Category Archives: Metaphysics

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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Filed under Empathy, Metaphysics, New Age

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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Filed under Agnosticism, Cognitive Biases, Metaphysics, New Age, Spirituality

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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Filed under Agnosticism, Alternative medicine, Cognitive Biases, Energy, Metaphysics, New Age, Skepticism, Sociology

The Reality of Atlantis, part 3 of 3

Continued from part 2:

photo of Edgar Cayce superimposed over AtlantisAfter tracking the story of Atlantis through history and into the 20th century, I did discover where my particular alien-infused, clairvoyant, crystal-powered, clone-making, reincarnating Atlantis memories originated. Though my story had its own unique features, the story itself came from the famed 20th-century clairvoyant, Edgar Cayce.

However, I first began dreaming and writing about my remembered past life in Atlantis when I was eleven or twelve years old — and at that time, I had not yet read anything by or about Edgar Cayce. So the question became “How did Edgar’s story get implanted into my memories? How did the story of Atlantis get from Edgar to me?”

Raised on a diet of Edgar Cayce

I digress: Back in 2003, while I was still struggling to understand my involvement in the New Age, I found Bob Carroll’s Skeptic’s Dictionary site, and ordered a number of his recommended books on metaphysical topics. Since a great deal of my life in the New Age was focused on alternative health practices and alternative diets, I ordered Mystical Diets: Paranormal, Spiritual, and Occult Nutrition Practices by Jack Raso.

Bingo!

Raso presented a bullet list (pp.75-76) of health advice from Edgar Cayce, and some of it was identical to advice I and my family received from the trance-medium Purcell (for instance, the 80-20 rule of raw-to-cooked foods and alkaline-to-acid foods is Cayce’s idea). I’ve since discovered that pieces of the dietary and lifestyle advice I got from Kan Li and Purcell were Cayce-inspired but not Cayce-attributed. I’m not suggesting plagiarism, because it’s pretty easy for people to lift ideas from others without realizing it — but some of the info Purcell channeled from Kan Li was actually was sourced from Cayce.

photo of the pharaoh Akhenaton

The Pharaoh Akhenaton, or, as I knew him, Dad.

And though I hadn’t read any Cayce before I recalled the details of my own past life in Cayce’s version of Atlantis, reincarnation was normal everyday talk in our spiritual group. One of Purcell’s ideas was that our group members had known each other in many shared past lives where we had all worked together to bring about great changes in human consciousness. That’s what we were all doing in Atlantis, and it’s what we did in Egypt at the time of Akhenaton (who banished Egypt’s polytheism in favor of the worship of one god and purportedly paved the way for Jesus). We were also together in Camelot, trying to change things for the better. We got around!

In the late 1970s, before Purcell’s group self-destructed, our present-day spiritual purpose was to raise planetary consciousness before the coming cataclysm (which I wrote about on my other blog: Why did you believe in the end of the world?). Since that prophesied cataclysm didn’t occur, I’m gonna go ahead and say that we achieved our goals (this is a joke!).  You’re welcome. Continue reading

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The Reality of Atlantis, part 2

Continued from part 1:

So, in the original story of the island kingdom of Atlantis (which was recounted in 500 C. E. by Plato’s uncle Solon), the five sets of twin sons of the god Poseidon intermarried with mortals, forgot their godly powers, and started acting like foolish, selfish humans. In anger and extreme disappointment, Zeus (the god over all Greek gods) destroyed Atlantis and wiped all traces of the island and its civilization from our world.

photo of mythical gryphon

Oh, he’s real – real awesome!

Spoiler: Atlantis was not a physical island in the actual world. I don’t say that it’s not a real place, because as the existence of thousands of books, stories, myths, poems, plays, ships, games, and movies about Atlantis has shown us, Atlantis has maintained a powerful hold on human imagination for centuries. It still does today. Atlantis is therefore not unreal. Atlantis is real in its own way; it has a reality that is mythical in nature.

