Cultivate Your Spiritual Self during a Pandemic: Say “Goodbye” to TikTok and “Hello” to Cultural Relativism

Photo by Anuhea Nihipali

At first glance, the cultivation of the spiritual self using TikTok seems like astute and positive platform engagement during isolation, but there may be a misinformed, white-washed underbelly to these well-intended pursuits.

One’s early 20s should be filled with self discovery, making friends, and a sense of hope for the future. However, if you are (or know) an undergraduate student, you currently face an unprecedented set of compounding obstacles that restrict access to conventional socialization methods. It is no surprise that modern Americans, aching for mutual connection, now utilize their mobile devices far more than they watch live TV and, according to the New York Times, children’s screen time has increased immensely since the beginning of last year’s lockdown.

Whether providing financial help to Gen Zers, encouraging voter turnout, or transforming the music industry, no other social media platform’s impact, post-pandemic, compares to TikTok. While this app propagates mixed reviews about developmental concerns, data collecting, and was even at risk for a nationwide ban in August, young people are finding solace (perhaps even addiction) in the algorithm through various internet subcultures tailored to one’s “for you page”.

In addition to the concrete topics circulating the app, self proclaimed/multi-faith witches and spiritual communities, spouting their advice toward “self growth” and affinity for meditation and crystals, are gaining massive popularity. Buddhist principles, explained by often white and American teenagers, have TikTok captivated. 

To investigate, I spoke to Dr. Paul Condon, a SOU professor dedicated to researching meditation and compassion as it relates to psychology. Dr. Condon provided insights about the phenomena of Western-induced individualism, emerging first in the 19th century, within Asian religious practices. Condon’s research shows that through this lens, meditation is seen as a “self help framework”, where “individuals, through their own efforts, [can] remake themselves into more mindful, compassionate persons.” However, traditional buddhist practice encourages one “to train in all-inclusive care and compassion, and, then to learn to participate [in a spiritual community] by learning to extend that compassion.” 

What appears to be a rich way to connect to others during trying times actually may foster a form of spirituality ignited by capitalism, selfishness, and self isolating goals; the direct opposite of what young people seek.

Another integral aspect to spiritualism, and another popular #spirituality topic, is the integration of the higher self. “There is a sense that the deepest, or most natural level of consciousness, is one with the universe…and [this interpretation of the higher self] can get confused,” said Dr. Condon. As I asked him more about the topic, he revealed that “it may be helpful for people to tap into [their higher selves] with the right kind of support, but… [social media spaces] can reify spiritual narcissism,” and an overt “elevation of the self.” 

Boom. There we have it: An explanation for witchtok and #spirituality’s obsession with aesthetic, selling and collecting crystals, and a large emphasis on astral projection.

As spiritual and social upheaval continues into 2021, we must acknowledge decolonized versions of spirituality, in addition to compassion, to implement healthy tools for socially distanced growth. According to Condon’s research, Buddhist compassion practices may have the potential to combat people’s tendency to experience an “aversion to suffering, particularly when confronted with the suffering of people on a mass scale.” 

Young people must capitalize on the agency to pursue quality support systems for spiritual growth while indulging in BIPOC literature that actively deconstructs colonialist aspects to spiritual work, further corroborating anti-oppression movements. Dr. Condon emphasizes that “emotions generated by racism can be emotional territory for a lot of us, and meditative practices provide us with grounding to participate within those dialogues.”

Moving forward, Dr. Condon proposes that locating a spiritual teacher to ask rigorous and hard hitting questions while thinking critically about interpreted resources are beneficial to a spiritual path. He also suggests, for those itching for more screen time, to check out the “Courage of Care” website, a spiritual community dedicated to building a “loving, just, and liberated world.”

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