I, like many other agnostic young people living in the spiritual void of modern Britain, flirt with the idea of spirituality. As a spiritual dilettante, I reluctantly stretch through the odd yoga class or attempt to silence the endless flow of internal chatter using occasional meditation. But I guess I've spent enough time to get some insight into the 'spiritual' community of contemporary London, and by this I do not mean church/mosque/temple-going folk secure in their religions, I mean those adopting Eastern practices like yoga and meditation for spiritual nourishment. What I think I've found is that current 'spirituality' is thinly-veiled materialism.
My dabbling doesn't seem to reveal communities of well-adjusted, higher beings on the path to enlightenment. Instead, most instructors and advanced advocates seem trapped in precisely the same affluenza knot as much of the wider population. I feel like contemporary Western spirituality in its many forms has become a form of consumption and competition to be displayed to others, a way of feeling unique and somehow above other people. Here are three spiritual stereotypes I've observed:
Obsessed with appearing at the next yoga class, gong bath or meditation program before you do. Their spirituality gives them a platform to look down on the rest of the population. The more advanced, the more sniffy and elitist they become. It's a drowned-and-saved mentality as objectionable as being proselytised to by the Alpha Course. I first encountered this form of spiritual being in California, where they make up about 25% of the population. In this case, spirituality is pure ego, and even I know that means they haven't even left spiritual base camp.
Confuse open-mindedness with gullibility. Anyone not shrewd enough to sift through the ceaseless mountains of new-age bullshit that anyone with half an interest in spirituality is bombarded with. Those that adopt convenient pseudo-science to sugar-coat their existence don't advance anything, including themselves. Grinning inanely, accepting fraud and pretending to be nice all the time is as fake as the plastic society they are retreating from. Lacking rigour.
I like to think I'm more in this final group than either of the others. We are the open-minded, slightly-confused punters who make up the vast multitude of attendees at anything lumped under the idea of spirituality. We might be atheist, agnostic or fully-fledged religious, but the key is we are searching for something, we are not entirely content with the current status quo, we sense that there is more to life than the latest Kanye West outburst but we aren't quite sure what, yet.
Seeing people change after a couple of yoga lessons into a robe-wearing, Om-chanting essence of their former selves just doesn't ring true. It's about buying the right kit, making the right noises, being seen doing both. My fear is that the motive for many 'spiritual' Western people quickly becomes based on competition and ego. It is about looking spiritual, being seen to be spiritual, and very little to do with any kind of lasting process or journey. Soulwash, if you will.
Daniel Crockett writes about our relationship with nature. You can see more of his work by going to www.danielcrockett.co.uk