The purpose of this paper is to discuss the “New Age” movement. It will be seen that this represents in many ways the changes that society is currently undergoing in its shift from an industrial way of life to the values of an information age. The “New Age” movement is one that gradually grew out of the ideals of the 1960s counter-culture movements in America and elsewhere. In that decade, the so-called baby boom generation came of age and began exploring and developing its own value systems, which often sharply contrasted with the established standards of the previous age. There was a general understanding among the youth of that period that the world was entering the “Age of Aquarius” and that new lifestyles would have to emerge out of that transition. As such, there was an explosion of interest in elements that later evolved into New Age concerns, such as holistic health techniques, meditation, and the communal power of music as exhibited in rock festivals such as Woodstock.
The various counter-culture movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s can be viewed as either positive or negative in their overall influence on society. The simplest definition for the counter-culture in that time is that it “represented an unorganized and varied attack by dissenters on established cultural norms.” It was a time for sexual experimentation, which was manifested positively by leading to liberation movements for women, and also for homosexuals. In a more negative aspect, the spirit of sexual experimentation in that time led to a libertine climate which has become highly criticized in the 1980s with the advent of AIDS. In the 1960s there was strong interest in the exploration of alternative lifestyles and beliefs. In a positive sense, this led to an awareness in Eastern religions and other faiths, many of which have formed the backbone of the New Age movement in the 1980s. In a negative sense, however, the search for alternative lifestyles in the 1980s also led to a desire for dropping out from society, an ideal which was manifested in such activities as communal living and widespread drug use. In the 1980s, it can be seen that the New Age movement has rejected the idea of dropping out, seeking instead to find ways to merge a spiritual lifestyle with a spirit of all-American consumerism. The counter-culture movement of the 1960s also found expression in student and racial protests and the rebellious activities of such groups as the Yippies and the Weather Underground. Again, these acts worked positively by bringing attention to the social rights of all Americans and by expressing the distaste of most Americans for the Vietnam War. However, such violent activities were also negative in many ways, and the tactics of violence have certainly been discarded by most New Age advocates in the 1980s.
Thus, although the current New Age movement can be seen as an extension of the 1960s counter-culture movements, at the same time it represents a distinct evolution in attitude from those earlier values. The baby-boom generation of the 1960s has now grown to become the productive, consuming adults of the 1980s. As such, the members of the New Age movement have cleaned up their act, rejecting drug use and rebellion for the most part, and instead embracing the concepts of holistic health and spiritual growth through meditation and other disciplines. Along the way, new ideas in spirituality have been adopted, such as channeling and the use of crystals. The primary mood of the current movement is not to completely reject the ideals of the old society, but to seek ways to integrate spirituality into the realities of material existence. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the New Age movement is that it represents a change that has affected all levels of life and consumerism for the 1980s’ adult. Although its major thrust is in the direction of spirituality, it is also entwined with the ideals of business. As such, the ideals of the New Age movement in its current state cannot be separated from the fact that it represents a huge market for a variety of “New Age” products.
Among the New Age markets that have developed in this atmosphere, one of the most prominent is the one centered around the concepts of health and healing. Various concepts of nutrition, many of which are in contrast to the ideals of a standard American diet, have surfaced in a trend that can be seen in holistic health magazines, health food stores and vegetarian restaurants. Similarly, there has developed a wide market for techniques that are designed to balance the body and mind in a full spiritual and physical integration, with the idea that “the image of brawn with no brains is not the aim of a fitness program.” In this regard, techniques for exercise or aerobics are increasingly being merged with techniques for meditation or visualization. Furthermore, health techniques that are designed to integrate the various body systems, such as yoga, tai chi, acupuncture, and massage therapy, have all become increasingly popular among the New Age movement.
In addition to the personal growth ideals mentioned above, there has been a growth in New Age counseling and therapy groups, which range from religious to occult to scientific orientations. Among the New Age groups of a more scientific bent is the “New Age community” for research into mental processes which is headed by Robert Monroe in Nelson County, Virginia. At the Monroe Institute, sound waves are used to “induce altered states of consciousness.” In this way, Robert Monroe can be seen as attempting to merge scientific research with the ideals of spirituality which characterize most New Age movements.
