The Shadow Side of New Age

I want to belong to spiritual circles that are real, where participants work together to transform their shadows into healed aspects of life that are integrated and authentic. I’ve attended gatherings of “New Age” communities until the initial, emotional “feel good” will of the group wore off at the point where people felt comfortable enough around me to no longer mask their snide, nastier selves, and the group attitude revealed a “holier than thou” attitude like some of the churches I have attended. Sinners are not seeking critical judgment; they are seeking the pathway through the forest of feeling bad into self acceptance and feeling good.

People who are real have spiritual meat. They have been through tough times. They have been through rough times. They have sat within their own crisis and figured out what to do time and again. They have faced the Nitty Gritty of life and come out the other side, broken and bent, but somehow still more whole and more vital for the experience. They may be toughened by life, but they are still compassionate, empathic, and more loving from having been spiritually broadened by their hard experiences. They have faced down and integrated their shadow selves to be well rounded wholesome people. And those among them who have become psychological or spiritual counselors are those who are so needed on the pathway of healing deep emotional trauma within humanity.

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I have been part of Reiki communities and Gurdjieff communities. I’ve shared and taught Reiki healing. I am a Reiki “master” in terms of having mastered the techniques to teach Reiki, but I work to stand within any teaching role humbly. The spiritual seeker comes to someone like me because of whatever deep need they have or calling that they have to seek the divine. It is my responsibility to honor their unique individuality, and to help them find wholeness of self on their spiritual journey.

I acknowledge many pathways to the Gods, and I realize that my way is not everybody’s way. I have tasted, tested, and practiced various pathways during my days of search, until I find myself near the end of my life in a spirit-taught, Northern version of a shamanic practice. I honor people willing to undertake the work of clearing their emotional channels and the self-perfecting work of their lifetime, as I acknowledge and honor my own. There are many good people working hard at doing good in the world, and I do not want any criticism I make today to denigrate what they are doing. What I want to do is bring attention to the shadow side of that label: “New Age.”

How can we know when a path we are following has genuine being-food for us? And that it is not simply imitation? Jesus had a saying about the Pharisees: By their fruit will ye know them. To this I would add, know what your expectations are before you get too involved.

Once I was invited to join a circle of women. I had been recommended as someone who might have the skills to develop a New Age magazine they hoped would provide a foundation inviting others toward the services they provided. The leader owned a retreat center and was especially interested in women’s issues.

The women had all the trappings of spirituality. They practiced Yoga, Reiki, and vegetarianism and venerated such Goddesses as Quan Yin, the Virgin Mary, and the Green Tara. I had come from a different background and did not feel a need to copy what they did. I chose to trust that we should be able to accept our differences and work together.

I worked very hard for the group on a strictly volunteer basis to create a magazine layout that everyone could approve of, making many changes that the group wanted, and pushing to deliver it on time. I had been promised the title of Art Director, and in truth I only wanted the recognition of that.

That we were a bad fit only slowly became apparent. The other women started showing up with their own computers and layout ideas, and deadlines were being extended. The group was trying to give me a message without words that they wanted the layout to be more of a group effort. I am a little dense and would have respected plain speaking. Finally the leader came out with business cards for the group, and rather than the Art Director label I had been expecting, I was labeled simply as another member of the group.

I spoke up for myself, but the women avoided conflict. I went home to consider my response. I felt bad due to my disappointed expectations, and needed to process. However, before I’d processed, one of the women called me, having been selected as the voice of the group, and what she said caused me to feel so bad about myself that I chose to leave the group. I could have helped them further with what they wanted to do. I had the knowledge they needed, but because of the off-handed way in which they dealt with me, I chose to walk away.

To be ethical and in integrity with my own spirit, I surrendered everything, each and every emotional attachment and expectation I had on the matter, to the Gods, and gave all the work I had done to the group without attachments, and walked away clean. My actions catalyzed the circle. I’m not sure what changes they sat to awareness of within their own spirits, but I later heard that things were not easy for them. They were no longer imitating Hindu gurus, I heard.

The lifestyle differences of Hindu gurus do not make their spiritual practices better or worse than the ones of my Christian upbringing. I may have wandered far from the Church, and I will wander further yet on Odin’s path, but I recognize that within each and every human being is a mind, heart, body, spirit and soul provided by the Creator. I didn’t need to feel diminished by the group because I didn’t see things their way.

People can be fooled by what they imitate. I believe the goal of a spiritual practice is self-mastery. Copying the ways of others does not the master make. Going within long enough and often enough can, if we are willing to see the truth of our selves and our own self-deception. That which causes us discomfort, causes growth, and we bridge the gap between feeling bad and feeling good with our own truth and power.

And I will close with my opening argument. The shadow of the New Age movement arises with the thinking when one is following a spiritual devotion or discipline in the outward practice, that one is more enlightened or somehow superior to another because of the outward work one is doing. While I cannot know what inner transformations a soul is making, I can know by the fruit of a person’s actions, whether I want to spend time with them or commit my energies to their cause.

When disagreements or conflicts arise, I want time to process my way into a response -kind and tactful if possible- of honest communication. And communication is two way. I have learned since that experience, which happened almost twenty years ago, that good communication includes the ability to listen deeply and sincerely with open feeling. The person I am now might not have walked away, but the person I was then, walking away was the best thing I could do.


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