Buying enlightenment: A consumerist way to spirituality

spirituality, kettle mag
Written by Leonie Veerman

While not so long ago spirituality was considered as something mythical that only hippies and other weirdoes were meddling with, these days, it seems to have become the norm.

While not so long ago spirituality was considered as something mythical that only hippies and other weirdoes were meddling with, these days, it seems to have become the norm. Like the emphasis on eco-consciousness and sustainability, every fashionable man or woman of the modern world has a fair amount of spirituality included in his or her meticulously constructed lifestyle.

And yes, I hear all you free-spirited dreadlocked souls thinking, this has off course everything to do with the world’s current transition to the age of Aquarius, a new age in which the human consciousness shall rise to a new level and the world shall finally know peace and harmony. Well, think again! There might just be a way more down-to-earth and vicious explanation for these at first sight blissful endeavours of our modern society.

We all know them, those types that take this whole spiritual of living way too serious. It might have started with them hearing an inspiring Zen quote and suddenly you find they filled their houses from top to bottom with Buddha posters, Tibetan prayer flags, singing bowls, altars, meditation pillows, crystals and incense.

It’s not just those exceptional die-hard new-age activists I am talking about here. I am also talking about all the annoyingly normal people that have now become infected with this spirituality virus. People that ten years ago would have cursed all those unusual people with their mystical nonsense are now posting inspirational Buddha quotes, or preach about the importance of embracing the present, the secret powers of the universe, or some other clichés they just read in some bestselling self-help guide.

Although at first hand this all seems a pretty innocent phenomenon, and yes, for some it might even be an indication that the human race is developing itself into a more harmonious and peaceful species, I would not be so sure about that. However sincere the intentions behind all this soul-searching and mindfulness may be, there is a huge capitalistic marketing machine at work behind it that is anything but harmonious.

The new-age idea has grown into a billion dollar business. Most of the popular writers and speakers behind the books that emphasise on the power of love and the whole ‘money doesn’t make you happy’ mantra are themselves all too eager to earn big money for spreading their wisdom. Just like they say the Roman Catholic Church at one point used to sell indulgence, we now like to buy ourselves enlightenment. And naturally, in this bleak secular age, the demand for this is very high.

Take for instance the meaningful case of the Mayan calendar that ended this December. We have consumed these sensational doomsday prophecies as if it was a circus. We loved it and we weren’t afraid at all, because after some reassuring studies into the original Mayan beliefs, we all knew that it would not mean the end of the world but on the contrary consist of a beautiful transition to a more harmonic and peaceful earth.

It might be clear that the Mayans did not profit in any way from all this fuss about their cultural heritage. From time to time a Mayan chief was asked to give a short clarification or quote in front of a camera, to give the spiritual message just that bit more zest. Meanwhile the indigenous Mayan people were being expelled from their holy sites and temples, because these locations now fulfil the sole purpose of being touristic attractions.

The masses of spiritual tourists that are now traveling to South America because of their big respect and interest in the pure and peaceful lifestyles of the Mayans, form in fact the biggest threat to the survival of these indigenous people. Moreover, while they idolize the pure relation the Mayans have to mother earth, their flight alone causes more pollution than a whole life of environmental action can redeem.

The modern phenomenon of this seeking for something more meaningful than our day-to-day consumerist lives seems to be inverted into a similar materialistic gluttony we are fleeing from in the first place. We are buying crystals, homeopathic treatments, magnetized bracelets, self-help books and life-coaching support almost in the exact same way as we are buying a Big Mac or designer clothes, for instant fulfilling of our never-satisfied needs. What we call spirituality these days is in many cases nothing more than consumerist greed disguised as wisdom.

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