The room went silent. In front of 15 strangers, a young woman had just asked what she should do about the allegation that her husband had raped her sister.
Amid the tension, she dabbed at tears trickling down her cheek.
On the sofa Mia, a 20-year-old Romanian, lay under a blanket in a meditative trance. Eyes closed, she began speaking very quickly in her native tongue.
When she had finished, her message was translated by hypnotherapist Dr Elena Gabor.
“The masters are saying,” she said, “that one of them is lying, your sister or your husband, but the answer will open up more problems. Get over it by forgiving them. You have a big share of the faults in that triangle, though you may not realize it.”
After a further burst from Mia, Dr Gabor added: “He didn’t sleep with your sister. She said it was rape, he denied it. You neglected him, that’s why they were attracted to one another. There was intimacy, but no sexual contact.”
We were sitting in an L-shaped room in a small apartment in Santa Monica, about ten minutes’ drive from the beach. I was the only male.
Mia was passing on messages from The Masters, described by Dr Gabor as “highly evolved souls, spiritual teachers, who guide us at the soul level toward spiritual evolution. They also provide suggestions to help you overcome issues.”
Those suggestions were what we had paid $20 to hear. One by one, over three hours, we asked our questions – several, in some cases.
Nearly everyone wanted to know about relationships: what to do about their current men, and whether their latest was the one – their soulmate. One woman had an angry grandson. Another wanted to know why rabbits, dogs and grasshoppers kept coming to her in dreams.
I’ll be honest. The cynical journalist in me thought at first that it was very convenient that Mia was talking in Romanian, the language of Transylvania, Dracula, vampires and all that. For all any of us could tell, she could have been reciting the Bucharest phone directory.
But afterwards, when everyone had asked all their questions and and the blonde, long-haired Mia had emerged from her trance, they won me over. I’m not saying I believe in The Masters, but I do believe that Mia and Dr Gabor were sincere. If this had been a con trick, they deserved Oscars.
Dr Gabor was the key player. She translated Mia’s words, but I sensed that she was diplomatically editing her replies, which were much shorter than Mia’s original words.
When a girl asked: “I just met a boy – is he the one?”, Dr Gabor’s interpretation of the Masters’ message was encouraging: “He is the one. Trust your instincts. But there will be obstacles. You have to work together to overcome these. Be flexible.”
But when another inquirer expressed doubts about an existing relationship – “Should I let my boyfriend go?” – Dr Gabor went with the flow: “You already know he is not your soulmate. He needs help. Do not allow him to drain you of energy.”
Nothing phased her.
“Are there aliens from other planets on earth, and will they reveal themselves?”
“Yes, they take on the appearance of human beings. They are from advanced civilizations. They do not reveal themselves, just mingle and send messages home. Once they decide to go, they go.”
Me? I did the bloke thing and asked where I’d be working in five years. Dr Gabor hedged her bets, but when Mia woke up she said that I’d end up writing children’s books – not a bad prediction, as I have been thinking about a new project that might take me in that direction.
However, Mia also thinks I’ll be moving to Asia. But that’s the thing about lifestyle forecasts: they are either mundanely obvious or so spectacularly unlikely that you can’t help thinking, “Maybe she’s on to something…”
The craving for certainty and a peep into the future is universal, and it seems to be part of the fabric in edgy, insecure southern California. What did unsettle me, back on the sidewalk, was having to zip up my jacket against the unseasonal wind and rain. Mia and Dr Gabor didn’t predict that!