From Hallelujah to Me-elujah: Thoughts on the Devolution of Consciousness
The cybernetic anthropologist Gregory Bateson once told me that the old debate over whether human beings are agents of free will or are subjects of determinism is resolved by the conclusion that one only has choice at the level of context. Once one steps into the chosen context, it determines the choices within. Translated into spiritual terms, this means the most important choice you have is whether you will house your life in the infinite big room of the divine or a small room where there is only enough space for a self-shelf.
We arguably live in one of the most mixed-up times in human history, where a part (the self) is inflated and then incorrectly regarded as the whole (divinity). Whereas the New Age and New Thought masses claim that consciousness is evolving, a closer look reveals that we are more likely in a devolution rather than an evolution of spiritual know-how concerning how to nurture a strong relationship to the divine. Practically everything in the world now serves lowest-common-denominator outcomes: social popularity, enhanced finances, ideal body type, accumulation of materials, minimization of pain, maximization of comfort, and super-sized selfdom. This fantasized lifestyle glosses today’s industries of entertainment, education, therapeutic practice, and spirituality.
In a dream, I heard a voice shout the name: “Coronado!” I then saw the spiritual conquistadors of our time as those who have pillaged and appropriated the world’s wisdom traditions, only bringing back extracted parts claimed to be magical, while leaving the greater whole context behind. What makes all forms of spirituality authentic, vibrant, and alive is that they serve (w)holiness rather than partialness. Unfortunately, trickster is arguably close to a complete takeover because it has successfully managed to cultivate a market for fake spiritual magic and neatly packaged pseudo-wisdom. In this dream, I heard trickster*, the ultimate spiritual conquistador, speak to our time:
“I offer all desired outcomes, including the new truth that your prosperity and abundance are part of the universe’s luxury plan for your ultimate comfort. Only limiting beliefs and thoughts stand in the way of your commanding all the energies of the universe to manifest your personal will. The other choice—to get on your knees, be contrite of spirit, embrace your smallness, de-elevate the self, and value the way suffering can bring you closer to a heart full of joy—is a thing of the past. You have evolved past all that negativity and only need to focus on the positive. Ignore the teachings of all the ancient medicine people, saints, shamans, and healers who try to make you feel small. Instead, fatten your bank account with the power of now. Don’t forget to say that it’s not all about money because that also helps the money flow.
Roll over Beethoven; I offer the most entertaining sound bites, infomercials, and pan flute Muzak piped into massage rooms across the country. Come on board the bullet train to self-glorification. Let’s comfortably zoom along the fast track to success. Don’t be distracted by any talk about going to the mourning ground or humbling yourself before God; that is only a bummer energy drain that ignores all the synergy you manifest whenever you think you are the best. Most importantly, why waste your time on prayer when you can think your way to being a millionaire?
Let me introduce you to the new marketplace where I have washed away the religions that bother, irritate, depress, disturb, and anger the self. Welcome to a life free of any request to sharpen your mind to handle confounding paradox and complex absurdity. It is better to repeat the simple mantras that assure your evolution of self to selfie, casting God in your own image. Would you like to harness the spirit without paying any dues or going through any ordeals? I have rendered and tendered all mysticism, healing, shamanism, and sainthood readily available and easily accessible (at the right price).
Simply dial your desire and forget walking through any fabled sacred fire. It’s better to take a pill and chill because God is a molecule ready to give a thrill. If you’d rather not ingest, may we suggest the new God helmet that is wired to give you a jolly jolt? Since it’s all in your head, why tread the narrow road when you can forgo prayer to sit in your easy chair? Your true destiny is manifestery rather than mystery. Be a spiritually evolved conquistador and make claim to anything you want! Long live the spirit of Coronado!
The law of attraction is all you need, but pledge to never question whether it’s all about greed. Blessed are the strong and proud of spirit, for they shall inherit the earth. Be as large as a camel for there is no longer an eye of the needle, crossroads, or gateless gate to pass through. Forget about having to spiritually die; go after the sugar pie in the consumer sky. Understanding physics is difficult, but reading Deepak Chopra’s quantum pabulum will make you feel smart and ready to put the cash cart before the dedicated spiritual workhorse. Come along and let’s make you a hell of a deal that guarantees instant heaven. Pick a card, any card because this stacked deck assures you will avoid existential wreck. It’s time to attract the second coming of the newborn dumbing and numbing that eliminates facing the truth of any shortcoming. May your self-governed will be done! In the name of yourself, feel free to mindfully proclaim from the center of your YOU-niverse, ‘Me-alujah!'”
Elevating and glorifying money, beauty, youth, and popularity at the expense of seasoned wisdom, substance, complexity, and depth are nothing new. What feels particularly stinky today, however, is the idea that success, money, and even physical fitness are a reflection of living at a “higher vibration” in resonance with the universe’s desire for you to be all you can be (or whatever).
The implication is that spiritual wisdom = worldly success, when in fact the two really have zero correlation. Most of the strongest, wisest healers and spiritual elders we have met in the world have been materially poor, but not all of them so. What they do have in common is a recognition of their own vulnerability, weakness, and smallness in relationship to divinity, however the latter is named. Any gift for healing or opportunity to help others is seen as a blessing and mystery from God rather than a sign of personal mastery, magical capability, or well-honed capacity to “win at life.”
Of course saying this does little to interrupt the insidious spread of prosperity spirituality, because acknowledging one’s “vulnerability” and smallness just becomes another strategy for tapping into your purpose and living in alignment with the universe’s true plan of abundance for your life and finding your center and stepping into your power and blah blah.
“Of course it was not I who healed. It was the power from the outer world, and the visions and ceremonies had only made me like a hole through which the power would come to the two-leggeds. If I thought I was doing it myself, the hole would close up and no power would come through it. Then everything I could do would be foolish.” Black Elk
There is nothing inherently wrong with money and success, but there’s nothing inherently right about it either. It’s simply time to uncouple material wealth from spiritual wisdom, and to stop listening to the prosperity gurus of all stripes (Tip: if Oprah likes it, stay away. Remember her self-help pseudo-spiritual TV network is called OWN).
Again: we only have choice at the level of context. Though it may seem harmless, too much focus on self-improvement builds a room in which all of our attention is on the partialness of self rather than the whole of divine mystery. It’s actually resourceful to feel disturbed by the paradox that we are individuals who are responsible for our actions while at the same time totally interdependent, impermanent, and largely powerless in the scheme of things. As the Zen Buddhist prayer goes,
When this day has passed our days of life will be decreased by one.
Like fish living in a little water, what sort of comfort or tranquility can there be?
Thankfully we have all the world’s great religious traditions to help us get the most of our impossible situation. Make sure you look for inspiration and guidance in the right places. We leave you with another big room prayer, this one from St. Nicholas of Flüe (1417-1487):
My Lord and my God,
remove far from me whatever keeps
me from You.
My Lord and my God,
confer upon me whatever enables me to
My Lord and my God,
free me from self and make me wholly
— The Keeneys. September 11, 2017. Excerpted and adapted from our book, CLIMBING THE ROPE TO GOD: MYSTICAL TESTIMONY AND TEACHING, 2017. Black Elk quote from Black Elk Speaks, John Neihardt 2008, p.163.
*We use the word “trickster” in the Bushman way to refer to the realm of thinking and language. Read more on that here.