Sociocultural adaptation (1981-1984)

The Quest for Spiritual Revitalization

The initial impetus for exploring new religious movements emanated from a yearning for an authentic spiritual experience. In 1983, I deferred my diploma in horticulture to engage in organic farming, a decision influenced by a burgeoning skepticism among a subset of students. This skepticism questioned the sustainability and ethical implications of conventional agricultural practices, particularly the use of pesticides, fertilizers, and machinery. My involvement in this movement was not merely ecological but also ideological, resonating with libertarian artistic principles. This led me to join the Australian WWOOFER association, thereby embarking on a journey of self-discovery.

Encounters with Social Saturation

Upon relocating from Far North Queensland to Brisbane, I found myself plunged into a kaleidoscope of subcultures—ranging from punk and hippie to subdued goth. This exposure destabilized my previously stable identity as a small-town, rural individual named Italo. The city of Brisbane was in a state of ideological flux, emerging from the somnolent decades of the Joe Bjelke-Petersen era. In alignment with this zeitgeist, I too underwent a nominal transformation, adopting a poetic variation of my middle name, Nicola. This identity shift was catalyzed by a life-altering rugby incident that resulted in a fractured upper spinal region, compelling me to wear a neck brace.

The Epiphany of Mindfulness

During this period of physical immobility, I delved into esoteric and numinous literature. A serendipitous encounter with a student practicing Theravada Buddhism introduced me to the concept of impermanence, which resonated deeply given my physical condition. This experience served as a gateway to my subsequent affiliations with various new religious movements.

Navigating Rapid Social Change

The dislocation from the wet tropics to other parts of Australia marked a significant shift in my life. My earlier identity, rooted in a bucolic setting where my father was an orchardist and my mother a primary school teacher, was suddenly juxtaposed against a backdrop of subcultures, academic rigor, Eastern meditation practices, and personal injuries. This period of rapid transformation was punctuated by a moment of revelation on the Gold Coast.

Embracing Raja Yoga: A Return to Authenticity

While cycling along the highway at Broadbeach, I stumbled upon a center offering a course in Raja Yoga. The ambiance of the center, coupled with its pedagogical approach, evoked a sense of authenticity that I found reminiscent of my earlier, simpler life. The cosmological elements of the course, particularly the concept of a cosmic cycle leading to a golden age, captivated my imagination. This led me to become an active member of the Brahma Kumaris, marking the commencement of my lifelong journey as a Raja Yogi.

In summary, my quest for authenticity has been a complex interplay of ecological activism, identity transformation, spiritual exploration, and sociocultural adaptation. Each phase has been instrumental in shaping my evolving understanding of self and society, guided by a constant yearning for an authentic spiritual experience.

Objective analysis of key turning points which influence an ethnographic artistic identity formation.

The author’s motivation to join the new religious movement was primarily driven by a search for authenticity and a means of revitalizing the spirit. They were seeking a genuine and transformative experience. Additionally, the author had deferred their diploma in horticulture to participate in the production of organic produce, which led to a growing unease within a small cohort of students about farming practices. This desire for radical change and activism also played a role in their decision to join the new religious movement. The author’s encounters with various sub-cultures and the rapid social change they experienced in Brisbane further contributed to their exploration of new religious movements.

The author encountered a plethora of subcultures in Brisbane, including Punks, hippies, and subdued Goths. These subcultures had a dizzying impact on the author’s sense of identity.

The significance of the author changing their name in reflection of the city’s libertarian ideals was a way for them to align themselves with the changing times and express their individualism. By updating their name to “ITALOZAZEN,” the author embraced the spirit of the rapidly transforming society of Brisbane and distanced themselves from their small town rural country ethnic identity. It was a symbolic gesture that represented their embrace of the libertarian ideals prevalent in the city at that time.

The author’s experiences in the new religious movement and in Brisbane played a significant role in shaping their identity as an artist. Joining the new religious movement provided the author with a sense of authenticity and revitalization, which influenced their search for meaningful experiences. This search for authenticity extended to their artistic pursuits, as they sought to express their individualism and explore different sub-cultures.

The diverse sub-cultures encountered in Brisbane, from punks to hippies, had a dizzying impact on the author and temporarily disrupted their sense of identity. This experience of floating free in a rapidly transforming society prompted the author to update their name to Italozazen, reflecting the changing times and their poetic inclinations.

Furthermore, the author’s engagement with philosophy, Eastern meditation techniques, and injury trauma during their time in the new religious movement contributed to their artistic development. These encounters expanded their understanding of different perspectives and ways of thinking, which likely influenced their artistic expression.

Overall, the author’s experiences in the new religious movement and in Brisbane provided them with a rich tapestry of influences, ideas, and encounters that shaped their identity as an artist.

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Whose a seeker?

A spiritual seeker profile.

Extract from the NEW AGE MOVEMENT by P Heelas.

Historical notes on Western seeker profiles. A social theory

The spiritual seeker profile within sub-cultures beautifully portrayed by Huysamans ‘in against nature’ (original 1884) and even more graphically in La-Bas (1891) seems to have primarily belonged to the cities. Bohemian, dandies, anarchists (such as Felix Feneon, with his belief in the essential goodness of human nature) and the alienated upper class who seek alternatives turning to esoteric or occultists.

