Tuesday, 19 June 2007


The first time I heard of the term "New Age" was when I was browsing through CDs at my regular music shop. Being interested in jazz, my "hunting ground" was usually amongst the instrumental section and it was not long before I chanced upon a "new" genre of music labeled "new age". That was in the mid-90's. 

Interestingly enough, New Age music had its roots in the 70s, with works of free-form jazz groups such as Oregon, the Paul Winter Group, etc. before evolving into the synthesizer driven electronic music age with Yanni, Vangelis, Kitaro, Georgio Moroder, Jean-Michel Jarre and the like.

It was also about the same time when interest in the haunting and mystical vocals of Enya and the trance-like Gregorian and Celtic sounds, was beginning to take hold amongst music enthusiasts. Instrumental music set against the background sounds of nature (flowing streams, birds, rain, etc.) also became common, as did soothing oriental chanting for meditation like Chant of Metta.

One could not blame me for having the initial impression that New Age only meant a certain genre of music!

Then one day, I asked My Better Half what she knew about New Age. At the time she was undergoing a transformational phase in her own life that would eventually lead from being Reiki Master/Healer and beyond, to where she is at today; a budding spiritual healer of the New Age mould. Even after about 10 years now, her journey has just begun. What she told me then opened up a whole new perspective even for me, and started me on my own academic exploration.

So began my own path of discovery; mainly through books, the WWW and more recently, open minded discussion with New Age practitioners. One observation I made is that New Age spirituality must be "felt" and no amount of theory can substitute for first hand experience and encounters. It is always easy to dismiss the inexplicable as sheer coincidence or self-delusion but the great number of people moving towards New Age beliefs cannot be by mere chance.

While I am not a New Age practitioner like My Better Half or our Daughter, I consider myself a well-informed collaborator with enough knowledge, experience and objectivity to be an interested passenger, chronicler, and a foil in their New Age journey.



The Beginning

New Age Spirituality, otherwise known as Self-Spirituality, New Spirituality, or Mind-Body-Spirit is characterized by an eclectic and individual approach to spiritual exploration.

It was by no coincidence that this form of spirituality became popular since the late 60's and early 70's at a time when Western Pop Culture "collided" with Oriental spiritual concepts and practices. Those were heady days of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Ravi Shanker, Joan Baez, marijuana, the Hippies, anti-establishment, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, Nuclear Arms Race, the Baby Boomers; it was a turbulent time of uncertainty that precipitated new attitudes towards established institutions like the clergy and governments.

Suspicion about the governments was rife and the sense of despair about Christianity (the main religion of the West) was slowly but surely pervading.

The advent of television brought the horrors of what Man does to his fellow Man into Western living rooms and Christianity could no longer provide acceptable answers and guidance. At the other end of the spectrum, the Secular Humanism Movement lost credibility and was deemed to have failed to provide spiritual and ethical guidance for the future; the spirit of altruism needed to be sustained by something more permanent than voluntary choice.

People began to look within for mollification and peace, which eventually led them to their discovery of Oriental spiritual concepts, values and practices; the reticence and tranquility. Of course, this also sparked renewed interest in ancient traditional Western beliefs like Wicca and emerging Neo-Pagan practices.

What started as individual pursuit of tranquility and self-discovery became known as the New Age Movement; the term commonly used to designate the broad movement of late 20th century and contemporary Western culture, which unlike most formal religions, has no holy text, central organization, membership, formal clergy, geographic center, dogma, creed, etc.

The New Age is most definitely a heterogeneous movement of individuals. It is in fact a free-flowing spiritual movement; a network of believers and practitioners who share somewhat similar beliefs and practices, which they add on to whichever formal religion that they follow.

Today, New Age has developed a modality of its own that is characteristically dynamic yet distinctive in its make-up. Given that the world faces yet another tussle for the soul of humankind in the ongoing ideo-political conflicts that saw the occurrence of 9/11 and its repercussions, this New Age Movement can but only grow. It is expected to expand, promoted by the social backlash against logic and science.

The world will eventually realize there is no place for fundamentalism and this is already apparent from the numerous inter-faith dialogues going on internationally. Personally, I think this could be reflective of mainstream religions (especially Christianity) in the throes of struggling to maintain relevance against a tide of new individualism, personal awareness and choice. Indeed in the US, New Agers comprise at least 25% of the population and are the third largest "belief" group.

Perhaps John Naisbitt puts it best when he said:

"In turbulent times, in times of great change, people head for the two extremes: fundamentalism and personal, spiritual experience...With no membership lists or even a coherent philosophy or dogma, it is difficult to define or measure the unorganized New Age movement. But in every major U.S. and European city, thousands who seek insight and personal growth cluster around a metaphysical bookstore, a spiritual teacher, or an education center."

