Beyond Western Spirituality + Toward the Truth
One way we express our individualism is by the groups we join - the collectives we choose to associate with. But this is not the same as unique self expression, which we subconsciously suppress. Individuality as we know it in the Western World is still a joining, a conforming, an agreeing with. It is still completely dependent upon the acceptance, or rejection, of others - And so it is not individuation - It is not healing.
So then what is the answer to this yearning to 'be yourself?'
Individuation is more holistic than 'individuality' in that it causes us to have to know and acknowledge our full selves, including the parts you/others hate. It is purely, originally, YOU - not what you buy, do, or wear, not where you work or who you vote for. These are all secondary types of identities, we use as substitutes because we have no idea who we actually are. Truth is covered by conditioning, and it's no one's fault. But, the fact that we as a culture have completely ignored the INDIVIDUAL in each of us is why many of us feel so empty, lacking, and under-developed. Its what puts many of us on a path of self-improvement + striving that literally never ends. We associate ourselves purely with what we do, and not our literal being in the world. (Were you ever asked, "Tell me about yourself!" And you had no idea what to say?)
This literal being + interaction with the world/our internal world is how we access real fulfillment + truth. It is literally how we learn who we are + what we want. The only thing we currently know how to do is access external, temporary fulfillment.
The problem is that we expect the external to deliver the type of fulfillment that only the internal can. This is why we suffer.
Have you noticed how everyone is 'spiritual' nowadays? Whether they're genuinely trying to raise their consciousness or just like yoga pants + crystals, people are embracing it in one way or another. It's impossible to completely detach our egos from this. But ultimately, no one's spirituality is more "legit" than anyone else's. It's just that some things will get you the results you want while others won't. There are fun, more egoic sides to spirituality (like showing off your new mala beads), and more challenging sides (like releasing your fear of abandonment so you can have an actual marriage). If healing + thriving is a big priority for you, you may feel let down by certain practices that you see others raving about. For example, we all know the two types of hot yoga people: the ones who are sweating out stress + feeling a natural high, and the ones who are about the pass out, wishing they'd taken another class. Another example: I think crystals are pretty. I have a few geodes on my shelf. But they're not a big part of the work I do. When I've tried to incorporate them into meditations or "connect" with them, I feel a bit lost, as if I'm forcing or faking it. For me, crystals just aren't a big part of my process. They don't spark a ton of excitement. But for some people, they're a huge deal. Many people make crystal grids, meditate with crystals daily, and know what each stone represents + how to preserve it. Some people even note having strong intuitive reactions to crystals. On the other hand, I'm super dedicated to shadow work. However, I wouldn't be surprised if I surveyed a crystal workshop + only a few students knew what shadow work was, let alone practiced it.
Spirituality manifests differently in different people. So in a culture that is becoming more saturated with 'spiritual' folks, spiritual businesses, + spiritual practices - How can you tell if you're really being authentic or making progress toward tangible results? Are you really exploring + learning or just doing what you're told again in a new way?
Individuality vs. Groupthink
It might seem like we have individuality covered - especially in the Western world. People are all about expressing their individuality. It's old news, right? However, Western culture has this weird paradox of being the "land of the free" but also the land of consumerism (where we're literally conditioned to buy things in order to feel unique + valuable). Our society is still tethered to groupthink, which is everyone feeling peer pressured to blend in + do what's considered "normal." So naturally, spirituality is subject to groupthink too. When you see your favorite yoga teacher all decked out in a dozen hippy necklaces, your first reaction might be, "Where'd he/she get those!? I need them!" There's nothing wrong with this - being inspired by others' creativity + individuality is a good thing. But when it goes further than this? That's when it stops being spiritual + starts being standard consumer culture (aka, groupthink.) When we put certain people on pedestals (when our admiration of them crosses into idolization), we're no longer practicing spirituality. We're de-valuing ourselves + assuming that someone outside of us knows better/knows what we need (the same feeling commercials + ads try to instill in us). So if you ever feel pressured to adopt a specific spiritual practice, lets say, kundalini yoga, when you don't really feel excited about it at all, that's a red flag. In these situations, groupthink is seeping into your spiritual practices.
Individuation: The Next Step to True Satisfaction & Healing Individuation is a term in Jungian psychology, something I reference a lot on this blog (check out the post, What Is Individuation + Why Should You Care?). It's essentially a term that means wholeness, or integrating all of your subconscious aspects in order to access your full Self. As you do this, you naturally distinguish yourself from others in a positive way + stop resorting to groupthink (following what 'the crowd' is doing + ending up unfulfilled).
