleaguered individuals, while exonerating the oppressive environments which abuse, neglect, and degrade them. To take an extreme case: a "guru" living in a mansion by the beach, who spends his days writing, lecturing, and watching the seagulls, has very little credibility when he tells a man living neck-high in shit, "Be happy where you are." His spiritual message, in this case, seems more like a barbed wire fence surrounding his property and his lifestyle, and is hard, in fact, to take as something "spiritual" at all. It seems more like one of the eternal "mind games" that organized religions have been accused of playing through history, in order to consolidate the domination of resources by elites through the psychological manipulation of the downtrodden ("pulling the plug on rebellion from the inside"). Although internal perceptual processes surely do play a major role in creating happiness and contentment, external factors also play a major role, and social adjustments and reforms, as well as individual acts of brotherhood, cannot and should not be replaced by mere spiritual "attitude adjustments" foisted upon the discontented.

Besides this, "be happy wherever you are" is also a concept that, used in formula form, may lack the nuances necessary to respond to all the possibilities of life. To begin with, though we aim for happiness (Freud would call it the "pleasure principle"), isnít it true that there are many shades of happiness, some more frivolous, some laced with sorrow and, yet, deeper understanding? Some more euphoric, some more reflective? Some unrestrained by complexity; some hampered, yet ennobled, by soulfulness? Does the expression "Be happy wherever you are" truly have validity if it does not distinguish between the many possible forms of happiness? Even more to the point, unhappiness may sometimes be a necessary state for accomplishing certain objectives which will lead to greater happiness in the future, as well as a powerful and possibly indispensable motivator of human action. Is it not possible that he who finds "happiness" too easily will undermine his inborn incentive to struggle for something better, and preempt his reaction against what is unjust or grating; that he will learn to philosophically accept what is biologically untenable; train himself to bear a life standing in the freezing river current, rather than fight to climb up the slippery rock out of the water? Isnít it possible that unhappiness is a vital emotional component of our spiritual evolution, our human way of reaching upwards, like a plant growing towards the sun? Perhaps "being happy wherever you are", when overdone, is only a means of stunting ourselves, of glorifying passivity over action in private and public realms, of building a palace out of our incapabilities and fears, of elevating "defeat" to the stature of a philosophy, and deluding ourselves into a mental nether-state of "empowered" helplessness. Chíien Chíi, an 8th-Century Chinese poet, once wrote of the Hermit Tsíui: "I envy you, drunk with flowers, butterflies swirling in your dreams." [1] Is it possible that our enlightenment might become nothing more than a hallucination, a flight from things that are still in our power to be, or attain?

Finally, "Be happy wherever you are", taken too far as some SOPs would have it, seems to threaten our very humanity. How could a sensitive and empathetic person ever be happy in some places, on some days, experiencing or witnessing some things? Isnít the only way to be perpetually happy not to care, not to feel; to have a heart of stone? Isnít unhappiness, sometimes, a sign of brotherhood, and a bridge across our differences to true love and friendship; the starting point of a beautiful journey, if we will not flee from its initially painful potential?

"Be happy wherever you are" is surely a concept worth considering, studying, and partially assimilating, as it circulates around the New Age community; but it is, just as surely, a concept not to be taken indiscriminately and swallowed whole. Beware the cruel, posing as the enlightened! Beware those who offer an olive branch to your weakness! Do not clip your wings for the sake of philosophy, but neither run from philosophy because there are some, hiding within it, who would use it to clip your wings! There is truth here, but also danger and manipulation. Watch your step.

BE POSITIVE: You canít escape from this one, even if you walk around with your hands covering your ears. "Be positive. Be positive." We hear it over and over again, like a mantra, like the church bells of the New Age ringing in a simple tower. Of course, there is tremendous legitimacy in the concept, but once again, only if it is intelligently and discriminately applied. There is no doubt that belief invigorates effort; that envisioning the possibility of a successful outcome helps one to achieve that outcome. Few defeatists are able to penetrate through their gloom, through their demoralization and abysmal expectations, to reach a better result than the one imagined by their pessimism. Triumph, and many times just survival, are often complex products of our attitudes: the external materialization of our internal states; the physical manifestation of our optimism, our confidence, and our will. Without positivity, cynicism, failure, embitterment and catastrophe are rampant.

