I have spoken with people who have spent thousands of dollars on different religious plans. Two thousand dollars for a week long retreat that makes you a “level one Shaman” or some such nonsense. Of course, by the time you reach level 7, the retreat is a month long and costs twenty five grand in addition to the thousands you’ve spent not only on levels 2-6 but also on all the bells and whistles. And I don’t even want to go there with the competitive edge that is involved. “My drum is rounder than yours.” “My rattle is made from the skin of a two hundred year old dragon.” “My spirituality can beat up your spirituality!” Horse-hockey. No, that would be a whole different post, for now I’ll stick to the subject at hand.
Since I used Shamanism as an example, I’ll roll with it. The way Shamanism is traditionally taught and the way many of these new age seminars and retreats teach it are as similar as a whale and a toothpick. Meanwhile, the Lutheran part of the above scenario is seemingly more free, all they want is your eternal soul and for you to believe that people who aren’t the right kind of Christian are doomed. Even though fear is the billows to inflame their dogmatic principles they do have awesome pot-lucks. The upside with most main stream religions is that they have been around long enough and have been socially accepted long enough that they are more established. Of course, so are their ways of making a buck. That includes not just the Christian religions but religions like Buddhism, I mean they were sending kids up ropes and floating in lotus long before the Romans created Jesus. The downside to most mainstream religions is the belief that their way is the “One True Way” and that everyone else in the world is just wrong.
For years now, with the intensity increasing each year, there has been an upsurge in self-help and new age spirituality. This has increased the demand for self-help and spiritual tools which means that the people out there lining their pockets with money by selling said tools has also increased exponentially. Now before anyone goes and gets their knickers in a knot, let me just add here that I am not attempting to invalidate anyone’s experiences with the self-help or new age spiritual industry. I understand that there is a certain validity to attending workshops and retreats. I, who has served my country as a librarian, understand that there is definitely validity in getting the books and reading them. What I have a problem with is the cost and the concept that the more you pay the more valid your path is.
The price for transcendental meditation classes, something easily learned on ones own, is in the thousands of dollars. So go, learn what you can, take it home and develop a regular practice. But bear in mind before signing up to go again and again that insanity is repeating the same behaviors over and over and expecting a different result. It isn’t as though the meditation is more effective if you are at a fifteen hundred dollar a day seminar in a room full of people at the Ashram of the Flying Donkey, or is it Dollar? Every person is unique, no two people, even if they’re twins, are exactly the same, doesn’t it stand to reason that no two people’s paths to spiritual growth are exactly the same?
Let’s put the “self” back into self-help, if it was ever there in the first place. I mean the name implies that one must help themselves but discourages people from actually doing it. Self-help is a billions of dollars a year industry, you’d think there wouldn’t be so many troubled people out there. Again, we are all unique, we all handle problems in different ways. Just because Joe Money was able to overcome his anxiety by bottling his sneezes and releasing them into the field of fluff doesn’t mean everyone with anxiety should rush off and spend a thousand dollars on his book, instructional DVD and sneeze catching bottle (extra back up bottle is free if you attend the seminar, of course.) I understand that a lot of people have had real epiphanies while reading self-help books. What these people generally say is, “It was exactly what I was thinking, the author just put it in a way that was so much more clear.” This means that there was an aspect of the process that was common to the author and the reader, and that is great, but at the end of the day, they are still two very different people who will ultimately have to help themselves in two very different ways.
That brings me back to money. It’s yours, spend it however you want. Go to seminars, become a third level-second degree Shaman of the Tribe of the Rip-Off Rattle. Why, I know a woman who has 23 drums and doesn’t know how to play a single one of them. I know a guy who has floor to ceiling books on self-help and spirituality in every room of his house, some of them he’s even read, but he doesn’t put any of the guidelines he learns from them into use in his daily life. Change is challenging. Perhaps the drum lady can spend hundreds of dollars going to drumming workshops, or she can go to a drum circle and learn for free. I rock my djembes and learned by doing, and that is another of my myriad of points. Take the advice of Nike and just do it. Practice makes perfect. That's why it's called a religious or spiritual practice, because you're meant to practice it. While I see the importance of learning how to do a thing correctly, which may require a book or workshop, there’s no need to go overboard. Have faith, believe… in yourself.
A true spiritual path or religion shouldn’t be hunting for members, trying always to get people to join, quite the opposite in point of fact, It should want people to UN-join. It shouldn’t be claiming it wants to change the world, it should be content that people are waking up all over and seeing that the world needs change. Making hefty profits off of old religions by tying them in a newer and prettier bow will only slow that process down and hinder our spiritual evolution. Spirituality isn’t about being registered or having a non-profit status. In fact, I propose this question: Why does the word “profit” or even non-profit enter into spirituality and religion in the first place? Money has absolutely nothing to do with being a spiritually sound person.
Spiritual evolution is not tax-exempt because taxes have nothing to do with spirituality. True spirituality isn’t boasting about how many “followers,” or more to the point, paying members it has, quite the opposite, there is no such thing as a follower, only people who follow their own instincts to develop their own spiritual practice. There need not be criteria, you don’t need permission from a registrar, high priest, grand poombah of the One True Way or any other being to float your own boat. You do need to study, learn, practice and grow, you need to put in the work, whatever you put into it, you will get out of it. There are no levels, no rings or circles to jump through, the idea is to start off knowing that the Divine is within, all the cool religions say so, and then spend the rest of your life figuring out how to connect with it and connect to that same energy that is in all things.
Spirituality isn’t about status or money or any of that. A truly spiritual person is spiritual all the time, not just on Sundays or when they’re at a seminar or workshop and have an audience. They are always trying to move forward taking as few steps back as possible yet humble enough to step back if need be to grow as a person, and that takes practice. What to practice should be up to each individual, no wrong answers, no failing grades, no fear of abstractions. If you are doing it right, you will know it, you will feel it with every fiber of your being, and others will see it too. You won’t get a badge or a sash or a piece of paper that proclaims to the world how spiritual you are, or more to the point, how much you invested, what use is all that to spirit anyway? To a truly spiritual person those things mean nothing. Spirituality is a personal journey, ultimately you’re on your own. I’m not saying there isn’t much you can learn from others, in fact, it is an absolute necessity to learn from others, but that doesn’t mean you have to buy into their ranks and pay their fees. Learning to be a spiritually sound person and practicing methods for remaining one shouldn’t require your credit card number.
Spirituality is not a thing that can be bought and paid for. To be a truly spiritual person one must take back accountability, take back responsibility and practice, learn and grow. Going to church every Sunday and every other Wednesday doesn’t necessarily make you religious just as attending seminars, workshops and classes doesn’t make you spiritual. It is true that you might have an epiphany there, you might take a giant leap forward. But if you don’t take it home with you, if you don’t live your truth every day, not just on Sundays and every other Wednesday or while attending events, what good are they? That is the one thing they don’t teach you; how to independently remain on the path, how to choose your own road and plant whatever blossoms of truth you so choose along the way, there just isn’t any money in that, so in taking accountability and choosing your own path, how does it look? Is it a road you're on or a rut you're in?