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The 2012/Aliens/Consciousness Movement: a potential New-Age Tea Party? PDF Print E-mail
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by Jan Lundberg   
29 May 2012
Image I'm gaga for Gaia, which I don't expect many modern consumers to relate to. So it's harder for me to point a finger at anyone believing in scientifically unproven ideas. But I draw a line between spiritual experiences and claims such as "aliens are among us and are here to raise humanity's consciousness because it's 2012."

Such were my biases when I covered the New Living Expo in San Francisco, Calif., April 27-29 this year at the massive Concourse Exhibition Center. It was a convivial big-tent experience of happy, positive beings, with a dash of sound, radical activism. A boost of interest no doubt materialized from this year's being the Mayan Calendar's stopping point, bringing on fear for some and for others greater faith in a blossoming of cosmic consciousness.

The San Francisco Weekly describes The New Living Expo, formerly known as the Whole Life Expo, as "a signature event in the Bay Area. It brings together pioneering speakers, lecturers, and exhibitors specializing in health, healing, relationships, higher consciousness, and sustainable living." Many of those attracted to such a convergence may, however, be seekers of feel-good writing and talking rather than rigorous inquiry as a basis for changing the real world.

The question for some attendees must have been whether the folks back home could really get behind much of the vision or message of the Expo. To consider one representative speaker, Laura Eisenhower, the greatgranddaughter of Dwight David Eisenhower, she was billed as a Cosmic Mythologist, Global Alchemist and Clairvoyant Healer. We all might do well to be somewhat open about such matters. But when Eisenhower kept saying in her talk that she was repeatedly invited to Mars, and she refers to the "lizard-being elite" of non-humans secretly running the world, with no-one in the audience batting an eye, how can her other, more activist-oriented statements and self-help advice become palatable for a larger audience?

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ad: 2012 experience in comfort (NewLivingExpo.com)

Truth be told, people are for the most part so scared in today's crisis-ridden world, they need to find "an answer" to believe in and dwell on a happy outcome. Petrocollapse and climate disaster are for wrong-thinking negativists, according to many New Agers as well as more conventional types infused with patriotism, faith in technology and fundamentalist monotheistic religion. While climate change and peak oil are somewhat understood by many today, these facts are often gently and gaily swept aside by 2012 New Agers because, as one told me, peak oilers' concerns over resource limits are "a reflection of (my) negative generation" (I'm pushing 60), and "global warming is not such a big deal because the whole universe is warming anyway."

Disagreement over irrationality or happy-thoughts is a deal breaker, but not for most of the mainstream when most are content to get along as bill-paying spectator-sport fans and bar-hopping TGIF revelers. To bring up among 2012 New Agers such inconvenient news as melting ice caps is to commit the sin of "manifesting" what we should not want. So George Harrison's stinging singing on Think For Yourself comes to my mind, "About the good things that we can have If we close our eyes."

Today's New Agers mirror to some extent the common Tea Party/Republican denial of human-caused global warming and any limits on critical resources. But almost all progressives -- most liberals and almost all radical leftists -- have dipped into the magic pool of post-organized religion, unconventional beliefs. For example, paganism verges on being alive and well, but the celebrants don't go for the "Mars" and "Lizard-being" stuff or even the 2012 Mayan "prophesy" of their "end-of-the-world" calendar. (In reality, that calendar happens to stop at the end of a cycle. That's a cycle, meaning a beginning of another cycle starts in 2012, and is not the end of time.)

Some big-name New Agers, including Greg Braden ("we can each live to 900 years old") and Terry Cole-Whittaker ("The Three Steps of Divine Magic"), gave the thousands of attendees confirmation that there are others like them whose minds are (appallingly?) open. Yet, to be fair, there is much truth in both the body of evidence they cite as well as in more information being sought. After all, the Calvinistic and guilt-ridden mindset devised to keep people dumbed down has been widely questioned since the consciousness-raised 1960s. The New Age movement was an outgrowth of the '60s, particularly as the Me Generation's penchant for "self-improvement" overtook the ebbing peace movement and the faded, radical/hippie rebellion against "plastic society."

