I fall asleep immediately, so I’m not sure what happens. According to this article, though, “the negative pressure needed to pull wax from the canal would have to be so powerful that it would rupture the eardrum in the process”.
I fall asleep immediately, so I’m not sure what happens. According to this article, though, “the negative pressure needed to pull wax from the canal would have to be so powerful that it would rupture the eardrum in the process”.
I’ve been determined to explore tantra as one of my missions, but the only morsels my Melbourne forays unearthed were a thinly veiled prostitution service, in which Tatiana offered to touch me all over while we were both naked for a mere $250, and a website for Tantric Dave, who lies stretched out with one thigh positioned over his ‘wand of light’.
Then I found a less salacious lady in Sydney.
The reason I’ve been determined to try this is because it sounds so excruciating. I mean, tantra’s all about spirituality, eye contact and effort, isn’t it? I doubt Sting saw his virginity as an indignity to be got rid of fast, or treats wanking like an aggressive formality.
My tantra teacher today is Brazilian, and therefore well placed to laugh at the sexual repression of the English. She greets me in leisurewear, but then produces a couple of skimpy kaftans. A room of her apartment is decked out New Age-style, with candles, incense, cushions, didgeridoos chorbling away and the heat up stiflingly high. Let me just open my kaftan a notch…
We start off with some pelvic floor exercises to get the blood flowing to the nethers and to learn how to, you know, sort of massage a man.
Breathing deeply through our mouths, we clench away, and Beatriz suggests I move my hand up my body to help me visualise pulsing the good feeling right up to my heart. It’s no use, though – try as I might, I can’t extend the warmth beyond the physiological vicinity of my reproductive organs. I feel like I’m swinging a hammer at a test-your-strength machine and not pushing past ‘puny’. Meanwhile, Beatriz is clearly dinging the bell.
Next, we sit opposite each other on cushions and take turns musing on “what touches my heart”, while staring into each other’s eyes. I know what you’re thinking – belt up the kaftan and run – but by now I’m so comfortable with Beatriz and her good vibes that the excrucio-factor is zero.
Beatriz talks about sexuality and how Gen Z girls are expected to recreate porn scenarios while so liquored up they can’t feel anything anyway. Tantra’s a method of being aware of your body and its every nuance. But anyway, on to the masturbation.
Sitting side by side, we slide our right hands down onto our sexual chakras, with our left hands over our hearts, where I find mine is opportunistically having a sly tweak of my nipple. Beatriz starts rocking in a figure of eight, arching her back in and out of the yoga cat pose. “It’s okay to moan,” she gasps. We’re supposed to be visualising a golden sphere of light, but thanks to years of an oppressive male regime, I’m only able to picture a massive cock.
When she’s done, Beatriz gets me to lie on my front and she skims my hair, then places her hands gently on the top and base of my back. They feel like they’re burning hot. I’m so relaxed I could just melt into this authentic Balinese mat.
Then it’s time for the strokes. Leaping up impishly, Beatriz pulls a phallus out of a drawer and lies down on the floor, holding it above her groin by the balls. She demonstrates a variety of imaginative ways to stroke it – ways other than furiously choking it, I mean – and gives me a go as well. I can now pop a cork and firestick someone with no worries at all.
That’s it for our session, and I’m feeling really good. There’s definitely something to be said for taking the time to acknowledge and nurture the sensations you’re feeling. Although, problematically, the idea of a bloke being into tantra makes my ovaries deflate.
So there I was, Googling ‘Menstronomy’, wondering if anyone had invented hogwash like ‘the science of forsoothing and vibrating the menses’ yet (if not, I was about to), when I stumbled across STALLION.
Part new age guru, part motivational speaker, part illusionist (“in front of a packed auditorium and James Randi himself I bent a spoon with my mind and will be spending the $1,000,000 they now owe me so that I can touch you with my Magic as never before. Stay tuned!”), he’s 100 per cent snake oil spoof.
STALLION is like the David Copperfield of the personal development circuit. He’s “constantly pursuing new psycho-spiritual disciplines and neuro technologies for personal development and self discovery. This results in intriguing metaphorical applications in his performances”.
