To Nicky: A few quick remarks on the pitfalls of New Age spirituality
This text was originally written as a reply in a discussion about the negative aspects of New Age spirituality in the Awaken with Shadow Work Facebook group of the wonderful Caroline Reilly. In this group we try to raise consciousness through the shadow work process by Swiss psychologist and spiritual alchemist Carl Gustav Jung. A process that involves facing and working with your dark sides in order to evolve spiritually; an aspect of awakening that is often neglected in the New (c)Age community.
Thank you for your sincere inquiry. It is a powerful reminder of the importance of humility for all of us who consider to be wise enough to share their knowledge. So let me humbly try to explain.
Recognizing that we have an ego and that it often takes control of our thoughts and consequently our behavior is indeed an important first step. A lot of the negativity that we see in the world and in others is a projection of our own shortcomings, desires and fears. These “negative” emotions are our dark side, our shadow world. Not letting these ego-based reactions that reside in our shadow worlds take control of our lives is a very big step in the right direction. So far so good.
The problem however with most of the New Age protagonists, like for example Eckhart Tolle, is that they mostly rely on (corrupted) Eastern teachings, which generally address the issue of the ego by denying its existence. And that is a big problem, because the ego does exist and it has its function: it’s a survival mechanism and it helps us to develop our personality. So by denying its existence you are just creating another illusion for yourself instead of actually changing anything. It’s like cleaning your house by storing all your trash in the basement. The house looks clean but deep down something is still rotting and festering. What you resist, persists.
"It is not until we have truly been shocked into seeing ourselves as we really are, instead of as we wish or hopefully assume we are, that we can take the first step toward individual reality."
- Connie Zweig
The true lesson in my opinion is to recognize the negative aspects of your ego and to accept that they are a part of you. Only then will you be able to actually do something about them. And this is where Shadow Work comes in. By digging deep into your soul, discovering all the trauma’s, frustrations, anxieties and anger that you carry with you and facing them with courage. Only then will we be able to deal with these issues in a constructive and fundamental way. It is a very painful process however, and one most of us rather avoid doing. But it is an inevitable one nonetheless, because only by going through the Dark are we able to see the Light. Or as the Master himself put it:
"One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious."
- Carl Gustav Jung
Lastly there is also the issue of legitimate anger for injustice that is being or has been done to you. Again, most New Age teachings claim that you should always respond to evil with forgiveness and compassion because otherwise you are acting from your ego. This is absolutely not true. When evil is done to you, in whatever way – physically, emotionally or spiritually, your ego should step in and at that moment you have every (Natural) right to defend yourself or feel angry and not “just accept it”, like the New Age teaches. Forgiveness only works when the one who has committed the evil admits that he or she was in the wrong. This is essential because otherwise you only provide him or her with an excuse to do it again and you will repress your own legitimate feelings of pain and anger.
The Two Pillars of Enlightenment according to Natural Law:
The non-agression principle and the self-defense principle
from the Natural Law Seminar by Mark Passio
What is important however is not to let this anger consume you. The art is, as in everything, to find the balance by knowing when to feel rightfully angry and doing something (positive) with it and knowing when this anger is becoming a burden that is hurting you more than is necessary.
"Without space inside our minds to observe forbidden feelings and behaviors, they take over. When they do, we feel controlled and overshadowed by them. My work is about teaching people how to break that resultant unconscious identification of “I’m bad,” or “I’m an angry person,” and come back to the center. They learn to have a relationship with that part, and dialogue with that part, in order to recognize that it is not the essence of who they are as spiritual beings. And in this way, they connect to their authentic selves."
- Connie Zweig
So, I hope that this clears things up a little. As an extra I would like to add this video of Alan Watts where he discusses the ego according to Carl Jung. Particularly the second part has helped me greatly with understanding the concept of the ego from the Buddhist point of view. His explanation of how to integrate the ego rather than ignoring it helped me to be more open to Eastern spirituality and was of great value to me. May it be the same for you.
Featured image © Maéna Paillet – The Drowning