My New Age Pet Peeves: My take on the bullshit involved in ‘You Create Your Own Reality’ and ‘Everything Happens for a Reason.’
By Syd Gris
If you know me or have taken anytime to read what I’m about and what Opel is about, you know I’m a huge proponent of reminding people of the ‘spiritual’ dimensions of reality, and the need to pay attention to that part of ourselves. When I say ‘spiritual,’ which is obviously a loaded word used in a variety of ways, I mean it as well in a variety of ways. One’s relationship with that which they deem sacred, one’s ultimate priorities of existence, a state of consciousness in which our individual concerns seem to melt away to allow access a greater connection with the present, or even our felt sense of Source, or God. All these can suggest shades of how spirituality can be regarded.
Within the post-modern landscape of America, it’s a confusing picture. Intellectual, secular perspectives have disdain (rightly so) for popular religion’s hold on mythic and out dated ways of seeing the world that contribute to oppression, ignorance, and when applied through a fundamentalist lens – murder and war. (That applies to many religions, not just the obvious examples of Islam and Christianity). On the other side, those with a strong spiritual orientation have disdain (rightly so) for the modern emphases on the accumulation of wealth, materialism, living without a moral compass, and the unhealthy trappings of pop culture devoid of reverence.
So while religious dogma has a hard time keeping up with evolution, naturally efforts are made to wed the ‘truths’ of science with the ‘truths’ of the sages. This is a crucial part of the knowledge quest that I of course applaud. However, it also opens the door to all kinds of misdirection. I’ve not seen a more abused effort than the marriage of quantum physics with modern New Age mysticism to empower us to ‘create our own reality.’
Recent films such as ‘The Secret’ extolling us to live by the Law of Attraction (you get what you think about; your thoughts determine your destiny) and ‘What the Bleep do We Know?’ seek to apply quantum physics in ways that are indicative of our current cultural hang ups. I’m no physicist, but my read on what the quantum revolution ushered in was an understanding of the ways in which the rules of Newtonian physics, which are real and work on one level of matter, don’t hold up at the subatomic level. At the subatomic level, things are much more spacious, fluid and unpredictable than previously thought. The building blocks of matter, waves and particles, were shown to ‘change’ depending on if they were being observed. Objects became less ‘solid’ in our understanding of them, and our role as subject on what reality manifests now played a role, suggesting a co-created universe.
The extrapolation of those fascinating discoveries have a range of possibilities. The New Age movement’s efforts to pick up that ball and run toward greater self responsibility for our own destiny is certainly OK by me. The more stretched implications espoused in books such as the Tao of Physics that allow science types to see mystical implications in the hard science of physics can certainly be helpful. Hard science threw out the baby of spiritual truths with the bathwater of mythic religious dogma during the so-called Enlightenment. We still haven’t recovered from that, what integral theorist Ken Wilber calls, the Disaster of Modernity. It’s bound to be a messy enterprise to mix science and spirituality in a way that doesn’t undermine the truths of either.
What I have issues with is the implications, leaning on Quantim physics and mechanics, that our thoughts create our reality in a way tangibly tied to physical events. Of course, our thoughts heavily dictate our inner reality. Of course, belief and focused intention is laying down the ground work for action in the world. Yes, I have had amazing things appear in my life after wishing really hard they would happen. (I’ve also acted on those wishes in ways that made room for them to happen.) Yes, I believe magic and synchronicity happens.
However, making blanket statements that events are a result of your thoughts, good and bad, is going a little far. It suggests we are responsible for everything that happens. I was in a shitty mood so I attracted that car to crash into me. I was just being negative and that’s why an American bomb happened to hit my house. It gives us too much power that absolutely appeals to our narcissistic leanings of the self subject (in other words, our own ego and self-centered concerns) being the center of the universe. Rather than, on the one hand, we’re just an insignificant speck on the dust of the vast Universe, or even better, a drop in the Ocean of God, part and parcel of the glory and greatness of the One Spirit. (Paradox is cool like that.)
Moving on to my related favorite hollow-comfort-food-of-tragedy: ‘everything happens for a reason’. As if, there is a pre-determined plan, a mystical reason for all events, that is playing out God’s will. Sorry, but I don’t think so. Everything may happen for a reason, but it doesn’t make it a mystical one. A 4 year old gets shot randomly in the head in Hayward and dies. What’s the reason? Some fucking wanna be thug was shooting their gun that’s the reason.
It would be great to take comfort in history’s horrors that it all happened for a reason. But in my humble opinion, that’s all it is – an effort at comfort to shield ourselves from the random terrible things that happen to good people. Another take on this theme is some people’s strict adherence to karma as a meaning maker. Six million Jews died in Europe during World War II because it was their karma? What a coincidence. Besides the obvious audacity of this line of thinking, is the pre-supposition that all events are a reaction from a previous event, which would leave no room for original acts. In other words, if everything that occurs is a result of past karma (this life or past lives depending on your beliefs), their is little room for the original creation of ‘new’ karmic acts. You can see how this is problematic.
Allow me the distinction to say I do believe in karma – to a point. I do believe some things happen for reasons that seem to play into a greater arc of events that are not easily explained (occurrences of what we think of as ‘fate’ for example). But, I also believe in chaos, in the random, in choice and the new. It’s not all one, and it’s not all the other. Blanket statements are an easy way to make sense of a cruel world, but if we’re serious about living on the spiritual tip, the hard core currency of that endeavor is truth. And we must be open to the dicey truths of order and chaos, of good and evil, of magic and loss. Simultaneously, we must be willing to take a stand and let it all go.
If I lost a loved one in a horrible accident and someone tried to tell me to take comfort because everything happens for a reason, I might give them a really good back hand. When they asked why did I do that, my reply could be the same, everything happens for a reason, in this case because you said something fucking stupid. As mentioned, I’m sure the intentions of movies such as ‘The Secret’ and ‘What the Bleep do We Know?’ are good. (Have we already talked about the road to Hell… ?) But it is irresponsible to not temper what they are trying to communicate with some colder facts. You can’t just qwaff things into existence by thinking about them really hard, like the car you want and the money you want. Or even for that matter, more lofty non-material spiritual strivings. A clear mind and an open heart that allows the inherent creative energy (by whatever name you call Her) to be aligned with your Being and of your Being at the same time is not achieved by thinking and wishing. They are realized by right thinking, and right effort. Of course it’s not all random and meaningless, but balance must be kept in the distinctions. The distinctions are the hardest element to get right. It’s the knowledge quest of the ages, knowing truth in both an objective and subjective world in which we are co-creating meaning, but not necessarily co-creating the physical universe.
I think I know this much is true.
But don’t believe it just cause you read it.