The importance of sound in spiritual transformation processes has also been expressed with the advent of a consumer product known as “New Age music.” New Age music embraces the ancient ideals contained in mantras, as well as the idea that musical tones in a certain context can relax the mind and make it become open to higher states of consciousness. Out of these ideas, a new form of music has developed which can perhaps best be described as meditative, in contrast to the acid rock that was popular in the counter-culture of the 1960s. It is interesting to note that the idea of using music and sound to help usher in the “New Age” can be seen in the music of the mystical composer Alexander Scriabin at the turn of the century. However, the concept of “New Age music” that has been spawned in the 1980s is more closely related to the idealism of rock music in the early 1960s and early 1970s, and the “powerful support for the many ‘New Age’ impulses that had their rise then: the Peace Movement, ecology, the awakening to the Orient, consciousness expansion, the desire for freedom from pigheaded authority.”
An important aspect of New Age consumerism is wrapped up in an interest in various occult factors, such as communication with UFOs, the idea of trance channeling with unseen entities, and the mystical powers that are generally attributed to crystals. Many of these sentiments received an enthusiastic boost when they were popularized in the books of the actress Shirley McLaine, who is a strong supporter as well as a leader in the New Age movement. In line with these interests, there has also been renewed interest in such occult practices as astrology. It is not difficult to see the importance of astrology in the New Age movement. In fact, the very movement itself is closely related to the teachings of astrology in that the “New Age” movement supposedly represents a phase of transition into the “Age of Aquarius,” which will last for the next 2,000 years. According to astrologers, the “Age of Aquarius” will contrast the dying order known as the “Age of Pisces.” In the Age of Pisces, which began with the time of Jesus, there has been continual religious turmoil; however, in the upcoming Age of Aquarius, there will be “a higher rate of vibration between the spirit and the earth plane, so that communication is possible . . . “ Since Aquarius is an “air sign,” it is felt by believers in astrology that the pending “New Age” will be characterized by such factors as space travel, and increased communication through air waves, such as mass media and satellites. Most astrologers disagree as to when the Age of Aquarius is actually supposed to begin, but there is a general agreement that the world is currently in a state of transition from one age to the next. This state of change itself is an essential element in understanding the concerns of the New Age movement: “The New Age is a fundamental awakening of man’s capacity to understand the nature of change within himself, within others, within the Universe.”
Although there has been controversy over the exact time for the shift of ages, the recent event which has become known as the “Harmonic Convergence” marked an important event in solidifying the experience of “New Age” consciousness throughout America. The New Age philosopher, Jose Arguelles, promoted the ancient Mayan belief that August 16, 1987 would represent the death of the old age, as “three planets lined up with the new moon.” New Age believers by the thousands turned out for celebrations on that day in sacred sites throughout America in order to create a spirit of peace and harmony for the dawning of the New Age. Many scientists criticized this action, charging that there was no scientific basis for believing that the alignment of planets would have any specific effect on consciousness. Nevertheless, the vast turnout of believers, as well as the publicity received by the event of the “Harmonic Convergence” helped to establish the vitality of the “New Age” market.
Enterprising businesses have recognized the market value inherent in these changing values. Many entrepreneurs have sought ways to exploit the New Age market to fullest advantage. In this respect, big businesses are beginning to realize that the “self-help” market, which has existed for many years now, is suddenly growing into astounding new proportions. As such, it has been noted that, “No longer . . . are the chief customers for self-help the aged and the sick or the superstitious. Many of the consumers today are among the most sought after in America: 25 to 50, achievement-oriented, with high incomes.” As such, there has been a rush among manufacturers and producers of goods to tap into this growing market. In the last few years, there has been an unprecedented appearance of New Age books, magazines, records, courses, medical facilities, natural food stores and vacation retreats, among other things. It is quite likely that such products will continue to appear in upcoming yeears, as they have been proven to be very lucrative. Among New Age success stories are: the sales of crystals, which brings in over $100 million a year; Windham Hill Records, whose New Age music recordings earn over $35 million per year; Nightingale-Conant Corporation, which earns $32 million a year selling self-help audio cassettes; and Omega Retreats which makes $2 million per year offering vacation retreats to New Age customers.
