Most manifestation gurus tout their wares by appealing to our desire for material gain: they purport to instruct us how to attract lots more money into our lives, as if ‘abundance’ (a trendy and overused term) exists solely in monetary terms. To boot, they often charge crazy prices for their laughable ‘wisdom’. This in itself should ring alarm bells as to what the intention is underlying so-called ‘law of attraction’ practices; but what is most spurious about such practices, particularly on an ethical level, is that such law of attraction gurus have the gall to justify their ridiculous prices by claiming that theythemselves need to attract more money in order to ‘serve’ the population of misguided, disempowered, and gullible souls.
Such money-grabbers, who encourage us to want more money ourselves, claim to be ‘spiritual’. Whether or not there is an inherent contradiction in those self-help gurus who are so shamelessly materialistic in one breath and yet claim to be spiritual in another breath is beyond my scope here, but the point is this: real spiritual teachings do not advocate the pursuit of money and material possessions, nor the exploitation of spiritual thought itself as a means to gain more money.
And yet in the Western world, spirituality is gaining credence in mainstream society: social media is replete with posts about empaths, manifesting, and all things woo. It’s a new trend, and it has caught on. In the absence of formalised religion, this rising popularity makes sense, as a revival of New Age thought is seemingly filling the void of religion; and, moreover, such quasi-spiritual, pseudo-scientific nonsense such as the law of attraction is massively appealing to the millennial generation which has grown up in a culture of materialism, narcissism, and self-entitlement.
Spirituality — and the various self-help modalities it is akin to — is big business. The self-ordained spiritual and self-help gurus who sell us the latest ‘secret’ to happiness, or the ‘key’ to personal power, or the elixir to release all past trauma, are less interested in our wellbeing than in our disposable income.
Let’s delve into this a little deeper.
One of the most contentious aspects of the New Age thought — or more generally ‘spirituality’ — has been its adoption of ideas and practices from non-Western cultures: its central ideology, that all traditions are fluid and free for anyone to co-opt, has led to some spiritual circles co-opting and marketing the practices of indigenous societies, resulting in accusations of cultural imperialism.
In sum, the West has been accused of misappropriating ideas from the East as part of its Capitalist ideology. How? We’ve all seen the fitness magazines that promise us a smaller waist or a six-pack ‘in just two weeks’. And we all know that such promises are utter bullshit. Such quick-fix schemes ensure the magazines keep selling and the wheels of the multi-billion dollar health and fitness industry keep turning. It is also symptomatic of our fast food culture where everything and everyone is disposable, and we want to see results right now.
The health, fitness and beauty industries exploit our fears and insecurities by touting quick fix solutions to help us lead ‘happier’, healthier lives. Instead of allowing the customer to reach out to them out of their own volition, they expose our needs, our desires, and our fears in order to attract us to their wares. Then, once they have our attention, they ensnare us with their promises of ‘fixing’ our problems. The ‘spirituality’ and the ‘self-help’ industry is no exception: they tout nurturing self-love; bypassing our fears; positive thinking; raising our vibration; unblocking our manifesting power and so on, all of which taps directly into our insecurities and our desires with various ‘solutions’ or promises of a better life.
The spiritual capitalist invents both the problem (fear is ‘bad’ blah blah blah) and the solution (meditation, law of attraction, high vibes) and therefore the self-help and spirituality industries are not unlike any other sort of marketing machine: they present us with a problem or fear — something that makes us feel bad about ourselves, such as wanting a better relationship or more money — and then provide us with the so-called solution to the problem. But oftentimes, the problem itself has been invented by them: they emphasize the fear and trauma in our lives in order to offer the salve; and they make such absurd claims like ‘you can attract anything you want’ which, if anything, emphasizes the lack in our lives in order to make us want more, more, and more, because according to them, we can manifest everything we could ever wish for, without limitation.
And the jargon?
“Raise your vibration, INSTANTLY!”
…and bypass and suppress your negative emotions as a result? Isn’t that dangerously close to spiritual bypassing?
