After encountering an authentic spiritual family in Peru, it was interesting to return to the “real world” of culture and discern the sort of paradigms being expressed through the pop spiritual currents, comparing them with what I personally experienced as a new way of relating with life oriented towards service, tradition and collective process.
It was here that I came to the conclusion that the new-age approach to attaining spiritual consciousness falls short of offering a real solution to people’s suffering. Although it may legitimately tap into the common and real desire to go beyond the world of materialism, it fails to provide a structure or solid philosophy of doing so.
For example, many pop “gurus” speak enthusiastically of “creating your own reality” or manifesting your wildest dreams into fruition. The positive side of this focus on taking charge of our lives is that it can restore the sense of personal power and confidence often robbed of us through social conditioning. It is also good to underscore the moldable nature of reality — to show that we are capable of changing circumstances through our intentions. But…it is interesting to note the language used in most of these teachings: intention replaces the word prayer in many cases.
Both actions certainly have their role in the process of transforming life through consciousness. But this word choice highlights a glaring absence in new age philosophy: its tendency to fixate more on self-help rather than God consciousness, which makes self-empowerment a possibility in the first place. Prayer is to acknowledge there is someone other than yourself; it’s a gesture that establishes a relationship, based in love and humility in front of the great. Intentions can serve as affirmations and ways of directing personal will to serve something greater. Yet, trying to “manifest” something through intention alone, in the consciousness of I want this, doesn’t require a belief in Spirit at all, really — and if not done with a sense of respect and reverence, it’s an act of black magic wherein energy is manipulated for some sort of temporal gain.
In the past, such law-of-attraction teachings always made me feel that much more lost. They encouraged my own ability to change, but that still didn’t bring me closer to understanding what it was I wanted to change or why. Self-help practices without a sense of the true purpose of life — the relationship we have with Great Spirit as eternal souls — while possibly well-intentioned are basically materialistic, even atheistic. Many New Age cosmologies with titles like “Source” or the “Universe” stand in for more personal ways of addressing the Supreme Being who goes by many names in different traditions. Such teachings espouse a view of God as some impersonal galactic energy to merge identities with rather than to love and serve.
I think there is a reluctance to collectively admit that the current materialistic paradigm is not working and that we need real guidance from an authentic value system or tradition. Disillusioned with Judeo-Christianity and in the absence of true authority, we try to pretend we are God. What is the reality of God, and how can we obtain real knowledge of Him? Contemporary science teaches we can only grasp that which can be measured and mapped with our own human technologies. But in more ancient times, it was understood that true knowledge goes beyond observation of physical phenomena, centered instead in sacred texts like the Vedas that are passed down through a lineage, starting with God Himself. This worldview constitutes a vastly different paradigm than that of modern society, and represents a challenge to scientific dogma.
The refusal to even entertain the validity of spiritual texts is symptomatic of an emotional resistance to acknowledge a power greater than ourselves. For some, the idea of God is frightening because it means that we actually do not control or know everything. The illusory nature of temporal life deludes us to thinking we do have some inkling of control over nature, inducing an amnesia to our actual spiritual, eternal identities as servants of God. This should not be a truth to fear but rather the key to real awakening — to recognize that we can look to an authority outside of ourselves to learn how to discover more of who we truly are.
To do so is not to relinquish our freedom but actually to gain more of it; by having a permanent, stable reference we have the means of coming into real maturity, realizing our mission and service and consequently being more and more able to rely on our own “inner” authority to navigate life.