Last week’s blog introduces some of the problematic systems in place with New Age culture and contemporary spirituality. Spirituality, at its core, intends to drive us more intimately into experience our humanness. We transcend our mind and ego by recognizing our full self in the moment, not by escaping it through a sensationalized and spiritual “trip.” The latter is unfortunately a common result of sensational spirituality.
As someone who has worked as a spiritual healer and mindfulness life coach, it has pained me to see people fall into this trap of sensational spirituality. I’ve witnessed people go from complete investment to their health into a dramatized and negative decline because of standard New Age ideals.
I believe sensational spirituality is one of the most dangerous pitfalls of contemporary spirituality. Our culture is not only uneducated, but appropriative and vaguely derivative of healthy spiritual paths. The sensational paths are more seductive to the fast past practitioner wanting to market themselves. What each practitioner markets to the public affects us all, since we see sensationalism as the standard in the industry.
Because of this standardization, sensational paths are also difficult to notice. If you fall into one, you may believe you are working on healing and grow increasingly frustrated when nothing seems to change. Sound familiar?
This dynamic then propels you to try other quick fixes and spirals you deeper into toxic pseudo-spirituality. If this is something you recognize in your own practice, there is little to feel guilty about. It is rarely, if ever, completely the individual’s fault—this path is a product of the system. The structure of our world today frequently imposes these false paths onto us; it is now your job to try to dodge them as much as you can.
In an effort to best expose the health of your path to you, I have found that the best way to compare healthy spirituality with sensational spirituality is through two contrasting lists of their traits, backgrounds, and manifestations. Not all of these below traits will be present in every sensational path or healthy path, since we most often fall in a grey area between the two. Ideally, you to transition your spiritual work towards containing mostly healthy traits. My attempt is to form a comprehensive list of traits I have noticed in a truly healing path and the contrastingly detrimental traits of sensational paths. This way, you have a clear tool to begin remaking your own path so it will actually begin to work for you!
Each list is partnered to match the other as directly as possible, so the first on both lists addresses the negative and position manifestation of each concept. These are not definitive as the list is a result of discussions and observations over three years engaging with active spiritual communities online, not an end-all-be-all.
Healthy Spirituality tends to:
- See us all as beings with the same potential and core beingness. We are all the Universe/Source—we all can be incredible healers and compassionate beings. No one individual was born to be above another. Some of us tend to learn faster than others, but this is a product of our own willingness to work on healing.
- Expect growth to occur over time, and you feel centered and settled after most pursuits. Some practices may bring up emotion and not leave you entirely settled (as intense processing is natural), but you will not feel dazed after consistent meditation and mindfulness practices genuine spirituality offers. Healing will occur slowly but consistently, matching the dedication you have to your own practice.
- Recognize the cultural roots and religious basis. Although one can draw from many cultures and belief systems, an individual embarking on a healthy spiritual path recognizes the sacred traditions and infusions of culture that allowed them access to the modalities they currently employ. They often do their best to reference and learn from the traditions in a mindful and collaborative way, expanding upon them with recognition of where they originally came from.
- Know that a path takes consistent hard work and dedication, often for many years. Enlightenment, Illumination, Evolved Consciousness, and/or Transcendence arrive out of perseverance and a long-term path towards healing. It’s not a quick-fix, but instead a great and long term change! Such long term changes, in all parts of society requiring change, are ultimately more effective than quick fixes. The same idea applies to spirituality.
- View spiritual awakening as a process, not a single moment. Although we may experience huge epiphanies and moments of growth, the entire process is not founded on these instances. The majority of spiritual work consists of slow and steady healing.
- Foster awareness of the present moment. Instead of escaping presence and one’s human life, spirituality should be (in varied ways) bringing one to recognize that the most spiritual and evolved state is when one completely accepts the moment as is and themselves as they are.
- Show one how to face one’s past pains and patterns. Healthy spirituality accepts and heals the past, recognizing that true growth cannot come without facing the formative patterns the ego feeds on. Facing your whole history and liberating yourself through it is the foundation of most, if not all, intensely healing spiritual practices.
- Recognize that a spiritual path is not free of strife. Growing pains are products of overcoming the suffering of engrained patterns our ego tries to hold onto. Enlightenment itself still recognizes the possibility of feeling sadness and strife, but brings acceptance into even difficult emotions. Spirituality does not deny the existence of such emotions within oneself.
- Know that happiness is temporary, but joy is eternal. Feeling joy comes with enlightenment, but feeling consistently happy does not. Happiness, like the contrasting painful feelings, will come and go as life changes around the individual. Joy is found while accepting the present moment, as a compassionate feeling beneath all other surface emotions. Joy cohabits your internal landscape alongside all other emotions you experience. Increasing the amount that acceptance and joy join your other states of being is the intention of a healthy spiritual practice.
- Focus on a long term “program” or “path.” Genuine spirituality will acknowledge the long-term need for routine and ritual, not expect a weekend (or even as short as a few months) to mean the cure for all mental and emotional ailments.
