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Breaking through the Gatekeepers

July 20, 2019

This post might also be titled ‘Take Pride In Being New Age’, as it was prompted by a LA Times article that I found not a little patronizing (How Millenials Replaced Religion with Astrology and Crystals) as well as the dismissive coverage of Marianne Williamson’s performance in the first presidential debate. This time in history is so much about breaking down barriers and getting rid of the gatekeepers who have guarded the gates to power. This is true on a lot of fronts, but the ones most relevant to this blog are of course spirituality and healing. As the number of people who define themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious’ climbs, more attention is being paid to how these individuals are piecing together their own spiritual paths drawing from multiple sources. But the media coverage of this – even within the ‘progressive’ media – is often derisive, eschewing such individuals as flaky, superficial, ‘woo woo’ or all of the above in the catchall term ‘New Age’. 

As my own work is usually itself put in this category, I can’t help but ask how New Age got such as a bad rap. Even healing practitioners and spiritual teachers whose work falls in this category are often reluctant to label themselves as such. It’s really worth asking why, because who, really, ISN’T hoping for the dawn of a New Age at this point?!? Many of us share a sense that we are in environmental, social, and spiritual crises, and a turning point must occur for the earth to even be viable for future generations. If that’s not the definition of needing a New Age, then what is? Often criticism of New Age modalities – which depending on who you ask includes everything from yoga, meditation, and acupuncture to crystals, reiki, and astrology – is just another form of gatekeeping.

The thing about gatekeeping is that it doesn’t just function externally, it creates internal barriers that you can’t easily see. When it comes to spirituality and healing these barriers prevent you from connecting directly to the full spiritual and healing power within yourself. You internalize the idea that spirit must be mediated through a socially-sanctioned institution or individual; that you do not know enough to connect directly with spirit or healing energies; that an authority figure is needed to discern anything related to your spiritual path or health needs; that your gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation disqualifies you; that your own insight or intuition on these matters is irrelevant.

Most of us do need spiritual, personal growth, and healing guidance, help, and support at least sometimes, as well as practices and tools. But spiritual teachers, guides, mentors, healers, intuitives and energy workers should function more as midwives than gatekeepers. For that matter so should religious organizations and lineages – their purpose is to help us birth ourselves into our own direct spiritual connection. They should provide the energy, structure, container and guidance that empowers us to awaken and aid our own healing. And many of them do function this way. But all too often (as we’ve seen in headline after headline), these institutions and/or individuals within them have instead become the exact opposite – power structures that disempower through fear and manipulation, creating internal barriers for individuals that are very hard to release.

The original New Age movement began partly in response to, and as a rebellion against, this kind of disempowerment, and that’s why I think it is in fact growing stronger these days, especially amongst millennials. Nevertheless there are some valid criticisms of the current New Age environment, and I think it’s worth looking at them to sort through which are ‘gatekeeping’ misrepresentations and which are helpful. Here’s the most common criticisms I often see of New Age practices and individuals. They are characterized as:

  • Flaky and Ungrounded – this is based on a stereotype of spaced out individuals who can’t function in their daily lives. As a business owner, author, and mother of three busy teens I really take offense at this one – people who know me personally may call me many things, but not this, and the same is true for all the healers, spiritual guides and intuitives I personally know or choose to work with. Of course disassociation can be a real issue in spiritual circles, and as someone who works with many sexual trauma survivors I certainly see that spirituality and energy healing in particularly can become a part of this problem. But this can happen with any kind of spiritual affiliation – any path or modality can be used as a way of disconnecting from reality and dysfunctional emotional patterns OR can be used to work through these obstructive patterns and connect more deeply to presence in the world.
  • Disputed by Science – this criticism is especially leveled at energy or intuitive based modalities, but there is a big difference between something being disproven by mainstream science, and it being unprovable or as of yet unmeasurable. Much of what is currently accepted science would have been considered outrageous 200 years ago. Many studies related to neuroplasticity are showing the powerful connection between mind and body. Studies on meditation and mindfulness have repeatedly shown their benefits (most of these practices are not necessarily classified as New Age, depending on who you talk to, but some are – and the results of these studies simply show how much we are still learning about the brain and consciousness.)

