Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Darkness Within: Is the Love and Light Movement Hurting Us?

The Darkness Within: Is the Love and Light Movement Hurting Us?

I am apart of several online pagan communities and one of the most common phenomenons I run into is the "love and light" movement that is sweeping modern Western paganism. While on the surface the love and light movement may seem like a great thing, especially compared to some recent events, it's actually quite harmful. Now you may be asking yourself, "How in the world can peace and love be harmful to the pagan community?" It isn't that peace and love are inherently harmful; it's the side effects of the love and light mindset that are. However, before I jump into these negative side effects, let's discuss what love and light actually means.

Commonly love and light is used as a blessing, or at least that is what it was originally intended to be. One says this to another to encourage them to find the good (love) in all things and to find the light so they may continue on their spiritual journey. It's honestly a wonderful blessing to bestow on someone. However, it has recently become more than just a blessing, turning instead into a seemingly unstoppable movement. In fact, it is often used as an answer to a question, particularly about hexing, cursing, binding, love spells, or any morally-gray question. Most of the people responding to such questions reply with comments like, "Remember love and light!" or "That is not following love and light! You shouldn't do that!" I understand they mean well, but the phrase has obviously been twisted to be a mantra more than a blessing these days and there in lies the problem.

The Darkness Within: Is the Love and Light Movement Hurting Us?

So what is wrong with using love and light as a mantra to live by? Why would anyone disagree with finding the good in the world while continuing to grow spiritually? It isn't that I disagree with the sentiment; I disagree with its usage.

The love and light movement has led to a phenomenon called "spiritual bypassing," a term coined in 1984 by psychologist John Welwood. According to Welwood, spiritual bypassing is "the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs." Sound familiar? Spiritual bypassing takes multiple forms, most predominately in the form of suppressing one's own emotions. This is especially true of unpleasant (notice not negative) emotions, such as anger. When entering the spiritual community, one of the first lessons taught is a quote often misattributed to Buddha: "Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of harming another; you are the one who ends up getting burned." This quote is actually from Buddhaghosa from the 5th century and wildly misused. The statement clearly mentions "holding onto anger," not being angry. The love and light movement uses the quote to show you should never be angry, but that simply isn't true. Holding onto anger brings great harm, but being angry is not a bad thing. In fact, recognizing your angry is extremely healthy. Anger lets you know something is wrong and should be addressed. For example, it makes me angry when someone cuts me off in traffic. Why? Because I believe cutting someone off in traffic is not only rude, but extremely dangerous. You shouldn't do it because it puts other's lives at risk. Something is inherently wrong with risking someone's life because you are in a hurry, and my anger helps me navigate the situation. Ever seen the movie Inside Out? Yeah, Anger helped all the characters successfully navigate their lives, while Joy's need to dominate caused a catastrophic meltdown for a young girl (I believe Joy was a villain, but that is a topic for another day). Anger is a healthy and important emotion to have, while suppressing it is harmful.

Because the love and light movement promotes not being angry or having any "dark" emotions, we end up judging others and ourselves for expressing them. Repressing unpleasant emotions often leads to the beast known as Depression and its best friend, Anxiety, especially when you start to feel guilty for not being positive all the time. This constant push for positivity causes many individuals to suppress unpleasant emotions, which is actually leading to an increase in cases of depression and anxiety in the pagan community. Instead of promoting healthy discussions of our emotions, we are telling others to "stay positive." This isolates individuals who then end up loathing themselves for not being able to meet the community standards. We are human. We have unpleasant emotions. Those emotions are part of navigating our world and having healthy, positive conversations about our emotions helps prevent mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety by giving people an outlet to voice their concerns.

The Darkness Within: Is the Love and Light Movement Hurting Us?

