I'm sitting in a conference room at work listening to my deceased great-grandmother and a Native American medicine man I've never met give me relationship advice. Okay, that's not entirely true: They weren't telling me this, they were telling MaryAnn DiMarco—who was then relaying the news that they thought it was about time I ended things with an ex.
DiMarco is a psychic medium whose clients turn to her for her intuitive counseling (sometimes waiting as long as two years to nab an appointment). When her team first reached out to me about a meeting, I thought, why not? Growing up, I was the kid with the crystal collection and the books on astrology who was always the first to suggest Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board at sleepover parties.
My understanding of mediums was limited (the closest I got to meeting with one was once, while in a terribly foul mood, a woman came up to me in a grocery store telling me I had the most positive energy and suggested I come in for a reading—needless to say, I wasn't quite convinced of her supernatural abilities), but as a generally open-minded writer I thought that at the very least I'd have a good story to tell.
My friends suggested I see a therapist; would someone who claimed to communicate with the dead and the invisible be able to help me too?
Besides, I was feeling a bit at a crossroads. I was two weeks out from a breakup, past the point of being confident with my decision and approaching the "he wasn't that bad" phase. Not to mention the fact that I was feeling vaguely terrified about having gone ahead and bought an apartment two months earlier, with the long-term commitment not quite jiving with my wanderlust-filled fantasies.
My friends suggested I see a therapist; would someone who claimed to communicate with the dead and the invisible be able to help me too? Curious, I decided to set up a string of medium meetings.
Over the course of three months, I met with three different mediums—here's what happened.
Medium 1: MaryAnn DiMarco
You don't have to be a psychic to know that DiMarco radiates warmth. I notice it the moment she steps off the elevator, coming toward me with a big, welcoming smile on her face. I instantly feel at ease with the Long Island-based medium. (No, she's not that Long Island medium.)
While I'm making small talk on our walk to the conference room, I notice her giving me the once-over with her eyes, and before we event step inside she gushes, "You have a lot of spiritual energy." She nods, as if someone has said something to her, and adds, "There's a lot about letting go of the past for you, moving forward in your life, celebrating yourself. I love seeing clean slates." Um, yes.
Once we get properly settled, with DiMarco seated across from me in a cold, drafty room, a shiny glass table wedged between us, she begins to tell me her story. But I can tell she's distracted; her eyes keep squinting, and she develops this gaze that feels as if she's looking right through me.
Eventually, she explains: She's taking in what she dubs as my Universal Team, a group of spiritual guides (from deceased loved ones to religious figures). Everyone has their own team who are there to, as she writes in her new book Believe, Ask, Act, "inspire your thoughts, reassure and console you in times of need, and steer you away from danger when they can. They send reassuring signs, create opportunities, and offer clues to solutions that soothe your worries and lead to soul growth."
"We get used to things like disappointment, fear creeps in, judgment—all of this worldly nonsense fades our intuition and gets us off our life path."
In my case, there's my great-grandmother Becky, a woman from my father's side of the family, and a Native American medicine man who are keeping an eye on me. Some of their advice is surprisingly pragmatic: eat more bee pollen, eat less kale, do more barre and Pilates, get my glasses prescription checked, and set up an acupuncture appointment because my neck is about to be in a lot of pain.
But not all of it is based around daily habits. Later on in our reading, DiMarco circles back to this idea of letting go, telling me that my team can't believe it took me as long as it did to end a relationship—and want to assure me that I made the right decision. Which is a crucial part of her job: Getting her clients to pay more attention to their intuition.
"We're all born with it, and I think that with everything that happens in somebody's life, it can lie dormant," she explains. "We get used to things like disappointment, fear creeps in, judgment—all of this worldly nonsense fades our intuition and gets us off our life path."
This might be the most powerful part of my meeting with DiMarco. To have a total stranger—with no skin in the game—tell me that I was right to move on (and, later, smart to buy my own place) felt more powerful than hearing it from a friend, a family member, or even a therapist. Because it wasn't all about her telling me what to do; rather, it was her confirming that my gut instincts were right.
Medium 2: Thomas John
For a more traditional reading, I meet with Thomas John. Well, traditional might be a bit of a stretch—the Manhattan-based medium strolled into the Well+Good office wearing gold glitter-covered loafers. But whereas DiMarco focuses on a person's spiritual team, John is renowned for his ability to communicate with the dead. (You may have seen him on TV—he's a frequent morning show guest—or read his book, Never Argue With a Dead Person.)
If you are looking for some closure with your uncle, childhood friend, ex-boss, or anyone else who may have passed away, John "can help fill in the blanks, and it's an anxiety-reducer if [people] know their loved ones are okay," he says. "I've had clients tell me that a session is better than 20 years of therapy—they tell me it's much more helpful."
For me, I haven't had much drama spill into the afterlife, so I wasn't quite sure how my meeting with John would go. Was there even anyone who passed away who wanted to speak with me?
It doesn't take me very long to find out. As we settle in, he closes his eyes, and the energy in the room somehow tightens; I can sense the extreme concentration going on across the table from me. We sit in silence for what feels like a lifetime (but it was probably closer to 10 seconds)—and then John starts speaking. With a quick clip he starts reeling off family details. He is seeing Boston, he is seeing my father's family, he is seeing the last name Kaplan. (Yes, yes, and yes.) My grandfather is talking about a watch. My cousin is talking about a mis-diagnosis.
I am in awe: He knows things about my family that are so random and obscure, I am hardly certain of them myself. (The moment our session was over, I email my dad a list of questions about his family—and he confirms every one of them.) Thomas would later explain that what he's tuning in to are often voices. Think of it as a chorus of the undead, with some louder than others—or at least with a message to pass along.
