I have been noticing something, and I want to talk about it, but it is not a comfortable topic.
A friend and I were talking yesterday. We are both “spiritual” people, both running small businesses in the spiritual world. We have followers on IG and aspire to support others on their journey of self-development and connection with the sacred. All these are, I believe, Good Things.
In our conversation I raised the questions I have about priviledge within the spiritual community. It seems to be that a lot of people (the majority?) who identify as “spiritual” are white, middle-class women.
This brings with it certain givens; a level of education, disposable income, a reasonably comfortable home. I am one of these people.
My parents were hard up when I was younger but my Mum was a teacher and my Dad had a steady job and they supported me throughout my education, encouraged me to read, paid for music lessons, provided financial aid while I completed a degree.
I was hard-up when I was a young adult, living in a one-bed flat above a local drug dealer, struggling to pay for food while my then partner completed studies and I was a stay-at-home mum to two boys under two.
Yet once they were in school I trained to be a teacher and my husband progressed through a nursing career and we lived in comfortable rented homes and, eventually, took annual holidays. I can afford to be part of online support groups, pay for healthcare I need, eat a balanced diet, buy books, have hobbies.
As I sit here, aware of people losing their jobs, struggling more than ever to make ends meet I am struck once again by the big questions I have about many teachings within modern new age spirituality.
There is an idea that we can have anything we desire via the process of manifestation. The process as I understand it is choose your goal, create a vision, work towards it, make it so, reap the rewards. For instance, I’ve heard in more than one place that you should decide the kind of lifestyle you want, write down the amount of money that will equate to for your earnings and then set out to get that. Perhaps this works for some people. But perhaps too that is becuase of a complex set of circumstances; opportunities, personality, background, networks. But for every one person it works for there must be a million who find it doesn’t. And to say to people who have a different starting point that they just aren’t trying hard enough, or that there must be some energetic block in them, or they need to do their shadow work, or that they are creating their challenges. I think that’s bollocks.
Not to say that it’s ok to live in a victim mentality, but often we don’t know we were victims until we are not, and often that means being safe enough to be able to reflect and see what was going on in the bad old days…
To my mind this one size fits all kind of teaching ignores the complexity of different starting points. For example, the estate where I lived above a drug dealer is about half a mile from my current home. It remains one of the poorest areas of England. Council housing built after World War 2 in some places there are four generations of unemployment, a level of deprivation and need which is hard to break out of.
I feel that there’s a risk of ignoring real and raw social situations in our desire for greater personal development. The only way out of this that I can see is social action.
Which means getting more involved, enmeshing ourselves in the messy business of being human.
I am uncomfortable with the idea that I am here to “ascend”. I don’t personally believe this. I believe I am here to fully experience what it is like to be a human creature. This includes how I react and interact within my communities, both virtual and actual. I do not believe that we need to “escape” from our bodies. I believe they are a gift that we need to appreciate and live and serve in and through.
Then I am conscious of the priviledge I have because I’m white. It was only recently (working with an undergraduate studying biological anthropology) that I learned that there is no biological definition of race. Race is entirely a cultural construct, created to “other” other human creatures so that “we” (white Europeans) could steal their land/ property/ culture and spread our own culture because we knew best. I can’t even begin to comprehend the web of injustice that this has created over the past six hundred years. I am ashamed and horrified and I admit I have a lot more work to do in this area of my understanding.
There are some parts of my life that I’ve hidden for fear of persecution, my sexuality being one, but despite that I am still enormously priviledged. I have unimaginable wealth simply by being born when and where I was.
I want to face these uncomfortable feelings and I want to work out a way to work from and through this. I want to be part of a spiritual community which is working for all humans and non-human creatures. I don’t know how to do this yet. I have been aware of it for a while but I don’t know how to make the change I want. I will have to start small. With my own culture and attitudes. I will need to be prepared to make changes in my own lifestyle and outlook. It is not something I relish (I’m a nine on the Enneagram and boy do we love to be comfortable).
But I can’t keep ascribing to belief systems which white-wash over the inequalities and challenges created by poverty and discrimination. If you know how to do this I would love to talk, how do we create new ways of being? For my part I will keep reflecting, reading, learning, challenging myself, facing down my discomfort, practising opening my mouth and saying something instead of consenting through silence.