The Oregon Convention Center hall had the artificial lighting and concrete walls of a nuclear fallout shelter and not a very cozy one. It was a space used to accommodating big shows for attendees making big decisions about college, holiday gifts, or RVs, but this weekend it was exhibiting three equally grand concepts: the body, the mind, and the spirit. According to the program for the Body, Mind, and Spirit Expo, the $10 entry fee entitled entrants to “Free Aura Photos!” and the chance to go to lectures, one put on by a pet psychic called “Listen to your Animals Talking!”
When I entered the convention hall, in the first visible booth a man stood with his eyes closed and his hand over a woman’s head. According to the literature on his table he was performing Jyorei: “a five minute purification of the spirit session consisting of spiritual light transmittal via hand from a distance of 1.5 feet to recipients’ forehead and crown.” I think his first language was Chinese. Across from his spirit sessions was a booth selling cat socks, cat emery boards, cat mugs, and brightly colored sparkly hats (without cats, maybe to appeal to a broader range of expo attendees). I watched the Jyorei from the safety of the cat booth for a while until the cat stuff vendor tried to strike up a conversation about how cute the ceramic cat bottle opener was.
The coupon for the aura photo was getting sweaty in my hands, so I walked through the vendor section, passing up displays of crystals and books like The Idiot’s Guide to Past Life Regression. I heard one vendor say, “You’re right, the AMA is trying to get a corner on the Fairy Crystal market in Arizona.” I walked through the reader section where clairvoyants were selling past-life clearings and palm readings from card tables.
When I found the aura booth, a woman who had been in line in front of me at the convention center Starbucks was getting her photo taken by a Web cam. I knew that in her hand she was holding a venti eggnog latte with two extra shots of flavoring. The “latte” (not probably the Italian definition of the drink) had seemed like a gateway drug to a more advanced oral-erotic fetish, and I wanted to see what color the woman’s aura would photograph as. Further, I wanted to know if our auras would be the same rotten gluttonous color.
It should be said that although the man running the aura booth was starting to bald on top, he wore the hair that grew from the rest of his scalp really long, and it was not, in my mind, a sign of good sense. He said the venti eggnog latte lady’s aura was dark, and that a green color on the right-hand side (just above the latte) meant someone wanted to “bring her down.” Someone or some drink, I wondered. As far as I could tell, his provocative free readings were intended to encourage attendees to buy a five-page aura readout for $35, or a 23-page aura readout for $45.
When it was my turn, I asked the woman behind me in line, “How does my aura look?” I pretended to fluff it.
“Golden, warm, really clear,” she said.
After he took the picture I walked around to the man’s side of the camera, where I could see an image of myself enveloped in a red aura. He said I was energetic and artistic, which was the nicest thing I had heard him say to anyone. Then he leaned in, “And if you’re trying to get pregnant, it’s gonna happen real, real quick,” he said.
“Oh, hell no,” I said, and leaned away from him.
“Well, you better say ‘No’ then,” he said. He smiled, but just with his mouth, not with his eyes.
My body, mind, and spirit were exhausted in the first 15 minutes of the expo.
I wandered around overwhelmed by the booths, wanting to eat the candy out of the candy dishes, but not wanting to start a conversation with anyone about Reiki or magnetized water. Then a woman in a voice that sounded like a really good kindergarten teacher, or an undereducated therapist, asked, “Would you like to take a stress test?”
I took a seat in a foldout chair across from her in a booth. She gave me some metal cylinders to hold, which were attached to a meter, and she told me to think about something that stressed me out. I thought about spending the entire weekend at the mind, body, and spirit expo and tried not to change my grip. She pointed to the meter and acted surprised at how far it rose.
“What were you thinking about?” she asked. “It looks like you were feeling a lot of stress.” But then when I didn’t answer, because I didn’t want to say “This expo,” she said, “You don’t have to tell me.” I thought her delivery was better than the aura booth man’s judgment, and that I would rather be in her New Age religion than his.
Then she said, “Have you ever heard of Dianetics?”