"I've had clients tell me that a session is better than 20 years of therapy—they tell me it's much more helpful."
While it's for this skill that most people schedule appointments with John, he also has psychic and intuitive abilities. With me, he says that my grandparents are so proud that I've bought my own place. And perhaps sensing that the daily drumbeat of marriage and babies on Facebook has made me question my milestone pacing, John notes that my loved ones are insisting I am in the right place in my life.
As with DiMarco, I feel a sense of relief. "I think people come [see me] because they want validation for their intuition," John later tells me. "They have an intuitive feeling about something and want to make sure that they’re on the right track." He gives me some advice on how to distinguish intuition from desire: "It doesn't have a whole story. It doesn’t have a whole narrative. It doesn't bring up stuff from your childhood. Intuition is those moments of knowingness, it's really quick."
Of course, it's nearly impossible to go through these readings and not wonder, is this real? I realize that some personal details are probably not quite personal. (What, you expected me to buy an apartment and not post about it on Instagram the moment I got the keys?) But the speed with which John reels off names, dates, places, and details—and the ways he taps into feelings that I have never, ever verbalized to anyone before quieted my inner skeptic.
Before our session ends, he names my sister-in-law, mentions that she's about to give birth (she's nearly nine months pregnant), and tells me that he sees me riding a train to see the baby on Friday. Sure enough, Thursday night I get a text that she's given birth—and Friday after work I board an Amtrak train to see my new niece.
Medium 3: Veena Saraswati
What I felt after my sessions with DiMarco and John was something I hadn't experienced in a long time: contentment. Instead of spending hours toiling over decisions, I paid attention to what my gut was telling me and the ways that my body might be sending me subtle signs. (Which is a real feat considering just how indecisive I can be—I have literally decided what to eat for dinner by playing eeny, meeny, miny, moe, and bookmarked an online version of a Magic Eight Ball to help me make important decisions.)
But I wasn't finished quite yet: I had one last session, this one with Veena Saraswati. On the recommendation (okay, insistence) of a friend, I set up a phone reading with the Northern California-based medium. Like DiMarco and John, Saraswati has a stable of celeb clients, but her approach is unique. "I call myself a clearer," Saraswati explains to me. "I've moved out of the, 'Oh, your boyfriend committed suicide, he's in the room now'—it's fascinating and intriguing, but to me, that's a waste of my skill-set."
She has me get into a comfortable position, with water or tea at the ready, because she explains that the clearing part of the session can take some time. (I'm so convinced that she can tell whether or not I'm following her direction that I don't even get up to investigate the cause of my living room lights suddenly going out, two minutes into our reading, lest she sense that I've moved.) And so begins a thorough process that Saraswati narrates: She's checking my grounding connection for blocks, now she's checking my source connection. She's checking my energy channel—oh, there are eight blocks there, above my tenth chakra. She's measuring my aura. (Mine is double the size of the average one, I'm told.)
This continues for over an hour, and as she gets into some truly deep (and, yes, a bit wellness-fringe) elements—past-life shadows, hoaxes, attachments—I find myself resisting the urge to interrupt with questions. What was the past-life curse she just cleared me of? How had it been affecting me? And who exactly was I in a past life?!
"I didn't go into the story of what your curses were, because honestly it's not important—and it will distract you from moving forward."
Those details, she later tells me, are beside the point. "I didn't go into the story of what your curses were, because honestly it's not important—and it will distract you from moving forward. Unless guides tell me, there's no need for me to get into that, or try to interpret it." Instead of fixating on the past, her goal is to clear whatever is blocking you (literally and figuratively), and then help prepare you for the future.
Once she finishes my own clearing, she then gets into the meat of the reading. Whereas DiMarco could conjure up specific sights and smells (she described the image of a dreamcatcher behind me and the scent of a peace pipe wafting around me) and John could converse with the dead, Saraswati is able to pinpoint specific dates, from when I'll meet my soulmate (who, it turns out, is one of seven life partners—both romantic and platonic—I'll have) to the massive project that she tells me will come to me like a lightning bolt.
Think of it like a psychic reading, but with an extra dose of intuition-building. "A psychic looks outside and sees all these things lined up for how life is right now, and usually that's pretty accurate. But it doesn't really allow for an element of choice as much; it doesn't really empower people to make a path or shift," she explains. "Once the clearing is done it's like, 'This is what I'm seeing for you—do you know what you want?' Now you have the will to start making choices for what you want—and if you let me know that you don't want [something], I can shift that for you. 'Let's see what's tying you to that person you don't want to marry, or that place you don't want to move to.'"
And like John, who told me that he typically refuses to see someone more than once or twice—lest they use him as a crutch—Saraswati too aims to be an ultra-intuitive life coach called in for just the biggest decisions, rather than day-to-day stresses. "My goal is to get people to a place where they're so level, they only call me when there's something life-changing, tragic, or an opportunity [presents itself]," she says, "And that's always really beautiful, because their intuition gets stronger and they become more intuitive themselves."
Before she hangs up, nearly two hours later, she tells me to email her any time I have any questions—and to keep track of the dates she gave me so that she can help move things along if I don't see things going according to plan. I expected that I'd be checking in regularly, asking for her feedback or confirmation that I am on the right path. But to be honest, I haven't felt the need to—which is maybe the biggest sign that these mediums did their job. Having complete strangers tell me that I was making the right decisions was profoundly satisfying, and made me realize that maybe I had this intuitive power in me all along.
As for my living room lights, which magically buzzed back on a few days later as I began writing up this story? You don't have to believe in mediums to think that's more than just coincidental.
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