"Insofar as society is itself composed of de-individualized human beings, it is completely at the mercy of ruthless individualists. Let it band together into groups and organizations as much as it likes – it is just this banding together and the resultant extinction of the individual personality that makes it succumb so readily to a dictator. Ultimately everything depends on the quality of the individual, but our fatally shortsighted age thinks only in terms of large numbers and mass organizations, though one would think that the world had seen more than enough of what a well disciplined mob can do in the hands of a single madman.. People go on blithely organizing and believing in the sovereign remedy of mass action, without the least consciousness of the fact that the most powerful organizations in the world can be maintained only by the greatest ruthlessness of their leaders and the cheapest of slogans." - Carl Jung In modern times, we are literally seeing this play out as emotionally-underdeveloped government leaders charge forward, ruthlessly, with empty promises + over-simplified slogans that get everyone thinking identically.
Society has operated from 'put your head down and follow the leader' for quite some time now. And that is a hierarchical structure that we are now growing out of. Hierarchies are limited social structures, not only because of the inequality they create, but also because they stunt the growth of the individual.
Thus individuation is more important than ever. We're at a point in human development where many of us know the basics of spiritual development - eat more plant-based foods, meditate, do yoga, practice self-care, cut out toxic relationships, don't drink so much coffee, blah, blah, etc. In other words, we all took spirituality 101. But there is a reason why certain practices + activities resonate with you + others don't. The things that excite you, spark your interest, or make you feel good are hints - these things will take you a step further in branching out + becoming more of yourself. Let me repeat: Your excitement is not frivolous, + it should not be ignored. Your excitement is a breadcrumb leading you to the next step on YOUR path. Excitement is the emotion you can use to uncover your subjective truth.
We assume that we've mastered individuality + self-expression in the first world. But we've only done so on a very surface level.
So now that we've got the basics of spiritual development down, the next phase requires us to unapologetically pursue what resonates with us uniquely. This may mean dropping spiritual practices that your friends swear by. It may mean going in a completely new, experimental direction. I'll give a personal example to explain what I mean. I talk about 'radical' self-care in The Shadow Workbook. This is because it took me a long time to ACTUALLY start practicing + understanding self-care. Years after I had started doing yoga + following spiritual teachers, I still didn't get it. I was so out of touch with what I needed (I literally had no idea what my unique preferences + needs were, mostly because I assumed they were wrong because of my upbringing in school --> shame), that even my self-care efforts were sabotaged by groupthinky-ness. I was enslaved to self-care techniques that I thought I was 'supposed to' do. I was so conditioned to think that self-care meant going to yoga class + forcing myself into a strict diet. I never rested - literally, never. I never felt safe + cared for and had nothing to show for all my hard work. Much later, I found that what I TRULY needed to do to practice self-care was actually removing myself for draining, petty social situations - something that I was so afraid to do because I thought it meant being rejected + alone. I equated it with failure, and everyone around me pretty much agree with that belief. Years went by before I finally came across a spiritual teacher who taught that self-care might mean turning down every single person that ever asked me to go to the bar at 10:00 p.m.
Liberation comes from letting go of any way you were forcing yourself out of what comes natural to you - It could be any random thing.
Eventually, I realized that even though everyone around me seemed happy doing this, it wasn't me. It was never me. I had to just stop doing it on faith and hope that I wouldn't end up alone forever.. And lo and behold, I haven't died from loneliness + isolation :)
Do you water down your expressions and creations, or filter out your individuality for fear that it's too much, too weird, inappropriate, or whatever? In today's world, we're moving toward a new consensus that basic spirituality is good and acceptable. Therefore, your bold individuality within that consensus is what's gonna help you stay satisfied and in touch with your real self. AND it will help other people who are like you, find you. If we're not diligent in taking small leaps of faith toward expressing ourselves more, we're just drowning in a sea of other "love and light" folks who can't tell us apart from anyone else. (This is why I always end my emails with "love + light + dark" - to distinguish the fact that I really believe in honoring + integrating shadow aspects, putting it all out on the table, and FEELING the heavy stuff to process and move on from it. This is what helps me honor who I am and where I came from. It's easy to get on board with love and light, but dark? It's not necessarily glamorous. It won't make me famous. But it's me, and I know that it will resonate with the people that matter - you, the reader.
What looks like spirituality and progress can easily become a version of our old consumer culture groupthink b.s. Without exploring our individuality, we risk staying stuck there, never moving forward into true individuation. You know the basic steps for raising your consciousness. Now, what is YOUR next choice?