How Capitalist Spirituality and Self-Help Will Warp Your Thinking

Speaking as a spiritual person who regularly converses with angels, I appreciate the vast quantity of spiritual information that is now generally available to seekers. That’s not a bad thing. Nor do I doubt the good intentions of many spiritual and self-help advisers in the world. Most of them are doing good work; some, no doubt, are not. But in general, I think most of them, including myself, are trying to be “Helpers.” I don’t have a problem with that, or charging money for a service.

The problem that I see, which arises from our current system, is that Helpers often end up commodifying spirituality. I’m not complaining about Doreen Virtue or Tony Robbins selling a book or a seminar, but rather the reduction of spirituality to commercially viable memes and pithy slogans. You know what I mean. You can’t swing a dead transcendentalist without hitting a million of these, arranged with curly fonts on heavenly backgrounds, all over Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…

The problem is not with the Buddha’s words, Jesus’ words, or Deepak’s words, or whomever’s words. The problem is that the words have become a soundbite, and the soundbite creates a false sense of spirituality that has no meaning. The mind reads it, acknowledges it (“So true!”), and then promptly discards it to the dustbin. Memes and quotes of the day never change behavior. I would argue that using a quote as a mantra is also unlikely to change behavior because the quote is operating at a mental level, not a spiritual one. The ego brain is never going to make you more spiritual.

My mother is extremely good at memorizing pithy sayings, but as a clinical narcissist, she uses them to clobber other people over the head with, much like Evangelicals use the words of the Bible to clobber everyone else. Nothing spiritual about that. But for people who don’t have personality disorders, that “spiritual/self-help” quote often becomes a means of clobbering themselves over the head, because they can’t “get it right.” In both of these cases, the soundbite is operating in the mental sphere.

When I wrote my book, Discovering Your Inner Child: Transforming Toxic Patterns and Finding Your Joy, I was aware that my words could either a) be meaningless for some people, much like the soundbite, or b) guide them on their own, individual spiritual quest of self-discovery. Because the truth about spirituality, self-help, or emotional healing is that it cannot be done at an intellectual/mental level. In order for the miracle to occur, the individual must allow themselves to be present with their emotions and open themselves to a spiritual awakening that is uniquely their own. Emotional awakening, for many, means allowing themselves to feel things that they have avoided for a long time: sadness, grief, anxiety, fear, and anger, to name a few. At this level, true spirituality and true healing can become a scary and intimidating process.

Repeating soundbites, reading countless books (w0rds), no matter how wise, can produce the opposite effect of what is intended: self-reproach and feelings of failure. The message of “positive thinking will heal your life” is overly simplistic and doomed to fail, because in order to slog through your emotions, you must experience the negative thoughts and feelings you have avoided. No one, no matter how evolved, has avoided negative thinking. Negative thoughts happen, but when the soundbite echoes in your ears, you conclude that you have failed, yet again, to be “positive.” Positive thinking in itself, then, is a bad goal.

My primary advice to anyone who is seeking to heal themselves or find their spirituality is to meditate daily. There is nothing that I or the greatest yogis can say to you that will impact your life the way your own spiritual experience can. It is your spirituality, and you must seek it out. You must experience it, and in the end, you must become your own teacher. When it happens for you, it will be very emotional, very spiritual, and your intellect and ego will have nothing to do with it. But once you have experienced it, you will never again be the same, and you will find that your words are inadequate for the task of trying to describe it. Welcome to the club.

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