New Age Religion & Western Culture

NA Religion HanegraaffBelow is the index for my posts inspired by this excellent book:

New Age Religion and Western Culture
Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought

by Wouter J. Hanegraaff
State University of New York Press, 1998

This book is the first comprehensive analysis of New Age Religion and its historical backgrounds. The author examines New Age beliefs from the perspective of the original sources and his study of religions. He convincingly argues that the movement’s foundations were laid by western esoteric traditions during the Renaissance. Hanegraaff shows how the modern New Age movement emerged from the secularization of esoteric traditions during the nineteenth century.

s200_wouter.hanegraaffWouter Jacobus Hanegraaff (born 1961) is professor of History of Hermetic Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands. He served as the first President of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism from 2005 to 2013. Hanegraaff has authored 12 books and 46 academic papers on Western esotericism.

Here are my posts inspired by New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought–

Read my review and others on Amazon

Meditation & Mindfulness

meditator clipart, Pixabay CC0 1.0

Below is an index of my posts on Meditation and Mindfulness

Meditation, myths and fantasies


Scientific research, clinical trials

Phenomena, experiences

In media and popular culture

Alternatives to


Hacking The Flow

Eva-Lotta Lamm, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow 01, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Eva-Lotta Lamm, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow 01, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

“The flow” is a state of clarity and ecstasy that some say leads to ultimate contentment. Athletes get in “the Zone”, mystics into ecstasy, and artists in aesthetic rapture.

How do we achieve the flow state? What can we do to hack into it?

This article is based on a podcast from Stuff To Blow Your Mind

In his seminal work, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi outlines his theory that people are happiest when they are in a state of flow. In The Rise of Superman, author Steven Kotler explores the state of consciousness known as “flow” and how people are able to achieve flow states during everyday activities.

We may experience a state of flow anytime and anywhere, according to Csíkszentmihályi and Kotler, when four qualities and six conditions of flow are present.

Four Qualities of Flow

  1. A clear set of goals and rules

Games like chess or checkers games, rock climbing, guitar playing, or meditation practices all have clear sets of goals and rules. You know when you are slipping, falling, or reaching new heights as you scale the rock or play guitar.

  1. Self-contained universe with rituals

Nearly all activities have their own universe of special environment, materials, paraphernalia, and official or informal rituals of play or game. A rock climber has specific rope, rocks, rituals and techniques for climbing. A seasoned meditator has her special chair or posture to sit in, perhaps altar with incense, favorite mantras, and definite methods for focusing her mind during meditation practice.

  1. Immediate feedback

When you slip, fall, or ascend up a rock face you immediately get feedback. When you notice during your meditation practice that your mind wandered off your object of focus you get immediate feedback.

  1. Manageable challenge

The objective of the activity is challenging but attainable. You are required to stretch beyond what previously seemed possible.

premasagar, Ganga Flow, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0
premasagar, Ganga Flow, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

In addition to the above four qualities, there are six conditions for flow.

Six Conditions for Flow

  1. Complete involvement with your activity or act

You forget everything else.

  1. Sense of ecstasy or of being outside your everyday reality
  2. Great inner clarity

You know what needs to be done and when. It happens effortlessly.

  1. Confidence your activity is doable

Your skills are honed for your task.

  1. Sense of serenity, transcendence, or timelessness

You have no worries for the self. You have a feeling of being beyond your ego.

  1. Intrinsic motivation

Your activity itself becomes its own reward. You engage in the task for its own sake.

Maria Ly, rock climbing lei pi shan, yangshuo china, Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
Maria Ly, rock climbing lei pi shan, yangshuo china, Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

When all of the four qualities and six conditions of flow are present you are likely to experience an overwhelming sense of being “One” with your task or activity.

To hack into the flow all you need is to create the conditions and qualities of flow.

In the 1989 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Csíkszentmihályi published lab results showing that people experience flow states as much at work as during leisure. No matter where you are or what you may be doing, when the above four qualities and six conditions are present, you’ve hacked into the flow state.

