Spiritual But Not Religious in 2012 – XVIII

5 Elemental Challenges — Air

Neither scholars nor detractors of SBNR have been slow in pointing out that it has relied on free market principles. Sometimes it can reek of affluence. What happens when the affluence goes away — which it is currently doing in many places?

The madness of the oil age has crested and is sinking into the madness of the post-oil age. This is the greater danger for which SBNR should be watching, but isn’t.

SBNR is everywhere, but there is a strong possibility of a big overlap between those who think prosperity will mount ever upwards, and those who charge $1,795 for a six-day workshop. I wish the latter were all fakers. I got the figure from the Monroe Institute.

Already the numbers who can afford that kind of thing are dropping. That way does not now represent a secure future for SBNR here in the West. There are plenty of SBNRs who already have good ideas here, but plenty more who are trying to ignore the need for sustainability amidst financial contraction.

All really durable spiritual ways know, not only how to persevere through lean times, but to be the way of so persevering, at best leading through example. Times of trial are tests of creativity. SBNR will have quite a few tests in the years ahead. Can it stick to what matters when some of its security blankets catch fire?


10 responses to “Spiritual But Not Religious in 2012 – XVIII

  • simonsharp1976Simon

    Its funny. I’ve been following your blog silently for a while- but you’ve been fairly directly responsible for me starting a consistent practice of Zhan zhuang and swimming dragon as well as making me buy too many of your book suggestions. But i’ve learnt from them.

    This post finally prompted me to write as this seems so absolutely crucial- and its so true that a lot of the SBNR goings on operate within the ‘growth’ paradigm.

    What do you think are some of the forms that SBNR can take to address the situation? I often wonder whether some of the better and saner intentional communities aren’t going to have the role of secular monastery foisted on them whether they wanted it or not.

    • Jason Wingate

      Well first off nice going on all the reading and practicing! Many more are doing that than talk about it, and my readers are an independent bunch which I wholeheartedly endorse salute and tally with. But it’s nice to hear. And I hope it’s getting you somewhere interesting. Of course much more on that stuff coming up too.

      Secondly thanks for chiming in on this.

      My thoughts on it all are nascent and you’ll notice there is a lot about this series meant to be conversation kindling. Certainly the blog’s numbers have taken an uptick… Partly I’m trying to define SBNR historically to intuit that very future. Of course what I’ve already concluded is it’ll take many different things.

      I notice this place when JMGreer wrote about going to a conference there. That’s already a sort of indicator. No religion but calling itself a monastery, and about as far from California as you can get and still be American.

      Then I think of places like Esalen and Findhorn. I envision them scaling down and preparing, if they get their heads in gear. I think they might well do. A place like Esalen is going to know how to continue scientific research under many different protocols. That’s key. Preserving complexity and difference. You want places that have art in them too. Some existing communities will be better suited than others.

      Meanwhile most won’t reach such a community and I don’t think our civlised centres will disappear at all, so what’s needed is more organisation on that level. I don’t know how significant the “heart and soul” element of Transition Towns has been, for example. Some people prefer to look at that as health and stress reduction rather than Joanna Macy type stuff — personally I’d take that. Start by saying your oil’s going away. Now say your stress is going up. Well try this, and who knows, maybe you’ll get enlightened too. I don’t worry so much about all holding hands despite the fact that intention matters…

      The reading lists here, ramshackle though they be as yet, are actually the beginning of “Jason’s list of what needs to be preserved so Glenn Morris’s pass key Kundalini can be preserved through whatever s hits the f”.

      That leads to the thought of approaching all the places where SBNR is taught and giving them the heads up in some way that preserves their individuality. I’m adapting in place and I want to learn more about doing that in my SBNR framework, then pass it on. The next few series of posts on here will be about defining SBNR better and that will help clear my head. TBH I’m still reeling from the fact that I have to do all that defining, but a) it’s fun, and b) there’s just so little thought put into what SBNR actually is these days. I was always assuming someone else knew! Yet its numbers in this country — when compared to paganism say — are through the roof.

      There are other attempts being made to organise SBNR — I’ll mention one at the end of this series, Robert Forman’s Forge Institute. It’s something I have some doubts about because I don’t know if it’s really organising in the right way — again preservation of diversity is so important! But maybe I’ll look further into that…

      Those are some of my initial thoughts. How do your thoughts look?

      • simonsharp1976Simon

        You’re welcome. Yes, i’ve tried various other ‘exercise systems’ before but this is the only one that has stuck- probably because its more interesting than just an exercise system! I’m only in the relatively early stages of ZZ but already appreciating the difference between the outer appearance of standing still with your arms in funny positions and the internal sensations that begin to occur. Its also lucky that Lam left a few good teachers in his wake in London. I’m currently trying to finally find my niche in the meditation and visionary work side of things.

