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«Annick Hedlund-de Witt Worldviews and the transformation to sustainable societies An exploration of the cultural and psychological dimensions of our ...»

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A similar point is made by Heelas and Woodhead (2005), who emphasize that “above all else, subjective-life spirituality is ‘holistic,’ involving self-in-relation rather than a self-in-isolation” (p. 11). One way this “embedded individuality” may come to expression is in a more contemporary understanding of the concept 191 of vocation, or calling: the unique contribution every individual deeply desires and is called to make to the larger whole—be it one’s family, community, society, the environment, or the evolution of consciousness. Heelas (1996) speaks in this context of the “self-work ethic,” referring to work that is both beneficial to the self, as well as to nature, the community, or even the world. In his words: “The basic idea is that by working … one also ‘works’ (in a spiritually significant sense) on oneself. Furthermore, work provides the opportunity of expressing all those virtues bound up with what it is to be authentically human. And this exercise, it need not be emphasized, contributes to bringing about a better world” (p. 87). It is a perspective of service through self-actualization (and equally, self-actualization through service), as ‘becoming who one truly is’ in this view implicitly and inherently means (re)discovering one’s intimate connections with the rest of life, and the ways each individual uniquely aspires to contribute to that (Cook-Greuter, 2000). Practically, this may result in attempts to bring “the soul back to the workplace” and create a working environment in which one’s true, creative self can be fully expressed (Mitroff & Denton, 1999).

Fourthly, as Hanegraaff (1996) emphasizes, the culture of contemporary spirituality is pervaded by an acute sense of urgency and crisis concerning the world-situation—the ecological crisis included—often resulting in deeply felt concerns. Obviously, this background may make people more willing to change their own behaviors, show support for environmental policies, or get engaged themselves. Often there is a belief that the crisis should not be primarily addressed on the level of its symptoms, but on the level of its most fundamental causes—which are more often than not seen as ultimately of a spiritual nature.

In his book “Earth in the Balance,” Al Gore (1992) offers an often-quoted perspective that is illustrative here: “The more deeply I search for the roots of our global environmental crisis, the more I am convinced that it is an outer manifestation of an inner crisis that is, for lack of a better word, spiritual” (p.

12). More generally speaking, there is substantial willingness for change and limited attachment to the status quo, as, in the words of Hanegraaff (1996), “the all-important point for New Agers is to emphasize the urgent necessity of change” (p. 348). This tends to be true on a more personal level as well: these individuals often seek change in their lives, and that potentially makes them more susceptible for and open to behavioral and lifestyle changes.

192 Fifthly, an orientation towards inner and spiritual fulfillment rather than material fulfillment has the potential to alleviate hyper-consumerism and its associated stress on resources and pollution, as well as support the transition to a green economy, with a shift in emphasis from goods to services as well as to green production and consumption (Jacob et al., 2009). Organizations in the postindustrial service sector are likely to be stimulated by this cultural movement, in terms of employees as well as clientele (Aupers and Houtman, 2006). In the words of Heelas (1996), “counter-cultural New Agers seek new ways of relating to the environment: ways which will save the earth from the ravages of capitalistic modernity. Among other things, this entails the adoption of forms of life (involving work and consumption) that are informed by right—that is environmentally sound or nurturing values. Furthermore, these ways of life should also contribute to what it is to live as a spiritual person” (p. 84).

Understanding the deeper motivations of consumers is of importance for policies and practices aiming to encourage and facilitate green consumerism (Coad, De Haan, & Woersdorfer, 2009).

