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Feature - Rejecting materialism

The quest for happiness through a spiritual path

By K-L Grant

There is a palatable sense of peace and contentment that embraces some people. It’s in the way they move, the way they speak, the way they smile and the way they look at you. These people are comforting to be around as their calmness radiates outward and touches those close to them.

These people come from every walk of life, but often work in the healing arts. They are yoga teachers, acupuncturists, tai chi instructors and psychics. But they are also lawyers, business people, retail staff, athletes and artists. It is not what they do that is important, but how they do it, and they do it by walking a spiritual path.

Western society is still not sure what to make of such people, so by and large they walk quietly, attracting little attention to themselves, yet doing what they can where they can to positively effect change in the world. These people understand a spiritual path is a path taken silently and alone, with no need to beat the drum or recruit, as everyone’s path is different.

Kelly Oswald is the founder of The West Coast Institute of Mystic Arts and is partnering with Tourism Whistler to produce a weekend psychic fair in September. She radiates calmness in the manner of those who are aware in every moment.

"Spirituality is staying in touch with divine energy, or the universal source, or whatever you want to call it. Dr. Wayne Dyer calls it the Source; some people call it Universal Energy, Christ consciousness, or God. But spirituality is not religion; it’s about authenticity and being true to yourself. ‘Know thy self, and to thine own self be true’ – that is a spiritual path," says Oswald.

"Mother Theresa once said ‘America has a hunger that bread can not feed’. Life doesn’t work as a material quest, so people start looking for happiness elsewhere. Spirituality helps you find that. There is an emergence of a new culture that demographer Paul Ray calls ‘Cultural Creatives’* and his studies show they make up about 1 in 4 people in the USA."

That more and more Westerners are choosing to walk this path is evident in the heightened awareness of alternative healing methods and the many retail stores supporting the industry. From yoga to reiki, tai chi to Buddhism, Chinese medicine to craniosacral work, Korean hand therapy to Thai massage and Kashindo to Tui Na, the range of healing methods available to Westerners is astounding. And that’s just from the back pages of Pique Newsmagazine.

This extensive range of options draws people seeking relief from chronic injuries and an alternative to the surgery or drug options often favoured by Western medicine. These options come from many different cultures, but all have one thing in common: energy. A spiritual path understands the universe is made up of energy, in the same way quantum physics breaks the universe down into energy. This universal energy is tapped into, one way or another, to facilitate healing.

Mauro Pontarollo is a Registered Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner who understands first hand the motivating force of serious illness or injury.

"When I was 18 I had a bad car accident. One of the guys I knew through martial arts was studying Chinese medicine, so I became his guinea pig," explains Pontarollo. "I studied tai chi, qi gong and meditation while getting treatment like acupuncture."

But a spiritual path does not mean forsaking the benefits of Western knowledge or technology. Pontarollo takes pains to emphasize the emergency treatment he received immediately after the accident was amazing, and very necessary.

"Each form of medicine has pros and cons. In China, the west wing of hospitals is western medicine and the east wing is eastern medicine. They work together and the patient chooses whatever works best for them," explains Pontarollo. "Eastern medicine understands we have bioelectricity in our bodies and we can use it to heal ourselves. It all comes down to energy, or qi*, which is in everything – the animals, the plants, rocks, trees and mountains. Qi is nature and as we’re part of nature, qi is part of us."

The success of his treatment and the practices he studied led Pontarollo to school where he too studied Chinese medicine.

"Chinese medicine is often the last place patients come. They’ve done everything else and they come looking for a miracle," says Pontarollo.

"When I treat someone, I focus more on the body and the mind while educating clients about the way the body and mind works. When you connect the mind and body, the energy will come, and when the energy comes, the spirit will rise. But I don’t want to offend anyone when it comes to spirit because everyone has their own beliefs."

Acceptance of the individual’s path is a uniting belief among those who walk a spiritual path. Bhante Kovida is a Buddhist Monk and as he laid out the tenets of Buddhism and spoke of those who would be drawn to it, he was also careful to point out that his chosen path is not for everybody.

"With religion, you are supposed to accept things, for example, you accept Jesus as your Saviour. But if you have an enquiring mind, you won’t be so easy to accept what people tell you," says Kovida.

"As a Buddhist, you have to question everything and you accept nothing. Buddha said, ‘I can only show you the way, but you have to make the effort to find out yourself.’ This was strange for many people because they wanted an authority to tell them what to think and what to pray and what to do.

"There are many people who just don’t have an inquiring mind, so for them, Christianity is perfect."

Buddhism believes all suffering arises from attachment and it is the mind that creates attachment.

"Even though the West has a high standard of living compared to many other countries, we have a lot of mental and emotional suffering, and this is why I think Buddhism has become so popular in the West, and all over the world," explains Kovida.