        As regards my own thoughts. I have a strong interest in intentional communities – both rural and urban. I actually became involved in helping set up a housing co-op a while back in north London. It did not have any overt spiritual focus and was more ‘green meme’. I find that in the highly secular UK permaculture is often about as far as many people feel comfortable going towards something called ‘spirituality’.

        And permaculture is interesting because it seems to be one modality where there can be at least some kind of healthy context for spiritual but not religious approaches. Bill Mollison did once describe it as a ‘connecting discipline’ and that seems one of its main advantages. Of course, the transition movement is a development of the permaculture ethos and has succeeded in making its principles more widespread without watering them down too much. And I agree that, for now, the ‘heart and soul’ group delivering some relaxation techniques etc might be as good as it can get in certain cases. Its a viable start at least. On the transition blog there was a very long and vexed conversation about the implication of this group – with people from a more traditional religious background saying they felt it was redundant and other committed secular minded people voicing suspicion over it turning into some kind of new age cult. But at least a relatively honest debate was going on about it. On the Green Wizzard forum instigated my JM Greer there was also concern expressed about the idea of a spirituality group in the midst of all those ones focusing on practical skills like iron working (odd really considering the founder of the forum is someone calling himself a Druid!). It seems people assumed that, whilst the other groups would be people passing on advice and techniques the spirituality forum would just be a talking shop about philosophy. That’s a shame.

        I’ve never been on any expensive ‘spiritual retreats’ but I have attended a permaculture design course and I believe what I took away from it helped me take practical spirituality seriously. Its odd that it has no overt spiritual focus to it but does seem to have a deeply transformative effect on a lot of people. Also in the UK movements like the Dark mountain project seem to be expressing something very healthy but, again, any spirituality is not overt but muted…implicit. But may that’s how the social forms that carry SBNR tech will have to be.

        My feeling at the moment is that binding things to the actual land – ‘grounding’. In terms of a ‘mythology’ that can provide a structuring context without sending people full on down a reality tunnel it still the land where the action is at for me. Whatever is going on its got to be in relation to moving into a more balanced relation to the ecosystem upon which we depend for survival- if its not contextualized around that then the social form is not adapted to the coming realities. Quite a few of the attempts at building social forms I see paying lip service to this is vague cosmic language but are short on any actual practical experience with the land and nature.

        And I say this as someone who is not pagan, doesn’t go on activist green protests and does not (yet) commune with nature Devas. Someone who’s practical experience has only got as far as a large allotment plot in North London and some time spent in the woods. Somehow the land’s got to be involved without it all turning into a hippie cliché and forcing everyone to do farming as part of their spiritual practice. In that respect just doing things on the internet and in transitory modes doesn’t seem right- even as I have some serious misgivings about big name intentional communities like Findhorn and Damanhur.

        That’s about as far as i’ve got – or as far as I can express it without spending the next 2 days solid re-editing this comment.

  • Matt Rouge

    Good points about expensive workshops in hard times and what needs to happen going forward. I know that some of the less pricey practitioners are already suffering in this economy. A good friend and healer had to shut down her office in summer 2011 and take another job, although she still practices at home. Another healer friend tried to open an office but failed to achieve liftoff. Just some more data points for you.

  • Jason Wingate


    Interesting on the co-op! Is it still going?

    Even with little direct experience of Permaculture I don’t see why it shouldn’t change people that way. As I understand, it’s about being amongst the flows and meanings of nature after all, and entraining to those after a lifetime entrained only to screens is going to kick people’s feelings to another place. Nature is less conditioned than social culture. In addition it seems to have a level of what Patrick Harpur would call soul, it thinks imaginatively for example.

    I’ve seen some of the argument about “spirichuality” in Transition etc. But when you say:

    any spirituality is not overt but muted…implicit. But may that’s how the social forms that carry SBNR tech will have to be.

    … you reveal a bit of a gulf between our viewpoints! Kundalini skills will be needed. Kundalini is spreading. Real ways to work with it must be made available. As s hits f more and more people will want them. If the culturation doesn’t work in one format, another will be found. “Highly secular” or not, the UK spiritual scene is massive and growing — a major point of this series of course. It’s from that side that I’ll tackle this primarily.

    Faced with the choice of whether to culturate in groups with spiritual identites, or as part of more secular intentional groups, or just in new forms in cities up and down the land, this deeper spirituality would of course have to answer, “all 3 and more”.

