How I nearly escaped spiritual consumerism
A few years ago I attended a 10 daylong meditation and spiritual healing camp in my city. Spirituality was something new in my mundane life. Reading spiritual books become the new genre of interest in me as it had the power of creating a virtual world, which looked almost perfect. It soothed me when I was bogged down by the demands of “life”. It encouraged me to do what I believe was right and it made me trust that I am special too.
This newfound interest made me scout through programs and events where I could meet like-minded people and explore some deeper dimensions of it. And then I came across this 10-day program, which was meant for achieving higher levels of consciousness and being one with the self. I jumped at it and enrolled myself.
I was one of the 50 people who attended the camp. We were divided equally into two groups. With the number of books that I have read so far and people that I have interacted with, I had a different picture on my mind of the people who will attend an event like this. People with bright but lost eyes, looking for answers, people with unruly hair, vagabonds, mystics, people who knew the beauty of moonlight, people who aren’t slaves to their watch, people who knew how to question, and people who knew how to love.
But to my utter surprise, I was greeted by a completely opposite set of people. Men and women straight out of office panting and gasping for breath, housewives with children not knowing where to park them, elderly people with joint pains feebly walking, young couples in their summer break anxious to learn yoga, and that old man looking for God.
In the introduction session, I came to know that everyone in my group came there to solve a problem. All of them seemed to have two common problems i.e. how to not be stressed at home and work and how to get rid of ailments like asthma, arthritis, diabetes, and the likes. It seemed like a medical camp where everyone was looking for a magic pill for his or her problems. The instructor of the camp made us all believe that by the end of the tenth day our lives would radically be transformed and we all would be happier, calmer, and healthier than before.
As the days progressed and we learned things that we already knew, some people in the group stated that they have started seeing the differences. I was shocked and scared. Was I lagging behind? An elderly lady claimed that she did not get angry that morning when her maid served her breakfast late as usual. She said that she did not lose her calm because the instructor had asked her not to do so. She did her homework.
The instructor made us believe how incomplete our lives are and how little we know about our own life. People bought into the idea that there are advanced level programs in the ashram that can make a person as calm as the Buddha. As this happened inside, the outside of the camp is lined with stalls selling incense sticks, health drinks, t-shirts, soaps, books, and miniature buddhas — everything to help you reach your higher goals. After the session I see my batch-mates queuing up to enroll in the advanced programs of the ashram. Some of them busy buying soaps and incenses to purify their souls and some instead asking if they sell medicines for back pain.
By the end of the tenth day, almost half of the people signed up for the paid programs or became volunteers to selflessly serve the ashram without getting paid a dime. And not to forget that all the soaps and merchandise were sold out.
A few days later I ran into one of my batchmates at the mall. She was furious at her child, who wouldn’t let go of the ice cream cart. I asked her how she is doing, she said, “Don’t ask babes, too much work pressure, my maid is on leave and in-laws are in town, I need a break.”