New Age Paths:
Now it's all about business
by Cliff Bostock
(Originally published in the "Paradigms" column of Creative
It's not a new criticism to notice that much of
the New Age spirituality and self-improvement movements are motivated
by the same kind of values that drive capitalism. Even the famous book
of recent years on happiness, Flow, makes work and productivity
the source of all good feeling in life.
It's little wonder then that the New Age is finding such a cozy home
in the business environment now. The magazine Fast Company ran
a feature in its July issue about business execs on retreat at pricey
Canyon Ranch in Arizona, where many enroll in programs in Dan Baker's
Life Enrichment Center.
The article profiles some success stories of stressed-out overworked
executives who reclaim real lives. Or so they claim. Typical is this statement:
"He began delegating at work, and he cut his workweek back to 55
hours. With his newfound time, he carved out a personal life. He took
up squash, hiking, and skiing, and he joined several local charity boards.
He chose to end his first, unhappy marriage and
remarried and became
Newfound time? In other words, he "cut back" to 55 hours of
work so he could attack his personal life like he runs his business. No
wonder he needs to return to the ranch several times a year.
As a contrast, the March/April issue of New Age, where you'd expect
a less self-critical examination, included a section on "spiritual
responsibility." In one article, Clark Strand, formerly senior editor
of the Buddhist magazine Tricycle, criticizes guru culture. He
reports how the estate of Chogyam Trungpa Rinopche refused to let the
magazine print material from the Buddhist leader's books after it printed
some articles critical of his sexual relationships and alcoholism. In
other words, he writes, it is one problem for the guru to be imperfect.
It's a more serious problem for the guru and his followers to attempt
to hide imperfection.
Strand, after years inside guru culture himself, makes the predictable
argument that "truth is within" and that we don't need gurus.
To "wake up from guru culture" in his view is to realize "it
was never possible to find a truth other than our own, and never possible
to give our truth away."
In another article, Linda Ilene Solomon, writes facetiously on "spritual
promsiscuity" - the continual drifting by seekers like herself from
one path and teacher to another. She ultimately concludes that forging
personal religious hybrids is "okay." On the other hand, Steven
Hassan, a former Moonie turned psychotherapist, reports that he pilgrimed
many paths but "finally reconnected to my Jewish roots" and
attends a temple led by a "postdenominational" rabbi.
It seems to me that most of these authors and the hard-playing business
executive labor too much under a singular belief more problematic than
time management or guru discipleship. May the problem not be excessive
valuation of interiority and individuality? Perhaps "truth"
is neither "inside" me nor "outside" in the teacher
but in what is constellated between us as individuals, in the dialog.
(Even prayer is dialog.) After all, Strand only woke up from the delusions
of guru culture and to his own truth after absorbing himself in it.
One might compare it to Dorothy's trip to Oz, an archetypal tale of the
search for wisdom. Yes, she has to leave home and encounter a wizard before
appreciating her home, but it's foolish to say that the Kansas to which
she returns is the Kansas that she left. The experience of home is radically
altered by the journey. Unless you are a fundamentalist, or a complete
essentialist, you can't say that "home," as a literal place
or metaphor for spiritual enrichment, is a fixed place. Most of us cannot
penetrate the significance of the immediate without distancing rather
radically from it at first.
Thus, I'd argue, a real spiritual life requires - as the traditional
religions have taught - active engagement with people both like us (in
our congregations) and very different from us too (in mission and charity
work). It also requires intellectual and aesthetic stimulation, opening
to new ideas and the beauty in the world. The teacher must open us to
others, not command our sole devotion.
Years of writing this column - to say nothing of my own
participation in guru culture - have taught me how narcissistic most modern
religious, psychological and spiritual movements have become through their
embarassing valuation of interiority and that outrageous mantra, "I
am god." I think the self-examination demonstrated by the New
Age Magazine writers indicates that we are perhaps on the way back
to a more open-hearted spirituality in which god is the other, not my
Copyright 1999 by Creative Loafing
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