Religion & Beliefs

Healing the Well-Heeled

I am taking notes on a pad designed and provided by fashion guru Donna Karan. Sitting in her studio on an overstuffed floor pillow, Fiji water and raw walnuts within reach, I am admiring scores of taut, burnished individuals dressed … Read More

By / May 21, 2007

I am taking notes on a pad designed and provided by fashion guru Donna Karan. Sitting in her studio on an overstuffed floor pillow, Fiji water and raw walnuts within reach, I am admiring scores of taut, burnished individuals dressed in asymmetric, scapula- and clavicle-bearing organic cotton ensembles. Coldplay and Sinead O’Connor’s plaintive melodies emanate from hidden speakers and Donna Karan’s image is projected on white walls in the massive space. But I am not at a fashion show. I am at the Well Being Forum, the first event being put forth by Karan’s Urban Zen Initiative. This project began as a legacy for Stephan Weiss, Karan’s husband, who died of cancer in 2001. Its goal, according to Karan, is to “connect the dots” between eastern and western medicine. For this conference, Karan has summoned a who’s who list of doctors, yoga practitioners, nutritionists, healers—and their famous acolytes—to address an audience of philanthropists, patients and health professionals. Dean Ornish will talk nutrition, Rodney Yee will do yoga. Mehmet Oz—Oprah’s doctor—will discuss patient care. Michael J. Fox and his doctor will discuss living with Parkinson’s. Lou Reed—yes, that Lou Reed—will teach Tai Chi. His longtime partner, artist Laurie Anderson, will lead a meditation. The model Christy Turlington will serve on a women’s health panel. Think of it as Vogue’s editorial staff taking over the New England Journal of Medicine. While the motivations behind the project are undeniably good, the concept of an incredibly wealthy celebrity inviting her friends and their gurus to brainstorm in front of a studio full of people either wealthy or powerful enough to get on the guest list is complicated. Over the next few days, I am going to attend some panels and report back on them. Some questions I’m already asking myself: Who has access to “spirituality” in our society? What happens when our health and wellbeing are contingent on our ability to pay for guidance? How can any movement transcend preaching to its own choir? What’s behind the creative impulse that arises when a loved one passes away? Is it about trying to resurrect the lost person, or satisfying the living person’s narcissism? How can a room full of like-minded people avoid getting mired in sanctimonious self-congratulation and challenge each other to move forward? And, finally, if we believe people are capable of healing themselves, doesn’t that assign a cruel and irrational sense of responsibility to the terminally ill? Feel free to respond to any of these questions now, or later. And do propose any others you think I should be asking.

To check out the Urban Zen Initiative's website, click here.