Friday, August 05, 2005

Stroking toads

Feng Shui – which could be described as a kind of metaphysical interior decorating – is becoming big business in Poland. But why, one hundred years after Albert Einstein’s e=mc2 are these anti-scientific remedies, for problems we didn’t even know we had, taking over not just the way we arrange our bathrooms, but the way we arrange our lives?

I turned on the television on Monday to watch A Question for Breakfast, a programme I have mentioned before on this spot. Studio presenters introduce ‘experts’ on anything and everything, and viewers call in with their questions. This day, the subject was Feng Shui. Loads of people rang in with questions.

Feng Shui, like lots of other ‘New Ageisms’ took off here after the fall of communism. Now there is no escaping the weird and wacky in Poland. Turn on the ITV cable station and get your tarot card reading done live on air. Walk down any high street and pop into the esoteric shop and buy your self some rhino horn. But feng Shui is the new ageism of choice for the Polish middle classes.

So, I have been boning up on the principles of Feng Shui. Maybe it could help me too.

As with everything that comes from the East, it’s all about energy, karma, ying and yang, or whatever.

If you want a successful life, then you must optimize the flow of energy in your home. Chi, the Feng Shui energy thingy, comes in through your front door - although it never rings the bell.

Once in your front door, energy likes to flow freely. If you have potted plants in a place where red flowers should be, then your life is going to be absolute hell. Apparently.

Clean up all clutter and mess. Feng Shui does not like mess. Dirty windows cloud your judgment! Burnt out light bulbs contribute to a lack of vision!

Certain ‘hot spots’ in your home have to be activated. If you have a problem with money, then the problem could just lie in the way you have arranged your kitchen. If you have a problem with you relationship, then the problem could be found – maybe not surprisingly - in the bedroom. Is you sex life not swinging as it should? Then throw away that bottle of Viagra and rearrange the bedroom furniture, stupid!

Put lots of crystals, chimes and fish tanks everywhere, except in the bathroom. In the bathroom keep the toilet seat down, because if you don’t then the energy of chi will immediately spot this and dive head first down the pan.

And above all, make sure you have lots of models of frogs and toads. Before leaving for work in the morning, make sure you give the little toad a little stroke on his little head. Go on, you know it makes sense.

The obvious question, I suppose, is why do so many intelligent people in Poland, and elsewhere, fall hook line and sinker for this gibberish?

Maybe it’s because people have lost faith in the West; with science, with progress. And if the West is bad, then the East must be good.

So here are a few more drops of wisdom from the East that you might like to try.

For example: feeling depressed, lonely, spiritually unfulfilled? Then why not try what is known as coning, or ear candling. This involves a hollow candle inserted into your ear and lit. The resulting vacuum does not just suck out your earwax, but also vacuums up bad energies and karma. If this goes wrong, however, then it could suck out half your brain cells, as well.

Radio Polonia does not advise you to try this at home, listeners.

So maybe it would be wiser to do what the Xinhua news agency says that 3 million Chinese do everyday before breakfast: drink your own urine! Some prefer it straight; apparently, others say that a few drop in your orange juice works best. This, say devotees, cures anything from flu, to toothache, fatigue, lumbago, depression, Parkinson’s disease, athlete’s foot, diabetes and much, much more. I bet it’s even a good cure for bulimia! Or maybe not. It does make sense, of course. It is a completely portable cure; it is free and could be marketed as the ultimate home brew.

To my knowledge, however, the only home brew Poles are interested in is cooking up their own vodka. But naturopathy, homeopathy, and a whole host of so-called ‘alternative medicines’ certainly are big news here. Worldwide, alternative medicine – meaning medicines that have failed to pass any sort of scientific test and basically don’t work– are worth 15 billion dollars in sales every year.

Another obvious question, in a country where 95% claim to be Catholic is: why are so many Poles dabbling in what could be termed ‘New Ageism’?

Well, you won’t be surprised to know that in a country like Poland, the sociology of religion is one of the most researched topics in social science departments. Leading sociologists in the field, such as Irena Borowik, Tadeusz Doktor and Darota Hall, say that the Polish are “belongers but not believers’. Poles customize their beliefs to fit their lives. In a mono-religious culture, Poles are surprisingly pluralistic.

So New Age quackery fits in well.

And New Ageism fits in well with the West as well. The West really has lost faith in itself. It is suspicious of the very science that has made it so successful. And into this vacuum comes quackery, irrationality and fundamentalism of all sorts.

And we all know where that particular road can lead. Stroking toads, sometimes, can be bad for our health.

Read on:
Peculiarity of the new age movement Poland by Dorota Hall, Warsaw University

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