Enough with Trickle-Down Spirituality
Why you might want to leave the hippie commune if you’re serious about finding God.
There’s an Indian parable you may be familiar with, the one about the blind men and the elephant. It goes something like this: A group of blind men stumbles upon an elephant. None of them has ever experienced an elephant before. They each touch a different part of the elephant: one touches the trunk, one the tusk, one the leg, one the stomach, and so on. Each builds a concept in his mind about what the elephant is from the part he is touching alone. Each believes the other men are lying, insane or just plain wrong when they tell the truth of the part they are touching. Their fervor comes to violence. The truth is, they’re all correct in their experience, and incomplete in their conceptual understanding.
Spirituality, science, medicine, social justice — all fields fall into this trap. We’ve gotten boxed into specialized topics (parts of the elephant) where we feel comfortable and guided towards a fuller and truer way of living. We all have an image of some ultimate truth and ideal future based on the part of the elephant we’re touching. We evangelize about the truth of our part, and we reject or ignore the wisdom of any other part.
For far too long, science and medicine rejected more holistic approaches to healing that took into consideration types of health we currently call emotional, mental or spiritual. That bridge is starting to be crossed once more. Where I’d really like to see more people crossing the bridge is between the emotional, mental and spiritual, and the social, political and economic.
This is an essay about why you are limiting your spiritual path if you avoid or ignore social, political and economic injustice.
To actually grasp at understanding Oneness is first and foremost to understand “as above, so below” and “as within, so without.” It is all inseparable. What appears to be outside of you, and what appears to be a part of you, are actually the same thing. If you fixate only on one perceived realm, and deny the importance of the other, you are impeding your own liberation and the liberation of everyone. Liberation from suffering and liberation from oppression are the same liberation.
While I often see the same phenomenon in social justice-minded people, and especially in science-minded people, I’m going to focus today on calling in spiritually-minded people: Hello. It’s time to move beyond your comfort zone, and do away with any belief in “trickle-down spirituality.”
Symptoms of the trickle-down spirituality fallacy include refusing to engage with social change because it’s too #lowvibe, valuing awareness but not accountability, striving for an imaginary state of emotional independence from others, invalidating others’ “negative” emotions (most often anger), and/or repressing these emotions in yourself.
Those who believe in trickle-down spirituality think that their own ascension is possible without the ascension of everyone, and that therefore by walling their consciousness off from suffering, the state of bliss they experience will “trickle-down” to benefit the world, all on its own. Like trickle-down economics, trickle-down spirituality is rooted in the erroneous belief that to have something is to possess it, rather than to give and receive it. More concretely, it manifests as the belief that bliss is scarce, rather than abundant, and must therefore be jealously guarded from possible upset.
I’ve seen far too many “spiritual” people engage in avoidance, repression, rejection or denial of anything in that doesn’t make them feel good. If this includes you, this pattern of behavior is completely understandable, but it’s time to grow out of it. You’ve gotten stuck in the classic Ego trap of identifying with a concept rather than an experience. Bliss, consciousness, love — call it what you will — this is an active and inclusive process, not a catchable and defendable thing.
If you are on a spiritual path, you have likely conceptualized or experienced the truth that God is unconditional love, and its natural byproduct is abundant bliss. By definition, “love” that rejects, avoids, represses or denies anything is not unconditional. It has conditions for when it feels loving and acts lovingly. It is therefore still rooted in an Ego-based judgment that what it rejects is threatening. Your bliss is still real, but you are weakening it by refusing to face suffering. The spiritual path is the path of transmuting suffering into unconditional love.
As you begin to extricate yourself from the fears and conditioning that shackle you to your Ego, you may need space from aspects of the world that draw you out of consciousness and into reactivity. Taking space from the world for a time is perfectly natural, healthy and, I think, an integral part of growth towards spiritual consciousness. When we throw ourselves off the deep end, so to speak, into too many stimuli that pull us into Ego reactivity, we often cannot improve consciousness because we struggle simply to survive.
Taking time in spiritual retreat is natural. Living in spiritual retreat is avoidant. Of course, you are allowed to avoid, and you may have very good reasons for doing so. All the same, let’s not confuse the fear-and-scarcity mentality of #highvibesonly with the abundant reality of unconditional love. If your state of love and bliss can be broken by engaging with the material world, it is by definition conditional, and you have more work to do.
By all means, go up the mountain. I have, and I take time to do so regularly. But please, come back when you’re ready. I know how hard it can be when you rush back down too quickly, and suddenly all the peace and bliss you built for yourself feels shattered and so, so fragile. What I’ve learned is that your state of loving awareness will continue to be fragile until you start letting it break, and putting it back together again stronger.
Avoiding any experience of a suffering world is not the spiritual path. It is the path of denial. If you call yourself a light-worker, by all means protect yourself as you need to, but shine your light by giving love everywhere you can. Look around you to all the other light-workers whose lights look different from yours, but are still lights of moving us towards unconditional love. Cornel West said, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”
God (read: Source consciousness) lives in science, politics, economics, relationships, psychology, ecology, and everything. This means that your path to awakening and realization runs both into your psyche, and into the streets. You do not have to declare yourself an activist, or a scientist, or a friend, or a partner, or a healer — you already are all of them. There is no consciousness in pretending you aren’t. There is only abdication of your power and denial of your responsibility.
All is One means as above, so below. It means the unhoused and the incarcerated and the starving and the solider and the cop and the raped and the rapist are all you. It means that no one can suffer for you to be liberated. It means liberation is total, or not at all. It means enlightenment is Utopia, and nothing less. To paraphrase A Course in Miracles, no one gets to heaven alone. We all go in together, or no one does.
Enough with the judgments, the avoidance and the fear. Enough with trickle-down spirituality. We need our light-workers getting gritty and dirty and carnal down here with the rest of the species. It’s time to love in public.