Bright ideas revisited

Continued from part 1

Hello and welcome back!

I’ve been away: I did a couple of years of research, wrote my thesis on autism and the enforcement of normality, got my master’s degree, and am now training and licensing people in my applied work: Dynamic Emotional Integration®. It’s been an intense couple of years, and though I haven’t been updating this blog, I’ve still been thinking about everything here, and continuing to study paranormal and metaphysical ideologies.

Now I’m back, and following up on my previous post, where I wrote about entering a compounding pharmacy in my county, and stepping back 40 years into the shockingly evangelical era of alternative medicine. I had the opportunity to revisit that era again this year, this time with slightly different results.

Alternatives become necessary when the conventional fails, continued

The Caduceus, a fascinating mistake. This is actually the staff of Hermes, and it's related to commerce, and not medicine.

The Caduceus, a fascinating and telling mistake. This is actually the staff of Hermes, which is related to commerce, thievery, and undertaking — and not to healing or medicine.

Street drug serenade: I’m still supporting the friend whose prescription I was picking up at that compounding pharmacy back in 2013. My friend’s condition is serious and ongoing, and she and her doctors have tried everything on-label and off-label to address her chronic illness. She’s been on more medications and therapies than we can count, and though her doctor is conventional, he will often try alternative medications and treatments if he thinks there’s a chance that they might help.

There is a very, very off-label medication that I discovered for my friend’s condition; it’s known primarily as a street drug, and it needs to be administered by IV. We learned about this medication a few years ago, and tried to get my friend into a trial at the National Institutes of Health, but it didn’t work out, and we couldn’t find a local doctor who would even consider providing a trial treatment. There was one doctor in Los Angeles who offered to fly up to Monterey and provide an hour-long IV infusion for $1000 a visit, but the drive from here is 3 hours each way, and it just never came together.

Last month, my friend’s doctor discovered a clinic in a nearby county that offers IV infusions of this drug for $175 per treatment! So we went there together (my friend is not allowed to drive after the IV), and surprise! It’s the health spa where my mom worked when I was a teen and we were camping under the stairs at her friend’s house. The spa has a new name now, and though the giant 70s redwood hot tub is gone, the leaky skylight has been repaired, and the smell of chlorine had faded long ago, it’s old home week for me every time we go.

But let me not mince words — this place offers deeply questionable intravenous treatments (see below) based on the discredited idea of detoxification, superfoods, megadoses of vitamins, and other alternative approaches that promise to return people to perfect health.

I grew up in that detoxing, miracle food, megadosing, obsessive exercising, perfect health community, and let me tell you: these beliefs are extremely seductive and powerfully habit-forming. When I went cold turkey on all of my miracle foods and treatments back in 2003, my health didn’t change at all; however, the underlying issues that I had been obscuring with all of my obsessive-compulsive health rituals became apparent.

My actual healing from my true difficulties only commenced when I finally let go of my alternative medicine lifestyle. Continue reading

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Dark circles and bright ideas

Have you heard the good news?

“Stop. Just stop. I do not want to hear this.” It was all I could think to say to the woman behind the counter. Considering how shocking her aggressive sales pitch was, I’m astonished that I could say anything at all.

She was also shocked that I — that anyone — would not want her free medical advice and (loud and public) diagnosis of what had caused the dark circles under my eyes, because, in her view, she was being insightful and supportive.  She kept trying to come back to the topic, because she couldn’t believe her ears:

“Allopathic medicine can’t help you, but I know exactly what to do about your dark circles!”

I had to keep saying, “No. Stop it.”

“My husband had the same problem for years and…”

“Please stop!”

She was shocked by what she saw as my rudeness and stubbornness.

She seemed to have no workable frame through which to view me, so I paid for my friend’s prescription and got out of her compounding pharmacy as quickly as I could.

My theory is that I'm listening to the first person to mention my dark circles. Riveting!

My theory is that I’m listening to the first person to mention my dark circles. Riveting! 50 years later, not so much.

