Saturday, March 12, 2011

New Age Nonsense by Paul Edward Davies

[I have republished Paul Davies frank and clear account below as he expresses many of my arrived opinions of the New Age as a "recovering New Ager". To read Davies account on his blog click here.]

New Age Nonsense by Paul Edward Davies

In one of life’s nice little ironies, I seem now to be spending a lot of time dishing out advice that not so long ago – OK, a decade or so ago – I grandly ignored, thereby pushing my frail vessel onto the rocks of madness.

It’s the New Agers. Although I guess that, as charlatans and their gulls are as old as the hills, there is nothing particularly new about them. In particular, the way that one can get so easily stuck with exciting secondary effects of the spiritual path – the dazzling lights, the psychic side show – that we happily accept Fool’s Gold as if it were the real thing. And then, charging around on a “spiritual high” telling everyone else about it in a very excited fashion.

What happens, it seems, is we break out of our little minds and all the psychic stuff comes flooding in and, because it seems bigger and better and is laden with “spiritual” content, we can mistake it for the real thing. But any insight that might be there is invariably mixed up with all kinds of far-from-enlightened material stemming from unresolved conflicts in the unevolved parts of our psyches, the Shadow, primal myths and so on. And, at the centre of all this is good old small-mind Ego, who can get quite a kick out of all these weird and wonderful experiences.

The problem is that there is no authentic guidance. If I go to my local Zen or Tibetan Buddhist centre, I will be able to check out the lineage. Who’s running this show, who the teacher is, who taught him, who taught the teacher’s teacher and so on and so back. Often back to great masters such as Dogen or Jigmé Lingpa. Authentic lineage, authentic transmission offers some security to a would-be student. At the very least, the security of being in good spiritual company. At best, the confidence of joining a network with authentic spiritual masters.

But with the New Agers, there is little of this. Such guidance as there is comes from “discarnate” entities that are “channelled”. I don’t deny that truth can come through these visions and voices and channels (A Course in Miracles, for example). The problem is not the message, but the medium. There is no safeguard against muddle or malice. Unlike a living, flesh-and-blood teacher, a “discarnate” or “ascended” Master is experienced only within our Imagination. This means that even if he (or she or it) is an authentic spiritual entity, he still has to penetrate the Ego and its multiple strategies to keep the truth out.

“Interference” in the transmission is inevitable. And, at worst, the whole thing may be no more than a glorious ego trip. Because it is taking place within the Imagination, it is subject to Ego tricks and control. There is no Zen master with his stick to hit you or give a sharp (or gentle) word to correct you when you go off the track. These ones – the flesh and blood ones – you just can’t control. And they can be, from Ego’s point of view, horribly unpredictable and discomforting.

It’s a double trap, the New Age channelled masters thing. First, it is a lot easier because you don’t have the living teacher with his unpredictable tongue or stick. Second, because it is not-of-this-world, it seems to be more “spiritual”, coming from a higher plane (or “vibration” in New Age speak).

To be specific here. I recall hearing an authentic teacher, Sogyal Rinpoche, talking about a student of his who was suffering from anorexia and was convinced that he was telling her, via visions and dreams, not to eat. He told her face-to-face that she should ignore this stuff and that he was not telling her to starve herself. But she chose to believe the visions rather than the real teacher.

The problem is that, if we are not awake to this, the energy charge of a vision is so much stronger than something merely of this world. A discarnate master seems so much more “real” than a real, living one. So we give priority to what is merely a grandiose delusion.

Been there. Done that. And that’s why I take lithium!

In fact, the anorexic example is a good one. Because much of the New Age is body-hating. They are the dualistic heirs to gnostic ideas of the soul’s being imprisoned in matter. Spirit good, matter bad. They want to raise their vibrations to get out of a nasty, dirty, smelly, weak and sinful body. So get vibrating away and you may go “up” to be with ET and, if you are very lucky, JC himself!!

Actually, you just end up with Big E. The whole desire to go somewhere else – to higher realms, to purer levels of higher vibrations – this is not really a spiritual journey at all. Just the old Ego Trip in fancy dress.

The spiritual masters, east and west, have established procedures to testing the authenticity of voices, visions, channels and the like. St John of the Cross writes extensively about the need for a spiritual director to understand the “discernment of spirits”. And the warnings against getting distracted by voices and visions are almost as legion as the voices and visions themselves.

I write with some experience. I’ve had the visions and I’ve heard the voices. And I’ve written reams of “channelled” verbiage purporting to come from saints and angels. Frequent visitors to my hyperactive brain during this period of my life included Sophia (the archetypal goddess of Wisdom), King Solomon, the Archangel St. Michael and St. Francis of Assisi. There were some nuggets of wisdom there and pages and pages of drivel. Much of it, like many of the channelled books you can buy today, apocalyptic in tone and imagery with lots of stuff about final battles and all that. I could have edited it and published it as a New Age book – The Message of Sophia and Solomon, maybe. Fortunately – both for me and the world – I chose the wiser course of burning and binning the lot of it.

