Skeletons in the New Age Closet by Maria Tidisco
"But it is often the case that we, as New Agers, bypass the deepest levels of our own empowerment because we simply don't think."
What is the New Age, really? Who are we? We call ourselves "New Agers," but rarely stop to think what this may mean. We "New Agers" come from all walks of life, from all nationalities and ethnicities, pursue a vast range of occupations, live a variety of lifestyles, and support a wide range of causes. So what ties us together? How do we recognize when someone is consciously "on the path," how do we distinguish a fellow "New Ager" in the midst of the crowd?
Since we don't ask these questions enough, here is some food for thought. If we think about it, we are essentially a group of people who are dissatisfied with the surface of life, with mainstream conditions, and are seeking something more. With this premise established, it logically follows to ask, "What is this something more?" I believe that there would be unanimous consensus among the New Age to say that this something more is something spiritual.
Of course, the next line of inquiry is, essentially, "What is something spiritual?" Defining this question is no easy task, let alone answering it. Something spiritual is an awareness of forces greater than the self, it is a sense of connection, of the unity of all existence, it is the certainty of cosmic cycles, of birth and death, of nature and creation, of the rhythms by which the spark of life is generated, flourishes, and passes into a different form. Something spiritual is something dynamic, it is something that is always becoming, opening, striving to be whole, aching to be free of any falseness, of any forces that thwart wholeness rather that fuel it. Something spiritual is, ultimately, the instinctual and archetypal drive towards liberation. The New Age is liberation-based. If it weren't, it wouldn't be worth anything real at all.
So, what does it mean to be liberation-based? This is a question vital to understanding ourselves, and to fixing the weakness and indolence that poisons much of current New Age culture like a grimy film of pollution on the zen-like surface of an impeccably pristine pond. I would venture to guess that all New Agers have experienced a dissatisfaction with the surface of life, with the socialized patterns and processes of "functional living." Socialization and ego-solidification is a necessary stage of human psychological evolution, but there comes a time when each of us must face our own mortal death, and this naturally generates "spiritual" concerns. Spiritual concerns are, in essence, concerns of liberation, of archetypal freedom. Libera-tion is the fundamental goal of our soul.
We must look closely at the human psychological evolutionary process to truly understand ourselves, our internal challenges, and, eventually, to expand the scope of inquiry and unflinchingly address the most deeply rooted fundamental conflicts known to human society. Real, focused, change-driven inquiry is always philosophy-based. All the world's major religious traditions are essentially spiritual philosophies, notwithstanding the myriad of distortions and falsities that established religious organizations often overlay upon their mystical truths to serve their perverse institutional ends. One valuable function of the New Age is to revive these mystical truths that lie scintillating underneath the slimy, polluted surface of organiza-tions that profess to be intermediaries between the self and God, always at a cost to both pocketbook and soul.
But it is often the case that we, as New Agers, bypass the deepest levels of our own empowerment because we simply don't think. We have urges towards a better world, towards a greater truth, but are shamefully lax when it comes to congruent action in relation to our beliefs because we have neither fully internalized these beliefs in our bloodstream nor even defined what these beliefs truly are. We are not satisfied with the surface of life, yet are too cowardly to follow these spiritual inclinations to any logical conclusion. We prefer, instead, to occasionally attend an expensive seminar at Big Sur or Breitenbush and to chalk it up as hard spiritual work rather than as a mini-vacation in a resort setting. There is nothing wrong with attending workshops as long as we are clear that a weekend basking in the novelty of guided meditation sessions alternating with being served home cooked organic food in a specially arranged tranquil environment is not hard spiritual work. These opportunities are periods of refreshment for the yoga of life that only the privileged can take. We are neither making a sacrifice nor becoming instantly enlightened by doing so.
The hard spiritual work comes into play when we dredge up the strength to communicate openly and vulnerably with our loved ones, to make life changes that comply more fully with the Buddha's "right living," and to discover in ourselves, through rigorous discipline and vigilant honesty, the truth about what it takes to be free.