This having been said, the pressure to be "positive" in some New Age circles tends to squash dissent, to prevent potential problems from being examined, and doubts from being aired. It is used to ride over the diversity of opinion which can strengthen ideas by forcing them to grow and evolve until they are hardy enough to dispel doubt; in the place of tested and durable concepts, it leaves behind only brittle optimism, based upon wishful thinking, and secretly poisoned by fears that have not been aired and cleared. Sometimes, "negativity" is a means of preparing to face reality; a way of building towards a resilient and tactically fertile positivity, that can weather reality when it does not cooperate with our superstitious efforts to control it by not imagining it.

Be positive, but with depth. Never turn positivity into a dogmatic religion, never let it entomb your mind, or dismiss deep emotions which should be listened to and placated, not silenced. Beware the fearful SOP, who fights against his fear by forcing others to abandon their astuteness! Beware the SOP, whose "Be positive" is merely a New-Age-coated way of saying, "Shut up!"

DONíT BE ATTACHED: This exhortation comes principally from the Buddhist tributary of the New Age, and relates directly to Siddhartha Gautamaís brilliant and humane insight, which is that Suffering is the product of Manís attachment to unattainable or unmanageable desires, which make him desperate and drive him mad craving things that he cannot have, that he cannot keep, or that he cannot handle. For the Buddha, the solution to the vast majority of Humankindís torments is the acceptance of the laws of the Universe; the conscious and deeply internalized decision to live, not against the grain of reality, but in accordance with it (not tearing oneself in two between the poles of oneís wishes and the unalterable facts); and the surrender of all those attachments which cause Suffering, which amounts to nothing less than a release from bondage. Of course, the insight is worthless if it is not disciplined with constant practice (meditation, conscious living, and application), which is what allows it to percolate into the depths of oneís soul, shedding the weakness of theory to become something truly strong enough to face lifeís disappointments and tragedies with. In this concept, there is enormous dignity and power: the possibility of liberation from a thousand different fears, addictions, obsessions, and breaking points. However, in the hands of the SOP, "donít be attached" can go very far off course, indeed! It can be a way of avoiding compassion, and shutting down the outrage of those who have been wronged, or the sorrow of those who are aggrieved; it can be a way of "turning off" the complaints of those whose laments and recriminations could awaken onesí conscience, and rescue one from the clutches of pseudo-spirituality. How easy it is to be wise with othersí bodies, othersí losses, othersí poverty, othersí victimization! "Donít be attached", in callous hands, can be a mechanism for dismissing all the misery and catastrophes of the human race, for blaming the wretched and the dying for their "lack of enlightenment." Itís their fault that they were attached to the house that was just washed away in a flood, to the child that was just killed by a bomb, or died of hunger, their fault that they had not yet risen to the understanding that could have freed them of their suffering! Philosophically, "donít be attached" can wipe away almost every truth and aspiration worth living for, for why should we be attached to ideals such as love and honor? (I have heard this said, witnessed this deconstruction of a compassionate insight until it became a portal for pure nihilism.) And in our hands, too, wielded against ourselves, it can be dangerous: for "freedom from attachment", shallowly conceived, could be used to freeze over our emotions and turn us into "enlightened" zombies; to detach us from people and projects and issues, isolating us and converting us into de facto hermits even while living in the midst of others, thereby devaluing our compassion; it could be used to deny us the little pleasures that make nobility livable, and the great passions that make life worthwhile. We could become ghosts in life, bloodless and white, slaves to a doctrine of self-repression; spend the rest of our days, like crash dummies, bracing for impact by minimizing our sensitivities.

Of course - of course - this is not the true intention, the true path of "non-attachment", which aims to reach a balance: to simultaneously preserve our capacity to strive as it develops our capacity to do without. (Although some motivational force may be sacrificed for the sake of attaining wisdom, the concept is not designed to undermine action or effort, only to moderate and guide it.) Beware the SOP who uses "Donít be attached" to belittle your bonds with the things that give meaning to your life, to demean the power of your love, and condemn your right to care. The truth of "Donít be attached" is something to be learned, by us, from the living of our life, not something to be imposed on us; it is something to be learned in our own way and in our own time, according to our own spiritual sensibilities. Beware the SOP who wields it like a wrecking ball, to demolish what you hold precious and sacred! For the aggressor, there is no wisdom except that which cuts othersÖ

