Our Culture of Discontent & the Spiritual Tools to Escape It

While it’s easy to blame the internet for increased anxiety, addictive behavior, shortened attention spans, and instant gratification, I don’t think the internet is the true source of the problem — it’s simply a channel for it. From my view, I think these patterns can be traced back to the overgrowth of the industrial age.

The nature of life is cyclical. In summer, the trees reach their fullest, exalted manifestations and then they lose their leaves to prepare for winter. We, as humans, are not removed from that cycle. However, we have learned to fear that cycle.

This is why, as we’re reaching the decline of the industrial age, we’re meeting resistance. The old capitalist industrial system has a death grip on its heyday, unlike the leaves of the trees that simply fall away. And while hours could be spent discussing the symptoms of man’s loss of connection from animism, I want to isolate one symptom for this blog.

We all know this story because we see it in almost every single advertisement. It is the story that says: “You’re not good enough where you are right now. You need to get to the next moment. You need to be better, smarter, faster, richer. You need to do it now, now, now.”

We have been in this culture of immediacy for a long time, yet it’s picking up speed because that is the very nature of it. This ‘immediacy demand’ causes heightened stress/anxiety levels and higher levels of discontent. While there is so much to be grateful for in a hundred dollar bill, the culture says, “You suck because it isn’t $1,000.”

“Why do you have 100 Instagram followers? You should have 1,000.”

“Why do you have a 2010 Toyota Camry? If you were better, you’d have the new Audi.”

The hamster wheel of capitalism works by stripping away your self-worth until you become a saddled donkey with a carrot dangling just out of your reach. Capitalism can’t “maximize” itself any other way. Whether you are the 1% or the 99%, it’s operating the same, and that’s because the story never ends.

Nothing ever becomes “enough” no matter how much you have. That thing you accomplish today that you’ve been working towards for 5 years quickly melts into, “Yeah, but you should have accomplished THIS instead.”

Then, it’s back on the hamster wheel — back to baseline discontent after a short burst of celebratory serotonin. This is why the rich hoard their money… because they live in scarcity inside of themselves.

We’re not living in the moment, and it’s killing us. It’s destroying our self-esteem, keeping us out of intimacy with ourselves, keeping us out of self-love and self-compassion, and it’s destroying our planet as we expend all of our energy on utilizing earth materials to try to “recover” that love and esteem that we think we don’t have access to.

We believe we have to somehow “earn” our value instead of valuing ourselves as we are. But we never get to the end of the rainbow. We just keep looking for gold coins along the road until we die, maybe never realizing that we spent so much time gathering the coins on the ground that we never looked up to see the breathtaking sky.

But there is another way. Sonya Renee Taylor calls it “stepping off the ladder.” That is the term I will be using. “Stepping off the ladder” means stepping off the ladder of comparison that our overgrown system has created.

In a nation that prioritizes cis straight white male bodies, if you don’t fit the prototype, you don’t get to the top. If you ARE a cis straight white male body and you’re not at the top of the ladder, then you don’t “feel the privilege” that everyone keeps telling you that you have.

At the very best, you feel disempowered because the system built to serve you isn’t serving you.

At worst, this turns into uneducated, poor, often rural white men blaming non-cis straight while male bodies for “ruining their country” and “taking all their rights away.” In essence, it breeds a hatred born out of a feeling of scarcity. “If they have rights, then I don’t.” Human rights become limited, restricted, earned.

This ladder is arbitrary. It exists so the rich get richer. It has no real value. And no matter where you are on the ladder, the choice to stay on that ladder is a choice to perpetuate your own oppression.

We come by it honestly. We’re told by the culture that we’re “not good enough.” But only we can dismantle the system of oppression by simply stepping off the ladder.

What does it mean to step off the ladder? It means coming back into ourselves, into our bodies, into the earth. It means cultivating patience, working with our body’s own interior rhythms, and with the rhythms of nature. There is a natural timing and a flow to things, and its internal clock does not operate the way that our ladder does.

So, the question is: “How do I do it? How do I step off of the ladder when I need to put food on the table? How do I feel that natural timing? How do I navigate my body’s internal rhythms in a culture that has trained me to ignore my body’s needs?”

Let’s talk about how. It’s important to keep things simple. Simplicity is one of earth’s greatest teachings. On a planet full of complexity, intricacy, and diversity, all rivers lead to the ocean, so you just need to find your “mouth of the river.” Or, your entry point. One simple consistent action can move mountains. And, the beauty is that there are so many actions to choose from. You can just choose one or a few that work best for you. That’s not what the system tells you, of course. The system tells you that anything simple or easy is actually hard or impossible. It’s not. No child is immune to voicing their dreams and receiving a “you can’t” in response. Fuck that noise. People have accomplished all kinds of dreams.

Do you feel like you need to earn love? What would it be like to feel that you have the right to be loved without “earning it?”

A great way to explore this kind of thing is to compare your self-talk with the way you talk to the people you love the most. For instance, if I’m having a hard time loving myself, I instantly think about my rabbit, Bastian. I think about the things I tell her every day: “She’s perfect, she’s beautiful, she’s breathtaking, she’s my whole universe, she’s an angel incarnate, she’s smart, she’s clever, she’s perceptive, she’s funny, she’s kind.”

