We are currently experiencing a full-on crisis in consciousness. Modern society is being plagued by screen addicted over stimulation via computers, smartphones and the internet. We are constantly being drugged into a catatonic trance through the hypnotic glow of our screens. And BTW I think we can safely say that we’ve officially blown the roof off of what it means to become “comfortably numb”.
When was the last time you sat around at night for an extended period of time without looking at a screen? Seriously, think about it. When you weren’t working, you weren’t eating, or taking care of your kids, when you had “free time”, likely between the hours of 8-11 PM... How much of that time did you spend NOT in front of a screen?
I have a deep scary sense that we, as modern humans, are losing our ability to connect with the magic and mystery of existence—something already on the endangered species list when I was a kid. With the ability to plug into a nearly infinite menu entertainment options with just “one click”, there are now barely any natural moments of quiet, stillness or boredom. In this new digital age we don’t even have the opportunity to come anywhere near the vicinity of getting “bored”.
Without natural boredom—the old school boredom of sitting in your room without a TV or computer—we as humans bypass the natural outcomes of creativity, curiosity and exploration of life, existence and the mystery of this universe born of extended periods of quiet, non-stimulation and natural boredom.
Think back to when you were a kid—if you were a kid when the only computer you saw was a large clunky Commodore or early Mac with floppy discs that could hold your adolescent attention for just about ten minutes—what did you do when you got bored? Do you remember the intelligence of your system coming up with creative ways to stimulate your mind? Do you remember pushing through the boredom to the edge of curiosity about life, about how things work, about where we are and why we are here?
What are our children doing nowadays with such easy access to smartphones, computers and tablets? What are the impacts on their brain development?
How about when you got older before Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Tinder hit the scene, when first exploring life on your own in college or university? How has the web and social media impacted our social dynamics? How we make friends, how we develop a healthy self-concept through social interactions? How have these technological “advances” transformed dating, getting to know someone, and exploring the sacred realm of intimate relationship?
I’m afraid that natural mechanism in the mind and being which pushed us through the surface levels of boredom to the wide expanse of creativity on the other side is now on the edge of total extinction. People don’t stand much of a chance nowadays with the instant stimulation and physiological dopamine responses experienced from the engaging with a screen.
And not only that, these technologies are intentionally being engineered to be addictive as an article written for Vice News titled, “The Secret Ways Social Media is Built for Addiction”, explains:
“‘The attention economy" is a relatively new term. It describes the supply and demand of a person's attention, which is the commodity traded on the internet. The business model is simple: the more attention a platform can pull, the more effective its advertising space becomes, allowing it to charge advertisers more… as Facebook observed, social feedback induces a burst of happiness so brief it's addictive, causing us to return more and scroll further… all of them use something called intermittent variable rewards… you refresh your Facebook updates to see if you've won. Or you swipe right on Tinder to see if you've won.”
Or the opening sentence in an article from the Slate:
“Are Facebook and other social media companies intentionally exploiting people’s psychological vulnerabilities to keep them addicted? You bet, says Sean Parker, who made a fortune as an early Facebook investor and its first president.”
Or an excerpt from this article in The Guardian:
“A former Facebook executive has said he feels “tremendous guilt” over his work on “tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works”... Chamath Palihapitiya, who was vice-president for user growth at Facebook before he left the company in 2011, said: “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works.”
There are countless articles out there about internet and social media addiction, just Google it : )
I’ll share two personal examples that have made this realization all the more real and scary for me. In my past I have personally experienced incredible moments of awe, wonder and jaw-dropping amazement upon the reflection of the simple fact that I am alive. I spent a large portion of my late teens and early twenties exploring meditation and different spiritual philosophies of existence, reality and purpose—the how's and why’s of creation.
During those times I found powerful amazement in the simple manifestations of life, the sky, my hands and feet, gravity, a hug, animals, tears, food and water, etc. I realized then the phenomenal gift of being born a healthy human and not a dog, cow, slug, rock or spider. The miracle of my life, of my breath and consciousness, and my ability to be aware of this miracle was at times so overwhelming to my system that it brought me to tears and at times terror.
