NEW AGE OR BUST

I will be busy for the next 2 weeks, and there will be no new post until on or before Friday 15th February

NEW AGE OR BUST

I don’t know about you, but I seriously struggle with anything and indeed anyone connected to what might broadly be termed New Age matters. Partly this is because, although the same thing, in another less definitive guise, existed over a hundred years ago, in the form of e.g. Theosophy and Madame Blavatsky, as well as Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophy, or the teachings of George Gurdieff, the New Age phenomenon, as the name suggests, is what appears to have come to the fore in the last 30 or 40 years. It thus seems like something that by its own designation, is on the lines of a contemporary fad or passing novelty. A reasonable enough refutation of that, is that at first glance the various beliefs and/or therapies might seem like very disparate, hence unconflatable things: Reiki, Crystals, Aura Therapy, Astrology, Reincarnation, Feng Hsui, I Ching Divination, Meditation, Homeopathy, and you can add a few more yourself ad lib. Some of these practices, of course, in different contexts have a respectable and very ancient pedigree that no one would sensibly scorn. Devout Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and others within a disciplined spiritual context, will practice meditation in order to get closer to a hoped-for transcendental fulfilment. Likewise, the discipline of meditation is often linked to the very old Hindu discipline of Yoga as expounded by Patanjali in his Yogasutras (compiled pre 400AD?). Not only does Yoga if practised properly help you to relax, it does powerful things for the heart and other organs, and your circulation, and is also one of the few remedial disciplines that can be done by people with mobility problems and even partial ill health. To that end, and alongside the Chinese discipline of acupuncture, it is often recommended by hard-headed doctors and even surgeons as being both empirically testable and provably beneficial.

It is worth emphasising what isn’t always obvious, that all New Age gnoses concern themselves primarily with that which is therapeutic, in the sense of their adherents, via the guidance of a practitioner or trained expert, will try to make themselves healthier (usually by alleviation of a specific symptom) and/or psychologically happier. In the main, the practitioners do not attempt verifiable or statistical confirmation of what they practice, but instead rely on anecdotal first-person response (I feel a lot better/I feel a bit better/ I don’t feel much better) and the fact their client keeps on coming back and giving their £50 cheque or card payment every visit. The practitioners might reasonably argue that the client keeps coming back, as they feel the benefit of their trained intervention, though it could also be argued they keep on coming back on the placebo model, that in wishful thinking terms they imagine they definitely feel a bit better, when a sugar pill bogus vitamin concoction might achieve the same improvement.

The problem is that any therapy or gnosis that only justifies itself by anecdotal response, is always at best bound to be trapped inside a loop of self-confirming and debatable improvement, or less often an obvious stasis, which might mean abandoning or switching the therapies. I once knew a highly educated middle-class Englishwoman, a gifted artist in her 60s, who had serious and chronic insomnia, despite the fact she had a long dead spiritual guru who she venerated, and also had a strong belief in astrology and Hindu-style reincarnation. Her postcode came within that of Glastonbury, Somerset, which even people who have never heard of Reiki know is the UK New Age capital. Her GP prescribed sleeping tablets for her, but she preferred to dose herself with antihistamines which she reckoned to be more effective and with less side effects. The antihistamines tended to work and knock her out to get a joyous 3 or 4 hours of unbroken sleep, but as she was frightened of becoming addicted to them, she would only take them on alternate nights. The nights she didn’t take them she invariably had no sleep. Her standard conversation then was the ins and outs of her sleeping patterns which she relayed to all her friends as if they were the most important thing in the world, and it never seemed to strike her that they might not be. She was very obviously trapped within a loop which she was unable to visualise from the inside, and she vehemently indeed angrily dismissed as nonsense that her Glastonbury postcode had anything to do with it. All of the ins and outs and nuances of her sleeplessness, were manifestly very significant to her, even though they changed their precise details from day to day, and were impossible to remember a week later. And as I say she was 60 years old, rather than 20 years old…