Question for readers: Do you experience flow? What rituals are involved when you achieve a flow state?

This post was based on a podcast available at Stuff To Blow Your Mind: Gaming The Flow 

You also may want to check out my post The Rise of Superman: Finding Your Flow

Channeling “Higher Self”

Joan: I hear voices telling me what to do. They come from God.
Robert: They come from your imagination.
Joan: Of course. That is how the messages of God come to us.[1]

The Thirteenth principle is known as the sixth sense, through which the Infinite Intelligence may and will communicate voluntarily, without any effort from, or demands by, the individual [2].

Spiritual But Not “Religious”? Seeking Higher Self…

The New Age movement has impacted everyday society. Meditation has become mainstream. Large metropolitan cities, on the West Coast at least, have nearly as many yoga studios as coffee houses. In the US the “nones”, persons who say they are unaffiliated with any religion, comprise 20% of the population. And although a substantial minority of the unaffiliated consider themselves neither religious nor spiritual (42%), the majority describe themselves either as a religious person (18%) or as spiritual but not religious (37%) [3].

My earliest religious journey started inside Christianity. I was raised Catholic. During high school, I devoured Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill which is considered a New Age classic (but I didn’t know that at the time). In college, I discovered Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda, a Hindu yogi-mystic who merged East-West spirituality with Christianity. After college I was ordained a monk with Self-Realization Fellowship Monastic Order for 14 years. After leaving the SRF Monastic Order, my first 5 years I experimented in various New Age practices such as: energy healings, auras, psychics, astrology readings, Zen and Tao philosophy, and so on.

My journey into New Age religion was a fairly easy transition. I was able to incorporate, what I thought was the “best of” traditional Western Christianity and Eastern Mysticism, that merged into a holistic and inclusive ideology of the Higher Self [4]. (In another article, we will discuss how New Age includes a Philosophy of Holism, that assimilates science). The table below illustrates how my concepts of the Higher Self easily transitioned through phases of my “spiritual” journey.

“Higher Self”: Christianity To New Age

Higher Self Terms Typical Verses Typical Methods
Holy Spirit,
“The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41)
“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.”[5] (Saint Francis)
Contemplative Prayer,
Christ-disciple relationship
Atman (Self-realization) “That which pervades the entire body is indestructible.” (Bhagavad-Gita 2.17)
“Thy soul is not thy body; not thy eye, ear, nose, tongue, nor is it thy mind.” [6] (Buddha)
Yoga, meditation,
guru-disciple relationship
New Age Higher Self “Let your self be one with something beyond it”.[7] (A Course In Miracles)
“Every intention sets energy into motion, whether you are conscious of it or not”. (Gary Zukav, Seat of the Soul)
“Every thought is a tube, a channel through which the divine light is passing”.[8] (Yogananda)
Meditation, Intention


Of course, there are more examples how the concept of Higher Self transitions easily into New Age ideology. We use the term New Age “religion” in this article to mean the overarching philosophy or doctrine that may or may not be formally institutionalized. (Today, the concept of  “higher self” seems embedded in and permeated throughout modern culture, art, and spirituality). But, let’s move on and dive in to explore the foundation of New Age religion: channeling or articulated revelations.

Channeling New Age

Brooklyn – Coney Island: Deno’s Wonder Wheel photo by wallyg on Flick

In Part One of New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought [9] Hanegraaff says the foundation of New Age religion is channeling, or articulated revelations. He goes on to define these in terms and methods used by New Age religion and followers. The remainder of this article will highlight a few key points from Chapter One of Hanegraaff’s seminal book.

New Age and Western Culture

The foundational ideal of the New Age movement is focus on higher self or channeling of the universal intelligence or power. Every person can act as a channel for information from sources other than their normal selves. These sources could be, but not always, disincarnate beings: including entities such as ascended masters, spirit guides, angels, historical persons such as Jesus, Krishna, Saint Francis, God/The Supreme Source, the collective unconscious or Universal Mind, gods and goddesses of antiquity, spirits, devas, animals, and the channeler’s own “higher self”.

