"Are you missing something?" the crystal shaman wants to know.
I've been staring at bowls of amethyst, malachite and rose quartz glistening in the sun, piled ever so delicately on sheepskin rugs. Here at In Goop Health, Gwyneth Paltrow's inaugural wellness summit, all of the crystals are enticing, their edges smooth and shiny after being put through a rock tumbler. But are any of these stones speaking to me? Is there one that will reveal something about my innermost hopes and dreams? A stone to radiate warmth and joy into my life?
Colleen McCann, a blond in mirrored sunglasses who bills herself as an "intuitive medium" and "reiki master" as well as "crystal shaman," indicates that this selection process shouldn't be difficult.
"The crystal carries the energetic vibration that, on a cellular level, the body needs right now," she says. "It's literally taking you, like a radar, right to it."
I try to tune into this invisible, energetic force drawing my spirit toward a specific crystal. But I keep getting distracted by superficial thoughts: This purple stone would look so pretty next to the diamond-shaped one! I wonder how these would fit on my office desk?
"I feel like you're missing something," McCann says.
"Um, yes," I reply. "I'm missing something."
In a way, almost all 600 of us at the sold-out Goop summit are here because we're missing something.
Though judging by appearances, no one here appears to be wanting for much. After all, tickets for the one-day event began at $500 and went all the way up to $1,500 — instantly creating a self-selecting group. About 95% of the crowd appear to be white women between the ages of 30 and 50.
Dressed in flowery sundresses or Lululemon leggings — those wanting to participate in workout demonstrations had been instructed to arrive in athleisure wear — most have come to this anonymous Culver City warehouse to better themselves. Because even if you look like you have it all, the quest for self-improvement never ceases: You can always eat better, parent better, work out better, look better.
For Paltrow, this crusade has personal roots. At the beginning of the day, when she emerged onto a stage to greet the crowd — swathed in ethereal pink paisley — she tells us that her journey to wellness began two decades ago, when her father was diagnosed with cancer. She wanted to heal him, to make him feel better, and she started wondering: "Why do we all not feel well? Why is there so much cancer? Why are we all so tired? Why have we created a society where so many of us feel over-obligated with responsibility to the point where we aren't feeling good — and what can we do about it?"
Later that afternoon, when I'm allotted two precious minutes to speak with the Goop chief executive herself, I ask her: Is everyone here truly on a wellness quest, or do most of them just want to emulate you?
"Oh, I don't think so," she says, shaking her head vigorously. "I think what it is is that I'm very, sort of, vulnerable in my quest to, like — I'm transparent in my quest to be a better mother, be a better friend, be healthier. I think there are a lot of people, in this day and age, who are very interested in this idea of wellness and how to improve. I think women in general are really looking for some solutions, some tools, some information. I think a lot of people have been down a conventional route with medicine and are interested in alternative medicine, functional medicine. So it's nice to be able to bring all the experts that we love and who really resonate with us to a broader group."
There are, indeed, numerous Paltrow-endorsed experts at In Goop Health, speaking on everything from how to balance your gut biome to how to attain the best orgasm. During the 11-hour conference, words of wisdom from both a veteran heart surgeon and actress Nicole Richie are dispensed with equal weight. It's up to the audience to decide which advice —if any — to follow.
At times, this proves to be a difficult challenge, particularly during a mid-morning session about gut health featuring three doctors. One of them, Dr. Amy Myers, explains that 60% to 80% of the human immune system exists in the gut — so when the gut is out of balance, problems occur. There are many things that can disrupt our gut health, Dr. Steven Gundry adds, including antibiotics, which can kill off your microbiome for up to two years. (And don't think probiotics will reverse that damage, he says — taking a probiotic is like "planting pine trees" when you're trying to regrow a "lush rainforest.") Anti-inflammatories are also destructive to the gut, he adds. Taking just one Advil or Aleve is "like swallowing a hand grenade. It blows giant, gaping holes in the wall of your gut." Instead of these medications, Myers suggests, try natural remedies: Turmeric. Fish oil. Magnesium.
Also on Gundry's danger list? Nightshades, better known as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants. The peels and seeds of these flowering plants were "designed to penetrate our gut wall and make us sick," Gundry says. He adds that corn and soybeans, which we feed to chicken, are also bad for us, and that the French banned corn as "unfit for human consumption." He does, however, endorse yams, sweet potatoes and jicama.
If those three foods don't sound appealing, perhaps you should just consider fasting. "Don't eat. I can't stress that enough," Gundry says. "We have the ability to store fat." According to the doctor, humans evolved to fast and then feast, so for six months of the year he does not eat breakfast or lunch and consumes all of his calories in two hours each evening.
Unfortunately for Gundry, a lunch break has already been scheduled. As attendees empty out of the main hall, many migrate toward a Sweetgreen booth, where salads are being handed out. I opt for the Mexican elote bowl, which contains both tomatoes (nightshade!) and corn (unfit for human consumption!).
Outside at a picnic table, waiting to have their aura photographed, I find two women from the Kansas City area who have traveled to L.A. for the summit.
"We definitely came to educate ourselves," says Darby Brender, who owns a fitness studio in Kansas.