What ties the New Age together is its philosophical basis in liberation. The standard New Age foundational principles are unity, equality, conscious living, and the fundamental drive towards the liberation of all sentient beings. We need to gain the courage to take our thought, and, consequently, our action, a step further. We must gain the will to know that embracing equality is linked to abhorrence of inequality. We must recognize that upholding unity means supporting the abolition of dualism. We must equate conscious living with irrevocable responsibility for ourselves, our actions, and our effects upon others and upon the world as a whole. And we must understand liberation in a whole new light.
The quest for liberation is profoundly archetypal. It is also fiercely instinctual. It must be contextualized within the human psychological evolutionary process to be understood clearly and handled responsibly. The highest possible responsibility must be maintained at all costs.
Standard psychological evolution requires us to solidify our ego. The socialization process is a ruthless system for the fortification of the ego. This observation is not to disparage the cultivation of the ego which, in its proper place in life and applied in society with consciousness and compassion, is an invaluable development. The ego is our center of stability, of uniqueness, of security. This security gives us strength and grounding to embrace the ordeal of spiritual liberation in later life.
The establishment of security, like the quest for liberation, is also profoundly archetypal. It is also fiercely instinctual. In light of this, a very difficult truth is uncovered. This truth must be confronted honestly and unflinchingly if any lasting positive social change is ever to occur. Freedom and security are in perpetual, dualistic conflict. Freedom and security are antagonistic opposites. From the standpoint of liberation, an excess of security is experienced as oppression. From the standpoint of security, liberation is experienced as a threat. Both orientations are so deeply rooted in the marrow of human nature that, as it now stands, neither will budge without being forcibly overthrown. All lasting, serious conflict, both on the internal, individual level and on the external, societal level, stem from this dynamic. The "conflict between good and evil" is nothing compared to the friction between freedom and security.
The New Age is a liberation-based movement. The potential for empowerment that can arise from this, once a true sense of its intensity, seriousness, and ecstatic potential is awakened, is virtually boundless. A real New Ager is a liberation-driven being. To be liberation-driven means to be continuously making life changes that put you more fully in the flow of fostering liberation for all sentient beings. To be liberation-driven means always recognizing your weaknesses and taking responsibility for them. To be liberation-driven means to make an ever-evolving personal-to-transpersonal shift in which the perspective of the whole increasingly subsumes the perspective of the self. Being liberation-driven means allowing your blood its due passion, it means letting passion devour fear and apathy by pulsing, orgasmic degrees. It means allowing life to flood back into your physical and psychological limbs. It means embracing the absolute arousal that each moment brings, and it means making any change necessary to remove obstacles to the full strength of this arousal. Liberation is a process of continuous change. It is a process of letting go.
Security, by comparison, is a process of stabilization. It has its unquestionable value when applied moderately and in its rightful place. Ego death is impossible without an ego to lose. But when the security drive runs rampant, it turns into greed. At the core of greed is fear. And greed and fear establish the psychological and societal foundations for oppression.
A New Ager has the responsibility to set an example of right living. Any self-proclaimed New Ager that is not continuously working towards this in earnest is a fraud. You can start from any greedy or corrupt place, as a ruthless Microsoft executive or the president of the United States, doesn't matter. The important factor is that you are continuously working for a more compassionate flow of life, a healthier world for all living things. The whole must replace the self after the basic security needs of the self are achieved. "Security-based freedom" is a lie. The illusion that some kind of ultimate security can be gained through excessive money and possessions is ultimately, spiritually pathetic.
The archetypal drive for security is natural and necessary in its proper place. Psychologically, the infantile unity consciousness of childhood progressively gives way to the dualistic consciousness of adulthood as ego development takes place. As the child grows into the teen and the teen grows into the adult, the "householder" stage of psychological and mystical development is reached. It is here that ego development reaches its pinnacle.