Meditators, channelers, or New Age practitioners say they receive “information” by means other than through their normal consciousness. Sometimes this information contains superior insight, but is not always associated with infallible direction. In all cases, the claim is a kind of higher intelligence, and not the normal mind or ego self, is what’s providing the information or inspiration. In some cases, but not all, the meditator or channeler enters into automatic writing, trance, ecstasy, spirit possession, or mediumship.

Two Types of “Spiritual” Revelations

Windows Molde Norway abstract #dailyshoot, photo by Leshaines123 on Flickr

New Age, like other religions, is primarily a religion of revelation. Personal intuition, insight, inspiration, and imagination may all be regarded as articulated revelations, but not always.

There are two types of revelations, intentional and spontaneous.

  1. Intentional revelations: Techniques, such as meditation, are meant to awaken natural intuitive abilities, by by-passing the control of rational “ego”, and allowing for the “stream of consciousness”. Some forms of automatic writing and conscious inspirations are examples.
  2. Spontaneous revelations: Hearing of inner voices and seeing inner visions, spontaneously, without intention or conscious application. Like Joan of Arc.

Typically, revelations come from practice of techniques that develop intuition and minimize rational control with or without the explicit goal of channeling. Through practice of techniques, such as meditation, the normal mind or self, say New Age proponents, can discover what happened to the Biblical Prophets, Muhammad, Buddha, yogis, and saints. Meditation, and other new age religious techniques, are in essence, a do-it-yourself method for accessing your Higher Self. New Age gurus, like Paramahansa Yogananda, claim methods, like yoga meditation, are the key to unlocking the inspiration behind all religion and tapping into your Higher Self.

via Tumblr photo by pds209 on Flickr

Coming Of the New Age?

This expose’ suggested that the concept of a “Higher Self” transitions easily from Christianity into New Age religion. Revelations seem to be the foundation of all religions. In Chapter One of Hanegraaff ‘s book, New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular, we highlighted channeling or articulated revelations as the major trend in New Age religions. Emphasis on personal revelation and practical methods, like meditation, seems to appeal to the “nones”, those unaffiliated with formal religion, and those who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious”. Though less structured and not united organizationally, New Age is indeed a growing religion within Western culture.


  • Did you convert from a traditional Western religion to New Age religion?
  • Do you believe Higher Self and articulated revelation is the foundation for New Age religion? What spiritual practices or methods do you use to access your higher self?
  • Does your “spiritual” community consider itself part of the New Age religious movement?

Leave your comments below. It’s quick and anonymous. And, explore further, by clicking the “Join” button. It’s quick and confidential. We’ll notify you, via private email, as new articles like this are ready for your exploration.

works cited
[1] G. B. Shaw, Saint Joan
[2] Think and Grow Rich,  Hill, Napoleon. Print.
[3] Pew Research Survey 2012, “Nones” On The Rise
[4] Higher Self: Religious Views, Wikipedia.
[5] Prayer of Saint Francis
[6] 500 BC Buddha, The Gospel. The Bodhisattva’s Search
[7] A Course In Miracles, p. 361
[8] Man’s Eternal Quest, Yogananda, Paramahansa. Self-Realization Fellowship. Ch 50
[9] New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought, Hanegraaff, Wouter J., Brill: Netherlands, 1996. Print.

The Rise of Superman: Finding Your Flow

What Sports and Science Says About Superconsciousness

From The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance
From The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance

Flow is an optimal state of consciousness, total absorption, says science journalist Steven Kotler about his new book The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance and author of West of Jesus: Surfing, Science and the Origin of Belief. In flow, Kotler says, you get so sucked totally into the task or moment at hand that everything else disappears from your consciousness. Sounds like meditation to me, or what the goal or aim of meditation is supposed to be. Not convinced? Read on and you will discover what scientists and Kotler call flow is essentially a transcendent state of consciousness.

