In March, the entire Refinery29 team found itself being told to leave the office. It was the start of our COVID journey. As we packed up our desks, grabbed our laptops, and said our goodbyes, we thought we'd be gone for three to six weeks, tops.
Those three to six weeks turned into 20 — and counting. And being stuck at home for months, with no end in sight, has taken a greater mental toll than I would have imagined.
Although I report on spirituality and astrology for R29, I haven’t always practiced what I’ve preached. I enjoy writing about these topics, but spirituality was never in my self-care repertoire. But as the coronavirus pandemic went on, I found myself feeling more and more lost — the movie Groundhog Day comes to mind — and I wasn't sure how to find my hold again.
I started to really dive into the topics I was covering in the hopes that it would be good for my mental health, that it would help rid me of the constant stress that living through a pandemic had placed on my shoulders. With that goal in mind, I set off and tried out some trends: I had my tea leaves read; I had my aura cleansed; I had my birth chart analysed; I visited a psychic; I was hypnotised — twice. Oh, and all these healing sessions happened virtually, of course.
While I always had plans to report on my experiences, I was also really hoping to find something that worked. And I did, in a way. None of the practices I tried were a magic pill that made me feel better overnight. But as I wrote about each session, I began to realise that the journey — of being willing to say yes, to be open, to turn inward, and to learn more about myself along the way — really had shifted my perspective.
My experiences were fun and sometimes funny. There were practices I believed in, and ones I felt skeptical about; techniques I'd try again, and others you couldn't pay me to repeat. Here, my journey through the realm of virtual spiritual wellness.
Tea leaf reading
So, there I was. Hunched over an upside-down teacup in my childhood kitchen, on speaker phone with two Salem witches.
I had first been in touch with Sandra Mariah Wright and Leanne Marrama, two Salem, MA-based witches and the authors of Reading the Leaves: An Intuitive Guide to the Ancient Art and Modern Magic of Tea Leaf Divination, in early March, when their PR team invited me to an event in New York City, not too far from the R29 offices. I was slated to go and get my leaves read in person. You know the rest: A few days later, the pandemic put that face-to-face reading on hold. By April, we realised that waiting for social distancing guidelines to lift was a lost cause, and we figured out a way to make it happen virtually.
After some back and forth, I was set up with an approved tea leaf reading tea cup, the right kind of tea (oolong), and the phone numbers of both Wright and Marrama so I could send along photos of my tea cup for deciphering. I have to confess — trying to find meaning in a pile of wet tea leaves sounds just a bit woo-woo to me. But in my spiritual journey, I was ready for and open to anything.
After chatting with the two witches while drinking my tea down, it was time to place the saucer on top of the cup and flip it over — something that sounds easier to do than it was. "I never realised how difficult this is to try and demonstrate [over the phone]," Wright told me with a laugh. But after a few painful minutes, it clicked. My cup was flipped, and I sent Wright and Marrama a picture of what was inside.
Both Wright and Marrama saw the symbol of a boot in my cup right away. "It means you're moving ahead, it's going into a new situation and a positive change," Marrama said. Which, sure — entering into a worldwide pandemic classifies as a new situation. But positive change? I was skeptical.
Wright agreed, though. "I'm really happy to see the symbol because it means a step in the right direction," she said. "Also, right now, it means taking the proper steps to take care of yourself." Working from home? Check. Quarantining away from the outside world? Double check. You could say those are the right steps, especially given that in April, when my reading took place, we still truly knew nothing about COVID-19.
The next prominent symbol in my leaves was a fish — a beta fish, to be precise, according to Wright, with an exclamation point right above it. "Fish are really good luck," she said. "One of the things about beta fish is that you can't put them with other fish... If you try to put two of them next to each other, they get pissed off." This, she told me, correlates to the coronavirus pandemic. My tea cup was telling me to stay away from others, and the exclamation point was emphasising this as something for me to pay attention to.
My tea cup also included a stick, something that's apparently super-rare to receive in a reading. "One of the things they say is if you get a stick in the cup, it's a good indicator for health," Wright explained. I couldn’t help but feel relieved by that prediction.