Here’s another one:
“Change your body and manifest a million dollars IN JUST THREE DAYS!”
And my personal favourite:
“Re-wire your mind in JUST 17 SECONDS!”
Neuroplasticity is indeed a phenomenon; but can we really undo thousands of years of genetic evolution ‘in just 17 seconds’? Hell no.
The emphasis on quick results contradicts what lies at the heart of authentic spiritual development: patience, as well as constant backsliding. There are no quick fixes. Our journey is a constant ebb and flow with no endpoint. The beauty is in the journey itself, in the struggle, and in the subsequent learning we gain from overcoming obstacles and adversity. That’s how we grow. If it were all so easy, then what would be the point?
The sad part is, sellers offer quick-fix solutions because a lot of customers just want quick, easy fixes. It would be interesting to know, for example, how many people who are on their ‘spiritual journey’ critically deconstruct books, articles, and blog posts, and in contrast, how many are happy to read the odd life-affirming meme now and again, simply because it offers an easy, quick injection of positivity: no long-term inner work is involved, which means exploring the shadow and all the shit we don’t want to face up to; rather, an affirmation, a happy quote, or an empowering meme will do, which is sadly the equivalent of popping a pill: we can avoid negative thoughts momentarily, but without the honest inner work, they can never be outrun.
The thing is, spiritual circles are quick to denigrate Capitalism in very sweeping terms, but for some reason they don’t seem to mind being swallowed up by Spiritual Capitalist machine, precisely because it’s packaged as ‘spiritual’. But just because something is packaged in such a way does not make it so.
I recently watched a free ‘master class’ by a popular and very wealthy Law of Attraction coach. Like the majority of manifestation coaches who appeal to our avarice and sense of self-entitlement, the class was aimed at selling a new product for ‘rewiring’ the brain to attract more money. The language of the class was unsettling to say the least: attract “tons and tons” of money because “you deserve to be rich”. Does a couch potato ‘deserve’ to be rich? How about a money launderer, extortionist, swindler, or even a murderer? Do they ‘deserve’ to be rich? The kind of hyperbolic and irresponsible language used by some manifestation coaches promotes mammonism, excess, and a sense of entitlement by at once pointing out the lack in our lives and by appealing to our desire for material abundance; but not just a little bit more money, “tons and tons” more money.
And who is to say this process of re-wiring is guaranteed to work? What if we don’t attract more money by purchasing the product? Do we get a refund? It’s a catch-22 situation for the customer: if what you desire doesn’t manifest, then from the customer’s perspective manifestation doesn’t work; but the Spiritual Capitalist would claim that their manifestation tools do not work because the customer is entrenched in a mind set of lack and disbelief, and this ‘logic’ seems water tight, for the Law of Attraction goes: if you believe, you will attract; but what if you wholeheartedly believe, but what you desire doesn’t manifest? The answer is because you don’t believe strongly enough! If we follow this absurd logic, then if the product doesn’t work, it’s the customer’s fault. Why? Because their vibration is too low, or they are stuck in a mindset of lack, or their faith in the manifesting process isn’t strong enough. It’s a deceptively clever — seemingly flawless — selling strategy for the Spiritual Capitalist by virtue of the fact that the customer has no comeback, therefore the customer loses out whilst it’s win-win for the seller.
Thoughts of excess and entitlement are not ‘spiritual’. But what is perhaps most concerning is that we entrust these self-proclaimed spiritual gurus with our deepest desires and our darkest insecurities. I certainly have, many times.
To capitalise on our insecurities in such a manner smacks of the same shameless Capitalism that is at the heart of the health and beauty industries: they prey on our fears. Don’t get me wrong, I do not believe that practicing spirituality and making money is a contradiction. For some spiritual people it is their livelihood, and the service they provide helps people overcome trauma, discover their purpose, and lead a happier life. Their value is invaluable. Other spiritual coaches work hard and earn the money they make whilst making a real, long-lasting difference to people’s lives. But the key differences are thus: they don’t charge a fortune, they don’t make promises of quick fixes, and neither do they covertly exploit our fears and insecurities for self-gain.