I feel compelled to note here that the above comments about validation of one's own ideas and noting the things that make one "stand out" even in a group of like-minded people, aren't based on any notions about ego, not everyone chooses that route. The struggle many folks choose with ego is understandable and as a result, ego has become one of the top three self-created problems that prevent personal growth. Think about that term, "personal" growth, doesn't it stand to reason that ego is somehow going to be involved? If the idea that ego is the sole obstacle to growth resonates with you there must be a reason for it, follow your gut just as others follow theirs. Bear in mind however, that for many the idea of assigning blame to ego is not resonant. Some folks find that exalting ego as the root of all evil does nothing but feed it even more. For them, ego is not the focus nor is it disregarded entirely, it just is and how it is dealt with is a choice, often dependent on any number of variables.
The internet provides a place for like-minds in an ever widening array of groups and even groups within groups. People create their own groups as well and as that has happened, the original purpose of these groups and the way in which things are defined within them has become more convoluted than a twelve and a half story labyrinth with no entrance and no stairs. It used to be good enough to say, I am a “this” or I am a “that” but it seems that an overly developed sense of individuality as well as a tendency to re-define things so they better fit preconceived notions has over-complicated matters. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking originality, it has made things a little more complex though because everyone defines things differently and everyone wants to be right and as per usual, the one thing that makes everyone the same is that they all want to be different.
The internet is an ally and an enemy when it comes to this trend. Prior to the internet, if you wanted to create a new religion you couldn’t just create a free website and sell your ideas and products instantly to anyone who would listen and agree with you. Prior to the internet a “this” was just a “this” and a “that” was just a “that,” definitions were simple. Now there are hundreds of different kinds of this’s and hundreds of different kinds of that’s for sale. The current idea seems to be that the most successful ones generate the most money, they would clearly be the ones with the most resources and product for sale and everyone knows you need the right bobbles and such. While the internet is a wonderful means of connecting people from all walks of life and from all over the world, it is also serving to do quite the opposite and the trend isn't just in separating us by definitions but also by income.
I don’t know what drives people to create distance and ignore the more natural instinct to connect, assigning blame, for example to ego, is a moot point anyway. We, each of us who seek connection, must break the cycle before we are so disconnected that the damage is irreparable. It seems often that the very things that connect us become the things that disconnect us. In the 60’s a vast majority of people who sought connection used drugs such as LSD and found that their new way of seeing the world connected them. Then it turned into a contest about who had taken the biggest dose, who had been on the most intense trip or who got their hands on the best drugs, always the competitive nature of humans would rear its ugly head. Christians compete over who is more connected to God, who knows their bible the best and who says the most poetic prayers. Meanwhile Buddhists and the like compete over not competing and no matter where you stand, one way or another, it often somehow ends up being competitive.
In the arena of true spiritual growth there is no competition. The spiritually aware aren’t pre-occupied with who has the shiniest bobbles or who holds the most titles in the most varied theologies. How do we create an environment where connection is what is sought rather than separation? What causes the rift between us isn’t the issue, it cannot be pin-pointed, too many variables. Attempts to assign blame for the issue would only serve to separate us further since it's different for everyone. It isn’t about how this happened for you, it’s about finding ways to fix it. I suppose a change in attitude might be the best place to begin. Rise above the urge to compete, above the desire to be right and just know we are all right. Just because what is right for you is different than what is right for someone else doesn’t make them wrong. Ultimately, most people have noticed how fundamentally similar the nuts and bolts of most spiritual paths are.
Rather than total focus on the myriad of details that make you feel connected to your own path, look also to the commonalities that connect us all. “The Devil is in the details” couldn’t be more evident when it comes to things that disconnect us. The details disconnect us from one another and often disconnect us from our own movement forward. People cling tenaciously to any information they can find that they see as validation of their perspective, they adhere to anything that supports their own interpretations hook, line and sinker, mostly sinker. For them the information is their truth even if it is totally subjective. People will research to find details to make their claims more valid. They'll pour over websites or even books that coincide with their own opinions. From Jesus being born at Christmas to Jesus being an invention of the Romans, there are websites and books to back it up with all sorts of little factoids, little details that support the theory.
These sources of misinformation provide names and dates, quotes and alleged historical evidence that will back up almost any "one true way" despite the truth being largely subjective and open to interpretation. The bottom line is that we all create our own truths and to an extent, our integrity is measured by how close our truth is to the real thing. Real truth or not however, the bottom line is that it has little to do with outcome. No matter how much “evidence” there is to support your point of view get over the fact that not everyone out there agrees with you and instead of trying to change their minds or “school” them, focus on the things where you can find common ground. Focus on the things that unite rather than separate us, it isn’t a contest; there is no blue ribbon or trophy. The evidence isn't in our truth, it's in how we live that truth, or don't. Getting caught up in searching for subjective evidence can prove to be a waste of time and energy and ultimately only serves to divert us from forward movement.
Of course I’m not suggesting that research isn't important. Information after all is the foundation of our theologies whether we create our own or go with ones that are already in place. However, there comes a time when forward movement is about implementing that information rather than just collecting it. Only collecting it would be tantamount to going to medical school for twenty years but never becoming a doctor. You might know more medical factoids than the most prominent doctors but you are not practicing and putting all that information to good use and that would be a waste of time and energy as well as money.
In the context of this piece it's comparable to people attending retreats, the ultimate way to experience a club or group; in person. Folks attend loads of retreats/seminars, etc and really get their money’s worth. Too often though, when they get home and back to their regularly scheduled programming, they don’t implement any of what they've learned, thus the need to attend yet another retreat. It's another type of separation that is behavioral. There is a presumption that the way they behave at a retreat must be intrinsically different than the way they behave in the "real world." While that is true in some ways to what extent should they separate their behaviors? While at the retreat the lessons are undeniable, the experience is truth and it leaves them wanting to share it, mostly with other people who attend retreats, thus the need to attend yet another retreat.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see why behavior at a spiritual retreat is different than behavior in the real world. Of course a basic separation between the two types of behavior would be obvious, even necessary. Why choose total separation though? Total separation with no middle ground, no balance? Perhaps folks who make the retreat circuit with great frequency simply like the person they become while in attendance. The person they feel they have to keep separate from the "real world." It's when they are at their best, their most passionate, their most honest and forgiving but those behaviors don't sell well in the "real world." So what of the in-between places? Why not allow the two worlds to come together in balance?
I would understand the almost addictive behavior people seem to have toward attending retreats, seminars, workshops and the like if the idea was to connect with others but that is never what it ends up being about. instead that sense of competitiveness, thinly veiled or not, kicks in and more steps are taken backward than forward. Your behavior no matter where you are or what club you're in, whether it's online or face to face, says more about you than it does about anyone else. Find your group, create it if you must but remember, even a skinhead and a hippie are connected in one fundamental way, the same way in which we all are connected, we are human. Our next step is to learn to act humanely.