Last week I discussed the functionality behind the structure and hierarchy often found in ‘World Religions’. I suggested that this highly organized structure would encourage and help guarantee the financial stability and longevity of such organizations. Logic then follows that the less structured and organic nature of alternative spiritualities would be a disadvantage in this area. This week, I would like to touch on a few reasons why this method of organization (or arguably lack thereof) makes sense for the New Age world and is even beneficial.
Due to the breadth and variety of New Age beliefs and practices, an overarching system is not practical. To encompass everything under any one structured system would threaten the diversity of alternative spiritualities. and existing with such diversity would make for a slow decision-making process given the different values and priorities likely to be found therein. Further the small size of independent New Age organizations allows for the lack of structure. There is no logistical or functional need for systematic oversight or management. Instead, each organization takes care of itself. They work to create community within themselves and in the larger world by reaching out to network with others.
Lastly, this organic structure is not just the easiest system, it is the most appropriate. The ethos of New Age ideology in regards to the importance placed on personal exploration undermines an rigidly organized system. Individuals are encouraged to find their way through various paths. An organic structure makes this possible and allows for the New Age ethos to thrive. Systems with a set hierarchy are not only unnecessary, but inappropriate.
If you are involved in any alternative spirituality centers or groups, consider how communication flows and authority is vested and policed. Consider how this organization interacts with others in the New Age milieu. Feel free to share!
The structured nature of religion is often attributed to its intermingled history with government. And rightly so. However, I think there may be another practical reason for the hierarchy that often comes with religion: monetary income. This notion came to me as I witnessed the struggle of alternative spiritual centers to bring in the revenue needed to continue, much less grow. The highly organized and structured nature of ‘World Religions’ facilitates the stream of income necessary to perpetuate them. The hierarchy dictates and directs the flow of money through the organization.
New Age groups and centers are independent and less structured. They come and go as interests and trends change. This helps organizations stay current, but doesn’t necessarily do anything to encourage longevity. The loose web of independent but connected New Age organizations does not allow for the channeling of funds from booming areas to struggling areas. While both traditional and alternative faith systems most certainly have their down falls, the income issue will be difficult for alternative spiritualities to overcome. More money in hand often comes with more commercialization and other complications. Too little money leaves one in non-existence or scrounging which stifles the spiritual goals that started the whole venture.
Can spiritual organizations add the structure necessary to be financially viable while maintaining spiritual integrity? Thoughts?
In this time of shorter and darker days, when the leave change color and fall from the trees, as the world becomes more cold, dark, and dormant, it is a great time to ponder and investigate all things dark. Seek out information not just dark in the way of subject matter, but dark because it is hidden from your understanding. You don’t need to investigate the occult to get at the darker things in life. If you follow a ‘world religion’, consider learning about the less known history of your faith, about how your faith is practiced in a different part of the world, or about a mystical sect of your religion. If you are not tied to a specific faith, you may be interested in various occult subjects and practices that do not fit neatly into a designated religion.
Death is often viewed as strange and mysterious, but it’s the most natural thing about life. They are two sides of the same coin. Spend some time exploring the other side of the coin regarding your faith. Shed light on that which is mysterious to you. Enjoy the journey.
Secularism works to push religion out of the public sphere and into private. However, it allows for organized religions in the free, Western world to be contained in buildings dedicated to the faith community. While faith communities and their physical presence is permitted and still a large part of Western society, I feel secularism lends itself to a more intimate sense of faith with respect to the individual and the home.
As the boundary between public and private are constantly policed in secular societies, the easiest and most natural place to take advantage of religious freedom is within the individual and small groups that can be contained in private residences. Take note about the appearance of yourself (your person) and your home. Consider decor, adornment, and items you surround yourself with. What about your appearance do you pay the most attention to? Where do you spend the most time in your home? What have you made physical space for there? Think on all these things and reflect on what might be visible signs of your faith? Go beyond the obvious, not looking just for what is present, but consider what the absence of various things can say about you. Go further considering how you act and what you say. You and your home’s appearance my reflect these deeper levels, maybe not.
