We really live in an interesting time in human history. Especially when it comes to information. In this article I want to talk about the downside of internet spirituality, and a few things that are worth reminding ourselves about as we absorb this cascade of information on a day to day basis.
Just two decades ago…
I grew up in the generation that watched the internet explode. When I was a young teenager, the internet was a dial-up box that connected to your old 486 (only some people reading this will even get that reference) that you used to play really lame games, and nerd out in chat rooms. It also held up your home telephone line (back when everyone still used home telephone lines.) Oh, and this was when some computers still had floppy disk drives.
This was before everyone had a cell phone, and even as the internet exploded, and became powered by search engines and google, there was still a period in time (believe it or not young’uns) where people could not access the internet with their cell phones.
So what does this old geezerly sounding story have to do with spirituality or self-improvement? Well, whether you’re young or old, it’s worth understanding that just a few decades ago, we couldn’t find information at the touch of a button, in the comfort of our own home. If you wanted to learn about yoga, meditation, or eastern practices you were limited to whatever books you could find in the library or local bookstore, or whatever classes, seminars, or resources were available to you in your community.
And with how easy it is to take all this information we have at the touch of our fingertips for granted, we sometimes fail to truly understand how genuinely crazy it is that some of the most time-honored, protected, sacred, ancient knowledge that the human race has to offer is now available by simply typing it in to google. In fact, you might not even have to search for it. It might get crammed down your throat as you browse your newsfeed on facebook.
There are things we can learn about online that used to be fiercely protected by oaths of secrecy, things that people used to have to trek through the mountains for, risk their lives for, or sleep with no food or shelter outside obscure zen monasteries for weeks just to prove their worth for.
So what is my point with all this? We may be truly stepping into a golden age of knowledge; the age that the mystics and masters of our past have spoken of for centuries. And yet, there is a serious price to be paid for all of this. And there are also harsh realities that we must come to terms with as we proceed through this age of information, so as not to destroy and desecrate the knowledge we have at the touch of our fingertips. In my humble opinion, we are still very young and naïve as a human race in our collective journey of rediscovering the truth about who and what we are. And we will do quite well to remain humble, open-minded, and skeptical as we absorb and apply the information and “knowledge” that comes our way.
I am writing this article for the sincere truth-seeker (as rare as you are) in hopes that this will help you continue to calibrate your own inner compass to navigate through a sea of spiritual/new age/self-improvement information overload; because there is nothing more important than your own clarity as you proceed.
The Commercialization of Spirituality and Self-Help
It’s ironic, how running an online business that speaks on the topic of spirituality and self-help myself has given me a jaded perspective on the monetization of spirituality and self-help. Please understand that I am not meaning to be hypocritical here; I’m not saying that I think it is wrong to make money from spiritual and self-help. I am saying that it is worth understanding how this works, so you can be cautious in what information you absorb and apply to your own life.
Do you ever consider why you get so many positive, uplifting quotes on your newsfeed? It’s not because everyone on the internet takes the time to find, create, and post beautiful pictures with helpful quotes slapped on top of them purely out of the goodness of their heart. It’s because in order for a business (spiritual or otherwise) to succeed, it must create, circulate, and post an obscene amount of content, just to grab the tiniest bit of anyone’s attention online to compete with the content that’s already out there.
Really, the amount of content necessary just to make it with an online business is staggering. We’re talking about free products, articles, email newsletters, informational videos, and…of course…motivational quotes paired with appealing images. Can you imagine the time it takes just to create and post 3 image/quotes a day on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Instagram, and Pinterest? Space that out over the course of a year, and imagine the chore of finding all the pictures and quotes, and then creating them and posting them.
Then we take into account that giving out free video trainings, books, mp3’s, etc. is the norm for any online business. And THEN we take into account that the success of any said business hinges upon the popularity and trend of any of this free content that it is circulating around. If it’s not popular, if it’s not well-received, it might all just be a waste of time.