SERENITY = WISDOM: Today, and perhaps for many years, there has been a prevailing sentiment that the wise man is serene. This may not apply to some Christian preachers, who shout and shake (seemingly possessed by the Holy Spirit, or is it just the spirit of showmanship?); but for many in the New Age, the wise man has a preconceived image to live up to, and anyone who would be perceived as wise must step into the shoes that are offered him: he must be calm, unruffled, dispassionate, in a word SERENE - a human incarnation of a cloud! Not surprisingly, the logically inaccurate inverse of this proposition is now widely taken for granted as well, meaning that serenity, from being a necessary attribute of the wise man, has now also come to be considered to be a sign, or proof, of the wise man. (Of course, the statement "All wise men are serene" does not mean that "all serene people are wise.")

First of all, we may dispute the fact that "all wise men are serene", because it seems to us that there is great diversity in the world of the wise, some of them relating to us most effectively by being calm and balanced, others reaching us by being impassioned, indignant, or even comical and absurd (in the tradition of the "sacred clown", or the Native American "Contrary.") Beyond this, it is certainly true that not every serene person is a wise man. Some who appear to us serene are simply deficient in feelings: their "calm" has nothing to do with wisdom, it comes, instead, from passionlessness, self-absorption (which precludes empathy), and insensitivity. Why put them on the pedestal of the wise? At other times, their "serenity" is merely mimicked behavior, meant to simulate wisdom and to use the appearance of wisdom as a front for pursuing their unenlightened agenda. These are the SOPs who will talk softly with ingratiating and well-recognized "buzz words" of the New Age that ward our critical faculties away from their lack of substance: chameleon-masters of spiritual colors who use their self-control as a weapon, irritating and provoking others from behind their facade of inner development, luring out displays of passion and anger and then shooting down the views of those thus "tainted" with the stereotype of the "serene wise man", which they hold onto so well. They win their arguments, not by being right, not by knowing more than those who disagree with them, not by being wise, but by winning the "war of serenity", by coming closest to the expected image of the wise man, by mastering the terrain of our misconceptions better than those who are too real to come disguised. These SOPs, who have caused a lot of damage in New Age circles, receive their power from us. We are the only ones who can stop them, by demanding more than just serenity from the "wise." (Do we really have to worship these characters, just because they donít punch us in the face or spit at us?)

Surely, there is no better way to discern who is wise than to become wise. That is how deception is overcome, and dependence is broken.

HERE IS A ROAD MAP OF THE UNIVERSE: Beware the one who knows too much! The New Age is filled with people who can describe the geography, architecture, and social structure of the Afterlife; provide you with definitive answers about mortality, eternity, and human existence; name every angel; classify every type of fairy; tell you why the UFOs are here, where they come from, and how they function; present you with a detailed history of Atlantis and Mu; explain, with absolute certainty and authority, the deepest mysteries of the Universe. Beware! The unknown does not have roads and cities, it is a wilderness not well known to us, or remembered; not so meticulously mapped, not so precisely charted; even more than that, it may not even be the same place for you as it is for me! Beware the one who knows too much! Perhaps he is right - but more likely, he is falsely universalizing his personal experience; filling in the blanks of momentous glimpses with the aftershocks of his imagination; or utterly confabulating, or even deliberately deceiving.

We are accustomed, in this time and place, to the detailed explanations of Science, and it is understandable that many New Age participants might feel insufficient, with the erratic peeks they have had of the unknown, when standing in the shadows of the detailed bodies of knowledge accumulated by Science through the ages. A natural tendency would ensue to form explanations of the paranormal in comparable detail, and to emulate the intricate brush strokes of Science in portraying the occult. Indeed, I have witnessed this phenomenon taking place in various fields, ranging from the study of chakras and the human energy field, to the study of ghosts, to the study of afterlife, or between-lives, states. However, if the knowledge is not yet there, this emulation risks dipping into fantasy in order to complete the page. This is not to disparage the effort, for fantasy may indeed, be a precursor and close-relative of knowledge, a kind of social antenna which allows the human race to sense the presence of, and relate to truths which it has not yet caught up with, and has no other way of integrating into its experience. However, it is not necessarily appropriate to make a road map of this world, which is still in the process of being felt out, as though it were "hard fact."