Characteristics of the flow state, include:

Timelessness: You get lost in a “zone”. Hours pass. Time dilates. You may feel as though time stops, but you are aware and can link past, present, future into one. Your sense of self vanishes. Your inner critic goes away.

Peak performance: Body and mind unite effortlessly. Your performance in the flow state pushes your physical and mental boundaries beyond what you previously thought possible. You obtain a sense of liberation, freedom.

Heightened awareness: You are laser focused, effortlessly. You have super awareness and may experience the remnants as bliss or heightened awareness for several days after your flow experience.

The Voice (of intuition): In flow state, you hear a “voice”. That voice comes to you as thoughts, sounds, and images. These voices guide you, give you creative ideas, direct your actions effortlessly. Kotler shares in an interview with The Accidental Creative podcast, that when he was writing a book, he hit a wall and stopped writing for months. But later, when he resumed his writing he felt the last 200 pages were “dictated” to him in a flow state. Similar “dictation” appears with Neale Donald Walsch, author of Conversations with God. Walsch claims god converses and writes through him.

Neurochemistry and The Flow of Meditation

Dustin Ray  "D-Ray" - surfing-cayucos-ca-pier-1-2-07_056 AZHIAZIAM, photo by mikebaird on Flickr
Dustin Ray “D-Ray” – surfing-cayucos-ca-pier-1-2-07_056 AZHIAZIAM, photo by mikebaird on Flickr

Science can show the neurochemistry of “flow”. (You can learn about flow and the brain chemicals involved here). In ordinary consciousness, when you are not in the flow state, your brain uses it’s local area network or prefrontal cortex. This is the “logical” or standard operating system of the brain. In flow, our brain makes network connections beyond the prefrontal cortex, accesses unconscious data, makes novel links with memories, and then new pathways or insights emerge. Intuitions. Certain chemicals, like dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins, are released in the brain.

Scientists call the timelessness experienced by a person in flow states the “elongated now” or the “deep now”. Interestingly, mindfulness or focusing in the present moment is an experience sought by millions of modern Yogis, Buddhists, and New Agers.

The characteristics of “flow” fit nicely with descriptions of superconsciousness that Paramahansa Yogananda, a famous modern yogi, writes about in his Autobiography of a Yogi. The yogis seek heightened awareness or superconsciousness, hearing “the voice” of intuition, and experiencing a transcendent timeless bliss. There are uncanny similarities between the characteristics and neurochemistry of “flow” and what the yogis say they experience in meditation as superconsciousness, bliss, god or soul.

Supermen Flow With Superconsciousness

Wonder Woman 02, photo by bbaltimore on Flickr
Wonder Woman 02, photo by bbaltimore on Flickr

Yoga meditation may be one way to achieve flow states, or, as Yogananda calls it, superconsciousness. “Supermen–those who live in the superconscious state–use their intuition in everything they do”, wrote Yogananda. We also can experience intuition and the characteristics of “flow” or superconsciousness through the practice of sports, art, or work. It’s not what we do, but how we do it. (See my blog post on Hacking The Flow).

Questions for readers: Do you have rituals to cultivate your intuition or creativity? In moments of heightened awareness, do you “hear” an inner voice?

Works Cited

The Accidental Creative. Creativity, Innovation, and Doing Brilliant Work. Podcast: Steven Kotler on Achieving “Flow”, published, Mar 13, 2014. Web.

Art of Manliness Podcast Episode #58: Rise of Superman and Flow Hacking With Steven Kotler. 22 Feb 2014. Web.

Kotler, Steven. Website. 18 Mar 2014. Web.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. “How To Develop Creative Intuition”. Self-Realization Fellowship Lesson #77. Self-Realization Fellowship Lessons. Los Angeles: CA.