THE BLOG

Spiritual Democracy: People Are Beautiful

06/04/2010 01:00 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Lee Schneider Communications director at Red Cup Agency. Minimalist. Writing on the intersection of culture and technology

My mother used to do yoga regularly, and once she tried Bikram, the kind of yoga where they dress in hot pants and heat up the room until your eyes melt. She didn't like the puddles of sweat and got up to leave in the middle of the class. The teacher was aghast.

"You can't leave! What about the toxins? You have to get the toxins out of your body!"

My mother responded, "Fuck the toxins."

I've always liked the sound of that. I know there are toxins in us, but we are not dirty. We don't need cleansing. We are not originally sinned. Most importantly, nobody's more pure than anybody else. Holier than thou doesn't work for me.

There are yoga classes in LA where you have to audition to get in. There are people out here on the Left Coast of Crazyland (to borrow a friend's coinage) who are telling me about conscious parenting classes, suggesting that the rest of us bumbling fools have been doing this parenting stuff with a can of warm beer in one hand and a burning cigarette in the other. (Some of us have.) The assumption is that the conscious people (and parents) are going to be ascending to a higher plane, while the rest of us will be consumed in an inconvenient fireball. ("Before you consume me in that fireball I need to check my email one more time.")

This creates a spiritual caste system. You have your vegans with the glassy, golden light in their eyes and you have the rest of us coffee-drinking, indulgent humans moping about in parking lots scratching off Lotto tickets. I believe it's a fantasy that people can be "saved." Saved from what? People are morally messy, lack focus in their day to day activities and eat too much candy. People are impure. The world resolutely lacks absolutes.

So how are we going to get better?

Scientists are documenting that we are soft-wired to feel empathy. If you feel joy or anger I can feel that with you, and the same neurons will light up in my brain as though I'm having that experience myself. Jeremy Rifkin wrote a 700-page book about this called The Empathic Civilization but you can look at an animation that tells the story in a couple of minutes. (Not only am I impure, I also like to save time.)

"Empathic moments are the most intensely alive experiences we ever have. We empathize with each others' struggles against death and for life. One acknowledges the whiff of death in another's frailties and vulnerabilities. No one ever empathizes with a perfect being."
-Jeremy Rifkin

Empathy means you become part of another's experience, of a family's, of a nation's, and a planet's. In the empathic world, there's no spiritual caste system, no holier than thou -- we're equals. If we extend the concept of empathy to its outermost then we can connect with anyone, and we can save the planet, too. I think that's a true spiritual democracy.

Photo credit: j_silla via Flickr and Creative Commons License.