Not only does the love and light movement isolate individuals, but it also causes significant rifts in our community. When others, who may not live by the same mantra have questions or wish to express unpleasant emotions, those who follow the love and light movement often end up judging others for following a different path. Instead of pushing each other up, we end up fighting over who is right. None of us are right. Plain and simple, and that is okay. What isn't okay is ostracizing a large portion of our community, like myself, because they aren't love and light. The time we spend arguing on chat boards about whether or not something is love and light would be better spent practicing witchcraft or educating others. No, saying something isn't love and light isn't educating others. It is completely failing to recognize others may not follow the same path as you. Furthermore, when we begin to judge others for their spiritual path, we often end up gaslighting others. Gaslighting is the practice of manipulating someone into questioning their own sanity. When we force love and light down another's throat, judge them for being angry or depressed or experiencing any unpleasant emotions, we end up causing that individual to question whether or not something is wrong with them. This leads to the aforementioned mental illnesses, community strife, and isolation. None of these are good things for our community.

The Darkness Within: Is the Love and Light Movement Hurting Us?

So how does this happen? How does the love and light movement cause such problems as repressed emotions and rifts in our community? Simple, by over emphasizing positivity. Sure, being positive is a good thing; I am not arguing that. Sometimes you have to stop and take a moment to count your blessings and move on. However, overemphasizing positive emotions leads to avoidance, especially of unpleasant emotions. "Be positive" is a deflection for people who don't want to do the difficult work of confronting their own internal issues, wounds, or baggage. It is really easy to say things like, "Be positive," "Think positive thoughts," or "Don't focus on the negative!" It is a lot harder to confront those emotions and the emotions of others to begin the healing process. The darker aspects of ourselves don't disappear because we ignore them. In fact, they get worse.

Apart from what I have mentioned, there are a couple other issues caused by the love and light movement. First, it often means we end up being too trusting. Wanting to see the good in everyone and everything is nice, but in practice it is extremely risky. Common sense is not your enemy. Second, the blessing "wishing you love and light" when someone is having a tough time is like saying "I'll pray for you." It offers absolutely no assistance to those suffering. Instead of offering love and light, maybe you should offer a listening ear or financial assistance. And finally, saying "love and light" at the end of a mean/rude/disrespectful statement doesn't absolve you. You were still a dick. Own it.

So what can we do?

1. We can begin by recognizing that not everyone is following the same path. We are not all Wiccan; we don't all believe in the same deities; we each practice our craft differently. Recognizing those differences and accepting them as valid is the first step in healing our community and ending this gaslighting routine.

2. As a community we need to recognize there is a mental health issue. Instead of believing unpleasant emotions are bad, we need to recognize they are a natural part of life and therefore it's natural for pagans to feel them. When we stop judging others for being angry, depressed, or anxious, and lend an ear, we offer the greatest gift we can to the person suffering.

3. We need to stop saying "be positive" when confronted by uncomfortable feelings or situations. You do not have to be positive all the time, and neither does anyone else. I am particularly irritated by the phrase, "It could be worse." Fuck yeah it could be worse, but I don't want to hear that! I don't want to hear about how much worse someone else has it either. That completely invalidates my emotions, which is more likely to force someone to retreat into themselves and not voice their concerns to you again. When someone is happy you don't say, "Well someone has it better than you," or "It could be better." Of course not! What a dick move! So don't say it to someone who is opening up to you about how they feel. Just listen. It was hard enough for them to be honest with you. Don't make them regret it.

4. We need to stop excusing terrible behavior by using the phrase "love and light" or believing through love and light that we can fix another. If someone is doing something blatantly wrong, speak up. Don't try to fix them. It isn't your job. Stop being so trusting. Not everyone is going to do right by you. If it feels wrong, it probably is wrong. Leave the situation, get help, and speak your truth.

5. Finally, when confronted by tragedy, we need to offer more than blessings and prayers. Speak with your actions, not your words. If you are going to send love and light to someone, do more than just say you are. Perform a ritual, send money, volunteer, do whatever you need to do to show support, but take REAL action. If you perform magic for another, send them pictures. Let them know you have worked a spell for them. If you don't, they may not recognize you have sent them anything at all. It is important to show our support through our actions instead of just our words.

The Darkness Within: Is the Love and Light Movement Hurting Us?

While not everyone may agree with me on this topic, I believe it is extremely important and relevant to today's modern witch. The first step to fixing a problem is recognizing there is one.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017