Many of us into metaphysics are frequently called upon by our “non-New Age” friends and acquaintances to explain ourselves and our metaphysical orientation to them. “What is metaphysics” “What is the ‘New Age?’” “What do you believe in?” “What makes your spirituality different?”
As those of us hard-core metaphysical types know, you can’t really say that there is any one set of beliefs that all “New Agers” are into. (As a matter of fact, the term “New Age” or “New Ager” is somewhat distasteful to many into metaphysics.) The New Age “movement” is a widely diversified conglomerate of subsets of ideas and explorations – so truly diversified that one could hardly ascribe the term “movement” to it, as this term connotes a cohesive, unified organization. One person into crystals and spirit guides, for example, may not be into UFO abduction phenomena. And those into paganism or magick may not necessarily break bread together well with those into angels or Christed energy.
So, what is it that links those of us into metaphysics and the New Age together? What are the common threads?
First of all, let’s look at the terms themselves, so that we may gain some insight into what we are identifying ourselves with.
“Metaphysics” is a term derived from the Greek: “meta” is a prefix meaning beyond or greater than and “physics” refers to that which is physical (or at least what we as a culture understand at the present time to be our physical reality). Thus, we can thank Greek for our term metaphysics – the realm of that which transcends physical reality.
The term “New Age,” on the other hand, does not have such a lengthy history or tradition. Ostensibly coined during the 60’s (1960’s, not the 19th or any other century prior to this one), the term “New Age” referred to the new astrological age we Earthlings were on the cusp of entering: the Age of Aquarius. (We had been in the Age of Pisces, we were told, for about 2000 years.)
On the face of it, it might appear that metaphysics and the New Age might not have anything intrinsically in common. However, one common link would appear to be that of spirituality. For example, little would seem to light up the eyes of those into metaphysics more than a discussion of those things spiritual. What transcends our so-called physical reality more than spirit?
With regard to the New Age, one hallmark of the transition from the Piscean to the Aquarian Age is the anticipated shift in consciousness, whether it is defined as a vibrational frequency shift precipitated by our approach to and entrance into the Photon Belt or is defined as an awakening and concurrent “raising of awareness” brought about by astrological influences and energies. Consciousness is also the stuff that dreams – and matters spiritual – are made of.
Thus, one link between metaphysics and the New Age “movement” would appear to be spirituality and consciousness – those topics deemed insubstantial and ephemeral, at least to the minds of those more pragmatic, empirical, and skeptical among us.
The above may represent somewhat of an oversimplification, but we may be hard-pressed to find a New Ager or someone into metaphysics who wasn’t basically pursuing some facet of spirituality, consciousness, or energy (a basic building block of reality and that which may be affected by consciousness and spirituality).
And this emphasis on spirituality and consciousness reflects an acknowledgment that we are, in essence, spiritual beings – and beings of pure energy, as consciousness is a form of energy – even though we are “in the body.” As Wayne Dyer says, “We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Or, as Deepak Chopra says, our bodies are contained within our consciousness, not our consciousness contained within our bodies.
Many people have attempted to compare traditional religion and metaphysics, often pitting one against the other, as if the two of them were mutually exclusive or antithetical. Interestingly, however, religion based on theism is, by definition, a part of metaphysics, as any concept of a deity in traditional Western religion is outside the purview of our three-dimensional reality.
Which leads us to another interesting hallmark of contemporary metaphysics and the “New Age:” the spirituality is experiential.
And some of the causative factors involved with this experiencing of spirituality are somewhat understandable.
Many have theorized that the current interest in spirituality and metaphysics may in part be viewed as a reaction against the Age of Reason and the perceived pursuant overemphasis on the strictly material and empirical – that there is a longing for the transcendently spiritual, instead of feeling bogged down in a strict immersion in the physical. I. e., after a couple of centuries of emphasis on the empirically provable and concrete, there is a longing
for the spiritual as an antidote.
Just as the Age of Reason spawned a golden age for science and intellect, Western religions became more oriented toward beliefs and religious practices that grew out of and drew upon the left brain – i. e., in religious beliefs and practices, we stayed in our heads.
At the same time, Western religions have traditionally encouraged adherents to cede control to the church and its authority, rather than encouraging believers to take individual responsibility for their own spirituality. This approach worked for centuries until the advent of more public education and the resultant higher education of the populace. Education leads to empowerment.
Small wonder, then, that New Agers and those into metaphysics want to experience their spirituality, so that they may feel it, rather than simply think it, and that they want to have some control over their practice or manifestation of it, rather than strictly going through an external intermediary. This shift to a feeling of control over one’s expression of spirituality also reflects the trend towards personal responsibility, as well as personal empowerment.
Experiential spirituality may be expressed in various ways: some learn to meditate to tap into the divine; some are sensitized to the divine in nature and animals; some become healers or receive healing work; some seek to tap into the divine and receive guidance; etc. The list goes on and on….
Experiential spirituality shifts spirituality from something “out there,” impersonal, and external, to an internalization of the divine. Aside from this making more people mystics because they transcend the physical in their spiritual explorations, it also represents a democritization of the spiritual, whereby we take control of our spirituality, get out of being exclusively in our heads and move into our hearts (and hopefully then move towards linking our hearts and our minds), and take personal responsibility for understanding our personal beliefs and acting accordingly. (Another interesting reflection of the trend in our world toward democracy….)
It is through experiential spirituality that we truly come to know what we believe and what we resonate with. It is a knowing akin to gnosis, where what we experience becomes a knowing that is a true knowing – because we’ve been there. Which is quite different from believing in ism’s , creeds, and tenets we’ve been told by external agents or authorities are true, but that we haven’t truly experienced.
So, “what is metaphysics?” “What are you into?” The next time someone asks us where we’re coming from with our “metaphysical stuff,” maybe the notion of experiential spirituality and real gnosis may be some grist for our mill in grinding out our answer.
First published in the March 1996 issue of “Innerchange.”