I think what is valid criticism on this front is that some teachers or healers make grandiose claims that deter individuals from seeking more conventional medical or mental health help. Most people will benefit from utilizing spiritual, energetic and alternative modalities in combination with more mainstream methods. The challenge then is finding a therapist or doctor who is open to the combination, and will not be dismissive. 

  • Commercialization/Scams – there are certainly individuals in the new age space manipulating others through hope and fear to make themselves money – just as there are in mainstream medicine and organized religions. But I haven’t see any proof that this is happening any more in this space than others. Just as in business, government – or for that matter any organization at any level – there will always be individuals functioning from a place of integrity and concern for the common good, and those functioning solely from self-interest and greed. In other words, this is not a New Age – or even new – problem.
  • Superficial – the complaint here is that New Ageism leads to a ‘sampler plate’ style of spirituality, personal growth, or healing, with individuals jumping around from practice to practice or tool to tool, and never going deep enough to truly grow or awaken. This is a valid issue – but it’s also a personal choice. It is usually true that to go deep one will need to find a path, and a valid teacher or guide, and stick with it through challenges and resistance. But that’s not what everyone wants or needs. And to insist it is, and that this must be within an established or conventional tradition, is often just a form of dysfunctional gatekeeping – invalidating personal choice, insight and intuition when it comes to an individual’s life’s path.

Part of the ‘superficial’ labelling too is the complaint that teachers and healers are adapting traditional practices too much for modern practitioners, and that this is diluting their true purpose and strength. This may certainly be happening, but I’m not sure it’s as big of a problem as some would claim. Teachings have always adapted as they move from culture to culture, and whole new lineages and traditions have evolved from such melding. Why should it be any different now? A more valid question for me is what works? What brings people more insight, peace, health, and happiness? I think the marketplace tends to sort this out on its own – if a teaching/teacher, healing modality/healer doesn’t benefit or resonate, it tends to be a flash in the pan. Are there posers out there? Sure, but I think it’s the exception, not the rule.

And so we come to the bigger question – who gets to judge what has value? And that really is where we get to what the New Age is really supposed to stand for:

  • The dismantling of religious and spiritual gatekeeping – and the related false beliefs about who can, or cannot, connect with spirit or healing energies.
  • A validation of personal experience – your intuition, your spiritual experience, your insight has value and comes from a spiritual source within yourself that is powerful and true.
  • An openmindedness about what is and isn’t possible and about what we do and do not know, along with a recognition that as valuable as science is, it is itself evolving.
  • A belief in the power of mind to co-create, and the heart to connect and guide. Closely related to this is…
  • Hope for the future – this is almost out of style, but something we are desperately in need of. 

So whatever you are working with in your life right now, contemplate the gatekeepers – external and internal – that might be holding you back. What judgements have you internalized? How are these limiting your own inward connection to natural wisdom and intuition? Your capacity to access healing energies? Your sense of what is possible? Are you caught in a trap of thinking the next workshop, the next teacher, the next practice or healing session will be the one that finally frees you – caught in a cycle of continuously seeking spiritual authority outside yourself? There are a lot of different ways gatekeeping can manifest.

For women, breaking through these barriers is particularly important, as disconnecting us from our own inner insight has been one of the functions of patriarchy. The conditioning and social structures that have enforced this create actual energetic blocks in our subtle body. As you work to release this conditioning, these blocks will begin to dissipate, and release more energy into your subtle body. Then you can truly grow into the wise woman you are. 

Feel free to share your own stories of breaking through gatekeepers. Wishing you much freedom, wisdom, and power.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. Pam permalink
    July 20, 2019 1:58 am

    Yes no one who knows you would call you flaky Lisa! I don’t know how you do all you do.
    Thanks for a thoughtful and empowering post.

