California – oops, Bay Area, here I am

I’m in culture-shock.

Well, okay, I’m exaggerating. The type of spirituality – I call it Californianism – that I meet here wherever I go is a mixture of New Age, Buddhist and positivist, basically Christian ideas (actually easily traceable to “Christian Science“); stirred well in a melting pot of activists, artists, hippies, healers and entrepreneurs. It’s almost as if these ideas have created a bubble, or better a membrane, that for an European mind like mine looks very superficial. Not that we don’t have our own brand of this type of spirituality in Germany and other European countries, but here it stands out very strong and plays an important role in many conversations on almost anything. It permeates everything and has a missionary seal unlike the ‘watery’ version we have in Europe.

Californianism (also in ‘my’ part of the world) lives because the art of self-reflections and deeper inquiry into one’s basic assumptions is not well developed or even unknown, or maybe because the ideas are vague enough so that you can believe in them without necessarily needing to put them into action. Take the “all is one” theme, for instance. It sounds good, saying so also places you on the right side of the fence (you’re one of us!), but it doesn’t require you to act in a way that would put you in any kind of danger – of someone disagreeing with you, for instance. If you believe that “we are the ones that we have been waiting for”, to use a slogan of this spirituality, you don’t really need to contemplate in what way you put that in your daily practices. If you are convinced that in reality “I am!” or “I am what I am!” you don’t really need to look at the patterns you enact daily because doing so would not make you “be here now” but you would look at what you did when and what for – if your meaning-making, and that is what spirituality is in a very important sense, suggests that in reality you are a timeless being, than looking at history, your personal history, is just a waste of time.

Not that all the statements I’ve just been quoting are wrong, they are certainly also expressing a deep experiential truth; it is the context that turns them into superficialities. Going from workshop to workshop, healer to healer, trying on this and that and one more new kind of change – secretly being frustrated that total or absolute happiness, enlightenment, is not yet your home – the consumers trap opens… and catches the spiritual aspirants. And since even more than in my home-continent everybody here is an entrepreneur, and many need or try to make their living by serving some particular brand of spirituality (and branding yours is an important part of the game), the context of this spirituality have become invaded and even overcome by marketing

Coming back to my culture-shock. This ‘in your face’ spirituality comes with the typical US-American agentive stance – it’s all about doing, being positive, changing yourself to, in this instance, be who you really are continually, and most of all: you gotta be excited about it. Maybe it’s all the adrenaline in the air that shocks me, the dominating ‘yang’ attitude everywhere. No wonder the new hit on the market is “The Divine Feminine”…

Photo by Flickr user Franco FoliniAnd then, when I took a walk tonight in San Francisco, down (up?) 9th street and then right into Market… seeing an amazing number of destitute people, mostly dark skinned, apparently preparing or already sleeping on the sidewalks. I’m not sure this was because of the wonderful warm weather – they say that finally it’s summer now – and that ‘normally’ you don’t see them so much, but it definitely gave me the feeling that I was in a 3rd world country.

Picture by Deb Booth (click on pic to visit)

Maybe Californianism is really an opium for the people that would otherwise find the situation unbearable and either choose politicians that change this situation or change it themselves. Californianism, with it’s main focus on “everybody is responsible for what happens in their life” is an escape, it seems to me, from an overly individualistic, harshly competitive, badly educated and deeply hopeful but disappointed life.
AND, at the same time, and paradoxically so – because of this – the possibility of real and deep change is closer than in my home, because this type of chaos might just be the ‘ground’ out of which the dancing stars of our future may be born.

4 Replies to “California – oops, Bay Area, here I am”

  1. Mushin,

    Just landed from California less than a week ago. I spent 21 days immerse in free currencies conversations; which was an evolutionary experience.
    You and I coincide at Brad’s and common events but we did not have the opportunity to let our dialogue flow free of external happenings constraints.

    While reading about what you call “Californianism” my experience was that he old architecture paradigm, established by our current monetary system is an “invisible” state of consciousness running in automatic the “button-line” of every spiritual practice, of every individual and community circles.

    My essence is Latin America with a cultural eclectic mix, since I have lived in different countries and cities in South America, Central America, Europe and North America. Also, I have made an alchemical transfiguration through art, and I am a woman. Therefore, my experience also includes the non-visible forms of relationships, meaning that which is non-spoken but rather powerfully felt. And for the first time my experience in rich California was of common struggle at deep levels.

    And this generalize individual and social struggle is paradoxically facilitating the emergence of a deeper examitation about our relationships; particularly among men and women, and this could be a key factor in the weaving of new evolutionary membranes.

    In my view women in “develop areas” such as California, had to fight hard for their rights and in doing so, they became like men. Their yang energy surpassed their yin energy and this created a social ecology of “male energy” in female bodies. The ascendant difficulties in our relationships depart from this fundamental social shift. If this social phenomenon is acknowledged and the female energy “remember” her sacred power, we as a human specie will start experiencing a new paradigm shift.