In what ‘secular safe’ ways do you practice your beliefs? I’d love to hear reflections of how your spirituality has made its way into your ordinary life. Comment below!
Most ‘World Religions’ are centered on community. They build spaces and design rituals to encompass the group. Some Eastern religions take exception to this. Save for large holidays or festivals, daily practice is often left for individuals. These include practices such as meditation, prayer and offerings to the gods or ancestors. For religions with stronger roots to the West, though their emphasis is still on community, there has been a shift in the importance placed on the individual. Modern approaches to Christianity emphasize a personal relationship with God. Community becomes less of a route to the divine and instead a place to find support and ask questions.
This is the role community tends to play in New Age traditions. Seekers develop personal sets of beliefs and practices. Community rituals can be sought out, but groups more commonly gather informally to create a support group. There seekers discuss challenges and triumphs following their faith, discuss ideas introduced in various publications, and network to discover other groups, places, and events of interest. Utilizing community in this way has become easier to facilitate as technology has advanced. The internet allows individuals to communicate across vast distances or make arrangements to do so in person.
Some might attribute this shift to individual centered faith to the individual focused culture in the Western world. I have no doubt that this is a factor at play, but I believe we must also consider this shift to be a resurgence of mysticism. In our busy, mundane lives there is a growing desire to communicate, know, feel, and experience the divine personally. Community becomes no less necessary, but its importance shifts to its functionality as human support rather than divine connection.
A universal religion is often regarded as a danger. I myself have wrote on this potential downside of globalization; suggesting that generalizations and white-washing will remove cultural richness and the complexity of human intellect leaving only a monotone and over-simplistic spirituality in its wake. These are real concerns to be kept in mind, but I wonder if we could approach the idea of universalism for the sake of deeper understanding, namely in the realm of communication.
Religious and faith traditions are often separated by language barriers due to their geographical roots and histories, but in another respect, they truly have a language all their own that is not easily overcome by simple translation. What if we had a way of speaking about spirituality so that all could understand? Here, I am not suggesting we literally come up with a universal language, but rather a way of speaking free of faith specific vernacular. Rather than concepts steeped in historical context we could communicate via the roots of all faiths: love, forgiveness, generosity, and peace. By using words that held meaning for all, we could share in experiences that are spiritually powerful for all despite our various faith backgrounds. With such shared experiences, how much respect for each other would we gain? How much humanity would we discover? While a universal religion is undesirable because of how it would limit the scope of spiritual experience and belief, a universal language could be instrumental in ending hate and opening our eyes to the big, strange, and wonderful world around us. Further it would work to acknowledge that humans do not simply have not a mired of different religions, but a colorful and complete spectrum of faith systems.
I have been teaching yoga to beginners almost exclusively as of late, and it continues to surprise me (though I suppose it shouldn’t) how nervous the first timers are. I suppose if you’ve never experienced anything like it, your first yoga class might seem daunting or weird. When you bring up yoga, the first thing that comes to most people’s mind is an incredibly advanced posture, in turn intimidating them. Other aspects of yoga rarely get the same attention. Remember the physical ‘asana’ practice is only one of the eight limbs of yoga! Furthermore, physical practice can and should be tailored to meet you where you’re at. If this is done, then anyone in almost any physical condition can ‘do’ yoga.
Another hurdle is that yoga has a language all its own that, for the beginner, can be difficult to decipher. The vernacular or imagery used to instruct a class can cause more confusion that clarity. And if the teacher utilizes Sanskrit without adequate English explanation, the language barrier can become all too real. Lastly, a yoga class is a group activity. The idea of sifting through all this with others potentially watching, can be unnerving. The reality is that no one is watching you. They’re too busy sorting out themselves.
First-time jitters are fine to have, but don’t let them keep you from your first class or from having an enjoyable experience. Namaste!