Tarot readers at fashion parties, cosmic yoga in Bushwick, David Lynch promoting Transcendental Meditation, Goldie Hawn discussing “mindfulness” at the Davos Economic Forum, and shamanic ceremonies name – checked on the newest season of HBO’s Girls – welcome to the latest wave of the New Age.
Burning Man has never been more popular. Yoga classes are available at tech startups. Tara Stiles, “rebel yogi”, models for American Apparel. Grimes, the counterculture songstress and fashion darling, writes songs with titles like “Crystal Ball,” her videos full of pagan tropes and ritualistic imagery. I saw a kid wearing horn – rimmed Sol Moscot’s on the L train reading Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth. Juicing, vegetarianism and eating for your dosha have become more popular than Chipotle.
How many of your friends have yoga teacher training certificates? How many of them read their daily horoscope? How many of them have tried ayahuasca?
OK, so this isn’t new, necessarily.
In the early 1900s, having made its way to the West through various gurus, yoga was already being practiced by a small percentage; Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo and LA housewives did it in the 1940s and 50s. In 1875 Russian emigré Madame Blavatsky established the Theosophical Society; research was done on Buddhism, meditation and alchemy among other things. In 1967 the Beatles visited Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in Rishikesh, India. A few years later David Lynch would start practicing the Maharishi’s mantra – based method of meditation while studying film in California. In the 90s, the Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch, a practicing Buddhist, started the Tibetan Freedom concert, while later on his bandmate Mike D. collaborated on yoga music with Sharon Gannon of Jivamukti Yoga.
For as long as humanity dealt with stress and disillusionment, it found ways to cope.
Yet this movement toward energy healing and magic was once stigmatized as the domain of a freaky few. It was lightly mocked by the media – remember the sitcom Dharma & Greg? Crystals and paganism were stuck in a 90s vortex, Wiccans bought their amethyst clusters at patchouli – scented stores at the mall, fantasists made do with Dungeons & Dragons.
Today, however, Wiccans go to Catland in Bushwick and have an appealing new ambassador: Melissandre from Game of Thrones.
Maybe 2012, the Mayan calendar’s apocalypse, ushered in a new consciousness as some believe. Ancient healing and mind expanding practices have been adopted by cool kids. Cultural caché has upended any lingering corniness. Alternative interests are suddenly sexy. They’ve trickled into the mainstream with subtlety, elegance and attractive spokespeople.
So my question is why are people wandering towards these mysterious horizons where answers aren’t as clear cut? Are homeopathic, unconventional remedies a way to opt out of paying high medical bills later in life? Did globalization allow East to mingle with West? Is the mind-body approach a way to bring light back into our souls? Are the tenets of Zen Buddhism–like finding inner peace–particularly resonant in a world where nothing seems stable and everything from the climate to how we communicate changes so rapidly? Do we desire to rely on ourselves and our own health more than external entities because we witness the frightening results of putting all eggs in one basket (hello, Greece, Southern Europe, America, mortgage crisis, bank crisis, tsunamis and hurricanes)? Are we drawn to non-dualistic dogma because we feel battered by the ebb and flow of the popularity contest that social media can feel like?
In my attempt to discover why we’re at the dawning of the Age of Aquarius version 2.0, I visited my friend Lisa Levine who took up reiki, yoga, tarot and bodywork way before they began blowing up. She is the founder of Maha Rose, a healing center and arts space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
As you walk up to the one – story, converted factory, gems sprinkled into the asphalt and cute shrubbery clue you into the fact that there might be more than manufacturing going on inside. Lisa greets you warmly with a hug and a big smile as you step over the threshold into a sun – bathed paradise. High ceilings allow indoor trees to ascend upwards like magic beanstalks while white linen curtains swim down to the floor. An altar, front and center of the room, is strewn with fresh flowers and holds a framed photo of Amma, the hugging guru. This room feels very light, and not just in a visual way.