At his website you can enjoy his esoteric poetry, take some tips in seducing the opposite sex (he’s a pickup artist in the vein of LA twat Mystery, who inspired Neil Strauss’s The Game), and then following through with his bedroom moves – he conceived the Tantra-trouncing ‘Majudo’, with which you can “learn how to treat your lady like a Golden Squaw with STALLION’S five-point simultaneous 20-digit massage”.
If you baulk at panpipes and synth piano, best not peruse his YouTube portfolio.
Francine Shapiro is a psychologist who formulated Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing in the early ’90s when she discovered that rapid eye movements quelled her own anxiety.
EMDR employs double-pronged stimulation of the brain. It occupies the individual with eye movement and tactile stimulation – like being tapped on the knee – while they recall a traumatic event, and then encourages visualisation of safe places. The client can venture off into the recesses of their mind to explore the trauma, then duck back into the safety of their therapist-constructed hidey-hole whenever the going gets tough.
You know: legs blown off by landmines / secluded beach with Nanny and Binky; legs blown off by landmines / secluded beach with Nanny and Binky. Tap tap tap. Eventually the trauma is defused like a bomb.
It’s garnered something of a new age reputation, on account of it being a quick fix and, as with NLP and EFT, it’s not necessarily carried out by anybody with any recognisable qualifications. However, it also utilises cognitive and psychodynamic psychology – hopefully.
I give it a whirl.
1) The questionnaire
The therapist, out in Melbourne’s suburbs, asks me a series of questions as paranoid and sinister as any ’70s conspiracy thriller.
Some people find they are not sure if they have done something or if they just dreamed doing it. How often does this happen to you?
Some people are on a bus or train and realise they can’t remember a section of their journey. How often does this happen to you?
2) Thinking of a safe place
With the therapist’s urging, I think of a beach I’d enjoyed as a youngster.
“How are you feeling?” she asks.
“Like I’ve imagined a safe place and now you’re going to ruin it.” But creepier.
She bids me describe the beach. “That’s an English beach,” she says, aghast at my depiction of the majestic shingles and grey waters of the east coast of Suffolk. “Why don’t you choose the white beaches of Australia, so the little girl inside you can feel the warmth of the sun on her back?”
I think she’s picturing the little girl inside me growing up in a Dickensian workhouse, malnutritioned and failing to thrive without sunlight, but I humour her and switch to the southern coast of New South Wales.
3) Finger tracking and whale music.
My therapist jerks her finger from right to left in sets of 12 strokes, asking me to track its path. The idea is that the eye movements unlock one’s “information processing system” by flitting between the hemispheres of your brain. At the end of each set I’m asked how I feel.
“Increasingly nauseous,” I admit, although it’s the therapist’s unflinching, slightly pop-eyed stare that’s bringing on the quease. Appeased, she works through another set.
“Stay with the clenching feeling,” she says, “and push my fingers with your eyes.”
She stops. “What score would you give me out of 10?”
I look at her, confused. She wants me to rate her performance now? Me, a rank amateur!
“For the sickness. With 10 being as bad as anyone could ever feel.”
“About a three, I suppose.”
“Okay, stay with it – we’re going again.”
4) Exploring an incident
Just when I think I’m going to run bellowing from the room if I have to sit through any more bug-eyed finger-jerking, a voice in my head pipes up: “She wants you to look over there.”
“What’s happening now?”
“Nothing,” I lie. I’m feeling rising panic.
I notice that she is not trailing her hand smoothly from right to left; she’s flicking her finger to my left on each set, like an instruction… and I ‘m getting a feeling of dread each time.
My eyes linger longer on the left with each sweep and some images begin to flood my brain.
“Find the spot and look at it,” she yelps, grabbing a pointer and wielding it forth. “Just stay focused on it and then see what comes out next.”
Miraculously, I recount a childhood event I’d previously not been able to remember; not realising till the next day that I’ve cast the main character in the exact same outfit they wear in a photograph I have of them. Is this how past life regression therapy works, when people recount tales of medieval derring do? Can it be put down to wanting to perform well for the therapist’s approval; like being eager to please a parent?
