Nazlan Ertan - [email protected]
The woman, a youthful 50-something in designer sweats, perfect highlights, and a touch of botox that gave her eyebrows the eternal expression of youth, leaned over the table to her companion. “I just don’t read the news anymore. It brings me down and lowers my energy levels,” she said.
Hiding behind my newspaper, I listened and watched the two women in their early morning herbal tea session, clearly right after their morning jog in their perfect designer sweats. At one point during their conversation, carried out in chirpy and self-satisfied tones, with words like “ayurveda,” “healing energy” and “whole-body experience” thrown in, I gathered that younger of the two was the 50-something’s “breathing coach.”
I quickly asked for the check, aware that the newspaper I was reading carried two headlines that would undoubtedly drain her energy further: “Love and career short-cuts: How credible are the coaches, astro-geniuses and spiritual consultants?” and “The quality of teaching declines in Turkey as teachers become more ignorant in their own fields.”
Some of my enlightened friends have for several years been trying to get me to get a “life-coach,” join a “positive-thinking group,” or go for “family constellations,” a form of role-play where complete strangers play the part of critical people in your life to try to solve issues stemming from generations before. They must think I’m too bored, too depressed or simply too nasty. So far, despite a hundred e-mails asking me to “send positive energy,” I have decided to instead embrace my family heritage – sarcasm and pessimism - and enhance it even further by reading the works of Dorothy Parker and watching Claire Underwood, the power-hungry villain in the “House of Cards.”
But many people are ready to embrace this new sector. Signposts boosting the title “Life Coach” and websites inviting you to become a “better you” are spreading in Turkish cities, showing that many people embrace this new-age spirituality. Nowadays, when we talk of the power of energy, we are not referring to geo-strategy.
The reasons that make people turn to “life-coaches” or “spiritual healers” are as varied as the titles used by coaches and consultants: Some of the clientele are corporate people on the verge of burn-out – or redundancy – who want to create a different and more humane life than what they have lived for the last three decades; some are curious people asking the eternal question: “Is that all there is, my friend?” Some are simply bored, or acting out of peer pressure (“why not do a family constellation together, it’s marvelous”) or think of it as a status object (“really, that coach is amazing, she only works with celebrities, I had to pull strings to get a session.”)
The present atmosphere in Turkey, with ever-increasing restrictions on freedoms, also encourages people to create their little “happiness bubble.” What better tool than this form of new age spiritualism that urges you to push away the negative, block the news that drains your energy, and adopt a sense of futility over what you cannot control?
The industry of spiritual development in Turkey, where fees are high and promises are even higher, has also created a new group of smug spiritualists, who do not seem to realize how irritating they are to the rest of us uninitiated, unspiritual, frustrated, angry, still desperately political people, particularly when they shower us with their new-found wisdom, herbal tea-inspired energy, and cryptic messages on everything under the sun from weight loss to perfect governance.
Worse is the new breed of social media-friendly life coaches with promises of quick fixes on everything from careers to love. As Gülden Aydın recently wrote in Hürriyet, this miracle-promising group is equally disliked by psychiatrists, psychologists and other more academic-minded life-coaches. How to tell the difference? Some of my friends who have discreetly worked for years as coaches say “real” coaches neither brag too much nor promise quick results.
As for unspiritual me, I believe in the right CV for the right job: I will not get career coaching from a person who has never been in corporate life, and I will not use a breathing coach when I need a psychiatrist/dietician/body trainer. As for my questions on a happy society with individual rights and freedoms, I would rather take my cues from academics, constitutional law scholars, artists and political scientists – of course hoping they will be able to write, perform and produce freely, without fear of emergency decrees that would expel them. My happiness is based more on the number of free academics than the number of life coaches and spiritual guides sending positive messages to the universe.