The Unseen Harm of Western Spirituality

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The Unseen Harm of Western Spirituality

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My friends and I had agreed that 2019 was one of the worst years we had experienced. As 2020 rolled in, we made the resolution that this year was going to make up for the last. I devoted myself to spiritual study, enrolled in college to study clinical psychology and went to every concert, show and party that I could get myself to. I intended to live as hard and as fast as I possibly could. That all changed in March of that year when lockdown went into effect.
In late 2019 I had already lost much in my life. I was on my second failed marriage, homeless for the third time and was separated from my child, with no idea if or when I'd see her again. I took consolation in spirituality. I dug into Hindu mantras, Wiccan spellwork and Buddhist mindfulness practices without much concern of where they came from or their cultural contexts. I gave up on my spirituality because it didn't give any answers as to why life was becoming so difficult and didn't reconnect with my spirituality until the Black Lives Matter protests overtook Seattle.
I initially joined the protests because I wanted to be part of something bigger and meaningful. After several days of getting tear gassed and almost getting arrested, I was determined to figure out what the movement was really about. Being in lockdown gave me the time to research. I learned about the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and just how far reaching the consequences of it were. I learned how nearly every industry in the Western world has its roots in the slave trade, how racism is still alive and powerful today, how there are no easy solutions to this problem that was started hundreds of years ago. The hardest lessons were the ones I learned about myself.
My deep dive into spirituality didn't exist without some damage of its own. Much of the spellwork I had practiced had its own roots in various African traditions, many of which had been compiled and processed into a warped Westernized version of themselves. The vaguely Pagan practices I followed picked apart deities from various cultures to suit the needs of White people who couldn't care less what the actual practices were intended for. I had chanted those Hindu mantras without knowing their cultural context. I found it difficult to talk about my practices, not because I couldn't find a community that shared my values, but because I didn't understand what I was practicing or the harm I was doing by following a stripped down version of them. By failing to understand the cultural context of these practices, I wasn't honoring them and in turn, I wasn't honoring the people and cultures that they came from.
The Trans-Atlantic slave trade took more than just people from their homelands. It took and often destroyed entire cultures. That which didn't disappear became watered down to suit white tastes as entertainment or a fad. It removed all of the context from many spiritual practices, leaving the cultures they belonged to stripped of autonomy and history. In the modern day, this continues to be a problem. White people continue to consume other cultures for their own gain, often by adopting and reshaping them in a strange attempt at virtue signaling. We are nowhere near finding justice for all of the people that colonialism damaged. A large majority of nations are still considered developing, primarily due to colonialism and capitalism determining that these nations and their people only have value if they can provide something to first world nations. The road to reparation is a long one but it has to start by no longer centering white people and the developed nations and listening to those that have been hurt.

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This item was submitted on April 28, 2022 by Charlotte Rose using the form “Share Your Story” on the site “A Journal of the Plague Year”:

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