Let’s play one of my favorite games, entitled “Learn From Auntie Laura’s Mistakes!”

Alternate title: “How to Keep an Open Mind Without Getting Conned.”

Yeah, first title is better.

So, backstory. As a kid I was obsessed with the idea of psychic powers. I read all of the books in our local library about ESP and spent hours trying to move things with my mind. I made friends sit another room while I thought of different colors and then asked them if they received impressions. I actually owned, at one point, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Being Psychic.”

I know. Irony.

ANYWAY, I’ve mellowed out some in my old age. I don’t believe in homeopathy and never have; fervent talk about crystals makes me feel ill; and I’m skeptical of anyone who wants me to try balancing my chi. I do believe in the power of the human mind to create our realities and know from first-hand experience that sometimes our brains can make us experience really crazy things. But there’s a part of me that will always be that little girl sitting in the her room with her eyes shut tight, trying to guess the card her friend is holding.

I like to think that I balance these two sides of myself fairly well. I own Tarot cards and I like to do a spread at particularly intense times in my life, but mostly it’s because I find that the symbols give my brain some archetypes to bounce around and it can help me digest what’s going on with me. I have been, with friends, to a palm reader as a fun afternoon activity. I have been, on my own, to a tarot reader on my 23rd birthday when I didn’t have work and everyone else did. I think there’s nothing wrong with taking a little bit of time to say to yourself and the universe, “I want to think about where I am and where I’m going right now, and am ready for some guidance.” If you have the disposable income to throw at someone else to help you hear what you might not otherwise let in, cool. Just try not to take it too seriously and you’ll be fine.

This was the situation last Wednesday when, while out to lunch with a couple of friends, one of them mentioned that there was a psychic across the street and we should go get readings.

We were all game, and I took the lead since I was the only one who had ever been to see a psychic before. The lady who answered the door was grandmotherly–literally, because she was holding her adorable infant granddaughter. We explained what we wanted to do (a basic palm reading) and she agreed and went to put the baby in her crib. While she was out of the room, I instructed my friends to follow my lead. We had not mentioned anything personal except that I had done something like this before and that the other women had not. I would accept everything she said with a neutral face and an “Uh huh” and try to give away as little as possible. I would be vague when answering any leading questions. We’d see how it went.

We came away very impressed, actually. She let all three of us stay in the room for each reading, and instead of fishing for information, she took a look at our hands and began to tell us things about ourselves. We were each told different things and could each verify the accuracy of each statement on behalf of each other. She told me, for example, that while I would be successful, it would be while pursuing several different things, and the next two years would require a lot of work. She told one of my friends that she was in a long-term relationship (did not ask, told) and that it would continue to go well, while her focus should be on her professional development in the next year. This friend is applying for a coveted PhD program. My third friend got reassured that the recent illness she was worried about in her immediate family would not be serious. Her mom had called her the week before to mention that her doctor had found a small growth on her pituitary gland that was probably benign but they were going to check it out.

The thing that impressed me was that I would not have accepted either of the fortunes of my friends, nor they mine. They both pretty clearly want to focus on one career path. They’re both dating people. No one in my family has an illness that I’m worried about, and I’m not going to face incredible stress and competition in my professional life in the next year. Eyes wide, we giggled to each other.

The psychic mentioned specific numbers and sexes of children for both of my friends, but when she came to me, she frowned. “You have a blockage in your heart chakra,” she said. “There’s a lot going on there. First of all, take it slow with anything involving relationships until after the new year. Second, I’m seeing that your usually-bright turquoise aura is clouded. It’s really interfering with my ability to see marriage or children for you. To be honest, I think you need a cleansing.”

Full disclosure: She first mentioned the blocked heart chakra in the initial part of the reading, but when she asked me if I had a specific question, I did mention something about future relationships and my current situation, which happened to be kind of bummed.

I asked what that would entail, and she said she wanted to make a chart for me. Give her my full name, date of birth, and town of birth, and she’d meditate for three hours about my situation that night and make a chart. I should keep track of any dreams I have and try to avoid emotional extremes for a few days, and then we could get together and she’d talk for an hour about what she’d come up with and how I could move past this thing that was blocking me from receiving the right people into my life.

Excited over the results of our palm readings, feeling like I was in a good financial place, wanting to treat myself and tell the universe that I’m ready for things to get more awesome, I said okay.

My friends and I bubbled over about the whole thing as we continued to walk around. Was she just an amazing, Sherlock-ian cold reader? If so, what could she get off me that could take an hour to tell? Was there something more to this?

