There are days when sunlight scythes through the branches of trees and etches the world into a still-life tableau. On such days time is banished as scintillas of light trap people in frozen poses, like statues, or shadows in a peepshow. It can last for less than a second but it might as well be a lifetime.
It was on a day such as this that Paul had stood with Annie outside a dome-shaped theatre surrounded by well-cut lawns. A straggling crowd was making its way into the exhibition, ‘Connections’. This was a mixed bag of a show, part market, part new age bazaar, part chicanery and pseudo wisdom, where you could buy organic juice, fresh vegetables, candles and love potions, visit a couple of clairvoyants, sit in a tepee, learn to meditate or buy oddball books.
Annie was eager to get inside. She had been showing an unusual interest in anything spiritual or even wacky. Paul had some reservations about this so-called new age explosion. His take on the whole question of life and existence had seen him delve much deeper than the transient world of ‘enlightenment’ that had now become a mass-market business worth millions.
It was partly, he supposed, because he lived and worked in a structured world of business where computers were the new gods and cyberspace the new universe.
“I want to learn to meditate,” said Annie as they went in, bought tickets and collected an armful of leaflets, “like you used to do.”
“That’s fine, but don’t be taken in by everything you see in here,” Paul replied. “A lot of this is just commercial mumbo-jumbo.”
“Yeah, yeah!” she smiled.
“I can teach you to meditate,” said Paul.
“Like you tried to teach me to drive,” she laughed. “We ended up in a shouting match.”
“I just mean, there’s real spiritual information out there and there’s razzmatazz like this.”
They entered a large hall with a decorated domed ceiling. It was full of colour and light, kaftans and dreadlocks interspersed with earnest and newly converted devotees of Hindu and Buddhist sects, po-faced Christians offering booklets, brightly coloured tarot stalls and I-Ching readers and smiling aloe vera salesmen. A heady mixture of perfumes and scents drifted through the packed hall. The visitors were a mixed bag. Some looked like refugees from a third-rate rock concert, or were gipsy travellers with sniveling kids in tow. Others were middle income bracket devotees determined to find enlightenment on their doorstep but the majority was just the plain curious.
Annie and Paul drifted with the crowd, pausing here and there. Annie rushed into the tepee to experience some Sioux Indian drumming and came out again a little later less than impressed.
“My hands hurt,” she complained.
“There’s a transcendental meditation stall over there,” said Paul. “Why don’t you check it out? I’ll have a wander around.”
Annie smiled and rushed through the crowd, pausing to buy a silk headscarf that she tied around her head tucking her long blonde hair inside. Paul smiled at her enthusiasm. You can learn a lot from your kids, he told himself. Maybe more than they can learn from you.
Paul stopped by the aloe vera stall and listened to the sales pitch that tried to persuade him to become an agent and make a fortune from residual income. He thanked the guy politely and moved on, tempted for a moment by an attractive tarot card reader who smiled at him encouragingly, as if to say, you’re special, you have a special future ahead of you.
Paul bought a pendant for Kate and then noticed a stall tucked away by a pillar. A number of people had gathered around a sallow skinned little man who was pointing out something on a large chart on the table in front of him surrounded by piles of book, manuals and pendulums.
Paul’s curiosity was aroused. Dowsing and work with pendulums did have some scientific validity and whenever something unexplainable seemed to fit neatly side-by-side with something that could be explained or surmised, Paul was intrigued. He knew, for instance, that many elements, including metals and ores of all kinds and, of course, water, could be dowsed. A pendulum was like a physical or quirky version of the periodic table. A pendulum would always spin a set number of times over or close to a chemical compound or a metal. It never varied.
He walked across to the stall and noticed that the small man was holding a pendulum above a chart upon which was printed a piano scale-like illustration with lines like barcodes of different thicknesses stretching in a semicircle across the page. Barcode was a pretty good analogy. He listened as the man explained patiently what he was doing to a sceptical onlooker.
“I am examining your past lives for debris and detritus,” he stated. “You can clear from past existences the trouble, crimes, sins and bad karma that have infiltrated your present life and are causing much of the grief and problems you currently suffer.”
“I don’t believe in past lives,” said the onlooker.
“You don’t have to believe,” said the stallholder, “you just have to notice the difference from now on. Then you will believe.”
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