‘The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!’
A friend recently told me of her dealings with a major publisher of self-help books. Originally with the group’s self-publishing arm, she received the exciting news they thought her book important enough to become one of their main titles.
There was the verbal carrot of a movie, a makeover, worldwide talks and the remoulding of her as a brand. It was a marketing man’s dream, and a human being’s nightmare. Not a human doing perhaps, which most of us seem to have become, but a human being.
She felt nauseous, tense, bullied and invaded by the agent at the end of the phone. Fortunately, a gifted and psychic person she saw into the future. It felt, she said, materially rich but numb. Wise and unusual, she was smart enough to see the devil’s bargain and refuse it.
Such a move is unthinkable to the modern mind, for the mind is seduced by the world and falls further into it, and rashly blinds itself to the price of success. The truth is the more we are tempted to do, the more we submit to the world’s demands to be someone, the more likely it is we will keep moving away from what we truly want.
For is it not the need to give and receive love, to live in that river of loving the great mystic poets talked of, that is the hidden and underlying motivation and desire of us all? And yet so often we take the long road home, spending lifetimes lost down worldly cul-de-sacs, drawn into the illusion again and again in our confusion.
And just like my friend’s offer it seemed sensible, desirable and plausible. It is always that way when the devil’s on your back. Her body, however, was informing her of the truth, that this was not her way; hers was the road less travelled. If her book sells, it will happen because the divine wills it, and it will feel right.
Luckily, I have always had a similar bodily response to the world’s enticements. There is just an inbuilt awareness that in this life there is another way. Recent events affirmed that for me after it was suggested in the summer I join a group and a project to help me promote my work.
I had misgivings but thought I would give it a go. It has been an interesting, beneficial experience – although not for any business gained as there is none, but for the experience of again seeing what happens to good human beings who get caught up in the world.
And, as you can see, on this page and others, I started down that road. Yet I witnessed people I care about overworked, stressed, angry, lapsing into dishonesty and justification, my own reactive anger and then acceptance and compassion. I was reminded of one of my favourite pieces on the addictive personality:
‘What is his basic trouble? Is he not really a self-seeker even when trying to be kind? Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages well? Is it not evident to all the rest of the players that these are the things he wants? And do not his actions make each of them wish to retaliate, snatching all they can get out of the show? Is he not, even in his best moments, a producer of confusion rather than harmony?’
I saw this acted out in front of me and am aware enough of such self-centredness in myself also to circumvent thoughts of retaliation. It is simply not the way. What I was being shown was that my own path does not lie in the world and that any ‘success’ I may or may not have comes only through keeping my motives pure.
Yesterday, as things would have it, I received the monthly newsletter from my spiritual teachers. It came in the middle of the time I had given myself to ponder my experience of marketing and those involved, during a bout of ill health. It confirmed what I already knew:
‘The Lord of this creation wants us to believe that it’s by our blood, sweat and tears that we will make our way through this world. That’s the world. God says, ‘I’m Loving. You’re Loving. Be Loving.
‘If you are listening to the world, you will answer the world’s call of working hard, of believing that it is supposed to be hard and difficult, but if you’re listening to God, it’s enjoy, learn, experience, have fun, create, love – it’s just a very different approach.
‘So, if you have the other pushing on you, look at that and say, ‘I’m going to let go of that. I’m not going to do the way of the world anymore.’
The divine is radical. We forget that. The devil’s bargain on the other hand, despite, or perhaps because of, the temptations, leaves people tired, dull and numb. I saw it in my colleagues who are no better or worse than I and who were caught, as many are now, in straddling two worlds.
We see it everywhere on Facebook and I have been caught in the same confusion myself: spiritual beings dealing in the world, using the world’s ways to sell something nobler. But is it really possible? Perhaps it is, and yet I wonder what happens to those spiritual teachers in the deepest sense who become products.
Our suffering is so unconscious we accept it is the price we have to pay. And we remain oblivious to the devil and his bargain, not aware of how we have been duped. Even the tiredness, irritability, anger etc does not alert us to the fact something is wrong – we are just so used to it.
In these sophisticated times we tend to dismiss talk of the devil and Satan as the province of fundamentalists. That’s a dangerous misunderstanding and indeed part of the plan that seduces us.
If you watch the redoubtable Bill Hicks on YouTube talking about marketing, the point is made with a satirist’s savage humour: ‘By the way, if anyone here is in advertising or marketing…kill yourself….There’s no rationalisation for what you do and you are Satan’s little helpers.’
Robert A Johnson, one of the great Jungians, brings Satan into his argument about the dangers of dealing with the world in his tale of a hard-working miller who is told by the devil: ‘For a fee (every satanic offer begins in this way) I will show you how to grind your grain with much less effort and much faster.’
The miller, intrigued of course as we all are, agrees to a bargain, in his eagerness not noticing the price he will later pay. But the price, it turns out, are the hands of his daughter, which the devil chops off and carries away.
What is shown here is how the feminine, the tender feeling part of ourselves, is violated by the mechanical masculine drive to success and how modern people make this deadly bargain all the time.
‘It is so deeply ingrained in our mentality,’ says Johnson, ‘that we fail to see it is a devil’s bargain in its modern form. This delusion is so common in our modern mentality that grocery shops are full of its language: two for the price of one, or a second one for only one cent, or one third more for the same price, or this is marked down from $7.99 to $4.99.’
As he says, this is not necessarily dangerous in the market place and we see it everywhere now, not least in the sort of internet marketing that I and others embarked upon. Yet, however unpalatable it is to think of ourselves in this way, Bill Hicks is right. Marketing is manipulation.
As Johnson says, the real danger comes when we trade an inner feeling, our honesty or integrity, for example, for an outer advantage. That is the devil’s bargain: we give away our true self, our values for something in the world.
It is particularly dangerous for those selling spirituality because it is more easily hidden and justified. We are all encouraged to give away free products, work on that sales funnel and so on, for the great god success. It can be hard to see the truth in such circumstances, which is why, like my friend at the beginning of this piece, I choose to listen to my feelings and how I see this mentality affecting those around me.
I recently saw this quote from The Dalai Lama:
The planet does not need more ‘successful’ people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds. It needs people to live well in their places. It needs people with moral courage willing to join the struggle to make the world habitable and humane and these qualities have little to do with ‘success’ as our culture is set.
Those of us who find ourselves wrestling with how best to get our message out there need to consider the issues carefully and be aware of the risks of losing both hands and hearts in the process.
For there is nothing particularly spiritual about that.