Accessing the Mythical Imagination

Some people have the idea that myth = false. In their minds, a myth is not true, so therefore, we can ignore it. But that idea displays a stunning lack of imagination.

One of my favorite mythologists, Michael Meade, has said that enduring myths (such as creation myths and morality tales) are actually more true about human nature than regular stories are, because they’ve been through so many minds and so many retellings that all of the local or non-universal threads have been clipped off. After a certain number of decades (or centuries, in the case of the Atlantis mythology), what you end up with is an enduring story that speaks poetically to deep aspects of the human condition. Conventional stories simply can’t touch the soul in the way enduring myths do.

In my work with emotions and empathy, I make a distinction between the words imaginary, which means something that doesn’t exist, and imaginal, which means something that exists in the poetic, artistic, and mythic imagination. Of course, these two categories of imaginal and imaginary overlap, but there are important distinctions. Continue reading

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The Reality of Atlantis, part 1

photo of The Legend of AtlantisThough the tale of Atlantis and its fall has captivated people since Plato’s time (500 CE), Atlantis has special significance in the New Age subculture. It is not uncommon for two complete strangers in the New Age to meet and share remarkably similar stories of the rise and fall of Atlantis.

There is also a significant subset of New Age people who have memories of their own past lives in Atlantis. These memories invariably include stories about the advanced clairvoyant civilization on Atlantis and the unusual technologies used on the island (which are thought to include crystal-based power generation, lasers, flying machines, and cloning technology). The Atlantean culture, in these memories, was also influenced by extra-terrestrial or otherworldly entities. The eventual downfall of this advanced culture, in the New Age retelling of the story, was reportedly caused by the Atlanteans themselves, who courted their own demise (and the sinking of their island) by repeatedly breaking the laws of nature and attempting to attain godlike powers.

Since the story of Atlantis essentially catapulted me out of the New Age and back into college, my first self-directed research study traced the actual origins of the story of Atlantis — not merely in history, but also in the popular imagination. I wanted to know the real story of Atlantis and to discover when and where the very specific New Age stories of the magical, crystal-powered, psychic, alien-infused culture of Atlantis came into existence. Continue reading

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10. Neither a Traitor nor a Reformed Sinner

As I wrote in Bridging the Chasm between Two Cultures, I didn’t have a crisis of faith. I had a crisis of conscience, which is a very different thing indeed.

After that essay was published, I was branded as a traitor by many in the New Age. That was hard, but also sadly predictable, since people often read only enough to rile themselves up and cement their current views. However, it was interesting to contrast the reaction of my former New Age compatriots to the reactions I received from many skeptics.*

*I’m going to make a distinction here between cultural skeptics and people who are skeptical because it’s normal to be. We’re all skeptics, and we’re all skeptical; you don’t have to join a group to be skeptical. Skepticism is a function of having a brain, but a cultural skeptic is someone who identifies strongly with the skeptical culture, knows what skeptics are supposed to know, and shares a reliable set of references with other cultural skeptics.

When I wrote my essay, I unconsciously adopted the style of Shakespeare’s “Friend, Romans, countrymen…” speech, where I came in under the defenses of cultural skeptics, called myself out as their enemy, and told them I agreed with them. However, I also gently but persistently asked them why they were such complete failures at communicating their concerns. The response from the skeptical community was amazing. I only got one crank letter, and the rest were from smart and contemplative people who could not only take a punch, but actually suggested that I hit a little harder next time.

It was very freeing to write for people who weren’t thin-skinned, because my experience of the sensitivities of the New Age reader meant that I had to be so careful that I almost couldn’t write at all. Writing dissent material from inside the New Age (where dissent, judgment, and critical discernment are considered rude, unspiritual, and hyper-intellectual) was a linguistic challenge, but I think I did it fairly well.

When I wrote my piece for the Skeptical Inquirer, it was nice to take off the gloves somewhat, say some very challenging things, and then have readers take the challenge and run with it. It was fun to have people actually ask to be argued with and challenged!

Continue reading

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Filed under Cognitive Biases, Excellent Books, Metaphysics, New Age, Skepticism