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.