Since the new year, and especially during the long winter months, I find myself pouring over catalogs with a focus on how I imagine my new life is going to be when I make all these changes. Every year I am so sure that these new changes are going to bring out the real inner me that has been waiting to be set free, once I get myself disciplined and on the right course.
We are getting hammered with catalogs. Even though I am on one of those don’t-send-me-anymore-of-these green lists, they seem to have followed me from the last place I lived to the next. Not only have they located me again, but they even arrive under a few slightly misspelled versions (so yeah, I know who has been selling my name and I wish they would stop). I would say that about three-quarters of these get thrown out or recycled without ever looking at them, but some of these catalogs are real eye-candy and it is so easy to get sucked into the fantasy.
Garden catalogs especially are a lure during the cold months, although it’s great to look and plan and then go to your garden center later. But all that color! All that green! How can anyone resist? Thanks to a few very generous gardener friends who shared perennials from their own gardens in order to bring life to the pathetic triangle of dirt and weeds that was mine, our back yard is now packed with a variety of botanical wonders. And yet I see all the possibilities and want to keep planting. I envision riots of continually blooming color throughout the growing season and peaceful, shady alcoves interspersed with tasteful garden ornaments to soothe the soul. I visualize lush herbs bursting with flavor just waiting to be plucked and used in all the recipes I am going to be making out of that complimentary food magazine which has mysteriously started to appear unbidden in my mailbox (with my misspelled name on it). Of course, while I am doing all this (in my head), I am also wearing those cute garden clogs, raffia sun hat and airy, new age clothing from those airy, new age clothing catalogs.
I want to be one of those athletic, fit women hanging on to the side of a cliff in their Patagonia wicking-action capris, or arching gracefully into a full bridge back bend while wearing a Prana Mahdia Prima microfiber yoga pants and a Chakra Crossover StrapTank. One of those people sprinting along a sea wall in their Asics running shoes and Om Shanti Hoodie. Yes I want to be them. I want to be that woman wearing the Natural Organic Cotton Travel-Essential Zen Wrap, the one embossed with the Lotus Motif in Soothing Meadow that transitions easily from sporty day adventure to casual evening. I also want to be the girl in the slip-proof, stay-in-place, action bikini on the boogie board.
And even though I already have the non-skid yoga mat in Deep Ocean Blue rolled in the trunk of my car in order to be ready for those unanticipated yoga moments, and the Meditation Transcendence Ultra Organic yoga mat in Monastery Saffron in my house, I really, really should have gotten the new two-tone reversible organic yoga mat in Jade/Fern that the woman wearing the Switchback Asana Top in Heathered Slate is practicing on to enhance my own feeble practice. (While I am at it, I will want to have a figure like her and also be her age). After the energizing, vibrant workout, I will then shower with Super Organic Ylang Ylang/Hyacinth Lunar Eclipse Gel and wrap myself in a thick, Unbleached Organic Cotton thirsty Yantra Towel before lounging in my Iris Tadasana Kimona Robe, have a cup of Super Anti-oxidant Yin Zhen Tea with Goji Extract and tuck myself into Indigo Cloud 900 thread count Organic Egyptian Cotton Sheets. I mean, really, doesn’t this sound like Nirvana to you? It is all I can do to ignore the credit card burning a hole in my wallet as I desperately try not to reach for it, I kid you not.
But mostly what I want to do is take the new age workshops and courses that are being held in various well-known holistic retreats around the country. Because I know that when I do this, my entire life is going to change. I know that once I go there I will be on the path toDiscovering My Bliss. Once I achieve that, I can take more courses in order to learn to Share My Bliss by Manifesting My Soulmate. I want to learn to Feed My Inner Goddess and Ignite My Chakras and Experience Mindfulness through the Transformational Path of the Eagle while I am Awakening My Inner Vibrations by Integrating the Intensive Power of the Tantric Dance. All this while arising for meditative morning yoga or Tai Chi classes, taking long walks in the beautiful, natural environs of the retreat centers, and eating fresh, organic foods and juices meant to Detox, Awaken and Unleash My Hidden Joy while experiencing healing Thai Massage.
Journey. Rejuvenation. Transformation. Nourishment. Healing. Vitality. Immersion. Power. Balance. Nurturing. Health. Intimacy. Release. Intuition. Therapeutic. Energy. Vitality. Relaxation. Renewal. Spirituality. Reflection. Connection. Beginnings. Retreat. Bhakti. These words flow off the page and into my brain like balm on sore muscles. They lure me in like a fish on a hook. I want to Be There Now. The words and descriptions are aimed to hit me right in the Third Eye.
I have actually attended workshops at some of these retreats in the past, and honestly, a few of them have done exactly that. It has happened enough to bring me back year after year, exploring the synchronicities of life with like-minded people and opening new vistas for myself. This really has occurred. These workshops can be transformational and filled with moments of connection and inspiration. Some of them have propelled me onto other Paths. However, there are a couple of glaring issues with these places, and it has become apparent that the original focus of providing community spirit and enlightenment regarding alternative avenues has become just another Big Business. They are not for everyman – they have become focused on providing Enlightenment For The Rich.
It is disappointingly no different from what goes on everywhere else. The people with wealth are able to pay hundreds of dollars for a weekend course, hundreds more for the necessary accommodations, and sometimes even hundreds more in transportation to get there. If you are well off, you can stay in the better rooms – the ones with private bathrooms – or dwell in the more comfortable cabins. If you have less money you can sleep in dorms with bathrooms down the hall, which are still not cheap. If you can’t handle that expense, you can perhaps pay to camp in areas off the beaten path. This is the way of the world. But I have to wonder – why should there be such a disparity of accommodations in a holistic learning facility, where we are supposed to be All One and of the Same Spirit? Why is not everyone deserving of the same privileges? There is something about this discrepancy that does not sit well and appears to cheapen the entire concept. It should be the same for all, shouldn’t it?
But wait – if you are impoverished, you can apply for a Scholarship to attend a workshop! If you are approved, you will have the choice of many, but not all, of the courses in the catalog (provided they are not filled by other paying customers, in which case you will be bumped). However, if the presenter happens to be someone very famous or popular, your scholarship is not valid to attend these. Only people who can afford it get to participate in these courses on enlightenment. And if you are the middle class, you are screwed at both ends the same way the middle class is screwed out of everything else. You make too much for a scholarship but not enough to easily afford the workshops (at least not without having to compromise some other vital parts of your life – like a couple of car payments, or putting off your outpatient surgery, or selfishly not taking your children on a family trip this summer).
These venues have become more and more upscale to accommodate the people who can afford to live the image presented in the catalogs. On a walk around campus you will encounter them posing like new-age peacocks strutting their dharma, wearing their Heathered Fawn “Zen” tank tops, Chakra-Balancing Earthstone Earrings and a Big Attitude. There is a subtle but palpable caste system happening. I guess this is human nature, but I can’t get past feeling the hypocrisy.
An incident that really illustrated this occurred during a workshop by Pema Chodrun, an ordained Buddhist nun who is renowned for teaching meditation and helping to interpret Tibetan Buddhism for Western audiences (no scholarships granted to this one). You would think that the people coming to attend her workshop would be seeking to attain inner peace and strive to practice tolerance. And yet here were these rude, urban chic “guests” – wealthy in money but clearly not in awareness – making petty demands of the staff and treating the people trying to accommodate them with arrogance and disrespect, as if they were some sort of nobility and the staff were harijans – the Untouchables. Ironic, isn’t it? All their immersion into these workshops has not raised the consciousness of these people one bit. It has gotten to the point where I really have to think again these days about giving up something else of value in order to fork over my middle-class wages to attend these venues and be subjected to what can only be called snobbery. This could surely not have been the original intention of the original founders.
It’s obvious that the shallow but none-the-less enticing accoutrements are not a necessity on the “path to enlightenment”. However, that has not stopped the enjoyment of the daydreams that the catalogs invoke. These “wishbooks” have a place, I suppose. The place they have found in my home is as bathroom reading material – which I think, somehow, puts it in perspective.