As a card carrying member of Generation Y I'd like to take a minute to speak to my fellow 80s and 90s kids. I've noticed that we may be in a bit of a crisis of consciousness. We are a fickle generation, the "me" generation they call us, and I think we tend to be all about ourselves in ways that don't serve us.
Okay, yes, we want to have it all. We see how our parents ended up working in careers they weren't passionate about, our grandparents selling out for security, and the Gen X'ers who are stuck in a strange space between hippie free-love and white-collar purgatory. We resolved as a collective entity to find our passion, display our creativity and change the world. Sounds good right?
We want to be creative and successful without the confines of old structural paradigms. We want meaning without belief or introspection. We want success without hard work, and we want happiness without hassle. We are socially focused, environmentally conscious and technologically obsessed.
We want social change without internal exploration. We want freedom without responsibility. I could spend any amount of time discussing and defending any of these dichotomies, but the one that strikes me as an underlying theme is the desire for meaning without belief or introspection.
I'm 31 years old and I teach college kids about gender, sexuality, social change and human relations. Even though it's not a standard part of my subject's curriculum I always introduce topics of self reflection and the exploration of the inner world and the spiritual world as a valid means of entry into their own dreams and aspirations. I find that they are at first hungry and eager to learn about themselves and their psychological motivations (they particularly love it when I teach them the Enneagram system), but don't want to spend the time actually delving into themselves and their motivations.
They love the system for its relational value to other people (I get the "what type goes best with what other type" question every semester), but the value of the system to act as a bridge into the deeper self is overlooked and even rejected. I asked why they were afraid of looking more deeply into the mysteries of themselves and one response summarized beautifully, "What's the point of going deeply into myself, I got the gist of it in 50 minutes."
Okay, we could say this because their in their early 20s and they're are meant to be moving out into the world and exploring relationships, sex, and social life. "Going in is for when you're old" one student proudly proclaimed. Still they're hungry for knowledge of how to navigate the inner world but lack the patience and resolve to go too deeply.
II would feel satisfied with the "age appropriate" response if I hadn't noticed that by the time they reach their late 20s and early 30s (like my peers) they still haven't taken the time to circle back around and go inside. We want self-realization and fulfillment as fast as we want our apps to download. We simply feel like we don't have the time. We don't want to spend resources to explore ourselves. Instead that we shouldn't spend time and money on psychology, mentorship, self help or spiritual exploration because we can do it for ourselves.
We have been spoiled by super fast download speeds and instant information. We want to know about buddhism, we read a Wikipedia article. We're interested in learning about personality styles we find free information on the internet and avoid tapping the resources of those who have studied these topics deeply. We want the overview and the summary, and we want it for free.
Here's where the crisis of identity for my generation becomes problematic. We can't expect deep meaning and fulfillment without the desire to look inside. We can't expect to gain fulfillment without the expenditure of some resources (time, energy, money, etc.) Spiritual exploration is free, but in the Eastern traditions the spiritual aspirant sacrificed themselves physically (yoga pennance, fasting, abstinence) because things like food and comfort were hot commodities. In the West we value time and money. There must be sacrifice to gain something whether it's our time or other resources we can't keep expecting to get something for nothing. Furthermore we have to be willing to accept guidance, something our generation is not great at.
Generationally we've become superficially desirous of meaning (looking the part) but not truly doing the work required to access the deeper parts of ourselves. We wander from job to job, interest to interest, career to career, relationship to relationship and website to website. If it's too hard, we move on. If it's too expensive we find it for free, and if it's too complex we boil it down. We've become a generation of rejection.
We've rejected the, "work where you can and build a financial foundation" philosophy of our grandparents, and realize the fundamental lie in the, "you can be anything you want if you get an education" edict our parents and teachers fed to us. We reject all former messages, which in some ways is the job of each generation, but what we've put in its place are cursory and lofty ideals that often serve or generational entitlement.
We have failed to realize that the search for meaning cannot come without work and sacrifice. It's also not "out there". Finding your passion isn't about traveling around instagramming your trip to India. You go to India to experience a spiritual atmosphere not to display your ethnic-savvy to your followers.
We may have all the right trendy books displayed on our bookshelf, read the right creative/inspirational or social justice blogs or news articles, take up social causes and fight for equality, all the while ignoring the inner person. If we can't read it in a 150 word status update or see it in an Instagram picture then it takes to long to explore, and it is...you guessed it: Rejected.
We reject religion because it's dogmatic, but instead engage in a superficial spirituality that emphasizes style over substance. We go to yoga classes, meditate, eat vegan and read philosophy thinking that this is spirituality.
We co-opted, commoditized and bastardized the spirituality of the east because tribal patterns are cool and buddha statues are iconic forgetting that those religious and spiritual traditions require honest depth and explorations. We think Ouija boards, tarot cards and buying quartz crystal lamps makes us spiritual. New age, maybe. Spiritual, eh...
We prefer commoditized, marketed (but not over-marketed) design friendly spirituality. We reject spiritual teachers and scoff at "self help", disparaging it as bunk, someone out to make a buck or cursory, but offer no real alternatives. Some of those criticisms are valid, but we tend to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water.
Some of us reject spirituality and religion because we believe we are rational, reasonable, intellectual and learned creatures who have risen above the superstition and emotion of our elders. We tout Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan and Nietzsche and proudly proclaim "God is Dead" in the name of bolstering our intellectual superiority to those who still believe in the fairy tale of God. All the while our generation boasts incredibly high rates of anxiety and depression. We've replaced the void of true spiritual exploration with iPhones, Twitter, Facebook or Game of Thrones.
Okay, so I've done a lot of complaining about us fickle Gen Y kids. What's my suggestion? As we continue to age and move out into the world we cannot afford to fix the social justices of the planet without first dealing with ourselves. We are seekers with no desire to find, and I both admire that about us and wonder what spiritual disservice we're doing to ourselves.
If we really want to be a progressive generation in my estimation we must develop holistically; body, mind, spirit and emotion. Stop co-opting religious and spiritual practices because it's trendy, and recognize our own entitlement and underlying beliefs about resource expenditure, instant gratification and intellectual arrogance. Allow mystery back into our lives. Balance our skepticism with wonder. Balance our intellect with emotion. Rediscover a love of the mysterious. Explore into our deeper motivations. Stop trading style for substance. Admit that sometimes we don't know. Allow guidance. Keep going further. Delve more deeply. Don't stop until you reach a place of internal resonance that moves beyond scratching the surface and satiating