“Oh, Scientology,” I said and reactively looked for a way out of the booth. While she started into the story of Ron L. Hubbard curing himself of blindness during the Vietnam War, I picked up my bag and, as kindly as one person can pick up their bag to let another person know they are leaving a conversation because the other person is creeping them out, walked around the literature table and out of the booth. She passed me a personality test that she said I could mail to her, and then she concluded on this note: “They are even working on making liquid Prozac for babies in France right now.” I wondered if I could get my hands on that liquid baby Prozac and add a shot of it to a venti eggnog latte, if such a drink, maybe iced, might allow me to have an exchange at this expo that didn’t deplete joy from my body, mind, or spirit.
I had all I could take of the expo floor and went into a conference room for a lecture. While I was waiting for the speaker to start I pulled out the 200-item, trademarked personality test that the Scientologist said I could mail back to her for analysis. It was pink and titled “Curious About Yourself?” It looked like it should be wrapped around a starter pack of Maxi pads and passed in a fifth-grade health class.
I ate a pear and looked at the test. Next to the questions were boxes for a plus sign for definitely yes, M for maybe, and a minus sign for definitely no. 198. Do you do much grumbling about the conditions you face? There was no box for “I have a column in which I grumble about the conditions I have to face in life.” 135. Do the petty foibles of others make you impatient? Again, there was no box for “I write a column about how the petty foibles of others make me impatient.” Number 30: Do you enjoy telling people the latest scandal about your associates? Again…
When “Fully Conscious Having Fun” started I was neither fully conscious nor having fun. In the brochure the speaker appeared to be having fun outside, but here in a conference room, the chairs not even a quarter of the way full, she looked like her hair had been chemically damaged from too much blond dye, and that she was going to be a controlling speaker. When she began speaking, the other single people in the room began to take notes, but I wondered on what. The speaker bounced from topic to topic, and when I read a sample from my notes back, I still didn’t understand what she was talking about. From my own notetaking, in chronological order:
– “Has anyone read The Secret?”
– “Pick up your head and put it on the table like a pumpkin.”
– “I see you as a blue, a communicator.”
– “So I have this love and light ball and I just crumple it up and sprinkle it over D.C. You might want sprinkle it over the ocean for the dolphins or something like that.”
– “So if you talk to the Devic Kingdom, your own fairy, gnome, or elf…”
– “Sorry it sounds like I’m being conceited…”
– “For my wedding it had rained 60 days straight in the San Juan Islands, but I just set the intention and we had a whale watching boat for the wedding, and all these porpoises and wild life wanted to join in on the day.”
– “I can be a bit of a food Nazi.”
– “Does anyone not know about 2012? It’s when the Hopi, Hebrew, and our calendar stops.”
– “If there’s one finger pointing out, there are three pointing back at you. And listen up, folks. Guess what? In your soul contract, when you chose to jump back into this body…”
– “It’s really fun to blame, but you signed up for it, yes you did sign that soul contract.”
– “Oh, is my hour up all ready?”
I don’t know what everyone else was writing down, but those are my notes.
Most of the people in the room were her clients — I’m not sure if that’s the right term; maybe devotees? — and they paid her money for her to talk to them this way. I couldn’t wait to go to the next conference room.
The pet psychic had a microphone. I sat in the back and noticed that three women had fake hair attached to their own hair. It didn’t seem like a good omen for the talk, and in fact, the pet psychic ended up being a total disappointment. When the audience was encouraged to produce pictures of their pets living or dead, the pet psychic had to ask, “Now is she? He? Living? Or dead? And what kind of dog? And then she would half-heartedly take on the pet’s voice and say something like, “I forgive you. I’m in a better place now,” or, “Maybe if you changed my food my skin would be less itchy, Mommy.” She called the pet owners Mommy and Daddy. In her own voice she asked one woman, “I’m sensing an ‘M.’ Is there someone with an ‘M’ name in the family or neighborhood, or maybe a deceased pet with an ‘M’ in their name?” And the woman said, “Not that I can think of immediately. I’ll work on it.”