Sixthly, from a psychological-developmental perspective it is often assumed that with progressive stages of development both a more complex and comprehensive understanding of problems comes into being, as well as increased capacities to adequately respond to them. As earlier research suggest, the so called post-conventional stages of consciousness support the recognition and the effective management of complex environmental issues (Boiral, Cayer, & Baron, 2009): Although each stage presents specific characteristics, advantages, and limitations, post-conventional action logics appear best adapted to the promotion of substantial and proactive environmental leadership. … Furthermore, certain capacities vital to the effective consideration of environmental issues by managers emerge mainly at post-conventional stages, including more well-developed abilities to manage complexity, integrate contradictory points of view, consider the expectations of a broader range of stakeholders, and promote in-depth transformation of organizational practice (p. 492, 493).

193 Individuals actively engaged with consciousness development (e.g. through varying practices and tools) may in that way increase their capacities to appreciate and respond to sustainability issues, resulting in more adequate, effective, and creative environmental (opinion) leaders, thinkers, activists, and managers. Individual consciousness development may therefore support higher levels of functioning, creativity, and efficacy (B. C. Brown, 2012a, 2012b).





Seventhly, the culture of contemporary spirituality has the potential to contribute to an overall atmosphere of cultural experimentation, renewal, and innovation. This creative potential is also emphasized by Ray and Anderson (2000), who speak of the “Cultural Creatives” and describe them as the individuals “creating many of the surprising new cultural solutions required for the time ahead” (p. 4). Taylor (1999) likewise speaks of a cultural revolution

taking place from the bottom up:

People suddenly became vegetarians and adopted lifelong spiritual disciplines. Assimilating themselves back into mainstream culture, hundreds of thousands of visionaries thereafter began a cultural revolution from the bottom up. They started new kinds of families, went back to school, and entered the professions with new questions. They started their own companies, they launched their own research projects, they began spending their money only on what they deemed most important, and they expressed their newfound spiritual ideas in myriad ways that are now completely transforming modern culture. And while we may see evidence of these changes everywhere in popular culture, the transformation in American social consciousness that these changes represent has now also reached the doors of mainstream science and traditional medicine in the form of human science and alternative or complementary therapies (pp. 280-281).

As Boiral et al. (2008) point out, the progressive strand of the culture of contemporary spirituality may also prove to be more creative and innovative in the solutions it comes up with, because it tends to operate from outside the confines of the dominant paradigm. As it tends to be less embedded and institutionalized in the prevailing practices, traditions, and beliefs, it not only has 194 the capacity to reflect on and question the dominant social paradigm, but is also more inclined to develop original and creative environmental solutions. As Dryzek (2005) notes, such cultural initiatives can also influence the understandings of key decision makers, “though by the time green ideas get taken up they have often lost much of their radical bite” (p. 198), and in that way provide useful support for ecological modernization. According to Rogers’ (1995) ‘diffusion of innovations model,’ or the idea of ‘social tipping points’ (Gladwell, 2000), the influence of innovators and early adopters in the larger process of social-cultural and economic change is enormous. Cultural transmission of consumer behavior may also play a significant role here, as consumers frequently imitate pioneering ‘green’ consumers (Buenstorf & Cordes, 2008).

Lastly, there is a strong conviction within the culture of contemporary spirituality that changing the world does not only depend on changing our (outer) behaviors, but as much demands an inner change, a change in thinking and feeling about and relating to the world. So inner spirituality is in itself seen as serving to bring about a world of harmony, peace, and bliss (Heelas, 1996). Acts like self-healing, positive thinking, meditation, and prayer are understood to have a positive, tangible effect, not only on the practicing individual himself, but also on the larger community and possibly even the world. In this sense, working on oneself is often considered to be not merely egotistical, but an act of service.

Studies have been conducted to affirm or refute what has been called the Maharishi-effect,67 with fascinating albeit controversial results (Orme-Johson, 2003; Schrodt, 1990). Nicol speaks in this context of subtle activism, as an activism that recognizes the active potential of consciousness, spirit, or what might be conceived of as the subtler dimensions of the field of action (2010).

Although there is no uncontroversial scientific confirmation of the measurable effects of “subtle activism,” its potential also has not been convincingly refuted.

