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What are Guru’s Actually Selling?

I was speaking in a previous video about the relationship between alienation and marketing. There is actually a brilliant sociologist, psychologist–a member of the hated Frankfurt group–Erich Fromm. And I really suggest you read his books. He was quite popular in the ’60s and ’70s. Then postmodernism hit…He kind of died out in terms of popularity.

 

But one of the things he noticed was in the 1960s people began to sell Eastern mysticism and spirituality. It became a thing. Fromm researched the difference between authentic teachings from the East–the Buddhist and Hindu teachings–and people marketing bullshit. 

Commercializing Eastern Traditions: Paying for Inspiration?

The problem he spotted back in the ’60s was the influx of translations of the books coming from the Eastern tradition. I do not think he could possibly imagine the reality that we live in now. 

 

If I go through my Facebook feed, the amount of people trying to sell me inspiration and motivation… it is absolutely unbelievable. 

 

The amount of people out there selling to you…Give me some money, I will help you find motivation. What a very interesting thing to sell. It’s a very important thing. How do I find energy and motivation or dynamo so that I can live a good life? That’s super important. But I did not think it was something that you could sell to somebody else.

 

Somebody could inspire me. I could be walking down the street or in a class and have a teacher, my wife, or my kid…and there could be a moment where somebody inspires me. It could be the person working at Trader Joe’s. I am often impressed by the people working at Trader Joe’s. Like wow, you guys are really in here killing it. I find that inspiring. 

 

But I did not think that they would turn around and say, “Hey, I can sell you some of this inspiration for a few dollars.” 

 

And I think it is super problematic for reasons that Eric Fromm noted…there is the real deal out there.

 

If you buy into those people, programs, or traditions, it may engage you in such a way that you transform your life for the better. Some of the best of those, by the way, are free. Not all of them. But some of the best of them are free. 

 

Everything is Hypnosis…Trance States…

And much of it is just crap. The problem is it can work for a second. Like a friend of mine is a psychologist and hypnotherapist. She says everything is hypnosis. All states are trance states. We are always in some kind of hypnosis.

 

Because everything is hypnosis, one of the ways we refer to that is the placebo effect. It means we can engage in an activity for a short period of time and actually get hypnotized into thinking that we have changed…but we have not changed at all in the core. 

…Until You Have the Courage to Go Deeper

But if we look at our ancestors and the traditions that we came from, we know on some level what are the ways that allow us to fulfill our destiny as a whole, soulful human being. Discover the blessings in the world that are often overlooked.

 

We know those things. We even know the constellation of activities within our life and the orientation towards those activities that we should have in order to become who we should be. 

 

I do not need an advertisement on Facebook to tell me what a meaningful life is…and neither do you. 

 

You actually know what it is if you decided to stop and think about it for 10 minutes.

 

We are in a reality now where we have to wade through a lot of crap. And that is just what it is. But I guess the good news is that there is so much crap out there that when you find the real deal, you really appreciate it.

 

 

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The Effects of Viewing Ourselves As a Commodity

I often think that you can understand the trends of what’s happening in the mental health and substance abuse world. Meaning, what kind of drugs are people using right now. We’re probably a little past the middle of a terrible opioid epidemic. The trends of anxiety are becoming a more common psychological phenomenon that we’re talking about a lot. So why is this the case now as opposed to 10 years ago? 

Our Culture Plays A Big Role in Substance Abuse 

In my mind, those disorders are directly in relationship to what’s happening in the culture. The culture is moving too fast, everybody has anxiety. It’s like wow, okay, everybody’s using heroin. 

 

Why are they using heroin? Well, heroin is one of those drugs that slows you down. Kind of slows down your heartbeat, slows down your system until you kind of nod off. 

 

Well, to me, that’s adaptation. It’s an adaptive response to a society that’s moving too quickly. I think many of the ills that we’re all suffering have to do with a society that’s moving too fast on so many levels. The complexity that is required of us to function well in society. The amount of information that’s out there and that’s constantly being beamed into our lives. 

 

It’s just happening so fast; how could I ever understand what’s really going on? 

 

There are social norms that contribute to what’s happening in those realms, and there’s kind of a one-to-one correlation between all these things. It’s not always completely exact.

Propaganda, Marketing, and Algorithms 

These have been going on for some time now–which maybe has to do with some of the blooming of psychedelic work that’s happening. 