The security drive is what makes a stable family. A stable family environment is invaluable to the fragile psyche of growing, healthy children. The security drive only becomes unhealthy and unnatural after the basic needs of parents and children have been met, when an initially subtle shift occurs from honest concern for the welfare of the family to justification of greed. Greed sinks its teeth in like the talons of a vampiric beast. It escalates exponentially, and as it escalates all perspective of real living and real soul is lost. A natural security impulse becomes a "security stronghold," a massive, intangible beast with the stealth of a virus and the astuteness of a meticulously designed computer program. It is an evasive constellation of "Catch 22's" in which all loopholes are closed, rendering action outside of the program virtually impossible without serious risk to psyche and survival, both on the individual and the societal level. And as this phantom beast grows, it becomes the archetype of oppression. The archetype of oppression naturally awakens the archetype of liberation. There is no need to fight for liberation if we don't initially feel oppressed.
Where does the friction that arises in any conflict come from? It comes from both sides, of course. It is part of the natural individuation process for spiritual concerns, concerns of liberation, to begin to manifest themselves in mid-life. The internal security stronghold is eventually meant to begin to give way as ego death and the drive of spiritual liberation gain momentum, as the "householder" stage gives way to what Hindu psycho-spiritual development calls the "sannyasin" phase, where all but minimal material needs are renounced in favor of abundant spiritual ones. The New Age represents the pinnacle of the liberation drive in its clarity, purity, and shining strength. At least, it has the potential to radiate pure liberation in embodied societal form, if we would stop piddling with superficial social gatherings in the guise of unctuous healing circle rituals, followed by exquisite garden party potluck vegetarian meals in the name of the divine shower of sparks that have rained upon us and washed away our ignorance and our dark side forevermore, glory be to God.
Here's a news flash: the undertow of darkness is always directly proportionate to the intensity of the flooding of light. It is called wholeness.
When this dynamic reaches a critical point of clarity, it totters on the threshold of the next stage of consciousness that humankind now faces. It itches to erupt from transcendent mysticism to embodied social action. Embodied spirituality is the next phase of consciousness. The force behind the transition from the transcendent to the immanent is tremendous. It is completely destabilizing. Few mystical guidelines exist on how to make this transition positively. The force behind it is raw, tumultuous, and misunderstood. It threatens to erupt and hemorrhage into power over others because we have not yet developed the faculties to channel its explosion for the good of all sentient beings.
A guru lives in great peril of becoming an awakened being who breaks under this force and distorts liberation into power over others. A guru can, and often does become a fallen angel. But to be a fallen angel, you have to be an angel first. A spiritual hemorrhage is just one step beyond transcendent mysticism; it is the first failed step of a toddler called "embodied mysticism" that has not yet learned to use its newly discovered feet.
It is equally possible that after an initial spiritual awakening (which is not "enlightenment") that catapults you from tran-scendent aura-and-vision-focused ego indulgence (or disem-bodied, long-term, secluded meditation, for that matter) to an engaged desire to improve society, to fight for a better world, everything changes. The world is redefined, permanently reordered into forces of liberation and forces of oppression. Either a projectile rise into light or an explosive tailspin into darkness is possible. The prerequisite conditions are identical. The emergence of an absolute critical point of change is identical. It is what you do with this awakening that counts. It is what you do with this awakening that brings extremes of good or evil.
It is this level of awakening that must be brought to the attention of the New Age, for it is the key to true liberation-the eventual eradication of needless human-based destruction. We need to face our deepest molten whirlpools of darkness if we are ever to turn the tide of human-based destruction with any significant lasting effects. Spiritual awakening that has hemorrhaged into power can only be reformed by applying the clarity and unflinching vision necessary to understand the most refined dynamics of why this happens. The New Age has access to a very delicate constellation of factors that, if masterfully handled with alchemy and awareness, can begin a wave of change that will not only be effective and lasting, it will be a bridge for the next phase of the evolution of human consciousness, an embodied spirituality that has the vision to dream itself into a silhouette of heaven.
Maria A. Todisco holds a Ph.D. in transpersonal psychology and consciousness studies. Dr. Todisco was the quickest candidate to earn her Ph.D. in the history of her program. She is an educator, psychological theorist, and writer who lives in Los Angeles, and is currently working on a major project for publication that advocates psycho-spiritual wholeness through philosophy-based integration of the shadow.