I got a call the other day from Stephanie, my longtime friend who lives out in New Castle, Pennsylvania. She’s very involved in the healing arts and has for many years been a practitioner of something called healing touch, which involves laying her hands on a patient to invigorate and restore them. She has an office in her home, and when we’ve visited there on occasion I have gladly accepted her offer of such a session by lying fully clothed on a massage table she has there as she works over me. It’s a very relaxing experience.
Yesterday, however, she had something else in mind. It came in an email. She’s now been studying another Chinese art called Qigong, which involves the same sort of thing that healing touch does, but without actually doing any touching.
“I’m wondering if something like this can be helpful over distances,” she said. “If it can, I could do Qigong to people anywhere, anywhere in the world. Maybe it’s a new business for me. Would you volunteer to see if that’s possible?”
I was in East Hampton. Of course, I would, I told her.
We would set a time. I suggested 5:30 p.m. At that time, when I felt comfortable and ready, I should call her on her cellphone and we would agree to begin at exactly 5:33 p.m. She would do Qigong in New Castle. I would receive it in East Hampton.
“Should I lie down on my back?” I asked. “Maybe I should sit up?”
“Whatever feels most comfortable to you,” she said. “And when it’s done, if you could give me a report, that would be great.”
“What exactly should I be experiencing?” I asked. “Tell me a little about Qigong.”
“Okay, I will know nothing about it going in, so maybe that is good. And I’ll tell you why. I am very susceptible to suggestion. For example, I have been known to immediately, during the hay fever season, break out in hives and get a stuffy nose and itchy eyes as soon as I sit down at a dining room table that has a centerpiece of red roses.”
“Silk red roses.”
“That’s even more impressive,” she said.
At exactly 5:30, I called her. She answered.
“Okay,” I said. “5:33.”
“Now don’t just call back immediately afterwards,” she said. “Wait three hours. Then call. I want you to see if there are any changes. If you go from grumpy old man to feeling more positive and with higher energy.”
“Now you’ve done it,” I said.
“See you on the other side,” she said.
At the beginning of this three-minute interval I sat down in a new club chair we have in the library. But it didn’t feel quite right. So I got up. I looked at my watch. Still two minutes before we’d begin. I went into the living room, turned down the lights and lay down on the sofa on my back, with my head closest to the fireplace 10 feet away. I had a good fire going. I set my phone to sound an alarm in 20 minutes and put it on the coffee table.
I looked at my watch again. Ready, set, count it down…go.”
Now what? I thought. I had a pen and paper by my side. I would take notes.
In the dim light I spent time thinking about the painting on the opposite wall. It’s an oil painting of a woman seated on a wooden swing in a garden outdoors.
Peter Matthiessen came to mind. For many years, after returning from Nepal and Tibet, he ran a Zendo on Sagaponack Road. Nobody talked inside the Zendo. And you didn’t need an appointment, you could just come in. People just sat there, cross-legged, fingers pinched together. Anybody could come in. Was there a gong? I don’t recall. I think I recall running water.
I closed my eyes. I imagined Stephanie, who has curly brown hair and dark brown eyes, hovering over me, her fingers coming down toward me, lightning bolts of electricity coming out of them.
I feel a tingling in my feet. I feel my teeth gritting, then going slack, then clacking. Hmm.
It’s been very rainy outside. But it’s dark out so I don’t know if that is happening now.
I have a clear mind. I am thinking I have a clear mind. Is thinking about having a clear mind a clear mind? Or a cluttered mind?
I see Stephanie writing with chalk on a blackboard, but I can’t make it out. It makes a scratching noise.
Something crosses my mind about a young Israeli guy. But now it’s gone.
I am thinking about Stephanie so far away.
I have an itch in the back of my left thigh. I want to reach down and scratch it. That means lifting up off the sofa a little, and I am doing that now and, yes, that is much better.
How do astronauts scratch itches? Is there some backscratcher they can slide down in there? How would they do that? I just saw this movie, The Martian. Very good. He never had an itch that I could see happening. Very busy guy, just never had that bother him.
My head is on a pillow at a rather high angle, and I wonder if it will give me neck pain when this is done. Now my neck itches. It’s an itch on the right below my ear and I am going to scratch that.
Okay, I’ll put my hands on my chest, all folded up together like that, like I’m dead and in my coffin at a funeral and people are coming over. Sorry everybody, it just happened, just like that, no advance notice.
Take some deep breaths. I’m fine. My stomach growls. Hmmm. I look at my watch. There’s five more minutes to go.
I’m thinking of Fenway Park in Boston and that big wall they have in left field called the Green Monster. It’s painted green. Hmmm.
Now I am going to sleep. I don’t want to do that. But it’s happening. Bye.
I wait three hours and notice I do seem to have more energy and I feel a lot more positive and alive than I did before. Could it be? Could it be the Qigong? I gather these notes up. They are what you are reading.
I call Stephanie.
“How did it go?” she asks.
“I’ll send you what I got. I think you’ve got something there, but you decide. Glad to have been of help.”