  2. July 20, 2019 12:10 pm

    Great post. I personally shy away from labels, I believe they hold limitations and the restraints of judgement. New Age, as you mentioned, has attached to it many negative judgements. What I personally find most limiting with the term is that most practitioners are working towards bringing back the ancient ways, whether they realize it or not. I like to think of this era we are trying to move into as an awakening back to the Truth and the true self.

  3. July 20, 2019 1:01 pm

    Reblogged this on The Go Between: Psychics, Mediums and Integrity by Melissa Leath and commented:
    An article here for you to read about what is keeping you back from following your spiritual path. Goes deep into why society has limited us if we let it.

  4. July 20, 2019 4:37 pm

    Thank you for this. It is a needed perspective on humanities coming age.
    I love the idea combatting gatekeepers by owning your status as new age.

  5. July 20, 2019 5:57 pm

    Hi Alethea, thanks for commenting. I’d prefer not to be labelled either, but if people are going to label what I do, I’d like to reclaim it as something positive! I certainly agree none of this is ‘new’ either, but adaptations are often making it more accessible to a contemporary seeker (at risk of dilution, but as I said in the past I think that’s less of an issue that is often made of it.) Hope you are well-

  6. July 20, 2019 5:57 pm

    Thanks for the reblog Melissa

  7. July 20, 2019 5:58 pm

    Hi Katlin, thanks for commenting – yes, let’s reclaim it with pride and make it something positive.

  8. July 21, 2019 1:03 am

    Hi Lisa

    I always admire your clear voice. So happy to read your voice on this subject. I am opening up my private practice and am so conscious of who’ll be reading how I describe my services. So far my writing masks what can be perceived as woo woo, though that’s really who I am. I trust I will begin to feel the same conviction that I hear in your words the more that I practice talking about it. Coincidentally? I also realized today that my writing about my practice has been from fear more than from love.

    Your post helped me to do a bit more untangling on this.

    Thank you. Eileen

  9. Anne permalink
    July 21, 2019 1:40 am

    Your post was eloquently written and presented to me precisely when I needed to hear it. When one isn’t around like minded or fellow searchers, it’s easier to begin questioning one’s journey especially during those times when life becomes noisy and hectic. Thanks for the reminder and the strength! Anne

  10. Alice permalink
    July 21, 2019 2:45 pm

    Lisa thank you for this inspiring post. I have been contemplating the issues of gatekeeping and breaking free lately and you helped me gain a new perspective. I resonate with your take on science and the necessity of sorting through the internalized ideas and concepts. In this process of questioning there are many lies to be found. I appreciate that you defend the New Age movement and introduce it in a new positive light. It was a reminder to take pride in what is important to me!!

  11. July 21, 2019 8:41 pm

    I’m very happy to share it with my readers!

  12. July 21, 2019 10:22 pm

    Hi Eileen, this has been an ongoing process for me too – sorting out when I am presenting from fear rather than love and authenticity. And of course there’s validity in communicating things in a way that will most resonate and benefit whomever you are called to work with, and I don’t use all of the same modalities with all of my clients. But I also know that I have been hesitant to voice some of my beliefs and intuitions that are more ‘out there’. Some of that is ok – they are not necessarily meant to be shared with everyone – but some has been from fear of being judged, and that can hold us back. So I support you owning your voice and good luck in your new practice, I’m sure it will benefit many people. Lisa

  13. July 21, 2019 10:23 pm

    Hi Anne, I’m glad it resonated and thanks for commenting.

  14. July 21, 2019 10:26 pm

    Thank you for commenting Alice, and yes we should all take pride in what is important to us – and hopefully our society will continue to value all voices and open and respectful dialog when there are differences. Lisa

  15. Anonymous permalink
    July 26, 2019 4:29 pm

    It occurs to me all the great spiritual teachers were considered ‘new age’ in their own times, adapting older practices and putting forth new interpretations. This is certainly true of Buddha and Jesus and many women mystics…they all took a lot of flak for it too…

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