This is especially true since a great deal of spiritual truth may be highly personal, meaning that it may not be absolutely objective and capable of being described as though it consisted of independent external phenomena, without taking into account its intersection and interaction with the individual person who beholds and experiences it. (This is not the same as saying that itís "all in our head." It is a way of saying that we may approach and relate to many spiritual truths through personal and cultural metaphors which allow us to access them without really being able to view them outside of our subjectivity - at least not while we exist within our human form, which shapes our ability to perceive and to communicate.) If this is the case, then any effort to portray such truths within the framework of universal paradigms - explanations which are the same for all people across all cultures, in the manner of conventional scientific explanations - may be doomed from the start. This doesnít mean that explanations are not possible, only that they must remain more general in order to be accurate, with plenty of empty space left for differences in individual experience to fill in.

One particular field where this road map philosophy applies would be that of what you might call "afterlife studies", which has really taken off after the New Age freed spiritual seekers from conventional scriptural expectations. Individuals who have gone through NDEs - near-death experiences - have come back to life after being pronounced dead (they are often resuscitated thanks to the intervention of advanced medical technology), and have returned with visions of the Beyond, sometimes filled with amazing details about the experience of dying, "crossing over", and entering the spiritual realm where souls go after life on the earth is over. Their accounts (which conventional science too quickly dismisses as hallucinations produced by the breakdown of brain function under stress), have been augmented by the findings of a large number of visionaries, spiritual seekers and out-of-body travelers who delve into the nature of other "dimensions" by means of meditation and shamanic journeying; by the work of spirit mediums and channels, who claim to be able to tap into information from beyond the earthly plane by contacting the spirits of the deceased; and, nowadays, by spiritual hypnotists, who utilize the same methods deployed to uncover past-life memories in order to guide consciousness beyond memories of past-life death, to the state that exists after death and before reincarnation. (See Michael Newton, Journey of Souls.) All of this work is, of course, highly controversial, and occurs within a psychological and cultural space limited by Science (at its present historical location): a space which is freed for exploration only by trust in the power of visions, the legitimacy of deeply-felt experiences, and the possibility of authentic spiritual realities.

What I find, in much of this work pertaining to the afterlife, is, within the boundaries of the generalized formulas used to describe it, a great diversity of experience, sometimes running in parallel strands, sometimes crashing together in apparent contradiction. It seems to me that the more detail an experience unearths, the less likely it is to be universal. Christians, Muslims, Jews, and "Pagans", for example, may all find that their experience is greatly impacted by their earthly religious beliefs and expectations, which seem to filter into the experience of dying and to bend and shape their perception of the Beyond, once one gets beyond certain broad strokes, such as floating out of oneís body, passing through a tunnel towards the light, being greeted by relatives or "guides", undergoing a "life review" or "whole life flashback", etc. (It should be noted, that none of these commonly-cited components are absolutely universal, either.) The Afterlife seems infused, at the very personal point where it intersects with us, with who we were on the earth; it seems to respond to each of us, individually, in the personal and cultural terms which most readily enable us to grasp its essence and to be absorbed by it, nourished by it, and released by it. We may be linked to it by metaphor, fed by it with metaphor, enlightened by it with metaphor, and remember it via metaphor. (I draw this conclusion from my own comparative study of afterlife and spirit-world visions, and from my personal memories of entering and relating to the afterlife realm from the diverse platforms of some very different cultures, such as Maya, Cheyenne, ancient Near Eastern [2] and Chinese.) Therefore, even though I am spiritually very open (I hope), I have doubts when I read something like: "When we die, we are greeted by our dearest deceased relatives and by the Angel Gabriel, who appoints seven guides to oversee a review of our last lifeís lessons and to prepare us for rebirth. After a final examination of our new life plan by a Council of Twelve Elder Spirits, who reside in a palace of light built around a great heart-shaped bell, we are released back to the earth, to continue with the next stage of our spiritual evolution." I could accept this as the sincere visionary experience of a person who had undergone an NDE or a powerful spirit journey, but to accept it as a universal blueprint for the post-life experience of each and every one of us - for the Buddhist from Japan, for the Hindu from India, for the Innuit from Canada, or for me - is another matter. Heaven and Hell use the material of our lives, and the possibilities of our idiosyncratic imaginations, to shape themselves into very private realities, like dreams - or so I think.

