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The Toxicity of Sensational Spirituality and New Age Culture (Part I)


All of the blog posts are written by Arien Smith with the intention to heal, inform, and expand every reader. Three posts a week: Monday Mindfulness, Wednesday Yoga, Saturday Reflections. 

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The Toxicity of Sensational Spirituality and New Age Culture (Part I)

Arien Smith

The New Age movement brought a lot of wonderful new modalities of healing into the Western world. Slowly, Western medicinal structures are shifting to view each person as a holistic being, incorporating things like acupuncture and Reiki into hospitals, and meditation is becoming a daily routine for many people throughout the Western world.

The New Age movement likewise brought a lot of toxic mentalities about spiritual healing and appropriated beliefs found in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Ayurvedic medicine. This movement has also created a lot of concepts out of thin air, claiming for them to be the new quick-fix solution that will work on everyone who tries them. In actuality, spiritual paths are incredibly diverse and often catered individually towards each person seeking healing. Often the only basis for these “ultimate solutions” is that they will sell. Similar to popping a pill instead of treating the root cause, spirituality in the Western world has fallen prey to toxic capitalism and the desire for an instantaneous way of healing. 

As a Reiki practitioner, an example of arises when observing the history of Reiki. Originally there was only one form of Reiki—Usui Shiki Ryoho Reiki. Once the practice moved into the continental US, this quickly changed. After this adoption, 20 new forms of Reiki evolved almost instantaneously. It is well known to most Usui practitioners that the foundation for this split was to cater to the Western market, since Usui Reiki itself work directly with life force energy and needed no additions. 

There are many forms of energy healing that have been newly discovered in the last forty years. These inherently are not bad or ineffective, but if they are claimed to “work better” than another spiritual path, this is a red flag. Genuine spirituality recognizes that each individual heals in a completely unique way and that a path that may work for one person might not work at all for their neighbor. 

Ableism, white washing, and cultural appropriation are also more of the primary toxic effects of the New Age movement and subsequent spiritualism after. Children on the autism spectrum are sometimes labeled as indigo children, incarnated spirits are deemed to have one distinct look (usually white) by New Age thinkers like Doreen Virtue, and the bindi is worn by those outside of Hindi heritage who frequently neglect to understand the purpose of the mark. Often, those practicing and sharing these ideas have wonderful intentions, but with so many social justice movements in play, intention is not enough. Bringing mindfulness to our daily practices includes examining their roots and effects and adapting them as needed to better fit the growing model of the world. This is something New Age spiritualism often does not address. 

These issues are much more complex than this blog can scrutinize, so my intent is to focus on how today’s toxic spiritualism can affect each of us on a personal level regarding our own practices. The aim of this three part blog series is to address this potential plague and how we can distance ourselves from toxic New Age sensationalism and move into a healthy, inspired, spiritual practice. 

To start, let me define spiritual practice. Wikipedia defines this in perhaps the most concise way possible:

“A spiritual practice or spiritual discipline (often including spiritual exercises) is the regular or full-time performance of actions and activities undertaken for the purpose of inducing spiritual experiences and cultivating spiritual development.” 

All spiritual (and most religious) practices are meant to bring a practicing individual closer to a complete union with the highest state of consciousness/being. For many of us practicing non-denominational paths, this means becoming one with the Source/Spirit/Universe and releasing the bind of the ego over our consciousness. In other religions, it is attaining Nirvana, Christ consciousness, or Illumination.

What is sensational spirituality, then?

Sensational spirituality is where an individual uses their spiritual practice with the goal of instantaneous enlightenment or while solely seeking to experience things beyond the human realm. Sensational spirituality does not focus on deep healing, but on the superficial mending of wounds. It is true that sometimes you will feel that you transcended your ego for a brief moment, but almost unanimously there is a crash after. Life becomes normal again and there is no sense of permanent growth. This is similar to painkillers reducing the symptom, but not treating the cause. 

Sensational spirituality does not focus on routine, but instead offers single transcendent solutions. Because of the temporary escape sensational spiritualism offers, it becomes addictive and is dangerous to true spiritual growth as a result. 

This differs from the foundation of a genuine spiritual path, which is a “full-time” process of growth. All spiritual paths have been, throughout history, something that takes daily dedication to find the spiritual enlightenment sought by the individual. If genuine spirituality is not the foundation of your own practice will be an invaluable insight to recognize and change this. Upon noticing this toxicity if it is within your practice, you are then accountable for altering your spiritual path towards true healing. It will be more work as you transition towards a genuine practice, but true healing will start to manifest in your life as your make this change. Rewarding, sustainable growth comes from this consistent dedication.

In my blog next week, I will discuss the ways genuine spirituality and sensational spirituality differ. Hopefully this will empower you to recognize and shift your practice into the most beneficial path for you. Don’t forget to subscribe to receive next week’s article in your inbox!

Part II is located here!

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