After we finished discussing what was in my cup, we moved on to the saucer. I snapped a photo and texted it to the witches to see what they thought. They didn’t respond right away. In fact, they were silent for so long that my anxiety started to mount. So much for the stick, I thought. Finally, Marrama spoke: "Wow... I totally see a dragon. That's a perfect dragon face." Wright saw it too, calling it "massive".
"The dragon for me is a symbol of personal power," she continued. "It's coming up in the future... a time for you to claim that personal power. Understand where your power lies and listen to your gut." The dragon, she said, is a sign of vitality and longevity. They protect what's theirs — and now, she said, was time to protect what's mine.
"This is the biggest dragon I've seen, I'm impressed," Marrama told me. On the flip side, the two witches also saw a face on the opposite side of my dragon, which translated to letting my head rule. "Yes you can follow your heart, but your heart needs to be governed by your head in these times," Wright said. "The idea that the dragon combined with that head, I'm feeling wisdom. Knowledge is power. Truth, searching for facts." Wright related this back to my career as a writer, telling me that my power is in telling the truth and communicating. "The idea of being able to see things that translate into the written word is very important during a time like this," she said.
When all was said and done, I felt relieved. This reading wasn’t at all like the grim experience Harry Potter had in Professor Trelawney’s divination class in the Prisoner of Azkaban — something I had been afraid of. Conversing with two witches over the phone wasn’t intimidating, either. It was cheerful, actually, and calmed at least some of my coronavirus-related anxiety down.
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5. I would definitely do it again.
Aura cleanse & healing
Nicole Batista, DACM, a licensed acupuncturist and the founder of Contemporary Mystic Medicine, an alternative healing centre, connected with me via Instagram DM in April. She offered me a virtual healing session — something that immediately stood out in my message requests. "I'll teach you how to tap deep into your intuition, leveraging your own innate wisdom and abilities to heal yourself," her message said. "We can even take a peek at your aura and make sure it's super-sparkly and strong leaving you with strong energetic boundaries."
Curious to know what strengthening my aura meant, and with my tea leaf reading fresh in my mind, I accepted her offer. After all, the witches told me that now is the time to claim my personal power. An aura cleanse paired with a healing session felt like a step in the right direction.
We started our session in the early afternoon on Zoom — and the first thing that Batista said was that she was getting the feeling that we needed to do a lot of aura work. I'd been cooped up in my house for a month at this point, living in my favourite pair of joggers and ratty sweatshirts, so the fact that my aura needed to be dusted off felt pretty accurate (and kind of insulting, maybe?).
She told me to close my eyes and try to "see" through my third eye — that space between your eyebrows. As I breathed in and out, following Batista's relaxing words, I tried to focus. I was attempting to enter a calm, meditative state, but it just... fell flat. Maybe it was because I was still learning how to effectively work from home, or maybe it was because I could still hear my dad in the living room on a work call.
The hardest part of this meditation was when she told me to picture certain images. She wanted me to envision a beam of light in the middle of a room that went really deep down into the Earth, then she asked me to envision my spirit body. But what room was I supposed to think about? What was my spirit body? I tried my hardest to really see out of my third eye — to see my spirit-like self — but all I could picture was a reflection of myself, dressed in the comfy clothes I had on at the moment.
As we continued, Batista said that she saw the color blue all over my spirit body, a colour that she says represents anxiety, and then orange, which she says means stress. Minutes later, she says she sees yellow, another (surprise!) negative colour, meaning fear. She told me to envision these colours leaving my spirit body and melting down into the ground, off my body for good. Once my colour cleanse was complete, she asked me to envision my higher self — the best and most authentic version of myself, Batista explained — and ask her if she has any messages for me.
"Your higher self really wants you to step into your power. Don't be shy about it, own who you are," Batista said. "It really wants me to tell you that you're so fabulous, and own that. Don't let anyone dull your sparkle or be intimidated by it."