This is one reason why I do not trust anyone who comes forth claiming to have the road map of the unknown, for sincere though he may be, the map he has drawn may well pertain only to him. Unlike a road map of this earth, which allows anyone who can drive to reach Gary, Indiana, or Toledo, Ohio, its features may well guide him, and him alone. Each one of us must, therefore, become master of the spiritual map that is our own. Within the generalities all of us can agree on - North, South, West, and East - there is an enormous and absolutely crucial expanse of space that only we can know, for ourselves.

Besides this - in natural homage to the great mysteries which defy reduction to certainty, and which deserve the total respect we can only express through ignorance - I refuse to abandon the most meaningful act of reverence I can lay down at their feet: which is to simply say "I donít know." Though I live amidst them, though I believe in them, though I feel, at moments, as though I have made love to them: I donít know. The Great Mysteries do not at all despise those who are incapable of explaining them; and when they are explained, they often vanish, eluding us except for the tiny part that has been jailed inside of our explanation. We diminish them, by trying to bring them down to our level; we destroy our spiritual lives by succumbing to the compulsion to know what is still unknowable!

Therefore, beware the ones who come to fill in your sacred emptiness! Beware the ones who come to steal away your doubt with confidence that is before its rightful time. Beware the ones who try to push the sun into the sky in the middle of the night! (It will shine only after it has had its sleep.) Beware the ones who know it all. Donít run after them. Donít be afraid to know less than them: sometimes, knowing less is knowing more. Donít eat their food of knowing everything until you have first digested your food of knowing nothing.

Beware the man who comes with the map of everything! Donít let him take you off your path, by convincing you that his search and his discoveries need apply to you! Donít let your struggle be preempted. Another personís light will never shine as brightly inside of you as your own light.

YOUíRE CLOSE-MINDED: This is a common cry of exasperation, a way to hit someone whose intellectual conviction, tenacity, stubbornness, arrogance, and/or inflexibility is driving you insane. New-Agers often use this expression to zing the fiercely conventional scientist types who defend todayís paradigms-in-flux as though they were inviolable sacred laws frozen into eternity, and therefore dismiss ghosts, ESP, telepathy, clairvoyance, divination, UFOs, reincarnation, souls, the Afterlife, and God with an air of authority and contempt which offends the spiritual and the undecided. Faced with technical arguments and debunking proofs beyond his power to refute in like terms, the New-Ager, loyal to his experience and outraged that conventional Science seems to prefer to squash his observations rather than to expand its paradigm in order to accommodate them, can only exclaim: "Youíre close-minded!" This handy expression, however useful it may be, and preferable to fisticuffs, is, nonetheless, frequently misapplied. On the one hand, it has become a standard weapon in the arsenal of the most gullible, uncritical, and intellectually bereft strata of the New Age, which uses it in lieu of authentic experiential evidence, alternative philosophical constructs, and legitimate "counter-science", to smash aside any valid criticism or reasonable doubt, in order to believe exactly what it wants to believe: to fortify the absurd, and trample anything that gets in the way of its will to delude itself. On the other hand, some elements of the New Age also use it against other elements of the New Age, as a kind of mental hammer to smash spiritual dissidents into submission. On this very regrettable battlefield, it has become a tool of persuasion and conversion, distinguished by its extremely simple yet powerful operating principle: If you are open-minded, you will agree with me, and fall into line with my spiritual beliefs. Only if you are close-minded will you hold on to any ideas which contradict mine! In order to prove you are not close-minded (God forbid!), you must therefore go along with the program of the "illuminated one." - Essentially, in circles such as this, "You are close-minded" has become a phrase of manipulation and mental bullying, taking the place of respectful disagreement and constructive interchange; it is used, by the unscrupulous and the confrontational, to curtail the freedom of individuals and to narrow the potential collective vision of the New Age; to supplant wisdom with dominance, and to seize the spiritual journeys of others, to use to embellish their own egos.

"Youíre close-minded!" Itís an expression thatís often true, but many times in reverse: for often, no one is more close-minded than the one who has just leveled the accusation.

"Youíre close-minded!" Donít be deterred or broken by that ploy!

