• Acebe

Ain't No Shortcuts to Illumination

Never mind how much we try to deny it, we in the West are very much the product of the 'consumer culture mindset.' We have a tendency to want to see the results of whatever it is that we do really fast, immediately even, to the point where having to wait long periods of time for the fruits of our own efforts to begin manifesting seems pointless; an absolute waste of time.

We expect the almost immediate gratification of our desires, whatever these may be, for this is what we've been raised to look forward to. At the end of the day, we are the culture of on-demand television, online access to unlimited information, 24/7 shops, and an inexhaustible array of consumer services and products available at the click of a mouse. When we can't have what we desire when we desire it, we resort to 'shortcuts.'

Hacking Our Way to... Well, Nowhere

The world of spirituality and self-actualisation is not immune to this cultural fact. And so, these 'shortcuts' are also present there, even if they take a variety of forms. We've already written, for example, about the way in which most Western students of Yoga prefer not to label themselves as 'beginner yogis,' nor remain being that category of student for too long. But another useful example is the way in which we have a tendency to believe that we can actually buy so-called 'spiritual experiences.' By so doing, the experiences we long for and that we've perhaps read about in books or heard about from prominent public speakers, advanced meditators, spiritual types, or even in sacred texts become somehow also 'available' to us, after paying due price.

Indeed, we lived in Bali for about two years and that proved time enough to see first hand how the alternative wellness industry thrives, in part, thanks to our unquenched thirst for exotic spiritual experiences ––meaningful or otherwise. This is how many of us buy our ticket into 'being spiritual' by virtue of booking one so-called 'spiritual experience' after another ––a healing session after a sound bath, after a crystal cleanse, after a gut cleanse, after a fast, after a breathwork masterclass, after a meditation retreat, and so on and on ad infinitum.

Perhaps the most noticeable example of this trend is the way in which so-called 'ancestral hallucinogenics' have made a strong comeback over the past decade as a form of 'shortcut' on the sometimes long road to illumination. Connected to seemingly 'exotic' ancestral lands and traditions which kind of grant these substances the appearance of being something 'lineage-based,' and conveniently administered by modern-day mystics, shamans and medicine (wo)men, the past few years have seen previously sacred and closed tribal ceremonies and rituals such as the Ayahuasca one, for instance, turned into yet another hipster fad: another consumer-product -turned-amusement-park for any disenfranchised wannabe western spiritual type.

And yet, classical scriptures and spiritual texts of different continents and traditions are pretty straightforward when it comes to these 'hacks': there are no shortcuts on the road to illumination; not even when these involve drugs. Indeed, a shortcut that's taken too often by too many people at the same time soon stops being a shortcut and gets congested, stagnant, clogged in a massive traffic jam ––as those living in the area of Canggu will surely understand.

This is not to say that hallucinogenics or other wellness industry offerings for that matter have no place or use when it comes to healing different types of ailments or helping people progress on the path to greater self-actualization. But they should not (indeed, they cannot) substitute for the gradual developments and unfoldings that committed dedication to one's practice (whatever this may look like for every single one of us) yield over time. Neither can they allow for the necessary gradual integration of the experience, of any kind of new unfolding or noteworthy spiritual explosion or insightful moment ––as must be the case for us to benefit from them.

That is, in fact, the actual danger of jumping on the 'spiritual consumerism bandwagon': the risk of mistaking spirituality for those very random, occasional, super-normal 'experiences' that can sometimes take place, and then fail to integrate the insights provided by those climatic experiences because once the experience is over, we go back to 'life as usual' once again.

This is one of the reasons why one's practice of Yoga and of many other spiritual traditions is not based on the one-time-wonder model, but is founded on continuous commitment and dedication; on inexaustive surrendering and self-examination. There must be method to our madness; otherwise, all that remains is madness.