5) The counselling bit
“When people don’t have coping skills to deal with a situation, the brain puts it aside in a box,” the therapist explains, “but it will keep bobbing up. Nature will eventually help you deal with it… but nature’s way takes too long.”
We indulge some stomach-churning talking to my younger self while the therapist leans cavalierly into my comfort zone and taps my knees like a demented aunt.
EMDR, she says, works by sensory overload: the following of the finger while listening to whale music and focusing on two entirely different scenarios and feelings. “By bonding them, the good one disarms the bad. Now you have a tool.”
“Cheque or savings?” she says, breaking my trance.
In his rip-roaring read, Paranormality; Why We See What Isn’t There, Professor Richard Wiseman exposes all sorts of snake oil techniques, from ghost hunting to fortune telling to conversing with the dead, dating back over the centuries. Unlike the swashbuckling swordplay of science journalist Ben Goldacre, Wiseman presents his findings in the most affable possible way and with plenty of chortles. He has published 50 academic papers on the subject and is a fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal.
Wiseman explains the principles behind the art of ‘cold reading’ – the technique a psychic will employ to shock and amaze.
1) Flattery Attribute wonderful characteristics to the customer and give them great depth. Suggest they may be psychic themselves. (This one’s been tried on me, see here)
2) Double-headed statements Here’s on example from Wiseman of a playing-it-safe double-header, which will be guaranteed to strike a chord one end or the other. “At times you an be imaginative and creative, but are more than capable of being practical and down-to-earth when necessary.”
3) Keep it vague Talk of upheaval and significant events will draw the customer to fill in the blanks and infuse the words with meaning. Wiseman also suggests being abstract: “I can see a circle closing. Does that mean anything to you?” 1989 manual King of the Cold Readers suggests using the mnemonic THE SCAM to stick to safely broad subjects: Travel, Health, Expectations about the future, Sex, Ambitions, Money.
4) Read the feedback A palm reader holding a customer’s hand is able to pick up on sudden tenseness – or an outbreak of clamminess. Similarly a psychic will watch out for signs of confusion – a customer trying to make sense of a statement – or excitement.
5) Play on people’s sense of uniqueness There are some specific-sounding statements that actually rely on the customer being more passé than they realise. Referring to a scar on a knee, for instance, will likely ring bells, or, as Wiseman says, referring to a family member called Jack – which one-fifth of people have.
6) Don’t take no for an answer If someone rejects a statement, appear incredulous and ask them to think harder. Or broaden the statement, as though further information is filtering through. “After that,” says Wiseman, “comes the old ‘I was speaking metaphorically’ scam.”
The more advanced psychic will read into clothing, handshakes, posture, accent and grooming. Ask any mentalist.
I’ve got no belief in chakras and find explanations of energy healing too intangible to sink my teeth into, but I can’t deny experiencing some weird effects when I went to see one healer in particular, in Byron Bay. Pulses moved in waves down my body, streaming out of my feet, and I was left feeling an incredible sense of well-being. It’s thrown a spanner into the skeptic works.
That healer wasn’t Eve, but Eve agreed to walk me through what she does and test my new-found skills on photographer Nicole Cleary…
When Eve’s father brought home a little jar of crystals, with the names neatly listed on a piece of paper, he’d intended to nurture her interest in fossicking and fossils. Instead, he set her on a course of holistic spirituality that now sees her practising past life work, crystal healing, chakra balancing, aura cleansing and reiki out in the hills of north-east Melbourne.
“Dad tries to suspend his cynicism,” Eve says, over a cup of tea at her kitchen table. “He was a hippy in the ’60s, into macrobiotic food and yoga, but he saw that as a passing fad.”
Eve’s mother, a home birth midwife, holds the belief that if something helps the mind, it helps the body. She’ll happily accept meditation and yoga as being vital for the spirit, but finds the idea of past life regression and spiritual cleansing challenging. “Her take on it is as long as the person believes they’re being healed, it will benefit them psychologically,” Eve says.
