energy healer, Donnamarie Steffano, in September 2003. I went on the recommendation of two friends, with the goal of "collecting a new experience." Fifteen years ago, I was living in an urban commune of sorts, and exploring the hippie dippie side of my personality. I was a vegetarian, went to yoga dance sessions monthly, and worked for a nonprofit that helped rich people get in touch with their inner progressive. At the time, exploring energy therapies was not a stretch.
Energy therapy, as I've experienced it, takes place in a massage therapy room. After declaring my intention with the therapist (e.g., to get help processing lingering grief, to better understand an eating disorder, etc.), I take off all of my jewelry, and my shoes, and lie flat on my back on the massage bed - no pillows or bolsters. I close my eyes, and let the therapist do her work.
And her work simply sounds like someone moving around my body, exhaling or inhaling deeply. The audible breath sounds to me like that of a Sleestack from the television program Land of the The Lost. I peeked during my first sessions, and Donnamarie had her hands extended above my body, as if she was touching something.
The energy therapist asks for feedback during the session, so she can understand how my energy is responding. (OK, I know what you are thinking. This is the trick. She asks for feedback, and then adjusts her feedback to fit my narrative so I think something is happening, like a fortune teller. I get it. Just wait. There's more.)
She also gives feedback. During my first session, I remember her telling me, "I have an overwhelming desire to recite the Lord's Prayer. What does this mean to you?"
I immediately remembered my grandmother's last day on this planet, When, after being in a coma for at least two days, her older sister (who was her best friend), came to visit and say good-bye. With the family minister, Aunt Esther was reciting the Lord's Prayer, when my Gramma opened her eyes and reached out her hand. I and the two sisters I was with at the time, alerted Aunt Esther to Gramma's movement, and she was able to hold her sister's hand as she finished the prayer.
I told this to Donnamarie and she replied, "Your grandmother was very short, yes? (She was about 4' 8" at the time of her death.) I can see her standing by your head. Know she is with you right now. She is telling me that she'll be with you when you need her."
With that, I was hooked.
I've seen Donnamarie maybe half a dozen times since then, most recently yesterday, when I went with the goal of finding my center. Here's what happened.
1. After we caught up with one another, I declare my intention of getting help being energetically unclogged.
2. I take my place on the bed and tried to relax.
3. Donnamarie says, "Oh wow. There is nothing moving in you."
4. So she starts doing the breathing thing. Within two minutes, I start to feel as if I am expanding so rapidly that I am going to pop, like Violet Beauregard in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It feels like an infection that is going to burst. I tell Donnamarie what's happening and that I am starting to freak out. She tells me to start doing yogic breathing - breathe in for four counts, hold the breath for four counts, breathe out through my mouth for four counts.
4a. At the same time, I am overwhelmed by the desire to stab myself. Repeatedly, in my abdomen. Maybe to relieve the pressure in my body? To this, I say nothing because I feel ashamed and afraid of this violence towards myself. But fearful of the impulse, another part of my psyche starts singing the refrain from "All You Need is Love" by the Beatles. The war between the stabbing and the "love, love, love" goes on for a while. I'm also trying to tell myself to relax, to sink into the bed. But a part of my is fearful that if I sink, I'll be buried alive. I am imaging the bed as soft earth that swallows me whole. "The bed is not the earth. You will not be swallowed whole if you relax. Love, love, love..." I repeat. All without saying a word to Donnamarie. She has no idea what is happening with my self-talk.
5. Donnamarie says to me, "You are COVERED in something red and sticky. I don't know what it is. But I'm going to try and clear it." Spooky. I haven't told her I am psychically trying to stab myself. But she sees it anyway.
6. Then something shifts, and I feel myself being anchored at belly button to the bed. And my belly starts swirling. The motion is distinct, and I feel as if I'm slowly disappearing into the bed as I'm pulled deeper and deeper at the belly button down. The feeling is restricted to my belly button (or sacral chakra in energy talk).
7. Donnamarie says "The negative energy is starting to drain." I think to myself, "Oh, that's what this feeling is in my belly. It is like a bathtub emptying after a long soak." I start to relax.
8. As I'm draining, all I can see behind my closed eyes is a sheet of purple and indigo, the colors of the crown and third eye chakras.
9. Then the colors shift to green, the color of the heart chakra, which controls my ability to love. I start to feel as if I'm covered in the softest, puffiest, and strongest moss in the world. I think to myself, "The moss doesn't care who our president is. The moss won't be disturbed by this. I am covered in moss. I will not be disturbed."
10. Next, my hands start to feel as if they are swelling, not in the Violet Beauregard way. Instead, it feels like every cell is filling with water. Or maybe air. Or maybe loving kindness. It is pleasant. The feeling cascades up my arms. Donnamarie moves to the base of the bed and I can feel the gentle swell of loving kindness rush up my legs and into my belly, and it starts to move into my spine.
11. And then, Donnamarie ends the session. Inviting me to slowly come back to this plane, sit up when I'm ready, and be prepared to drink a glass of water.
We end each session debriefing what happened. It is during this period that I tell my energy healer that I was overwhelmed by a desire to stab myself at the exact time she was seeing me covered in something red and sticky. She said my energy created a luminous cocoon, one that looked this a diamond crystal, to protect me during our session. "Ahhh," I replied, "This must have been happening when I was afraid I was going to be buried alive."
Experiences like these help me believe in an energy, or maybe a spirit, that shapes our world, shapes our fundamental humanness. There is no rational, scientific way to explain how Donnamarie saw me covered in "something red and sticky" at the same moment I was doing internal battle over a desire to stab myself. Or explain how Donnamarie connected with my memory of the Lord's Prayer during our first session. Even BMG, someone who once went to meetings of the Boston-area skeptics society, says, "Yeah, that's crazy. I've got no explanation."
Right now the energy in many pockets of the world is ugly. I'm going to push myself to not let it take hold of me again. When I saw the neighbor taking his walk this morning, smiling and wearing his "Make America Great Again" hat, I subtly gave him the finger. Feeling the ugly energy start to creep in, I shifted to yogic breathing. In and out. In and out. In and out. From there, I decided that if he and I were to make eye contact the next time we saw one another, I'd ask him what parts of America he thinks weren't great. Luckily, I didn't have to do that (baby steps, right).
I think I can do this. I have to do this. I'll be ready.