"Youíre close-minded!" Donít let the finger pointed at you enrage you into excessive defensiveness, donít let it harden you against the difficult work of being open; but, by the same token, donít let it belittle what is yours, donít give up your mind or soul to another. Beware the SOP who comes into your house with the loaded gun of "Youíre close-minded!"

ARE YOU SPIRITUAL?: Of course, the answer all of us want to give is "Yes!" - which makes us perfect targets for manipulation. The one who is able to assert the dominance of his judgment, and to therefore control who is viewed (and who views himself) as "spiritual", is frequently able to shape the behavior of others so that it meets his needs and fuels his ambition. The social power of his perspective, in command of a precious image we are afraid to live outside of, captures and takes possession of our souls, and turns us into pawns of his own undeveloped self. In some cases, the SOP image-maker/soul-breaker taps into the Christian legacy of gentle pacifism, meekness, and poverty of (fighting) spirit, to render all those who could oppose him harmless and yielding; he pins them to their image of the spiritual man or spiritual woman, reminding them that any sign of pride, any act of resistance, is destructive of that image. In order not to lose their precious self-identification as spiritual human beings, they are compelled to bear his transgression.

In the same way, those who provide a valuable "New Age" service, such as reiki, psychic readings, astrological forecasts, dream interpretations, or aromatherapy, are often condemned for asking for financial remuneration for their work, and treated as "moneylenders in the Temple", "exploiters of the faith", and base hypocrites who have infiltrated the world of spirit with shameless avarice. In practice, the true spiritual profiteer is too thick-skinned to be disturbed by this criticism, and too clever to be undermined by it. On the other hand, many well-meaning individuals who need to make money from their New Age work if they are to keep their head above water in the material world, without giving back the lionís share of their energy to that world and its oftentimes exhausting jobs (which drain them too much to do top-notch spiritual work), are tormented by guilt and rendered economically insolvent by their compassion when confronted by this criticism, or the possibility of this criticism. Unable to reconcile spirit and cash, they take on many free or low-paying clients, undercharge (relative to the expenses they must bear), or sometimes do not charge at all, until they finally wear out and lose their ability to continue providing their valuable service to others. Meanwhile, the SOPs who have broken them by demanding that they "be spiritual", have profited enormously; they have gotten something for free, and saved their money for other purchases and pleasures.

There are a thousand different ways to play the "Are you spiritual?" card, and a thousand different ways to be hurt by it. And yet, it is a card that is easily deflected. All you need to save yourself from its deadly impact is to be your own judge; to go to the center of your life with God or Spirit, and to reach your own understanding of spirituality, and make peace with yourself on your own terms; to raise yourself above the judgments of those who do not know you, and those who wish to use you; and to look out, most of all, for the manipulators who sneak into your mind to try to conquer you from within, by seizing the reins of your conscience and trampling you under its feet. Once you are able to become the one who defines, and are no longer the one who is defined, your vulnerability to this form of predation will cease. Spirituality will defend you, not expose you; and your vitality and viability will extend the reach and power of spirituality for the benefit of all.

WE ARE HEADED TOWARDS A GREAT AGE OF LIGHT AND PEACE: May it be so! And yet, this central premise of the New Age is, in some ways unnerving, because there are many who, in the midst of undeniable calamities and clearly regressive behaviors throughout the world, seem to believe that the coming New Age is a CERTAINTY, moving towards us as though driven by the force of a great cosmic engine, which is beyond the power of human apathy or spite to upset. The dark is always darker before the light, they say. Think positive! Do not dwell on what is depressing or discouraging, shift your emphasis to what is hopeful and uplifting; turn off the war-filled, crime-ridden TV, and begin to focus on the beautiful things people are doing for each other, away from the headlines. These optimists perceive our human race, for all its blood and chaos, as unable to escape the brilliance of its future; they see us, as it were, riding a great escalator into the light, carried upwards by deep and spiritual forces awakening within us, whose time of slumber is past. Truly, this perspective is encouraging; and yet, their rosy vision is also my nightmare, for I fear it will disarm us, cast a spell of self-flattery over our invaluable stress, dim the eyelids of our agency, and remove us from the equation of our destiny. For me, there is, among the optimists, far too much faith in the autonomous energy of the process of salvation, and not enough recognition of the huge input of concerted human will, clarity, organization, and transformation which will actually be required to move history forward towards the future of our dreams - or even towards any future at all. For me, there is no escalator, there is only a giant ladder, and we will have to climb up it, rung by rung, with bleeding hands. The optimists say weíre changing, and that our individual changes will one day gather the collective strength necessary to change the world. I say that we are changing in many different directions, not all of them positive, and that the human race may just as easily be pulled down into the abyss, or drawn and quartered as it flies towards separate horizons, as united in peace and love. I say that hearts are both reaching towards the light and falling into darkness at this time, and I do not see any laws of nature that compel the world to go one way or the other. We are the ones who will move the world, into light or darkness, with what is in us and what we can manifest. If there is a star that obligates us to triumph, it does not matter, we are still the ones who must do the work. If there is a star that ordains our victory, it does not matter, we will still have to sweat to achieve it. What we accomplish will not be handed to us on a cosmic silver platter, we will have to fight to get it; and if we get it, it will not be because the star gave it to us, but because, as the star recognized, we had the ability and the will to fight for it.

