Nine people are gathered in a silent circle in Alyce Payne's cozy living room in North Richland Hills. Most sit with their fingers intertwined, thumbs and forefingers joined, then looped to make a figure-eight. Two stand and sway occasionally. All eyes are closed but for Payne's. She stands, rocking back and forth while rolling a clear crystal in her hand.
"I know how to recognize blessings in my life," Payne says, her voice velvety but clear. Everyone repeats the phrase, then pulls on the loop they've made with their fingers, myself included. My loop does not break. This means that I know how to recognize my blessings. No surprise, there. I am well acquainted with them: good friends, Jack Daniel's, funny pictures of cats on the Internet. But not everyone is so lucky.
"I got a no," the pretty blonde in the Cowboys sweater says, her fingers no longer interlocked.
"Would you like to?" Payne asks.
And Payne, rubbing her clear crystal, begins her download from Creator. Or Source. Or God. Or Steve. Whatever you want to call the universal energy from which all life springs. Doesn't really matter in theta healing, so long as the theta brainwaves are pulsing. This quiet circle in Payne's living room is a theta healing practitioners group, made up of folks who've taken Payne's basic class in theta healing. Among the practitioners are a life coach, an artist and a federal agent. And they are all "going up" into theta, a kind of deep but swift meditation that purports to use the theta brain wave, one of five frequencies surging inside the human brain. That's about the clearest definition I could get before people started using terms like "modality," "belief work" and that most elusive concept of all, "unconditional love."
"It puts you in that space where you can listen to God," Payne explained to me one breezy afternoon the week before the practitioners' meeting. She handed me a glass of water—one must be fully hydrated if theta healing is to be done properly—and guided me to her healing room, a dim extra bedroom lit by a curtained window and a fiber-optic flower arrangement fading from color to color. Soft music played on a CD player as Payne and I sat across from each other in cushy chairs. Her long black skirt dusted the floor as she rocked back and forth slowly, crystal in hand. I began my interview. Theta healing, what's up with that?
"God does not withhold answers," she said, closing her eyes and opening them again slowly. In theta healing, she said, "we go into a space of grace where anything is possible." After a theta session, said Payne, people "start trusting direct guidance instead of the voices in their heads."
I scribbled her words down, wondering what kind of info-graphic I could use to explain this to readers. A progression of pie charts, divided into "space of grace," "Creator's/Steve's space" and "voices, in head?" Who listens to the voices in their head these days, anyway? Me, I like to get my divine guidance at the bottoms of shot glasses and particularly meaningful MySpace bulletins.
Theta healing is about 15 years old, and it started with a Midwestern woman named Vianna Stibal. Stibal learned she had cancer in her leg, and all manner of traditional and holistic methods couldn't cure the thing. One day during meditation she managed to zip up "into theta," as practitioners call it, and she asked Creator to heal her leg. Voilà! According to Stibal's Web site, her leg, which had shrunken because of cancer, straightened right out to its original length on the spot and grew 3 inches. (A potential boon to the male enhancement industry! Stibal, are you listening?)
Stibal started teaching classes on how to achieve a theta brain-state, and the practice has trickled down, mostly to women who would rather spend $395 on learning a new healing technique than a new pair of Christian Louboutin pumps. Payne learned theta in 2004. She was already a massage therapist and student of the Reiki energy healing technique, so theta was just another new "healing modality" for Payne.
Theta healing happens one-on-one, and most people come to Payne with a specific problem or complaint, sometimes physical and sometimes emotional. I tell Payne that I want to learn how to be a better stand-up comedian, something I've been doing as a hobby for several months. First, she has to muscle-test me so that she knows whether or not I will believe the instructions Creator/Steve gives me. This is called "belief work." I join my right thumb and forefinger together and do as Payne says, saying "Yes, yes, yes."
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She uses her pinky to try to pull my fingers apart. They stay kinda-sorta firmly together, but I'm not sure how much I'm supposed to squeeze and how much Creator/Steve is supposed to be doing. Then I say, "No, no, no" at her urging, and she does the pinky thing again. My fingers should come apart easily, since, Payne tells me, negatives and untruths weaken the muscles. And my fingers do come apart, but I'm unsure if I did it on purpose or if I'm speaking from my deep subconscious. She tests my name, which she asks me to say aloud, and I learn that I'm not "Andrea Bradley Grimes." Sorry, Mom, my fingers pulled right apart on that one—but rather simply "Grimes," the name most of my comedian friends use.
After an hour and a half of theta, I was a little wobbly on the belief work thing, but I found that Payne's even voice and slow, deliberate questions are calming and clarifying. In hushed tones, we talked about my family and my jokes and my cats and my future. Every once in a while, Payne went up and asked Creator/Steve to help me out. Creator/Steve told me not that I have a particular fear of failure—though I do hate being beaten at Candy Land—but that I have a deeper fear of the mediocre, which is strange because I like Journey. Payne uses the term "settling." Settling is bad. I should allow myself to get what I want, Creator/Steve told me. I deserve to get what I want.
I didn't get any instant cures for my mediocrity phobia, but I did walk out of Payne's healing room that day feeling calm. Was it theta that turned off what Payne calls the "monkey voices" yammering in my head? Or was it just two hours of mid-afternoon quiet in a time when I would normally have answered six phone calls from chatty publicists and watched 10 or 20 of YouTube's finest offerings?
I don't know for sure, but over the next week, I did write my first funny joke in eight months of scrawling material about bad dates and functional alcoholism. It's about a recent tuberculosis scare here at the Dallas Observer—something that would normally send me into a hypochondriacal frenzy but instead got my creative juices flowing. Thank you, Creator/Steve. And if it turns out the Observer offices are stuck in 1895, I'll be back to Payne soon for a physical healing to get rid of this TB. Creator/Steve, you are way cooler than a six-month course of antibiotics that'll prevent me from finding those answers that God isn't hiding at the bottom of my drink.