An electronic drunkalogue
The text below is adapted from a presentation I gave way back in the late 1990s at a book signing for my BLP (booklike product), Cosmic Relief: Honoring and Celebrating the Global Paradigm Shaft. Later on I pinned the tale on my old Cosmic Relief web site, the purpose of which was to promote the book, but which isn't currently up on the Web, so you needn't go looking for it. I'm posting the narrative here because it offers more details about my "cosmic" creds.
Hello, my name is Connie, and I'm a personal-growth survivor.
I survived the New Age. I survived the recovery movement. (In all fairness, they survived me too.) I also survived corporate America. Yes, corporate America. I got out just as they were getting into "excellence" and a few years before they got into "empowerment" and, later, "visioning," "missioning," "soulfulness," Power Poetry Readings and, for all I know, Executive Sweat Lodges. (Think about sitting in a Sweat Lodge with your boss. Is this something you would want to do?)
Many people thought those trends were positive signs, an indication that business was becoming more humane and more moral. And they may be right, but my feeling was that most corporate personal-growth stuff has mainly been just a ploy to distract everybody from what's really going on....all the rightsizing and outforcing and backstabbing, not to mention the upsurging of C.E.O. salaries and the downscaling of the salaries of everyone else . . . but, as the once-funny comedian Dennis Miller used to say, that's just my opinion, and I could be wrong.
I first got into personal growth because (1) I was bored and dissatisfied; and (2) everybody else was doing it. Besides, it seemed to be safer than drugs. And it looked like fun. A lot of the people I knew who were personally growing always seemed to be walking around with euphoric grins on their faces. At the time I had no idea that some of these people were also on drugs; I thought they were just evolved.
Anyway, I wanted what they had. I wanted to understand all those cool new words and phrases they were always using. I wanted to go to seminars in the Texas hill country and Northern California and New Mexico. I wanted to possess that misty-eyed, feel-good, hushed-voice air of mystery that would make other people want what I had. I wanted to be EVOLVED.
I also had this notion that I was shallow, and the personal-growth folks were profound. This was partly because some of them kept telling me that I was shallow and they were profound. After awhile I started believing them. But I figured if I hung around them long enough, and learned all the words and went to all the workshops and read all the books and listened to all the tapes, I could become profound too.
So I started reading the books. I listened to the tapes [remember, this was a long time ago. ~ CC]. And I began really talking and listening to people who were deeply involved in their own personal growth and that of others. I found that these books and these people did indeed have a lot of intriguing ideas. So I kept hanging around the people, and I kept on buying more of the books and tapes. I wasn't quite ready for a workshop, though. That still seemed like too great a commitment.
Eventually, however, all this reading and listening and observing didn't seem to be enough. I felt I was living vicariously.
I joined a cult, and lived to tell about it.
Finally I decided to take action. I joined a religious cult. Well, it wasn't exactly a cult... well, yes it was. Anyway, I didn't exactly "join"; I just sent off for some literature. (I still had this problem with commitment, you see.) I didn't have to give up my earthly possessions, I didn't have to change my name, and I didn't even have to go to meetings -- though I did end up going to a couple of their conferences.
Not that being a cult member wasn't hard work. I had to learn a passel of new names and words I couldn't pronounce. I also had to read a small library's worth of aggressively boring books and pretend they were interesting because they held the secrets to the universe.
In addition, I felt obligated to act as if I went along with the cult's wacky beliefs, such as the existence of monasteries on Venus, and the high holiness of some dorky dude from the Midwest whom the cult proclaimed was The Living Master. Supposedly this Master was some hugely evolved hoo-ha, outranking all the other spiritual big cheeses in the universe. As I understood it, he had been granted his Masterhood by a panel of nine dead guys who don't talk. Later on he got de-Mastered by some live guys in this dimension... something to do with financial finagling and womanizing; I never got the straight story. He was immediately replaced by another dorky dude from the Midwest.
Now just in case you're curious, this was a fairly obscure organization whose name I won't mention, due to its increasingly litigious nature. But since the group is becoming ever less obscure, you may be able to guess which one it is, just from what I've written above. Anyhow, I just wasn't getting much out of my participation. Of course I figured that my not-getting-it was my fault, a result of my ineffable shallowness.
What I did with a bunch of strangers in a hotel
Since the cult hadn't made me evolved or profound, I finally screwed up my courage and went to one of those personal-growth weekend workshops.
Actually it extended over a couple of weekends, and it was pretty grueling. Oh, it wasn't as bad as that stuff in the 1970s. In this one, you got to go to the bathroom when you wanted to, but you still had to do a lot of explaining. And while none of the activities was absolutely compulsory, you were shamed - oops, I mean strongly supported - into participating in all the group stuff: the group hugging, the group dancing, the group role-playing, the group vomiting (don't ask).