Star, Star, you told us what we could be, but we had to be it.

Star, Star, you gave us the wind of a moment, but we had to spread our wings and jump.

Donít be deceived, my friends, by the beauty of the conscious and the evolving ones who may surround you, there is also ugliness to take into account; there is fury, cruelty, rage, hate, prejudice, jealousy, pride, distrust, self-destructiveness; there are guns, bombs, armies, terrorists, police states waiting for the spring of panic to blossom with concentration camps, there are slums, continents of poverty, diseases born of hunger and hidden in love, there are groans from the earth, which our civilization is wasting away like AIDS. We have the inner beauty to defeat these catastrophes, if we can crawl out from underneath the inner ruins that created them. We can help each other, guide each other and hold each other as we struggle to replace our worst with our best; as we struggle to finally get history right.

As long as the New Age remains the vision and goal of active souls, it may inspire us, and slowly inch from the realm of social fantasy towards reality. If we let it become a self-propelled dream, however, and climb aboard its promise as mere passengers, it will do nothing more for us than waste the last hours of our last chance.

We are the engine of history. We are the power of Destiny. Without us, the New Age will go nowhere, and do nothing. So, get off your butts, and connect your individual transformation to the transformation of the earth! (And that means you, too, Rainsnow!)

CONCLUSION: So, now, is there anything more to say than "The End"? Does this inventory of New Age irritants suffice, or does something more need to be said to pull it all together? In many ways, what needs to be said has been said; and yet, there is a certain symmetrical aesthetic to providing a conclusion, and perhaps the possibility of a meaningful distillation, useful for rescuing inspiration, which sometimes loses its footing in the mire of detail.

In summary, it may be said that the New Age is a diverse, uncontrolled confluence of individual searches for meaning and spiritual connection in a materialistic and self-destructive world; a reaction to hints of catastrophe and to unbearable pangs of emptiness, which could lead either to a mass flight away from social engagement, or to a revitalization of the human capacity to ally its will to compassion, and redeem the earth through action. In the same way, it could assume either a counter-cultural direction and an ultimately revolutionary power of social alchemy; or just as easily, feed into the existing system, by defusing the angst that could undermine that system, providing it with personal outlets for salvation which left entrenched social injustices intact. Or, worse yet, the New Age could actively nourish nightmares, as the cold, dark potential of spirituality gone wrong could shape infinite justifications for not caring, and for defending the institutions and the armaments of not caring.

Crucial to the success of the New Age is true consciousness in transformation: alertness to the possibility that the existing system, with its morally archaic thought patterns and deeply-ingrained prejudices and limitations, may creep into its texture, hide within its forms, alter its trajectory and turn it into a mechanism for perpetuating itself by disguising itself as something new. Certainly, this is what is in play with the SOPs - the "Same Old People" - who come garbed in the robes of the spiritual and the compassionate, but who really are the same self-centered egotists who they were before they learned to say OM, or to see an aura. Though they live in the shadow of the great ideal of personal transformation, they themselves have not transformed; they have simply learned how to use New Age vocabulary, expectations, and appearances to get what they want, learned how to operate in this new medium, in the same way that any predator learns to excel in its environment: the shark in the sea, the lion on the land, the eagle in the air; and now, the SOP in the New Age. Here he comes with his egotism, his jealousy, his selfishness, his vanity, his cruelty, his drive to dominate and his spirit of hurting others, to use the facade of spirituality, and the lowered defenses of the "overly spiritual", to inflict damage and to seize power and energy for himself. Rather than work on the insecurity and fear which breeds his transgressions, he relieves his anxieties by continuing to commit transgressions. Meditation and spiritual interests are, for him, merely camouflage, which he uses to conceal himself from others, and to hide from himself.

