Over the years that I’ve published on abusive yoga and Buddhism cults in the globalization period, I’ve received a steady flow of comments, DMs, and emails that ask two questions:
- Are there any healthy spiritual communities out there?
- Is there such a thing as a legitimate spiritual teacher?
I believe folks address them to me because, while they might be grateful that someone has done investigative work that will steer them away from harm, they still want something from contemporary spirituality.
They might have left their birth religions on a life-long quest for meaningful community. They might remember a honeymoon period within an organization that felt promising and fulfilling, before things got weird, before the leader did that thing. They might yearn for that feeling to return, and not have it go south.
And, they might figure that the person who has spent a lot of time breaking down these dynamics will also be aware of where they don’t exist. This is a misplaced hope. Because I don’t have any solid impression of “healthy spiritual community,” or “spiritual teacher with integrity.”
At times I wonder if this is just my own my wounded lens as a cult survivor, along with selection and confirmation biases compounded through my research. But more recently, I think the blankness I feel when I read those questions might reflect that in the era and demographic in which they’re being asked — the 2020s, Global North— there is a dearth of options. Not because people are fucked, but because the question is echoing in an empty space, a cultural hollowness.
Here’s the logic-flow I’m working with currently:
- New Age spiritualities, along with the parallel cultures of global yoga and Buddhism, all emerge and proliferate in a neoliberal economy that commodifies the self, and has no other product.
- These networks grew in the…