 

My dates could be off, but let’s say the 1950s, coming out of World War II, coming out of sort of national propaganda. There begin to be in the corporate world that concerted effort towards understanding marketing, understanding ideology, and understanding propaganda. How to get people to do and believe certain kinds of things. It became a kind of science in the corporate world. 

 

That’s continued and been refined through the decades. We have companies like Facebook and Google that have algorithms tracking what we’re doing and feeding certain kinds of messages. Drawing us in to consume more and more content–to buy more things so that other people can make more and more money. 

 

An interesting side effect of a society that begins to think about the value of everything in relationship to being bought and sold on a marketplace. Thinking about almost all things as a commodity. How much is it worth? 

 

So, that very notion, meaning society as a marketplace, that begins to shape our consciousness. I’ve talked in previous videos about s and the consciousness of the enlightenment. I could talk about the addictive consciousness, but there’s also a marketing consciousness. 

Understanding the Marketing Consciousness

In a world where everything can be bought and sold on the market, what about me? Can I be bought and sold in the market? I mean, both literally, that’s happening. But also, like my personality, say when I’m going into a job interview. What am I doing? Well, I’m trying to sell myself. 

 

What might I be doing here? I’m trying to sell myself and my ideas to you. In this case, however, I’m actually not. I’m trying to offer something of value, an education, but there are so many domains in which I’m selling myself. 

 

What happens when a human being begins to orient themselves in a way where they’re thinking about themselves unconsciously as a commodity? 

 

Well, we kind of know what happens, and I think Karl Marx was right about this, that the result of that is some form of alienation, some sort of disconnection from self. That’s in hyperdrive with social media and people taking pictures of themselves. Everybody has their own commercials basically that they’re marketing to everybody. We are in the hyperdrive marketing space. I don’t even think we understand that. 

 

And in that space, what does that do to the consciousness of the people that are engaging in that? Well, they start to think about themselves as things that need to be marketed to other people, and that’s where their value lies. 

 

Do you like my picture? Literally. 

 

And in that sense, I don’t have much of a self, or at least I’m not connected to it because I’m just a commodity. I’m a thing that’s bought and sold in the marketplace like anything else. And what is the result of a human being that becomes alienated and disconnected from themselves? You don’t feel good. 

 

Feeling Disconnected and Substance Abuse

It doesn’t feel good to be disconnected, unplugged, un-whole, right? And what do human beings do when they don’t feel good? They begin to try to find ways to feel good. We usually call those vices if they’re unhealthy. You can see the direct relationship between the trajectory the United States has been on–and some other countries–in terms of marketing, etc., now in hyperdrive and people using drugs and alcohol. 

 

Well, if I’m just the thing, who cares if I stick a needle in my arm? 

 

If we really think about that in a deep way, imagine somebody, or maybe know somebody, sticking a needle in their arm and pushing the plunger using heroin, the syringe, until they pass out. 

 

For me it’s very metaphoric. I’m so disconnected from myself. I’ve lost so much value for my existence that I just want to disappear. It’s almost symbolic, like being nailed to a cross. It’s like, “Don’t you see how disconnected and how much pain I’m in?”

 

We have different coping mechanisms. Sometimes we cope by becoming workaholics–we get obsessed with our projects. The gym is an example. Which is all fine, but the root symptoms that we’re treating are the same: alienation, demoralization, disconnection, shame wounds, not feeling like we have a place, not knowing where we’re headed, not knowing what this is all about.

 

These deep existential issues. So, it’s always wise to look around what’s happening in society. It’s easy to look at somebody who’s suffering from addiction and say, that person sick, that person has a real problem going on. It’s much more difficult to go; actually, the whole society’s sick, and the fact that there’s so much addiction is a symptom of a larger societal ill.

 

 

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The Paradox of Spiritual Communities

I’ve had the privilege of living amongst a lot of different communities during my recovery. Now, 17 years sober, I’ve experienced the treatment community, the Jewish community (I’m an assistant Rabbi), religious community, and a lot of spiritual communities. I’ve been a part of Eastern tradition, Western tradition, and healing spiritual communities. 

One thing that I’ve learned in being a person who’s walked in a lot of different types of spiritual communities–and sometimes I think about myself as somebody that’s not committed to anyone but I’m able to walk amongst many– is the lack of integrity some communities have. And, I think it is pretty understandable why that is. 

What Makes Spiritual Communities Appealing?