New Age Beliefs

A number of fundamental beliefs are held by many New Age followers; individuals are encouraged to "shop" for the beliefs and practices that they feel most comfortable with. An individual identified with New Age thinking may subscribe to one, some or all of the following, depending on their own sense of what is right and wrong:

Monism: All that exists is derived from a single source of divine energy. All humanity—indeed all life, everything in the universe—is spiritually interconnected, participating in the same energy.“God” is one name for this energy although the preferred term is usually just “the Universe”.

Pantheism: In relation to the above, ALL that exists is God; God is all that exists. This leads naturally to the concept of the divinity of the individual, that we are all Gods. They do not seek God as revealed in a sacred text or as exists in a remote heaven; they seek God within the self and throughout the entire universe.

Panentheism: God is all that exists. God is at once the entire universe, and transcends the universe as well.

Reincarnation: After death, we are reborn and live another life as a human. This cycle repeats itself many times. This belief is similar to the concept of transmigration of the soul in Hinduism. Death is not the end; there is only life in different forms. What some refer to as an afterlife does not punish but teaches us, perhaps through the mechanisms of reincarnation or near-death experiences.

Karma: The human mind has deep levels and vast powers, which are capable even of overriding physical reality. “You create your own reality.” Nevertheless, this is subject to certain spiritual laws, such as the principle of cause and effect (karma). The good and bad deeds that we do add and subtracts from our accumulated record; our karma. At the end of our life, we are rewarded or punished according to our karma by being reincarnated into either a painful or good new life. This belief is linked to that of reincarnation and is also derived from Hinduism. The ultimate level of human potential has only been realized by a few spiritual masters.

An Aura: is believed to be an energy field radiated by the body. Invisible to most people, it can be detected by some as a shimmering, multi-colored field surrounding the body. Those skilled in detecting and interpreting auras can diagnose an individual's state of mind, and their spiritual and physical health.

Ability to Heal and/or be Healed: Everyone of us has potential healing powers which can be developed to heal others through touch or at a distance. Meditation, yoga, tai chi chuan, reiki, and other Eastern practices are valuable and worthwhile.

The Food You Eat: has an effect on your mind as well as your body. It is generally preferable to eat fresh organic vegetarian food which is locally grown and in season. Raw food and sprouted seeds have a particularly spirit enhancing quality. Fasting can help you achieve higher levels of consciousness.

A Cosmic Goal: There is typically a belief that all entities are (willingly or unwillingly) cooperating in some cosmic goal of achieving a "higher" or more complete coherence with a cosmic "consciousness" (or some other goal state of "goodness"), often described as an evolutionary process or simply to learn. This underlying cosmic goal gives direction to all events, reducing the concept of coincidence to one of ignorance of hidden meaning. There are no coincidences. Everything around you has spiritual meaning, and spiritual lessons to teach you. You are meant to be here, and are always exactly where you need to be to learn from what confronts you.

The Human Purpose: An individual has a purpose here on earth, in the present surroundings, because there is a lesson to learn. The most important lesson is LOVE. Ultimately every interpersonal relationship has the potential to be a helpful experience in terms of our own growth. We learn about ourselves through our relationships with other people by getting to see what we need to work on ourselves and what strengths we bring to the other party in order to help them in their life. All our relationships are destined to be repeated until they are healed, if necessary over many lifetimes. As Souls seeking wholeness, our goal is eventually to learn to LOVE everyone we come in contact with.

Personal Transformation: We have a responsibility to take part in positive creative activity and to work to heal ourselves, each other and the planet. A certain critical mass of people with a highly spiritual consciousness will bring about a sudden change in the whole population. A profoundly intense mystical experience will lead to the acceptance and use of New Age beliefs and practices. Guided imagery, hypnosis, meditation, and (sometimes) the use of hallucinogenic drugs are useful to bring about and enhance this transformation. Believers hope to develop new potentials within themselves: the ability to heal oneself and others, psychic powers, a new understanding of the workings of the universe, etc. Later, when sufficient numbers of people have achieved these powers, a major spiritual, physical, psychological and cultural planet-wide transformation is expected.

A Positive Attitude: that is supported by affirmations will achieve success in anything.

Spiritual Beings: These beings (e.g. angels, ascended masters, elementals, ghosts, and/or even space aliens) exist, and will guide us, if we open ourselves to their guidance. Intuition or "divine guidance" is a more appropriate guide than rationalism, scientific skepticism, or the scientific method.