Now to my own unverifiable therapeutic anecdote, and I will admit right away there might just be a New Age explanation for it and no other. In a nutshell, yesterday I went into a supermarket in the island port, and bought myself a new plastic swing bin for my kitchen, and believe me it has changed my life more radically than any single purchase reasonably should. To clarify, my previous swing bin for kitchen refuse came from the same supermarket, it was the only one they had at the time, and it was one of the ugliest objects conceivable. It was of a standard Greek design, about 3-foot tall, and with a hinged lid and a footpress, but strikingly tubular, meaning it was vaguely reminiscent of a truncated post box that had weirdly got on the loose. What made it a singularly repulsive object was that it had an impressively shit brown lid and a lighter but also remarkably bleak shade of brown for the tubular body. It seemed the kind of thing they might have had in the kitchen of a severely unenlightened possibly punitive mental hospital circa 1952, in some particularly ugly and depressing northern UK town like Widnes or Skelmersdale or Runcorn or Ramsbottom. It cost me an extortionate 15 euros when I purchased it 2 years ago, and Lord knows what sort of affective paralysis took a hold of me that I suffered it for more than a day in my otherwise cheerful kitchen. Perhaps my subconscious and my ego and id and superego were more default Cumbrian curmudgeonly than I thought, and could not bear to waste the 15 euros. To put things in perspective, every time over the last 2 years I looked in that corner where it lived (or better sulked or fumed or glowered or voted for Brexit) I felt my spirits sink, and therefore more often than not I looked away and pretended my ugly kitchen bin did not exist.

Then yesterday, because no doubt at long last my prescient subconscious must have realised the 15 euros outlay had at last thoroughly expended itself, I went out with resolve to the same shop, even though not at all confident they would have a single swing bin, or if they did it would be squamous khaki green like the excrement of a sick budgerigar or a macaque. And yes, right enough, they only had the one bin, which again was hinged and tubular and reached up to the height of my belly button, but lo and behold it was a radiant and glorious white! with rapturous hints of the innocent, the angelic and the kindly, rather than the sullen and diabolic misanthrope who currently squatted in an unyielding pro Brexit sulk in my kitchen. I purchased this beaming white orphan of a bin immediately, for an outlandish 20 euros, but who cared about anything as transient as money as I brought it triumphantly home. Then I picked up my hideous little lodger tenant of 2 years, the glowering dung beetle/ Mistkafer, and took it along to the communal rubbish skip and let it do its joyous sulking there.

So, you ask, what might be the point of this swing bin anecdote of yours, in New Age, or in any other therapeutic terms? The fact is that although on some level I knew if I replaced the ugly bin with one less ugly, I would feel happier in my Kythnos kitchen, I was wholly unprepared for that revolutionary change, whereby the pristine heavenly whiteness of the new arrival would give a complete new dignity to that corner next to my back door. And not just a dignity, but whimsical and arch as it might sound, a measurable and confirmable happiness to that same corner. Previously with its leaden occupant, it had been a palpably unhappy and static little area, whereas now like one of Dickens’s always cheery Yuletide fires, it was suddenly a cheerful and a happy corner. A child would have understood as much, for in their story books, or in those ancient 40s and 50s Disney cartoons, they often see cupboards and furniture with smiling and benevolent faces. And more to the point, in an adult context, very evidently the precise way a person furnishes their rooms, or disposes their books on a shelf, or hangs their pictures on the walls, meaning the incalculable, infinitely minute and nuanced variations of one object set beside another, these are so to speak the cartography and the choreography of the human heart, or if you prefer (and I am not talking New Age now, even if you think I am) of the Eternal Soul. Meaning perhaps, an infinitely skilled practitioner might be able to diagnose a person’s happiness or unhappiness, by a close survey of the precise decoration of their sitting room or kitchen or bedroom, and make convenient suggestions as to how they might change the room, and indeed themselves, for the better.

And where better to start than with the place where, thanks to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, everything goes in the end, the rubbish bin?

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