Pop-spirituality brings a materialistic approach to consuming inspirational ideas, lending itself as the perfect vehicle to promote branded, feel-good ideologies. These ideas with their simple statements are usually polarizing, lack real world context, and are often rooted in black-and-white thinking, which all means their helpfulness is suspect.
The church-of-Oprah is one example of spiritual materialism and appropriation that despite all of its good intentions and global positive impact, nonetheless reduces down and channels spiritual practice into something packaged, fashionable, and easily digestible. To appeal to the masses, there needs to be a dumbing-down of spiritual wisdom in order to cater to the lowest common denominator of consciousness and, of course, to maximize the number of received Facebook clicks.
A powerful tenet or main platform that reverberates through this kind of fun-and-sexy-spirituality is to promote individuation and autonomy as a cornerstone of achieving or accessing a shiny, actualized, truer-self. A common picture quote for this type of marketing campaign will espouse a belief that you have somehow managed to create all the suffering in your life due to poor decision-making and wrong-willed choices.
You have conjured up your own discomfort, disappointment, and anguish due to a failure in proper thinking.
Never mind the realities of existential suffering or that old age, sickness, and death are all part of life. Never mind that we exist interconnected to systemic structures that influence access to opportunity, freedom, education, resources, health, healing, and safety. Pseudo-spiritual picture quotes want nothing to do with these truths; instead they want to promote your inability to make proper choices. The messaging is simple; you’re choosing wrongly – it’s your fault!
If only you would stop choosing suffering, then you would eradicate it from your existence once and for all. If only you would stop creating with your mind these imaginary barriers to abundance, reward, and joy; then you’d be able to happily “live the life you deserve.”
Good thing that there are now so many enlightened, social media marketing gurus on the internet ready and able to point out your mind’s poor choices. Good news for all of us that so many gurus now offer their own brand of better thinking. (And if you subscribe now to my newsletter, you’ll also get this free gift: 25 ways to change your Inner Light Bulb.)
Internet pop-spirituality and feel-good abundance philosophies promoted by social media marketers often lack any real disciplined instruction about how to work with life's suffering. Popularity is not authority; however many followers assume that such popularity creates legitimacy. Caution is recommended when taking "advice" about the origins of change or about how people change, especially when the real underlying intention is to sell the latest e-book on Amazon.
The sales-hook here is the promise of “becoming more.”
You can become “more of yourself.” In order to be "more," then we have to agree that we are currently feeling “less than.” In order to grow, change, improve, become shinier, more actualized, or find the elusive "true" self; then we have to comparatively be “less than” shiny in this moment – less true or even, untrue. A prerequisite to seeking out your “true self” is to believe that you are currently not really yourself. Do you see just how crazy-making all of this is?
The uplifting positivity that internet picture quotes promote often times covertly reinforces the very “lack” that they are striving to change. This marketing strategy of “choose to change” is actually aggression disguised as feel-good encouragement.
It is disguised as "become who you really want to be." This dog-chasing-its-tail approach is not based on sincere self-acceptance. It’s about perpetuating confusion and can only proliferate if you believe that there is something wrong with you.
Pop-spirituality picture quotes are dangerous when they simplify the hard realities of suffering. Suffering is a much more complex interplay of dependently-arising circumstances that are interpersonal, intrapersonal, systemic, psychic, genetic, somatic, physiologically influenced, and culturally contextualized, etc.
Suffering is a fact of life and not rooted in personal choices.
Yes, it is our choice about how to work with that suffering (within reason); however the sentiment on many picture quotes can be quite confusing in their absoluteness, if not outright victim-blaming. Very few people consciously set out to create suffering in their lives. Let’s give people more credit – and compassion.
Another important point to note is that most picture quotes about healing are not trauma-informed. Therefore, they offer little understanding about how despite a person's best intentions to choose otherwise, traumatic injuries often have a mind of their own.
Traumatic injury is rooted in brain system functions that are not influenced by thoughts or thinking; trauma is not just an idea that a person can un-think. A person cannot choose to think their trauma symptoms away. Those who believe they are doing this are most likely practicing denial, distraction, or dissociation. Our current understanding of trauma based on research shows that healing encompasses more than working with core beliefs and thought patterns.
A person who is psychically tortured in the fires of their own suffering does not need to be told that they have chosen this level of suffering. That's just not helpful – actually, it’s cruel.
Internet pop-spirituality presents itself as practical, supportive healing advice with an intention to be helpful – but is it?
Life is not as simple as these social media marketing spiritual reminders pretend. Too many times, ancient teachings created by spiritual sage minds are treated like cut-and-paste morsels of wisdom that can be freely applied, doled out, and feasted upon.
The reality about many of these heightened trains of thought is that they were earned inside the crucibles of intense conscious suffering, persistent inquiry, and experiential breakthroughs. These spiritual truths are not just some flowery accessory that can be taken off and easily handed over to another person in the form of a pithy, branded platitude. Real healing is work. Real healing takes discipline. Real healing transcends “choice.”
Next time you click “like” to some internet meme laced with inspirational, pseudo-spiritual advice, please question the validity of the source. Pseudo-spiritual advice masquerading as a viable healing path will only prolong suffering's confusion, not alleviate it.
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