It is important, if the New Age is not to burn out as a useless candle in the corner of history, that we truly connect with Spirit and cultivate the will to be moral and the will to be compassionate; that all of us retain awareness of how well our actions coincide or do not coincide with our professed beliefs, so that we do not transgress or injure others unconsciously, by allowing unevolved parts of ourselves to infiltrate our good intentions, and take our well-meaning souls off course (how did our ship end up here, who was at the helm in the night?); that we listen within our spirituality for the sound of loose and broken pieces of aspirations we are not living up to; and that we not degrade the potential of the New Age by ourselves becoming low-level SOPs. At the same time, it is important for us not to be disillusioned and driven away by the disappointing behavior of others, who demean the spiritual ideals we seek to wed, with their human frailty and egotism. Wherever there are people, there will be sin, hypocrisy, and let-downs, as well as altruism, sincerity, and hope. We ought not to run from an ideal betrayed, but to help resurrect it from betrayal; we ought not to remove our impact from a possibility degraded, but, by remaining, help to tilt the scales back towards its promise. It is my deep wish that all of the ins and outs of the irritants I have discussed in this article will help you to protect yourself in the imperfect environment of hope which is the New Age: to ward off disillusionment by fortifying yourself with realism, and to avoid the wounds that could cause you to leave, by knowing where some of the blows may come from.

Finally, in this article, I seek to liberate us from the fantasy that the inner change of men and women will automatically change the earth; that the transformed earth will naturally exude from the transformed man and the transformed woman of the New Age. Although the transfer of the change seems logical, it is my great conviction that there is a dangerous gap between the individualís inner process, and the behavior and structure of his society, and that elements of conductivity are needed to connect the two and to carry personal transformation, in the manner of an electric current, into the world of economics, politics, and culture. Those elements of conductivity certainly include the conscious decision of the spiritual individual to become concretely involved in social issues, via education and action (he must not merely "send his prayers" or "radiate his goodness"), and may include new organizational developments as well (designed to prevent knowledgeable good will from being dissipated, eroded, or bypassed). This is, in fact, one of the main themes of my book The Message of Rainsnow, and it also underlies the Rainsnow Project, one of the principal justifications for this web site.[3] In my view, building this system of conductivity increases in importance the more erratic and partial the process of individual transformation, and we must realistically expect, in the years ahead, that many souls will fail to achieve true transformation, degrade its impact through SOPism of varying degrees, or even blatantly reject it. All I am asking is that New Agers not succumb to the vice of passivity, and expect the world to change, as if by magic, just because of their "energy", or their "thoughts." After all, our transformation may only be an illusion, a self-deceptive product of our vanity. It needs to be tested by interaction with the world, it needs to be proven by outward signs, it needs to concretely manifest ideals in the social plane, and after that, to generate institutions which embody and defend its enlightenment; for "through the unlocked door, the thief may enter." Paradise without form can lose its shape in an instant, be washed away by undone work, or swept aside by those who cannot live in the light. Discipline and focus cannot be underestimated. God said, "Let there be light." And there was light. We donít have that power. We must work harder to bring light into our world, and to keep it from being blown out.

New Agers, donít underestimate the challenge! Itís too early to congratulate yourselves, too early to sit upon the throne of the new world. First, you have to make the new world.

- J Rainsnow, October 2006.

 

NOTES:

[1] From Kenneth Rexroth, One Hundred More Poems From the Chinese: Love and the Turning Year. NY: New Directions, 1970. P. 67.

[2] From what is today southern or central Turkey.

[3] The miserable failure of a somewhat similar premise advocated by the 60ís cult classic, The Greening of America, by Charles Reich - which maintained that a massive social revolution destined to topple the "System" would be carried out by a disorganized proliferation of individual rebellions, fueled by the new vision of the "youth culture" - is explored in The Message of Rainsnow. It is very pertinent, and should be very sobering, to the contemporary pretensions of the New Age.

 

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