Quite the opening decade for the new millennium eh? In 1999, the last millennium closed with a combination of fear about the world coming to an end because of a little clock embedded in your computer (remember Y2K?) and the thrill of a stock market in the middle of a giant run up.
Warnings of "irrational exuberance" were pushed aside by the 20 and 30 somethings, claiming that this was a new world, a new stock market and a new prosperity. Old rules no longer mattered.
And then the planes went in. The Dow tumbled from near 11,000 to 8,235, American flags sprouted everywhere, God Bless America became the song of choice for most any public gathering, and people seemed to pull together in an amazing way. For a while.
It didn't take too long before American focus on the upwardly mobile dream regained a foothold and soon the economy was humming again, pushing toward 14,000 on the Dow, and the promise of a new home for every American.
Of course, that bubble burst as well, and the market tanked like crazy, falling into the 6,500 range just last year. And then we saw some real panic amongst a whole lot of people. Some would say the sky is still falling, even though the Dow has climbed back into the 10,500 range. Unemployment is still staggeringly high, foreclosures keep springing up on every block, and times continue to be bleak for many.
So, should we view the first decade of the third millennium as the economic roller coaster years? We could, and we can certainly find data to support that thesis. And who knows where this roller coaster is heading?
However, I have an oddball view of the past 10 years. I think we may be on the verge of a roller coaster decade of spiritual awakening.
Any number of phenomenon have grown across divergent cross sections of the public. Following is an incomplete list of several that have become increasingly in the public eye along with my very limited, and most likely misrepresentative summation of their focus or intent. My apologies in advance if I am butchering any of these amazing gifts:
The Kabbalah has become increasingly popular, emphasizing various mystical aspects of Judaism, looking at the relationship between an infinite, eternal and mysterious Creator and the finite and mortal universe. Devotees explore the nature of the universe and the human being, the nature and purpose of existence, along with methods to aid understanding of these concepts and to attain spiritual realization. It's an interesting comment on shifting aspects of life when you see that mysticism and mystical practices can now be followed via webinars and all things internet.
Celebrities such as Madonna, (now known by her Kaballistic name, Esther), David Beckham, Elizabeth Taylor, Demi Moore and Britney Spears have all embraced the Kabbalah.
Yoga has become available in more consumer oriented settings, ranging from yoga on the beach in resorts to classes offered in traditional fitness facilities. 8 percent of Americans who have never practiced, indicate that they are very interested in learning more. Yoga has been embraced by celebrities as diverse as Ricky Martin, Meg Ryan, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Anniston, Jerry Seinfeld, Shirley MacLaine, and Charlie Sheen. Many credit their practice with an ability to remain centered and more at peace in these turbulent times.
In 2004, What the BLEEP Do We Know¸ kicked off a huge interest in the impact each of us have on each other, our surroundings and life in general. Some call it a spiritual marriage between quantum physics and consciousness. While millions loved the movie, the critics were quick to dismiss it as pseudo-science or quantum mysticism. Regardless of any alleged errors in the message, the underlying question did get quite a few conversations going about the nature and purpose of life.
In 2006, The Secret leapt all over us, as both a runaway bestselling book and a widely watched movie. Heavy weight celebrities were all over "the law of attraction" as a way to improve life through focus and thought (Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres, Larry King, etc). Critics again called it pseudoscience and some religious groups thought it more the work of the devil. And still, millions have flocked to it. Some see its appeal as a sign of desperation, while others would say the real secret is as old as the oldest of spiritual scriptures.
In 2007, The Shack came out with little or no notice, but then in 2008 it exploded onto the New York Times list as #1 for 35 weeks and is still #29 overall for Amazon sales, and #6 in religious and spirituality sales. Well over 5,000,000 people have read the book. Some Christian groups are thrilled, and others see it as the work of the devil. One critic even called it "undiluted heresy."
