For my birthday, a good friend gifted me a link to a New Age film which is part of the inspiration and industry related to a certain famous channeled body of writing. The body in question is a lively organism of many members and this film is only one of the many related works. The title doesn’t matter as, in the whole film I found nothing original. The book, ditto. I didn’t put the word ‘channeled’ in scare quotes as I have no problem with archetypal writing, or the kind of book that Robert M. Pirsig (who doesn’t use that word) calls by the Swedish word kulturbärer (culture-barer). I do, however, have a lot of problems with the culture embodied in this film.
To be fair, there is much that is good about the film. Many creative works begin by choosing a different path in midlife and, if Dante’s Divine Comedy was a momento mori (remembrance of death) than this film is definitely a reminder to live life, and to live it to the full. All well and good, and in the afternoon of life we may do well to remember that life is for living.
I can put up with the New Age smugness, the smile and the not-really-listening-to-the-question-because-you-already-know-the-answer; these are symptoms of an attitude common to all ideologies. The studied childlike anti-intellectualism, which precludes an ideology becoming a critical philosophy, the vagueness and conflation of concepts of self and universe and nature and the divine, which preclude fragmentary teachings becoming a religion (or even a full spirituality); these are annoying but not toxic elements utilised by this industry. More irritating is the gender binary, seemingly stuck in melodramas of 50’s suburban Americana awaiting the liberation of Second Wave feminism. So we hear that pre and post the ‘quantum moment’ (a peak experience that [unlike peak experiences] is enduring and simultaneously a paradigm shift, always for the better) men and women want different things. None of them surprising (for those who know the genre). But the male teacher conveniently forgets, in his universal call to service, that while human beings find our purpose in serving, women, apparently (they’ve done studies), need to do their own thing.
So I wonder, as usual with the abundance/ awareness version of the New Age, whether ‘human being’ really translates as ‘independently wealthy White US male’. Just don’t ask by what means he or his family got the money. And please don’t stop supporting this multi-million dollar industry, that prides itself on not being materialistic.
I’m being unkind and unfair, I know. Just about everything I’ve said could, with a couple of tweaks, be equally applied to scientific socialism, Roman Catholicism, or the touchy-feely micromanaged milieu of call centres. I’m not being partisan, I often take pot shots at my coreligionists, when I find them lacking in collective compassion – and don’t get me started on call centres! But the film bothers me because it’s almost right.
Its naiveté is breathtaking. We’re told that, as we lacked nothing in the womb, as all was provided perfectly, so, with non-interference and good will, all will be well in life after birth. Without going into reproductive ethics, from the perspective of life in a woman’s womb, there are so many things that can and do go wrong – abortion, miscarriage and non-fatal damage being three. It’s also beyond me how, looking around the seas and shores of Europe at the moment, everything can be said to be working out perfectly. This is the Humpty-Dumptyism of language. If that’s what ‘perfect’ now means, we need another word to describe what it used to mean. One that doesn’t include calamity.
So the film is plain wrong about the politics of privilege, this whole industry masks its present day material relations and considers anti-capitalist protest a form of mental illness. The much-vaunted ‘purpose’ we are all encouraged to find seems to be to support the industry, while appearing not to.
So what’s good about it? This film is a reminder to live life, and to live it to the full. And yes there is much insight into creativity and wonder and play as essential elements of a life well lived. These are elements that I bring out when referencing the New Age in my novels. What is missing from the film, with all its blather about awareness, is:
- we must live more simply, in order for others to simply live
- we must live more justly, in order for others to just live
…and in order to do both these things, we must become aware (as native peoples, deep ecologists, feminists, anarchists and liberation theologians tell us) of all our relations, just and unjust, simple and complex. If we don’t do this hard task of honesty, ‘spirituality’ becomes a bland soporific, a boob tube of pleasant transmissions, a sleep of the critical faculties.
The wise Buddhist, Taoist and Sufi traditions from which this mental mish-mash is extracted and commodified do not conceive of enlightenment as peaceful slumber.
Thanks to George Hodan who has released this photo:
“Tree” into the Public Domain