Because all this was happening at a time when my manic-depressive illness was enjoying one of its “up” periods. The channelled stuff was almost entirely written in a hyperactive state at four o’clock in the morning after only a few hours sleep. I was “hypomanic” for months and at times right on the border with psychosis. And, much as I would like to say that I was in some kind of rapturous, ecstatic state where the Divine was speaking through me, I have to accept that I was basically bonkers. The nuggets of wisdom that seemed so important and world-changing at the time were at best commonplace observations that had been put better many times before by people whose sanity could not be questioned.

So, this stuff can be dangerous. But beyond the risk of mental ill health, there are two other dangers that I see in the New Age Nonsense.

First, even if you don’t go mad, you get completely lost yourself as far as any spiritual or psychological development is concerned.. Second, your new-found beliefs and experiences start to cause harm to others. In the last few days, I ran into an example of each danger.

Example Nº 1. An artist who, in no more than a 20-minute conversation, divulged his mystical experiences with hallucinogenic herbs in the Amazon – standard altered-consciousness visions of exploding, expanding galaxies, otherworldly colours and sounds, sense of the immensity and unity of the cosmos, etc – along with past lives, crystals, chakras, channellings and so on and so on. A bit of theosophy here, Rosicrucianism there, plus some self-styled “gnosticism” thrown in with chunks of the real stuff from the East and mixed together with ample doses of New Age Narcissism. Oh, he talks with ETs too.

He was just revelling in the lights and excited about there being world upon world above ours, and beings – with whom he has communicated – who have many more dimensions than we do.

So he is trying to raise his vibrations. As they all do in the New Age. I said that I preferred to work on trying to bring other people’s vibrations down to my level. Which he didn’t entirely appreciate, but my humour isn’t to everyone’s taste. Just as well that I didn’t mention my idea to patent a New Age Vibrator™ - “insert in area of base chakra, switch on and watch your vibrations rise...”

His art – which seems to express a conflict between Light and Matter – is not bad at all. But he struck me as being lost, lost, lost in all this. But harmless as far as others are concerned.

Unlike, Example Nº 2. A woman who, when not trying to wash away her physical impurities by drinking her own piss, seems to think that any ancient form of medicine is in itself and its antiquity and Eastern-ness more valid than western medicine.

She is an advocate of the dangerous idea that illnesses of the body are caused by the mind or are even “karmic illnesses”. She believes, for instance, that some of the people with MS that she looks after as a nursing auxiliary have their illnesses because of abusing body/sexuality in a previous life. She presents this as being about where their energy in blocked (“energy” is a scientific word that, like “vibration”, the New Age loves to abuse). Message is: You abused your body then, so you can’t use your body now.

Not sure that you can do much with this “knowledge”. Well, you could tell your patients that they are suffering a nasty, terminal body-wasting disease because they abused their bodies in a previous existence. Or you could go around telling people not to abuse their bodies or they will come back with MS. Either of which gives “spirituality” a bad name.

But who benefits? Ah, that would be Mr/Ms Ego yet again. Getting off on having superior spiritual knowledge. And in all this, why single out an illness supposedly caused by sexual misconduct? Where is that coming from?

I’ll gave her a good Ken Wilber article on the subject, about the need to treat illness at each level (body, emotions, mind, spirit) in a way appropriate to that level. Yes there is a mind-matter link, but No it is nothing like what the New Agers say (you have cancer because of repressed anger, your are poor because of your “poverty mentality”, etc.)

Not sure she will buy it. Like a lot of well-meaning, seeking souls who have stumbled into the New Age, she prefers to waste time reading Alice Bailey’s channellings of “The Tibetan” talking in incoherent “esoteric” prose about hierarchies and correspondences – when there are plenty of real Tibetan masters around who can talk extremely coherently about real things.

But somehow a “channelled” teaching from an “ascended” master – an “adept of the second ray of love-wisdom” and “initiate of the 5th degree” in the case of Djwhal Khul (Bailey’s Tibetan) – is more convincing than a real, incarnate flesh-and-blood lama.

Watching Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire again rather brought home a lot of this. I simply delighted in the sheer joy the angel (Bruno Ganz) finds when finally leaving his pure, eternal, painless monochrome existence for the messy, full-colour, passion-and-pain life of a human being, where coffee tastes good and it is wonderful to rub your hands together to keep out the cold.

Yeah. I’ll tell that the New Age crew – time to wake up and taste the coffee.

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