I am friends with many New-Age people on one particular social networking site (as I adopt many 'New-Age' beliefs myself). One woman in particular adopted a bit of a schizophrenic approach to her accounts. Every day she updated her status with positive soundbites. Then one day she erupted, spattering her facebook page with something altogether darker, and finishing her vitriolic outpourings with ‘if you all don’t like it you can ‘f*ck off, this is me!’ It transpired she had held two separate accounts, one to encompass the light side of her personality and one to encompass the 'normal' side, which she had long been using to contact her real-life friends. The people she’d befriended on either side had no idea about this until the day she decided to merge both accounts under her New-Age persona. What she’d done was really to repress her natural human responses and try to airbrush them from her life. By allowing only one side of herself to be present to various different people at any given time, she wasn’t being honest about who she was, and finally, she exploded.
This is something I’ve noticed some New-Agers want to do, try to airbrush out the darker side of their humanity -- otherwise known as the shadow in Jungian psychoanalysis which is the denied aspect of the self. But why? These people often have the best intentions and want to write about positive human emotion. They believe thoughts to be powerful entities in their own right, therefore allowing in chinks of darkness makes them wary. In addition, they may have had awakening experiences in which they felt overwhelming joy, love and interconnectedness.
But chances are, they’re still human beings who occasionally want to tell the world to ‘f*ck off’. You can have a flash of brilliant insight about humanity and being positive, but there will still involve some level of effort to see through on a daily basis; if you've not got to grips with your own demons there is work to be done! And we certainly can’t do that vicariously, from simply reading about someone else who is transformed. Both Byron Katie and Neale Donald Walsch underwent incredibly challenging times before they were able to experience a sense spiritual epiphany that allowed them to transform their negativity. Their difficult years were the beginnings of the work they needed to do in their psyches in order to allow the transformation to take place. Peace Pilgrim was able to turn pretty much most of her waking life into constant prayer, but it took her 12 years of discipline before this practise came easily to her.
We can’t proclaim ourselves transformed until we fully know what our weak spots are. Darkness is as integral to the human experience as light in this context. I believe that it's the attitude towards whatever lands in our paths that is important. When we first step on the spiritual path, it's only natural and arguably, necessary, to feel doubt. In this way, our path can often oscillate between becoming more awakened and then scurrying back towards the darkness for a bit while we try and figure it all out. Sometimes this process is necessary; far better for us to be able to finally embrace our path having worked through our doubts and our shadow-side.
‘ The Secret’, by Rhonda Byrne is the first New-Age book I've come across so far that I felt didn't quite get the emphasis right. The key of the Secret is, apparently, to believing you already have what you want so the law of attraction will ensure the universe will serve it up. If we desperately long for something, the universe will oblige by bringing us the experience of desperate longing. Whilst on some level it may be true that our thoughts might bring about *some* of our experiences, we can’t say for certain that they are responsible for everything that happens to us. Athletes will attest to the power of positive thinking and creative visualisation. Sometimes we might find we’re entrenched in old, habitual ways of thinking which aren’t accurate or serving us in a useful way. But it’s knowing how to utilise our minds in a more healthy way while not allowing ourselves to get carried away in fantasy.
This book appears to say that, by following our goals, regardless of what they are, the universe will spring into action to assist us. I have ethical issues with this. I think synchronicities do play a part in life when we're on the right path that is individual to all of us, not just when something shiny takes our fancy. The focus in this book has done away with spiritual focus and cut to the shiny results, feeding into a materialistic culture.
The Power of Positive Thinking
I do understand that a lot of people believe that 'thoughts are powerful entities in their own right (and I tend to believe this too). So then it might become tempting to think if we just focus on what we want, or happy thoughts that will suffice in terms of spiritual development. The New-Age movement is still in its infancy, and so I guess there are going to be areas ripe for misunderstanding or misreading. There is a book I’ve been meaning to read by David Tacey, called Jung and the New Age which sounds like a hugely interesting critique of the New Age phenomenon, and looks at the reasons the psychoanalyst, Carl Jung has been (apparently) so widely misappropriated by the movement, looking at innacuracies in the reading of his work.
What I can say from my observations so far, is that people involved in the New Age movement have to be careful when choosing what to believe, and how they read certain texts (like everyone really!). It's all-too easy to get swept up in a tide of well-meaning positivity, but it can lead to an almost fanatical belief based on very little of substance. It just means when stepping a foot onto the path of deepening your spirituality, you should be as aware of your own failings as possible, and be willing to be honest about them. I'm sure my New-Age friend has since found a middle path between her outburst and her 'whiter-than-white' persona, and probably learned something about her own nature along the way.
There is a wealth of beautiful information out there amongst New-Age reading (including Byron Katie, and Neale Donald Walsch, as well as the ACIM books). I personally believe that we are all one, and that there is a very beautiful presence, or force, or God, that is able to guide us if we let it. For most of us, there is work to be done. Work to find out who we are and then live out our lives at the highest level of our potential. We all have unique gifts which we can bring to each other and to the world. The work involves staying very much heart-centred, making decisions from a place of love, kindness, gratitude. Then our non-attachment will perhaps attract the right things into our lives! (These might not be a huge paycheck or a shiny new car though, but they will be whatever it is our soul needs on its path at that moment.)
Plenty of books out there will help you on your spiritual path, but it's vital that you find ways to stay true to yourself as much as possible; if you feel you've become lost you may need to disconnect from the world around for a time. The answers will come.