Again, this was a similar message to what my tea leaves had told me in March — to harness my personal power. We continued on to cleanse my aura, but I couldn't stop thinking about the personal blocks she (and my higher self, I guess) sensed around me. I really was ready to open up mentally and spiritually. I'd just have to keep working at it.
Overall Rating: 2 out of 5 (for now). While I don’t think the aura cleanse worked for me the way I wanted it to, it is something I’d attempt again — especially if I worked at having a better mindset.
Birth chart reading
When Lisa Stardust, an excellent astrologer I often turn to when I’m writing about the planets and zodiac, offered me a complimentary birth chart reading, I knew this could be an important (but also fun) step in my spiritual journey. While I know astrology isn't backed by science, it's cool to think that the placement of the stars could determine almost everything about you. "Learning about your design helps inform everything about your present life," her website reads. Sign me up!
As she pulled up my chart — Aries sun, Sagittarius moon, Aquarius rising — Stardust first began telling me that I'm very fiery and passionate, a go-getter. "Your ascendant says that you march to the beat of your own drum," she says. "You do whatever makes you happy. Your focus in this life is, ‘How can I feel secure in my situation?’"
Along with "Khloe Kardashian vibes", Stardust tells me that my chart says I'm a "visionary". "You dream of things and they happen," she says. "You're a little psychic sometimes." But the one thing the astrologer says that I should work on is leaning more into my intuition — my spiritual side. Given that I’d just sat through a tea leaf reading, an aura cleansing, and now a birth chart reading, I felt well on my way.
While we discussed the ways in which this year had been hard for me, astrologically — eclipses, returns, retrogrades, all that good stuff — Stardust also foresaw a few unexpected things in the stars for me. One of the most surprising things she said was that I may have my first child during my Saturn return, which is just in four to five years. "This child wants to be born to you during that time period," she said. "This is a very powerful aspect, and it really speaks to the type of energy that you're going to have with your child in the future. It's a strong bond, but I definitely think that this is someone that wants to be born." She also said that this child is going to surpass me (and my partner, I guess) financially and popularity-wise. "They might even be famous," she said. "Like I said, Kardashian vibes."
I know myself, and my hunch is that I won't actually be ready to have a child in that time frame. When I told Stardust that, she said, "It could be a creative project." That definitely feels more up my alley. (Although I wouldn’t mind becoming my own kind of Kris Jenner, either.)
Overall, my chart — and the things coming for me — seem overall positive (minus the upcoming Mars retrograde but... we'll get through it). "I feel that things are about to change for you for the better," Stardust told me. "There might even be a new opportunity coming your way soon, too. This year has been a little bit crazy, but you're ready to spread your wings and fly."
We'll just have to see.
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5. Lisa Stardust is fabulous, and I’d do another astrology reading with her (or another astrologer!) in a heartbeat. There’s still so much to learn!
I've always been skeptical of psychic readings. My main exposure to fortune tellers and psychics have been along Jersey Shore boardwalks and watching the Harry Potter movies. But, of course, getting the chance to have a psychic reading session was something I couldn't pass up in my journey to connect, spiritually, with myself.
Live the Light, a certified psychic medium and intuitive on Keen.com, gave me my first-ever psychic reading. (Well, my first since I was 12, when I visited one of the many psychics who work out of the stalls that dot the Seaside Heights boardwalk in New Jersey.) It was pretty exciting.
Live the Light's readings work this way: She'll tell you generally what's coming up for her, then allows you to ask specific questions about yourself, your future, and the people you care about.
"Before we jumped on this call, there was a lot coming up for you," she told me. "What I feel is that your work life and personal life, what spirit is telling me is that the two are mirroring each other. There are a lot of changes right now, but the biggest thing is this energy of a new normal." Again, this appears to be the theme. Coronavirus, working from home, not being able to escape my childhood bedroom. This is my new normal. And I have to accept it, and learn how to move forward with it.
She told me that spirit — which is what she communicates through — is saying I need to be able to go with the flow, go with the energy. "The big message is you can't really go back to before," she said. "Try not to go back to what was, you have to be in who you are now and you have to be who you are today."
