From Luxury to Lockdown: How the Pandemic Pushed Healing Online and Out-of-the-Box

By Mark Lean.

Oct 16, 2020

Up until February of this year, there was nothing in the world that would have connected me to Kim or Khloe Kardashian. But since my meeting with Javanese shaman Mas Joko Triagung and resident anthropologist at Amanjiwo, Patrick Vanhoebrouck, the Kardashians and I have become inextricably linked. By a single degree of separation, no less. It turns out we’re all patients of Mas Joko’s, a respected dukun, a proponent of kebatinan, an ancient Javanese spiritual tradition.

Mas Joko prises and connects the energy centers. He unclogs underperforming chakras that perhaps have been submerged by what life throws at them. He does this through his finely conditioned rasa, or senses. Fluent in Indonesian, Vanhoebrouck helps frame these ancient concepts of elemental energies and inner alchemy for Western minds previously more in tune with the temporal rather than the spiritual worlds; after an initiation in to the ways of old Java, guests often feel “as if the curtains have been opened.”

In a single sweep of his eyes–including the third one–Mas Joko managed to deduce the real reason I was at Amanjiwo in a way that was, in retrospect, both humbling and humorous. (“As much as you’re in a hurry, the world has its own timing.”) I met him in the most gorgeous of settings: amid rice fields the color of luscious jade that would make a Chinese matriarch beam and that were abundantly fertile from centuries of volcanic ash.

The mystical nearby Menoreh Hills is said to contain portals into countless worlds within worlds, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site Borobudur is a mere 10 minutes away from the pared-down-luxury resort. Sitting in the back row of a packed AirAsia plane (remember those?), it became clear that what Mas Joko gifted me was a new and braver way at looking at life. And methods and realizations in which to stave off its slings and arrows. He left me with these words: “Perhaps when you come back, there will be time to learn more.”

Perhaps when, indeed. That was one of my last flights pre-pandemic, but the global wellness and healing industry–which, encompassing everything from Lululemon tights to Peloton bikes to six-star resorts, had been generating more than US$4.2 trillion annually–didn’t necessarily have to end just because borders were shut. 

By the time March trundled along, with most of Southeast Asia having gone into lockdown, friends started their Monday-afternoon dirty-martini Zoom parties. But the chat with Mas Joko lingered in my thoughts as did the sense of lightness and possibilities he had sparked. Isn’t this why we seek counsel from the spiritually wise? So we may find better ways of doing things and a clearer path to our goals. Even as planes were grounded, on websites such as Fiverr, business boomed for spiritual advisors, psychics, and energy healers. People, me included, were looking for ways to survive the pandemic with sanity relatively intact. 

I made an appointment with Ubud-based tarot reader Noviana Kusumawardhani (tarotbali.com; US$40). Her client list of more than 1,000 people included Alicia Silverstone. I’d first met Novi, a former creative director at advertising company BBDO, a little more than a decade ago when she read for me at Yoga Barn, while I was reeling from a disingenuous week-long retreat organized by a near-sociopathic “healer” in the remote northeastern part of the island. 

On Bali or anywhere else, not all healers submitted themselves rigorously to a code of ethics. Expect instead recorded informal meal time conversations and the information mined for reasons that were perhaps pointlessly nefarious. This was around the time that Julia Roberts and the Eat, Pray, Love film crew were in town. Meaning: it was just before the island was swamped by covert narcissistic Elizabeth Gilbert-wannabes deplaning from JFK or Heathrow or Sydney.

The refreshing thing about Novi both in the past and at our 2020 online meeting was that she wielded her gifts with grace and without ego. Or subterfuge. Her intuition was spot-on. During the 50-minute Skype call, Novi drew a roadmap for the months ahead. I found out why spirits seem to always seek me out (“they just want attention and recognition”–okay, but saying ‘hi’ at 3 a.m.?); and that I, too, should start reading cards (“Oracle deck, Egyptian Cartouche, whatever…”). She also sprinkled the reading with more mundane yet equally useful advice: “If you’re not on a probiotic supplement already, do consider. It supports your stomach.”

Growing up, I had an aunt who channeled spirits. This made me preternaturally more adept at interacting with Indian mystics (“if a holy man deigns to share his prasad or offerings with you, receive with both hands and a smiling heart”) than navigating the intricacies of schoolyard politics.

It also probably made me more accepting of less-than-cookie-cutter techniques including distance sessions based on kinesiology or muscle-testing, where a ‘yes’ answer is indicated by muscle strength as one attempts to push a straightened arm downwards, while lack of strength would indicate otherwise. A couple of months ago, by chance, I stumbled upon Fiverr, an online portal for freelancers that offered ‘gigs’ as varied as website design, SEO optimization, press-release crafting, and spiritual healing. Once I went down that digital rabbit hole, it didn’t take long to get utterly hooked. I discovered a virtual globalized psychic supermarket composed of New England witches, all sorts of energy healers from African to Atlantean; and yes, even Javanese shamans. Maybe this was what Maso Joko meant by, “when you come back.”

On Fiverr, I found Yudy, an Emotion Code practitioner whose specialty was ‘deleting’ negative emotions that were generated in one’s life, present and past. Over the course of a week, he and I worked through a series of ‘gigs’ that unshackled unconscious blocks. Tightness in the shoulders fell away. As did heaviness that caused a slight drooping of the head.

Oh, one afternoon for fun, I bought a seven-question, seven-dollar pendulum reading that gives yes or no answers. My last query: would Trump be elected President again? The answer that swung precariously in the balance was a probable: no. Just to be sure, perhaps it was time to cut the Egyptian Cartouche deck of cards.

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