Mistaking Individualism for Freedom
In today’s rapidly changing society, many of us no longer want to work for others. We want to use our talents, our creativity, and our passions to develop our own business or to work freelance. We no longer are willing to tolerate repetitive tasks, 40-hour work weeks or corporate bosses.
But it would be a mistake to think that this is breaking free of society, that we can remove ourselves from it, that we are somehow above it, or that we are trying to do something different. In truth we are only swapping forced conformity for a self-imposed one, and we mistake this individualism for freedom without acknowledging its paramount importance in the hierarchical value system of our society. We now turn the cog of culture at our own pace and rhythm, but we still don’t question where the machine is taking us.
It is only privilege that creates the illusion of separation. Unless we acknowledge this, we are stuck in a mire of arrogance and indifference. We too are complicit in a system of exploitation that is ruining our planet and destroying entire cultures. Even with our artisan candles and organic coffee. Even with our job as a yoga teacher or a freelance artist.
The more I sit with this, the more I am convinced that analyzing the value systems of our culture and the ways it has infiltrated our most intimate desires, beliefs and values is one of the most radical and deeply spiritual acts of our time. It is crucial for any real development, not because we can break free of culture, but because it is necessary if we are truly going to do our part to help change its direction.
It will take all of us if it is going to even budge an inch. This is one area where we can’t rely on our leaders. Those holding power in our culture are often the ones most conditioned by it. But, if we all begin to question our own opinions, beliefs, desires, and values, even the so-called “spiritual ones,” and question where the source lies, we may begin to awaken the collective mind into something deeper and whole.
Contemplative practices and time in satsang can help give us the leverage needed to be critical of our mind, but I am convinced that this alone is not enough. A critical questioning must become its own form of practice. Meditation, yoga and prayer can actually strengthen and reinforce these cultural values, and all of us in our spiritual community are blinded by this cultural force. Not only do we help each other to wake up, but we also blind each other from our deep conditioning.
Questioning our culture and our privilege must be a part of the spiritual life. It will deepen our time in practice and enrich our spiritual community. It will lead us towards freedom, not an individualistic one, but a freedom of abundance that spills out to all corners of the world.