LIFE DOCTOR

THE 23RD Mind Body Spirit International Festival started yesterday. Hundreds of beards, flowing robes and assorted "expert" life philosophers descended on (transcended on?) London's Royal Agricultural Hall to chant, bang drums and talk about their past lives.

In weak moments, I can accept the weirdest of complementary therapies. But gathered together, in a stream of alternativism, the complementary thing starts to look like farce. Shamanic wisdom, Tibetan wisdom, Mongolian wisdom. How refreshing it would be to find an ancient culture that was indisputably stupid.

Publicity photos show the gurus as deeply content, with a faraway look suggesting a permanent state of Zen. Message: I'm damn happy and I want to share it with the world - for a price.

En masse the faces look rather scary. "World famous" Jill Purce, who teaches Mongolian overtone chanting, has hair like a brunette Rick Parfitt. Dick Sutphen (Psi-Mind Power) is at first glance corporate American with expensive silver hair and sharp suit. But the smile looks slightly deranged. My favourite, though, is Don Conreaux Gong Master - "feel free to bring your own gong, bell bowls, blowing shell horns and other tone producing instruments". Don's photo has the sinewy ageing muscled look of a pro. He has long brown hair, a grey beard. His eyes are closed. You can't really tell what he's doing but it's clearly lots of fun - for him.

Giving up your soul-destroying job to start selling your past lives or your abilities with a gong is a great way to make yourself happy. So many complementary therapists were doing something really boring beforehand.

Renowned healer Geoff Boltwood, for example, was a bus driver before he discovered his healing gift. A reflexologist I saw at the Hale Clinic muttered darkly about being in "administration". Getting pounds 40 a hour for making profound comments about feet must be more interesting.

At the festival you can catch European Iaido Gold Medallist Fay Goldman. I don't know what iaido is but it involves waving fans. If it's anything like t'ai chi it won't be much of a spectator sport.

Madi Nolan will be "recalling her memories from a previous Tibetan lifetime". I'm sure if I had a good long think I could remember something. I dreamt recently (really) that I was in a room with an en-suite time machine and I dialled to go to 17th-century Holland. I could tell you all about it. Just send me a cheque.

Complementary therapy is great. It makes us all feel better. And if you pick the right one it need involve very little training. "Rebecca" went on a past life regression training weekend. Forty-eight hours later she was fully qualified. "I found I was a natural," she says with just a hint of a smile. "I had to learn self-hypnosis and then look for dominant guides. Among a mass of characters I discovered that in my past I've been a member of the French resistance, an Egyptian medicine man and a lizard. It was great fun. I could now sell my knowledge I suppose but I'm a bit embarrassed. It's hard to stand in front of an audience and talk about your past lives without looking like a charlatan."

Tip to guarantee that any therapy works for you:

Become the therapist. Sarah Ferguson certainly thinks so. She's set to earn $2m for her new novel based on her "transcendental thoughts". And for God's sake, if her wisdom is marketable then surely there's hope for anyone.

Mind Body Spirit International Festival, The Royal Horticultural Halls, 22-31 May, 0171 938 3788.

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