Artwork by LAWRENCE W. LEE
BY COLE NOWLINS I had a typical New Jersey upbringing. We had pizza on Friday nights, went to church on Sundays, until you got confirmed at which point you were off the hook, and the summers were spent at the beach eating Kohr Brothers. This is probably why I’ve always loved my dad’s side of the family so much. Dad is a native Washingtonian, born outside of Seattle. His family is a crunchy bunch of free-range organic Pacific Northwesterners, a clan of artists, and musicians, with a few fishermen sprinkled in, because thats what people do who live in the Puget Sound region. They are REI, sustainability, homemade boysenberry jam, and sometimes even Tevas with white crew socks on underneath. There is no shortage of quirk and color, but there is a particular duo, that have a particularly intriguing skill set. My aunt and uncle are kinda/sorta shamans. You see, they practice reiki, which is defined by Reiki.org as, “a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing.” What is that technique? Good question, I found out (kind of) when I made my holiday sojourn to the West Coast.
Over a tidy dinner consisting primarily of kale, the topic of reiki came up. As one might expect of a typical New Jersey lad, shamanism was not something I came across with any sort of frequency, so when I made a rare visit to a shaman I happened to be related to, I bludgeoned my lovely aunt and uncle with questions. They said that what they did healed people, it involved touch and the transfer of energy. Then the buzzwords started coming up. Chakras, auras and third eyes started being bandied about, and all of the sudden tuning forks were part of the equation. These were words I was used to hearing from the people who go to raves, and listen to EDM, spew about fluoride on Facebook, not from very intelligent, lucid people like the ones I was dining with. With wine bolstering my confidence I pried further, ‘What do you actually do in these sessions, what is the outcome supposed to be?’ And that question was answered with a question, one I should have seen coming. “Would you like to try it? We could do a session on you tomorrow morning.” No I did not want to try it. I was captivated by the concept, but I wanted to be a fly on the wall of someone else’s session. I imagined my aura as a noxious, polluted cloud — the Mexico City of the soul, if you will — I couldn’t possibly expect my uncle to clear that up.
My chakras had to be clogged beyond belief, chocked full of compacted gunk acquired through years of egregious chakra neglect. And to be honest, the whole business sounded like a lot of hocus pocus, New Age nonsense. How can a tuning fork realistically help someone? And why did I need to be healed, I was not hurt, not sick, I have my this-and-thats but everybody does. But these people were educated, my aunt has a PhD for Christ’s sake, certainly she has a nonsense filter keen enough to discern if this reiki/shamanism business was ridiculous or not. I came to realize I was most terrified of it working. What if I underwent some profound change and all I wanted to do was reiki all day, or that whatever this was helped me. I couldn’t have that. I was almost done with college, I sort of made some small degree of commitment to some things. What if this “session” changed my perception of things, if I had some sort of epiphany? I had developed a certain fondness for my perceptions over the years, I couldn’t have someone tinkering with them. But curiosity had been my downfall. Every asinine question I asked had been a nail in my coffin. My aunt and uncle let me stay in their home, made me dinner, and obliged me with answers for what was probably a lengthy dinner. And if I declined, I would look like a big scaredy cat, which I was, but appearances are paramount. Of course, I said, I would love to.
The next morning I was remiss to find out both my aunt and uncle very much remembered my commitment, and were eager to get started. I insisted on a cup of coffee beforehand, and was able to do myself the disservice of ten minutes of anticipation while I stalled over my beverage. Then the local sports section became urgently important. Eventually I could no longer find a polite means of procrastination, and it was time to begin. I was led into the studio my hosts had annexed onto their home, which was located on a small, green island in the Puget Sound. The first thing I noticed was how delightfully soft the carpet was, it was brilliantly tender, never had I stepped on such an inviting surface. A massage table was in the center of the room. Next to the table was a table with an array of tuning forks on them. In the corner, there was a potbellied stove in a sand garden with a rocking chair pulled up alongside it. There was a cabinet in the opposite corner with some candles on it, and an exercise ball. Otherwise the room was sparsely populated. It was a very serene place, and I began to feel a little less apprehensive.
The reiki session was going to be a three person ordeal. Me, my aunt and uncle. My uncle instructed me to lie down on the massage table, face up, and he put a blanket over me. It appeared that this is where I would have reiki committed unto me. I still was very much in the dark on exactly what was going to happen, I eyed the tuning forks suspiciously. I really wanted to get high before this all started, but I got the sense that a joint was not in the cards. It was not. I closed my eyes, and prepared to have my filthy smog aura released into the room.
On comes the music. Its exactly what you would expect, calm, zen, something someone other than myself would meditate to. Then, as I expect the tuning forks came out. Before the session started, I figured the tuning forks would probably enter into the equation later in the game. The fine tuning comes after all the disgusting sludge gets flushed out, right? No, the tuning forks would apparently instigate the flushing out of my chakra sludge. I liked that. I imagined by chakras were getting a precise, genteel cleaning, not the heavy handed power washing I was expecting. I was starting to get on board. If you’ve never had a tuning fork used upon you, let me tell you, you are missing out. I was having different tuning forks applied to different chakras at this time, and my aunt and uncle were using them with aplomb. I began to feel the anxiety, the apprehension I brought into the session with me get vibrated away by the forks. I started to feel like I was sinking, like I was melting into a heap of blissful homemade organic jam. Eventually, the forks made their way to down around my elbows, and this is when I began to lose it. I got so tuned up I tuned out, I was in the middle of a magisterial reiki symphony. I was not fighting it anymore, I let all the earthy, positive, non-GMO, Pacific Northwest vibes roll over me.
I have no idea how long it lasted. My aunt told me it took about half an hour start to finish but if she told me it took four hours I would have believed her. It was as if I went into a time vacuum once the session started, I don’t think I ever went to sleep, but possibly fell into some state approaching sleep or a trance. Whatever it was, when I came back, I knew something had happened, that the reiki was certainly not just hocus-pocus hooey. There was no reiki epiphany, but there was the feeling that something was different, I had a strong sense of peace. And my knees, which had always been onerous and spiteful, were unusually spry, I wanted to take a walk, and I always avoid walking until it becomes imperative. My aunt told me my aura was colorful, never giving any indication it was like the smoke monster from Lost. That was the best part.