But outside in my car, I had to shake off like a cat who had smelled something bad. Here it was July of 2013, yet I had stepped backward forty years into the wild-eyed, fundamentalist era of alternative medicine, of intense certainties and promises of miracles, of ungrounded ideas promoted with evangelical fervor, and of a categorical distrust of anything conventional or, in the terminology of the community, of anything from “allopathic” medicine.

It was an era — and a mindset — that I knew very well, and really didn’t want to revisit.

However, I live in Northern California, where alternative medicine is a given; it is everywhere. I’m completely surrounded by it, and though I’ve made a kind of peace with it, quietly moving over to conventional medicine (thankfully, relievedly, happily) and away from metaphysical and paranormal alternatives, I sometimes witness people espousing views about health and medical care that are very concerning to hear.

Fasts, repetitive detoxification rituals, extreme diets, megadoses of supplements, miracle foods — these are normal and accepted behaviors in my community, and they concern me.

I’ve become very skilled at dissociating slightly so that people can’t see me react in sadness or frustration, because I remember what it was like to believe in all those miracles and wonders. Now, I just practice non-attachment while people talk about whatever new miracle cure or super food is going to change the world and heal every possible ailment, and I wait until the sermon ends.

But this woman, sitting behind the counter in her compounding pharmacy, surrounded by books from people like Suzanne Somers and Jenny McCarthy, went crackerdog about the dark circles under my eyes — I mean 1970s Jesus-freak street theater intense: she was going to bring me salvation from my dark circles and heal me. There was no way for me to escape a direct confrontation.

“Please stop it.”

From her point of view, she was helpfully giving me a free diagnosis based on what she fervently believed. From my point of view, she was being thoroughly inappropriate, violating HIPAA privacy rules (there were other customers in the pharmacy), and loudly proselytizing about a worldview that I no longer find helpful at all — and through which I and my loved ones have experienced untold suffering that we were never allowed to talk about, and that almost no one in the alternative medicine community wants to hear.

Hello darkness, my old friend

I’ve got dark circles under my eyes. I’ve had them since I was a baby, and they’re just a function of how my eyes are. I have deep-set eyes, a high bridge on my nose that casts shadows, and pale, thin skin that lets you see right through to the purplish blood vessels and darkness inside my eye sockets. I’m partially transparent! Continue reading

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A message to followers of my earlier work

Hello and welcome!

In this blog, I’m focusing on a sea change I made in my work. In 2003, I ended my psychic healing career so that I could return to college and study the social sciences. At that time, I pulled all of the books I controlled out of print (and the wonderful people at Sounds True allowed me to take all of my titles with them out of print too, the excellent humanitarian sweeties).

photo of Your Aura and Your Chakras bookHowever, one book remained. It’s called Your Aura & Your Chakras: The Owner’s Manual, and the publisher of that book didn’t want to let it go.

In July 2010, I added this introductory note to that book:

A note from the author: This book, written in 1997, represents an early version of my work with empathic ability, trauma healing, and the channeling of emotions. I have since moved completely away from metaphysical concepts, and I now understand that my empathic ability is neither psychic nor paranormal. Empathic skills like mine are considered unusual because people are very confused about emotions; strong empathy can look exactly like a psychic skill. However, empathy is a normal attribute present in all humans and many animals.

After a seven-year sabbatical that included extensive research and a degree in the social sciences, I resumed my public career in 2010. My work is now focused on teaching empathic mindfulness skills that help people interpret the messages and gifts inside their emotions so that they can increase their empathy and emotional awareness. While the particulars of my work have changed considerably, the essence is identical now to what it was then: I want all of us to live as intelligently, as compassionately, and as deeply as we can.

I send you many blessings,
Karla McLaren

Okay. I no longer include metaphysical or paranormal concepts in my work, so let’s look at that.

