August 17, 2019

“In late 1994, a few days after Christmas, Hillary Clinton and her husband retreated to the woods. They had had a bruising few months. The Republicans had retaken the House, and Clinton wanted a reset. So, she invited an anthropology professor, three writers—including miracle worker Marianne Williamson, the author of A Return to Love—and a psychic named Jean Houston to Camp David. Houston believed that with “dreamworlds” and trances she could reach back in history and expand the range of human consciousness. (She had a particularly close relationship with the Greek goddess Athena—they talked on the computer—and taught seminars in ancient mythology at a traveling institute she’d founded in the 1980s, the Mystery School.) That spring, their sessions continued. Behind closed doors in the White House solarium, Houston and Clinton meditated together, communing with the spirits of Eleanor Roosevelt and Gandhi.

When Bob Woodward published details from their “brainstorming sessions” in his 1996 book, The Choice, conservatives called Clinton a Satanist and the sessions “witch ritual.” A couple of decades later, however, meditation has gone mainstream; one in three Americans has tried yoga, and Democrats are not only talking about New Age ideas, they’re framing them as a source of the wisdom and calm they’d need as president.

After the election of Donald Trump, Kirsten Gillibrand told Refinery29 she recovered with “lots of yoga and Pilates.” On CNN, Clinton demonstrated nadi shodhana, a yogic alternate nostril breathing technique. Tulsi Gabbard, for her part, is fond of describing her conversion to Hinduism as a teenager. Her parents, who homeschooled her in Hawaii, exposed her to a multitude of religions; she chose Hinduism, which, she says, has brought her “wisdom and spiritual solace.” Cory Booker has taught yoga to high schoolers in Newark and tweeted “Namaste” to his followers. Marianne Williamson is running for president herself, promising to “harness dignity, decency, and love for political purposes.” In interviews, Beto O’Rourke quotes New Age ideas, with such koans as “your will is the subconscious author of your life.” And Representative Tim Ryan—a Democrat from Ohio’s steel valley who has written two books on mindfulness (he runs the House’s “Quiet Time Caucus,” teaching meditation techniques derived from Buddhism to his fellow public servants)—has also launched a presidential bid. He’s “not some soft yoga guy,” he hastens to tell interviewers (he played football in high school), but he says he’ll win with “the yoga vote.” Mindfulness, he believes, has the “potential to help transform core institutions in America—school, hospitals, the military, and social services.””

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