Accumulating esoteric knowledge, enjoying special water and vegan food, and benefiting from the healing touch from body workers, are eminently fine attributes of a conscious lifestyle. The vendors at the New Living Expo offered many uplifting products and services. Some warned of "dirty electricity" and sold gadgets to cancel it out, while others offered bee stings as medicine. While many of the booths were informational or advocacy-oriented, and many of the talks attracted all walks of life, this whole crowd is mostly into consuming -- more consciously, but not in order to pursue low-consumptive, simple living. A diet of therapeutic consultations, luxury garments and crystal jewelry, organic wines, New Age books and videos is mainly for the rich.

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Gallery of top New Age luminaries

As distinct from the hundreds of millions of oblivious consumers who have no requirement to refrain from using fossil fuels, such as by generating plastic trash, the New Ager and the radically aware feel compelled to look for the truth and take some action. But this subset of society is for all intents and purposes a massively consuming crowd.

Many of them feel special for having enlightened tastes and interests. It's a good thing they do, in many ways, as they stumble upon the need to cut back on stress, avoid radiation, and question government propaganda. Yet, the imperative to continue to make money and enjoy their consuming is so strong that they block life-changing action such as going car-free.

Why do Twenty-Twelving New Agers sow disinformation -- "You can not only stop aging but also reverse it" -- when they could limit themselves to a consensus on proven facts? An answer came to me from another plane, channeled from a more cynical dimension:

People are becoming more desperate. They are ruled by shit. They will not long tolerate absurd injustices such as privatized or paved landscapes of inaccessibility where they cannot grow free food.

The unnatural way of living brought on by overcrowding and industrialization is disintegrating. But people want an easy way out. Some go for New Age fantasies of painless liberation involving high-tech consuming.

How much the New Agers are active in social-justice or environmental campaigns depends on the New Ager or the activist. There were several in attendance at the New Living Expo, attracted in part by John Perkins and Bill Ayers. Perkins wrote Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, and Ayers is well-known for radical and militant anti-war strategies dating from the 1960s' Students for a Democratic Society. Now he's a talented lecturer quoting Martin Luther King, Jr. and pointing out that Detroit has depopulated and become a bicycle economy.

These presentations indicate that the average New Living attendee is often a wild mix: likely concerned about pollution or overpopulation, while maintaining that positive thinking and the wisdom of ancients or aliens can deliver us all from negative forces such as fresh water shortage -- because it's 2012. And, if you're not Apocalyptic, didn't the ancient Mayans foresee a New Age now beginning?

Some of the ideas overlap with those held by hard-core ecological activists who stay away from things like New Living Expos. "The Rights of Nature" legislative movement was present at this last Expo, even if some proponents believe in multiple, benign planets reachable through our future space ships. This does not quite lend itself to taking utmost care of our one and only Mother Earth.

A potpourri of diverse, contradictory ideas and pseudo-science is to be expected from our experimental society. When it surfaces in educated circles, it is regarded usually as entertainment during socializing. A New Ager's education is usually self-education when matters of quantum physics are touched upon as proof for interesting assertions. This tendency works for those enjoying their charismatic roles promoting a version of New Age philosophy. Greg Braden, for example, provides cool information on the serenity and compassion of elderly Tibetan nuns, whom he has photographed during his awesome adventures to intriguing lands. His kind of dynamic presentation and mix of facts helps convince members of a paying audience that the normal lifespan of a human can and should be "900 years."

Questions for the Father of New Living Expo

The owner of the New Living Expo, Ken Kaufman, formerly produced the Whole Life Expo which was for years a "green" gathering for technology and sustainable living -- the two must go together, to most attendees. I wanted his perspective on this movement he facilitates, so I spoke with him briefly about his April Expo. In the end we could not do an interview, when he said he could not wrap his mind around my questions. He said he had faith that my report would be perfect. It is exactly that positive attitude that brings together the conscious, new-living citizenry, and I was grateful for the press accommodation. The questions for Ken:

Would you agree that your "big tent" includes or unites diverse and even contradictory beliefs and agendas that comprise a movement?  