The audience was more entertaining than the pet psychic. Sitting in a conference room while pet owners showed home-printed pictures of their pets to a conference room full of other pet lovers is the closest I’ve felt to show-and-tell in my adult life. When the pet psychic announced, “Sometimes we feel closer to our pets than to humans,” someone said, “Sometimes? Ha, I always feel closer to my pets,” and the crowd laughed. When one woman explained that she had allowed her Bullmastiff to sleep in her bed since he was a puppy, the audience again laughed like who hadn’t let a Bullmastiff sleep in their bed at some point? In closing the psychic said, “Imagine you were an indoor cat,” and I got the feeling that members of this audience already spent a great deal of time doing just that.
I went on to more lectures that day, and the next day more. In the program the speakers promised to delight and entertain with their lectures, but in person, while they had moments of enthusiasm, most looked haggard and exasperated with the spiritual ignorance of the crowd. I only left two lectures – Your Rightful Joy: A Dance and Music Performance, and Reverse Speech, which dared to ask, “Did you know that your unconscious mind is constantly speaking backwards in audible messages that can actually be heard?”
Sunday night I decided to return to the expo floor and go out with a bang. I talked to a woman selling magnetized or demagnetized water so long that she offered me a job. I received an informal aura cleansing, I got my pulse read and my tongue examined, and then I got my spine screened. I talked to a guy in a Transmission Meditation booth who believed that the handprint of Maitreya, the Coming Buddha, appeared on a public bathroom mirror in Spain, and that if you looked at a photocopy of the handprint you could receive healing power. The group was socially conscious and concerned about poor people around the world, and I decided that if for some reason I was trapped in the expo center until 2012, or until a nuclear holocaust occurred, or until Maitraya did return, I would probably end up hanging out with this guy and joining his cult.
I listened to some Franciscan Nuns explain that they came from the same order as Franciscan Priests as I ate their homemade mustard on pretzels. Then I drank a juice from a southeast Asian fruit said to cure cystic fibrosis. I washed the taste away with a hard candy labeled Energy, and one labeled Relaxation, and before I knew what I was doing I heard myself say, “1,400 cherries. That’s a lot of cherries,” and downing a half a paper cup full of cherry extract. Then for 10 minutes I stood on a vibration machine that was invented for astronauts, but is now affordable to the average consumer. After that I felt sick and thought I might throw up on the expo floor.
I canceled my reservation to try the Biomat, a high-tech negative ion and infrared ray treatment system that looked like a nap mat. The man who ran the Biomat booth, his breath smelling like garlic said, “I hope you had a nice Expo.”
For some attendees the expo and the new age movement must be nice. I saw several people crying while they received readings. Maybe they thought $40 was a fair exchange for someone to listen to them and touch their hand and pretend like they knew what was going to happen in the future for a while. Generally I try not to be one who gets between people and whatever they think they need to make their lives better. Yet at the end of the expo I felt as knackered as if I had made a pilgrimage not to the local convention center, but to the Ganges, Mecca, or Vatican City, and I wondered why I found the expo so exhausting.
The whole expo felt like a bad shopping trip where shoppers and sellers were all piecing together a mix and match vision of reality. I also found listening to people who were capable of distorting their cognition in such whimsical ways nearly impossible to understand. I mean, if I could get in touch with the Devic Kingdom, wherever that is, I could definitely use a fat, chipper gnome to remind me of my grocery list, or help me find overdue library books, or drive when I got too drunk (if that’s not asking too much to ask of a gnome), but I just don’t know how to go playfully crazy in the direction of woodland fairies and jolly gnomes.
With some distance, now that I am a few days away from the expo, it seems clear that some people just want to be forgiven for backing over their cats in the driveway, or else they want to hear they were Joan of Arc in a past life, if only because in this life they are speech therapists for the school district who seriously value their summers off. Their basements flood in the winter. Their little brother can’t stop going to jail. They are allergic to wheat gluten, and no matter how hard they try not to be, they are apple-shaped. I forgive them all. I just don’t want to go to the Body, Mind, and Spirit Expo next year. It just wouldn’t be good for my mind, body, or spirit. • 7 December 2007