There is a lot of New Age buzz at wellness confabs, particularly at my favorite such gathering, the annual National Wellness Conference (NWC) at Stevens Point, WI. Alas, sessions focused on what have been described as REAL wellness skill areas are not given a lot of attention. Try to find speakers addressing the relationship of wellness to reason/critical thinking, exuberance and joy, art and well being, liberty and freedom, quality of life at the workplace, happiness, ethics, science appreciation and/or meaning and purpose. You won’t discover much.
While REAL wellness presentations have not been common at the NWC over the course of several decades, I can recall one notable exception. In 1993, Australian Grant Donovan and I presented a workshop entitled, Testing the Limits of Freedom of Speech at the National Wellness Conference. The focus was something we called The Wellness Orgasm. Nothing about that session, highly-rated by many but disturbing to a few, was New Age or spiritual.
Why is it that New Age spiritual topics are so much more appealing to the public than wellness? I wondered about this while reading a New York Times piece about the proliferation and commercial success of New Age approaches to life’s eternal questions. (See Mark Oppenheimer, “The Queen of the New Age,” New York Times Magazine, May 4, 2008.)
Many gurus have achieved dazzling success with New Age books and other products. These entrepreneurs consist of a variety of psychics, clairvoyants, holistic therapists, angel channelers, intuitives, affirmation producers, transcendental meditators, metaphysical tract writers, reflexologists, enema facilitators, forgiveness specialists, prayer healers, karmic interpreters, energy redistributing wand-wavers, Japanese water researchers, prayer cures, mystical Tao Te Ching experts and others hawking crystals, rocks, jewelry, belly dance and Goddess wear. Most of these characters are vastly more popular, highly regarded and richer than any wellness professional, unless you count the Pope as a wellness promoter.
The public loves this stuff. It’s profitable, it makes people happy, it offers hope and it’s not too challenging or hard to understand and no sweat is required to embrace a transcendental, quirky cure or quick fix. What a formula for success. Best of all, most of the above offerings can be advanced as part of the spirit element in mind/body dynamics. It’s spiritual, for god’s sake. What’s not to like about that? Not much, it seems. There might even be a higher power involved in some of this stuff. The effectiveness of the New Age menu is based not on results than can be proven, but rather on how many buy the products and claim they’ve been helped. Creds come from testimonials and revenues, not double blind or empirical indications of effectiveness over time.
Maybe wellness ideas don’t sufficiently meet the spiritual hunger needs of the folks who make Oprah Winfrey so popular. Maybe wellness ideas, concepts and lifestyles are not packaged properly to ever produce sales of 100 million dollars, as have the New Age product purveyors with their combined 6.5 million items sold. Basically, maybe healing simply has more innate or gut appeal than welling.
Maybe wellness is just too demanding. It probably takes more energy (and grief) to think critically, to become and stay fit, to deal rationally with problems and crises, to resist magical thinking, to overcome an invitation to hug and cry one’s way to relief from one crisis or another. In addition to New Age and metaphysical thinking, there are always supernatural options to the hard work of rational living. The alternatives to REAL wellness as a way to see things through seem rather compelling. No wonder there are so few sessions on the topic at wellness conferences – the audience wants to hear about mind/body and especially spirit ways to wellness.
Metaphysical wellness, including psychic work, clairvoyance and channeling otherworldly figures are just more attractive to most, it seems. They must have more appeal than dealing with the burdens of thinking through an array of personal actions – in well-designed, supportive environments as strategies for enhancing quality of life.
The New Age alternative is on a par with religions in dealing with many good questions for which there are many answers but no firm solutions, particularly such puzzles as how can I be happy, healthy and content with my lot – nearly all the time, if possible but anytime, if that’s the best I can hope for.
New Age works because its promoters do not hesitate to go where a wellness mindset can’t take anyone – to marketing a cure for whatever concerns you. And – a special bonus: They blend this cure whatever ails you offer with an added promise to make you happy and in tune with (a guru’s) solutions to the great existential issues. Mick Jagger might proclaim that you can’t always get what you want, but some in the New Age crowd believe you can manifest what you want – and you’ll feel good about it, no matter what happens.
It’s clever work and profitable for the New Age purveyor, if your ethics will permit it.
Where do you come down on all this? Are New Age thinking and REAL wellness compatible? Your ideas on these issues would be refreshing – I suspect my own inclinations are not so well concealed.
Be well. Look on the bright side.