    My interest is wide open for this conversation to spiral in-continental inter-change; as my spiritual, alchemical art practice continues. Thank you Mushin for your inspiring thoughts, as always I am present in “documentary” state.

    1. Chia, it was an honor to meet you there in Brads place, and my memories of our conversation are wonderful. I think your cultural eclectic mix is one that I wouldn’t count among ‘Californianism’ as it is a genuine personal mix grounded in an alchemical transfiguration. I hope there will be some time in which I can explore it much more and also get a deeper insight into the art you create.

      Thank you for your response.

  2. Thank you for giving such wonderful words to an experience I have mostly been connecting with on an intuitive level. As a German-brained (given my original cultural programming) having lived in California for a decade now, your sentiments fall on fertile ground in my psyche.

    Living in Los Angeles, where every sixth person is a “creative”, where – maybe due to the even warmer weather – even more people seem to be sleeping on sidewalks while Rolls Royces drive by, and where many people come to because they think they are “pretty” enough to become movie stars, I encounter even less critical thinking than in the Bay Area (given there is also less pseudo-intellectual PC stuff going on here, which has its advantages).

    California seems to be the remnant of what America once was: a petri dish for culture. While a lot of mainstream America seems to have adopted a very un-American blend of militarism, fascism, pseudo-Christianity, consumption and entertainment, California, the land of fruits and nuts appears a left-over outpost of what was once a country built on the idea of individualism, freedom and brotherly love.

    The woo-woo runs rampant here. “We are all one” and similar statements come across the lips of people who in the same breath bitch about this person or that, talk about how unfair the world is, drink “spiritual” water out of plastic bottles, and dump said plastic bottles expecting that someone less fortunate (or enlightened) will take care of it.

    This is a place of paradox. It is a place where all is permitted (at least in the province of the mind). It is the height of consumption and dysfunction (LA, e.g. is a completely unsustainable city stealing water from it’s surroundings). It is also the place where the ideas of sustainability, recycling, and health consciousness have been born (at least as far as America is concerned).

    Nowhere else will you find as many people focused on the evolution of their consciousness, and as many healers, yogis, Reiki Masters, acupuncturists or even psychologists and coaches. Maybe it’s the naiveté and lack of education that allows people to adopt novel or perennial approaches here more easily.

    California is the culturesludge that occurs when the fire under the melting pot is no longer burning. And as such, it is a primordial soup, the dung out of which a lotus might rise.

    What is required to make it so – more than anywhere else I have encountered – is discernment (vs. judgement which makes others wrong). It requires engaging all neurological circuitry including the mental body and that ego that so many people here are eager to get rid of. And putting that into action in your daily life. Here. Now. Again and again.

    Everybody is responsible for what happens in their life, each one of us. That includes discerning the woo-woo from what can begin to serve as a traditionally and morally neutral concept of the meaning of life (“neutral”, in some cases due to ignorance).

    After living here for ten years, I have found a lot of my initial European programming eroded. Down to a level of sociopathy, a willingness to drop all commonly accepted notions and explore the root of the my own cultural operating system.

    My doing so and living it by example, and others doing so – even if it’s only as a result of the culture shock -, I trust (leaning on some of that positivist attitude without which existence would seem to be a dreary place), might perhaps help us formulate a new global cultural operating system. It’s definitely time for one and our ability to globally share our thoughts might actually lead to a truly thriving human existence on this planet at some point…

    1. Thank you Philip for this deep and thorough answer. It does give me hope – when sometimes I’ve been in a state where I thought, “Maybe we simply need to give up on the US becoming again that beacon of hope which once it used to be, which has been buried a lot under what you call un-American. Thank you for pointing out so clearly that distinction.
      Yesterday evening I took the time to ready the Obama interview in Rolling Stone; another thing that rekindled my hope in that respect.
      The hope, is, of course, based on the realisation that if the US continue to slide down that ‘un-American’ slope that is so ignorant of reality as it lives with the other nations on this planet, and even of the US-reality as it comes to the fore in the interview, then the ‘rest’ of the world will have a huge challenge to face, even beyond the ecological one we already have on our hands.

      I very much love the note with which you end your comment; it is very much what I’ve come to discover. Quoting from a discussion that is rapidly evolving over on facebook after I wrote an answer to “The Conscious Man’s Manifesto” – “I think my psychological immune-system is processing what I call “Californianism” and deciding to drop concepts that aren’t experiential realities for me.” (here We’re FB-friends, aren’t we?)
      So this is one of the many blessings that, so far, have come out from this visit for me – a strong energy to simply stay with what actually happens ‘here’, never mind all the interpretations that swirl around in my vicinity. And, getting older, without any missionary seal behind that. I’ll take a stand once in a while…

      I’m very much interested to keep the transatlantic participatory spiritual dialogue open, and you are certainly one of the persons to have it with.
      Thank you

Leave a Reply