I’m sure this has happened to some of you.
You read some popular new-age book, either on the recommendation of a friend of through sheer hype. You get interested, maybe even enthusiastic about some of the ideas in the book and want to learn more, know more, explore these ideas more deeply. You look online and find out there are such-and-such discussion or meditation groups in town. You decide to go.
A week later you show up, the group is mostly women and usually older. Copies of “Oprah” magazine are stacked on a corner table. Lucky bamboo, Buddha statues, a poster of a maṇḍala and some gong hangs on a far wall. A 20-something pony-tailed fellow with a goatee sits in the corner.
You sit on the floor forming a circle. Most people aren’t talking to each other or if they do, they’re usually talking about some yoga class they went to or the newest vegan resto in town. You decide to ignore all this and just want to get comfortable and wait for the discussion to start in earnest.
The moderator/organizer shows up. She usually looks very wealthy, normally middle-aged, with flaxen blonde hair cut into a shoulder-length bob and wearing huge dark, round-framed eye glasses. She looks like she might be a New York City editor of some publishing house or something. She drops her Prada purse on a chair. She wears loose-fitting clothes, you can’t tell if they are wearing pants or a skirt, but it’s very billowy and drapey. She wears lots of chunky ethnic jewelry. She has an unusual old-fashioned name like Constance or Harriet.
The discussion starts. You decide to stay quiet to first see where it goes and see if this is really something for you.
The moderator and 2 other people quickly start to monopolize the conversation while everyone else stays quiet. What started off as a general discussion quickly becomes a discussion about the issues of the 2 monopolizers and their life story or problems. This isn’t what you thought it was going to be, you want to leave ASAP. Before you leave, they want you to sign in and give your email address. You make one up and leave disappointed
Now imagine going to regular meetings like this and before long, someone is spewing out New Age psycho-babble (seriously, if I hear about “Love and Light” or “Love and Laughter” once more time, someone is going to get my boot going up where the sun don’t shine…).
If you really sit down and analyse what they are saying, they are not really saying anything at all. In the case of ambitious New Agers, they often use NewAge-speak to either fool you or get something for nothing out of you.
Here’s a quick guide to deciphering this annoying form of language. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. The next time you encounter this kind of linguistic pabulum, do as you see fit, whatever that is. Call them out on it, take the piss out of them. If you feel like punching them, take responsibility for it if they press charges. (Just tell the judge it was a form of mental aggravation and harassment. That’s legit because it’s true.)
“Let it go, blow light and love to them”
Translation: “I don’t want to hear about it and I don’t really give a shit that someone has done you wrong. Go away now”
“Maybe it’s your karma”
Translation: “Better you than me. Later”
“My guides tell me that you need to go within”
Translation: “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing or saying. You’re on your own. BTW, are you still gonna pay me $10 for the reading?”
“Love, light and laughter”
Translation: “I want to come across as nice and caring and spiritual, but I’m not so I’m just going to sign off with the most generic sign-off I can come up with and hope you won’t notice anything or question anything.”
“We can’t judge.”
Translation: “Yeah I know they did something wrong, but I don’t want to offend any potential clients so I’m not going to speak up or take a stand and try to come across as neutral as possible.”
“Everything happens for a reason”
Translation: “I REALLY don’t know what to say to that.”
“Maybe you need to start caring about yourself more”
Translation: “You’re fat. Stop eating all food bought at the store and only drink fresh water from Argentinian glaciers from now on”
“You need to learn to take back your power.”
Translation: “Buy my book.”
See, what gets me angry about this sort of thing, aside from the blatant commercialism and hawking of goods in some cases, is that many of the folks engaged in this sort of behavior are doing it because it’s “popular”. They very often want to come across as “spiritual” (whatever that may mean) or “nice” or “caring” but really if you scratch the surface just a bit, they really don’t care. They often should not be in a place to dispense advice when the depth and the maturity to really deal with other people on a real level isn’t there at all.
What I also find to be a blind-spot, is that they actually have other “non-spiritual” means of helping people if they really wanted to. They either don’t see it or they don’t want to. Many of the people who often show up at these sorts of gatherings are usually professionals and have many others skills. A seasoned magazine editor or writer can easily help the insecure young girl who is new to town by giving some pointers in organizing her CV. A triathlete yoga instructor can easily offer a free , gentle session to a traumatized woman who have just came out of a physically abusive relationship. A nurse or dietician can reach out to someone who struggles with an eating disorder. Practically everyone I have seen at such groups or gatherings are broken in some way and are just looking for a way to heal…or some answers. They either need an idea or an inspiration they never thought of and sometimes those “leads” can be in the same exact room. What could have been an opportunity ends up being a lost one. The last thing anyone needs in life is a platitude which is a masked blow-off.
There is a deeper problem here. It’s one of genuine engagement. It’s really about service to others, even if it’s as “inert” as active listening. That’s what genuine spirituality boils down to, being present, not only with yourself but with others. I remember years ago, attending such a gathering at a well-known meditation center in town. There was a speaker who came in, clearly to talk about her book but one of the things she asked us to do as an ice-breaker, was to really mindfully greet the person to our right and to our left. So we did. Though I don’t know her name, I will never forget the woman to my right. Even through her pitiful forced smile, I could see someone who was in deep, deep pain and clearly broken and barely keeping it together. It saddened me because this person was looking for an answer and needed a space to find that clue or maybe a space to let that pain out and instead, she got this celebrity author talking about herself and how great she is and how spiritual she is. I admit, I did not reach out to that woman mostly because I did not know how and the format of the event didn’t allow any sort of discussion. Maybe all she needed was a hug or an acknowledgement of her pain, I don’t know, but it would seem many of these spiritual gatherings seem to fog up issues instead of bringing more clarity for the participants.
(BTW Feel free to add to this list of annoying New Age sayings :-))