has spirituality been reduced to the rehashing of tropes and clichés?

Vic Shayne
6 min readFeb 1

Vic Shayne
The Self is a Belief: the idea that causes suffering

When beliefs are repeated often enough they can become facts. We have seen this happen over and over through the millennia. It’s how profound teachings are reduced to the ugly, vapidity of religion and how political leaders sway popular opinion. It’s behind prejudice and fear-mongering, and it’s part of the spiritual movement, though not always with any malintent. For anyone searching for the truth about existence, beliefs are of no use at all. So let’s pause for a moment and ask ourselves what we can know for ourselves without accepting the cosmology and lexicon of popular spirituality that is now so widely accepted without personal investigation.

questioning popular beliefs
Have you ever wondered how much of what is being repeated in the world of spirituality is just a regurgitation of ideas that are not your own? If your interest is to find out who you are beyond the sense of self and beliefs, you must begin with a clean slate, and this means you must begin with yourself and drop all information you have gleaned from outside sources.

Beliefs in angels, karma, and twin flames will only be a hindrance and keep your attention in the wrong direction. Beliefs have nothing to do with what we are, yet have everything to do with who we erroneously consider ourselves to be.

let go of conditioning
We are conditioned to repeat secondhand ideas as if we know them to be true, because we are taught from the earliest age that this is the way we should go through life. Information is useful, we are told. And it is, but not the kind of information that informs us of who we are, because this type can only be gleaned in the most personal way. No one can tell us who we are, because who we are is experiential and personal, and not something that can be learned from an outside source. How can anyone say what you are feeling or thinking? You are the only one with access to such things.

answers make people feel secure
People tend to want answers to mysteries, because if they don’t have the answers they feel insecure. So even the wide-open field of spirituality falls into the same trap as it always has: it becomes concretized into a system of beliefs. It may not share the same exact structure of a cult or religion, yet it is founded on beliefs, suppositions, and assumptions.

In the world of spirituality it’s common “knowledge” that there are higher and lower states of consciousness, that we all have spirit guides, that karma punishes bad people and rewards good ones, that there are ascended masters and light beings, that all is one, and so on. Like religion, the field of spirituality contains its own lexicon, beliefs, hierarchy, supreme beings, rituals, and miracles. But are any of these ideas really knowledge of your own accord, beyond mentation and belief?

At one point in my life I had to take inventory of all my beliefs and challenged myself for believing in them. Why, I wondered, was I holding onto ideas that were not of my own knowing, and what purpose does it serve to accept teachings, whether religious or spiritual, that I do not know to be true? And what can I find out for myself through my own experience and observation?

living your own life
I learned through trial and error, that when we observe who and what we are with great attention and persistence, we come up with some curious realizations. I am not talking about information or logic, but rather a light bulb going on that illuminates the mind to see things as they really are.

With enough enquiry into the mind we may discover that we, as a collective society of human beings, live in the past. While the spiritual movement has repeated the trope that we must live in the now, for instance, it’s clear that few people who say this have an idea what it means, because they haven’t done the work to know for themselves. Yet they repeat the trope: Live in the now; be in the present. They are trying to bask in the “power of now.”

If the sense of self — the person you take yourself to be with all of your identities and attachments — can give way to pure awareness then it becomes obvious that everything of our world is impermanent and that nothing we read and hear is fresh or new. There is no knowing the now, because the now is only recognized in hindsight, as memory.

A spiritual seeker questions the very nature of reality: Are the ideas and statements of other people true for us? Are they true at all, or is an idea that is repeated long and hard enough eventually accepted as true without further question?

finding the facts
The internet is a big ball, a tangled string of ideas, with information and disinformation entwined. Perhaps it’s time to take a deep breath and step back from this deluge of information to consider that nothing is new within it.

In Journalism school and in the real world I was taught to research every story from all sides. This meant not only going into the library (the pre-internet days) and finding facts, but also interviewing people and calling various figures of authority. Just quoting other people’s articles without your own research and footwork was insufficient and unacceptable. Reposting or rewriting the statements of other people is not research by any stretch of the imagination. A real journalist is a fact-finder first and foremost, and this is the way a spiritual seeker must be if she wants to uncover the truth.

Let’s apply this analogy of good writing and research to who we are as people — or spiritual beings, if you like — and to differentiate between what we believe, what others say, and what we know for ourselves. How can we actually assess and understand our own state of existence and the reasons for our difficulties? The question relates to whether we are living secondhand lives, doesn’t it?

what can we see for ourselves?
No one sees out of your eyeballs except for you, and no one can tell you how you feel about anything. Yet it’s odd that our minds are filled with other people’s ideas and experiences. The question, then, is: What can we see and know for ourselves on present evidence, from personal experiences and realizations? Is it appropriate for others to tell us who we are, whether it’s a guru, life coach, psychologist, psychic medium, or astrologer?

We came into this world being told by our parents or caregivers who we are, and this started a very bad habit for us. We were hooked! We thought, and perhaps still do think, that we are something that others tell us we are. The hard, cold facts of life is that no one is born a Christian, Muslim, Canadian, French speaker, English speaker, Black person, Asian, a football fan, or a white guy. An infant doesn’t know any of this; she must be inculcated with ideas until she forms a belief of who she is. And this idea, which is a full spectrum of ideas and thoughts, shapes behavior, beliefs, fears, and desires. Have you ever observed your own thoughts to find this out for yourself? It’s amazing in the least.

Life has become very complex and complicated in our modern world. Too few of us go out into the wilderness and see what we can see without any help or distraction, without someone telling us what we are.

When you have played football, danced, sung, or written a poem you don’t need a pundit to tell you what it’s like and how it feels. There is only you, with nothing obstructing your experience.

other people’s beliefs and experiences are irrelevant
Taking other people’s ideas about souls, the astral world, and premonitions, for example, becomes irrelevant to know who you are beyond the conditioned sense of self. If you define your own experiences by what anyone else says then you have departed from your own authenticity and become a secondhand person.

taking a long, hard look at your self
To truly know who you are at the core of your being means taking a long, hard look at your self. You can read all the books you want and listen to the lectures, but this will never equate to having your own personal realization of your self, reality, and what lies beyond. Spirituality has become a religion of sorts, but what is spiritual is not meant to be bound by the ideas of other people. This is your journey and if you do not see it this way then you are living someone else’s idea of what your life should be.

Vic Shayne

…writer for 40+ years, mind/body practitioner, self-enquiry meditation, NY Times best selling author (https://amzn.to/2CeaSE), consultant, researcher.