Our conversation jumped to my career path — something I've been contemplating since I graduated university almost two and a half years ago. "You're in this career for a reason, because you're going to grow and branch out in different areas," Live the Light told me. "You can try to use other people's lives as a blueprint, but I feel that yours is not the same." The psychic actually told me my career and I had Katy Tur vibes (which I'm definitely not mad about).
We conversed more about my personal life — my relationship with my family, my relationship with my boyfriend, my friendships, the potential presence of motherhood in my future, finances — before I moved on to an interesting question I found when Googling "questions to ask a psychic."
"Do I have a purpose in life?" I asked.
"Yes," she replied. "There's something in your energy. There's something that you're going to do with how you tell stories. It's going to shape media, which is going to shape the world, which is going to help change thought." That's pretty intense, right? But, she continued: "A lot of what you're doing in terms of your purpose is getting people to think more and open up their minds to different ways of doing things, to things that are different."
Live the Light continued, "You are a force. There is a drive in you that would make you a good leader. But there's also this aspect of being intuitive where you can see the direction that the tide is turning," she said. "Keep speaking up, keep using your voice, keep asking yourself, ‘How do I want to shake the world and the industry I'm in?’"
While I didn't expect much to come out of this psychic reading, I feel like I received reassurance to things I've been less-than-confident about during this wild ride of a year. And, Live the Life's main message really resonated with me: Be flexible. Follow your intuition. And go with the flow.
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5. My session with Live the Light was scheduled to be 30 minutes long — but we ended up talking for an hour. I’m definitely convinced that psychic powers are real now.
When I think of hypnotists, I think of those dudes on stage who somehow get people to clap when they snap their fingers. Which, apparently, is totally real and valid — but not the type of hypnosis I was signed up for.
"Hypnotherapy is for healing the mind and the soul and the body by creating an exceptionally safe, focused, moment of attention that helps a person through relaxed intention," Kristen Harrington, MA, LMFT, a marriage and family therapist who specialised in relationship coaching, and psychotherapy, and hypnotherapy, tells Refinery29. "It helps them to be able to open themselves up beyond their usual conscious defences so that they're able to see things differently than they normally would or adopt a new belief about something."
The thought of being hypnotised first intrigued me thanks to TikTok — I came across Magdalena Kalley's page where she hypnotised people on the street, in the middle of parties, on yachts, you name it. I reached out to set up a virtual hypnosis session. When she asked about my goals, I named two: I wanted help managing my stress and anxiety levels, and I wanted to break my nail-biting habit.
I wrote more about how hypnosis works (and whether it can really work virtually) in a different article. The gist: On that first session, I do think Kalley successfully hypnotised me. Turns out, it's really relaxing.
For the rest of the week, I did feel a difference in my stress levels... but, still found myself nibbling on my nails every once in a while. I truly enjoyed the experience with Kalley, though — so much so, that I ended up scheduling a second session for myself, this time with Harrington. She told me that hypnotherapy doesn't really work unless you're truly open to receiving it. And even though I ended up liking my session with Kalley, I did feel like I’d been super-skeptical going in. I was curious about what the practice would feel like now that my mind had been opened a bit.
As my second-ever hypnosis session began, I fell into a sleep-like trance. With Harrington's voice guiding me, I saw myself during one of my darkest, most anxiety-provoking moments from this past summer. And in the midst of it, I was able to walk over and give myself a hug.
After telling Harrington what had happened, she said this was a great step. "Not everybody can do that, to actually see another part of themselves," she told me. "Giving that part a hug... isn't it great? To have compassion for her?"
And yeah, it was. If there's anything that I've come to realise during my spiritual journey throughout quarantine, it's that I can't be so hard on myself. Going with the flow is better for my mental health than putting up these blocks that I can't break back down — and prioritizing the spiritual connection I have with myself, in the end, has most definitely gotten me through some rough spots during these past five months.
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5. I feel as though hypnotherapy is something that needs to be done again and again for it to make a significant impact. I enjoyed my sessions, and I really, really want to kick my nail-biting habit — so I’ll be back.