How Not To Write a New Age Article

Ascension“My name is Matt, and I am a recovering new-age-aholic. It’s been several years since my last new age book.”

I stand and say this to much applause. “You go, Matt!” the audience shouts and hoots. They are as proud of me as I am of myself.

This is a fictional situation, of course, but sometimes I wish I had such a support group for all the twisted thoughts that have perverted my brain in my years delving into the mucky world of new age literature. It all started with “Snowboarding to Nirvana,” an amusing tale about a snowboarder who visits the Himalayas and meets a Buddhist monk who, though the monk has never snowboarded a day in his life, manages to shred down the steepest of cliffs like an expert. We soon find that the monk can levitate and can read minds like the ingredients off of soup cans. The book jacket proudly proclaims that the story is “based on true events.”

And like any gullible and searching person who reads these books, I really wanted to believe. I read the “Way of the Peaceful Warrior” and “The Celestine Prophecy” and “Earth” and all the books of Carlos Castenada, and a bunch of others. I was hooked like a whore on crack and I couldn’t stop.

I devoured books from the new age sections of book stores, you know, the section with the smiling, crescent sun surrounded by twinkling stars. And after years of voracious reading, I knew I hit rock bottom when one author told me, via channeled and friendly Pleidians, that menstrual blood was endowed with special life giving properties and could be used to fertilize plants.

Sperm too.

Recently, I read a biography of HP Lovecraft which said that he read a lot of new age literature too, but unlike me, he didn’t read them to get enlightened — he read them for their ideas. And, it’s true, there are some tremendously fascinating ideas in new age literature. Some of the best science fiction I have ever read was inside these new age pages. (They bill themselves, however, as non-fiction.) If you’re a writer and want some new themes to play with, try reading one of these texts armed with a highlighter.

All of this grew, you see, from an dissatisfaction with the traditional Jewish upbringing I had endured for eighteen odd years. It also developed from a childhood tendency toward “magical thinking,” which is essentially a form of self-hypnosis where you convince yourself something is true merely by wanting it badly enough. But new age books have a clever and deceptive trick up their sleeve. Most of their authors have a cursory understanding of religion and spirituality, probably from their childhood days spent daydreaming at sunday school, and thus they divulge feel good religious metaphors that spring from their unexamined subconscious like an angry school-kid with turrets.

I started getting suspicious when all these new age books and web sites raved on about “Ascension,” which I discovered much too slowly was a thinly veiled metaphor (though they take this event literally) of the Apocalypse and subsequent Rapture. Christ, in these books, is one of a series of “Ascended Masters,” enlightened beings, who have “perfected their souls” and come to our aid if we call on them. Just google the words “2012 ascension” and you’ll see how deep the rabbit-hole really goes. Notice how the Ascended Masters are all Jesus-haircutted white Europeans.

What unites all these new age books is a kind of feel-good spirituality which picks and chooses freely from the various world faiths only those elements that are in-line with their beliefs-du-jour. If something doesn’t fit, well then, make it up! Then, add a little creative flair and a knack for metaphor and — voila! — a new age paperback is born.

With keener perception, a lot more self-awareness, and some serious (and difficult) reading of much more respectable texts like the Bahagvad Gita, the Upanishads, the Talmud, the New Testament, the Prophets, Maimonides, and others, I have found that true spirituality takes work. Hard work. It is not an easily digestible nugget that is sweet and gooey on the outside and in. It is not a book of instant answers. It is a lifelong process.

But like any crack addict, sometimes I get an urge to return to my old ways.

I sometimes pick up “Inner Realm” magazine, a free new age magazine available in Hoboken. My blood races. I await the high! I’m going to find some juicy new nugget to sate my confused and spiritually-hungry ego. But, alas, the new-age hypnotic spell has long ago been broken, and I can only cringe when I read opening statements like: “In this world where technology has eclipsed our humanity, many of us are looking for a way to operate in our lives that fulfills our spiritual nature.”

Aaaarrrrggh! Such generic, metaphor-laden statements appeal to the (non-astute) reader’s subconscious in the same way that “support the troops” does. It kicks off a gestalt of powerful, ready-made emotions. (A preach to the choir, if you will.) I can see a reader going, “Yes, technology has eclipsed my humanity! Look at how busy we are and how many computers we use! I have no free time!” These types of statements appeal to the distraught and searching soul as an easy branch to latch onto, to connect with. But I would say such generic, sweeping statements are harmful because they are vague and misleading, and most of all disingenuous. Does technology automatically obfuscate humanity? Not in my opinion. But from reading that first line you might be inclined to believe it did. I think such statements are irresponsible and downright pernicious.

Humanity is where you make it, and nothing outside of you can alter that unless you allow it to.

Keep in mind that many new age readers are often extremely open-minded to the point of ineffable gullibility, and they (as I once did) accept generic statements as truth even if only a tiny smidgen of it resonates in their hearts. It’s the classic car-salesman technique: “You want to look good as you drive around the neighborhood, so why don’t you…”

One more example from the same issue: “A healer should never measure his or her successes by the outcome of the healing session.” But, if that is so, how are we to judge the efficacy of our healer? This reminds me of a Thoreau passage read at KGB by James Patrick Kelly where Thoreau accidentally sets fire to the woods and then takes no responsibility for it because “the fire, like him, is a part of nature.” This refusal to take responsibility is the ultimate hypocrisy coming from the new age crowd. I have seen this “logic” repeated a dozen times on internet newsgroups. E.g., one person predicted the return of some distant 10th planet which would supposedly wreak havoc on the earth and bring about the New Age. They gave dates and times. A calamitous warning in any belief system! Yet when the date came and went and nothing arrived and I called them out on it, they replied to me, saying, “I accept you for what you are. Yet you do not accept me. You attack me needlessly, and I refuse to respond to your negative energy.”

Thus, by retreating into their fantasy land of hodge-podge spirituality, they avoid ever taking responsibility for their actions.

The universe is profound, ineffable, and I salute those who attempt to bring meaning into the chaos. But, for crissakes, take some fucking responsibility. I finally took responsibility for my actions. I stopped reading bullshit new age books.

“My name is Matt, and I am a recovering new-age-aholic.”

2 Replies to “How Not To Write a New Age Article”

  1. Well, Matt, given that many twelve-step programs seem to involve alternately taking responsibility and giving up responsibility to God, I’d say you’re screwed. If God made you a new age addict, then that’s what you are.

    But perhaps there’s some mission to your madness, like a quest within a quest. Perhaps the answers of the universe CAN be read from a fortune cookie fortune, and perhaps they’re best tasted in the cookies themsleves. I don’t know. I just made that up to mess with your head.

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