Now considering all this (and I really hope you do give it some serious consideration) can you imagine where this could become an issue, or at least a warning sign, in the endeavor of using the internet to direct the course of your spiritual path?
I’ll share a few things I’ve learned from this perspective:
- Not everyone is going to take the time to genuinely filter every bit of content that gets put out onto the internet. Even well-intended, good people, are probably going to occasionally put out a quote, a tip, a philosophy, or a free product that doesn’t really, truly benefit you, or steer your course in the right direction. Whether it’s a small operation putting out this content (in which whoever is doing it might not have the time to truly filter everything) or a larger business operation (where multiple teams of people, who might not all have the same perspective on truth are responsible for finding and creating said content) not everything being put out there is going to be valuable, or even helpful. It could even be misleading, untrue, or detrimental to your success.
- Some people really are just trying make a buck. Yes, as sad as it is, there are some people out there that are just using some of the most powerful, sacred, and important information known to man to get you to fork over your hard-earned dollars. These types of people really don’t care if they share information that may influence you to think or act in a way that really isn’t helpful to you, nor do they likely even have the level of awareness and understanding to know the difference between shit-quality, pseudo-spiritual nonsense, and real, true, powerfully GOOD information.
- To have an abundance of something is not always a good thing. Going back to my geezer rant earlier… Decades ago, if you were a serious truth-seeker, you would have to genuinely seek out this kind of knowledge. Depending on what part of the world you were in, you might end up with a different path or philosophy. For example, if you were in China or Tibet, you may seek out knowledge to end up on a pilgrimage that lands you in Buddhist monastery, or perhaps learning Taoist internal alchemy. If you were in Russia, your path might lead you to a mystic that may teach you the secrets of energy healing through herbs, space clearing, and the energy body practices that have been handed down from that region and genealogy. In India you could end up in an Ashram, or Himalayan cave with a Yogi Master.
The point is that in this type of scenario, you would have limited options of where your path of Truth-seeking and empowerment would lead you, and regardless of what path you walk, it would probably take you far. You would also have had to actually WORK for it. And in working for it, and with it being a more limited option, you would have cherished it, revered it, and respected it more. You would have also been more immersed in it and only it.
Nowadays, we jump on Facebook or Google and we get a little sprinkling of quotes from a Yogi master here, an enlightened Tibetan Buddhist Rinpoche there, an NLP audio free download, the latest and greatest hybrid of the newest up and coming ambitious American self-made self-helper, and an article from some random guy that sells brainwave entrainment audios and rambles about whatever is on his mind (here you are).
Now I’m not a puritan, and I see a great deal of benefit from us being able to take what works from all different perspectives and apply that to our own lives, BUT (this is a big BUT) if we get too convoluted with different teachings, tips, philosophies, and perspectives, that we risk losing the whole point of it all!
It’s hard to learn anything from one path, when it is constantly being intermixed with another, and then another, and then another idea, thought, philosophy, and teaching. And it’s hard to truly appreciate something when it’s just chucked in there with a limitless pile of other things that may or may not be just as profound or life-changing. And it’s always key for us to remember, not ALL information that falls under the label of “spirituality” or “self-help” is equal, or equally true and beneficial.
It’s the ultimate paradox of choice-one that affects you at the deepest and most foundational level of your life. Kind of a trip isn’t it? This is ONE of the major downsides of having so much spiritual information at our fingertips.
So What to Do About It?
I want to share one of my favorite quotes with you:
“You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, not look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books. You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me, you shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.”
This advice from the late, great Walt Whitman is more applicable now than ever before. We cannot afford to take things at second or third hand. We cannot afford to unconsciously absorb all the different quotes, content, and teachings that we find on the internet into our belief systems. The time has come for ALL of us to firmly root our judgement in ourselves, to listen to all sides and filter them from our own point of reference. To find the Truth within ourselves.