Eve’s parents can’t have been surprised at her spirituality. One great-grandmother was a healer and midwife in Poland, another was a herbalist and witch in Vancouver Island.
“For as long as I can remember I felt there was something beyond what we see, sense and feel,” says Eve. She studied Wicca in her twenties, but found the dogma and hierarchy jarred with her. Eve began working with kids and researching colour therapy – a field more substantive than her other services; it’s used widely in branding, for example. An advertisement in new age freebie Living Now led her to embark on a two-year Diploma of Complementary Therapies. After completing her studies, she set up shop.
They’re physically there, says Eve of my problematic chakras, but invisible. She describes them as the seven major intersections in the body that meridian lines run through. We have seven spinning chakras down our spinal columns, with each one driving an energy layer.
I’m not content with the physically-there-but-invisible explanation (“I can see them,” Eve clarifies), so Eve suggests we test them with an amethyst pendulum. By hanging the pendulum over each chakra, we should be able to discern its health by the direction it’s going in (hopefully clockwise) and the speed at which it’s spinning.
I’m annoyed with my traitorous stomach when it starts whirling like water down a plughole as soon as the pendulum starts spinning above it. In fact, it feels like everything else in my body is spinning clockwise, too. Eve concludes that my third eye and crown chakras are low, and moves on to some colour therapy, using squares of felt on my body. I can’t see the one on my head, I point out, but apparently the colour is doing its thing regardless of whether I can see it or not.
Eve’s hand on my head relaxes me completely, but then there are moments when she loses me again. Take the witch’s fingers of light, with which Eve rakes my aura right through my body (they’re her fingers, essentially). While she’s in there, Eve talks to the little girl that lives in the vicinity of my base chakra. “It’s okay,” Eve tells her. “I’ve got permission.” This is followed up by an aura soothe – a large selenite crystal swept above me in strokes.
Having a go
Photographer Nicole lies down to become my guinea pig. Her heart chakra’s running low: both Eve and I are using a pendulum over it, and both pendulums almost stop, which I’m delighted about, but Nicole looks disturbed. This can mean heartache, says Eve. The sluggish movement over Nicole’s throat indicates trouble communicating.
To heal Nicole’s third eye, Eve instructs me to stand behind her and put my hands either side of her head. I’m trying to pulse some kind of energy at her, but I’ve got a horrible feeling it might be sexual energy, the only energy I’m familiar with. I hope she can’t tell.
Next, I cleanse Nicole’s body by sweeping a crystal down it, visualising a white light passing from the top of her head and out of her ailing throat chakra.
Eve shows me how to zip Nicole back up, as if running an invisible mosquito net over her body. It’s like closing a patient up after an operation – if you leave them unzipped they’re vulnerable to all sorts of bad vibes.
A person working in the holistic field has twin annoyances to accept: the inevitable barnacles of naysayers viewing you with a level of cynicism or condescension and demanding rock solid evidence, and people wanting their fortune told on the spot. Sometimes both at once. Take the time a woman thrust her palm out for a read and Eve wondered out loud if she’d ever considered life insurance.
Anyway, how did I do? “Your healing’s like your driving,” says Nicole, as we pull away from Eve’s house. “I could feel it but it was very hesitant and kept stopping and starting. It wasn’t very relaxing.”
Over the next week I’m going to do some exercises that should aid me in lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming occurs when you’re aware you’re dreaming and can exert some control over this alternate reality. It’s a technique much admired by new agers, lovers of hallucinogens, and fans of Avatar and The Matrix. (Not to be confused with astral projection, which is an out of body experience brought on by meditation and/or psychedelic drugs.) Even though the Skeptic’s Dictionary has a pop at lucid dreaming, there have been plenty of clinical trials and scientific bumf that back up the concept.
Benefits of lucid dreaming:
Face fears safely; improve problem-solving skills; fly to cool places; try out conversations that might not go very well; rehearse public speaking in front of an audience; practise brain surgery (or whatever it is you do); ask questions of your unconscious mind, which is infinitely wiser than your critical mind (the critical mind constructed the person you believe yourself to be and is responsible for you buying into your own legend/feeling intense self-loathing. Thus you want to transcend it whenever possible).