"People are not content or peaceful, because they have a lot of fear and insecurity. A spiritual path teaches you to be content with what you have and where you are. We attain a spiritual path through meditation. You train the mind, first by calming it and then by watching it. Many people are unaware they are already meditating, because, when taught properly, yoga is a moving meditation."

Van Powel and Roxanne Chappell were at the forefront of Whistler’s yoga teachers when they began teaching here in 1996.

"Yoga is a path to spiritual growth, because you can not do the asanas without stimulating growth of your psyche," states Powel. "People become more grounded, more aware, more about living in the moment, because you have to be in the moment when you practise yoga properly. Yoga takes you down a spiritual path. I’ve seen the results in a lot of people. But we don’t focus on that in class because it is such a personal thing."

Powel is a registered psychiatric nurse and healed many of his own chronic sports injuries with daily practice of yoga.

"My medical records have been shredded because it’s so long since I’ve been to a doctor. The body has an amazing capacity to heal itself. All a healer is doing is facilitating the movement and unblocking of energy, and helping the person tap into the larger energy field we’re all connected to," says Powel.

"Traditional medicine isn’t working for a lot of people because we have a sick-care system, not a health-care system. In the East, the body was considered to be a garden that, when nurtured and cared for properly, would bear fruit. But in the West, we see the body as a machine with all these separate moving parts and when it breaks down, we fix the parts. I’d rather treat my body as a garden, not a machine."

Powel believes the huge money tied up in today’s health care, especially the profits drug companies make every year, means our traditional health system will resist change. However, most alternative healers are not in the business to make money, but to heal people. Roxanne Chappell has created what she dubs "the world’s worst business model" with her new venture, Sweet Grass Healing.

"I’m teaching people to heal themselves through Korean hand therapy, so I’m putting myself out of business. People fix themselves through my treatments, I’m just showing them how to do it," says Chappell with a smile.

"I help people connect with the magical healing power of the body, by helping them connect to universal energy. Today, so many healers are experimenting with different energy techniques and everyone is sharing it with everyone else which expands our knowledge. We are our own teachers and healers."

But even though healers witness the changes in their patients, and many double-blind studies prove the effectiveness of these methods, the word used to describe energy healing is still "alternative", not "complementary".

"It floors me there are still Western physicians who think these treatments have no validity at all and some people who still think yoga is some kind of cult," says Powel. "I just assumed that everyone had the same experience as me, and after all, I came through western medicine to get here."

Years of cultural conditioning towards only logical and empirical ways of perceiving the universe have made us wary of things we can’t see, things we can’t explain, things that may or may not be there. Awareness of this leads many on a spiritual path to carefully choose the language they use, or simply to stay quiet, unless asked.

"When someone asks me what I do, I change my language according to who is asking. To one person I might say I am a medical intuitive, to another person I might say I connect the mind and body to bring spiritual awareness into your life," says Tanya Harrington.

"If you use the word God, both religious people and atheists have trouble, but it’s not about God, it’s about everything between the cells of your body. It’s about faith."

Like many on a spiritual path, Harrington believes more and more people are tuning into a different way to perceive life.

"I think the change is coming because more people are trying yoga and different spiritual things like that. For me to be busy, people must be interested in the whole metaphysical world and how your emotions affect your spirit and your body," says Harrington. "If more people embrace a spiritual path, I think it will bring about peace, and a healthier community. People will live longer. I think our children will start getting into the spirit earlier and younger. There is an awakening happening, I feel it."

The sense of an awakening is a common thread amongst those who chose a spiritual path, but because it’s such a personal choice and everybody’s journey is different, many on the path feel they are alone, or many are unaware they are even following that path.

It could be said a spiritual path is a choice to listen to the inner voice, the higher self or the God within, and follow that guidance with the faith it will lead an individual to fulfil his or her purpose in life.

It is a path anyone can take, whether or not they believe in a religion. This path is about acceptance, tolerance, living in the moment and being aware. It is a path no one can lead you down, but it is a path that more and more people can point the way to. Only you know when you are ready to start the journey.


* Cultural Creatives – "The Cultural Creatives care deeply about ecology and saving the planet, about relationships, peace, social justice, and about self actualization, spirituality and self-expression. Surprisingly, they are both inner-directed and socially concerned, they're activists, volunteers and contributors to good causes more than other Americans." Paul H. Ray, PhD, and Sherry Ruth Anderson, PhD, authors of The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World

* Qi (pronounced chee) – The circulating life force, or energy that in Chinese philosophy is thought to be inherent in all things; in traditional Chinese medicine the balance of negative and positive forms in the body is believed to be essential for good health. It is the matrix out of which matter and energy are formed, and is expressed as the "life force" in all living things.