A few weeks ago, following the death of Eileen Caddy at 89, I was interviewed for "Sunday," BBC radio’s major religious affairs program. Eileen was one of the founders of the Findhorn Foundation, which started in 1962 and has been the most influential holistic, green and new age spiritual community in Europe. In her last years, Eileen was awarded an MBE – a British medal of distinction – for her services to spiritual inquiry.
The producers from the BBC talked to me on the phone and said they wanted to ask some questions about Eileen and her significance in contemporary spirituality. During the live interview, the actual questions asked by Roger Bolton were belittling of Eileen, inferring that she was a shallow hippy. I corrected him on all counts and, though I kept it to myself, I was angry at his rudeness and the producers’ misinformation.
Over the years, I have represented holistic and new age spirituality on many BBC programs and, with a couple of rare exceptions, I have always been met with a sardonic and hostile attitude. I had not expected this to happen yet again when dealing with the recent death of a woman who was so dear to many people and whose work had been honored by the Queen and the UN.
Was it worth protesting to the BBC? I would have been happy to do battle, but decided that if I did, there was a possibility that I would never be asked back. And even if they were rude, at least I was given the opportunity to present ideas and arguments that I believe were worth hearing. So I kept quiet.
Nevertheless I found it difficult to let the affair go. I ran negative thoughts of blame and fantasized about what I should have said and would say next time. At the same time, I also reflected on why so many journalists and "serious" people are still so suspicious and dismissive of the new spirituality. This was an opportunity for some clear thinking.
Aspects of spirituality
One of the problems with contemporary spirituality, I suggest, is that it has so many different aspects. While it contains the very best and deepest of traditional spiritual paths and of modern psychology, it also has many quick-fix and quick-thrill elements. There are many contemporary spiritual books and teachers who suggest that human suffering is some kind of illusion and that, with one wave of a magic wand, everything can be permanently healed and spiritually fulfilled. Just like that.
Well, there may be occasions when a quick and graceful fix is possible – I pray for them all the time – but the reality is that personal spiritual development is a long and arduous task. Every single spiritual tradition, without exception, from all regions of the globe and all times in history, teaches that the spiritual path requires discipline, patience and endurance as we move step-by-step towards truth, wisdom and love. Understanding the illusory nature of existence is only one insight on what Joseph Campbell called "The Hero’s Journey." Equally, an encounter with an angel or an initiation into a healing system such as Reiki is a great and helpful gift, but if for one second it makes us think that the Path is easy, it does us a disservice.
Show me anyone who claims that there is a spiritual path free of heroic struggle and I will bet you my last dollar that they haven’t understood it properly, and also that they have difficulties with intimate relationships or dealing with the realities of human suffering. It is a form of emotional immaturity. Most of us, myself included, can be like that. We would love a magic wand that makes all things better instantaneously and free of pain. But such an immediate fix does not exist. Yes, I believe in unconditional love and grace, but it takes time and work to land and integrate.
A perfect example
Thinking about all this, I wondered whether I could write a column without sounding like some puritanical party-pooper. And then I received a letter, which was a perfect example of what concerns me.
This letter writer sought my advice. She described how a close friend, who was very spiritual, had suddenly betrayed her in a very nasty way. Because of this betrayal, the writer now felt upset, depressed and cynical, and wondered if I had some practical exercises, similar to the ones in my books, that would make her feel positive again. I wrote back:
"People are people, my friend. The trick here, I believe, is not to protect yourself or increase positive energy. The real strategy is to become compassionately realistic about why and how people behave in the ways that they do. Using this approach, you can open your heart, deepen your compassion and expand your wisdom. You might, for example, want to study childhood psychology and how children, deprived of love, behave later in life.
Every deep spiritual path recognizes that there is suffering and that there is no avoiding it. Modern approaches, which ignore that reality, do us a disservice. The purpose of positive energy here is to support us in facing and understanding the pain that people cause and endure."
Wise and compassionate
So – has this been a party-pooping column? I hope not. I just want our emerging spirituality to stand proud, wise and compassionate. And realistic.
And when a wise and beautiful woman who has been a force for good, such as Eileen Caddy, dies – I want the BBC to treat her passing with respect.