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Ken Kaufman, 2009, Michael Olsen

What is this movement?  Is this movement just the normal effort by individuals to search for truth in our chaotic, fast-changing times?  

  Do some of the more "out there" ideas or claims, whether from speakers or exhibitors at gatherings such as the New Living Expo, undermine or negate much of the more "reasonable" and scientific thinking that mainstream people probably would agree with?  

What do you see as the major influence on the larger population: (A) the rise in consciousness and awareness of truths that fine minds have shared for decades and centuries, as exemplified by many of the New Living Expo's speakers, or the (B) dire, threatening forces that also tend to unite concerned citizens who have lost most of their faith in government, corporations and established religions?  

Does "green consuming" allow people to temporarily seek comfort more than truth, that allows them to stand aside while activists are outnumbered in their campaigns to save the planet and confront a police state?    

Are you disturbed by the rampant reliance on technology in the past several decades, with its petroleum/plastic infrastructure, for pursuing never-ending consuming as society hits physical resource limits?  

Do you believe there is a techno-fix for our problems today, and that we do not face an intractable overpopulation of humans already?  

I might attend again next year, assuming 2013 indeed arrives. But I should come with more money to buy cool stuff (which is not so cool) and hear a few interesting speakers (more cool). The entertainment at the 2012 Expo was the open-tuning guitarist Scott Huccaby, with whom I once shared a stage. He has been full-on with his New Age music while my disbanded Depavers since then have dabbled in all manner of activism including depaving, at the expense of promoting our music and psyching ourselves up for 2012. Hopefully Depaver Jan or the Depavers will resurface, doing a Gaga for Gaia Tour to reclaim Earth for nature-children and new-age lovers.

Bigger than eco-rock could be the emergence of a strong 2012-oriented alien-believing movement, for a time perhaps. It is a subset of the intelligentsia that cannot be denied. But, for the movement to grow and win wide support, any participants of a more scientific bent would have to help their brethren back off on simplistic notions and magical thinking. If the big tent now enveloping the New Agers/2012 enthusiasts can gain cohesiveness and political purpose, the movement could become the next Tea Party-type phenomenon. The tea, however, might be psychedelic tea. Somehow, esoteric believers could come together and start to influence politicians such as in the Green Party. Or, a religious movement can be the end result, that places Gaia -- all life in its cosmic interconnectedness -- above modern consumer society.

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Lisa Nichols, speaker

Meanwhile most New Agers are into the "abundance" and "prosperity" mindset, helpful for getting ahead with a conscience. Lisa Nichols is a motivational speaker whose talk at the New Living Expo was titled "Destined for Greatness." She comes across, as almost all of the speakers, as accomplished, slick, and deserving of adulation. But when "you can have it all" (prosperity and a hip lifestyle) comes before healing Earth, then readers of Culture Change or Truthout or Alternet start to wonder who is gonna fight the excesses of the "1%" or oppose the government's covering up Fukushima's full impact and the lingering damage from BP's Gulf of Mexico disaster? Nichols wrote on a poster for her audience that being rich and comfortable are related and worthy of pursuit. This struck me as too self-centered for our challenging times, when community must again come first.

No doubt the New Age/2012 movement has kinks in it, but you couldn't find a nicer bunch of caring people who want to participate fully in the Universe, as befitting healthy goddesses and hip dudes. Few of them are Black or Latino, but Asian-descent people are well represented. They all deserve to have their very Californian free-for-all of ideas, beliefs and techniques.

