My early experiences with the New Age
Before I heard the term New Age, my mother introduced me to many things I would later know as the New Age. I would look at her copy of the book, Yoga, Youth and Reincarnation by the journalist Jess Stern. It was about the Western yogini Marsha Moore and her unorthodox take on the Hindu school of Yoga.
In 1979, Moore disappeared. Her newsletter claimed she was in another dimension. Her body was found in the woods two years later. She had apparently taken an extremely large dose of ketamine, lost consciousness and died of hypothermia.
At 12 years old, my mother took me to psychic Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment. There we met an astrologer who told a story that to a 12 year old seemed wondrous of how one of her predictions saved her life.
My mom spoke in awe of the Findhorn Community in Scotland and how they grew these gigantic vegetable because they were “so in touch with nature”.
Coinage of the term New Age
The term New Age may have been coined in October 1965, when Sir George Trevelyan led a conference called “The Significance of the Group in the New Age”. In attendance was Peter Caddy, the founder of Findhorn.
An Experience with Alternative Healing
I have had depression since I was five years old. Therapy alone wasn’t enough. I was in my twenties and still in my crunchy granola phase, I didn’t want to take medications, so I dabbled in alternative medicine for a while. One modality that made me feel better was acupuncture. A friend of mine recommended an acupuncturist that she felt had done her a lot of good.
When I met with him, he said he no longer did acupuncture because he had found something better: a Vega Test machine and Roy Martina’s remedies. He would place something on the Vega Test’s platform, like a frozen dinner or one of the remedies, probe my finger and the meter on the machine would move and it would squeal. This supposedly told him things like the frozen was bad for me and that that remedy was the right one for me to take for the following week.
Of course, the machine being able to know something about the contents of a frozen dinner was preposterous. However some of the remedies did appear to affect my mood, so I figured as long as the remedies were doing something, I would play along with the finger probing . I studied what he did and found no consistency in meter movement and squeal sound for a good reading verses meter movement and squeal for a bad one. However in spite of the emotional reactions I seemed to have in response to the remedies, he didn’t successfully treat my condition. I am embarrassed by the amount of money I spent on this nonsense.
More Pseudo-science from the New Age
I have seen some pretty absurd claims made in the New Age. There is Dr. Masaru Emoto, who says our emotional “energy” changes the physical structure of water. He exposed liquid water to different words and then froze them. He said that positive words led to pleasant looking water crystals and negative words led to unattractive crystals.
Remember the old adage that “no two snowflakes are the same”? No two of Emoto’s crystals will be the same. This is because at the molecular level, the smooth sides of his containers are rough and this influences how the crystal forms.
How do you quantify the niceness and ugliness of crystals? If a large group of people were to view the same crystal would they all agree that it is ugly or would some think it is pretty?
New Age Spirituality: Doctrine
The New Age as a spiritual practice doesn’t have a founder or sacred texts. The doctrine is a mix of often misinterpreted ideas from Buddhism and the Hindu schools of Yoga and Vedanta, discredited scientific hypotheses (Lemuria for example), the occult, legends (Atlantis), etc. I am sure each New Age center has its own doctrine since the New Age is so eclectic.
New Age Spirituality: Practice
I have had a fair amount of exposure to New Age spirituality. However, I will focus on one experience because it was recent and still fresh in my mind.
I was looking for a meditation group. My friend and I attended what was being billed as a meditation at a New Age center. However, it was really a guided visualization. It was a pleasant experience of picturing in our minds the story the leader was telling.We travelled in our minds and went back in time. Eventually, we arrived in Lemuria* where a goddess gives you a gift. The gift is never identified so that your imagination could supply the specifics. The goddess tells you some more nice things and you travel back to the here and now. Some participants may gather some insight from the experience, however for most, I think it is just makes them feel good.
Afterwards, we shared our experiences. My friend, who has no guile and is non-violent, shared how he received a dagger from his goddess and proceeded to kill her! All of the New Agers in the room were trying to be non-judgmental and saying rather sheepishly things like, “I see” “That’s….inter..est…ing…” and “Thank you…for…shar..ing.”
They meet once a week for an hour to do this. I am not sure if they practice at home or not.
Next I compare New Age spirituality to Buddhism to show why I find it lacking.
*Lemuria, a hypothesized continent was discarded when the theory of continental drift was shown to be true. It is believed to be older than Atlantis and this somehow makes it more powerful.
New Age Spirituality Compared to Buddhism: Doctrine
Buddhism had a founder, Gautama Siddhartha who earned the title, Buddha, because of his spiritual awakening. The doctrine is known as a dharma or natural law (most Indian religions are considered dharmas). The Buddhist dharma (Buddhadharma) is expounded in a large collection of books. Some are the words of the Buddha and are called sutras. Others are by later teachers and are called shastras.
Although, there are some doctrinal disputes, all schools of Buddhism agree on the basics. Whether I talk to a Tibetan Lama or a Burmese monk, we can talk about the four noble truths and the eightfold path and everyone knows what is meant by them.
It is not clear to me what the fundamentals of New Age spirituality are. I suspect I would get different answers depending on who I speak to.
New Age Spirituality Compared to My Experience of Buddhist Practice:
It is not my intention to show off here by talking about my practice. Besides I don’t practice like this any more. What I am doing is showing how rigorous a serious Buddhist practice is.
I meditated an hour in the morning and an hour at night everyday. I attended weekly group practices and meditated with them for two hours. I use to attended three day Zen retreats where we meditated four times a day. Each sitting was anywhere from 1 1/2 hours to 2 1/2 hours long.
I once did a five day retreat, where we meditated several times a day for an hour or more. From there I entered a dark retreat where I spent either 2 or 3 days alone in total darkness.
In addition to the rigor of Buddhist practice, there are also practices for cultivating compassion, loving-kindness, morality, generosity, etc.
The New Age practices are nice, but seem to be more about feeling good than gaining insight.
©2016 Stephen L. Martin
Painting: J M W Turner Snow Storm–Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth