Author | Illustration Mariel Kelly

Back To Basics: Why The Self-Help Industry Isn’t Helping Anymore

The New Age is dying and it’s taking some huge, rattling last few breaths.

The New Age can be identified between 1968 and 2018 where Gurus, Spiritual Masters and Awakened Beings began selling their teachings to the public. This had never happened before. A spiritual teacher would teach. A Guru would preach. Someone who’d experienced an enlightening would meditate and maybe people would feel called to follow–for free.

But with the massive North American interest in self-discovery came Spiritual Capitalism (people making money off our longing for God), and the spiritual seeking grew to a multi-billion dollar publishing industry that out-sold fiction, non-fiction, science fiction and mysteries combined. The term “master” was now taken rather than given. If you wanted to write a book about how to journal, you simply started calling yourself a “journaling from the heart expert.” Now you were a master. Done.

I was in the inner circle. I drank nettle tea with the best-selling self-help authors. I watched as they smoked their faces off and cried about how lonely they were…and then dutifully posted a candle flickering beside a crystal on Instagram (buy my sacred scents to help you make sense of your life–in my profile link).

The branding was genius. And seductive. And all the same. The women spiritual masters who started charging $25,000 for weekend masterminds were all white and pretty and skinny and wealthy. The men were large-chested, masculine and reminded us of the father we wished we had.

But in the background of their spiritual stardom, they were suing each other for copyright infringement. They were stealing ancient concepts and rebranding them as their own. They had teams of intuitive shamans and psychics on their payroll for 24/7 emergency calls to help them fix biz shit when it felt out of alignment. They were miserable people.

And with the mega stardom of the “spiritual teacher” brand came controversy. There was betrayal. There were cults. There were spiritual systems we thought worked that we found out later caused trauma. Like canola oil.

And now, fifty years into the movement, after many Gurus have fallen from grace due to sexual assault and money-laundering scandals (Amrit Desai at Kirpalu and more recently the Anusara Yoga and John Friend debacle), the power that spiritual teachers hold is crumbling.

We’re seeing it with mega star Tony Robbins getting his butt kicked online for his anti #MeToo comments. And the popularity of the Netflix show Wild Wild Country and Osho’s “cult” is pointing to the fact that we are now noticing and questioning that the emperor (or empress) is wearing no clothes.

The market is saturated. We are not feeling any better. In fact, we are much, much worse.

I started my self-help addiction early at age ten with a book on depression and anxiety in tweens. I was hooked on the possibility that I could fill the emptiness I felt inside. By my teenage years, I’d moved into conflict/resolution courses, family of origin restructuring, and tarot cards. In my twenties, I waitressed so I could pay for hypnotherapy, hydrotherapy and regression therapy. Then I’d save up and fly to Thailand for massage certifications and next to Vanuatu to have a demon extracted from my colon by a Shaman. The list got longer and the empty feeling was still there.

I mean, I’d feel better at first. I’d get a high. I’d have a revelation. I’d follow through for a few weeks. Then I’d sink into depression and anxiety that “it wasn’t working” and I’d start searching for the next new thing…an animal intuitive perhaps?

Yes, we want to feel better. We want to feel loved. But now, on top of that absolutely reasonably human need for validation, we want to stand out. We want to rise up. We want to shine like the bliss of Shanti and have it rain down dolla bills. We want the light, Goddess-damn-it!

And this is the problem: The search for inner peace has changed to a search for outer peace and to find the outer peace we need to subscribe to a lot of channels and have a lot of followers and look illuminated so we feel worthy. And to make that happen we need to up our branding game and that takes Facebook ads and casually curated Instagram posts and “free yourself from fear” online courses and…and…and we spend all day laser pointing our dreams and directives until we need special glasses to help with the blue glare of the computer screen.

The light is so fluorescent it’s starting to hurt our eyes.

This is not spiritual seeking anymore. This is addiction. More, more, more. It’s never enough. Fill me up.

I spent close to $90,000 and travelled the world on my search for inner peace. And I felt really called and I had good intentions to heal myself so I could be useful in helping others. But do I feel better? No. No I don’t.

I’m forty. I’m a self-help addict. And I quit.

We’re smarter than these old-school New Age tactics now. We’ve outgrown the black and white and masculine and feminine and right and wrong follow-the-leader rules. We live in the grey and it’s messy and convoluted over here. We’ve learned the phrase “intersectional feminist” and what BIPOC stands for. Just recently an international Online Priestess Training Summit led by the “light leader” rockstars got shut down because there weren’t enough women of colour on the panel. I know a woman who had her online marketing business burned to the ground within days because she was called out for relying on the emotional labour of other women to run her company.

Folks are getting pissed off. They can post the damning video or an open letter and people are starting to listen up. Because we are sick of feeling the emptiness, paying to have it filled up, and then feeling that damn emptiness again.

We’re returning to the basics of the ancient teachings. Outward seeking will not find us inner peace and validation from others will never fill us up. Because we are broken vessels and if we keep pouring more into the cup, the sacred waters will just keep leaking out the sides.

You know what I do now for my spiritual practice? It’s the hardest and simplest work I’ve ever done.

I nap. Every. Single. Day. I stretch my body for twenty minutes and lay my head on the floor. I book in a few tea dates a week with friends (a necessity, not a treat). I go to bed early. I eat my greens. And when I feel sad, bad and mad, I let myself feel that way. I feel my feelings. I don’t push them away with a new cleanse or 30-day challenge or Priestess training. I lie down and I let myself feel horrible. I roll around in it for a bit. Then I get up, make a cup of tea, and stare out the window.

Can you imagine? It’s revolutionary.

Emelia Symington Fedy is a radio personality and the author of Trying To Be Good, an audio-memoir combining lush soundscapes and Emelia’s candid retelling of her remarkable life to create a sonic experience not unlike listening to the best friend you didn’t know you had yet. Trying to Be Good is now available on iTunes, Audible, Amazon and tryingtobegood.com.

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