The myth of gurus: Why blindly following them can be harmful

“Maybe if I could somehow lack enough, I’d reach whatever enlightenment I was searching for.”
(Photo sourced from: Pexels)
“Maybe if I could somehow lack enough, I’d reach whatever enlightenment I was searching for.” (Photo sourced from: Pexels)

Written by: TJ Simmons

Summers in Texas should be illegal. As children, we would hide indoors from the sun’s rays, fearful of their wrath. A good air conditioner made a person feel like a shaded, fanned prince in a desert oasis. In the summer of 2018, I fell into a temporary stage of asceticism, which the dictionary defines as “severe self-discipline and avoidance of all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons.” I didn’t yet know the word “asceticism,” but I was searching for something to fill an existential and spiritual hole. 

During that period of my life, I once tried to find enlightenment by spending a day eating only onions and drinking banana juice. It didn’t taste as bad as you might think, but I’d never recommend it to anyone. Maybe, if I could somehow lack enough, I’d reach whatever enlightenment I was searching for. 

To achieve this goal, I largely stuck to my Adventist sensibilities but sprinkled in some influences from Buddhism that I’d gleaned from a TV show. I sat outside for hours, meditating and stinking up the air with my abrasive onion and banana juice breath. One thorough study on chakras (energy centers located in the body) and several trips to the bathroom later, I hadn’t become enlightened, only a bit lighter. 

No one told me to drink the onion and banana juice. I’d seen a character in a show drink it as part of his journey to enlightenment. A guru told him to. 

What comes to mind when you think of a guru? Is it the stereotypical image of a malnourished, bald person with a long beard sitting crisscross-applesauce? Today’s gurus come in many shapes and sizes. Social media has made building a platform easier than ever. With that accessibility, anyone ⎯ for better or for worse ⎯ can be a guru.

Gwyneth Paltrow used to be in the news for her acting. In recent years, Paltrow’s name is associated with lifestyle advice. Her wellness website, “goop” (the lowercase “g” is intentional), provides access to supplements, fashion, makeup, furniture, books and more. In a recent interview on the podcast, “The Art of Being Well,” Paltrow said she enjoyed trying ozone therapy. Ozone therapy is when ozone gas is introduced to the body internally. 

Now, ozone is a good thing when it is high in the Earth’s atmosphere and protects us from the sun’s radiation. At our altitudes, excess ozone from cars and industrial gasses causes breathing problems and death. But the Paltrows of the world, in their unprofessional opinions, believe that ozone strengthens the immune system, reduces inflammation, improves circulation and stops infections. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) disagrees strongly, stating that ozone is toxic. The FDA doesn’t have any autographed merch to sell, but Paltrow does. Who do you believe?

The seemingly opposite kind of wellness influencer is Brian Johnson, also known as the “Liver King.” His brand champions a way of life called “ancestral living” that seeks to achieve better health, energy and mindset through eating copious amounts of raw meat. 

As the name “Liver King” suggests, Johnson loves parts of the animal that some Americans find undesirable: liver, bone marrow, heart, and brains. He claims  these foods can get rid of allergies, autoimmune diseases, eczema and fatigue. As you’ve probably guessed, you can buy supplements from his website, which is odd if the diet has everything you need.

Johnson is a comically large man. He looks as if someone put on an inflatable muscle suit and didn’t know when to stop using the air pump. In December of 2022, Liver King was exposed for taking $11,000 worth of steroids. In January of 2023, his (ex)fans sued him for $25 million. 

All over the internet, gurus sell snake oil to whomever is willing to hand them money. They appeal to people who have doubts about doctors, organized religion, the political system and anything that even smells like an institution. It’s okay to enjoy podcasts and books from whichever famous people you like, but consider before consuming. Don’t let the gurus sell you their onion and banana juice. If enlightenment exists, I doubt we’re meant to pay $40 a month for it.

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