Recently I have found myself spending my nights, after our daughter is asleep, “in the arms of morpheus” in front of a computer numbing myself deeper into a screen addicted coma. Where did the moments of awe and wonder for simple existence go? Where did the gratitude from realizing I’m a healthy awake and aware human go? Where did that natural curiosity go, which asks the fundamental questions: Where are we? What am I? And why am I and we here? Where did my passion for change, for growing, for learning, for serving a greater cause go? How did the previously booming voice of my soul and spirit become a faint whisper?
If you find yourself asking the same questions I urge you to take a deep look at how you are using your “free time” these days.
The second example I’ll share that is freaking me out has to do with my daughter. Nearly a year and a half now and her powerful fascination and hunger for screens is already quite apparent. We have a pretty strict protocol for her around screens, i.e. she doesn’t get “screen time”. But we use Facetime or Skype to keep in touch with grandparents or friends who don’t live nearby. And she’ll occasionally catch a glimpse of what we’re watching. But it’s dramatically clear to see how enamoured she is with the tiny amount of exposure she does get.
My wife and I also discuss the potential impacts of our own unhealthy screen usage on her. How does seeing us on our phones or computers affect the way she is experiencing reality and her craving for screen exposure?
I fear for her future abilities to access creativity and curiosity about the fundamental workings of life with such a potent attention grabbing mechanism as a smartphone and computer—not to mention whatever our human ingenuity comes up with next.
I fear she won’t have the opportunities I had to be bored, to work those recesses of her mind in order to come out on the other side through some creative manifestation of mind. I fear her addiction to screens will be substantially worse than mine and my wife’s. I fear that we as parents won’t have the strength not to sit her in front of a screen at those hard moments when we need to get shit done or we’re just too tired and have run out of attention giving steam. I’ll say this is a big reason we are planning on sending her to a Waldorf School, even if we don’t fully agree with the entirety of its educational model.
So, where’s the hope? Well, my wife and I are starting an experiment tonight. We are going to curb our screen addictions and direct our energy and attention in ways that are more soul and spirit nourishing. We are starting a new nightly spiritual practice of watching or listening to spiritual teachings from 9-10 PM and then having 30 minutes of silent time to reflect and contemplate what we’ve heard. There will be no other screen usage allowed until the next day.
If you’re noticing similar unhealthy patterns in your life I invite you to join us in this experiment. Start by committing to a week, track how you feel before and after each night and at the end of the week. I’ll paradoxically and perhaps hypocritically be posting something on Facebook as a forum for exchanging different observations and discoveries produced by the experiment. Good luck!
And a few more:
Many "spiritual" people have a rich transcendent inner-life. They feel inspired by the spiritual realms, and the vast, even infinite, states of consciousness they experience there. They love to (or at times feel the survivalistic need to) meditate, pray, go on retreats and be with their "Sangha".
Hey, I myself love to engage in the above, to "drop-in" deeply with Sangha and share in theories of "Awakening" deep into the night, to freestyle about what's truly going on here, and where it's all headed. We LOVE dancing on the "Big Picture" cosmic-dance-floor where we flow smoothly and life actually make sense.
But when it comes to navigating the clunky earthly material-plane things get a little more complicated, and messy. Most folks dancing in the fantastical transcendent world are not so into things being messy. "Messiness" doesn't feel so blissful; we're often found tripping over our own 2 left feet, and it can feel quite confusing, shameful and many times "painful".
The spiritual world then becomes an escape from the pain and confusion associated with the earthly realm, a drug which helps us to transcend, to rise above the mess. Many of us don't feel "safe" on earth—and for many very valid reasons! The world as we've experienced it has NOT given us many reasons to feel safe here. So we find safety elsewhere... in the Spiritual realm, in the flow of our clear and concise spiritual theories of life--Whether or not we actually see those understandings manifest in our day to day—and most of the times exactly because we do not.
If we're fully transparent, we might discover that we deeply struggle in finding the place where our spiritual sensibilities meet and align with our everyday experiences. In other words, where the Big Picture meets and merges with the small picture of the sun up to sundown of our 9 to 5 days grinding it out on earth. And parents, how much more painfully true this may feel to you!
Why this work is so important...
In my work as a Spiritual Counselor I support people in bridging the gap between their "spiritual" selves/lives and their "earthly" material selves/lives. Together we discover the ways in which our present messy lives and their unique struggles are completely in sync with the spiritual unfoldings we know (or may soon discover) to be true. This is how we create a meaningful life, actually. Not just an idea, but a grounded reality.
Well a lot of times our spiritual visions for our lives are not actually realistic, precisely because they take place in a transcendent spiritual realm of "perfection" and "completeness", and--escape—as many times they are the byproduct of "spiritual-bypassing". This is why so many spiritual folk struggle with their day to day lives, finding solace and comfort in the spiritual realm of meditation, workshops and all the rest of it.
Don't get me wrong, I know the world is in a state of absolute crisis, and tuning into to how we're living on this magical planet is heart and soul crushing! But if we're going to change the current state of affairs and make a true impact, if we're going to HEAL, we need to BE HERE with WHAT IS, and not with what we wish it were. Yes, we need practices to help us navigate the broken system we live in, to cope and find some peace and sense in all this, and yes—even at times to escape. Sometimes we a break, to press pause on the madness—but not as a lifestyle of escape. That does not serve anyone.
So what if there were a balanced, healthy, practically accomplishable way to link the the spiritual and material worlds together in a profoundly grounded way? Well, first you've got to decide if you're truly in the game, if you're up for the challenge because most likely the outcome will not meet your version of an actualized spiritual life you've painted so beautifully in your mind's-eye in those quiet dropped-in moments.
You might not manifest the most loving spiritually compatible partner who you "rock it" out with on the daily. You might not land the perfect spiritually aligned job, or launch the most successful soul-aligned business. Your children might not be the enlightened masters who you hoped would effortlessly transfer their awakening to you simply by being in the vicinity of their pure untarnished presence (in actuality they may really piss you off and trigger the 'F' out of you--and they're supposed to—that's their job).
All these above beautiful visions might not be your destiny in this life... Ouch!
It's a bitter medicine to swallow, especially when there are so many charlatans floating around the digital scene promising you the ability to manifest all your goals and dreams, however unrealistic they may be. The truth is, you may not need to try and find new ways to manifest your envisioned lofty future, what you may need to do is SHIFT your perspective on your current goals and dreams, in order to find a true path to happiness, success and contentment in this life.
At the end of the day your actual "purpose" in life might not be as glamorous as you'd envisioned, but maybe it's not supposed to be.
While serving you a healthy dose of humble-pie, I also honor that the unearthing of this new awareness might likely be experienced as a terrible blow to the solar plexus, accompanied with feelings of great loss or grief. But what's on the other side may actually surprise you, in a good way.
In my work with people we take the sting out of this realization turning it into the deepest "aha moment"—sometimes of a person's life-time—an act of superhuman humility and surrender, as we bow before the unfathomable wisdom of the Universe. Through this process we pinpoint exactly where we are (our "small picture") in the big picture of the evolution of life and the transformation of consciousness on earth, i.e. our unique "cosmic address".
Through this powerful realization we come to discover the essential roles and gifts our precious lives—in all their imperfectly messy intricacies—have to contribute to the healing of this aching world in crisis. Our piece of the puzzle. Our Sacred Purpose. The keys to a meaningful life 24/7.
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A partial definition of "Spiritual Bypassing": 1. trying to get to a spiritual end goal/realization without going through the full process/work to get there (collectively or individually). 2. not owning and integrating the different parts of one's self as defined by this world/culture/society with an ultimate spiritual vision/version of self.
An example: A friend of mine recently wrote a FB post about race and how—although he is certainly caucasian—refuses to accept the label placed upon him by society as a white male, and the privilege that goes along with this.
There is no doubt in my mind that this person is coming with the purest/highest of intentions to bring about positive change and social transformation. But, my sense is there is a bit of a blindspot that is not being recognized here.
