Beyond New Age
The important thing is not to stop questioning, said Albert Einstein. In other words, considering that the human experience is rooted in the fragmentation of time and space, addressing the New Age movement starts with inquiring about the exact circumstances of its birth and development — a topic that has been written about extensively.
Within the context of this article, I would simply like to mention that it is generally agreed that the New Age movement developed in the 1970s, mainly in the United Kingdom, and expanded in the 1980s and 1990s, mostly in the United States. Some people argue that New Age is done by now. Does this mean that we have entered some sort of anti- or post-New Age era? I have no answer to this question. What I know, however, in holy curiosity, is that words matter. Moreover, the use of words is subjective, even when it is believed that a common understanding of their meaning is shared. This article is no exception to the rule.
What does New Age mean? What does the new refer to? What are the essentials of the New Age philosophy beyond the large range of spiritual or religious beliefs and practices it encompasses? Who are its leaders today, and what do they say? The New Age movement has an original intention of unconditional love, freedom, and oneness, which of course I do not oppose. It also has its share of false prophets and gurus, like most religions and philosophical movements. Nothing that raises an eyebrow so far. So, what would raise an eyebrow? Would the possibility of another road, one that may lead beyond what New Age is and what it is not, stimulate curiosity? A new road understood as a field of exploration, where opposites are seen as an opportunity to learn and grow, rather than as a threat, where one does not debate but experience, where authentic spirituality paves the way; old as the hills, I know. But the circumstances are different. They evolve with time and space – and this changes the whole story.
We live in a world that, despite the glorious promises of technology, creates more and more isolation. The mechanistic view of humankind continues to develop, and this does not seem to be limited to Western society anymore. That would be too easy, and I like to think that we are all in this together. What kind of culture considers that the human brain responds in essence to a binary programme, which is central to the paradigm of artificial intelligence that is based on a mechanistic view of existence? What kind of culture destroys its home, planet Earth, to the point of becoming suicidal? Far from being against progress, I believe these are some of the questions of our times, and they have everything to do with spirituality. How do we learn to move from a model of ruthless consumption to one of partnership and renewed solidarity?
I have listened to inspiring New Age teachers and have enjoyed reading New Age books; certain New Age intentional communities have proven beneficial for many. There’s no doubt about that. The opposite is, however, also true. Nothing is positive or negative per se. Truths are born in the cradle of personal experiences and change over time, swept away in the dynamic flow of existence. I do not aim to say that every truth is acceptable. Indeed, we have to learn to stand, sometimes vigorously, against any situation that creates suffering — the privilege of the human incarnation. Moral responsibility and actions are important. However, meaningful actions arise from love and presence.
Like a tree, growing branches would be useless if my roots did not reach deep enough and were not strongly anchored in the ground. The human experience is fundamentally incarnated; so is spirituality. In other words, human beings are by definition embarked on a spiritual journey of their own by the mere reality of existence. From this point of view, there is therefore no experience, collective or individual, that is not spiritual. I believe that is true. And in this humble exploration of the meaning of life and greater aliveness, we might eventually land on the path of an authentic spiritual journey, where it is understood that nothing has to be achieved, a path that has neither beginning nor end, where questions matter more than answers.
By Bénédicte Rousseau, www.benedicterousseau.com
First published on www.paganpages.org in June 2018 under the title "The Anti-New Age: What Western society is getting wrong about pursuing enlightenment"
Photo by Ravi Pinisetti on Unsplash