Either we all have many reasons to thank Leslie Kenton or she has a lot to answer for, depending on your point of view. A pioneer of health and diet, she introduced the British public to concepts that seemed outrageously radical when she first wrote about them 20 years ago. Eating raw vegetables, avoiding processed foods, drinking mineral water and detoxification regimes were all extremely avant garde in the Seventies but are now widely accepted (in principle if not always in practice). She is famously prolific and already has more than 30 volumes to her credit, many of them best- sellers like Raw Energy and Ageless Ageing, but her latest book, Journey to Freedom, is rather different. Subtitled "13 quantum leaps for the soul", it is a practical course in shamanism - a detox for the mind rather than the body. It is, she says, the most important book she has ever written.
Shamanism is a method of expanding spiritual awareness that involves communicating with the natural and spirit world. It has been around for thousands of years and very similar versions of it are found in many ancient cultures. It's a difficult concept to sum up in a few words, as Leslie Kenton acknowledges with some frustration. "Trying to explain it is so difficult!" she says. After all, advising someone to eat more raw carrots because it's good for them is a message we can all understand (even if we have no intention of eating the carrots). Sending someone to talk to a tree is quite a different matter. ("Sit or stand in front of the plant or tree and thank it for bringing its life into your circle of awareness. Now in your imagination honour the spirit of the plant and open your awareness to it".)
This may sound, ahem, a little strange. But Leslie Kenton is a seductive explainer. The walls of her tiny basement pied-a-terre in Primrose Hill are lined with books and CDs, many of them volumes on healing and alternative medicine. There are chairs, but on the floor is a white furry rug, which she prefers to sit on. Over a mug of ginseng tea, she explains that she has had a long-standing interest in philosophy, religion and anthropology. (She studied philosophy at Stanford University.) She was introduced to shamanism by Michael Harner, an anthropologist who has been visiting professor at Columbia, Yale and the University of California. She describes him as a latter-day Indiana Jones (complete with hat). Her book was spiritually endorsed on a shamanic "journey" into altered consciousness, or "non-ordinary reality". Journeying into non-ordinary reality, aka the quantum realms, is a kind of self-controlled meditation, often achieved with the help of drums and rattles. Developing an ability to shift consciousness at will is the key to shamanism. While journeying, the shaman meets helpful spirits, sometimes in the guise of plants or animals. Everyone, says Leslie, has a "power animal" of their very own to help and guide and protect them. (Hers is a beautiful bird; yours might be a tapir or an aardvark.) Journeying, she says, is the most natural thing in the world. "Everybody can do it. I've never met anybody who can't. It's a way of linking people up to what they already know. We have been taught by our educational system not to trust ourselves or our instincts." She worked on Journey to Freedom with the help of 13 different spirits - hence the 13 "leaps" of the book. Shamanism, she explains, can be used for healing or to tap creative energy, or to empower. "You can help people learn to trust their own inner know- ledge, their intuition and instinct, get them in touch with who they really are. Their lives start to work for them." One of its attractions, she says, is that it has no gurus or priests - it is a direct access to spiritual forces, accessible to everyone. "This stuff belongs to all people. People must be given the tools. I want to open it out, make it available to everyone, without any gurus. …