Instant karma

A skeptic's look at "medical intuition"



On my way to see Caroline Sutherland at the Holiday Inn Parkside on Sat., April 17, I stop at Bernice’s Bakery to get a blueberry muffin. This is my first mistake. p>Inside a small conference room at the hotel, Caroline Sutherland, a youthful-looking 60-year-old woman with dyed-blonde hair, a neon green shirt and a super-sized gold necklace, spots me instantly. p>“You’re Mike,” she says. “This is going to make you tired.” She frowns toward the half-eaten muffin. “You’re going to start yawning in about 20 minutes.”

“Are you on antibiotics?” she asks.

“No,” I reply.

“Have you ever taken any antibiotics?”

Seconds later, she hands me a sheet of paper stating that I should stop eating dairy and wheat and cut down on sugar, soy and caffeine. Also, she suggests I eat more red meat—all this from a 30-second glance.

Caroline Sutherland is a “medical intuitive.” This means she assesses an individual’s health—diet, energy, allergies, etc.—by tuning in to their “field,” or aura. Most people she sees have a gray fog around them, she says, similar to “a Greta Garbo hat over your head.” In touring the country, she has assessed about 80,000 people over 20 years, and her book, The Body “Knows” (Hay House, 2001), is going into its fifth printing.

I wonder: Was it her powers that told her I am Mike? Then I realize that in a room full of 30 people, I’m the only male.

Tables are stocked with all kinds of products for purchase—vitamins, yeast infection medicine, books, tapes and CDs on everything from weight loss to feeling the presence of angels in one’s life.

Why am I here? Simple: This woman has piqued my curiosity. Is she an infomercial-style fraud taking $49/seminar from whatever desperate soul she can find, or a cutting-edge alternative healer? I had to know.

The other reason I’ve come is that I’m allergic to cats. I was hoping she would be able to read this in my field, but she doesn’t.

As the presentation gets underway, Sutherland makes significant eye contact with the seated women, most of whom are 40-60. She interweaves the medical with the spiritual, occasionally drawing on a unique vocabulary in which gas becomes “whiffies” and bowel movements “BMs.”

“There are two quests in life,” Sutherland tells us. “One is for your soul and spirit, and the other is for the perfect BM.”

The audience looks healthier than I’d expected. There are one or two obese women, but it’s mostly a fit-looking bunch. I’m wondering if there will be a mutiny, if any of these women will cry “BS,” rather than “BM,” but it seems unlikely.

Nancy is certainly a believer. She’s from Salmon, Idaho, and after taking one of these courses, she’s now studying with Sutherland to be a medical intuitive herself.

“My doctor told me I was a hypochondriac, but I knew there was something wrong with me,” Nancy says. “If you do everything she tells you and put in 100 percent, you’re going to see a big difference.”

Things are already getting a little bit weird. I conduct a mental review. I’m supposed to take the word of this intuitive after a 30-second consultation, why?

“I can’t tell how; it just comes from years of doing this,” Sutherland says.

So it comes down to faith. If I’m going to buy in, though, I’m going to need more.

As if she senses my skepticism, Sutherland has me stand up before the group.

She says that I’m “giving [my] power away,” that I’m unable to speak my mind to my editor. Basically, I’m a corporate stiff working my way up the ladder and taking tons of crap in the process, and this affects my body’s power and opens me up to a wheat allergy, too.

As the seated women appraise me, I want to interject that she has it all wrong, that she might have been right with a good deal of younger reporters at more mainstream papers, but that she’s missed the mark with me.

Instead, I say, “I don’t know about all that.”

Minutes later, when we take a break, a congenial woman from Corvallis named Val approaches me.

“I understand,” she says, putting an arm on my shoulder.

I offer a look of simultaneous friendliness and confusion.

“Your editor putting the lid on you,” she says. “I was a journalist for years in Costa Rica.”

My identity has been temporarily altered by Caroline Sutherland.

The vast majority of my skepticism stems from Sutherland’s willingness to assess people via a photograph, also for $49. I bring a picture of my cousin RB with me. She asks about his heritage and I tell her he’s of Russian Jewish descent.

Later, I call him up in Atlanta to discuss the perils of yeast.

“So do I have to live on matzoh for the rest of my life?” RB asks.

After eight hours of dietary/spiritual talk, I’ve had enough. I still can’t say for sure whether Sutherland is a pioneer or a pirate, but she definitely seems completely earnest about her teachings. Of course, she’s very image-conscious as well, especially when it comes to the press.

“Sometimes a comment can slip in that’s damaging, and that’s not something you want to deal with for your karma,” she tells me as we discuss my article.

“Is that like a karmic threat?” I ask.

“It’s just not something you want to spend years dealing with.”

Years?!? OK, I’ll admit that Sutherland offers some nutritional and spiritual information that could be quite useful to some people—and obviously has been, judging by her testimonials—but any guru that resorts to metaphysical threats isn’t quite right in my book.

Still, I decide to give Sutherland another chance by “tuning in” to my body with her suggested “muscle test.” The test works as follows: Think of a food. If it’s good for your body, your arm will remain relatively firm when another tries to push it down; if it’s bad, the arm goes down easily. With the help of two seminar attendees, I hold out my arm and imagine foods I might eat.

I learn that my body needs cheeseburgers, black beans and candy bars.

But apparently, I should steer clear of cucumbers. Either that, or take her $350 course to hone my intuition.

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