A caveat before you begin

If you’re very invested in paranormal and metaphysical explanations of the world, you get to keep them. I’m not here to change your mind or suggest that you’re not thinking clearly if you believe different things than I do. For me, after more than thirty years in the New Age, I needed to look at alternative explanations for things that have been attributed to paranormal or mystical causes, and this is what my thinking is now. Salud! Continue reading

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A new prophecy for 2012

photo of new year fireworks2012 is almost here, and this exciting and troubling 2011 is almost over. I hope you’re warm, safe, and well, and I wish you a Happy New Year!

As we head into a year that is being promoted by some as either the end of the world or the beginning of a new dawn in human development, I’d like to take an empathic, historical look at prophecies that foretell the end of the world, the end of an era, or the beginning of a new, Utopian society.

The never-ending story of the end of the world

Though end-time beliefs and prophecies may seem unusual in our post-Enlightenment age, they’re actually very, very common. Humans have written down end-times prophecies since the beginning of recorded history, and these prophecies continue to be a central feature in many communities. In fact, the end times are a basic tenet of Christianity on the religious side of things, while some form of end-times theorizing (the eventual supernova of our sun, for instance) is a basic tenet of astrophysics on the scientific side of things. Environmentalists and climate scientists have yet another series of end-time or dark-time scenarios.

The idea that the world will end and that humanity will cease to exist — this is a very common idea. What seems uncommon is the specificity we’re seeing these days, where people swear that the end is going to occur on a specific day (remember Harold Camping’s May 21st prophecy?), through a specific event (the Supermoon of last April), or in a specific year (2012).

But in fact, these end-times prophecies are made constantly, regularly, and almost predictably, as this centuries long list from the Frontline story of Apocalypse shows. End times prophecies are absolutely everywhere, and they’re actually sort of addicting, because once these terrifying and ecstatic prophecies get into you, it’s really hard to let them go.

Consider the Millerites, a group of nearly 100,000 Americans who believed the prophecies of Baptist lecturer William Miller, who told them that Jesus would return (and end the world as they knew it) in December, 1843. Though the world was supposed to end in 1843, Miller’s followers were promised a life in Paradise with Jesus. Miller’s prophecy filled his followers with terrible fear and glorious hope; the Millerites were a deeply devout and deeply emotional group of believers.

December 1843 came and went with no apocalypse and no sign of the Messiah, so Miller returned to his prayers and re-prophesied the return of Jesus for March, 1844. When that didn’t happen, Miller re-re-prophesied the return of Jesus for October of that same year. That third failure is now known as the Great Disappointment. Continue reading

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The Unfortunate Legacy of the Sokal Hoax

Continued from part 1:

The excesses and tortuous intellectual posturings of many postmodern philosophers created a backlash, both within the fields of philosophy and social science, and in the disciplines that were being targeted by the postmodernists and poststructuralists. In the “anything goes” atmosphere of postmodern thought, a lot of pretty loopy ideas gained ground and were supported in many cases by people wielding the twin weapons of faux intellectualism and truly awful writing.

In this explosion of chaotic ideas, bad writing, and uncareful thinking, a new narrative about science was created. This narrative was deeply conflicted, because it simultaneously labeled science as a human-created elite enterprise that was an integral creator of injustice, and it glorified certain sciences, especially quantum physics, as proof of the awesome truth of postmodern — and prescientific — ideas.  It got pretty damned wild up in there, I gotta say.

For instance, the idea that quantum physics proves the existence of things like ghosts, past lives, energy healing, and gods is something that arose from within the tumult of postmodern writings about science. As you can imagine, this made many actual physicists pretty angry, because the people writing about quantum physics had no training in physics whatsoever. One physicist did something to challenge the nonsense.

Some people called it the Sokal Affair, but since there was no sex or champagne, I call it a hoax instead Continue reading

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Truth is culturally relative – ow! Stop hitting me!

“That’s just cultural relativism,” he spat angrily as we walked through his neighborhood. I became very quiet but continued walking next to him, not knowing what to say next. It was early 2004, and I had just left behind my entire career as a psychic healer and returned to college. He was a psychologist and skeptic who had invited me up to his home for a weekend, and we had been having a lovely, intense, intellectually liberating time up until that moment. I had clearly stepped over a line….

