By Nicholas Fuller.
[Bio: Caught between his culture and the system, Nicholas is an idealist, writer and a philosopher at heart.]
In spite of the pessimism that the title evokes, I must admit that writing it took many sighs and is expressed with a very heavy heart.
As a supporter of consciousness movements, and new versions of spirituality alike, this is not something I am happy to state as I saw these movements really coming into their own in the last ten years. Nonetheless, like a coroner at the scene of a tragic family accident, I must pronounce this promising flame of possibilities deceased.
The worst part about it is that anybody may have seen it coming, but nobody did, myself included. As it stands now, the new iterations of the spiritual movement have only two paths remaining in their future: either disappeari into obscurity or, at best, get a brief fifteen minutes of fame on a television talk show. Either way, it’s a flash in the pan, and it was over before it could begin in earnest.
Why is it doomed, you ask? The proof is in the title of this article, and the very definition of the movement – counter-culture. With this simple phrasing, the spiritual movement has misstepped in its reborn infancy, and is now irrevocably damaged. When a movement begins to self-identify as separate, it has lost. Countless movements of the past have made this same mistake and they share the same fate that is destined for the ill-fated spirituality movements of the new millennium.
In the 1960′s, the Black Panther Party actually had a great many innovative and fantastic ideas as a political movement, ones that the Occupy Wall Street movement share – freedom from unlawful incarceration by corporations and governments, the right to a good education, the right to have viable healthcare. The problem for the Black Panther Party was that it wanted these things solely for minorities and this sealed its fate in the minds of the population and government at large, and in 1969 J. Edgar Hoover said “The Black Panther Party, without question, represents the greatest threat to internal security of the country”. Soon after, they were infiltrated by the FBI and brought down quickly, being labeled as domestic terrorists.
During this same time, Dr. Martin Luther King made real headway with his campaign in the Civil Rights movement. His message was not that African American people were separate or different, but that they were the same as everyone else. Dr. King urged his followers to dress in their Sunday Best, and to speak articulately and to always protest nonviolently. Any act to the contrary posed a very real threat to the credibility of the movement as it would show them as ruthless, savage, and immature and these acts would be capitalized on by their detractors using tactics of fear mongering that catered to preexisting biases and xenophobia. In short, Dr. King wanted everyone in his crowds of protestors to look as one, act as one, and speak as one, and not just amongst themselves, but to the outside world. Those in the crowd, in the streets, were no different from the people who were watching them on television, and every aspect of his speeches centered around equality and unity for all.
The deathknell for the spiritual counter-culture rang as soon as it identified itself as a counter-culture. As soon as it, or any other movement does this, the antibodies come out, the immune system activates against the infection and immediately isolates it, scheduling it for destruction. Every successful movement has only been successful because it fought tooth and nail to not be seen or considered outsiders or counter to the status quo, but rather an existing part of it.
The United States of America was not called “The Counter-Britain States of America”, rather, it pushed a unity for everyone in its every act and action. They fought for freedom of speech, taxation, religion, and representation as all other states under Britain received. Like Dr. King hundreds of years later, they preached freedom and equality for all, as part of the all.
I have focused on political movements here as evidence and you may be wondering why. The reason being that a spiritual movement is not one solely originating from existential crises, but rather it is governed by economic, political, social, and psychological factors, just as much as political movements. Anyone who has seen the Arab Spring movement would have a hard time not seeing the spirituality pulsing under its political surface.
To change gears, let’s look at something that people might feel is more similar to the dedication and devotion, and overall healthy outcome spiritual practice can achieve: exercise. In America, we see advertisements for all kinds of diet and exercise programs from P90X to the Atkins diet. Unfortunately, none of these will ever be anything more than a fad (and a potentially expensive one at that). That’s not to say dieting and exercising itself are unsustainable, but rather that the small percent who can and already do participate in these things don’t need these products and commercials, so they are not aimed at them. They are aimed at a wide audience, the statistically very overweight American population at large. But they have failed to have any effect on the statistics because they, like these spiritual movements, are not sustainable.
