William Blake famously said: “I have conversed with the spiritual sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill”. You can now find that inscribed in Regent’s Park. The Blake inscription is appropriate for many reasons, but in particular London’s wealth of spirituality. Visit any rooftop at sunrise and you’ll not just see, but also feel, what Blake was talking about.
Indeed, Westminster Council has recently granted the London Kabbalah Centre planning permission to double its size to accommodate fans such as Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow. On a weekly basis up to 1,000 visitors pass through the centre and the expansion hopes to accommodate the footfall. “The fact that anyone can study at the Kabbalah Centre irrespective of their race and religion is proving popular with Londoners from all walks of life,” says a spokesperson for the registered charity.
Spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi has just been recognised by the Government, too. Gandhi’s statue will stand in London’s Parliament Square. The plans, announced by Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague and Chancellor George Osborne last month, will hopefully blossom next year. It’s worth noting that this isn’t the first statue of Gandhi in London either. In 1968 he became the centrepiece of the Tavistock Square Gardens, sculpted by Fredda Brilliant.
London’s growing interest in spirituality shouldn’t come as a surprise, according to Mary Bryce, editor of leading spirituality magazine Chat it’s Fate. “There has been a marked rise in spirituality in the last few years, a result of the hardship of austerity,” says Bryce. “It’s what sustains us through the hard times and gives us reason to hope. With the decline of the role of the Church in many people’s lives, we have turned to a broader brush – something non-sectarian to provide us with answers, joy and belief. And comfort of course, when we suffer loss and bereavement. Spirituality cuts across race, creed, gender, and politics – it’s about personal belief and is born out of experience. This is the creed of the 21st century.”
In keeping with this creed, author and lecturer Alex Norman launched his book Spiritual Tourism this year, in which travellers set out to either make changes to themselves in terms of meaning and identity concerns, or to experience practises that they understand to be connected with such outcomes. He says: “The classic examples of ‘spiritual tourism’ are Westerners travelling to India to do some meditation or yoga, but we can also use the term to help understand a very wide range of touristic practises; from obvious ones like walking the Camino de Santiago, to less obvious ones such as trekking in the mountains. But in the main, spiritual tourism is about personal growth and improvement.” And if you haven’t got travel plans? “Getting spiritual in London might not be as stereotypically obvious as travelling to India. But London is, after all, the axis mundi.”
You also don’t even need to be soul-searching to appreciate all that’s spiritual in London. Tarot cards are each unique works of art in their own right as well as a tool for guidance. Temples are marvels of architecture and not just places of prayer. And did you know those pesky orange-clad Hare Krishnas dancing and chanting along Oxford Street actually offer some of the best and cheapest curried food in Soho? And so it seems there’s no greater time to get ‘spirited away’ in the city, even if you’re a sceptic…
Before embarking on your London tour of spirituality, why not get some advice from a tarot reader first. Mysteries in Covent Garden is a spiritual shop that does tarot readings upstairs. It even comes with a ‘menu of psychics’ so you can pick who reads your cards. According to my cards I’ll be investing in foreign property next month – hadn’t thought of that but I’m inspired enough to look into it! Each day there is a different menu available for individual consultations and telephone readings. A 30-minute session starts from £45.
First opened in April 1998, Kagyu Samye Dzong London’s Tibetan Buddhist Centre runs courses and workshops weekly, focusing on meditation (now scientifically proven to change our brains for the better), four different branches of Buddhism, and a host of holistic therapies – there’s even been a series of workshops in lucid dreaming here by Charley Morley. “London is a haven for seekers,” says Morley, “and with every major branch of Buddhism having a centre in London, you don’t need to go to a cave in India to find yourself; everything you need is here. My teacher once told me that meditating in a cave is easy. When you can meditate in a nightclub, that’s when you know you’re making progress!” Too self-conscious for chanting? Try the Tibetan Tea Room for organic tea, coffee and karmic cakes.
The magnificent Mandir, otherwise known as the Neasden Hindu Temple, is not to be missed – it’s one of the largest Hindu Temples outside of India and cost £12million to build, funded entirely by the Hindu community. And what an architectural feat it is. It’s a marvel of marble and more. With all its intricate curves and elegant details, it’s a fairy tale structure that makes Disney castle look amateur. Entry is free, you just have to remember to cover your shoulders and take off your footwear before heading in. For culture vultures there’s also a free exhibition there should you fancy an overview of Hinduism.
Life is a journey, but what if there’s a spiritual destination in London that could help you time travel? Past-life regression coach and hypnotist Nicholas Aujula claims that he has tapped into that time travel, and has taken many people on journeys that they say have changed their lives. He’s appeared on ITV and in many of the tabloid papers doing as much. What’s more he reckons he can cure your ailments by taking you through your past lives. Fall under his hypnotic spell to discover more. In the very least he’ll notch up your history knowledge.
Meditation & visualisation
In a hurry? Try a lunchtime meditation session at Inner Space in Covent Garden. You can do the creative meditation – which is a half-hour visualisation reported to improve productivity for when you return to work. Or pop in to the “quiet space” for as little as five minutes – it’s a silent room, softly lit, and is the perfect sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. There are plenty more courses on offer as well as talks.
Feng shui and Chinese astrology
While a master in metaphysics and all things psychic, Chinese astrologer Ting-Foon Chik can be taken seriously – she also has a degree in mathematics and computing from the University of Bath and has worked as a banker and consultant. Her true calling, however, came in 1990 when she began various accredited courses in feng shui and Chinese astrology. She hasn’t looked back since. On visiting her, I came home with a printed astrological chart that I can keep for life to guide me through the ups and downs. While I probably won’t allow it to sway my life decisions, it’s been a great insight into a Chinese tradition.
Founded in Tibet thousands of years ago, reiki is an ancient practise that uses ‘life force’ otherwise known as ‘ki’. The ‘rei’ bit means ‘mysteriously guided’. What’s mysterious about reiki massage is that the hands don’t touch the body, and you remain clothed throughout, yet it is just as powerful as any Thai massage when you ‘feel’ the weight of your masseuse on you. My favourite London practice of this ancient tradition is in beautiful Blackheath, and I credit this place with curing a persistent cold one grim winter. The Healing Path offers other traditional therapies too. If you fancy something more hands-on, go for an Indian head massage or reflexology.
To sample some of the Hare Krishna lifestyle without having to dance and drum your way down Oxford Street wearing a rather unflattering vibrant orange, try Govinda’s restaurant in Soho, which comes recommended by my Hare Krishna sources (or Hare Krishna sauces?). Choose from a wide variety of meat-, fish- and egg-free dishes. Try the thali, which consists of two sabjis (vegetable dishes), rice, chapattis, and a side salad. They also serve classic dishes such as pizzas, veggie burgers, and salads.