And then I ask myself: “If I can see all of those qualities in her and love her for it, why can’t I do that for myself?” Then, my self-talk will begin to shift.

You can do this with anyone you have a clean relationship with. Plants, animals, and helping spirits are great for this. Or it could be your kids, students, friends — anyone that you’d never judge in a million years. Discovering your capacity to love another opens you up to realize that you can love yourself in the exact same way.

Trust and faith can come from anywhere. And what these tools do is remove you from feelings of scarcity.

You can see that lack of trust & faith in the billionaire that doesn’t relinquish a penny to those in need. As ludicrous as it sounds, it’s driven by the fear that everything could be taken away in the snap of a finger. And yes, things can and do turn on a dime. Remember: cycles.

Cultivating trust & faith creates a safety net. Yes, things happen. And, the earth is abundant. Yes, things leave us. And, new things come. Recognizing the abundance in your heart creates space for people around you to feel provided for as well.

Generosity is expressed through those feelings of safety and abundance. True generosity is an understanding of the reciprocal nature of life. Energy cannot be created or destroyed. It simply is. It just changes form. And you are an inseparable part of this energy. That is faith.

Trust is a little different. Of course, you can trust what you have faith in. But, what if you don’t trust yourself? And we’re trained not to trust ourselves. We see the dysfunctional ways that the system behaves and then we’re told that “we’re the problem.”

One of my earliest memories of being taken out of self-trust was being a new kindergartener in a school system where I suddenly wasn’t allowed to eat when I was hungry or go to the bathroom when I needed to. There were scheduled times for these things. (It’s reasonable enough in theory.) However, to cope, I trained myself to dissociate from feelings of hunger or bathroom need. I learned to ignore my body.

Working in the service industry as an adult created the exact same environment: “Come to work even though you’re sick. Work overtime. Do the work of two people during your shift — we’re understaffing you to save money. Take the customer’s emotional abuse with a smile because we need their business.”

What we learn is that our personal boundaries are less important than the system we’re working for. Therefore, the system is allowed to walk all over those boundaries.

Self-trust is essential for health and wellbeing. And we’re trained out of it early. Can you trust your emotions or were you told they were “irrational?” Can you trust your body’s needs or were you told you were lazy too many times?

Can you trust what you want, or have you compromised what you want in the name of the system? Can you still feel your dream? Life begins and ends with you. You are the only one inside your brain, inside your body. Learn to trust yourself again.

Ask yourself what ‘value’ means to you

Most of us don’t value money or objects as entities. We value what we think they give us. We value freedom, safety, prestige (esteem,) providing for ourselves and others. So, step off the ladder. Separate yourself from your fears and the cultural stories, and then ask your own heart what it values.

If you value freedom, how can you give yourself that freedom within yourself? How can you give yourself freedom within your current life framework? And in what ways are you already free?

If true value is intangible, then nothing is stopping you from what you value. It’s all already inside you. This is how we begin to feel that we have “enough.”

My personal story is that my ideas of money were connected to my need for freedom. So, I freed myself from the value attachments I held towards money as an entity. I made the choice not to allow external circumstances to impact my inner sense of worth and value. I made the choice not to care about what anyone else thought of my life. In other words, I abandoned my attachment to outer prestige and replaced it with inner validation. I freed myself from the ways I was keeping myself trapped in my own head. That’s true freedom because it works independently of the external world.

I cultivated a greater sense of integrity. I cultivated deeper relationships. I cultivated an inner richness that cannot be taken from me no matter what may befall. And once I recognized my inner value and asked for equal compensation, I began receiving outer wealth in return.

You’re worth more than you think you are. If you can realize that inner worth, it’s easier to understand and then ask for what you want.

The breath is your natural rhythm. It is boundless. It connects to the rhythm of nature. The breath always takes us back to the divine. This is because the brain can only focus on one thing at a time. If you focus on observing the breath, the painful stories in your mind start to lose momentum. You start to slow down. You stop fiending for the next “bigger, better, best” thing. You come back into the present moment. You feel yourself. Whenever you feel the hamster wheel start to turn — stop and breathe.

The earth is the great Being that hosts the life cycle from which we are all born and to which we will all return. What do plants teach us about growth, progress, and patience? What do predators teach us about focus, instinct, and skill? What does prey teach us about acuity, self-preservation, and gratitude? What does the river teach us about flow?

Everything on this Earth is a master of something — the wisdom of which is freely given. The diversity of nature has no ladder because it embraces its differences and uniqueness. Through connection with the earth, you might discover that you are a master at being uniquely you. This takes us off the ladder and back into the real flow. Back into the land of the Great Being that is continuously living and dying around us.

Contentment cannot be bought, sold, or stolen. And I personally believe it isn’t something that has to be earned. I believe all beings have a right to be happy. And I believe the key is in recognizing that Life itself is the gold at the end of the rainbow. You are here. You are loved. You are enough.

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Originally published at https://www.modernspiritualisttarot.com on January 5, 2021.

Holistic Wellness & Cannabis Copywriter

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