Anybody caught not participating was forced to undergo some sort of humiliating interaction with one or more of the leaders in front of everybody. So I sort of faked my way through the sessions: playing along with the program, pretending I was "getting it" -- and, most importantly, acting as if I saw no problem whatsoever with this very public brand of instant, one-size-fits-all psychotherapy. I really think it was the ostentatiousness that bothered me the most; all that was missing were the TV cameras -- but then, this was before the days of Sally Jessy and friends [and, thank goodness, long before the days when cameras were everywhere, on every device, and everything that happened anywhere to anyone made it onto social media for the entire frigging world to see ~ CC].
At any rate, those were two long weekends.
But believe it or not, after it was all over, I had, for a few bright shining hours, that euphoria I'd been so longing for. I thought, WOW. This is it. But it wasn't long before I figured out that the main reason I was so euphoric was that I was so glad the ordeal was over. Even so, I was hooked on that euphoria, brief as it had been, so I started thinking about the next workshop I wanted to attend . . .
This went on for years: an endless series of workshops, books, tapes, and, of course, innumerable Gatherings of Like-Minded People. For the most part, these Like-Minded People were actually pretty much like people everywhere, except they used lots of words and concepts that less-advanced folks couldn't understand. Including me.
Welcome to the New Age. Leave your sense of humor at the door.
One problem I had was that even after all those years of hanging with Edge Thinkers, I still couldn't understand half of what they were talking about. I'd just learned to pretend I understood it all, so nobody could tell how unevolved I really was. And, by golly, I learned to talk the talk. I talked the talk so much that I probably sometimes nauseated the regular types around me. (Of course, an Edge Thinker would say that this wasn't my fault; it was simply that the reg'lar folks just "weren't ready for it"-- which, of course, is a euphemism for "unevolved.")
One observation struck me again and again throughout the years as I hung around the personal-growth folks of all the various factions. There were many people whom I secretly thought were taking a whole lot of things way too seriously. Sometimes, I confess, I was one of those very people.
That was pretty ironic. One reason I had been attracted to the personal-growth folks in the first place was that they seemed to offer something new. I thought they were iconoclasts. I thought they were thumbing their noses at stuffy old tradition. So I naturally assumed that, as part of the package deal, surely they would have a sense of humor.
Some of them did. But a whole heck of a lot of them seemed to have sticks up their various apertures.
For example, a few years ago I met a guy who was one of those Edge Thinkers. He had even written a long paper about what an Edge Thinker he was. He let me read his paper. I could tell it was a genuine piece of scholarly research because it had footnotes and everything, and I couldn't understand a word of it.
Anyway, I was talking to him on the phone one evening, and I happened to mention something I'd read about a controversy involving a famous spoon-bending magician whose name I'd better not mention because he might send people to hurt me. Let's just call the magician... "Uri."
No sooner had I gotten the first sentence out when my friend started screaming into the phone at me, about how he hoped "Uri" would win all those multi-billion dollar lawsuits against his detractors, and how someday "Uri" would be vindicated, because by golly, he was the real thing. Our relationship was never quite the same after that, and it took me about four weeks to get my hearing back in that ear.
Leeches and loonies and lushes, oh, my!
I've also met, throughout the years, many of those seminar junkies who corner you at cocktail parties and try to recruit you. You know these people. THEY WON'T SHUT UP. And if you try to joke with them, just to lighten them up, they never get your jokes. They just look at you real seriously and say, "That's a VERY interesting way of looking at things." And they're so completely certain that their particular way of life or motivational guru holds THE key to happiness and prosperity - you know, some variation of the old "Lexus in every garage" theme.
Many of these people are poorer than church mice, I've noticed. They claim they're making a living by "facilitating" or "delivering" their guru's shtick, but they always seem to be bumming money off of their friends. Of course I'm too polite to mention it to their faces.
Then there are the career recovery people. I don't want you to think I have anything against the recovery movement. It's saved a lot of people's lives, maybe including mine, but that's a whole other story. I just chose not to go for my graduate degree in recovery, if you know what I mean.
And I am personally acquainted with people who claim to have been abducted by aliens and who get livid with rage when anybody even dares to utter the phrase, "hypnopompic hallucination." But let's not get into that one.
The point is, the cultural landscape is overflowing with people who seem completely unaware that "enlightenment" and "laughter" are not mutually exclusive concepts. Hanging around some of those folks almost puts the FUN back in fundamentalism.
Still, I tried my best for years to accommodate the humor-impaired, because they were everywhere, and I wanted everyone to like me. There were so many times I felt I had to tiptoe around the sensibilities of those who were so SERIOUSLY on the path. Everywhere I turned there were people working on their ISSUES. Everything was an ISSUE. And if you weren't working on your ISSUES, well, you weren't one of the gang.
But the truth was, I was just kind of faking my way along. I was just sitting by the side of the road less traveled.
By the way, it's NOT the road less traveled anymore, in case you haven't noticed. They've really had to widen that sucker; they've put a few more lanes in, and there's even a High-Occupancy Vehicle lane for people with multiple belief systems.
