Category Archives: Energy

Why I am not a psychic — or a skeptic

In 2003, after 32 years in the New Age, and after having published nine books and audio learning sets on psychic healing, auras, chakras, and metaphysical concepts of energy, I left my career to return to college. I made this decision after two years of self-directed study into many of the metaphysical and paranormal ideas I had based my career upon.

While leaving those ideas behind was very frightening and painful, it was a valuable learning experience (this is a joke you will understand further down the page).

I returned to college in 2004 to study the social sciences (history, sociology, criminology, psychology, demographics, economics, cultic studies, and anthropology) because I wanted to understand what had happened in my own life. I also wanted to understand how spiritual beliefs are formed, how ideas are created and change over time, how social movements arise and decay, how groups create their own realities … you know, simple stuff like that.

I graduated with a degree in Social Science in 2006. Though I focused on the sociology of work & occupations, the sociology of cults & high-control groups, the sociology of murder and criminology, and career testing & guidance (okay, I’ve got a lot of interests), I also studied religions and the New Age when I could. I am no longer working with paranormal or metaphysical ideas, though I continue to study them through the lenses of anthropology, sociology, history, neurology, and social and cognitive psychology.

While I am agnostic* about whether any paranormal, spiritual, religious, or metaphysical concepts actually exist, I now understand that I personally am not a psychic, and that there was nothing metaphysical or paranormal about what I did in my previous healing career.

*Definition for clarity: Agnostic means without gnosis or certain knowledge. It is different from atheism, which is merely a lack of belief in gods. Being an agnostic is sort of comical. When the question of religion was posed in a class and I answered, “I’m an agnostic,” a Christian student said loudly to the rest of the group, “That means she wants to believe in God, but she can’t.” Hah! I corrected her, “Actually, it means that I’m saying we can’t know because we are imperfect observers of the world. I am an atheist in regard to every human conceptualization of God (religion has always concerned me, which was why I was originally drawn to the New Age), but I’m able to leave room for a creative force that we aren’t yet capable of understanding. I’m open-minded.”

Some of my atheist friends think agnosticism is a lily-livered kind of fence-sitting, where you’re trying to keep all your options open just in case there’s hell in the offing. I say Hah! to that as well. I didn’t choose agnosticism because I’m afraid; I chose it because I’m willing to be surprised.

What I understand now after all this time is how culture formed my career as a psychic healer, but also how my natural abilities formed the core of my work. Through my rather excessive empathy, I was able to create a full-fledged psychic career, not because I was tricking anyone, but because I can read emotions, gestures, undercurrent, body language, and intentions to a greater extent than is deemed normal. I’ve also been through intense trauma in my life, and because of that, I’m able to understand things about emotions and the human condition that many people don’t understand at all.

The work I did wasn’t about magically reading the future or past lives; rather, it was a form of peer counseling based upon my own understanding of how to rebuild a life after extreme trauma. Continue reading

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The Reality of Atlantis, part 2

Continued from part 1:

So, in the original story of the island kingdom of Atlantis (which was recounted in 500 C. E. by Plato’s uncle Solon), the five sets of twin sons of the god Poseidon intermarried with mortals, forgot their godly powers, and started acting like foolish, selfish humans. In anger and extreme disappointment, Zeus (the god over all Greek gods) destroyed Atlantis and wiped all traces of the island and its civilization from our world.

photo of mythical gryphon

Oh, he’s real – real awesome!

Spoiler: Atlantis was not a physical island in the actual world. I don’t say that it’s not a real place, because as the existence of thousands of books, stories, myths, poems, plays, ships, games, and movies about Atlantis has shown us, Atlantis has maintained a powerful hold on human imagination for centuries. It still does today. Atlantis is therefore not unreal. Atlantis is real in its own way; it has a reality that is mythical in nature.

Accessing the Mythical Imagination

Some people have the idea that myth = false. In their minds, a myth is not true, so therefore, we can ignore it. But that idea displays a stunning lack of imagination.

One of my favorite mythologists, Michael Meade, has said that enduring myths (such as creation myths and morality tales) are actually more true about human nature than regular stories are, because they’ve been through so many minds and so many retellings that all of the local or non-universal threads have been clipped off. After a certain number of decades (or centuries, in the case of the Atlantis mythology), what you end up with is an enduring story that speaks poetically to deep aspects of the human condition. Conventional stories simply can’t touch the soul in the way enduring myths do.

In my work with emotions and empathy, I make a distinction between the words imaginary, which means something that doesn’t exist, and imaginal, which means something that exists in the poetic, artistic, and mythic imagination. Of course, these two categories of imaginal and imaginary overlap, but there are important distinctions. Continue reading

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The Reality of Atlantis, part 1

photo of The Legend of AtlantisThough the tale of Atlantis and its fall has captivated people since Plato’s time (500 CE), Atlantis has special significance in the New Age subculture. It is not uncommon for two complete strangers in the New Age to meet and share remarkably similar stories of the rise and fall of Atlantis.