“The more you meditate, the more laughter there is in a space, the energy just builds and gets cleaner”, Lisa explains. The call to energy healing came while Lisa was a jewelry designer with her own shop in Williamsburg. The seed had been planted earlier, however, when she was introduced to her reiki teacher while living in Mexico, an experience that was “super inspiring on every level – creatively, being in nature and in a country with such a deep connection to spirit”. The path toward bodywork and energy healing was fully embraced after meeting Amma in New York City in 2007. “[Amma is] a teacher of love. She’s all about unconditional love, period – and I think she’s right. She’s been a very enormous inspiration and guiding light since I met her, and definitely a lot of inspiration for the changes I’ve made in my life. I was meditating more and getting clearer messages [about pursuing healing]”.
Lisa moved into the Greenpoint space in 2007. As she was getting deeper into meditation she decided to gather friends, neighbors and teachers at her beautiful home, rather than go out to classes. “The center grew organically out of that; it was a slow process”, she describes. Now, seven years later the center hosts a sundry mix of workshops, classes, and community events for healing and creativity. There is kundalini, hatha and laughter yoga, meditation, breathwork, reiki, past life regression therapy, hypnotherapy, dance-orcisms hosted by a former member of the electro band Avenue D (sans alcohol), artistic gatherings where things are made, and acupuncture (Lisa just completed her studies).
We take a seat in one of the rooms where private consultations and appointments take place. “This is a cosmic portal”, Lisa says. The tranquility is palpable. In these rooms, people find alternative ways to connect with themselves, to get to the roots of issues that may not be cured by conventional, clinical methods influenced by rigid labels in the DSM. Rather than a selfish pursuit or an escape, these exercises allow people to become more compassionate, more willing to be unselfish. “The more work we do on ourselves and the more healing we do affects everyone” Lisa explains. She describes her work as a way to help people find “balance” to be “more grounded, happier, more centered,” and “part of the solution”. “When you see some of the challenges the world faces, you think ‘What can you do about it?’ You can do things on a large scale, or you can really ‘be the change,’ like that Gandhi quote”, she explains.
Lisa’s opinion about “being the change” is seconded by Nikolay Ignatyev, a yoga instructor who, by day, mans the library of esoteric texts at the Nicholas Roerich Museum on the Upper West Side (Roerich was a turn – of – the – century painter with an interest in mysticism and Eastern Religion, he traveled in some of the same circles as Madame Blavatsky). He describes how people are less afraid to be themselves in regard to their interests in esoteric matters, “If [you] take everyone’s opinion and try to mold [yourself] accordingly that’s where neurosis ensues”, he describes. “I think this spiritual upsurge teaches that the only way to be is to be yourself”.
Maha Rose, in addition to being a center for finding oneself, thereby cleansing your aura of conditioning and consequently becoming a nicer person, is also a marketplace for tools of the seeker. Lisa’s own jewelry, the crafting of which she learned from a silversmith in San Miguel del Allende, lay beside vials of fairy dust. She also makes wands out of driftwood from the Hudson River, ornamenting the soft, sculptured sticks with crystals, glitter, glass beads, and multi – colored threads. “They have intentions and mantras while they’re being made but they can be set for different things. The glitter ones were first, for magic and playfulness”, she describes. Locally made tinctures occupy space with cloud soft scarves scoured from Indian markets. Her natural inclination toward artistic pursuits has also encouraged her to hold workshops where visitors come to paint, draw, create and express themselves through laughter, dance and making things. In laughter yoga, for example, people “enter altered states, laugh and cry–it’s wild and cathartic, and there’s live music”. In order to provide healing to people who may not be able to otherwise afford it, Lisa also holds by-donation community sessions.
As I leave, Lisa is about to see a patient. Exiting the space into the cold winter breeze, it’s comforting to know that a place such as this exists – a place of creative release and healing, open to anyone. As I wander down the street, past stores with crystals and cafes with juice, I recall something Lisa said during our conversation: “There have been some dark days out there; people are ready”. Everywhere, pockets are developing where there can be exploration and evolution, even and especially deep in the heart of an industrial neighborhood in Brooklyn.
Links: Maha Rose
Words by Nicky Stringfellow.
Photography by Jonathan Hokklo.