Simple solutions to simple problems

I don’t know if this is a symptom of a certain age or an environment but almost everyone I meet seems to be searching for something. This search is more intense among women than men but I have come across both genders preoccupied with it.

This quest is referred to in different ways: Some call it finding a deeper meaning, some call it finding their spiritual path, some say they need to awaken their “kundalinis” and reach a higher level of consciousness, some call it finding salvation, others refer to it as mindfulness and some simply say they are looking for the higher purpose of life. Why are they here? What is their role? What next? And so on.

Different paths are adopted in this search. Some adopt Buddhism and thousands appear to be chanting (Nam Myoho Renge Kyon) their way through life, others flock to spiritual gurus, many attend mindfulness and other similarly named workshops. Yoga, meditation and pranayama is another and slightly more practical route.

Several self-styled gurus and practitioners offer a range of services and manage to earn a pretty decent living themselves in the bargain. These include gurus such as Louise Hay, an American and author of You Can Heal Your Life who managed to cross shores to grip searching souls. Hay is no more but has left a legacy and many believers behind.

The most interesting new addition to this list are the “spiritual consultants”, ladies in the age group of 35-55 who have identified this as a new and easy way of making some extra money by showing the way to more vulnerable and confused peers. I was very amused when I received a couple of visiting cards of these consultants at dinner parties in the national capital region recently. Two close school friends confided that they were considering becoming spiritual consultants and one had even inquired rental rates in Gurugram’s Galleria market — one of the most expensive rental spaces — to set up shop and offer her services there. She said she would not want potential clients to get a peek into her home and lifestyle as that may in fact work against her. Sessions can be steep, priced around Rs 3,000-7,000 per session and strangely, the steeper the rate, the longer is the list of clients.

What is interesting is that the new breed of practitioners offers solutions for both the mind and body. So, besides the traditional forms of yoga (a bit infra dig now), power yoga, zumba, pilates, belly dance and so on, the spiritual consultants offer a wide range of services for keeping the mind fit. Various healing techniques can be included in the package such as pranic healing, reiki, hypnotherapy, art, music and salt therapy, acupressure, acupuncture, crystal healing and aroma therapy. The one that was absolutely new to me was tap therapy, where you literally tap at specific points on your body to release its own energy and healing power. I was informed by the lady who educated me on this that I could achieve “emotional freedom” if I did it right.

As far as the clientele of the spiritual consultants goes, they share a few common features. One, almost everyone admits to being unhappy in some fundamental manner. Some say it more openly than others but the underlying features are general discontent (this despite having every possible material comfort), isolation and an almost pathological fear of change and inability to step out of their comfort zones. They feel a sense of “nothingness” they can’t quite explain. The nothingness that many would kill for is, in fact, killing them, as one of them confided. Most of them belong to a very affluent community where earning a living is not a concern and several admitted to having too much time on their hands. A large number are dealing with their children having left home to study abroad and the consequent empty nest syndrome.

But almost all of them say they find nothing that holds their interest. The failure to engage with the environment they find themselves in seems to be the binding factor. A strange isolation and apathy appears to take over, leading, in more acute cases, to depression.

A senior Delhi-based psychiatrist I have known for many years says this is one of the most severe and negative fallout of the post-1991 liberalisation phase in India which saw incomes skyrocket. You can buy everything material but the mind remains a space often inhabited by the devil.

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