It's part circus and county fair, part trade show for crystals and gemstones, health foods and healing devices. A megadose of metaphysics is thrown in for those who are into spirit communications and getting it all together with the "Universal Cosmic Consciousness."
Judging from the estimated 30,000 souls who filled the Los Angeles Airport Hilton Convention Center for its 3-day Presidents' Day weekend run, the Whole Life Expo vibrated a lot of positive energy for the growing Southern California New Age crowd.
Billed as the largest New Age exhibition and symposium in the nation, the event--held in Southern California each year since 1983--featured 200 speakers and nearly 300 exhibit booths. Long lines of people, who paid up to $33 per workshop plus $17 a day for general admission, wound around the hotel lobbies and into the street on the opening day.
"The energy in L.A. is so incredible here compared to anywhere else we go!" exulted Dick Sutphen of Sedona, Ariz., who packed them into his workshop on "The Self-Creation Formula."
Basically, his message was that through altered-state processing, one can tap into the "ultimate power" that comes from "single-mindedness" and thus solve problems, remove mental blocks and achieve goals.
Some presentations were more openly materialistic, despite an appeal to a mystical base. "Moneylove" subliminal tapes, for example, promised "the power of prosperity consciousness . . . Get your first million here today. " The expo special for the tapes was $49.95.
The multifaceted New Age movement came into news media prominence several years ago through the writings of actress Shirley MacLaine and her television miniseries, "Out on a Limb," and New Age-orchestrated events like the Harmonic Convergence.
Although the New Age movement defies a neat definition, it is a meshing of the metaphysical and material realms, with roots extending into Eastern religious mysticism and the belief in reincarnation, combined with Western self-affirmation psychology.
Ram Dass, whose 1971 best-seller, "Be Here Now," was pivotal in integrating Eastern philosophies into the Western awareness of New Age thought, appeared at ease at the Whole Life Expo in the role of grand old guru of the movement.
Sitting in a lotus position on a small chair as he fingered a bead bracelet, Dass, 57, (the former Richard Alpert), charmed a standing-room-only audience with disconnected tales of his spiritual pilgrimages ("I spent all those years trying to be divine instead of being human"), and pithy observations: "God is the breath inside the breath . . . Everyone you meet is the beloved."
Dass' one-time Harvard University faculty colleague, Timothy Leary, a 1960s drug guru turned computer programmer, held a separate workshop in which he extolled floppy disk power: "The person who controls the screen controls society."
"Channeled" wisdom was in abundance--for a fee--at Expo. Penny Torres Rubin's entity, Mafu, "an enlightened being, an ascended master of the flesh . . . a becomer of the light," held forth, and psychic Ann Palmer did an Expo special of three "past-life regressions" for anyone with $175 (regularly $210).
The theme of the Expo was "Healing Mother Earth," and a panel of Hollywood celebrities talked up the relationship between holistic healing, ecological concerns and planetary healing. Beverly Hills "medicine woman" Lynn Andrews, author of best-selling books on empowerment for women, led a large group in prayer exercises for global healing.
"My work has to do with becoming a bridge between the primal mind and white consciousness," she explained.
The expo was a curious combination of contrasts. For example, Teamwork Productions' booth, Visionary Video for a New Age, featured MacLaine's "Inner Workout" about out-of-body-experiences side by side with a video by Mother Teresa, the Roman Catholic missionary of Calcutta.
The most colorful exhibits featured sparkling crystals, including a 30-pound quartz for $850, "just unearthed in Arkansas," and Nick Norcerino's 18-pound skull-shaped crystal named Max, which visitors paid $2 a head to gaze at (limit two minutes).
Fully half of the exhibits were devoted to health food delicacies, such as green algae and loquat leaves (said to cure cancer), air and water purifiers and assorted massage, brain and body work devices and treatments.
"Brain Waves to Go," beckoned the sign at the Altered States booth, where the Relaxman device was featured.
The Reiki booth, where attendants laid hands on those seeking relaxation and "attunement," was particularly popular, although nobody seemed to know exactly how the treatment worked.
"I'm not all that metaphysical, but it's giving you the energy that's out there," Reiki therapist Lee Meyers of San Clemente attempted to explain .
Fifteen minutes later, after he laid his hands on her head and shoulders, a previously skeptical Holly Martens, 24, of Bakersfield, confirmed it was "very relaxing and rejuvenating."
The expo, which turned profits for its producers in six figures last year, was sponsored by Whole Life Times and Body Mind Spirit magazines, along with a Los Angeles entrepreneur's Naked Juice, "freshest juice alive." Exotic flavors like carrot beef, cucumber, and strawberry banana smoothie sold briskly.