Common Sense and New Age Bullshit

Posted on May 10, 2019
Picture of New Age satirist JP Sears

Picture of New Age satirist JP Sears

Some years ago I decided to engage in one-on-one meetings and group encounters in what I will call the conscious community, without an agenda but with a stated intention of benevolent curiosity and a willingness to share my inner world. I joined a circling group. I enrolled in a shiatsu school to become a shiatsu massage practitioner. I took part in a number of tantra retreats. I became a Kundalini yoga coach. I started to write poetry, and I did an experiment with writing for the theatre.

The effects of all this blew my mind. Beautiful encounters with radically different outlooks on life. Unexpected turns in conversations. Deep mutual understanding. Hilarious laughter. Surges of energy. A newly developed taste for frivolity and lighthearted nonsense. A much greater tolerance for foolishness. Lots of cracks in my academic worldview.

Yes, I believe in the value of spontaneity in encounters with people. Yes, I know the value of direct experience. Yes, I know many things that I cannot prove, and that I did not learn from books but through self inquiry and meetings with inspiring people in the conscious community. I have had an ample share of “mystical” experiences during meditations, retreats and satsangs.

People who know me have told me that they noticed a change in me after I - unbeknownst to them - took up a meditation practice. I know from first hand experience that following a spiritual discipline is immensely beneficial for well being.

And still, and still …

I am appalled by the lack of common sense and discernment in the conscious community. Many people appear to have put their critical thinking faculty on hold, and believe all kinds of near-truths or outright nonsense. Trust me, I know from experience there is real gold to be found in spiritual practice. And I also know there is a lot of fool’s gold around. I know about the healing value of physical touch from experience, but I am also mathematically and scientifically literate, so terms like quantum touch healing make me smile (or frown, depending on my mood).

In a question and answer piece in The Guardian, Michael Pollan asked quantum physicist Carlo Rovelli straightforwardly about this: “Do you think that quantum mechanics has any relevance for our understanding of consciousness?” Rovelli gave a clear-cut answer: “I do not think that quantum theory plays any major role in our understanding of consciousness. [..] The reason I think that quantum effects are more or less irrelevant for consciousness is precisely because they do not scale up to our experience of the world; they wash out as we move up in dimension. This is why the world looks so non-quantum to us, well described by classical mechanics.”

I am appalled by the gasoline and kerosine guzzling lifestyles of many self-styled spiritual teachers, who make it their business to offer expensive retreats in exotic places and who encourage their disciples to follow their ecologically irresponsible behaviour. The retreats for affluent Westerners in Bali, the safaris for middle aged men on a path of self discovery to Tanzania, the transatlantic flights that bring spiritual communities together, no doubt they are beautiful for the participants, but they are a complete disaster for the planet.

Aware people should not close their eyes for the pending ecological disaster. Aware people should not pretend that all is well in the best of possible worlds. Aware people should not refuse to inform themselves about what is going with the destruction of our natural habitat. It is better to listen to the likes of Thich Nhat Hanh, Nelson Mandela, Tara Brach, Jane Goodall, than to the fake gurus who tell us that we create our own reality, that it is better for our mental equilibrium not to read or watch the news, and that what science has to teach us about the world we live in is old school.

Artist credit: MacLeodCartoons

Artist credit: MacLeodCartoons

Truth is our essence. It follows from this that we should respect our teachers, we should respect scientific learning, we should respect what our college textbooks tell us about mathematics, physics, biology and chemistry. We should try to grasp why all this is relevant for our understanding of the world we live in, although it has little to say about our inner worlds. And those who tell us we can discard all this knowledge are the ones that are leading us astray. So here are some questions for y’all.

This is about differences, about distinctions, about our power of discernment, about developing and trusting our common sense. This is about everything that we need to draw the line between deep spiritual truth and profound-sounding nonsense.

Can you sense why this is important? Can you see where I am coming from with these questions? Can you extend this list? Can you help me with some useful answers?

PS You can try the New Age bullshit generator here. Here is a sample piece of priceless wisdom:

The revolution of non-locality is now happening worldwide. Gaia will enable us to access psychic non-locality. Soon there will be an awakening of presence the likes of which the quantum matrix has never seen.

And so on. So here is a nice challenge: “Print it out as a speech for your yoga class and see if anyone can guess a computer wrote it.”