Intellectual: spiritual seeker profile

Viennese intellectuals discussed by Jacques La Rider (1993) developed more theologically or philosophically informed versions of what Rider calls the contemporary rebirth of mysticism or ‘union of the self with God’ (p52)

Spiritual seeker biographical accounts

Two people both women and both of whom left the cities to go East, serve to illustrate the more series aspect of Finde-siecle sprituality. Alexandra David-Neel (1868-1969) became an anarchist at the age of nineteen. A freethinker and militant feminist, she went to London in 1888 where she became involved with Madam Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society (Blavatky herself was teaching in London), whilst back in Paris, she studied with Indologist Sylvain Liev; Edward Foucaux introduced her to the Tibetan Buddhist text and in the words of Stevphen Batchelor (1994) for spiritual inspiration she visited the Musee Guinet when images housed in its vault exerted for her a ‘vibration that neither Theosophists nor academics could provide’. (p309).

Spiritual seeker visits India establishes Auroville.

Mirra Alfassa (1878-1973) later became known simply ‘The Mother’ travelled from Paris in 1905 to work with the occultist Max Theon in Tlemoen, Algeria, ( Theon had been Grand master of the Hermetic brotherhood of Luxor or Light based in Egypt for the period 1873-1877 and had also found the Cosmic Movement) As Mirra reports ‘my return to the Divine came through Theon when I was told “the divine is within there… then at once I felt “yes this is it” ( cited by Sujatanahar 1989, p15) In 1920 The Mother settled permanently in India, joining forces with Sri Aurobindo to develop an Ashram in Pondiuchery, and more recently initiated Auroville, today one of the best known New Age Centres.

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Ashram typologies

A spiritual pod

Relation between spiritual (subjective) experience and the social (pod) experience.

The meditative states ( subjective experience) are contingent on the social setting (pod) but the social setting requires participants to be rule oriented and positive about their subjective experiences. There are three core features: yoga practices as interpersonal activity; spiritual pod as social structure; meditative states as inner subjective experiences.

Metaphor of the spiritual pod

The metaphor of a pod is one of being enclosed within a safe space that has become known as a new religious movement. However this analysis is psychological rather than purely social. Three category pertaining to the spiritual pod divides yoga groups into enclaves of ideas. These ideas are as follows:

  • Millinarianism in pursuit of the new age
  • Transcendentalism in pursuit of a form of being
  • yoga tantra in pursuit of a form of love

Spiritual Pod for Transcendentalists.

There are two styles of spiritual pods for transcendentalists. The first style is free flowing sense of place ashram. This type gives one or two programs per day. The anarchic outside area gives the ashram its pod like resonance. This encourages interest to spend time within the inner sanctum, getting away from the chaos outside, and sit in silence.

Ramana ashram
Circumscribing the Ramana shrine.

The second style is the pedagogical ashram. It is based on a typical school structure where there is a curriculum of activities (info blog). It was in 1996 that I spent 7 days out of a 14 day program at a Shivananda (Divine light society) ashram in Kerala. Once inside the confines if a participant leaves the enclosure they are deemed to have broken the retreat rules and must leave the program. However there were many rules which were purported to give a regime so to condition the subtle layer of the gross (conditional mind discussed in meditative states) to emerge.

Millinarianism in pursuit of the new age

This style of pod is world affirming in nature and tends to structure activities around preparation of its members to build up resilience to the outside world of modern life and competition. The Osho international ashram is a prime example of this kind of pod where the active stance is taken towards the world. There is an emphasis on being clever by token of having a keen sense of how the world at large impacts on the inner subjective experience. The pod social life therefor centres around the words of a master as foundational to success in life.

The yoga tantra spiritual pod.

This style of pod is in line with the new age movement category of accommodating the world. The binary notion of introversion verses extroversion is useful. The pod acts as a source of extroversion so as to project the persons sense of political agency whilst keeping the persons inner life insulated from the pressures of modern society competitive structures. So in a way the pod does up resilience but not through priming the members as in the affirmative group but by tuning the person to adapt through gradually accommodating sources of stress. The pod acts as a scaffold to build up personal identity so the meditative state can endure throughout life.

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Meditation states

Rarefied meditation states

Rarefied conscious states are distant from ordinary conscious states. This distinction is by token of mind control (body control) through one or another prescriptive process. When doing research into various yoga schools it became clear there were differences. The rarefied meditation states had properties based on three broad social categorical factors that linked to a yogic enclave. (blog under construction)

Transcendental rarefied states

Westerners who go to the Sri Ramana ashram tend towards a version of transcendentalism. Transcendentalists seek not truth conditionals ( such as if it is raining then there is water) but truth existential experiences. The methodology in essence is to move the mind away from the plethora of truth conditionals that fill ordinary walking conscious states. The behavioural correlates seem to vary based on the sort of practice. However a general observation is its less about doing things and more about reflective observation of non conditional states of consciousness, and therefore cultivating those rarefied states. So its quite distinct from the visionaries and occultists. The conscious intentional state is non-complex but interdependent peaceful interaction with the environment.

Visionary rarefied states.

This state of rarefied awareness is based on being within a New Religious Movement to create the conditions for a vision. My experience is based on four years of meditation with the BKs (biography page) from 1984 to 1989. The visionary aspect has multiple variations of possible truth conditionals based on the vision of paradise on earth or a other world. The variation that I am familiar with is that of the BK stages process. So an initial rarefied level is soul consciousness. Its a detached sense from social stratification into a highly sense based world being in the spiritual pod. then god consciousness which might give visions of paradise. The state is complex interdependent in formulation. It is based on multi levels of conceptual knowledge, along with a coherent internal ethical code, and a strict system of meditation practice.

Tantra rarefied states.

The focus on love as a practice within the followers indicates a form of tantra as with Mata Amritanandamayi. It was in 1996 that my research led me to the ashram near the sea in South India. What became evident was the extreme extent of devotion to the Devi as if it were a spiritual pod. The followers I met had an extraordinary physical sense of presence with Umma and waited to hug her in long lines for many hours. It was a very motherly experience which made it earthy and like being a child but also had elements of transcendence and vision.

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