December 2006

A few weeks ago, following the death of Eileen Caddy at 89, I was interviewed for Sunday, BBC radios major religious affairs programme. Eileen was one of the founders of the Findhorn Foundation, which started in 1962 and which has been the most influential holistic, green and new age spiritual community in Europe. In her last years, Eileen was awarded an MBE a British medal of distinction for her services to spiritual enquiry and the Foundation was awarded non-governmental organization status by the United Nations.
The producers from the BBC talked to me on the phone and said they wanted to ask some questions about Eileen and her significance in contemporary spirituality. During the live interview, the actual questions asked by Roger Bolton were belittling of Eileen, inferring that she was a shallow hippy. I corrected him on all counts and, though I kept it to myself, I was angry at his rudeness and the producers misinformation.
Over the years, I have represented holistic and new age spirituality on many BBC programmes and, with a couple of rare exceptions, I have always been met with a sardonic and hostile attitude. I had not expected this to happen yet again when dealing with the recent death of a woman who was dear to many people and whose work had been honored by the Queen and the UN.
Was it worth protesting to the BBC? I would have been happy to do battle, but decided that if I did, there was a possibility that I would never be asked back. And even if they were rude, at least I was given the opportunity to present ideas and arguments that I believe are worth hearing. So I kept quiet.
Nevertheless I found it difficult to let the affair go. I ran negative thoughts of blame and fantasized about what I should have said and would say next time. At the same time, I also reflected on why so many journalists and serious people are still so suspicious and dismissive of the new spirituality. This was an opportunity for some clear thinking.
One of the problems with contemporary spirituality, I suggest, is that it has so many different aspects. Whilst it contains the very best and deepest of traditional spiritual paths and of modern psychology, it also has many quick-fix and quick-thrill elements. There are many contemporary spiritual books and teachers who suggest that human suffering is some kind of illusion and that, with one wave of a magic wand, everything can be permanently healed and spiritually fulfilled. Just like that.
Well, there may be occasions when a quick and graceful fix is possible I pray for them all the time but the reality is that personal spiritual development is a long and arduous task. Every single spiritual tradition, without exception, from all regions of the globe and all times in history, teaches that the spiritual path requires discipline, patience and endurance as we move step by step towards truth, wisdom and love. Understanding the illusory nature of existence is only one insight on what Joseph Campbell called The Heros Journey. Equally, an encounter with an angel or an initiation into a healing system such as Reiki are great and helpful gifts, but they do us a disservice if for one second they make us think that the Path is easy.
Show me anyone who claims that there is a spiritual path free of heroic struggle and I will bet you my last dollar that they havent understood it properly, and also that they have difficulties with intimate relationships or dealing with the realities of human suffering. It is a form of emotional immaturity. Most of us, me included, can be like that. We would love a magic wand that makes all things better instantaneously and free of pain. But such an immediate fix does not exist. Yes, I believe in unconditional love and grace, but it takes time and work to land and integrate.
Thinking about all this, I wondered whether I could write about it without sounding like some puritanical party-pooper. And then I received a letter, which was a perfect example of what concerns me.
This letter sought my advice. The writer described how a close friend, who was very spiritual, had suddenly betrayed her in a very nasty way. Because of this betrayal, the writer now felt upset, depressed and cynical, and wondered if I had some practical exercises, similar to the ones in my books, that would make her feel positive again. I wrote back:
People are people, my friend. The trick here, I believe, is not to protect yourself or increase positive energy. The real strategy is to become compassionately realistic about why and how people behave in the ways that they do. Using this approach, you can open your heart, deepen your compassion and expand your wisdom. You might, for example, want to study childhood psychology and how children, deprived of love, behave later in life.
Every deep spiritual path recognises that there is suffering and that there is no avoiding it. Modern approaches, which ignore that reality, do us a disservice. The purpose of positive energy here is to support us in facing and understanding the pain that people cause and endure.
So has this been a party-pooping piece of writing? I hope not. I just want our emerging spirituality to stand proud, wise and compassionate. And realistic.
And when a wise and beautiful woman who has been a force for good, such as Eileen Caddy, dies I want the BBC to treat her passing with respect.