    The deep transformation of Kundalini and other strong spiritual pass keys changes the nervous system directly, and with it (to anticipate, but honestly) the nature of reality itself. This would be too rich for people like Macy I think, never mind Transition Belsize. Good though they are bless them. This series has been pure social history but as I figure out how to talk about some of the deeper stuff I’ll put it out. This is the sharp end. One needs to have the tools to sharpen it.

    Of course getting one’s hands dirty is very important! As an adapter-in-place I’m with JMG in that learning to garden matters most to me at the moment… talking of which…

    I have some serious misgivings about big name intentional communities like Findhorn and Damanhur.

    I’d like more of your thoughts on that sometime.

    I was planning at some stage to look at the Findhorn gardening methods. If you’re a long time reader you’ll know I work with trees in chi kung (quite a standard set of techniques, and I believe Lam includes something somewhere in Way of Energy). I also do use chi directly in gardening, not only working with consciousness but also just boosting growth, especially in seedlings.

    When it comes to “meditation and visionary work”, did you read Path Notes?

  • Jason Wingate

    Simon, was mulling and had more thoughts. Putting them here in case they interest you.
    Imagine two bamboo poles stuck upright in the ground. The one on the right represents everyone in the UK into Transition, Permaculture, Dark Mountain, etc. The one on the left represents all SBNRs in the UK who, like you, regularly practice something.

    The right pole is a lot stiffer. If you try to bend it towards the left hand pole, make those people interested in serious spirituality, you won’t get very far. That’s why for people like Transition, you can’t hope for more than relaxation exercises. But bending the left pole towards the right is easier. This represents getting people who practice SBNR interested in adapting.

    You rightly say the Lam teachers in the UK are an excellent resource. Contacting such people and giving them a way to think about adapting so as to survive means having them around in the future — like other precious resources. As long as they are around, anyone transitioning can use them.

    I don’t know if you looked at the “Age of Limits” link but as Orlov pointed out here, it’s a church with no specific beliefs yet there’s a monastery attached where everyone works together in a nature orientation. Quite up your alley and the conference was spiritual in tone. So that can be done too, and those people are certainly living it.

    Pagans in the uk number, effectively, zero. SBNRs are harder to count but that doesn’t matter because most won’t do anything. The ones who regularly do something can be counted and based on what I can gather there are many more of them in this country than there are, say, professing Hindus. Millions of them. That’s what I think about on the large scale.

    Even that number is still small. You can’t walk into the average transition town and expect more than polite attention for the spiritual so the actual practicing SBNRs are where it’s at IMO.

  • simonsharp1976Simon

    I think something in my grammar might have made it sound like I disagree. I’m totally with what you’ve said. All my thoughts were just about how direct SBNR practice can manifest in appropriate social forms that allow practitioners to really go at it so its more than a ‘hobby’ they do after work but also in a way that doesn’t alienate them from the general culture. But yes, SBNR is where its at- but the land needs to be there with it in some form. ‘spiritual gardening’ is a really interesting area in that vein. my North London allotment plot is to be the unlikely site for such a project next year. Though I don’t see this being on the committee’s agenda any time soon! Rather than Findhorn methods i’m looking at the Perelandra methodology.

    Many more interesting points to pursue. I’ll have to pass any more discussion for now as a bit time pressed with the xmas thing….and the world may be ending tomorrow :-)

    Just the things I had already written in a response:

    Yes co-op is still going. A recent bit about it in that SBNR haven- the Guardian:

    As is often the case with these things – I started doing all this and then met my partner in the middle of it instead! It was a period of absolute lunacy and things don’t seem to have calmed down there much yet either!

    Yes, started reading Pathways. Morris can sometimes talk in tangents in a way that I do find difficult deal with- but I recognise the value there. His approach is ‘in the short-list’ and am doing the basic chi breathing whilst I figure things out.

    • Jason Wingate

      All my thoughts were just about how direct SBNR practice can manifest in appropriate social forms that allow practitioners to really go at it so its more than a ‘hobby’ they do after work but also in a way that doesn’t alienate them from the general culture.

      Oh I see… interesting thought. Alienation at close quarters would be living next door to Dawkins, but otherwise I have no problem being the only spiritual guy in the room and having the weird hobby. Maybe others would… Obviously good to meet other spiritual folks once in a way — talk to them, massage them, hit them, what have you :)…

      I have to break too until the 26th and all comments will be put through then, but by all means visit again if there’s more you think I could/should know.

      Great stuff on that co-op! Possibly a model for many in the future, especially as property prices really crash. Perhaps some will be specifically spiritual.

      Hadn’t seen Perelandra — interesting.

      Have a good one. :)

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