I remember when I first realized this. I'd been living here for less than a year, and I was in a car with three other women.
"So who were you in your past life?" one said matter-of-factly as she drove, as if she were asking us where we wanted to go for dinner.
The other women answered right away: Marie Antoinette, or a man, or something indubitably better than their current commonplace existence, although I can't exactly recall what. What I do remember is that in answering, they didn't lose a beat; they didn't even have to think about the question. It was ready, there, waiting, like the answer to "what's your name?" or "what do you do?"
"Who were you?"
Then they waited for my answer.
See, I'm the type of person who's hardly sure some days of who I am, and I spend much of my time contemplating who I'm going to be (somebody, please!), so until that point, I'd never considered who I was, unless it was in the context of the '90s or '80s or some other bad hair decade, when I was actually alive, i.e. this time around.
"Uh, I don't know if I believe in past lives" is what I said after a few moments.
Silence. There was incredulity while they paused to think about how, if I'm confined only to modern, Western psychology then this thing I'm living right here and now -- ignominious and penurious -- this life is all there is for me, I must be a pathetic and pitiable creature.
I've now have been living in Los Angeles for five years, and the hippie-dippie-yoga-Pilates-karma-kabbalah-astrology-Burning Man-surfer-superstitious-psychic-feng shui-acupuncturist-vegetarian ethos has invaded my life. (I'm embarrassed to say I practice some of the above now.)
These days, I barely blink when someone tosses off a New-Ageism like, "This world is just practice to repair your soul," which would be a conversational bomb anywhere else in the country. I hardly react to the fact that the moon is in retrograde (why I lose money), that my chakras are off (why I'm sad) and that my adrenals are low (why I'm not sleeping).
Yet when it comes to dating, sometimes the New Age is hard to swallow.
Consider the latest buzzword on the New Age scene: "manifest." Not the adjective that modifies "destiny" and the very prescient concept of American conquest of others' lands, but a retooling of the transitive verb: "You manifest what comes to you." If you put it out there in the universe, the universe will "answer. "
You want success? You must manifest it. You simply must ask the universe for it, open your soul to it, and it will come. (I think you might have to work for it, too, but I'm not sure how much.) You want a boyfriend? You have to manifest it.
Is this philosophy just another excuse for blaming the victim? Am I single because I'm not open to dating? Am I not manifesting enough?
And yet it's hard to resist the New Age, the principle that I get what I deserve, that bad karma smacks you in the face like a boomerang, that the guy I never called back means there will be another guy who's not going to call me back someday, and it will be directly related. That you get what you put out there.
Maybe it's my fault then that I recently manifested a hippie. I put it out there in the universe that I wasn't very interested in all the traditional (boring) career-minded guys. That I didn't care much for being settled, for wealth or material goods. And poof! Like a wish from a genie bottle, I meet a traveling Jewish hippie. He's kind and loving, romantic -- in a Hollywood-lead type of way, just not as clean. Oh, and also a little flaky. Wait, that's a judgment, my hippie would say. He prefers to see himself as spontaneous and unplanned.
"I have to see what tomorrow will feel like," he'll say if I ask him what he's doing.
I nod sagely, but this is the point where the New Age leaves me wanting. Why does everything have to be so mysterious? For example: My hippie can leave when he makes his ticket out of here; he'll have children if he decides to impregnate someone, and in five years, he'll be exactly where he directs himself.
I hate to sound the cynic, like a friend's father who once bellowed: "You want to find yourself? You're right here!" And yet there's something about this New Ageism that sounds strangely familiar to me: "If it's meant to be, it's meant to be"; "All things happen for a reason...."
Wait a minute! Didn't Rabbi Akiba say that? Gam zu l'tova -- this, too, is for the best? Isn't the idea that your soul is repaired through this world a Jewish concept?
That's what bothers me. New Ageism is comforting because it's a religion. It's a way to exert control over a life that is, for the most part, uncontrollable.
The problem with New Ageism is it's religion-lite. It tries to provide a superficial panacea to deeper, more painful problems. It's a Band-Aid for open-heart surgery.
When it comes to dating -- to life, really -- there are no easy answers. Our own prophet, Job, knew that sometimes suffering had no purpose, that not everything happens for a reason. I can't say that the Torah is the first place I look when it comes to dating advice, but I'd rather rely on my own religious upbringing than on one that's been cobbled together by a bunch of peripatetic Angelenos searching for an easy out.
I know the New Age is popular right now, and if I'm not open to it, the universe won't be open to me. But that's one chance I'm willing to take.