Spiritual self-help is a parasite adapted to our religious instincts.
Thanks for the thoughtful dissection of spiritual and mystical practices and experiences. As you indicated explicitly (dissolution of the post-Dispenza retreat group) and implicitly (referencing Gandhi, MLK and Mandela), transformative spiritual experiences should result in and be aimed at increased, sustained, holistic, life-affirming, and self-sacrificial involvement in a community of others who find themselves somewhere along the same path. "Evil" can be easily sniffed out in the fruits of incomplete, misguided or deceptive spiritual teachings which fail to produce or even inhibit people from finding a community marked by mutual support, acceptance of differences, joyful inward AND outward service, and some form of fumbling toward unconditional love.
“Beware of wisdom that is not earned.” --- Happily concur with some of the other comments, this piece is really really wonderful. Honest, poignant, interesting and touching on something real; and since your wisdom here feels earned it rings all the more true. Thx Taylor.
Thank you for sharing this Taylor. I was raised in a cult (Mormonism) and after unraveling that web, I found myself in a disorienting freefall looking for truth and meaning. Without a belief system in place, I was in a state of confusion around morals, ethics, the purpose of life, my own identity, etc. I stumbled upon Sam Harris' work (Waking Up book) and discovered a "highly rational" spiritual take on experience. Through meditation and psychedelics, I found a great deal of insight and temporary peace. But there was always a return to baseline and the questioning and unease returned. What you wrote here captures a great deal of my yearning; a desire to have regular spiritual connection without the dogma and manipulation. I don't know what the answer is, but it feels good to know I'm not alone.
In my suuper humble opinion, this is your best, most honest writing in quite a while. Thanks for sharing your very real struggle, Taylor; I feel you.
Damn. And Amen.
“They open floodgates without digging channels.”
“Reality is narrative. That doesn’t mean it’s not real.”
Lots of Saturday truths.
Thank you for sharing.
‘It’s so obvious that it hurts.’ But I was special and different, a contrarian ...
This was beautifully done! Appreciate your honesty and sharing while weaving in many threads regarding the current phenomena of self-help and spiritual gurus. Without a grounded framework and tradition, the religious function of the psyche becomes hijacked by any number of flashy and seemingly powerful movements that shimmer with numinosity, meaning and a way to orient in reality.
Also, so very curious to hear more on the conversation mentioned here: "She also thought the “beings” people encountered during deep meditations were Jungian archetypes. We had a great, long conversation down that rabbit hole."
I also agree that altered states of consciousness tap us into the unconscious aspects of psyche, which at the core is the structures of the archetypes. It's why these experiences can be so moving, otherworldly, imagistic. And why they can be radically destabilizing as well.
Thank you *so* much for that Abraham clip. It takes a specific desire to understand that because we do die, because our experience in space-time is finite, it behooves is to focus on creating what we want which for many of us is joy. A joyful world. It’s not mandatory to desire a joyful world. As that man displayed, it’s allowable to focus on misery only. Either way he’s going to croak as she said. Either way, joy or misery, this will end. It’s all about the choice. We can choose to align with light and love--and we’d be hard pressed to find a single person who has never experienced it for one second--and we can decide we want as much of that and we want to spread as much of it as we can even while the planet burns and others suffer--or we can lament burning and suffering while never adding a single thing to the world or even another person to try to lift it or them up.
This is one giant experiential sandbox and then we die. Free will means your will is free to focus as it will. Conscious choice is the gift of free will. Choose by anything. But be aware the joy is a choice individually. The more who choose it, the more collectively who’ll experience it.
And then we die in physical space-time regardless what we choose.
Hey! Really enjoyed this. Efforts are being made along these lines. Up here in Portland, OR we're playing a parareality game called "Phonomancer" that allows one to participate in quasi-fictional (i.e., mythic) narrative. Part of that is doing hard, hard Shadow work. In our current practice, that involves contemplating the fate of Anne Frank and the reality of the Holocaust as part of ritual magic intended to prevent the end of the world. You might find it interesting! https://youtu.be/TAUILZI51Xk?si=tUcF-STgEnOwMnJo
Oh so glad I read this. Wonderful title, I resonate w the “spiritual but not religious.”
You might LOVE this book: Existential Kink. I recently finished it, a referral from a friend, and it addresses head on the bogus-ness of so much “shelf help” (great term).
Concur I appreciate the authenticity here. Also, I’m in Colorado, so woah, a few synchronicities in here for me. My hubs is on an “atomic habits” reading kick right now, lol.
You also had a couple sentences in here that I may have to consult you about borrowing, relating to some writing I want to do. (They were about knots and fiber of all things, having to do with the self.)
So glad I read this. Thanks for not selling me short, kicking up the inspiration, and highly resonating with the vibes of the times. (Queue a whole rant about “belief,” “religion,” and Jupiter retrograde, haha!)
Nice. Thanks for continuing to share your personal stories.
The analogy that I came up with is that meditation, and self-help in general, is a tool. But you need a toolbox or a wall to organize those tools- and that is what the narrative of your live will help you with. We need a story, often influenced by the pattern of our religion, to make sense of what all these tools are for, when to use them, how to use them, why to use them.
The people who spend too much time in the present, or on their “live laugh love” journeys are like people who use their tools for fun. You can use a hammer to pound the shit out of nails for hours. In random places. It’s fun. You can use it to break down old fences You can use a saw to do that too. And so on. But none of that is productive.
The true craftsmen (ie the people who are living life well) have a variety of tools, keep them in regular usage and maintenance while applying them to build something meaningful- whether houses or works of art. It’s all about having a purpose.
Thanks for this one. Have been reading your work for some time. This piece takes a quantum leap forward, in my humble opinion. All the best to you.
Shelf help. I’ve watched it grow exponentially the last twenty years, from a shelf to a whole section. Now a stadium. Faith healers live in person.
This is such a wonderful essay, Taylor. I'm new to your work and glad this was my intro. I have used psychedelics and they have been massively helpful - but only once I learned to integrate the lessons in love and connectedness into my most challenging relationships. We can't run away and never come back - we need to take responsibility for our role and clean up our errors in order to foster relationships and a community rooted in love.
So much good stuff here. Thank you.
I’ve done a few rounds of ceremonial plant retreats that have massively helped me look into a traumatic and horrific past that I truly couldn’t have faced due to it being so so repressed; I also know I couldn’t have broken my patterns in the now alone or even in my faith based community/culture. These spaces and plants have massively helped me to better my now and to start working through my fears and past, but I know I have been fortunate enough to have safe containers and support in therapeutic settings and most importantly facilitators who don’t want followers.
I am grateful because despite my positive experience, I can also resonate with so much of what you said which is pure truth in a soulless spiritual community that does make quick bucks and gives no real concrete support, it can be so overwhelming and damaging and frustrating in so many ways when there is no integration or real community after. This is also very true for religious communities that too have become more about the like than about supporting the soul of their followers. I think any leader has the capacity to become a spiritual airhead and do damage, unless rooted in intention which is to truly do like some of those you mentioned.
For me my religious faith has always remained with me despite this type of work and that has grounded me, perhaps it’s why I still remain skeptical to give my money away to spiritual gurus or to be a ardent follower of any. I do resonate with much of what you have written here; this piece is wonderfully refreshing and exactly what people should be reading, especially from that community.
Thank you for sharing this, I look forward to some of your other work 👏🏼