They are not sustainable because they fail to take into consideration all the very real and ever present factors contributing to the lack of healthy living of the American population such as beef and corn subsidies, the cutting of school exercise programs, the subsidizing of school lunches, and the effects of stress on the human body due to the recession and high unemployment rates, just to name a few of the many factors. All of these things must be addressed before America can “have the beach body it always wanted”, and just the same, there are many factors that must be addressed before any spiritual movement can get the majority of the population to have the spiritual understanding they always wanted.
Book signings, sesshins, drug trips, burning man, none of these are sustainable events, they all end. It is a vacation from the day to day realities of every day life. Just like when I vote every two years, I feel a part of something bigger than myself, and I feel great and patriotic, but then when the ballot’s filled in, the trip wears off, the euphoria runs dry, everything goes back to business as usual. My alarm clock sounds early in the morning, I have to drive a car that is terrible on fuel efficiency, my girlfriend’s kid is in an educational system that focuses on memorization rather than real learning, I am just now beginning to take on thousands of dollars in college debt because it took me six years to find out there are no more rungs above me on the corporate ladder, and I have to constantly worry about losing my job and with it my ability to care for myself if something bad happens to my health. No amount of DMT, books on Buddhism, and weekend retreats of spiritual practices can even begin to address any of the issues above and frankly, between my 40+ hour work week and full time college work load, I barely have time for the sleep my body desperately needs, let alone the nourishment I’m told my soul needs.
For these reasons and more, the 99% movement, too, is unfortunately doomed, for the same reasons that the counter-culture spiritual movement is. In spite of the intention to the contrary, the very name itself created an “us versus them” polarizing image in the minds of Americans. Anyone who may have actually been a part of the 99% movement by statistics and ideological factors, but who did not agree with parts and portions of the movement’s message, immediately felt they were being labeled as a part of the 1% the movement was fighting against. This can be seen clearly in many internet forums just after the movement arose, when people working 80 hour weeks between 3 jobs, barely making ends meet, but proudly proclaiming they were just fine with the state of things and were not to be considered a part of the “so-called 99%”, as they put it.
On the issue of titles and names being an integral part of a movement’s success, I am going tobriefly focus on the Evolver movement. When I first heard this with no context, the same way anyone hearing about it for the first time, my mind’s eye immediately went to George W. Bush stating that he’s “The Decider”. For the laymen, the masses, the very people with whom the spiritual movement says it is one, and those whom they most need to get their message across to, this can be a little jarring. It sounded presumptuous, and as I thought about it further, it became clear that it was nonsensical. They took something, evolution, which is defined as the observation of change over time, and turned it into a verb. It was absurd, like someone calling themselves a Breather. It is something passive that will continue on regardless of your focus on it. Now, of course you may be able to slow down or increase one’s breathing like Free Divers do, but at the end of the day, breathing, like evolution, is a passive act. It is not one you participate in by the very definition of the word.
I have always been a very spiritual person and I have a bookshelf full of works from Shinzen Young, Ken Wilber, The Dalai Llama, and William Irwin Thompson and many many others. In spite of all of this, and all the issues of sustainability and the importance of how a movement defines itself, I feel like at the end of the day, the current spiritual movement as a whole is most like a group of Lucid Dreamers. They say “Hey, I can sometimes control my dreams, and some can even do it almost every night! Everyone should practice and enjoy this!” This is a very cool message, but on top of taking a lot of time to dedicate solely to it, it’s not sustainable. Just like the acid trip, the voting booth, the vacation, after just a few hours, it ends and reality sets back in, no matter how great the experience before it.
In the very act of the counter-culture identifying itself as such, it has shot itself in the foot and violated the very message of unity and oneness it set out to change the world with. This means that the cultural antibodies have activated and swarmed and it is already being fought hard against by its very nature. If they had fought for the unity they set out for, they would have accomplished their goal. Instead they did the exact opposite, which, in the minds of the masses, violated the fundamental rule of Inception – you have to make the dreamer think the idea is theirs.