A healer recounts his adventures wandering the world in pursuit of alternative therapies in this rapturous memoir.
Elias, an acupuncturist, starts by recapping his Brooklyn childhood in a Jewish family scarred by the Holocaust; he tells of bonding with female elders and learning about his great-grandmother Esther, a folk healer in Greece. In 1970, the 23-year-old psychology student gravitated to California’s Esalen Institute, where he took mescaline, addressed his self-consciousness about his body through nude group swimming, and studied gestalt therapy, meditation, tai chi, mythic archetypes, the Alexander Technique of relieving stress through posture adjustments, and a painful massage psychotherapy called Rolfing (“Anger coursed through my screams…toward my father, teachers or other authority figures”). Sojourns abroad extended Elias’ knowledge of alternative healing and spirituality. In the Philippines, he says that he witnessed miraculous cures by “psychic surgery” practitioners, who allegedly penetrated patients’ bodies with their hands to remove diseased tissue without incisions, and that he healed patients with the laying on of hands. (He later acknowledges that psychic surgery has been discredited and suggests that “perhaps I was hypnotized into believing what I so wanted to.”) The author then spent five years at the Indian ashram of the controversial guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh; he celebrates Rajneesh’s teachings but distances himself from the alleged criminal acts of his followers in the 1980s, after he left the movement. Later chapters describe his traditional Chinese medicine practice. Elias offers an exuberant account of what’s known as the Human Potential Movement, with vivid descriptions of some central figures and haunting supernatural motifs; for example, important events are heralded by a “Black Bird,” an avatar of Esther that manifested as a black bird swooping toward Elias’ car as he drove. The passages that deal with mystical healing doctrine aren’t very compelling. However, Elias’ effusive prose ably conveys the bliss of heightened awareness; after taking LSD at a Grateful Dead concert in Berkeley, California, he writes, he and his companions “began to make the OM sound, and, as we merged our sounds, I felt my body dissolve into All That Is...no fear emerged, only a pervasive sense of gratitude and well-being.”
A colorful, evocative portrait of a spiritual seeker.