In 2008, Ekhart Tolle partnered with Oprah to launch a hugely successful webinar series that went from hundreds of thousands of viewers to millions virtually overnight. While his books have been around since the 1990's, something exploded with his 2005 book, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose. People seem captivated by the notion of creating a spiritual awakening through the transformation of consciousness. For Tolle, these are ancient spiritual messages which have become obscured by overlays of man's attempt at religious structure or control.
Of late, Dan Brown's book, The Lost Symbol, sold over 2 million copies in the first week out! While it is a thriller of great proportions, it is also undergirded by an interesting marriage of the noetic sciences and various aspect of religion and spirituality. Amongst its many critics, the book was slammed by the Financial Times reviewer as "a novel that asks nothing of the reader, and gives the reader nothing back", and further added that it "is filled with cliché, bombast, undigested research and pseudo-intellectual codswallop." No wonder it is doing so poorly.
Somehow, each of these phenomenon have attracted millions upon millions of readers, viewers, and followers. While celebrities have embraced some or all of these approaches to consciousness, spirit, or just plain awareness, so, too have millions of other people. Clearly, something seems to be drawing the attention of so many, and yet the critics seem content to criticize the messages, or the messengers, while apparently missing the underlying question of what may be driving so many people to seek this kind of support.
So, what is it about these phenomenon that make them, well, so phenomenally successful?
Is There a Spiritual Awakening Taking Place?
One characteristic that each of these apparently unrelated vehicles share is that of a deeper level of reality, one that can perhaps be summed up as spiritual in nature. While some are clearly religious or spiritual practices, others are novels or attempts at science. And, I submit, the underlying attraction to each of them can be found in something that resonates at a deeper, more spiritual level.
Over the past several decades, generations have embraced various kinds of hopes and dreams, often followed by a crushing reality, one that shatters dreams and saps many of the energy to move forward. However, something else keeps chipping away at the psyche of many, or at least many in America; many are beginning to turn their attentions away from the trappings of physical world success and more toward a deeper, inner longing for connection, compassion, loving and peace.
Not surprisingly, these are amongst many of the attributes associated with various religious and spiritual practices. All kinds of people have been turned off by organized religion, many citing rigid doctrine, forced discipline, and harsh judgment of those not following closely enough to the prescribed dogma. And many of these people are the ones attracted to one or more of the phenomenon listed above.
It may be interesting to note that while the word "psyche" has come to mean something about the mind, it actually comes from a Greek word for soul. Psychology, then, literally means "study of the soul." A question for me going back to grad school days: how many have gone to psychologists, seeking some form of spiritual or soul-centered support, only to disappointed by the psychologist who focuses more on mental/emotional issues?
Perhaps the phenomenon that I think is taking place can best be described in a simple phrase: there is an awakening taking place. For me, that awakening is spiritual in nature.
"Awakening" is an interesting word all by itself. If someone awakens, what were they beforehand? Asleep, of course. But, then, if someone is asleep, what were they prior to being asleep? Awake, of course!
Religion comes from the Latin word, legare, meaning "to connect." Of course we all know that the prefix, re, means again. Inspiration comes from the Latin, inspirare, with an original meaning to "breathe in spirit."
Could it be that more and more people are seeking an inspirational or religious awakening, a conscious re-connection to something deeper, something that causes them to awaken to something more meaningful than ordinary day-to-day pursuits?
Could people be awakening to something that connects them (again) to a deeper source, a more loving, caring and forgiving source, one that can sustain a person at a deeper level, transcending the temporal nature of physical world possessions?
My perspective would suggest that indeed, it is this deeper longing for connection, loving and peace that is driving our interest in so many apparently divergent offerings of the last decade. For the truly observant, all of these themes are but restatements of old teachings, perhaps ancient wisdoms, just packaged more for modern consumption.
All of this must look quite interesting from the perspective of Spirit. I, for one, am grateful and hopeful that we seem to be moving away from religious trappings and more toward spiritual connection.
Can't wait to experience what comes next!
I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.
If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.
Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at www.RussellBishop.com. You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.