“I don’t usually tell people this,” whispered Karl, as we were sitting in a pub after work. The sun shone brightly outside, but the room had few windows and was dimly lit. “My hands have healing powers,” he said. “I heard you have cancer. I might be able to help.”
It was 2009. One week previous, I was diagnosed with bone cancer. I didn’t believe (and I’m still skeptical) that anyone has magical healing powers. But promises of new age cures for horrible diseases can rip tight minds and wallets wide open.
I met Karl at his home the next day. By day, he taught high school mathematics, just down the hall from where I taught English. By night, he practiced Reiki. Reiki practitioners believe that they can transfer "universal energy" through their palms. They place their hands on or above their patients in an effort to heal them. Yes, it sounds like voodoo. It also sounds like a good way to take money from the vulnerable. But Karl never asked for money. He just wanted to help.
Week after week, following my surgery, I lay on his table and closed my eyes. “Imagine a white light running down your spine,” he said. “The light has the power to heal.” Sometimes, Karl put his hands on my back. Other times, his hands just hovered above me.
The sessions were calming, in a meditative way. Karl spoke highly of a master healer from California who would soon be in town. He said I should book a session with her. Not wanting to disappoint him, I did.
I paid her $175 for 30-minutes. Afterward, she contorted her face as if she were in deep physical pain. “Your cancer is aggressive,” she said. “You need many more sessions…and you should eat more fish.”
She was wrong. My surgery had been successful. My cancer was gone. And if I ate more fish I’d look like a guppy.
So is energy healing a hoax, a delusion or the real deal? Few scientific peer reviewed studies support it. But Dean Radin says it isn’t quackery at all. He is a parapsychologist working at the Institute of Noetic Sciences in California. According to The Daily Mail, Radin worked with couples, with which one partner had cancer. Radin asked the healthy partners to send positive energy to their spouses at a time randomly chosen by a computer. He says the vital signs of the sick partner improved precisely when they sent positive thoughts.
Radin writes about such phenomena in his book, The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena.Most of the claims about healing energy, however, are more anecdotal than scientific. Robert L. Park is one of Dean Radin’s critics. He’s an emeritus professor of physics at the University of Maryland. Park published a review of Radin’s book in a 1997 issue of Nature, International Weekly Journal of Science. He says Radin ignored the known hoaxes in the field, made statistical errors and ignored plausible non-paranormal explanations.
I’m writing this column in the town of Ubud, on the island of Bali. It’s a Mecca for holistic healers. Just a quick look through a local magazine shows dozens of ads or articles with phrases like ‘harmony transformation process’ or ‘transformative global energy’.
Dan Berbridge has lived in Ubud for the past year. He says the paranormal gets taken far too seriously. “I was sitting at a café yesterday,” he explained, “and the people at the table next to mine were talking about a ‘spiritual cattery’. When these pet owners go on vacations, they want their cats to board with a spiritual essence.”
While Ubud may attract its share of flakes, some of its healers are taken quite seriously. Michele Cempaka is one of them. Nothing about the former Californian journalist appears out of the ordinary. She doesn’t wear flowered gowns adorned with charms and crystals. But she makes her living as a Reiki healer.
“Anybody can learn Reiki,” says the Reiki master and hypnotherapist, “But some people are more naturally gifted than others.”
She has caught the attention of the prestigious Aman Resorts chain. Many guests pay upwards of $5,000 a night for a room, and then pay extra for Michele to perform Reiki. “I see my ability as a gift,” she says. “Some say it’s from God, some say it’s from the universe.”
Then again, it could be from Bayonne, Peoria, or Miami. It’s not quite clear.
I don’t know what effect, if any, my friend Karl’s healing sessions had on my health. But it reminds me of a Shakespearean quote from Hamlet. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Andrew Hallam is a Digital Nomad. He’s the author of the bestseller Millionaire Teacher and Millionaire Expat: How To Build Wealth Living Overseas