The three types of lucid dreaming:
DILD (dream induced lucid dream), in which the dreamer suddenly realises they’re asleep; WILD (wake induced lucid dream), in which you go directly from being awake to being asleep but aware you are dreaming; and MILD (mnemonically induced lucid dream), in which the dreamer carries out reality checks to ascertain whether or not they are asleep.
Exercises to aid lucid dreaming:
* Use your alarm to wake up after five hours, get out of bed, then back in. Hopefully you’ll slip straight back into REM sleep – this is the WILD technique.
* Alternatively, aim for a long stint of sleep and use the snooze button to keep slipping in and out of hypnopompic (awakening) and hypnagogic (falling asleep) states. This won’t last as long as lucid dreaming in the REM state, but it’s surreal, semi-controllable, and good practise.
* Use the Hypnagogic Imagery Technique (HIT) when falling asleep by trying to stay thoughtless, letting images flow past without focusing on them and being passively drawn into the dream while trying to stay aware. A bit like watching telly in a trance.
* Write your dreams down the moment you wake up, building what you remember up to a few pages over a few weeks. This is to become accustomed to your dreamland terrain and aid the DILD technique.
* Buy an REM Dreamer Device. I cannot vouch for this.
* ‘Lifestyle designer’ Tim Ferris suggests trying melatonin, nicotine patches or ‘brain booster’ Huperzine A. Others suggest caffeine. ‘Cap’n Weird Beard’ on psychoactive drug forum Erowid suggests Valerian, Passion Flower, Kava and Holy Basil. I cannot vouch for Cap’n Weird Beard.
* Identify cues that you frequently see in dreams and carry out reality checks. Get in the habit of asking yourself if you’re dreaming when you see them in real life, even when you’re pretty sure you’re awake. This is the MILD technique.
My cues Question Answer Dreaming?
Water Is it forming a tidal wave? Yes Yes
Elevator Am I pinned to the ceiling? Yes Yes
Vodka Have I just noticed I’m drinking it? Yes Yes
My reflection Do I have a pink bob? Yes Yes
Having sex Is it with a woman? Yes Yes
Continuing with the theme that unverifiable new age healing activities may be good for us after all, merely by instilling us with a powerful psychological sense of well-being, here’s an extract from Ben Goldacre’s book Bad Science, in a chapter about the placebo effect.
Around a hundred years ago, there was a native Canadian Indian called Quesalid…
“Quesalid was a skeptic: he thought shamanism was bunk, that it only worked through belief, and he went undercover to investigate this idea. He found a shaman who was willing to take him on, and learned all the tricks of the trade, including the classic performance piece where the healer hides a tuft of down in the corner of his mouth and then, sucking and heaving, right at the peak of his healing ritual, brings it up, covered in blood from where he has discreetly bitten his lip, and solemnly presents it to the onlookers as a pathological specimen, extracted from the body of the afflicted patient.
Quesalid had proof of the fakery, he knew the trick as an insider, and was all set to expose those who carried it out; but as part of his training he had to do a bit of clinical work, and he was summoned by a family ‘who had dreamed of him as their saviour’ to see a patient in distress. He did the trick with the tuft, and was appalled, humbled and amazed to find that his patient got better.
Although he continued to maintain a healthy skepticism about most of his colleagues, Quesalid, to his own surprise perhaps, went on to have a long and productive career as a healer and shaman.”
I’ve got a few shamanic Snake Oil Skeptic activities lined up, and I’m curious as to whether I’ll view them in the same light as new age activities thus far. (That light being dim.) Anthropologists, including Claude Lévi-Strauss, came to view shamans as tribal psychoanalysts, rather than mentally ill savages as had been the common perception.
I’ve ordered this well regarded tome about psychological healing and the role of the shaman (along with holistic therapy and contemporary psychotherapy) – Persuasion & Healing by Jerome D Frank and Julia B Frank – in the hope of learning more about how the unconscious mind responds to ‘healing’ and manifests well-being in the body. Because I like hooking me up some of that.