Parapsychology at Paradise Found - Pacific Standard

Parapsychology at Paradise Found

Considering America's ambivalent fascination with pop-mysticism.
Author:
Publish date:
The reading room at Paradise Found. (Photo: Max Ufberg)

The reading room at Paradise Found. (Photo: Max Ufberg)

Amy begins our clairvoyant reading with a bombshell: "Right away I'm seeing these purple pinpoints of light, which I haven't seen before" she says, her voice placid and easy. "There's something really, really important about what you're doing."

I want so badly to open my eyes, to glance at Amy, to see if she's smirking, or slyly winking. I need to know, because if she's telling me this is in earnest—and she probably is—I have to get past my own knee-jerk grin. But what do you do with a moment of social absurdity when you're the only one aware of it? You can't laugh it off; a joke isn't really a joke when you're the only one in on it. The only thing to do, I suppose, is embrace the unknown.

Amy is speaking to me now of a vision where I'm standing on a pier, fishing. She pauses for a moment, I imagine (though I don't look to confirm this) deep in thought. Then, for reasons unknown to me, she asks me to state my name aloud.

"Max Ufberg," I mumble hastily, a pang of embarrassment in my speech.

This, apparently, helps Amy's clairvoyance. "I get this very warm feeling that happens when there's some kind of intense healing energy that's been activated."

The light in the room, I know, is bright and harsh. But with my eyes closed so tightly, all I can see is darkness. I hear a car horn toot outside; I focus my brain on the repetition of the clock's tick, and tock.

Shut up, I want to say to the driver. Can't you see I'm surfing the eternal wave of the unknown?

Then it hits me: Oh shit, I'm into this.

ps_break1.jpg

Maybe it's because I'm a journalist, or just someone who hasn't spent much time in metaphysical bookstores, but I'm immediately skeptical when I walk into Paradise Found. Propped on a display table at the front of the bookstore is a Daily Planetary Guide, next to which sits a basket of river rocks with words like "Breathe" and "Thrive" etched onto their lustrous bodies. (Price: $5.95 each.) On another display, I spot two spray bottles: "Transcendence" and "Happy Kids." The latter, I presume makes your children more bearable. I'm not sure about the former. There are also books on subjects like Buddhism and witchcraft and clairvoyance. Paradise Found bills itself as a place of "peace, love, and good vibes"; it's probably easier—and less airy—to describe it as a bookstore that specializes in Eastern and New Age philosophies.

Wedged into the back of Paradise Found is a cramped room with two chairs and a small, circular table. I can't say for certain, but I believe there's a crystal ball sitting on a small nightstand in one corner. What I can say for certain, though, is that the seat cushions look just like the ones my aunt used for family dinners. It is here that I will meet with Amy, and it's here that she'll make, if not a believer out of me, at least a respectful admirer.

ps_break1.jpg

Americans have an odd relationship with mysticism.

We embrace hot yoga, but we shrug off the more demanding teachings of Hindu. We worship Harry Potter, yet we protest Wicca. And while we place Van Morrison, the foremost mystic-musician of his generation, on a pedestal, we feel a little goofy about his wide-eyed, spiritual lyricism. It's OK to be interested in these things, we seem to be saying—so long as it's for entertainment purposes, or for short-term self-gains.

My selected Tarot cards. (Photo: Max Ufberg)

My selected Tarot cards. (Photo: Max Ufberg)

And yet.

A 2005 Gallup poll found that three in four Americans harbor at least some degree of paranormal belief, with 26 percent of respondents saying they believed in clairvoyance, and 32 percent in otherworldly spirits. These respondents are not bumpkins: A 2006 survey revealed that college seniors and graduate students are more likely to believe in the paranormal than their freshman underlings. Education, at least in these cases, doesn't hamper supernatural belief. Meanwhile, everyone from George Clooney to Princess Diana has sought out spiritual advice from psychics. Hell, even Ronald Reagan consulted with an astrologist.

We revel in juicy gossip stories about celebrities and their otherworldly muses (is Kaballah back in yet?)—but we also can't shake the feeling that they might be onto something. It's not as if we've stopped listening to Van Morrison. So why do so many of us choose to dismiss these practices, at least outwardly?

ps_break1.jpg

Looking into my soul, Amy sees a dog. Do I own I dog, she asks hopefully? No, I reply. I feel guilty denying Amy's vision. Why hadn't I just owned a dog? I'm glad I have my eyes shut; this would have been an awkward moment.

But soon we're back on track, and Amy is relaying to me a vision of a static television screen, behind which a shadow shuffles to and fro. "It's like the two of you are trying to reach each other. There's almost a brother energy," Amy says. I almost jump out of my chair at this: Aha! I think. I have brothers! Amy, you've done it!

After a half hour of clairvoyance reading, Amy instructs me to open my eyes. The fluorescent light is harsher than I remembered, and the room somehow hotter. There's no way around it: I miss the darkness.

Amy pulls out three decks of Tarot cards and, like a magician, has me select a few cards face-down. According to the laws of Tarot, I am: 1.) confident, which Amy says is mostly an indication of overcoming fear; 2.) spiritually capable, as the raven card would suggest; 3.) naturally adept as a healer; and 4.) searching for a proper balance between my soul and my body, per the bee card (I accidentally pulled two cards from the animal deck).

"You're a seeker," Amy says. "You're not just doing this assignment to have something interesting to say about Halloween."

I'm no longer smirking as I stare at Amy. I don't see any point in shying away from her clairvoyance, even if I don't believe it to be true. I'm sure Amy's seen enough eye-rolls and brow-raises in her life. At one point, I ask her if that's been the case—if people often laugh off what she does. Amy pauses for a moment: "For a big part of my life I was really secretive about my spiritual beliefs. I know there's a lot of people who don't believe in this kind of thing. But I don't really associate that much with people who don't believe these days."

Amy gazes straight at me as she speaks. She seems calm, self-assured. I avert my eyes, not out of embarrassment anymore, but because it's sometimes hard to look at a person who lives with a certainty that I never will.

ps_break1.jpg

Demon Week is Pacific Standard's series of essays exploring all things diabolical—from devils to dogs, monsters to mental illness.

Related