I’m concerned about classism in the new age, self help and spiritual movements. Oprah Winfrey’s show and “lifeclass,” which many people study religiously, promote individualistic “create your own reality” ideas, including the philosophy of guru Eckhart Tolle. “Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it,” Tolle writes. These ideas can be very harmful, in particular to people struggling with financial hardship.
As one example, I recently met a woman who lost her job. She could not find another job at the same pay rate, so she wound up losing her home. She is currently homeless but finding “gratitude” in the moments which make up her life. “I am lucky to have friends I can stay with, and a couch to sleep on,” she says. “Many people are not as lucky.”
Her gratitude list continues; she is grateful she had a job for as long as she did. She does not blame her employer for moving the job overseas, as blame is “negative energy.“ Plus, she wants to “take personal responsibility for herself,” as “we are our thoughts.” “We all have choices, and today I am going to choose to let this experience make me into a better person,” she said. “The universe has something to teach me.” If she stays “open,” makes the “right choices,” and thinks the “right thoughts,” while releasing her chakras, she should be good to go.
She was not frustrated that there are no comparable paying jobs in her field, as that would involve spending time in negativity. And, she wishes no one any harm, as she has “compassion” for her employer.”
She was not angry that affordable safe housing is obsolete as that is just more negative energy. “Anger is a waste of energy, a form of negativity, and it keeps me from transcending spiritually,” she said. Throughout our conversation she continued to inform me that her economic crisis was her fault, as she had not been thinking the “right thoughts.” Had she thought the right thoughts, she would not be where she is.
But, she did not want to spend too much time on this thought as there are “lessons to be learned,” and the universe has something “better” in store for her, in the future, as long as she does everything “right” in the now. In addition, she theorized that she might be paying back a karmic debt from another lifetime, so in a way, she could deserve her poverty. Plus, it is “important to pay back one’s debt; karmic or otherwise.” Besides, the universe will not give her “any more than she can handle.”
I am all for having a spiritual life, but these ideas create yet another layer of psychological damage to the poor and working class. Most of us seek and need meaning and comfort, especially in hard times, but who ultimately benefits from these ideas? Oprah certainly does. “Live your best life,” she says, raking in the millions. Tolle is making millions off of his “spiritual” ideas as well. One thing is clear: these ideas sell.
New age thinkers might agree that the entire planet is in crisis, but radical change is going to take a lot more than thinking positive thoughts, unless the positive thoughts include collective action to eradicate classism. I wonder how much longer we as a society will continue to drown before we wake up to what is really going on in the US economically?