“At the end of the session, Sami will tell you all your problems,” reads the outline of my meeting with a traditional Balinese healer, the fifth generation of shamans in his family. All my problems? How long has he got?
I did not expect that a holiday in Bali would lead me to a healer, in search of an insomnia cure. The idea of chakras has never really appealed. I grew up with these concepts, having been raised in a mostly Asian community, by a mother who evangelised about mind-and-body balance. To this day, the smell of incense conjures up my childhood. But that was all the stuff of my elders who, in my teenage eyes, seemed stuck in the past. Later, I’d smirk when people called this stuff “new age”. New for who, exactly?
But in Bali I saw a sign on the street: Healing This Way. And, perhaps moved by the sight of exquisite temples and their devoted attendees, combined with a when-in-Rome attitude and worsening sleeplessness, I followed that sign.
As I write, I don’t know if it worked (Sami said to wait three days). I know that the full-body procedure was painful: the fingers prodded deeply for pressure points. And I know that when he “cleansed my energy” and said I shouldn’t criticise myself too much, nor worry about things I might have done wrong in the past because I did everything right, that I felt tears rush to my eyes. (Although I had also been punched in the butt for an hour, so that might explain it.)
In the taxi home, I read about the placebo effect – how it is no longer seen as a medical failure, but an effective treatment for conditions in which the brain controls symptoms such as insomnia. If you can trick the brain into thinking it’s healed, it is. But I don’t remember much of the journey after that, as I slipped into a very deep sleep.