Over my weekend I got some more opinions, such as: How dumb would she have to be not to Google you?

So I was a bit more deflated when I came home from a weekend trip and headed over to see this lady again. Still excited to see what she had to say, for entertainment’s sake. Fairly certain she would give me commonplace advice, but thinking maybe I just needed to hear that from someone matronly and warm and outside of myself.

The meeting did not go as I expected it.

First off, chakras and auras aren’t really my thing. I was willing to entertain her mentioning them because it seemed like maybe a way of getting across what was actually something more nebulous–that I’m not at 100% and that my emotions are the area in which I could use improvement. I didn’t think we’d continue too far in that direction, but I was ready to see what came up.

I really did not expect to be told that she’d learned about my past lives and that most recently I was a male German writer from an abusive home who’d killed himself by ODing on pills at age 33.

Really was not looking for this meeting to be all about how I was supposed to have written a book about holistic medicine that was going to reach many people but I’d cut off my own life too early and now was trying to make up for it in this life.

Really was not thrilled with the much more probing questions when she’d mention that I had had a fear of water and had been claustrophobic, and did any of this seem familiar or bring up anything for me?

I calmly told her that I had never believed in holistic medicine and was actually a huge proponent of Western medicine. I love water, I’m not particularly claustrophobic, I can’t really think of a female friend who particularly embodies the soulmate I abandoned and while I’m cool with animals, I’m totally fine with not having them around.

She hedged by saying that of course not everything is the same in this life, that many things should be different or even diametrically opposed but didn’t I sometimes feel like I was running out of time and like my life is a way of making up for something I don’t even remember I did?

Then she got to the big sell. She proposed that I undertake a 12-week cleansing with her. She would do spiritual work for three hours every night and meet with me once a week to do body work. I would have 20-25 minutes of homework to do each day, and we would get me all unblocked, then she would give me crystals and re-do a reading for me to sort out this pesky future.

I wish I could have seen my face. Oh, I was polite, as I told her that it wasn’t something I was interested in doing, that I would need some of this stuff to be independently verified first, that I’m not about to make a huge financial investment (because you can bet that’s what she wanted) based on one person’s say-so. She just kept saying that this was going to get worse if I didn’t treat it, that it wouldn’t go away, that she didn’t want to see me missing out on happiness in this life.

And while I left with my pocketbook and dignity intact, this really pissed me off.

I get how the game works, okay? I’m on board. Try to get the person who has paid for this before and has come back to make that next step, to get that next treatment. Throw out some information, see what they respond to, build up from there. When people are taking this as entertainment or a one-time counselling session, fine. If you believe in what you’re doing, even better. Let them know what you think the problem might be. Tell them how they might address that problem. Mention what you can do for them. I know you’re running a business. I know you have rent to pay.

But when what you’re doing is getting people to admit what they’re most afraid of or most desire in this world, and then you use that information to essentially threaten them that they will never be happy unless they pay you money, I think that’s despicable.

You might say that’s what advertising is. Fine, but did advertising ever get you alone in a room, find your particular weak spots, and insist upon not letting you go until you were on the hook?

Yelp had two filtered reviews for this woman. I looked them up before I went. One said she was great. The other said she was a scam and had caused that person’s family lots of heartbreak. Reviews are ostensibly filtered because there is something suspect about them, and so I figured, Fifty-fifty, and went ahead anyway.

My mistake.

Honestly, I’m glad I went back. While it would have been nice to end the weekend with a more pleasant taste in my mouth, I got a hard dose of perspective that frankly, I needed. Because listen: There is nothing wrong with me. There isn’t. Nothing that billions of other people over time haven’t felt and had to work with. There is no one out there playing keep-away with the ball of happiness. Happiness is something I can pursue and even create for myself. There is no one way to live a good life. If I don’t get married or have children, I can still be surrounded by love. I am already surrounded by love. That is a perfectly wonderful life for me to lead, and if that’s what’s coming, I welcome it with open arms.

Vulnerability can be good. Openness and open-mindedness are important. Unfortunately, not everyone out there is looking out for you, and you’ve got to learn how to tell. You’ve really got to be the first person looking out for you.

Will I still lay out Tarot cards for myself for fun? Sure. Will I be paying to go to a psychic again? I doubt it. Next “psychic” I meet, I’m going to need to volunteer his or her services. If you want to help me, great. Help me. Without strings attached.

If not, I’m going to do just fine on my own.


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