Spiritual band-aids vs. sustainable change

Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s recent New York Times article on Gwyneth Paltrow and Goop ends with Brodesser-Akner being stuck on a bus, desperately having to pee. This incident, fortunately resolved without catastrophe, nonetheless leaves the author unable to regain the feeling of zen she’d accessed just a few hours earlier at the In Goop Health wellness summit, described earlier in the piece:

“I became buoyant with hope. I could feel my posture straightening. I was so free of anxiety and so full of forward motion. I couldn’t remember feeling that way ever before. I could do this, I thought. I could change.”

After the stressful bus experience, Brodesser-Akner’s perspective on the summit — and seemingly on Paltrow herself — does a 180. If she’s unable to gracefully manage a stressful event and return to the peace she was in just a short time earlier, she reasons, then what Paltrow and Goop are peddling must be bunk. Later, when her sister calls to ask about the experience, Brodesser-Akner says, “It was ridiculous.”

When I first read the conclusion to the article, I found it dishonest. For the bulk of the piece, Brodesser-Akner approached Paltrow and Goop with a sort of detached skepticism, but it was clear that the appeal of both had worn her down a bit by the end. And yet, she closed the piece in a way that seemed to fit the experience she’d wanted to claim going into it — not the one that had actually transpired. The bus incident provided a convenient means for Brodesser-Akner to dismiss any positive impact of her time with Paltrow and Goop, and to pretend the entire experience had been in line with her expectations. I rolled my eyes and closed the tab.

But in thinking about it more, Brodesser-Akner’s piece unearthed, though failed to articulate, the biggest reason why followers of Goop and its ilk fail to create lasting change through $150 reiki sessions, a closet full of high-end loungewear, and the perpetual acquisition of healing crystals — a reason that has nothing to do with Gwyneth Paltrow:

In order for spiritual activities to “work,” they have to be laid upon a foundation of sustainable change.

spiritual band-aids - portrait

Things like reiki, sound baths, crystal healing, and essential oil diffusion are maintenance activities. They’re not going to fix you. Without doing the real, difficult work of becoming a person who knows how to self-soothe, stay present, and break the negative thought patterns that turn temporary setbacks into major catastrophes, whatever incremental gains you achieve through low-grade spiritual practices will last only until the next time real life punctures your bubble of woo.

In other words, you can’t just fire up your aromatherapy diffuser, talk to some tarot cards about your place in the universe, and call it a day. You need a collection of tools that will be accessible to you regardless of where you are, who you’re with, and the specifics of what Eckhart Tolle would call your “life situation.”

Over the past couple of years, I’ve added a lot of spiritual practices to my life. I have some doTerra essential oils I bought from my yoga teacher and a light-up diffuser on my nightstand. I’ve taken classes on astrology, tarot, and chakra healing. I have at least three crystals on my person at any given time. I meditate daily.

But before I started any of that, I spent two years in weekly therapy. I read and reread a number of books that helped me understand and reprogram my brain. I learned how to question my assumptions and thought patterns, and how to take a step back and assess the reality of a situation, not the negative story I’m projecting onto it because of past experiences and fears about the future.

It isn’t enough to MINDBODY a bunch of yoga classes, throw on a $200 kimono, and tack a poster of the moon phases on your wall. As Maya Angelou wisely said, “Nothing will work unless you do.” If you go looking for a quick fix, you can expect things to break again, quickly. Doing the work will help you create permanent change — and get more out of that titanium aura quartz.

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