February 2011
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The Secret of Spiritual Materialism

You may remember all the buzz surrounding the promotion of the “The Secret.”   There were the Oprah appearances, the Larry King interviews, the DVD rising to #1 on Amazon – and then, “The Secret II.”

All the hype got me to thinking about our consumer-driven demand for spiritual products – and what underlies this phenomenon.  I must admit that my first impulse was to judge it harshly – but, then I began to step back and explore my own personal culpability in creating this sensation.

Since beginning my spiritual explorations back in the 70’s - I’ve discovered that there are many ways to get diverted and distracted on the spiritual path.  The Buddhist teacher, Chogyam Trungpa acknowledges that there are “numerous sidetracks which lead to a distorted, ego-centered, version of spirituality” where we end up only deceiving ourselves into thinking that we are developing spiritually, when, in fact, we’re only “strengthening our ego-centricity through spiritual techniques.”  He calls this principle spiritual materialism – and, in our culture, where economic success is valued above all else, its no surprise that this marketplace is growing by leaps and bounds.

One has only to go online or into any bookstore these days to find a dizzying array of spiritual products, techniques, and services.  Ads abound for healers, body workers, psychics, and schools for almost any mystical pursuit.  The underlying message seems to be that there’s something missing in our lives – and even more subliminally, that there must be something wrong with us. 

I’ve felt this void – and it’s caused me to accumulate far more mystical teachings and paraphernalia than I’d like to admit – crystals, pyramids, feng shui tchotchkes, you name it.  And, in the end, I still felt unfulfilled – longing for something more.

Through a series of interviews with New Age gurus, “The Secret” explores the implications of the metaphysical “law of attraction.”  The basic message is that your thoughts create your reality.  Whatever you focus on, you’ll manifest. 

Continued,   next column


Following this logic – is it possible that my personal attachment to being spiritually material might actually be co-creating (along with everyone else) our current money-driven mystical marketplace? And so, although I could write endless critiques on the plethora of metaphysical fads and crazes – it might be somewhat hypocritical of me to criticize a reality that I’ve had a hand in creating.

During an Esther Hicks “Law of Attraction” seminar I attended a few years back – I kept hearing everyone refer to “what they were wanting” in their lives.  People mostly wanted health, happiness, and financial security.  But, I wondered which part of them was actually doing that wanting.  Was it the wisest part of them?  Or was it just their ego wanting to be the center of attention, wanting to be protected at all cost. 

I realized that the reason I was left feeling empty after “The Secret,” the Esther Hicks seminar, and with other metaphysical teachings - was that none of them offered any insight into how to get my ego out of the way.  How could I allow my ego to step aside gracefully - so I wouldn’t end up being just be another spiritual tourist shopping my way through an unfulfilled life? 

I did find a simple yet profound solution to this dilemma in the philosophy of Tibetan Buddhism.  This tradition views the spiritual path as a process where we cut through our confusion – until we reach enlightenment.  Enlightenment is defined as an awakened state of mind – where the ego has relinquished control.  This awakened state is not a commodity to be bought or sold – but, a permanent state that’s already there, waiting to be discovered.  And, it can be discovered through something as simple as meditation.  Just by sitting still and being quiet on a daily basis - imagining the sun appearing from behind the clouds, my clouds.  

Amassing great collections of books, teachings, sacred objects, and techniques aren’t going to allow those clouds to part.  So, the sooner I get started on my meditation practice, the less attachment I’ll have to what’s being bought and sold in the spiritual marketplace.  And then I can just let it be - and smile.



Trungpa, Chogyam; "Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism"; Shambhala Publications, Inc.; Boston, Massachusetts; 1973. Here's a brief introduction.


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