I’m into my third full month of working for myself, trying to make a viable, just, and sustainable business practice through my work in intuitive readings and energy healing. The business side of this work is quite challenging for me. I’m really starting from square zero (if not square negative 1000). To put it mildly, it’s not a natural area of talent for me.
Consequently, I’m reading a number of books on marketing right now. One thing that keeps coming up again and again is the idea that marketing fundamentally is about selling a solution to someone who has a problem.*
On the surface this makes a good deal of sense.
For a grief counsellor the problem people have is that someone they love has died and our culture leaves us radically ill-equipped and ill-trained on how to grieve. Consequently, there are a great many people suffering as the result of being unable to constructively work through their natural grief at the death of a loved one. The skilled grief counsellor offers the remedy of creating a safe space of deep listening and compassion to help a person work through their grief. The benefits to doing so include a greater sense of peace, relief, and maturation for the person who goes through a process of healthy grieving with the aid of the skilled counsellor.
Many many examples could be thought of along those lines: e.g., physical trainers, naturopaths, IT consultants, business coaches, on and on. We could think of problems they respond to–lack of physical exercise, disease, inefficiencies due to poor technological design in a business, and the difficulty of starting and making successful a commercial venture.
But when I think of my work as an attempt, in some form or another, to bring the value of spirituality into contemporary life I’m left wondering….is spirituality a solution to a problem?
On one hand the answer seems quite obvious, well yes, yes it is. Or at least it’s an attempt to be a solution to a problem anyway.
The many facets of the great traditions of spiritual wisdom offer diverse and wonderful insights. For example, the spiritual traditions teach us about how to face our deaths and how to live with the deaths of others. Spiritual traditions teach us about the cycles of life (for example, see this extraordinary one).
The traditions of spiritual devotion teach us about how to maintain a connection with the Divine Lord. The meditative traditions teach us how to come to peace with our minds and to realize the mysterious, beautifully intimate nature of consciousness. The ethical strains of the wisdom traditions teach us how to love, forgive, have compassion, be kind, care about others as well as ourselves, and to protect life.
These approaches of the spiritual traditions bring a great deal of goodness, reduce suffering, and make the world brighter, more beautiful, and sane.
Still, implicit in all of those is the problematic inverse. If we don’t gain clear insight into the nature of minds through meditation, then we will be deluded. If we don’t find our connection to the Beloved Lord, our hearts will forever be restless. If we don’t live with compassion, mercy, love, and tenderness we will see a world of wanton violence, abject poverty, and the oppression of all forms of life.
So yes in one way spirituality is clearly a proposed solution to a set of problems.
Said differently, if spirituality is promoting mindfulness, then the problem is clearly mindlessness. If spirituality is promoting clear-seeing, then the problem is delusion. If spirituality promotes mercy, then the problem is cruelty.
We could even say that many spiritual traditions start with (as they see it) the major problem of all existence–a kind of meta or arch-problem. For Christianity it’s sin, for Buddhism it’s unenlightened reality, for The New Age it’s a state of low vibrational semiconsciousness, and for more animistic traditions it’s disconnection from the earth. The proposed solutions then constitute a state of complete reversal and goodness: the kingdom of God say, the world of complete Buddhahood, the ascended Age of Light, or the New Earth.
While I respect and honor this outlook, there’s something still nagging at me with this analysis. Something inside me feels like this problem-solution framework doesn’t go far enough or at least doesn’t cover another side of the spiritual traditions.
It’s not that I think the outlook of those traditions is unduly grim. Just about nothing could be further from the truth. I’m not naive about the endless, infinite amount of suffering that comes from living out of alignment with our soul purpose and spiritual natures. I’m quite conscious of the havoc these twin mistakes make: monetary, political, social, ethnic, ethical, psychological, emotional, physical, and in every other conceivable way.
So no, I’m not saying spirituality isn’t a solution to a problem because that’s too much of debbie-downer view.
It’s simply that it seems to me spirituality shouldn’t be pitched ONLY as a solution to a problem (or set of problems).Nor is as simple as leading with the presumed benefits rather than the problems because that’s just the other side of the same coin. The problem-solution or symptoms-benefits coin is itself only one part of a much bigger story, at least when it comes to spirituality (I don’t know if this applies in other contexts).
This complex is part of what makes marketing so hard for me. On one hand, I’m quite aware that the experts promote the problem-solution framework for a reason–namely it’s very effective. It’s time-tested and it works. People are often drawn far more by pain than by pleasure. I get it.
On the other hand, when it comes to spirituality always starting with a problem and a proposed solution subtly (and not so subtly in some cases) shifts the ground of spiritual practice. The problem-solution mindset shifts spirituality into a zone of suggesting we get something out of the path, when in fact maybe we always don’t and shouldn’t expect to.
Spiritual traditions, in one form or another and at some point or another, teach that the path is simply the path and is meant to be walked regardless of its effects in our lives. That’s old school I realize but I actually believe there’s a lot of truth in that perspective. Except, I’m not supposed to say this very thing. I’m not supposed to say something I deeply believe. Because, admittedly, it doesn’t sell.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not glorifying suffering. I’m not advocating a spiritual version of ‘no pain, no gain’, which is far too prevalent in many of the traditions. But what if there is something about the spiritual path that is simply true of us regardless of the effects? What if it’s not a solution to a problem but rather just an invitation, something that just is meant to be, that simply is what it is on its own terms?
What if it’s just something about our human inheritance? What if spirituality is actually in lots of way really useless and impractical, maybe even (according to some analyses) radically non-beneficial or even detrimental?
What if it makes life more complex not less?
How would I, er, market that exactly?
I suppose I could try to squeeze what I’m saying here back into the problem-solution framework and say that the problem is living in an unnatural way (with the spiritual path being assumed to the natural way of existence), we are living out of flow or so on. But I’m not sure that’s really what’s going on there. I realize I’m not being super articulate here. My thoughts on the matter aren’t super clear. I’m more hunching into the void on this one. Maybe others could give better voice to my intuition here–if so I’d be very appreciative.
I think we have to stand up for the ways in which the path we must walk will not necessarily fix problems or make our lives better. In some ways yes. In other ways, the spiritual path makes life become far more complex, ambiguous, and challenging.
* Maybe the word problem is er problematic for some. I also see terms like urgent needs and compelling desires–this is really still problem-solution just with different labels.