At various ‘New Age’ groups, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the diverse beliefs of those in attendance and their ability to share meaningful discussion and experiences with the upmost respect. This impression was reinforced at a meditation workshop I taught last weekend. In speaking with the students, it was clear that they were attending the workshop for a variety of reasons and that there were as many different spiritual inclinations as attendees. Despite their diversity, everyone enjoyed themselves and found something to appreciate from the afternoon together. This happy outcome seems all to rare amongst openly diverse groups. So, what makes it work in the ‘New Age’ crowd?
Such success may be attributed to followers’ shared demeanors. In general, New Agers are curious, tolerant people. But common personality traits between a large group of people seems unlikely. Looking for an underlying cause, we can examine the loose structure of the ‘New Age’ milieu. The overall loose structure would allow seekers to mingle and cohabitate with people of diverse faiths. There are few hard and fast rules to police and enforce. If anything, unwritten rules of etiquette are enforced more than any structural boundaries.
While other realms have more rules and structure, I would like to see them adopt standards of etiquette similar to that employed in the ‘New Age’ groups. This extension would involve not only other faith traditions, but public policy as well. We need to allow diverse beliefs and opinions to surface so they can be discussed and acted upon. The fact that this is already a reality in some groups is encouraging, but we have a long way to go.
Religion is a community activity. Even personal spiritual traditions benefit from branching out to a wider community periodically. Surrounding ourselves with people that we share beliefs or history with can make us feel safe. When we decide to explore or experience a new faith, we may be tempted to bring others with us on the journey. To keep that sense of belonging, we try to bring community with us.
It is a good idea in theory, to explore and journey with a small group of confidants. Your island of comfort in a sea of unknown. But to know if a new spiritual practice or community is a good fit, a lone experience might be best. There will be no encouragement from trusted sources to over or under commit. Your only obligation is to yourself. Your decision to engage further or continue on will be less affect by outside opinions.
While it may be more intimidating to venture alone, it may be more fruitful. So long as you feel safe (don’t put yourself in any dangerous situations), be brave and go on your own. Be smart about it of course, meet in public places and let someone know where you’ll be and for how long. But with those precautions in place, throw yourself into the experience entirely.
Have you been on spiritual explorations alone or with companions? Please share any pros and cons about the company you kept (or not).
What we believe and how those beliefs lead us to interact with the world as we know it is complex to say the least. Humans, in their complexity and creativity, create stories to illustrate these nuances. These stories include myths, sacred scripture, secular narratives, and fables. They simultaneously capture the climate of a specific time and place, and focus on timeless themes.
As many of these stories date back to antiquity and have oral origins, the reason for their popularity and longevity is often cited to be lack of available entertainment and low literacy rates. But time has proven a deeper attraction to story telling. One reason perhaps is the versatility. When a story no longer speaks to the day’s audiences, a new story can be crafted to explore the same concept. We can return to the same timeless themes again and again with a story that is current and relevant.
Consider how the stories we tell have changed along with human culture. Over the years, the importance of our stories’ divine origins has ebbed and stories with secular roots have taken root in our culture. I think that whether a story is thought to be passed down from God or man, the most important factor is the content of the story. Can we craft tales that inspire us to persevere, strive, show compassion, be brave, and clever?
What modern day stories do you think fit this mold? Do you think the same story will be told generations from now?
In the average day there seems to be more work than time. This especially seems to be the case around this time of year. On top of the normal schedule bursting at the seams, we are to squeeze in additional family commitments, charitable work, special meals, memorable events, and take time to reflect on the reason for the season (whether it be Christ’s birth, the lengthening of days, or something else). I must wonder about the role of organized religion in our increasing busyness regardless of the time of year. Such pondering has left me with a chicken / egg scenario.
Is it our increasing busyness that has pushed organized religion to the fringes of society and individuals’ lives? Or has the lessening impact of religion simply left a void that our busyness has grown to fill and exceed? Do you have experience that supports either side of this question? The cause may vary based on the individual, but I don’t think the solution does. In this conundrum, the common factor and the easiest factor to alter is our busyness. If we desire to be more spiritual or grow closer to our faith we must cut down on our busyness to either consciously take part in more religious activities or free up more time to allow silence to pervade bringing equal parts of spiritual peace and passion.
It can be difficult to thin out the things you ‘must’ do. At the holidays especially, our choice to do so will often affect a wider circle of people that just ourselves, and you may have to have a good hard look at tradition. But do not be intimidated or give up. There is a definite need to slow down and experience the things that make life special and meaningful. When we do less, we may surprise ourselves and in fact discover more. We will allow ourselves to discover things that no amount of ‘doing’ could unearth.
Children will inevitably bear witness to and perhaps inherit their parents’ religious inclinations and spiritual beliefs. This will occur due to the vast amount of time children spend with their parents, not to mention the huge amount of influence such a relationship holds. Further, parents can spend a good deal of time imparting faith on their children. Organized religions expect this transfer between generations to take place and they often set up safe guards that help ensure children will become members of their parents’ religion. For example, before allowing a couple to be married in the church, many Christian denominations require the bride and groom to sign a contract promising to raise any resultant children in the faith. Parents make so many decisions for their children. Should the life-long faith children will grow follow be one of those decisions parents make on their behalf?
