How Pick N Mix Spirituality Became The 20-Something Religion Of Choice
The Debrief: Millennials might be abandoning organised religion in droves, but we're still finding a spirituality that works for us
Illustrations by Agata Krolak
'We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, for though others may free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind'
Sound familiar? You probably read it on Instagram.
Remember when drinking a green juice, talking of our interconnectedness, occasionally hugging a tree and forgetting to get a 9-5 desk job were the hallmarks of a hippy? Well that’s all changed. More than ever before people are questioning rather than accepting what we are told to do in order to lead a happy fulfilling existence. And then writing about it on social media.
The result? A mish-mash manifesto of spirituality and religion that defines millennial’s attitude to everything from the food we eat and the clothes we wear to our politics. Organised religion is far too, well... organised. Studies claim one in three millennials now claim no religious identity.
Certain words have crept into our lexicon and are now thrown about with careless abandon - 'enlightenment,' 'mindfulness,' 'artisan,' 'organic' and so on. Maybe this is the epitome of the pretentious middle class or maybe it’s simply that these words conjure the verb ‘to care’.
Not that long ago if you were to mention anything alternative or esoteric around the dinner table you would risk being persona non grata, that student in Mean Girls; the immortal words ‘I wish I could bake a cake filled with rainbows and smiles and everyone would eat and be happy.’ Now caring’s cool, guys.
And we have to care because no-one else will. We're still living at home - the idea that we might ever be able to save up some cash is laughable - and even if we did manage it, it'll never be enough for a deposit on a flat, so what's the point? (think I'm exaggerating? Look at 20-something Tory MP William Wrag, who is on 74k and has had to move back home to save for his deposit). Even if we do manage to get our salaries up any time soon it just means more of our money will disappear into the black holes that are our student loans, and on top of that, we're constantly being warned about the perils of leaving it too late to have children, yet when will we ever be in a financial position to do anything about that? The Irony is, we're probably the most enlightened and aware generation, which makes it that much harder to stick our heads in the sand and pretend it isn't happening. Folloing the news has basically become paralysis porn - as we sit and try and work out what we can do to help the world at large and our own.
Social media, the attention-sapping juggernaut obviously plays a crucial role in our mission to make the world a better place – because it plays a crucial role in everything now. We have a bullet-point culture, filled with meme-friendly ideas and almost infinite levels of choice, which mean we have any number of reference points to use when we want to delve deeper into our own spirituality. Or else cream off what is applicable and reduce the message into one sentence and make it a status update or tweet.
Let’s not forget that the Internet is the great equalizer allowing everyone to have a voice. So it doesn't matter the source, whether it’s a native American chief, an ancient Chinese proverb, a status by a kid in another country or Einstein, their words touched you in some way and will no doubt be appreciated and shared by other people who have connected with them. Which is as close to a Damascene Moment as we’re going to get these days.
But how fleeting is our brush with social-media spirituality – and how does it spill over IRL? Charlie Kellya yoga teacher and Conscious Dance event organiser believes people are searching for new methods in order to escape the stress of life. I’ve been to one of his yoga raves and it’s surprising how complementary the one activity is to the other. The producer/dj Invader Alex created a set that carried the participant from a yoga class with ambient chill-out music right through to a rave with psychedelic techno and the atmosphere in the room was really rather beautiful. Both the yoga raves and his Lik club nights are entirely sober, his aim being that without the aid of any substance you can still reach profound levels of enlightenment ‘I started this because personally I didn’t want to run away or numb anything, I just wanted to feel everything there is to feel and face things head on’. He tells me that 70 – 80% of attendees are females aged 25 – 35.
But if one end of the scale is the woman who quit her city job to become a yoga teacher (we all know that woman) at the other end of the scale we’re faced with the inevitable high-street spirituality that’s sprung up in response to our desire to find new meaning in our lives. It’s the 2016 equivalent of that kid with a Nirvana top on but didn’t know who Kurt Cobain was…
Last summer I went to a cynical festival; one that kills its own vibe, it didn’t even believe in itself and seemed to relish in being a bit sh*t. But it was just sad – because it was supposed to be based on an Indian spiritual festival, and its attempts to cash in felt hollow.