There is also a significant subset of New Age people who have memories of their own past lives in Atlantis. These memories invariably include stories about the advanced clairvoyant civilization on Atlantis and the unusual technologies used on the island (which are thought to include crystal-based power generation, lasers, flying machines, and cloning technology). The Atlantean culture, in these memories, was also influenced by extra-terrestrial or otherworldly entities. The eventual downfall of this advanced culture, in the New Age retelling of the story, was reportedly caused by the Atlanteans themselves, who courted their own demise (and the sinking of their island) by repeatedly breaking the laws of nature and attempting to attain godlike powers.

Since the story of Atlantis essentially catapulted me out of the New Age and back into college, my first self-directed research study traced the actual origins of the story of Atlantis — not merely in history, but also in the popular imagination. I wanted to know the real story of Atlantis and to discover when and where the very specific New Age stories of the magical, crystal-powered, psychic, alien-infused culture of Atlantis came into existence. Continue reading

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9. Unraveling

After nearly two years of study (and that final wake-up call from my Atlantean pelvis alien), I was so alarmed by the implications of my support of New Age ideas that I slammed the brakes on my career.

I cancelled all of my workshops, stopped doing consultations, edited my website, and turned down a number of book contracts. I made these changes as quietly as possible because I knew I’d get very little support or understanding from anyone. I also cleaned out my snail-mail and e-mail files and reread thousands of pieces of correspondence from people all over the globe.

Until I did that – until I reread all of those letters and e-mails in a row, I hadn’t noticed how alike they were. They were all from New Age people who – no matter their age, gender, educational status, or nationality – were wrestling with the same basic difficulties in protecting themselves from misinformation, untestable claims, untrained teachers and healers, and general confusion (including confusion about my work, which veered significantly from many accepted New Age ideas).

photo of Sisyphus and his rockI had originally responded to each of these concerns as unique, and when I answered each one, I know I was thinking to myself: If I can just write well enough, if I can just present models that will help people think clearly, if I can just help people find safe resources, if I can just….

I see now that I was like Sisyphus of the Greek myth, endlessly pushing a rock up a hill, only to watch it fall back down every time I got to the top. Though I meant well and was honestly trying to protect people, I finally saw that I was doing no lasting good.

I saw that by just using New Age jargon, or talking about unverifiable metaphysical concepts of energy, or imagining that there is another world and that people survive beyond death, I was helping people maintain their confirmation biases and support their motivated reasoning.

The ideas of the New Age are interesting, but they unfortunately exist within a framework that can invite all sorts of confusing and even damaging information into people’s lives. Though I realized that people needed to be responsible for themselves, and that I didn’t hold a hypnotic sway over my readers, my concerns were intensified because I knew my audience. I knew that many people in the New Age, spirituality, and metaphysics were there because they were in pain, because they didn’t fit in, or because they hadn’t been able to find help or comfort anywhere else.

It’s important to understand that alternatives become necessary when the conventional fails.

Continue reading

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7. The New Age Laws of Energy

Let me give you some back-story about energy. My work in the New Age was based on the concept of healing with energy. In the New Age, this energy is referred to as chi (or qi or ki), prana, or the life force (among other things). The idea is that this energy is what flows through us (like blood in our veins), holds the universe together, animates life, and connects us to each other. It forms the basis of most metaphysical and New Age philosophies and healing practices; the health of your energy is thought to be the basis for your physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual health and survival.

photo of Your Aura and Your Chakras bookIn my own psychic readings and healings, for instance, I used my capacity to sense my clients’ energy (I used my energy to sense their energy and diagnose any problems) inside the area of their peripersonal space (also known as the aura). With the information I gathered, I might move my clients’ energy around with my hands if they or I felt that it was blocked.

I could also pick up specific things about my clients’ emotional health, their attitudes, and their personalities, based upon what I felt in their personal energy field. Nearly all New Age and alternative healing modalities are based on the concepts of energy flow and energy blockages – and thousands of people like me have built careers by creating untold numbers of energy cleansing and diagnostic systems to address these blockages.

This concept of energy is absolutely central to New Age philosophy, where people make endless distinctions about different kinds of energies. For instance, there’s the physical energy of your body, the energy of your emotions, the energy of your thoughts, and the energy of your immortal spirit. Each type of energy ostensibly has its own pattern, speed, and frequency (in many areas of the New Age, the body is seen as containing the lowest or basest frequency, while the spirit is seen as containing the highest or most valued frequency).

In my area of the New Age, we also made distinctions between the energy of the aura (your peripersonal space), the energy of the chakras (energetic vortices that are thought to maintain and distribute energy throughout your body and your aura), and the energy of angels, devas, fairies, gods, goddesses, the spirits of dead people, extra-terrestrials, and the Supreme Being (in my area of the New Age, God was not a human-like creature, but was rather the primordial sentient energy from which all other energies arose).

