Spiritual Enlightenment or Spiritual Entertainment?

spiritual entertainment enlightment

Tell me if you’ve gone down this path before. On a friend’s recommendation, you pick up The Alchemist and can’t put it down. Then you finally get around to Eckhart Tolle and love it. You feel alive, awakened.

Or maybe you found his writing style tedious and repetitive, but then during a chat that started on a completely different topic but veered towards spirituality, your friend recommends The Four Agreements. You are now a believer in Toltec wisdom, feel fantastic and walk with a better posture with your newfound invincibility (how can you not after Agreement #2?).

People say that what we’re all seeking a meaning for life. I don’t think this is what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive.

– Joseph Campbell, Power of Myth

Then over a tea at your favorite café, you’re unloading about the fight you had with your partner. You can’t understand why say and do the things they do. Your friend offers advice by asking “Have you read The Five Love Languages? It’s so good, I think it’ll help!”.

So you pick that up. Then after professing your newfound love for everything Coelho, you find Hermanne Hesse’s Siddartha next on your to-read list. Soon enough, recommendations are coming faster than you can keep up and you’re starting to feel the FOMO coming on. So you load up on books on Zen Buddhism, meditation, a collection of Rumi poems and the classic Tao Te Ching. You feel good about yourself because you got through Frankl’s A Man’s Search for Meaning. You cried, you get it.

Now you’re really feeling awakened. You have a growing sense of awareness and are more conscious going about your daily routine, bringing that practice to everything from your yoga practice to washing the dishes. You can’t help but tell your more receptive friends about all these great reads. You’re connecting with people at a new level and found a new social circle group where everyone is on the same wavelength. What could possibly be bad about this?

The only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday.

– Unknown

Back on Earth, your parents and certain friends are starting to think you’re weird, so you make a mental note not to bring up spirituality around them. But with your more receptive friends, you’ve exchanged emails and constantly share inspirational posts, and with the old friends you are feeling a deeper connection. You start going to yoga and begin to meditate.

Spirituality begins to permeate into all aspects of your life. Your inbox fills up with strange names of creatures large and small like The Purpose Fairy, Elephant Journal and Tiny Buddha. Your Facebook wall is covered in inspirational quotes and you find yourself constantly posting articles from MindBodyGreen. You even decide to give Deepak Chopra a chance.

You’re inspired, you’re living in the NOW, good things are happening, and you start thinking that maybe there is something to the Law of Attraction.

If you want to feel sad, live in the past. If you want to feel anxious, live in the future. If you want to feel peaceful, live in the now.

– Karen Salmansohn

Does any of this sound familiar?

New age, spirituality, self-help, personal development, whatever you want to call it, it’s too easy to fall into this rabbit-hole.

But why do we do this to ourselves?

Simple. Because it feels SO DAMN GOOD!

But why? Where does this warm and tingly feeling come from?

Maybe it’s because you’re not feeling guilty for vegging out in front of the TV or reading the next segment of that hot teen-lit trilogy. There’s nothing wrong with setting time to wind down and watch your favorite show, or indulging in Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner.

Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.

– Albert Einstein

But you’ve gained a new awareness and you’re making conscious choices, this can’t possibly be bad a thing? Besides, you’re saying to yourself “I feel better than I ever have before!”.

That’s great. I’m happy for you, I really am. But there comes a point when you need to take a step back from this constant cycle of consumption – and that’s really what it is if left uncontrolled – more consumption. When you’re immersed in Thich Nhat Hanh’s writing or doling out the virtues of Paramahansa Yogananda to your new soulmates, how can you still make space to help someone or create something of your own?

It’s not selfish to love yourself, take care of yourself, and to make your happiness a priority. It’s necessary.

– Mandy Hale

One would argue that your new outlook on life is helping the world, after all you’ve read a hundred times how you have to take care of your own house before you can truly help another.

But there’s a time when all of this feel-good stimulation no longer is spiritual enlightenment, it becomes spiritual entertainment, the consumption of spiritual materials and practice of “new age” activities for the purpose of amusement.

You feel like you’re spending your time wisely, investing in your self. But somewhere between the pages of your second reading of The Power of Now or The New Earth, a balance was lost.

Spirituality became your new vice. It’s turned into an escape, replacing your other habits. As you engage in these activities, your brain releases dopamine and you experience pleasure as you find a new purpose, a sense of belonging in your new social circles that are now full of people who agree on all the same books and like all the same quotes and blog articles. You experience pleasure at every interaction. It has become an addiction.

Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.

– Paolo Coelho, The Alchemist

Consumption? Addiction? Those are some strong words. OK, it’s not akin to substance abuse as that is a serious issue where severe trauma to yourself and others is caused, but it is taking away your most important resource – time. How different is this really from your other habits you’ve grown beyond in the past?

Now I’m not saying stop reading or stop practicing yoga. But don’t take the easy route, and let’s be honest, there’s nothing hard about reading The Alchemist. What you can do is to use your newfound awareness and recognize this pattern when it happens. Don’t pass judgement, don’t be so hard on yourself, simply see it for what it was, learn from it, grow.

I truly do believe we are in the midst of a spiritual awakening on a grand scale that the Internet is playing a critical role in (a topic for a future article). And I’m all for reading, growth, and spreading the good word while doing no harm to others. But I’ve fallen into the spiritual entertainment trap myself, and one thing I’ve learned is to take everything in moderation, including moderation.

Now go out there and create.

When you don’t create things, you become defined by your tastes rather than ability. Your tastes only narrow and exclude people. So create.

– Why the Lucky Stiff

I’ll leave you with this fantastic comic from Zen Pencils to inspire you to start something today:

Zen Pencils Comic Inspiration Shonda - A Screenwriter's Advice

Source: Zen Pencils

There’s nothing more to read here, now go make something! (:


  • Jeff says:

    Sir Blissful Nomad

    Thank you for this insightful reflection.

    Consumption is like a drug and FOMO can easily consume all your free time. The internet is a wonderful thing, but it does have a dark side.

    Over the last few months I’ve tried to notice my consumption to creation ratio more. It all starts with awareness – the best weapon I’ve found so far.

    A few of my favorite quotes:

    “It is better to create than to learn! Creating is the essence of life.” – Julius Caesar

    “When you don’t create things, you become defined by your tastes rather than ability. Your tastes only narrow & exclude people. so create.” – Why the Lucky Stiff

  • Victor says:

    Thanks, Jeff! Awareness is a powerful thing, and at the beginning of positive change.
    I liked the Why the Lucky Stiff quote so much I’ve added it to the post! And my curiousity led me to Google him. Interesting how he’s gone the reclusive route. I’m sure he has many interesting things to say…

  • Anne says:

    Nailed it. <– must be sung in alto when reading aloud

    Seriously, the whole way through this post I thought, "yep, read that one. Yep, that one… yep… yep, another one…" annnnd I've become the crazy person with all of the "new" ideas. Sigh. (But seriously, the 5 Love Languages is different, right?) I especially enjoy your choice of comic at the end. I relate to both sides, completely. On one side, I am striving for larger understanding. On the other, I'm doing the things I can't help but pursue. In fact, tonight I launched my very first web app that I built from scratch (awww, firsts). To me, the flow, the focus, and the "now" I experience when creating is leagues above the pursuit of understanding Tolle. I will be doing a better job of curating my consumption intake starting right now…

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