If parents devotedly raise children in their own faith, the child could accept and adopt it as their own or they could grow to reject it. Given the large absence of young people in organized religion, more seem to be rejecting than accepting their parents’ faith. Hopefully they leave the religion with only mild disinterest or disagreement rather than a major-blow out of anger and hurt feelings. Other than rejection, intense feelings, and the lasting effects of these on individuals, there are bigger consequences for what religions future generations are raised in.
Most ‘World Religions’ have mutually exclusive doctrines (they accept themselves as the one, true religion while all others are deemed illegitimate or even evil). While they often have an accompanying doctrine of peace and tolerance, elements of division and judgement are more frequently remembered and shouted louder than their kinder counterparts. In our global world this sets us up for conflict, discomfort, and pain. Is that what we want for future generations? On the other hand, raising kids with no spiritual belief system or with exposure to many systems but commitment to none may leave them feeling isolated. They will not have the same roots, history, or network to draw on. Not being immersed in a faith, they will miss out on meaningful knowledge and experiences. Children may grow up to have no sense of purpose or direction, or a splintered one at that. Both paths seem fraught with issues. It is a distressing situation for parents that just want the best for their children.
There is no easy answer. This, like so much in our world, falls within shades of gray. A parents’ beliefs will affect their child no matter what. You might as well raise them to believe what you think is right. But when what you’re teaching breeds judgement or division, you may want to rethink that belief system… for yourself and your child. It isn’t that we should all believe the same thing, but we should all have respect for each other’s freedoms. If you teach your children anything, teach them to live and let live.
As we get into the full swing of the Christmas season, it becomes inescapable. Which begs the question, in a secular society should one be able to go completely unaffected by religious observances and holidays? Freedom from religion rather than freedom of religion. Given the extreme limitations that would have to be imposed in order for this to become a reality, I think such a system would end more freedoms than it would create. Besides, I don’t think there is anything wrong with people being exposed to beliefs and practices outside their own faith system. It is a chance to learn, gain vital understanding for this global world, and perhaps have a new spiritual experience.
At Christmastime for example, you don’t have to be a Christian to find meaning in the holiday season. The emphasis on family and togetherness can inspire people from all faiths to return to and appreciate their roots. Christmas can inspire anyone to practice ‘goodwill toward men’, to give and be compassionate to those less fortunate. In all the twinkling lights we can be encouraged to seek out glimmers of hope in the darkest times.
Of course, this principle doesn’t apply to just Christmas. The themes of just about any religious holiday can transfer and be meaningful to those outside the related faith system. Rather than get offended by inevitably coming into contact with celebrations of a different culture or faith, find a point of meaning that impacts you. Find a way to make it ‘your’ holiday. With all the negativity and disappointment in our world, we should look for things to celebrate, not things to complain about. If you aren’t celebrating the birth of a savior, celebrate the lengthening of days, the warmth of family, or the innate good in humankind.
I have discussed previously the mixing of various spiritual traditions in New Age practices including the risks, benefits, and criticism from both academics and followers of mainstream religions. I came across an interesting point of view on the subject from a modern-day witch. Silver RavenWolf touches on various traditions in her book, To Ride A Silver Broomstick: New Generation Witchcraft, including yoga, the chakra system, and Voodoun. She encourages practitioners to maintain the integrity of spiritual traditions by learning them in their purest form, and then combining them into a personal spirituality of meaning. Specifically, in relation to Native American traditions, here RavenWolf discusses how diverse traditions should be combined into one’s personal spiritual practice, “The gifts of the Medicine Wheel can be intermingled with the properties of the modern Witch and his or her Craft with fluidity. However, one must study both in their separate forms to practice them in harmony” (205). Here, from a follower of an eclectic spirituality, we hear a solution to help prevent faith traditions from becoming watered down or a global spirituality from forming. Traditions remain intact and separate, but there is freedom for individuals to combine principles from various faiths to create something new and personal.
Further, this framework denotes the continuing need for traditional religions and their degree on separation from one another. Their leaders require continuing support so that in turn they can share their gifts and knowledge with their followers and those on a less traditional spiritual path. Of course, it is important to remember traditional religions do not exist in a vacuum. There is no way to guarantee their pureness, assuming there is anything to keep pure at this point in their very long histories. Officially, the religious organizations would not take part in any mixing of traditions. That would be left to individuals. I think this point of view provides us with a realistic way to serve both traditional and alternative spiritualities.
If you have any experience incorporating different faiths into your personal practice, please comment below. Did you keep the traditions separate or did you allow them to mingle during the learning process? What benefits or disadvantages did you gain as a result of your approach?
RavenWolf, Silver. To Ride A Silver Broomstick: New Generation Witchcraft. St. Paul, Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications, 1993.