Look, I get it, I've been in this exact place before... Knowing the Truth (with a capital T) that we are all "one" and we are all children of the Divine/Universe... And that from this place there is no basis to distinguish between other humans based on the color/pigmentation of their skin. The associated feelings of deep existential frustration, sadness and pain from this, have made me want to scream... "Why don't people just wake up to our/their true divine nature and leave all this bullshit behind?! We're all divine beings, let's just create this beautiful reality together and live in love with each other! There's no more time to waste on this illusion of separation... We are one cosmic human family!"
I understand the deep desire to move ahead, to drum a new beat, to... "evolve already!" BUT, that's not how it works, evolution takes time, and trying to "jump" there is, in my opinion, an expression of spiritual bypassing.
There is SO much wrapped up in race, in the US and our world histories, that we can't just zap it away... however true the "new" evolved and enlightened future vision may be.
As a white male who has been cashing in on this privilege—whether or not I am/have been aware of it or agree with it (which is in fact a direct expression of white male privilege)—it is my responsibility to own it and integrate it into the wholeness of my self along with my spiritual vision of self as divine, name-less, identity-less, pure mysterious being. And... even more importantly, to be most sensitive to all the issues involved with me, being a white male of privilege, expressing the above "enlightened" perspectives, however true and holy they actually are.
Doing this—acknowledging and owning my white male privilege, integrating it into a fuller more whole picture of "who I am" in relation to my cosmic identity, and being uber sensitive to how my social classification impacts others (especially minorities), my self/life and the world in which I live—actually begins to aid in a healing process. A healing process which will take time and participation from a lot of other people in a magnificent number of diverse ways before we as a species can "move on".
We must honor the past, make space for deep full grieving—however long it takes, however much time is needed, and NOT just jump to a new enlightened future. This is a major expression of spiritual bypassing--attempting to access a different "healed state" of consciousness before the actual process of healing has occurred.
And, yes, we can and should grieve along with others, but we must also allow and respect them the fullness of their own space and the power of their own grief. Meaning... I am not an African American, however much I may disagree with racism and oppression of minorities, however much oppression I have personally experienced in my own life or lineage, however much it may make me sick, deeply saddened and full of overwhelming grief—I am not black or brown—and I must honor and give space to this difference. And more bluntly, "check myself", before I open my mouth.
So, difference? Honor difference? Yes! To some this may seem like a "no brainer"—honoring diversity—but in some spiritual circles, difference is seen as the enemy. (See my future post on this here)
I must admit it took me a while to come to this realization personally. Years of wanting to escape (or rally people) into the realm of "spiritual one-ness"—where differences were illusion and the sole source of all our collective issues (war, violence, racism, anti-semitism, terrorism, etc), in addition to being the main barrier to global peace and harmony--before I understood the need to embrace the differences, integrate them into the wholeness of who I am within the current time and place of my culture (not just in my own imaginary future utopia), and actively take a humble and respectful role in facilitating cultural healing.
Walking in this way with "all channels open" not only helps me feel more whole, present and fully here, but allows me to feel intimately more connected with other humans—spiritual beings of mystery, souls of undifferentiated cosmic spiritual "stuff" (energy and consciousness)—encapsulated in a diversity of earthly physical bodies, with a vibrant plethora of personal and collective stories, histories, traumas and triumphs... Humans of all beautiful shades of "color", gender, race and religion who are walking this earth in 2017 trying to make sense of who they are, where they came from, how they're going to survive and what the hell is going on here.
May each of us find the strength and courage to do our part to end racism, heal ourselves and this planet, and stop spiritual bypassing.
The most valuable "spiritual" work is learning to love our humanness... Our human-mess. Too many seekers yearn for the light and have an aversion to the darkness. Thus, The Spirit-Matter Split. We get caught in the trap of thinking some parts of ourselves are "spiritual" and other parts are "not-spiritual"... Not divine, not part of G-d.
We feel that when all the darkness, ugliness, and hate have disappeared... When all the barriers, challenges, habitual patterns have finally vanished and permanently left us alone... Then we'll be in the light, and be our true, whole selves. In this we miss the gift of the brokenness. We fail to see that the human journey IS the soul's journey... They're not separate.