* * * * *

Further reading:

NewLivingExpo.com

See the trailer for the movie 2012, a documentary by Daniel Pinchbeck who spoke at the New Living Expo in April 2012: 2012 trailer. Richard Register of Ecocity Builders appears in it

Perkins, John, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2004, San Francisco, California. See johnperkins.org (see book-signing photo below)

Converge - the movie, tracking the 2012 movement with an activist bent. Sail Transport Network's Jan Lundberg was interviewed in San Francisco for the film, at New Living Expo on April 28, 2012 (see photo of Justin Lipson, filmmaker, below).

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author John Perkins, right, and filmmaker Justin Lipson (photo Jan Lundberg)

Comments (9)Add Comment
Jan, this was surprisingly favorable overall towards "New Age" stuff. Personally, I have many beliefs that support what some of those you mentioned put forth. However, that mostly has to do with there being more to life/consciousness/Gaia/Universe than meets the eye. I have read some of Greg Braden's books, and have also found them to contain what I feel are "truths", especially his little book on prayer (which I love - more on that later), but who would want to live to be 900 years old even if we could? I have many problems with the whole longevity thing anyway. After all, population is one of our BIGGEST issues and if the old ones never die where will the babies live? It boggles the mind!

I love Braden's book on prayer because a lot of what he says is exactly what my fraternal grandmother (Nanny Meeker), taught me when I went to visit her instead of going to catechism (I was raised a Catholic - and as an aside, I have often been amazed at the percentage of New Agers and even Pagans who were raised Catholic). Nanny was a very spiritual person who fell out of the Catholic church as a young woman in the 1920s because she could not wrap her mind/spirit around the god of fear the church taught. To her, God was a spirit whose essense was pure Love, not a bipolar type (loving one minute, sending you to hell the next) man with a long white beard. Her lessons on prayer were exactly what Braden writes - that true prayer is not begging for anything, it is letting go of anxiety, clearing the mind, and filling yourself with love, accepting the good, and seeing what you are praying for as already present. For instance, if you are praying for healing, instead of begging for the cancer, illness or whatever to go away, you see the person in perfect health, healed and vibrant. And then, and this is key, you express gratitude. It may sound strange, but this actually helps. There's something about the peace that comes with letting go that allows healing energy to flow. Just because we don't understand this energy at this point in time in scientific terms doesn't mean it's not real. Braden also writes about the power of the space between, and many years ago, when I was writing my first book (mid 1980s), when I asked Gaia what the most important thing was for me to communicate in the book, what I got in response was "communicate the power of the space between", which to me can be compared to the space between the in-breath and the out-breath, between our seeing something and our mind labeling it. In that space everything is possible. If we can expand the time we spend there, we can envision and even create. I believe this is because there is really no limit to consciousness. It is, however, an extremely difficult thing to accomplish.

That said, lots, if not most, of what you came in contact with at the expo sounds very hokey and just unreal. Visitors from Mars? Really? (Okay, maybe there are aliens among us. Who am I to say it's not possible? But I doubt it very strongly). As you say, it's important to keep an open mind/heart/spirit, but also to keep your bullshit detector finely tuned. Many of these people actually believe what they are saying as well. And of course there is the whole consumer aspect to expos such as this. While I love looking at beautiful gemstone jewerly, crystals, fancy cloaks, wands, etc. they are just trappings and of themselves don't imbue a person with any kind of power or insight. (I do feel the exception to this is crystals and gems but for the most part I feel these should be found on journeys or gifted to us - by a person or the Earth. For example, my garden contains many wonderful quartz crystals that my father found years ago here in the mountains. Also special rocks given to me by friends or my sons. One year I couldn't let go of the idea that a rose quartz would be a much appreciated addition to the garden but the large hunks I found were just to expensive for me to justify. Then one day as I was clearing one of the paths, I dug a bit and there was a large quartz ledge (the center of my garden has many ledges, mostly of granite and quartz where my goddess statue stands) and within it were very definite veins of pink (rose) quartz. Now how awesome is that! What I felt my garden wanted was already there just under the surface.

