Trevor from The Big Old Oak Tree published parts of a really cool discussion he and some friends had on Facebook. At the center of it was the book and now movie Eat, Pray, Love. I have to say I find Gilbert's writing pretty self-absorbed, and also littered with unexamined privilege, spiritual materialism, and exoticizing (oh, those lovely, spiritual Asian people) kind of crap.
And yet, at the same time, beyond this, there is that appeal of the spiritual journey being documented which is worth considering. Gilbert is, like the rest of us, just trying to figure things out.
Both of these view points appear in the discussion Trevor and friends had. Just behind them, though, is really an effort to consider what it means to practice in the middle of a capitalist, material driven society.
On the one hand, you have this:
Koji Rick Dreher
i came to buddhism through punk rock, i have a different angle than most of my peers and teachers in dharma. this leaves me feeling pretty isolated and sometimes i want to scream from the rooftops to see if there's an echo. michaela echoes, robert aitken echoed, david loy echoes, gudo uchiyama echoed, ajahn amaro echoes. to me, the robe is 100% save all beings, 100% fuck capitalism, and 100% fuck self-interest. i'm gonna have to bum some people out if i'm gonna say what i think. i'm against mainstream, secularized, self-indulgent yoga culture, i'm against the omega institute, i'm against esalen, i'm against cafe gratitude, i'm against work, and i'm against the economy. i'm coming out! chant down babylon!
A lot of this echoes for me as well, but the "100%" and "against" spirit doesn't quite work in my opinion. It feels too dramatic, and also too much like all these other groups throughout history that have been reactions against, rather than responses to, a dominant culture. Do you understand the difference? Reactions against are stuck in duality, whereas responses to can include what's present, but transcend the limitations of what's present (and also what's absent).
On the other side of Koji's statement is this:
Maybe one day, some of you here will be in the position to offer practice discussion. And maybe one day a 'rich, white, skinny lady' will come to you and sit down in front of you and fold her yoga-clothes clad legs and speak to you about h...er suffering. How will you respond? Hopefully not with the contempt and judgement I hear in some of these posts. I hope, for your sake as well as hers, you will respond with compassion. Now I know compassion can look a lot of ways and can even include a slap and a shout, but I don't feel that's the kind of slapping and shouting that's happening here. It's contempt and judgement, plain and simple, and it's just as toxic as spiritual materialism. So please be careful.
Koji -- That "nuerotic self-obsessed rich lady on the vacation of a lifetime" is caught in a cycle of suffering and while you say that this doesn't have anything to do with genuine spiritual practice, nothing could be further from the truth. Those yoga clothes have the first noble truth written all over them. Our vow is to meet the person behind the clothes and help them.
Y'all are raising excellent, important points about spiritual materialism and I'm glad you're doing this. I hope you never stop using your sharp wits and critical thinking to ferret out hypocrisy and I hope you will always raise your voice against what's lurking in the shadows. But I also hope you can find a way to keep doing that without using them as a weapon against your fellow human beings.
The last two sentences seem to be the crux of dealing with a lot of life. How to renounce being nasty towards others without also going soft, and being "nice" in the process. I do bristle as the comment "Our vow is to meet the person behind the clothes and help them." Maybe it's just the word "help," which I also use a lot, but feel is sloppy at best, and at worst, creates a mental power imbalance that often translates into an actual power imbalance when working with others. The old director at my workplace used to say "We don't help people, we walk with them." This is closer to what I feel the vows I took were talking about.
Without the success of Gilbert's book, these kinds of discussions might not be happening. So, even though I have a load of reservations about the actual product and the syrupy-sweet reception many people are giving it, I'm thankful that the book and now movie have given people an opportunity to really consider what they are doing with their lives, and how "the spiritual life" might occur in these challenging times.