"We thought this would be the cutting edge — the best of the best to give us some of our own takeaways," adds her friend, Laurie Morrissey, who works in public relations.
"But they're kind of stressing me out. I had C-sections and I didn't do seeding," says Brender, referring to Myers' advice that babies born by C-section be exposed to vaginal bacteria. "Have I done everything wrong?"
"Or that man who is like, 'I just eat all my calories in two hours every night,'" Morrissey adds. "We don't want to sound like Midwestern moms, but what do you do when you're running your three kids to soccer? I'm like, this is not realistic. We go to Whole Foods and we eat healthy, but that's not all day every day. My kids can be like, 'Gross, I'm not gonna eat soy, rice milk, vegan.'"
A representative from the aura photography dome comes over to tell the two women that, sadly, the session has been overbooked and they won't be able to document their auras. Because the other activities were also overbooked — including the Dyson blow-outs, the oxygen bar, the IV drip station and, of course, the crystal readings — the ladies decide to venture across the street to climb the Baldwin Hills stairs until the next panel begins.
I wander back toward the media room, where various celebrities are posing in front of an In Goop Health logo made out of vegetables. Here, I find Esther Perel, a psychologist whose new podcast — which lets listeners in on private couples therapy sessions — has recently earned her positive reviews. At her after-lunch panel "The Three-Way" panel, she's set to talk about "orgasm equality" and "moving past sexual shame." But she wants to make it clear that she's not comfortable being billed as a "relationship expert."
"I do not have the answers," Perel says. "And anybody who claims today to have answers like that is playing into the system. Because I'm not sure that we do. But we can help people — we can shape the conversation. And that is a tremendous responsibility, which I take with honor. But that doesn't make you the expert."
So then all of these people here, all of us seekers — are we engaging in a fruitless exercise? What is compelling us to look for answers from those who openly admit to not having any?
"Today, we have to decide everything ourselves," she says. "Our jobs are chosen by us, our partners are chosen by us, our belief systems are chosen by us and our relational ethics are chosen by us. Never have the burdens of the self been heavier. That burden of having to define everything ourselves makes us seekers, and makes us want to look into communities where we have other people who are trying to answer some of these questions. We have more freedom than we have ever had, and we have more self-doubt and uncertainty about how to deal with the freedom than we have ever had."
Her reasoning makes sense to me. If I had at least some explicit guidelines to follow — don't eat tomatoes, always carry a certain crystal, stay away from Advil — wouldn't the anxiety of daily life lessen? If I could conquer, say, my gut health, wouldn't deciding whom to marry or whether or not to have kids or what career path to follow feel less overwhelming?
Conveniently, the final panel of the day is supposed to touch on this very subject: "Balls in the Air," a discussion moderated by Paltrow featuring Cameron Diaz, Tory Burch, Nicole Richie and Miranda Kerr. The ladies have gathered, ostensibly, to discuss how they have achieved balance in their work and personal lives.
Kerr, a model who has her own skin care line, says Kundalini yoga had been powerful for her. She also says she liked taking her shoes off and putting her feet in the grass. "Doing simple things like that — really being conscious of being in the moment," she says, "wherever I am."
"Do you have grounding slippers?" Richie asks, referring to shoes that supposedly promote conductivity with the earth.
Kerr says she does, and asks her fellow panelists if they had tried leech therapy.
"I got a leech facial," the Australian explains. "I kept the leeches. They're in my Koi pond, because [the facialist] takes them home and kills them, and I didn't feel good about that."
Paltrow seems pleased with the revelation, joking that leech therapy would be on the schedule at the next summit. (Another In Goop Health has already been scheduled for January in New York, and another in L.A. next June.)
I leave the room and head for the door feeling confused. Leech therapy? Grounding slippers? Yams? Are these the simple truths I need to free myself from the crushing autonomy of modern-day life? Or is it all hooey — a distraction from the harsh reality that none of us, as Perel says, has the answers?
Earlier in the day, crystal shaman McCann has one answer. She seems certain that she knows what is missing in my life: blue kyanite. It's a long, columnar crystal made of silicate mineral. She tells me to pick up a piece of it and sit before her on a pillow tuffet, where I pour my crystal selections into her palms. Then she asks me to turn my recorder off, per the request of her "spirit guides."
She proceeds to tell me that the very crystal I am missing — the blue kyanite — indicates that I have psychic gifts. I am the kind of person, she says, who walks into rooms and takes on the emotions of every person there. I'm an empath. When I look into another's eyes, I'm seeing something more than just pupils.
With this insight, she hands me a pink, purse-sized "Medicine Bag." Inside is a dried sage bundle and my "crystal prescription": The blue kyanite, desert diamond, amethyst, pink Botswana agate and crystal quartz — which is apparently the black skinny jean of the crystal community. Everyone needs it.
I get up, clutching my prescription. Almost immediately, another wide-eyed young woman takes a seat next to McCann, saying she needs to know whether she should move to New York with her boyfriend. I wonder: Why would she leave such a big decision up to some crystals? Maybe I should tell her that she likely already knows the answer. … Wait, what if I really do have psychic gifts?
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