The result: your standard generic food stalls, generic musique du jour EDM, #whitepeople in afro wigs a weak cardboard stage covered with what appeared to be ‘ethnic’ wrapping paper. Welcome to Cultural Apocalypse. They didn’t even have a flipping curry stand. In essence, it had nothing to do with India everything to do with getting wasted. The organisers had managed to turn a beautiful Indian tradition into one totally devoid of substance.
Spirituality seems to be where the money is now but is said money following people’s existing desire to find enlightenment or the other way round? An article in The Huffington Post back in 2013 stated that the Yoga industry is now a $27 billion industry. That’s a lot of yoga mats. So what came first – the sun salutations or the venture capitalists?
Hypnotherapist Peggy Guglielmino who has been running The Highgate Holistic Clinic for ten years has noted a big change in clientele. She herself became disillusioned with modern medicine when she faced her own health issues and instead turned to holistic treatments. ‘Modern medicine only offered to remove the symptoms and couldn’t answer the question “why did I develop that issue,” she explains. Her early clients were people who wanted to stop smoking or lose weight, but recently, that’s started to change. ‘People seem much more open to it [holistic medicine] and trust these new approaches. They allow people to be more in control of their health and well being, they look at people as a whole, not as separate issues and these systems create deeper and longer lasting results’. She says the vast majority of 20-something women coming to see her are for confidence and anxiety issues.
Alison Lees, who has been working as a Shamanic practitioner and Homeopath for twenty years also sought alternatives after she couldn’t find relief or hope for her own health issues. ‘Without a doubt regular medicine lacks compassion and looks at the symptoms rather than the person sat in front of them. I came across the Shamanic way which not only answered my questions but it lead me to feeling like I had come home.’ Shamanic practices are about finding our relationship to the earth and not separating ourselves ‘learning how to step into the unseen world in order to get advice, to be shown what the person needs to solve the problem’. Alison’s clients base is mainly women – and the young women are coming to her for help on what direction they should be taking in their lives, their purpose and what would bring them happiness 'anxiety and stress are certainly prevalent when people aren't happy with their direction in life. It would be hard to deny that the world is out of kilter at the moment and people want to find solutions and harmony in a natural, holistic way.’
Mindfulness was virtually the word of the year in 2015 – such was its ubiquity in the media as the cure-all solution to modern life. But it’s not going away any time soon. There are 26 schools in Cumbria that now have mindfulness as part of the curriculum and the new ofsted framework talks a lot about supporting the emotional and mental health of pupils. And you can see why - mindfulness isn't just a calming exercise - plenty of advocates claim meditation changes the brain, creating new neural pathways and rebuilds your gray matter all resulting in reducing stress, increasing happiness and awareness.
Personally, I’m all for it. We live in a capitalist consumerist society and part of it is that it’s set up for your ‘failure’. When you can’t sleep from stress, there’s a pill. When you comfort eat and get fat you can pay for a solution. A contented happy self-sufficient populace is not the aim of the game here and once society becomes aware that they need not always turn to Product to help them through we shall hear no more kerching from the cash register. Fundamentally, is that such a bad thing?
A horoscope here, a Buddha statue there, online affirmations filling your newsfeed, incense in the wind, yoga at the gym, party at Stonehenge, sitting still and calming the mind is simply very positive. It makes for a calmer, more compassionate, more aware society and that’s splendid. Maybe, just maybe, we are heading for the age where we can get back in touch with ourselves, wth each other and with our surroundings again, through whatever means works for us. Call it what you want, but that sounds pretty good, right?
Like this? Then you might also be interested in:
At work? With your gran?
You might want to think about the fact you're about to read something that wouldn't exactly get a PG rating