Western Science: wrongly neglects such things as parapsychology, meditation, and holistic health. Science and spirituality are ultimately harmonious. New discoveries in science, e.g. evolution and quantum mechanics, when rightly understood, point to spiritual principles.

Dreams and Psychic Experiences: are ways in which our souls express themselves.

The Indigo Children: Children are being born today with a more highly developed spiritual power than earlier generations.

Ecological Responsibility: A belief in the importance of uniting to preserve the health of the earth, which is often looked upon as Gaia, (Mother Earth) a living entity.

Certain Geographic Locations: emanate special energy, which may be male or female in character. Many such places may have been considered sacred in the world’s religions or as healing places by indigenous native populations. This may involve traveling to ancient religious sites and performing rituals through sacred travel.

Rocks and Crystals: have special psychic energies and can be an aid to meditation and healing.

Universal Religion: Since all is God, then only one reality exists, and all religions are simply different paths to that ultimate reality. The universal religion can be visualized as a mountain, with many sadhanas (spiritual paths) to the summit. Some are hard; others easy. There is no one correct path. All paths eventually reach the top. There exists a mystical core within all religions, Eastern and Western. Dogma and religious identity are not so important. They anticipate that a new universal religion which contains elements of all current faiths will evolve and become generally accepted worldwide.

Ancient Civilizations: such as Atlantis may truly have existed, leaving behind certain relics and monuments (the Great Pyramid, Stonehenge) whose true nature has not been discovered by mainstream historians.

New World Order: As the Age of Aquarius unfolds, a New Age will develop. This is a time of great transformation for the Earth and human consciousness. Certain dates have a special significance in these changes. 1986 and the Harmonic Convergence was one, and there are others to come in 2011 or 2012. This will be a utopia in which there is world government, and end to wars, disease, hunger, pollution, and poverty. Gender, racial, religious and other forms of discrimination will cease. People's allegiance to their tribe or nation will be replaced by a concern for the entire world and its people.

New Age Practices

Many practices are found among New Agers. A typical practitioner is active in only a few areas:

Channeling: A method similar to that used by Spiritualists in which a spirit of a long dead individual is conjured up. However, while Spiritualists generally believe that one's soul remains relatively unchanged after death, most channelers believe that the soul evolves to higher planes of existence. Channelers usually try to make contact with a single, spiritually evolved being. That being's consciousness is channeled through the medium and relays guidance and information to the group, through the use of the medium's voice. Channeling has existed since the 1850's and many groups consider themselves independent of the New Age movement. Perhaps the most famous channeling event is the popular A Course in Miracles. It was channeled through a Columbia University psychologist, Dr. Helen Schucman, (1909-1981), over an 8 year period. She was an Atheist, and in no way regarded herself as a New Age believer. However, she took great care in recording accurately the words that she received.

Crystals: Crystals are materials which have their molecules arranged in a specific, highly ordered internal pattern. This pattern is reflected in the crystal's external structure which typically has symmetrical planar surfaces. Many common substances, from salt to sugar, from diamonds to quartz form crystals. They can be shaped so that they will vibrate at a specific frequency and are widely used in radio communications and computing devices. New Agers believe that crystals possess healing energy.

Meditating: A process of blanking out the mind and releasing oneself from conscious thinking. This is often aided by repetitive chanting of a mantra, or focusing on an object.

New Age Music: A gentle, melodic, inspirational music form involving the human voice, harp, lute, flute, etc. It is used as an aid in healing, massage therapy and general relaxation.

Divination: The use of various techniques to foretell the future, including I Ching, Pendulum movements, Runes, Tarot Cards, Angel Cards, etc. Astrology: The belief that the orientation of the planets at the time of one's birth, and the location of that birth predicts the individual's future and personality. Belief in astrology is common amongst New Agers, but definitely not limited to them.

Holistic Health: This is a collection of healing techniques which have diverged from the traditional medical model. It attempts to cure disorders in mind, body and spirit and to promote wholeness and balance in the individual. Examples are acupuncture, crystal healing, aura cleansing, reiki, homeopathy, iridology, massage, various meditation methods, polarity therapy, psychic healing, therapeutic touch, reflexology, etc.

Human Potential Movement: (a.k.a. Emotional Growth Movement) This is a collection of therapeutic methods involving both individualized and group working, using both mental and physical techniques. The goal is to help individuals to advance spiritually. Examples are Esalen Growth Center programs, EST, Gestalt Therapy, Primal Scream Therapy, Transactional Analysis, Transcendental Meditation and Yoga.

..................to be continued

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