This morning, I was (and I knew it was probably unwise..) at and was reading away – largely interested in how the word ‘enlightenment’ is used in Mind, Body & Spirit (MBS) contexts. This interest derives from my work on Buddhism, and my concern that MBS materials often seem to imply that their usage is equivalent to what Buddhists mean by enlightenment or ‘awakening’. But, as is so often the case online, I was distracted. I was distracted by the line below – the first line at the website (which is largely an advert for a MBS fair/event):

There is a definite change in direction and in the flow of energy around the universe at this time.

This led to two initial thoughts: what do they mean by ‘energy’, and how can they be sure (of this change)? Looking at the organisers, I realise that their use of the term may be linked to their being Reiki ‘healers’. The foundational belief for Reiki is that there is a universal life energy, which is all around us – but actually Reiki has very little to say about what this energy is, and what its characteristics are, and how it can be accounted for, perceived and demonstrated. In looking at the nearest Reiki centre to me at I noticed this phrase:

There is no belief system attached to Reiki so anyone can receive or learn to give a Reiki treatment, the only prerequisite is the desire to be healed.

Now this is interesting! This seems to very much chime with my claims in the book that there is a disavowal of belief in the MBS milieu. If you assert nothing, it would seem that you can side-step the burden of proving anything, and be free to claim anything. Further to this, is there not a fundamental conflict between the belief in the Reiki energy force and the absence of beliefs? While I have written (with Dr Paul Fuller) on the issue of ‘beliefs vs no-beliefs’ in a Buddhist context – at least the Buddhist account seeks to engage with this tension. In MBS it seems a way of evaporating tensions.

If we have no beliefs, it might seem that we inhabit a post-conflict setting of holistic consensus. However, such a setting seems at odds with the substantial implied truth claims of the MBS world – that there is a life energy, that we survive death as spirit, that there are angels, and the like. If we disavow belief – how can we disentangle these claims?

What you will notice at a MBS fair is that there is no attempt to do so – and the (seemingly contradictory) claims of all these practitioners, with all their varied accounts of reality (with differing implied metaphysical models, beings, accounts of personhood, etc.) all sit happily side-by-side – as though all can be true at once.  They cannot. This is part of what truth means – and this is part of my argument (in the first chapter of Dispirited) that the MBS movement presents a threat to our understanding of what truth is – and disengages its audience from the use of intellectual rigour and caution.

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