Sometimes life hurts. Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we dive deeply into darkness. Sometimes we fall.
Sometimes our lives line up so perfectly we can’t help but sense the hand of the divine helping us clear our paths and point us toward wonder. Other times we plan and work, make vision boards, bullet journal, dream journal, gratitude journal, think positive, dream big, and repeat affirmations until we finally take in the joyful chest-inflating breath of a goal welcomed.
Sometimes we can’t help but see the roles we’ve played our experiences, how we’ve drawn certain experiences into our own lives. We see how those experiences have impacted our lives for pleasure or pain, but almost always (if we are willing and able to work with them) for our growth.
Sometimes we do everything “right” and end up disappointed. Sometimes we float along without intention and land in the “right” places.
I’ve been aware of the Pick Up Artist (PUA) movement for several years. If you’re unfamiliar, I can tell you this: It’s a movement largely targeting lonely, awkward young men who feel disappointed by their lack of success with women and who are looking for strategies to help them get women to have sex with them. It relies on specific methods to approach and interact with women in order to keep them off balance, falsely gain their trust, or play against their insecurities. While many of the techniques PUAs espouse are not new, its momentum and spread have been facilitated by access to online forums.
While most of the strategies are abhorrently deceptive and unethical, a few of the strategies seem reasonable – strategies that attempt to weave psychology and human nature into a coherent approach that improves the chances of the PUA’s self-defined “success.” It’s not these more harmless strategies – these attempts to use awareness of human nature to attract potential partners into our lives – that I find gross and unethical. It’s the dehumanizing worldview in which these movements exist – a systemic positioning of sex as an object that can be attained through putting in the right combination of strategies and behaviors, reducing women to vending machines approached not with respect, in relationship, and with a spirit of reciprocity, but simply as deliverers of a specific outcome. Each effort is qualified as a success or a failure, and based not on the quality of the experience or the authenticity of the connection, but on whether or not a lonely guy’s strategic seduction gets him laid.
I put in the right methods, I get out the desired result which proves to myself and my peers that I am a success.
Last week, I read an article on the role of mindfulness in mental health treatment. Speaking to the overlap between Buddhist doctrine and psychotherapy techniques, the author writes: “This conflation has its roots in a prevalent assumption, namely, that bare observation-the essence of mindfulness practice-has no power or value unless it can somehow be harnessed to the attainment of a goal that serves the purposes of the ego.”
While the article was specific to Buddhism and psychotherapy, it touched on a greater trend among Western spiritual seekers and pursuers of personal growth – the trend toward vending machine spirituality, in which spiritual practice is engaged for its potential to bring about wealth, physical healing, or worldly success rather than for its inherent wisdom or for the gifts of depth, generosity, connection, and comfort it can provide.
Whatever we gain through reducing existence to the service of the will, we risk losing in compassion, discernment, and social awareness. Whatever we extract from its relational context we risk objectifying, minimizing, and misunderstanding.
This isn’t to say that women can’t be attracted to certain approaches when those approaches come from a place of genuine interest, unique humor, or authentic charisma, or that our thoughts don’t shape our realities, or that our mindfulness practices can’t create space in our lives for more joy and presence. Rather, I am suggesting that any of these practices, lifted out of their complex contexts and harnessed mechanistically to a singular, material desired outcome or object, can be overly simplistic in ways that can cause inadvertent harm or victim-blaming of self and others.
I’m suggesting that reality is complex. If the object of our affections doesn’t return our romantic interest, or if our unfailing belief in our ability to manifest what we desire doesn’t bring it about, or if our dedicated mindfulness practice doesn’t rid our lives of heartache or suffering, there can be any number of valid and authentic reasons why. In a world in which each of us has a degree of agency we necessarily influence each other’s realities, whether through shifting the direction of interpersonal relationships or navigation (willing, unwilling, or unconscious) of structurally oppressive systems.
A few weeks ago, a young man in my life who has studied PUA methods, after hearing me voice my disdain, asked sincerely, “What would you do if there was someone you were interested in? What would you say?” What if you were struggling and wanted relief and connection?
My advice, which I am trying to remember in many areas of my own life, spiritual, professional, and relational: To be myself. Be real. Be funny if that’s who I am in the moment, or confident or awkward or powerful or vulnerable. To be compassionate, to myself as well. The people who are my people – who can partner with me, support me, love me – will be drawn to my authenticity. When I’m rocking my life, I want to own it. And when I’m sad or lonely, I want to feel it, without judging myself or the feeling as bad, not enough, or unhelpful. To practice being grounded, mindful, and hopeful, not because I desire and expect perfection and its rewards, but because I am befriending and tending the divine within.
Christy Croft is a writer, teacher, and healer whose interfaith, personal spiritual practice is inspired by nature, informed by science, and grounded in compassion. She holds a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies with a focus on religion and social justice. She has facilitated safe and sacred space for over twenty years, as a suicide hotline counselor, doula, rape crisis companion, support group facilitator, minister, mentor, mother, and friend. Her research interests are ever-evolving and include spirituality, new religious movements, religiosity and popular culture, compassion, trauma, gender, sexuality, and intimacy, and she sometimes blogs at The Sacred Loom.
Categories: Popular Culture