"But is he going to marry me?" the skinny blonde girl wails. "I mean, you told me all this great stuff about my life. But what I need to know is--what about him?
Her nails are bitten, as I noticed when I read her palm. She's just a kid.
"OK, I'll look." I close my eyes, wait for an image to form. I'm really trying. I want her to be happy, want to fix everything that's wrong in her life, hope I can assure her the future she's waiting for will come true.
I see the inside of a church. The skinny girl, her blonde hair under a white veil. Winter.
"Is he tall? Big? Dark? Blue-eyed?"
"Then it looks as though you'll get married by December."
"Oh, thank you, thank you!" she says, as though I'm bringing this event about single-handed.
"Listen," I say, uneasily, "wouldn't you like me to look at the relationship with this guy? Like, is it really good for you? Or--"
She looks at me in dismay. "Oh, no, that's all I wanted to know. I'm so happy. I don't want to think about anything else." She means, stop right there. Not another word.
My client has written his first book, a historical novel. But now he's having problems delivering the manuscript to his publisher.
"I need to get the last details right," he says. "It's essential that I don't make any mistakes."
As my hands shuffle the Tarot deck, I relax my ears and eyes to take in additional information. I can't see him, because we're on the phone, but I can feel his agitation.
"It's also important that you complete this book," I say. "You're almost there and you're stuck on those details. I get an image of you riding a bicycle with the pedals going backwards--spinning your wheels, I guess."
"You don't understand. If anyone finds an error, I will feel terrible. It's always been very important to me that facts be accurate."
I lean forward even though he can't see me. "You wrote this book out of what I'd call big mind, your fullest self. It was a work of love and deep creativity, and people will respond on that level. Don't let your small mind keep you stuck in fear. Send in that manuscript. It's time."
"OK, OK. I get it," he says. "I won't wait to get the final ingredient for the roast goose in the banquet scene. I'll send it in tomorrow."
I hope I'm right. Whatever right means. But what I saw and felt has touched what he knows himself. What he does with it is his business.
Sending a silent prayer, I ask that this reading be of service to him and that he be helped in whatever way is best for him. That's all I can do.
After almost thirty years of life as a professional psychic, I no longer accept food stamps as payment, I work wearing a telephone headset, and am still trying to decipher the workings of this mysterious place that Buddhists call samsara. No easy answers here.
The difference is that now I am a Buddhist psychic. What?
It wasn't as though I woke up one morning and said, "I think I'll be a psychic. Oh--what sort shall I be? A fake gypsy with a turban and shower-curtain earrings? A new age sweetheart who tells everyone they create their own reality and can have everything they want if they picture it?
"No, I think I'll be a Buddhist psychic. That sounds way cool."
It was not like that.
For one thing, I didn't mean to be a psychic at all. I didn't believe in such things. But, as my marriage started to fall apart, so did I and, like it or not, I began to have strange experiences--very strange. I spontaneously started to see and hear things that, objectively speaking, weren't there, and know things I couldn't possibly know.
Serendipity led me to a class where I learned to focus some of this chaotic energy, and do readings about people I didn't know which checked out for accuracy. This discovery put me in a cognitive bind. How can you be very good at something in which you don't believe?
After my divorce, almost thirty years ago, I began to work professionally as a psychic. I'd already been doing free readings for anyone who would sit still for them, and I just went on from there, starting with $3 palm readings at the flea market. At first I had no idea what I was doing, but clients seemed to appreciate whatever I told them.
As I continued, I learned how to do real psychic work: how to harness my gifts and use them in ways that were most helpful to others. Some of this was practical, some philosophical.
It took me years to settle on Tibetan Buddhism as the philosophy which most closely matched my own sense of how things are. People didn't need to be told the future, or the past, or what to do. They needed information about their current struggles, help putting those struggles into perspective, and further help while they made necessary, scary changes.
One important insight I've learned from Buddhism is that we often cannot tell what is best for us. I try to communicate this to my clients when they're in distress or worried about transitions. What appears to be a triumph may bring unexpected challenges, while what looks like a disaster may turn out to be a great opportunity.
There's a famous teaching story with many variations. In one, a monk discovers a baby has been dumped at his door and the mother is telling everyone he is the father. He says, "Hmmm," and takes the baby in. After he has raised the little boy, the mother publicly acknowledges she has lied about the boy's parentage and takes the child back. He says, "Hmm" and goes back to saying his prayers.
So what does that say about doing a psychic reading? What would a psychic have told the monk at any point? "This is actually good for you, I mean bad for you, oops, I mean--" Right. "Hang in there" might be more to the point, for any of us.
I feel my role as a Buddhist psychic is to hold the biggest space I can for my client, remind her that such a space exists and, at the same time, to pass on as much information as I can about her situation.
What do I believe in as a Buddhist? To oversimplify: That everything continually changes; that we cannot tell which changes are "good" or "bad" for us; that if we don't pay attention, we are batted around by our cravings and aversions; that we are all in this together and we need to be as kind as possible to each other, all the more as we are not separate beings, no matter how it looks to us; and that pain is unavoidable, but we do not need to make things worse for ourselves by clinging to attachments.
Does this affect the way I do a reading? You bet.
For one thing, I don't believe we need to get our own way. What we fight ferociously to protect is often exactly what is holding us back.
In Buddhism we call this seeing the eternal, spacious sky rather than identifying with the momentary cloud that passes across it.
We usually have things backwards. This world is a huge misunderstanding. If you don't believe me, try turning your belief system on its head and see whether some of your ideas don't make more sense upside down. One example: the harder we try to make ourselves happy by getting what we want, the more miserable we usually become.
The longer I watched my clients, the clearer this became. As I saw people trying desperately to make themselves feel better by grabbing for what they wanted, by attempting to avoid what they didn't like, by trying to refuse change, by closing their hearts to others, I saw that--for my clients and for myself--this didn't work. At first I noticed this as a pragmatic psychic; later I understood it as a Buddhist.
Instead, I tried to open up the view of a client's life, to go beyond old stories and unexamined patterns. Not everyone appreciated this. I came to understand the appeal of store-front fortune tellers who promise everyone riches, foreign travel, and great romance or sex. Sounds pretty good--and easy.
My current clients are brave, honest, and have a well-functioning sense of humor. They participate in their own readings, questioning and probing. They get my best help in looking at their lives from new angles.
Our spiritual practice can be, in part, whatever we're working with in the so-called real world. My psychic work has become part of my Buddhist practice, just as that practice has deeply affected my psychic work.
For years I heard from people who said I had changed their lives. I lived for that. It did not occur to me for a long time that it was not up to me to change anyone's life. And why assume any changes were for the better? I wished my clients well, prayed for them--as I still do--but had not yet learned to let go.
Now I can only say, may all happen for your best good and the highest good of all beings.
And let go.