Unfortunately, much of the New Age is escapism (and who can blame them, really?) combined with a unique brand of consumerism, very similar in ways to the whole green/eco consumerism so rampant these days. What is sad is that (in my opinion) there are glints of truth/reality there that are obscured by the very strange and weird. And the glints of truth/reality, if understood and expanded upon by thougtful, insightful people could very well make a huge difference in the speed of tranformation necessary in these frightful, dangerous times.
Susan Meeker-Lowry
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If you want some really outrageous & dangerous crackpot notions, at least in part masquerading as legitimate science, get a load of "Thrive" and its mastermind Foster Gamble. Beam me up, Scotty.
FC
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I think all of us -- ALL of us -- need to avoid painting any group (or perceived/contrived group) of people with a broad brush. Besides being poor journalism, it's unethical, IMHO. Specifically, I think we need to be very careful about the label "New Age," because it can and does mean radically different things to different people. Personally I know many people whole consider themselves "new-agers," and not a single one of them would deny global warming in any way, shape or form by a long shot. So I'm sorry to say this, but this report on the Expo sounds to me a bit too much like a cherrypicking expedition based on preconceived notions and attitudes. Yes, there's a flakey element in this subculture, but one could point the same finger at many subcultures -- not just conservative or uneducated ones. In fact, I'm hard-pressed to think of a single subculture -- even among the better-educated progressive ones -- that isn't based to some degree on adherence to some "schtick" -- some unconsciously held but objectively unprovable assumption or premise. So I wouldn't be too eager to cast the first stone.
Dan Drasin
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Dan, perhaps my sample size is not as representative or scientific as it ought to be. But I think I bring up some real issues that should be discussed. I do see the good and the scientific in much of the New Age culture, and I agree that the whole set is kind of amorphous. I also agree with you that painting people with a broad brush isn't a good idea. However, there are relevant details and questions in the picture I tried to present fairly. For me as an activist it's a more than a matter of "do we agree on global warming," but are we now willing to take action and get away from consumerism? This is a problem for almost anyone with money who lives in a "non-community" society. My report was long but had omissions. For example, a progressive writer and networker from the New Age movement to check out with an open mind is Daniel Pinchbeck, of http://www.realitysandwich.com/ and author of 2012 -- although there are probably some matters he and I would disagree on. - Jan Lundberg
JanLundberg
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It is totally understandable why you would lump all Republicans in with the group that denies global warming because some do not believe that it is caused by humans but honestly, most just want the awareness to stop and the true work to happen and still others totally agree with the scientists. It is sad that there is such an attack going on that nearly every subject, including this one, can somehow make them look bad. Other than that, I think your thoughts on the event are conveyed quite nicely.

There is a tremendous attack going on in this country toward republicans and the formulation of ideas who do not believe the same way that they far left does.




Will.C
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So if I understand this type of thinking, our worries are for not and we shouldn't be busting our asses to save the likes of those who talk about doing but do little to help? We've had those visit us who say this space that we live in is all an illusion, so we're curious how the food gets into the mouth, and how people get from one place to another? Seems to me like we would see many more nomads walking in our illusion and skinny people.

Thanks for sharing your experience and enlightening us with New Age info.
Elaine
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If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.
- C.S. Lewis
oz
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Poor thing. That impudent young whippersnapper thinks your generation is negative? And no wonder, when you describe yourself as "pushing 60". I'm pushing it as well, and expect to have it knocked over before Christmas (or the Mayan cycle, if you prefer), but I would rather describe my condition as "pulling 40". :)
Ric Merritt
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Good essay, interesting resonances between tea types and positive thinkers and all. But new age isn't so new. Basically we've been involved in recurrent attempts to cobble together some sort of nature religion since the 18th century, since deism. Subsequently during the 19th century, the age of indo european anthropology proceeding from the studies of Sir William Jones eventually supported Ayran sun worship, all manner of healthy hints for better living, theosophy and so much else, much of which is still to be met with. But since the Enlightenment, a great dissatisfaction with the transcendentalist earth despising established religions has led to so many attempts to synthesise nature and geist. So many attempts, and so many failures. And yet how could it be otherwise?
Kevin Frost
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