What are you doing with your Enlightenment?

I grew up in a house with religion, my father’s side is “Christmas and Easter Muslim” and my mother’s side is “Fundamentalist United Church”. If that doesn’t make any sense it meants my mother believed Love is Love and anyone who didn’t believe that should die, and my father routinely forgets when it’s Eid. I went to Sunday school that discussed the philosophy of politics and pondered the meaning of life like a bunch of sober stoners. I dropped out when I was a teenager and found actual drugs were more fun and it meant you didn’t have to get up so early on a Sunday morning. I kept with me an understanding that there is something at work bigger than my human brain can comprehend, and that it wasn’t going to be my life’s pursuit to underhand what that is. 

I feel like growing up with a religious tradition taught me things like tolerance towards people who believe in religion. For example, growing up downtown meant that I got to hang out with everyone on the religious spectrum, like Catholics AND Atheists — at the same time. People who believed that the sacrament literally turned into the body and blood of Christ and people who believed that people who believed were the stupidest people in the world. It didn’t take long to see that those who didn’t have religion hate religion the same way I hated the cool kids on the night of the big dance. I don’t even care that they had an after-party that was so epic they still make reference to it on Facebook. 

We, the children of downtown Toronto, know at least one kid who told his Jehovah’s Witness parents he was going to the library so that could go to a birthday party, we reluctantly shopped at Salvation Army for cool vintage stuff because it was less picked over than the Goodwill, we boasted about being invited to Seder and Diwali and knew not to trip over intense burning shrines at the door of the foot massage place in Chinatown. Religious diversity usually means access to awesome food and the moral superiority of knowing you’re better than those intolerant hicks you hear so much about. But everyone has a breaking point…

New Age Spiritualists. People who actively walk around saying that they don’t subscribe to man-made religion but thank the universe for every sign they ascribe meaning to, hit my intolerance buttons faster than a redneck telling us what the Koran says. 

I believe in the power of energy, mindfulness and that the spiritual journey is personal. I believe in positive affirmations and the mystical connection between each and every one of us. I even believe in the power of talismans can be used to tap into our intentions. I love the incorporations of ancient practices, mythology and cultural traditions from all around the world. 

But what I don’t believe is the Vegan-esque holier than thou attitude towards other practices of religious faith or the immediate default to asking the universe what the lesson is for every setback they suffer. Some of the smuggest people I’ve met are Buddhists because they believe they vibrate at a higher frequency than you do.

  • The universe is not trying to teach you a lesson when your boyfriend breaks up with you.
  • Fortune Tellers tell you things that fit into your life because the brain works very hard to seek out the personal connection in every interaction.
  • The goal of being spiritually enlightened is a goal of being religiously superior to those you share the planet with. It is not selfless.
  • Manifesting material possessions is the same as buying things.
  • We can all tell you don’t use deodorant, cultural appropriating White people with dreads in drum circles who do yoga and use inclusive language — You Are The Worst.
  • The Secret is not a secret. 
  • Setting your intentions and following through is something your parents should have taught you. It’s called keeping a promise.
  • Dream Boards are for Dreamers, the rest of us act on our intentions.

Maybe I’m a lapsed New Ager, I had my time on something a friend of mine referred to as “Flake Alley” - we’re talking advanced level manifestation theory, past life regressions, talking to gurus, psychics, and healers. 

Reiki (Energy Healing) and Crystals (Talismans) still play a roll in my life today, but I mourn the seven hundred bucks I lost to Transcendental Meditation lessons.  It’s possible that was the straw that broke the camel’s back: Paying money to learn a mantra from a leader of a community in order to tap into the collective energy of everyone else in that community? That dances dangerously close to a cult to me. At least at the United Church if you needed lifting up from the community there was a potluck.

Meditation is a practice, like writing, you work at it and it looks different on everyone: The Hero’s Journey and Save the Cat are the same structure with different wording. Meditation and gratitude practices are referred to in the religious systems as prayer, plain and simple. Tell me I’m wrong. If you do it twice a day for twenty minutes, you’re actually praying more than the average Baptist. 

Now, speaking of meditation: Total silence - great if you can get there. Unbothered by the buzzing mosquitos around you - holy crap, now that’s really looking inward. Standing by the side of your thought highway unfussed by the passing cars - ok, yeah, sure you can. Repeating your mantras - I dig that. None of that stuff bothers me, you do you. 

What bothers me is those who think that anyone who doesn’t meditate is some kind of neanderthal. The goal of meditation is total zen, inside access to the ways of the universe, to vibrate on a higher level than the average being to increase consciousness… If you’re not pursuing enlightenment you are not living a full life, your next life will be working on the same shit as this life, that ignoring your spiritual life is a life lived in a self-imposed hell. Work on your enlightenment and it will save your soul. 

A Bossy New Ager is worse than a Bible-Thumper. A bible-thumper is trying to save your soul, a bossy new ager is boasting about how his soul is better than yours.

Like every Mormon believes he will be welcomed into the kingdom of heaven with all his child-brides, so is everyone who believes that enlightenment will be granted to you if you do exactly what they do. Hero’s Journey, Save the Cat. Same theory, different words to describe it.

For all it’s ‘5000-year-old practices’ New Agers are no better than any other for mind-controlling religion — and if I’m wrong, answer me this one question: 

What are you going to do with your enlightenment when you found it?

I get it, enlightenment is about changing yourself. And if everyone in the world was working on their enlightenment the world would be a better place. But that is not going to happen, that ignores the fact that the majority of the world are trying to keep their head above water. That getting your celestial chart read costs money. That New Age circles are overwhelmingly white and middle class. That cynics struggle to wrap their head around third eyes, alien theory, and chakras on the city bus while they head to work.

As for me, you lost me when it occurred to me that dedicating my life to enlightenment is a selfish pursuit, to me, a fundamental no-no when looking for a spiritual community. I can not focus on what the universe is or isn’t providing for me when my practices should be about healing and peace. 

I’ll ask again: What are you doing other than working on yourself? And I’m not talking about healing circles and yoga retreats because that’s just MORE working on your personal enlightenment. I’m not talking about getting your message out there with a lecture series on the teachings of the Buddha or handmade soaps with Ayurvedic aromatherapy. I’m asking: Who are you and what do you stand for without your religion? 

Because you live here and now, and at the end of the day ALL religions are about how you live your life on earth.