I was shocked by his disgust, which was the kind you hear when some people say “welfare queen” or “bible thumper.”  What I understood him to mean was that cultural relativism leads to making excuses for everything and never holding anyone or anything to a firm standard.  So when I said to him that skeptics seemed very similar to evangelicals, except they had a different point of view to sell – or that within my New Age culture, judgment was considered extremely rude and therefore wasn’t used, my skeptical friend spat out the words “cultural relativism.”

He didn’t like skeptics being compared to religious fanatics, and he didn’t like me making what he saw as excuses for New Age people who didn’t use their judgment.  He also said something dismissive about postmodernism, but I didn’t know what that meant and was too embarrassed to ask.  I thought he was talking about cubist art or something.

We finished our walk and found more happy topics. After that weekend, I returned to college to find out what the hell cultural relativism and postmodernism were. If they could make my friend this angry, they must have been very bad ideas indeed.

Except that they weren’t

Strangely, when I started to study cultural relativism, I couldn’t find anything bad about it — at all. Cultural relativism is actually a ground-breaking, scientific way to observe human cultures. Continue reading

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Why I am not a psychic — or a skeptic

In 2003, after 32 years in the New Age, and after having published nine books and audio learning sets on psychic healing, auras, chakras, and metaphysical concepts of energy, I left my career to return to college. I made this decision after two years of self-directed study into many of the metaphysical and paranormal ideas I had based my career upon.

While leaving those ideas behind was very frightening and painful, it was a valuable learning experience (this is a joke you will understand further down the page).

I returned to college in 2004 to study the social sciences (history, sociology, criminology, psychology, demographics, economics, cultic studies, and anthropology) because I wanted to understand what had happened in my own life. I also wanted to understand how spiritual beliefs are formed, how ideas are created and change over time, how social movements arise and decay, how groups create their own realities … you know, simple stuff like that.

I graduated with a degree in Social Science in 2006. Though I focused on the sociology of work & occupations, the sociology of cults & high-control groups, the sociology of murder and criminology, and career testing & guidance (okay, I’ve got a lot of interests), I also studied religions and the New Age when I could. I am no longer working with paranormal or metaphysical ideas, though I continue to study them through the lenses of anthropology, sociology, history, neurology, and social and cognitive psychology.

While I am agnostic* about whether any paranormal, spiritual, religious, or metaphysical concepts actually exist, I now understand that I personally am not a psychic, and that there was nothing metaphysical or paranormal about what I did in my previous healing career.

*Definition for clarity: Agnostic means without gnosis or certain knowledge. It is different from atheism, which is merely a lack of belief in gods. Being an agnostic is sort of comical. When the question of religion was posed in a class and I answered, “I’m an agnostic,” a Christian student said loudly to the rest of the group, “That means she wants to believe in God, but she can’t.” Hah! I corrected her, “Actually, it means that I’m saying we can’t know because we are imperfect observers of the world. I am an atheist in regard to every human conceptualization of God (religion has always concerned me, which was why I was originally drawn to the New Age), but I’m able to leave room for a creative force that we aren’t yet capable of understanding. I’m open-minded.”

Some of my atheist friends think agnosticism is a lily-livered kind of fence-sitting, where you’re trying to keep all your options open just in case there’s hell in the offing. I say Hah! to that as well. I didn’t choose agnosticism because I’m afraid; I chose it because I’m willing to be surprised.

What I understand now after all this time is how culture formed my career as a psychic healer, but also how my natural abilities formed the core of my work. Through my rather excessive empathy, I was able to create a full-fledged psychic career, not because I was tricking anyone, but because I can read emotions, gestures, undercurrent, body language, and intentions to a greater extent than is deemed normal. I’ve also been through intense trauma in my life, and because of that, I’m able to understand things about emotions and the human condition that many people don’t understand at all.

The work I did wasn’t about magically reading the future or past lives; rather, it was a form of peer counseling based upon my own understanding of how to rebuild a life after extreme trauma. Continue reading

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