The Power of the New Spirituality: How to Live a Life of Compassion and Personal Fulfillment

The Power of the New Spirituality: How to Live a Life of Compassion and Personal Fulfillment

William Bloom
Wheaton: Quest, 2012. 258 pp., paper, $16.95.

While some of us may not have noticed, over recent decades a new model of spirituality has been creeping steadily into our culture. From amid the vast array of over-easy, and highly suspect, New Age concepts, something real and authentic has emerged. Easily surpassing the teachings of organized religions in scope and depth, the new spirituality is the New Age all grown up. In The Power of the New Spirituality: How to Live a Life of Compassion and Personal Fulfillment, William Bloom, one of Britain's leading mind-body-spirit teachers, distills what this new spirituality consists of, lists its implications for society, and teaches us how to participate.

Written in the form of a self-help manual, complete with exercises, the book describes how this new spirituality is arising out of spectacularly different circumstances from the cultural milieus in which our traditional religions were formed. With most of us in the Western world adequately fed and housed, we should be ready to move beyond mere security needs "the comfort, protection, and rules that earlier religions sought to supply" toward a spirituality based on "higher"-level issues such as universal love and the role personal fulfillment plays in meeting that end. With the perspective gleaned from spiritual teachings all over the world, we can now see what the various forms of spirituality have in common, regardless of cultural circumstance. But lest we fall subject to what Bloom calls spiritual materialism  self-help concepts promising simply to make people feel better, or be accused of promoting a spirituality with no values, we must see how the new spirituality not only includes the core values of all the world religions, but goes beyond them in several important ways. Examples include the green movement, the findings of developmental psychology, and a sense of personal responsibility for the vibrations we radiate into the universe.

Bloom describes three golden keys to the new spirituality.

1. Connection assumes the existence of a benevolent cosmos with which we might wish to connect. The new spirituality involves appreciating that each person will have his own best means of connection, his own style, and intensity of connection at which he is most comfortable.

2. Reflection is an honest attempt to get acquainted with ourselves as we really are. It helps us move from fear to love and enables us to step away from our monkey minds "which tend to make up stories to fill in knowledge gaps" toward a tolerance of ambiguity. It also helps us overcome resistance to growth and detach from desires and expectations.

3. Service involves working to release into freedom that which is trapped, becoming humble, truthful, and transparent about our psychological and spiritual challenges, and caring for the natural world. A very important aspect is the idea of vibrational service. If we recognize that we live in a vast field of energy, we must accept the ethical imperative to radiate a positive presence in the world wherever possible.

I was 100 percent in agreement with Bloom all the way up until the final chapter, where two concepts bothered me. In the first place, Bloom suggests breathing negative energy into ourselves: "Inhale some of this suffering and negativity . . . [It] is breathed into your heart and stomach regions, and held there . . . [until you] imagine this negative energy transforming into something benevolent" While I can appreciate the generosity in the idea of "absorbing" negative vibrations from others in distress, as a long-time Reiki practitioner I don't believe it is necessary to direct the energy we wish to get rid of to any particular place. Breathing it into ourselves sounds like a good way to invite cancer or some other illness. As long as we are choosing our own visualization exercises, why not just visualize the negativity dissipating into nothing?

In the second place, despite my best efforts to understand it, I still stumble over the spiritual practice of assuming personal responsibility for evils one did not directly cause. Bloom uses the example of a Dr. I.H. Len, an educational psychologist who is often called in to help solve a problem at a school. Before starting out, Dr. Len will consider ways in which he is somehow both connected to and responsible for the problem, and will start with "The Ho'oponopono Prayer of Apology," taken from the Polynesian shamanic tradition:

This is my responsibility.
I am sorry.
Forgive me.
Everything is love.
Thank you.

Though I am a huge fan of personal responsibility, and generally like the idea of unconditional responsibility, I just don't appreciate the value in apologizing and asking forgiveness for a problem one did not cause in a literal sense.

Despite these two minor points, I enthusiastically applaud Bloom's efforts to help us realize that all our traditional religions contain common wisdom and recognize the need for, and the presence of, a new spirituality that takes us beyond the limitations of these religions. Moreover, as he stresses, we must learn to distinguish this more vigorous new spirituality from overly easy and largely counterfeit New Age promises. The Power of the New Spirituality admirably meets all these ends.

Margaret Placentra Johnston

The reviewer is author of Faith beyond Belief: Stories of Good People Who Left Their Church Behind (Quest Books).