Or rather, is it possible to sell spirituality?
So here’s the thing.
I initially thought that I wanted to own a retreat center in Peru. However, the longer I stayed in Peru and saw the overblown commercialization and marketing of ayahuasca and retreats, the less interested I became.
Everyone seems hellbent on constantly advertising their own retreat centers, tearing each other down, and talking about the plants in flowery language without acknowledging any of the risks.
I’m part of a few online groups on ayahuasca and plant dietas (shamanic retreats with medicinal plants), all of which are managed by foreigners who own retreat centers, mostly in Peru. And I can see how everything they post all leads back to…. the marketing and selling of their own retreat centers.
Marketing, in essence, is pushing an agenda on people. Owning a business previously in San Francisco, and now online, I’m just as guilty of playing into the game. I know how it works.
But when it comes to selling spirituality and truth, things get even more complicated.
Mainly because it is selling something that by its very definition cannot be sold.
So what happens when the selling and marketing of spirituality adds some sex to it?
Sex, after all, always sells.
Yesterday on Instagram, a New Age teacher I follow posted a photo of herself butterball-butt-naked, lying on a fallen tree trunk. She wrote a nice poem about nature, and ended with a link to her website to sign up for her class.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a prude. This woman is beautiful and has a great body to show off. Understanding how sexual energy is life force energy is important and is indeed part of the spiritual path.
But it’s a bit over the top, right? It’s clickbait. I usually like her content but this seemed beneath her, along the lines of a shady car salesman. Are we really supposed to believe that because she is sexy and naked, she has all the secrets of how to live a spiritual life?
There seem to be conflicting messages at play here. We want to own our sexuality, protect it and feel liberated. Using sex to market and advertise just feels outdated to me, especially in light of the #metoo movement.
On the flip side, is this any better or worse than the many photos I see of someone meditating with a plant, eyes closed and looking angelic? The very idea of taking a selfie while meditating, or doing yoga, is just absurd, completely contradicting the idea of “going within”.
These curated, picture-perfect images are just that: curated. They are not at all reflective of reality, walking the path, living in the moment.
What is even more complicated is that in the ayahuasca community, there are more reports of sexual assault or inappropriate behavior against women during ceremonies. Obviously this is wrong, dangerous and exploitative.
You know what else is exploitative? Seeing this as an opportunity, turning it around and hosting an all women retreat. Because who is really benefitting here? Is it the women on retreat, or the people choosing this as an advertising opportunity?
This also doesn’t take into account that female curanderas (healers) can just as easily take advantage of men. And not every single male curandero has committed sexual misconduct.
In my own personal experience, two women who considered themselves teachers tried to convince me that I needed a female teacher, and that they were the curandera I needed. It felt very manipulative. Having an all-women event may protect women from inappropriate and wanted attention from men. But it still is not a perfect solution, it’s only marketed and sold that way to vulnerable consumers.
I’ve also seen advertisements for all women ayahuasca ceremonies and retreats using sexual and provocative images of naked women. And these are run by women. Given that it is always recommended to abstain from sex and to clean your energy during ceremonies and retreats, I can’t help but think that they are sorely missing the point.
In another marketing twist, I saw another center quickly start representing themselves as safe and supportive after two recent suicides at ayahuasca centers. No suicides here, sign up!
A healer who really just wants to heal is not looking to be put on a pedestal. They don’t have time for social media arguments, or defending their views against online trolls. It’s when we, the consumers, put these healers on a pedestal, call them a master and shower them with praise and adulation, that things get messy.
The point I’m trying to make here is that the marketing of the plants and spirituality has gone overboard. It makes me really question who is running things, and what is their purpose.
Is it truly for spiritual advancement, or is it simply about money?