Although a crazy-ass surrealist in my own right, I continually find myself troubled at the stampede of spiritual fixes on the market and in everyday culture. In the 60s, Buddhist and other Eastern teachers became popular among the acolytes of Ginsberg and Leary alike, and since then their teachings have become muddled and wonky. Hippies latched on to meditative and spiritual practices but included in their routines drugs and political rage. So, the result now is a bevy of self-help spiritual medicaments and other practices that lose sight of what thinkers such as Chogyam Trungpa really desired to impart.
One noticeable event on the business scale is the marketable use of meditative practice to help the workforce be productive and focus. Teachers, regardless of their original intentions or training, enter offices and sell spirituality as a form of relaxation and brain exercise. And in the world of the everyday schnook, folks try spiritual cleanses and treat meditation like a way of honing in on their problems and forcing them out of their brains. Younger people come off of acid trips and say they’ve seen god or found enlightenment somewhere in their addled consciousness.
While I don’t believe there is anything wrong with working in a more focused manner, or chilling out to your favorite hallucinogens, spirituality suffers from its modern definition as a way to fix your life. That entails life being completely problematic in the first place, a definition foisted on human life that puts a lot of pressure on any practice, be it spiritual or derived from Oprah’s holy writ. Spirituality becomes an external thing, like a new finish on the sports car you want your life to be. And it takes the blame when something goes wrong. Scapegoated spirituality runs amok.
This is not universal, though. It’s not like the entire world is turning spirituality into a mass cult. I’m only saying that there are many misinterpretations, and they have the potential to hurt rather than help. Trungpa, one of the most prominent teachers to practice in the states and the founder of Naropa University in Colorado, tries to demonstrate that real spiritual practice is actually a very down to earth and painful experience. My father, a longtime student of the now passed Trungpa, has told me many times that Buddhist meditation (shambhala practice) is breathing and sitting, nothing more, almost the absence of a practice.
If you want to practice, he says, there is very little else than the act of sitting, gazing ahead with a straight spine, and breathing at an even pace. Any and all thoughts are to be treated gently and allowed to pass. Trungpa lectured that when a question arises, it is good for the next question to arise, on and on into hopelessness. But that’s not what the office worker or college junior of the 21st century wants to hear. They want to hear about flowing energies and enlightened lightness of being. Those are all possible, but the path is inward as opposed to outward, a cross-section of everything you are, down to every neurotic fear and impulse. You are you, and you live on this world, the only world. Spirituality is not a portal to a magical fairyland. Those seeking that may be disappointed.