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A Rant Against Spiritual Horseshit

This is a minimally edited version of something I wrote and posted on Facebook on the winter solstice several years ago. It was a kind of howl or rant, and it was a popular post, so I guess it spoke to a lot of people.

Lately, in my mind, I seem to be falling out of much of the spiritual and nonduality scene that I’ve been so deeply immersed in for so many decades. That’s probably an exaggeration to say I’m falling out of it. But I do find myself profoundly tired lately of all the religious-spiritual-nondual bullshit….the endless awakening stories, the efforts to transcend everyday life and human vulnerability, the enlightenment mythologies, the beliefs and certainties, the magical thinking, the endless experience mongering (as Toni Packer called it), the inflated promises, the one-track ponies all endlessly saying over and over that there is no one here and nothing is happening…the whole spiritual industry. I’ve never liked that term, spiritual industry, used by several of my iconoclastic friends, but suddenly it resonates with me.

Zen teacher Barry Magid defines religion as, “moment to moment reverence and awe, and the kind of attention that treats ordinary things as extraordinary and worthy of that kind of attention,” and if that is religion, then I am definitely still religious. But I’m not religious in any formal or traditional sense, although I’ve been known to enjoy religious rituals and mythologies. And I’ve enjoyed and seen the beauty in many gurus and teachers and radical nondualists, so I’m not knocking any of these wonderful beings or what they do. Everything is beautiful and perfect in its own way. I still meditate every day, meaning I sit silently simply being present, and I love doing this (or this doing or undoing me). And I remain deeply grateful for the teachers who have touched me most deeply.

I just feel suddenly very, very fed up with the dishonesty, the pretense, the false certainty, the special people at the front of the room (and I’ve been one of them), and all the ways I’ve gobbled it up and in some way continued to put various people up above me. Maybe “suddenly” is not quite the right word for this fed-up-ness, given that I’m a septuagenarian and thus obviously a very slow learner, but the fed-up-ness did arrive with a certain suddenness quite recently and with a sense of finality it never had before. Something feels very over and done with—although knowing me, it might not be.

In my view, we each have a unique path. No one else knows what anyone else needs to do. And we are all equally inseparable movements of the universe, like the waves of a single ocean. Words like awakening and enlightenment are not pointing to exotic personal attainments, but to being awake here and now as this whole happening.

I’m not against teachers and spiritual communities and practices of various kinds. I think many of these things can be helpful in many ways—they have been for me. It’s one of the best forms of play that I’ve found. And there can certainly be all kinds of experiences and insights and shifts and transformations that happen. But why they happen when they do, no one really knows. They aren’t personal, and they all pass. Death takes it all, and that’s not bad news.

Because in the end, it all comes down to the utter simplicity of right here, right now. I’ve been saying this for decades in books and talks and Facebook posts—but I’m always talking to myself. Because the truth is, I’ve never completely or permanently shed the curative fantasies of a more enlightened me, or the efforts at times to make that happen, or the desire for some great all-knowing parental guru to finally zap me awake in a whole new way, wipe out all my doubts, relax all the contracted energies, dissolve all traces of ego, and free me at last from all my neurotic imperfections (my hot temper, compulsive fingerbiting, all the ways I’m ungenerous and defensive and self-protective, the waves of darkness and depression that can still move through). I know better, of course, but those curative fantasies still show up. And now here I am, older than I ever imagined being, living in a retirement community no less, and suddenly, for no good reason, out of the blue, in a wave of darkness, the waves parted and I was suddenly fed up and finished.

But, of course, that’s just another story—another enlightenment story—more bullshit—all about me, the main character, triumphing at last. Nothing is ever finished. But maybe, just maybe, the bullshit is slowly being worn down. Or maybe I’m just learning to embrace it, to find the beauty in it, to love everything, even myself, just exactly as it is. Who knows.

Happy HolyDaze! Happy Solstice. Enjoy the dark time and the gifts of darkness. I love you all. Thanks for being here.

-- copyright Joan Tollifson 2022 --

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