I love this phrase I've been hearing so much lately: What's in the way is the way. The cause of so much violence in the world is because we are trying to make "the way" something that is other than our present lives and the world we live in... We keep trying to get somewhere else rather than loving - as seemingly impossible as it may be - exactly where we are and who we are.
Over the past several thousand years we've been continuously conditioned to push away the gift of the brokenness, and it's killing us.
Though, I don't blame us... The world we live in is a scary and terror-filled place. As a "solution", old-paradigm spirituality has been speaking and teaching to our desire to transcend... to get off this earth to some "other" heavenly spiritual realm. Well, it ain't gonna happen folks... At least not for a long time, way off in our future spiritual evolution. That's elderhood... And we're still adolescents. You can't tear the skin off a snake... it has to shed naturally, over time.
The true gift of spiritual practice and spiritual counseling is the alchemy that happens when you turn the places you fear, avoid, and numb from into your spiritual practice, into the motivating forces in your life. There comes a point, after much practice, that you may start to actually seek these places... Because you've realized they are the reason you are here. They are your purpose and your gift to the world. Transforming darkness into light. Making love with the shadow.
For those of you who are currently dedicated to an active spiritual practice, you might notice a difference or "gap" between the deep sense of openness and connection experienced while engaging in your personal practice, such as meditation, psychotherapy, prayer and yoga. The feelings of love, awe, gratitude, inner peace, joy, clarity, bliss, and connection to a Higher Power, that arise in your practice may be experienced as a glaring contrast to your routine experience in the outside world of your daily life. You may struggle and feel like you are doing something wrong, or falling short in some way. This experience of bifurcation between the inner and the outer may have more to do with the current systems and structures of the modern marketplace - and the accompanying social agreements - than with the power and effectiveness of your practice.
At the same time change itself is incredibly difficult for most people. You may have a strong desire to change yourself or the way you're living life, to become "brighter" or more developed in some way, but along with this initiative comes the resistance and inertia of your habitual psychological life, the ingrained patterns of thought and action that keep you bound to your current reality and your default future. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to overcome this habitual inertia, which then leaves little time and energy left to make actual progress on your desired goals themselves. True transformation is not an easy process. It requires everything of us.
On top of this, as described above, the Modern Marketplace (mainstream world of commerce) has been covertly demanding you to disguise your, powerful, beautiful and Divine Spiritual Essence in order to “make it” in the survivalist world and win at the money-game. This explains the common experience of incongruity between our expansive private inner world and how we show up in our public daily life. This experience, and habitual inertia in general, are felt by most spiritual practitioners (veterans and newbies) and can generate a whole gamut of powerful feelings of frustration, depression, and hopelessness.
Yet, this is not the whole story. There is a secret waiting to be uncovered. That secret is this struggle IS the heart of all spiritual practice and it is not a problem! Rather it is the fuel for our practice and the prime ingredient for our success. When we embrace the difficulties and challenges of surface life AS our spiritual practice, we see that this innate friction stretches us and expands us in ways we could have never imagined. We see the friction of surface life is perfectly designed to draw forth our deeper resources of our vast interior landscape. It is a masterfully designed plan to grow us into more of what we are. Through this natural friction, we come to know facets and aspects of our inner world that would have otherwise remained hidden under the uneventful equilibrium of isolated spiritual practice. Opening and embracing the spectrum of life—including the grit and friction-- IS our spiritual practice.
As your Spiritual Counselor I support you in tending this precious "gap" by embracing the gift of the struggle, as we co-create strategies and practices to overcome habitual inertia, as wells as build bridges that link your rich interior landscape with your rockier exterior daily life. We take the fire generated by your anger, frustration & overall dissatisfaction with life and use it to inspire sustainable transformation.
The "problems" become the gateways to successful development.
This includes a joint effort to identify the multi-faceted sacred purpose that will bring your inner and your outer life into harmonious alignment.
The real who you are.
The real why you are here.
No need to live two distinct lives - one authentic, one disguised - when you can bring your inner callings, presence, and sacred offerings out into the world where they belong.