What does “new age” even mean?

I enjoy listening to a music channel on Direct TV named “New Age.” That got me thinking, what does “new age” even mean? The first person to coin the term was Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, cofounder of the Theosophical Society, in the late 19th century. She announced a coming New Age as a form of Western esotericism, but the term “New Age” has antecedents that stretch back to southern Europe in Late Antiquity. Following the Age of Enlightenment in 18th century Europe, new esoteric ideas developed in response to the development of scientific rationality. What is “esotericism”?

Esotericism is the state or quality of being esoteric—obscure and only understood or intended to be understood by a small number of people with special (and perhaps secret) knowledge.

Skipping forward to the Baby Boomers, the “New Age” burst into public consciousness in a buzz of media attention around crystals, chakras, reincarnation, and channeling in the 1980s, but had its immediate roots in the 1960s counterculture. “New age spirituality” is actually a descriptive category in religious studies, appropriated by practitioners of a kind of spirituality that sprang up in the 1960s and 1970s, especially in the USA and Britain.

So then, what is spirituality? One definition is that it involves the recognition of a feeling or sense or belief that there is something greater than yourself, something more to being human than pure sensory experience. That greater whole is cosmic or divine in nature. An opening of the heart is an essential aspect of being spirituality.

An open heart is a state of being where you feel open, accepting and expansive. Love flows through you without obstruction. Many long to experience an open heart, but at times we may feel too scared and vulnerable to reveal ourselves in this way, especially to ourselves.

This reminds me of a special meditation taught at Naropa Institute (now University) in Boulder Colorado, where I studied for my masters in Transpersonal Psychology and Counseling. At that time, meditation was an important part of my training, and one meditation was to open your heart to all of the pain in this world at this minute. Quite the challenge. Feeling compassion for the entire world of suffering is life changing, so is feeling complete compassion for your Self in this moment. If you were raised like me, to feel no compassion for your own struggles, but simply demand more from yourself forever, compassion is the medicine you need right now.

To me, New Age means a new way of seeing and experiencing the world in contrast to our parents and grandparents. It is a unique opportunity to see and love the world and your Self wholeheartedly. Your upbringing will determine how difficult that may be for you.

“Here’s what is truly at the heart of WHOLEHEARTEDNESS: Worthy now. Not if. Not when. We are worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is.” — Brene Brown

Escaping Anxiety

I have discovered a magazine I really enjoy lately: Travel & Leisure. I like their first-hand accounts of experiencing a new place. First of all, I have been to many of the places described in this journal. I have also always been a bit of a master at taking vacations in my own head. The Internet has made that so much easier. And at a time when so many of us are seeking escape from our predictable daily lives, I look forward to the next issue of this magazine to help me decide where I want to go next.

Yesterday, I started reading an article about escaping anxiety at a Riviera Maya healing resort. The writer spoke of “living with anxiety for many years; my mind wanders constantly.” Luckily, this author found themselves relaxing into “extreme calm” surrounded by nature, chimes, horns, drums, and gongs.

When I spoke to Mike about this, he immediately pointed out that “going on vacation can be quite anxiety-producing.” Mike, always the realist. Yes, first choosing a trip to take, buying tickets, flying, etc. can be quite stressful, especially with my new handicap, being on oxygen full-time. Did you know that most portable oxygen machines aren’t allowed on airplanes? Who knew?

So is a trip the best way to escape anxiety? Well, that depends on where your anxiety comes from. I learned the most about my lifelong case of anxiety (really fear of others) by moving away from society.

Almost seven years ago now, Mike and I built a passive solar home out in rural southern Colorado. On our three acres with very few neighbors, I finally found myself truly relaxing after a few years. I believe living close to nature instead of others was the main ingredient in this process. Yes, we have some serious snowstorms and amazing wind storms down here, but I feel secure and comfortable looking up at the Spanish Peaks each morning. Nature feels so much more safe to me than most other human beings.

What was most interesting to me was my eventual perception of the nearly unconscious vigilance I apparently felt my whole life in cities. That slowly melting away out here. Whenever I’m in cities now, I feel that subtle fear slowly creeping back. I believe it is the simple equation of having too many people per square mile, the constant possibility of someone disturbing us or worse. When I’m at home, that need for keeping a careful watch over my life and my loved ones slowly recedes and I find peace like I have never known before.

So, where does someone like that go on vacation?

Can you risk a whole afternoon without worry?

Sometimes it seems like I was born with a lot on my mind. Starting with the “terrible twos” I have been perpetually asking why. I think too much, I worry even more, and I can still never figure out what may happen next. I guess I was raised to expect the worst, or else this is simply the human condition – more brains than we know what to do with!

So on this blissfully relaxed snowy day, miles from almost all human beings, I wonder what might happen if I stop thinking and worrying and embrace the peacefulness of this moment in time.

Should I risk this level of non-vigilance? What might happen if I stop thinking for a while? What if I feel as free as the falling snow for just one afternoon? There’s always tomorrow to get back to my worries…