Meet the “New Age” Stephen Colbert

In the kitchen of his Charleston, S.C. home, wearing a flower in his hair, life coach and entrepreneur JP Sears explains, in a recent video, that, “being gluten intolerant used to be limited only to those who are actually intolerant to gluten,” but that now anyone can try it as long as they have a “ravenous appetite for impossible standards and dogmatic feelings of victimization.” When I first watched “How to Become Gluten Intolerant,” just a day after its release, it had already racked up half a million views. As I write, the count is at 2.7 million, and growing.

Sears’ vacuous serenity is familiar to anyone who has been trapped in a conversation about gluten, chakras, and homemade kombucha. He captures the condescension and fuzzy logic of New Age grandstanding so well that, like all good satire, it could just as easily be the real thing.

Sears’ wildly popular YouTube series on the “Ultra Spiritual Life” focuses the individualistic, condescending, bourgeois elements of New Age culture; it’s all about looking spiritual by wearing hundred-dollar Lululemon pants and talking endlessly about intuition and energy. And it’s about inconsistencies, like this one from episode 3 “On How to Become a Vegetarian”:

As a spiritual seeker you don’t believe in death, [since] it’s only an illusion… But as a vegetarian you need to strategically forget this belief at times so you can get more emotionally charged at people who kill animals.

Were Sears simply a critic and comedian shattering New Age pieties his videos would still be clever and hilarious, but Sears is a full-time life coach whose work focuses on emotional healing. When Sears notes that he too is guilty of the behaviors he lampoons, he puts himself in the far more interesting tradition of those who criticize and question the beliefs they themselves hold.

I recently visited this New Age Stephen Colbert at his home in Charleston, South Carolina to find out, among other things, how he balances comic and spiritual concerns that appear to be at odds with one another.

Note: this interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What does it mean to be Ultra Spiritual?

Ultra Spiritual is the practice of looking spiritual and getting other people to notice how spiritual you look.

Does this reflect a cultural trend in contemporary American society?

It does. And I’ve been a part of that trend. Everything in the videos I’m guilty of in some way. Part of the human condition is we become very attached to practices and philosophies that work well for us. And when those practices and philosophies have reached their expiration date, we’re still attached to them.

The Ultra Spiritual video series is an invitation to go beyond the beliefs that have worked well for us as soon as they’ve stopped working well. You have a knee injury, break your leg, your crutch is going to help you really well for a while, but if you keep leaning on that crutch, eventually your leg will become weaker and weaker.

You satirize the way that Ultra Spiritual people can replace the anti-dogmatic pluralism of New Age with a kind of consumerist individualism. There’s a “truthiness” there, since they selectively appeal to religious and scientific facts. To push your metaphor further: if practices and philosophies necessarily become a crutch, doesn’t this just lead to the relativistic individualism you critique?

I love the wisdom of your question. Listening to what I’ve been saying you could ask, “Should we trash every tradition and belief every chance we get in the name of growth?” Well, no. That becomes a dogmatic practice in and of itself. The question [is whether a person] allows themselves to have a renewed perspective of their common traditional belief—if not then that’s where we’re challenged.

Ultra Spiritual Life highlights a version of “truthiness” more commonly found among liberals, including things like selective gluten intolerance and citing whatever science seems to support a vaguely spiritual worldview. How do Ultra Spiritual beliefs compare and contrast from those we’d see in the conservative right, and where do you stand in relation to that spectrum?

To me the Ultra Spiritual theme is the exact same, it’s just the opposite polarity—believing that [it’s] something greater when in fact the Ultra Spiritual theme is the same level of constriction, blind to the fact that we’re just like those who we think we’re better than. Our defiance keeps us at the same level. Me personally, I guess I do my best to be in the middle. Personally I love to question everything. For that matter I even question the idea, “Should we question everything,” but I do believe it works well for us to question everything and I do personally enjoy what for me is a token of humbleness: believing that our human minds are relative and we can’t comprehend what the truth is on any given matter.

How do you negotiate the line between comedy and critique?

It very much is a line I do try to be mindful of. Depending on a given person’s perspective, someone will always say, “JP you’re over the line.” Others will say, “You’ve got a lot of room to go before you’re over the line!” But of course I need to look at it through my perspective. The best I can say is I do my best to be mindful of it. I never intend to attack or criticize people. What I always intend to do is expose the shadow side that people are usually not aware of.

The type of comedy I enjoy is when the comedian delivers a line in such a way that it makes us become aware of something we previously weren’t aware of. The punch line is delivered and there’s this new perspective we’d never thought of before. I think that space in between is a very therapeutic dose of confusion, which evokes the emotional response, laughter being the emotional response, a form of weeping.

Bonus: An Interview with Ultra Spiritual JP Sears
Ultra Spiritual JP, is there an inherent conflict between religion and science?

There’s no scientific basis to back up science. The fundamentalist scientists haven’t been willing to prove how science is actually scientific, because of their dogmatic beliefs.

Wait, are you implying that science is a religion?

Science is perhaps the most religious religion. It’s the most fundamentalist. The Lord and savior of science is physics, so gravity is the deity that all religious practitioners of science worship.

Is there room in Ultra Spirituality for scientific discoveries?

Absolutely not. In fact, science is the enemy of true Ultra Spiritual growth. I’m personally working on techniques to disengage my attachment to gravity. The more influenced you are by gravity the more stuck in your religion of science you are, therefore the less ultra spiritual you are.

How does an Ultra Spiritual guru overcome gravity?

The power of positive thinking is a big part of it. A vision board is another part of it. If you have your vision board on the ground, you’re already defeated before you’ve started, as your vision board is being influenced by gravity. Seventeen hours of yoga per day to open up your energy system so that gravity has less to attach to is a big part of it as well. As well as no longer eating a meat-based diet or a plant-based diet, because all those foods are attached to the ground via gravity.

Isn’t there a contradiction there, in that you’re using a scientific term to justify not eating meat?

I don’t understand the question

Let’s shift gears, then. Smartphones are ubiquitous in contemporary society. Do they help or hinder Ultra Spiritual growth?

They’re an essential part of it. If you meditate, if you do yoga, and you don’t announce it over social media, then did you really meditate? Did you really do yoga? The answer is Absolutely Not. How are you going to get the benefits of yoga if you don’t announce it over social media? How are you going to announce it over social media if you don’t have a smart phone? And smartphones: they are helpful, but they are also limited. I’m working with some of my guides to develop what’s called a WisePhone, and it’s smarter than a smartphone.

What are some of the features of the WisePhone?

You won’t lose it anymore because it won’t be influenced by gravity, so it won’t fall down the cracks of your couch. It will also be able to tweet or send out pictures via Instagram of you doing yoga that you didn’t actually do. It can take a single frame of you doing a downward dog and overlay it onto any background setting of your choice. So the good news is that you can actually do less yoga in your life while getting more benefit of yoga in your life, with the WisePhone.

Will Ultra Spirituality ever replace science in the classroom?

No. Ultra Spirituality will replace the classroom. Learning in schools is very old school. With Ultra Spirituality, I teach it by not teaching it, and you learn it not by traditional learning in classrooms but by not learning it at all. So the need for classroom learning will go down when there’s nothing to learn, which is the Ultra Spiritual approach.

8 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *