So you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but who says you can’t teach an old hippie a little new age monkey business? Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend the New Living Expo in San Francisco, and that’s just what I saw. In fact, there were students, searchers and non-conformists of all ages and backgrounds immersing themselves in the healing knowledge of every epoch, from the ancient to the avant-garde.
I had expected a kind of conference on sustainable goods, services and lifestyles, something more akin to my own profession, and while I did come across a number of such booths — like Real Goods of Hopland, CA, exhibiting and peddling their photovoltaic energy systems, and an entire natural foods court serving some of the freshest and most nourishing organic cuisine anywhere — the preponderance of vendors and exhibitors were there to provide some form of natural healing for minds, bodies, souls and communities.
Without a doubt, the highlight of the day’s events began around 11 a.m. when Democracy Now‘s Amy Goodman took the stage in the upstairs auditorium. Exalting the power of information and the need for independent media, she raced through issues of nuclear energy, capital punishment, Middle East uprisings and midwestern labor unions, stories of Frederick Douglas, Donald Rumsfeld, Organic Coffee and the Baby Beluga, hardly stopping for a breath and never losing the thread of her interwoven discourse on the challenges to civil liberties and reliable fact-finding in this era of network news sponsored by Boeing, Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics — chieftains of the Military Industrial Complex.
Meanwhile downstairs, the veritable smorgasbord of new age goods and services ranged from the hidden Truth behind “Japan’s biggest secret,” to a neighboring booth of latter day Rosicrucians. And who knew that the Rosicrucians had their own theme park in San Jose? Well they do, and it’s apparently home to the largest collection of ancient Egyptian ephemera west of the Mississippi. Yet they still strike me as a kind of good ol’ boy network for medieval mysticism. Not that I have a problem with that. I’m just sayin’.
Radiantly colorful booths full of fortune tellers, tarot readers and aura photographers also lined the pavilion. When one of them came up and asked when was the last time I’d spoken with a clairvoyant, it took all the will power I could muster not to respond with a sassy “You tell me!”
I was tempted to try out the dry saunas with infrared detox, but decided against placing myself in a zip up box, sealed up to my neck, amidst a sea of curious onlookers. By early afternoon the venue was just brimming with esoteric enthusiasts. Followers of Eckhart Tolle and readers of Rhonda Byrne were in full attendance. Practitioners of manifestation and the law of attraction invited us to try their new secret discipline: Imagercize.
And of course the convention center was beaming with new age bling, sparkling crystals to cure everything that ails you. Several experimental participants lay on crystal healing beds while a man in a white lab coat walked around and traced their bodies with a beam of light emitted from an impressive tool festooned with a variety of feathers and embellishments. I was speechless.
Most of these esoteric treatments — mind reading and laser light massage — I am able to take with a grain of Himalayan salt. In most cases I tend to accept the William James notion of pragmatism: if you believe in it and experience positive results, then it’s valid. If I’m skeptical however, then I might as well save my money.
I’m certain that many of these quasi-therapies, which run contrary to hard-headed science but are supported by volumes of anecdotal evidence, succeed because of the deep personal connection made between the healer and the subject. So much of the time, the most important and beneficial treatment you can receive is simply the undivided attention of a good listener who expresses a genuine interest in whatever it is that troubles you.
There was, however, one arena where I’m convinced that the healing properties were beyond dispute. A bountiful spread of fresh organic food stalls seemed to cover acres of showroom floor space. Dr. Falafal served up his chick pea delights, while I, armed with my reusable bamboo spork, indulged in a Samosa Chaat from Saint Amma‘s Kitchen. A smoothy from Juicy Lucy did not come cheap, but the concentration of nutrients in a compostable corn starch mug full of fresh squeezed organic fruit juice raced straight to my oxygen-craving brain cells.
Throughout the day, from every corner of the exposition center, nothing but happy, healthy faces radiated positive energy in all directions, so there’s no doubt in my universalistic Buddha mind, they must be doing something right.