My spiritual awakening coincided exactly with my political one, as I decided to commit fully to my individual spiritual path while I was a radical organizer at Occupy New Orleans. I’ve tried to thread the needle between my devotion to my soul’s journey and my radical convictions ever since. It’s not always easy. A recent spate of articles in mainstream media reviewing the modern wellness industry poured gasoline on the debate that goes on regularly inside my head.
On one hand, the fierce anti-capitalist in me reads Lindy West’s journey at GOOP and nods repeatedly. She beautifully articulates the excessive materialism fueled by celebrity worship that has become a hallmark of certain alternative wellness circles. As hurricanes and sea-level rise continue to threaten my homeland, the idea of being a part of a movement that celebrates consumption at the expense of the earth is heartbreaking.
On the other hand, I seethe with when the NYT and NY Mag mock my industry. The articles make no mention of the ongoing American health care crisis that forces so many to look for alternatives, simply assuming that our mainstream health care systems have solutions when they often don’t. Chalking up the entire movement as the playground for the over-resourced is far too simplistic and downright patronizing.
Can these sides of myself learn to get along? I hope so, for my own sake. If there’s one thing all the voices in my head agree on, it’s that we need to change our way of relating to each other, the earth, and ourselves if we are going to have a positive future on this planet in the years to come. So what will it take for us to bridge the gap and build a collective movement that can truly change our world, as so many of us pray for everyday?
For one, we have to be willing to face questions like the ones posed in these articles. Too often, I observe troubling socio-political behaviors in spiritual circles without any clear path for dialogue or understanding. More than once, I’ve been shunned or silenced when I tried to speak up. Sometimes, these concerns can be labeled as “low-vibe”, “too rational”, or I am gas lighted, told that my issues are simply an emotional problem I have to solve within myself. But by shutting down dialogue or communication, we risk keeping these beautiful circles in a bubble and prevent them from reaching as many people as possible. Feedback is never easy to grapple with, but I feel strongly that if you are putting yourself in the position of leadership and/or mentoring others, keeping lines of communication open is vital.
A great way to prepare for dialogue is to wrestle with the difficult questions on your own first. How do I prevent my facilitation and healing work from being controlling and oppressive, reiterating harmful patterns found in our schools and workplaces? How do I cultivate spaces that nurture and make room for the full diversity of human bodies and experience? How do I respect tradition and indigenous ways without perpetuating colonialism, white supremacy, and patriarchy—traditions that may very well be steeped both in jaw-dropping beauty and deep-seated prejudices? How can I spark fruitful and supportive discussions of religion, race, power, money, sex, trauma, and death before they cause conflicts and fracture communities? When is it best to be tender and supportive versus confronting and firm? And finally, and perhaps most important, what more can I do to ensure that I am in righteous relationship with the earth’s resources I utilize to sustain my life and do my work?
These questions are constantly on my mind, and if I am in spaces where it feels like lots of these issues have never even crossed the minds of the facilitators, I bristle. Without them, too many alternative wellness practitioners fall into the traps the articles highlight—being overly image-conscious, opportunistic, ego-driven, and just plain harmful.
In a lot of ways, I can trace all of these questions back to a single source: a demand in my heart for all that feels real—no bullshit, no sugarcoat, no glossing over. This is probably the main thing my spiritual and political self share. If anything feels even the slightest bit saccharine or inauthentic it makes it nearly impossible for me to be present in a situation. When we deny our own hurts or inner conflicts to any extent, we end up living in a somewhat illusory state, keeping ourselves from the full picture. These illusions simply grow when we sustain them in community.
But when we open up our throats and let it all out—well it’s amazing how quickly the illusions can fall away. Let’s nurture those precious and gorgeous moments of release—by keeping it vulnerable, flexible, and responsive to the moment. The external world has become increasingly uncomfortable, unsafe, and decidedly un-nice. If we honestly believe our spiritual paths can do something about it, we have to make being real primary to our spiritual life—above feeling comfortable or even good.
After all, it is the love that remains after the acknowledgment of pain, grief, loss, violence, trauma, destruction, and abandonment—the love that remains in the face of every single aspect of our humanity that is the most powerful love at all. This is the kind of radical, no-holds-barred, totally jarring and wholly unreasonable love that makes my heart sing. As the realities of climate change lap at my doorstep down here in my home of New Orleans, I feel ever more certain that it is precisely this love that humanity needs if we are to thrive in the years to come. There is no willing away the contradictions of being human on earth, right here and right now. Choosing love and light without acknowledging these contradictions always leads to an energy of fakeness that everyone can feel, even if most people keep their mouths shut.
So how do we keep it real in the Now Age? By asking questions, staying open, and allowing room for the full spectrum of experience, even when there are conflicts. Let’s not walk away at even the slightest hint of tension, disagreement, or hurt feelings. Find the strength to stay and speak your truth with clarity. Seek with devotion and determination what feels most potent, visceral, and embodied to you, and don’t be afraid to disregard anything that doesn’t resonate. And when you find that truth, live it out with all the conviction you can muster, and don’t settle for anything less. The more we make room for the wholeness of our humanity, the more space we create for any and all human beings who wishes to usher in this age of transformation on this earth with grace, dignity, and courage.