- Value discernment. Discernment is the process of inspecting one’s intuition, intentions, and the spiritual information gathered throughout one’s spiritual path. Discernment is extremely important when it comes to examining past patterns the ego holds over you.
- Teach you appropriate ways to protect yourself from negative energies. Sometimes negativity comes from within us, in the egoic self we are working on releasing, and sometimes people and situations in our lives carry negativity. A spiritual path recognizes facing the ill intentions of others is something we cannot yet avoid in the world, so navigating these situations in a healthy way is emphasized. Each personal path will have different compassionate and beneficial ways of cleansing and protecting you from negativity.
- Recognize that nothing but yourself is needed to follow a spiritual path. You don’t need anything but a willingness to learn, an openness to the Higher Power/Source you believe in, and dedication to your own growth and healing.
Sensational Spirituality tends to:
- Label some individuals as having a higher spiritual potential than others. This is often seen in New Age concepts like indigo children, earth angels, and past life exploration without a healing foundation. This idea does not recognize the pure divinity within all living beings and shared potential for complete evolution and healing that everyone has.
- Leave you in a trance-like or lucid state, without you being able to comprehend any real growth. Often, paths like these lead people to feeling more disconnected from the world rather than more involved. They function like a high—you quickly escalate into a spiritually intense state, and then you drop, usually farther down than you started at initially. Because of this, sensational spirituality is damaging towards your overall spiritual growth.
- Proclaim about the power of an ancient technique, without referencing the cultural roots or its history. Cultural appropriation is all too common and much more detrimental than it seems at first. This New Age practice also often overlooks the needed foundation for future growth.
- Offer a quick-fix solution (often for a pricy amount). Think of quick fix diets and how we are recognizing they do more harm than good; this spiritual proclamation is similar.
- Seek a single spiritual awakening that feels amazing and changes a person overnight. Some people do experience sudden awakenings, but when this is the focus and not a healthy byproduct of a sustained spiritual path, it is often from a sensational root. Spiritual awakenings are often with very little fanfare, they are deep and resonant experiences in genuine spiritual paths, not jarring experiences.
- Ignore the present moment and tries to seek other realms. There is a sense of fast paced “must have”-ness that comes with sensational spirituality. Likewise, sensational spirituality will help you escape your current life, where healthy spirituality helps you to see it closer and with more intimacy than ever before. Joy is found in facing the present, not running away from it.
- Focus on escaping past pains, not facing and healing them. To grow, you must work on healing your past wounds. Sensational spirituality often focuses on having such intense experiences that these past pains just “disappear,” but in reality it simply buries them so they can rise again with a vengeance later in the future.
- Offer a weekend solution. Like with the quick-fix, you’ll often see programs proclaiming that they are the single solution to all of your problems, rather than a healthy, consistent, and diverse spiritual path which takes dedication and structure.
- Have practitioners that claim to “know it all” or have “the best healing modality yet.” When finding someone to work with, like a medium or intuitive worker, if they claim to have the ability to get all the answers, watch out! Someone may have incredible accuracy, but they should humbly share that information without guarantees or promises. There is also no one perfect healing modality—we all require different and unique paths.
- Negativity arises more often than healing. Instead of this path focusing on cleansing and protecting oneself against negativity, it focuses on the negative or dramatic situation. Sometimes this can be as extreme as summoning dangerous spirits, to more mild acts like repressing healthy emotions like anger until they bottle up. Learning how to mindfully express difficult emotions and navigate troubling situations is a core part of life, not to mention a healthy spiritual practice.
- Drug use is sometimes employed in a toxic way in sensational practices. Because of the escapist and experimental nature of sensational spirituality, drugs (specifically man-made psychedelics and hallucinogens) have become a part of mainstream spirituality as more than a tool for spiritual growth. Drugs can falsely promise a sudden transcendent state that will have all of the answers, creating a potential dependency, rather than allowing you to seek the answers already within yourself and using them as a tool for healing and growth. Slowly building a healthier spiritual practice as you step away from drug dependency will be important, if this is a vice you self-identify with. (Edit/clarification: drug use, of course, can be healthy and important in certain sacred traditions of cultures, like indigenous cultures. When using drugs in tangent to a spiritual practice, it requires extra care and attention to their usage and meaning to your spiritual growth, they are not inherently bad in themselves. Sensational practices just tend to employ them for escapist, not sustainable or sacred, purposes).
Next week, I’ll talk more about how to transition your spiritual path away from harmful sensationalism and into a journey that will benefit you in ways your previous attempts couldn’t. There are also a few ending thoughts and clarifications, since this isn’t a light subject and can sometimes cause us to really scrutinize our spiritual practice. Definitely subscribe to the blog if you want the article to land in your inbox.
Navigating the many dangers of sensational spirituality is incredibly complicated and difficult, so I have made it a personal mission to aid people on genuine growth, individualized for your needs and intentions. If you need help figuring out healthy ways to navigate this toxicity, reframe your perspective, or construct a daily spiritual practice, I would love to work with you. The details are all right here.
For questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment on the blog! I will definitely respond.