We also identified the distinct energies of all of the inhabitants of the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms*, as well as the energies of all of the stars and planets in the galaxy. Everything had its own distinct, purposeful, and meaningful energy. Continue reading

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6. Becoming a Hermit

As I started questioning the foundations of New Age thought, people around me became very uncomfortable. In response to this spoken and unspoken discomfort, my questioning became guarded and almost completely introspective. I stayed up late many nights, studying and researching – on the Internet, in books, or wherever I could find worthwhile information. I had a great number of subjects to research – and because I had always maintained a free and open dialogue with my readers and listeners, I also had access to constantly updated information about the New Age movement.

In just a few years, I had fielded thousands of letters, phone calls, and e-mails from people all over the world (my aura and chakras book was published in six languages). This allowed me to track New Age and metaphysical ideas and personalities as they moved from group to group and from country to country (like banned pesticides, many debunked New Age ideas and teachers magically reappear in distant venues where their past poor conduct is unknown).

I began to use the Internet to research New Age trends, teachers, and ideas – at proponent’s sites and at sites I found by adding the words “problems with,” “debunking of,” or “warnings about” to each of my search topics. I also repeatedly scoured my local library for balanced and measured books about the New Age, but I found very little – because most books in the genre were either unbendingly pro-New Age, or unbendingly anti-New Age. I found those one-sided books disappointing and tedious – so I relied more heavily on the web, where I could quickly click away from sites that were polarized and continue my search for something more balanced and perceptive. Continue reading

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5. My Brilliant Career

We’ll make quick work of the next two decades of my healing career.  I did what I set out to do.

I studied, taught classes, performed healings, taught other people to heal themselves, traveled, researched, and eventually wrote nine titles on spiritual healing and metaphysics – all of which questioned and challenged the New Age status quo. My work focused on grounding yourself, staying present in your body (instead of floating off in some dissociative meditative practice), and healing your own aura and chakras, instead of paying someone else to do it for you.

I also focused my practice on survivors of trauma, and on helping emotionally troubled people center and calm themselves (I learned to do this first on myself, and then on the students at the FCPA who were unraveling and decompensating all around me).

In my career, I challenged the unhealthy “your thoughts control the world” belief (which has now returned in the form of The Secret, because that idea just won’t die!). I did psychic readings and healings for free or barter (I made my money through teaching, writing, and odd jobs), and I worked to maintain normal relationships with people I taught or healed (instead of creating a false hierarchy like they did at the FCPA).

I also did everything I could to avoid (often to the chagrin of my publishers and publicists) the cult of the personality that is so rampant in the New Age. Whenever I got promo materials, I’d delete anything that suggested I was a chosen one (such as world-renowned chakra expert and spiritual leader Karla McLaren).

photo of Karla McLaren

Not the chosen one; just a person who wants to help

In my work, I focused on teaching people to heal their own auras and chakras so that I’d be out of a job. I decided early in my career that my books would provide my income, because I had noticed that people whose income is based on healing others generally have a vested (though often entirely unconscious) interest in keeping their customers, no matter what.

When your income depends on sick people, you tend to focus on sickness and imperfections, and you tend to create dependencies. I saw it with my chiropractors, who scared me away from other kinds of practitioners (“Western medicine is all about cutting and poisoning, but chiropractic works with the body naturally,” etc.), and with my homeopaths, acupuncturists, and massage therapists, who usually voiced similar warnings about any other form of medicine.

To be fair, I also saw this tendency in conventional therapists, physicians, and psychiatrists; I think it’s universal to think that what you’re doing is better than the alternative.  When your livelihood depends on repeat business, you have to create brand loyalty. However, when your income also depends on people being sick or hurt, there is an unfortunate tendency to slide down a slippery ethical slope.

Being an expert in someone else’s life is amazingly self-affirming, and your ego can very easily sweep you away into a kind of self-absorbed grandiosity* where you think you have all the answers and can do no wrong. I saw it at the Lake of Li, at the FCPA, and in the green rooms and back stage areas on the New Age lecture circuit.

*However, healers have not cornered the market on self-absorption; I also see it in college professors and skeptics, I see it in the researchers I read, and I see it in academic peer review committees. Being an expert can easily trip you up and make you stop questioning yourself. It’s an expertise problem, and it’s not something that many people become aware of until it’s too late. In my own practice, I tried like mad not to fall down that slippery slope, but it was ridiculously difficult.  I think the fact that I was watching for grandiosity and pomposity is what pulled me up so sharply when I heard myself tell that story about Atlantis.  I had completely crossed a line.

Empathic Activism Dollars!

When I became better known and experienced a sudden, time-consuming demand for phone consultations, I did begin charging – but I created a pretty ingenious system through which people could still work with me for free. I called it Empathic Activism Dollars, and it consisted of my clients doing a few hours of volunteer work or social activism within their communities in exchange for my consultation. That was fun, because I knew that good was being done in the world, and that’s much better than money, to me anyway. Continue reading

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