First of all, there is something seductive about a spiritual community and spiritual people. You want to learn the secrets they know… what are their insights of their compassion, liberation, connecting with a higher power, etc.

The spiritual communities can be quite welcoming. They can be very deep. But if you think about it, much like certain types of religious communities, spiritual communities are often attracting people who are going through a moment of their life of brokenness. 

Generally, when somebody’s seeking out a spiritual community, they’re seeking something out…Meaning.

“Something is missing in my life.” 

Individuals are going in with some shadow stuff, shame wounds, or broken pieces they are trying to work through. And often, I think what can happen is a person can have a massive amount of transformation within a spiritual community. But it can also result in what they call spiritual bypass, which means when it comes to certain domains of operation, they’re not whole.

Spiritual Gurus Can Be Morally Split 

A rule for me, generally, is to try not to do business with spiritual people. If I want to do business, I like to do business with businesspeople, because in the area of business, those people know the language. They know how to think about it, and they’re not mixing apples and oranges. 

And sometimes it’s also true with morality. It’s not uncommon in spiritual communities to find a guru who is morally split. Meaning their moral compass is somewhat off. 

It’s confusing. How can somebody be so spiritually powerful but so morally inept? 

And I think that just has to do with the nature of power. A person can be spiritually powerful…but how you utilize that power always has to do with where you’re at in your own work and your own development. 

Although a guru might have a very high level of spiritual development, he or she might have a lower level of moral development. Because of that fact, I’m always cautious of the ways in which I relate to frankly all communities, spiritual communities specifically.

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Finding Acceptance During Challenging Times

It’s interesting shooting this video in COVID, right before the 2020 elections, and a lot of confusion, tension and anxiety in the air. We could call these tough times, or interesting times, or the new normal? I don’t know. And one of the things I learned from a mentor of mine–he is a guy named Rabbi Mordecai Finley–I learned a lot from him. To have a philosophy of life that accounts for the fact that things are going to get very difficult. 

These days with marketing and everything else, everybody wants to put a positive spin on something because everybody’s selling something. And generally, it’s nice to sell something positive like lose weight this fast, do this good, I’ll help you make money, whatever it is. 

But philosophically speaking, when it comes to my being and how I’m approaching my life, I actually want a very deep notion of what it means to be human. Because the deeper I am, the more resilient I am, in a time of difficulty, meaning I can plumb the depths of my own soul and spirit, because I’ve gone deep, therefore, I can deal with this contingent and difficult time.

Life is Suffering…So What Now?

I think one of my favorite examples of this is in the Buddhist tradition, and the Buddhist tradition, sort of at its foundation, it says, “Life is suffering.” 

And I think the accurate translation is closer to life is out of its socket. Like there’s something asymmetrical and off and imperfect. And that doesn’t quite harmonize about life. That’s the way I think about it. 

So, think about it: It’s kind of a downer to go, “Hey, why don’t you follow me? Life is suffering.” It’s like, well, no thank you. I’d rather go with this person who’s promising me more money. 

Embracing Acceptance as a Starting Point

However, if one can kind of move into that notion of life is suffering, life is difficult, life is dislocated…one comes to a deep resonance of being with that reality when that it is happening. 

In recovery, we call that acceptance. If I can accept that life is suffering, or that life is difficult, then it’s no longer an issue for me. I accept it. This is what it is. But…My ego self rationalizes how things should be, how I think they should be… 

My ego says, “Things should be better, things should be easier, things should be whatever.” That’s when I’m really suffering. 

But if I know things are going to be hard, because to be alive means to move against the resistance of reality at every moment. I’m getting older, I’m dying at every moment. To be alive means to be in that sphere, means to deteriorate, means to fall apart, means to be difficult, means to suffer, means to be dislocated. 

Then I go, “Okay, that’s my starting point. Everything from there is a win. Wow, considering that life is dislocated and suffering, I’m having a pretty good time. This ain’t the worst day in the world.” 

Learning to “Be” with Suffering and Difficulty

It makes me a deeper person. It also, if I have that deep kind of creed or philosophy about life, it also allows me to empathize deeply with other people that are going through stuff. Because I get suffering. I’m not ignoring it. I’m not pretending it’s not there. I’m not trying to work it away at the gym, or whatever it is. I get it. 

I know how to be with suffering. 

I know how to be with my own suffering and the suffering of another. I think there is a really important discourse that needs to happen in these times because I have a sense that things are gonna get a little rocky.

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