No cameras allowed. No tape recorders. Pillows are permitted. Minors too, if accompanied by their Higher Selves.
On the otherwise bare stage of a ballroom in the Westin Bonaventure Hotel is a vase of flowers, an easy chair, a somewhat sanitized diagram of a male torso. As 10 a.m. approaches, there is a shuffle at the rear of the ballroom. A fast shuffle, or at least a lively one. From among a group of admirers bounds Shirley MacLaine in white sweater, lavender slacks, apposite running shoes. Applause crescendoes as she jogs through the audience to the stage to begin her two-day seminar entitled "Connecting With the Higher Self."
The audience of 650 is rapt--as were audiences in New York, San Diego, wherever MacLaine has hypothesized of late. Most have read at least one of her four best-selling autobiographies concerning the entertainer's quest for the meaning of life, a search for self that has culminated in a firm belief in multiple reincarnations. The vast majority of the seminarians are admirers, some even self-styled "disciples."
MacLaine is enthusiastic, guileless, winsome, charismatic, and there is an almost palpable effort to understand her theses. Furrowed brows are worn as proudly as amulets. Patience is endemic; hours are ignored. It is, as MacLaine says: "All time is happening at the same time."
While MacLaine's sincerity, her flaming desire to enlighten, is a virtual given, there is, she recognizes, the matter of $300 a pop for the seminars (a total of about $200,000 for the L.A. group)--a matter she immediately addresses. "After the response to 'Out on a Limb,' " she says of her third book, "I wanted to go into interrelation. There was a conflict between spirituality and materialism. How can you measure karmic value? I decided to be materialistic," and "I settled on $300: $100 each for the mind, the body and the spirit."
That settled, MacLaine's premises seem to be that: (1) We all are immortal, passing through an infinite series of reincarnations; (2) "we are all God," ergo; (3) the "cosmic energy" of which we are all part--the superconscious--is the only reality, the only truth, the only knowledge, and (4) by "getting in touch with our higher consciousness," we can purge the universe of evil, soul by soul.
An exuberant, inquisitive entity, MacLaine has patched her highly personal philosophy together from remnants of wisdom ranging from Einstein to astrology, from Buddha's chakras to Christ's New Testament (before the latter, she says, was bowdlerized in the 6th Century). The MacLaine mind, open as a Malibu window in July, rejects little.
At 10 a.m., MacLaine starts to talk. Breaks excepted, she will not stop until 6:15 p.m. of the following day. The seminar is loose in format, the bolder of the seekers interrupting with questions from the floor.
There is an urgency to her message, a message concerning "the essentialness of the connection with the higher self." Nevertheless, there is an honest attempt to "keep this as simple as possible so you won't have to go through the metaphysical wrenching I did." With that, MacLaine is off and running.
"The superconsciousness of you," she says, "is telling you to hurry up and clean up the karmic debris."
"We are essentially spiritual beings," she says on another occasion. "That is the internality of us."
"The cosmic law spirals the light."
"Everything takes on a different perspection when you're right in the middle of it."
"Love travels faster than light. It's a question of frequencies."
"This is the science of taking total responsibility for the potential of your empowerness."
There is a brief break, during which one might reflect where Shirley MacLaine is coming from, or where she is, or where she will be--whichever comes first.
In "Out on a Limb," MacLaine, then in her mid-40s (now 53) and already an extraordinary performer, describes her belated quest for the meaning of life, the answer to "Why am I here?" "This book," she writes, "is about the experience of getting in touch with myself."
On a friend's advice, she wanders into the Bodhi Tree, a Melrose Avenue bookstore specializing in the metaphysical. Slowly, even reluctantly, she begins to believe in reincarnation. The belief is reinforced by a visit to Sweden where a "trans-channeler," or medium, is in touch with a "spiritual entity named Ambres." Back in Malibu, another medium facilitates chats with other multidimensional beings, some of whom have known her for half a million years.
Friend David takes Shirley to Peru, where UFOs are as common as mosquitoes. David has met a young woman, Mayan, who has revealed to him the key to universal truth: "To know yourself is to know God."
Mayan--who, it turns out, hails from the Pleiades--has told David to pass the word to Shirley, who is to "be a teacher, but on a much wider scale."
Hence the book. Hence the seminar.