It should be noted, however, that not all business people interested in the New Age movement necessarily seek to exploit the market. Some writers, such as Paul Hawken in his book Growing a Business, suggest that New Age principles themselves can be incorporated into effective business management. Hawken states that the most successful businesses are those that realize that money is only one part of the overall goal. He suggests utilizing a higher view of business in addition to financial growth: “The successful owners are faithful to what they want to do in their lives, to their sense of self and values.”
The most remarkable thing about the New Age movement is how readily it can be related to ideas of sociologists regarding current changes in society from an old age into a new one. Many important thinkers have discussed this concept at length, including Alvin Toffler and John Naisbitt. Toffler, for instance, has noted that the world is currently undergoing a transformation from an industrial age into an information age, an idea that is also expressed by Naisbitt in his book Megatrends. Toffler has effectively related the symptoms of transformation to the sentiments that are seen to be expressed in both the 1960s counter-culture and in the 1980s New Age movement. He feels that the proliferation in spiritual and intellectual “fads” represents a great change that is being manifested in “a maelstrom of conflicting, confusing, and cacophonous ideas.” Toffler goes on to describe some of the ways that the world is changing. Many of these changes are readily visible in the New Age movement, such as the development of wholistic thought, the growth of new concepts in economics and consumerism, and the adoption of “new assumptions about nature, progress, evolution, time, space, matter, and causation.” Toffler acknowledges that many of these new assumptions and new ways of viewing the world are coming about in part because of the influence of the computer in modern life. The computer is central to the basic transformation of society from industry to information, an idea that is reflected by John Naisbitt who believes that the computer now enables people to shift their attention from maintaining hierarchical institutions and keeping track of people and things, to being able to “restructure our institutions horizontally.”
The computer has been central to the New Age movement, opening new doors for spiritual and intellectual growth, and also providing a means for tapping into the growing New Age market. In this regard, the New Age movement reflects the beliefs of Naisbitt that the world’s society is currently growing to incorporate more information consciousness, more high tech-high touch sensibilities, more instant participation in information sharing, and more options for personal choice. Furthermore, the computer revolution is incorporating itself into the New Age movement through what Naisbitt considers to be a growth in networking trends, in which there is an increase in “people talking to each other, sharing ideas, information, and resources.” In addition, the New Age movement is reflected in Naisbitt’s understanding of the developing change from institutional help to self-help in modern society. Naisbitt acknowledges that an essential aspect of the new era will be self-help in the form of health and education through consumerism. Furthermore, Naisbitt hits the nail on the head in describing this new consumerism in terms of the New Age sentiments of individuality and avoidance of mainstream ideas: “The new atmosphere of self-help favors diversity, openness, even eccentricity . . . with people relying on themselves outside the conforming structures of institutions, individualism will flourish.”
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Allen Weinstein, and Frank Otto Gatell, Freedom and Crisis: An American History (New York: Random House, 1981), p. 903. ↑
George Caceres, “Whole Life Fitness: Starting on the Road to Fitness,” Whole Life Monthly. Issue 71, February, 1988, p.19. ↑
James Reston, “Mission to a Mind,” Omni (July 1984): 53. ↑
Joscelyn Godwin, Harmonies of Heaven and Earth (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International, 1987), 43. ↑
Ibid., 115. ↑
Brad Steiger, Revelation: The Divine Fire (New York: Berkley Books, 1981), p. 163. ↑
Ibid., p. 172. ↑
Martha Smilgis, “A New Age Dawning,” Time (August 31, 1987), p. 63. ↑
Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, “Mainstream Metaphysics,” Forbes (June 1, 1987), p. 156. ↑
Ibid., p. 158. ↑
Peter Dworkin, “A ‘New Age’ Look At Business,” U.S. News and World Report (November 30, 1987), p. 51. ↑
Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave (New York: Bantam, 1981), p. 289. ↑
Ibid., p. 356. ↑
John Naisbitt, Megatrends (New York: Warner Books, 1984), p. 282. ↑
Ibid., pp. xxii-xxiii. ↑
Ibid., p. 215. ↑
Ibid., p. 174. ↑