Spiritual consumerism

In a class I recently co-taught (with Mike and Laura and Eric), I mentioned spiritual consumerism. It’s something that’s easy to fall into, as we are in a colonizer consumerist culture. The culture we were born into has used “employment” and buying stuff and having stuff as a substitute for community and spirituality. Accordingly, as we start to extricate ourselves from building our lives around “jobs” and consumerism, the spiritual void within oneself often becomes more gapingly obvious.

And it seems like there are a lot of people out there who are trying to fill that void with a hodgepodge mishmash of spiritual practices that are taken out of context of the cultures and communities where they came from.

So we have yoga bossbabes, gringo-run ayahuasca retreat centers, new age pocahontas cosplayers selling “dreamcatchers,” etc.

This stuff always felt cringey to me. I do think exploring spirituality is a beneficial thing, but we have to be mindful of where it crosses over into cultural appropriation and spiritual tourism. I like to listen to what people from the cultures where the practices originated from have to say about it.

If you’re curious, I suggest searching “cultural appropriation” on TikTok (or other platforms, or just google if you can’t access TikTok) and listening to what indigenous peoples have to say on this topic. Yoga + cultural appropriation, ayahuasca + cultural appropriation, dreamcatchers + cultural appropriation, etc.

Exploring spirituality is a good thing and something we need more of to counter the deadly effects of capitalist / colonizer culture. And we will be taking a step forward if we can manage to fully internalize the worldview that all of life is interconnected, and all species have just as much right to exist as humans do. (That’s actually the second ethic of permaculture design: Care of people and all other species.) But we can learn a lot just by listening; there’s no need to take what isn’t ours.

It’s even possible to participate directly in indigenous rituals and practices without appropriating. Questions we should ask ourselves include: Have we been invited? And if money or other payment is involved, is it going to indigenous peoples? And, can we participate without causing ecological damage (like, for example, from large numbers of people traveling to the Amazon). And, Do we refrain from setting ourselves up as authorities of other cultures’ spiritual practices? And, Do we go beyond just using it for our own personal feeling good, and actually use the sense of spiritual groundedness and liberation to further our activism; work for the greater good? Do we avoid spiritual bypassing?

The white colonizer culture is spiritually empty, but stealing from other cultures is not the answer. We have to look into our own roots, look within, connect with the bioregions where we live, etc.

“Microdosing” to ease the pain of modern life isn’t the answer either. What happened to looking deeper at what’s making life so hard in general, and trying to help make a better world for everyone, as opposed to just trying to adjust our own mood? Again, there people go trying to find substitutes for community and genuine spiritual transcendence.

What if these moms were instead to get together and rebel against the things that are making their life suck so much?

This morning I found a set of two videos by Alquimista, an indigenous Guaraní sister on TikTok. She offers a summary that I found helpful.

Gatekeeping or Resistance? Part 1: https://www.tiktok.com/t/ZT8636Xbv/v

Gatekeeping or Resistance? Part 2: https://www.tiktok.com/t/ZT8635N37/

This blog post was sparked by a thread that Mike started on his page. Some of the responses gave a lot of pushback. One person asked why are white people trying to gatekeep indigenous practices?

But, white people cannot ever gatekeep indigenous practices. What we white people can do, unfortunately, is a lot of damage. By appropriating and commercializing indigenous cultures and spiritual practices, we take resources away from the original cultures, dilute the intent and power of the practices, and in many cases damage ecosystems and contribute to the erasure of indigenous cultures.

My take is that what some people see as “white people trying to gatekeep,” is actually those of us who have taken some kind of leadership in the Permaculture community trying to call out when we see this kind of thing happening in the community, because it’s really not what permaculture is supposed to be about and yet it is so prevalent.

I think when Mollison ridiculed and warned against “woo woo” creeping into permaculture, this kind of thing is what he meant. I have no doubt that Mollison himself had lots of deep spiritual experiences, but that he had them through connection with fellow beings and ecosystems rather than using some hodgepodge of appropriated trinkets and stuff.

#spiritualtourism #culturalappropriation #culturalerasure

Further exploration:

• “Is it Cultural Appropriation for White People to Drink Ayahuasca?” Gayle Highpine; kahpi.net. “It came out that total strangers could come and participate in their most sacred ceremonies. And it turned out that they actually charged money to participate in these ceremonies. The practice that we know today as ‘ayahuasca shamanism’ has been commercialized for a long time. And it has been open to outsiders for a long time. … Amazonian indigenous people are not concerned about the ethnicity of practitioners. They are concerned about the degradation and devaluation of their profession and the bastardization of their traditional ceremonies by practitioners they consider imposters, regardless of skin color.”