Anyway, I might still be faking my way through the personal-growth drill if not for a truly profound experience I had a few years ago. Actually it was a series of profound experiences and everyday observations that caused me to undergo a genuine parody shift. And I would never be the same.
How I rescued myself from personal growth
In a nutshell, I got in touch with my Inner Silly Person, or ISP (not to be confused with "Internet Service Provider," although sometimes their functions may be similar). I knew I had to let my ISP out, because sooner or later she was going to escape anyway, and no telling what sort of trouble she'd cause.
So out she flew, and together we created the Big Yellow Book, Cosmic Relief. Cosmic Relief was a hobby at first, therapy of sorts. I was too cheap, or possibly too scared, to indulge in real therapy. I confess that Cosmic Relief also began as a vendetta. I had gotten stiffed by a new-age magazine publisher (no, it's not anybody who's still publishing today), and I decided to produce a parody of her publication. If ya can't lick 'em, lampoon 'em, I always say.
To me, this person was a prime example of the hypocrisy I often saw in the New Age / personal-growth movement. She talked a real good game of spiritually-based business ethics, but in fact she stiffed nearly everybody with whom she did business. And to make things worse, she used a lot of new-age euphemisms whenever you called her on her stuff, to try to obscure the fact that she was stiffing you. You've probably dealt with people like this.
The new-age publisher soon faded out of the picture, so I changed my focus. I decided to make Cosmic Relief more generic. And it just kept growing until it was a book.
On a philosophical level, Cosmic Relief began as a manifesto of my newfound skepticism. Yes, somewhere along the way I'd discovered skepticism - partially, I admit, as a result of my disillusionment with that new-age magazine publisher - and I was really starting to get into it. Since many of the people who called themselves skeptics were at odds with many of the personal-growth people, I felt more and more that with this book I was taking a bold new stand. It was "us" versus "them."
So I started talking such a good skeptics' game that, no doubt, I was nauseating some of my personal-growth-oriented friends.
Once again, reality intrudes
Amazingly enough, I soon found out that life is more complicated than "us" versus "them." I wanted things to be simple, but, as is its habit, reality intruded before very long. As Cosmic Relief developed into a book, I showed it to a whole slew of people -- my new skeptic friends as well as my old personal-growth friends. Surprisingly, some of the most positive responses came from New Agers. People on both sides of the fence really liked it; people ON the fence liked it. Everybody was laughing.
Well, almost everybody. A few people were offended, some deeply so, and, yes, the offended ones were believers of various sorts, which somehow restored my faith in an ordered universe. I was, however, puzzled by the depth of their displeasure. There aren't THAT many pictures of naked people in the book, and that wolf and woman on page 57 are just good friends, really.
Even so, the proprietress [now deceased] of Houston's oldest and most famous metaphysical bookstore found Cosmic Relief patently offensive and refused to carry it. Never mind that she also happened to be the mother of a certain person who's made his fortune by suggesting that men and women are from different planets, and Cosmic Relief contains a parody of this certain person which sensitively suggests the possibility that he is an "arrogant little prick." You'd think she would be able to overlook that.
But no-o-o-o-o-o. "Our purpose here is to LIFT people's consciousness," she admonished, raising her arms in the classic gesture which, depending upon one's belief system, demonstrates either receptivity to the Holy Spirit or elevated awareness. "Not that I'm being judgmental," she hastened to add. (Of course! Nobody in the New Age movement is judgmental.)
Yet another metaphysical boutique rejected Cosmic Relief because, even though the owners thought it was funny, they were afraid it might offend some of their female customers. This particular store caters to herb-infused Wiccan types and issue-oriented Wild Women. The owners feared these women might take umbrage at the aforementioned page 57 in Cosmic Relief. "It appears," they said, "to depict a woman having sex with a dog."
Which is utterly ridiculous; anybody can clearly see that's a wolf, not a dog. And as I said earlier, the two of them are just good friends. Really. Besides, for gosh sakes, it's just a cartoon. No, not even that - it's two pieces of clip art I clumsily brought together into a compromising position, much the same way that I used to naughtily re-arrange the little sculptures and figurines on my ex-boyfriend's shelves. It irritated him that he always had to do a quick "shelf check" whenever his straight-laced parents were due to come over for a visit. (Look, I never claimed maturity as one of my strong suits.)
So here I am, still shallow after all these years, but I have come to embrace my shallowness. I no longer over-indulge in personal growth. I thank my Inner Silly Person every day for saving me from my own terminal seriousness. (I thank my Internet Service Provider every day too, for different reasons.)
If there were any takeaways from Cosmic Relief [and for that matter from this blog], they were and are as follows: Don't be afraid to laugh at anything. Don't be afraid to question everything. And don't even worry if you, or others, think you're shallow. When others around you are flaunting their profundity and their evolved status by personally and ostentatiously growing or, worse yet, by trying to "change the world" or "make a difference" (whatever the hell those things are supposed to mean), you may take comfort in Cosmic Connie's Conviction:
as long as you are profoundly and sincerely shallow.