–  –  –

Table 13: Exemplary overview of potentials and pitfalls of the culture of contemporary spirituality for sustainable development 6.2.2 Pitfalls of contemporary spirituality for sustainable development However, despite these potentials, this contemporary spirituality also involves certain risks and pitfalls—both more generally as well as more specifically for sustainable development. The first, and probably most-widely expressed one, is that of New Agers’ great concern with themselves and therefore the potential for

narcissism. As Lasch (1978) author of “the culture of narcissism” comments:

196 After the political turmoil of the sixties, Americans have retreated to purely personal preoccupations. Having no hope of improving their lives in any of the ways that matter, people have convinced themselves that what matters is psychic self-improvement: getting in touch with their feelings, eating health food, taking lessons in ballet or belly-dancing, immersing themselves in the wisdom of the East, jogging, learning how to “relate,” overcoming the “fear of pleasure.” Harmless in themselves, these pursuits, elevated to a program and wrapped in the rhetoric of authenticity and awareness, signify a retreat from politics and a repudiation of the recent past (p. 4).

Although New Agers fiercely reject the suggestion that self-concern equates with selfishness (Campbell, 2007), and self-concern may indeed reflect a healthy sense of ‘embedded individuality’ as discussed before, this attitude of self-focus and self-exploration obviously brings certain risks with them. As the basic goal of a lot of inner work and therapy is to help people to get in touch with themselves—that is with those parts that have been alienated or suppressed—not only profound spiritual insights and experiences may arise, but also frustrations, pains, anger, and narcissistic or child-like impulses and tendencies. When the latter are not understood and dealt with in an appropriate way, resulting in the healing and wholeness that so much of the culture of contemporary spirituality is concerned with, it is easy to see how these may actually result in narcissistic behaviors and tendencies. Wilber (2007), reflecting on this phenomenon from a developmental-structural perspective, speaks in this context of Boomeritis, a term for postconventional/worldcentric levels of development infected with pre-conventional/egocentric impulses. This complex involves manifesting lower-level, narcissistic, self-centered impulses and confusing them with higher-level, postconventional, worldcentric or even spiritual experiences and qualities. More generally speaking, the locus of meaning and authority moving from the external order to one’s inner life may also result in less willingness to make sacrifices (Heelas and Woodhead, 2005).

A second area of concern is the instrumentalizing and commercializing of spirituality. A telling example is the success of the esoteric bestseller ‘The Secret.’ The Secret is a 2006 movie and book by Rhonda Byrne, which were marketed 197 with tease and viral advertising techniques, and use spiritual insights and perspectives for mainly self- and wealth-enhancement. For that reason, The Secret has been criticized for promoting egocentrism and materialism. Generally, spiritual thought, insights, and practices have been put to work in mainstream business and capitalism on a large scale. Enhancing and “unlocking” human potential is widely used to support productivity and financial gains (Aupers and Houtman, 2006; Heelas, 1996; Mitroff and Denton, 1999). Although that in itself does not need to be a problem (and instead may be a potential, if used wisely), it obviously does pose certain risks, especially where spirituality becomes a mere means for commercial and other goals, devoid of ecological and social awareness.

According to Hanegraaff (1996), the New Age “has become increasingly subservient to the laws of the market place” (p. 523). Campbell (2004) goes one step further and argues that this culture facilitates and encourages not just the commercialization of spirituality but consumerism more generally. Also York (2001) shares this position: “Rather than a rejection of free market principles, New Age endorses a spiritualized counterpart of capitalism” that represents “a modern continuation of Calvinistic principles which exalt material success as assign, reflection, or consequence of one’s spiritual state of grace” (p. 367).

Additionally, he addresses the issue of New Age commodification and appropriation of the world’s various spiritual traditions. However, Heelas and Woodhead (2005) state that, in their extensive research of the holistic milieu in Kendal, England, they “did not meet many who were using their spirituality in an instrumentalized way, as a means to achieve prosperity” (p. 30).



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