It was a grey and windy afternoon as I was going for one of my lonely walks by the sea and the dull scenery in the late winter day was doing nothing to cheer me up. The amusement arcades were shut as were most of the little shops and cafés. Only a small kiosk was open – serving chips and tea in plastic cups to the few tourists who weren’t deterred by the dismal weather.
As so often before, I wondered if my life would ever be as easy and normal as everybody else’s. However hard I tried it never seemed to happen.
It had been nearly a year since I had finished with my last boyfriend Kevin and I felt I was at the end of a long line of unsuccessful and unhappy relationships. Somehow I had always managed to pick the wrong kind of guy and now I felt thoroughly fed up. I couldn’t bear the thought of yet another unhappy relationship and therefore I had decided to stay on my own – free, independent and supported only by my friends and myself. I admit that I hadn’t been very successful at being happy like this but at least I was trying.
A shop sign advertising palm-reading caught my eye. It showed a large white hand with
Suddenly my heart started to pound and a strange feeling of excitement crept up on me. Surely I wouldn’t do such a foolish thing as having my palm read!
Palm-reading and the like were not things I found very meaningful. A friend of mine had once taken me to an astrologer and I had found it a very confusing experience. The astrologer told me many things about my past and my childhood which had been so true and so specific that he could not have guessed them. Then he told me what was going on in my life at the time and this had also been highly accurate. So I had felt no choice but to believe what he said about my future.
The feeling that my future might be predestined was rather unnerving. Who had pre-determined it and how could it be that only obscure people like astrologers or palm-readers would know about it? If it were possible to predict the future, would not a scientist be able to research it properly? And anyway, was I not a being with free will? Or was it only an illusion that I and everybody else could make reasonable decisions about our own lives? If everything was already decided beforehand, why bother to try to improve my life or myself?
The most unnerving fact was that everything the astrologer had said about my future had indeed come true, both the good things and the bad. I had found the job I had been wishing for and the relationship with a man, which I had hoped would last, had ended in a terrible argument. But I couldn’t rule out the idea that this had all been a self-fulfilling prophecy and so I had sworn to myself that I would never go to any kind of fortune-teller again.
But here I was in front of a little palm-reading shop and I felt childishly excited. What could I lose, I asked myself. I was 35 years old and had tried everything to create a happy and loving relationship but so far without any lasting success. No matter what the palmist said, things couldn’t get any worse.
So I determinedly put all my doubts aside, opened the glittering curtain and entered the shop. At first I could hardly recognise anything other than the reflection of a big candle in a gold-framed mirror. The wax of the candle had dripped down and was building up a huge amount of wax around the base. As my eyes grew more accustomed I saw purple coloured fabric draped along the walls in big folds, some of them glittering with gold and silver. In daylight it must have looked quite tacky but in the flickering candlelight the room had a mysterious atmosphere.
Then I saw a tiny old woman in a huge armchair near a small coffee table. Her body was so small that it nearly seemed to disappear into the large chair. Her hair was completely white and she wore an unpretentious brown dress. Her most amazing features were her eyes. They seemed to sparkle and glint with a life of their own. Somehow I felt as if she recognised me but I couldn’t think for the world where I might have seen her before.
Hesitantly, I took another step into the shop.
“Come in, my dear”, the woman said in a friendly tone.
I don’t know why but hearing her voice made my heart pound even harder. I tried to calm down and resolved to use the next good reason to leave the shop. But the old woman stopped me by saying in a very warm voice, “you have a big wish, my dear, but you won’t admit it to yourself.”
I was confused. Wasn’t she supposed to look at my hand? And what wish was she talking about? Had I not recently tried to let go of all my unrealistic desires about finding a fairy tale prince? Hadn’t I tried to be realistic and stop clinging to castles in the air?
“What do you mean?” I asked shyly.
“Have a seat, my dear,” she said in her warm, soothing voice.
Suddenly I couldn’t see a reason why I shouldn’t have a chat with this friendly old lady. Slowly I sat down. Strangely enough, I felt tears welling up in my eyes but luckily the old lady stood up and started to bustle around.
“Do you want a cup of coffee, my dear”; she asked and continued without waiting for an answer, “with milk?”
“Black, please,” I managed to blurt out still trying to suppress my emotion, “with a lot of sugar, please.”
The prospect of a nice cup of sweet coffee felt comforting and helped me to let go of my tearfulness.
“What wish are you talking about?” I asked, forgetting altogether my intention to leave the shop as soon as possible.
She didn’t answer for a while concentrating instead on pouring steaming coffee into cups. As she came over she passed me one of the cups and looked at me with her beautiful eyes which radiated both warmth and something else, something that I could only describe as wisdom.
“You could be very happy, my dear,” she said kindly,” if only you stood by your wishes and worked for their fulfilment.”
That sounded like cheap prattle to me.
“I don’t know what you are talking about”, I retorted and thinking of my recent resolution about giving up on men I added, “I don’t have any big wishes and, to be honest, I don’t want to have any. I prefer to go with the flow.” I thought that sounded like a clever answer – an answer from someone who had already achieved some equanimity.
She smiled at me calmly. I tried to detect some trace of smugness or superiority in her face but the only thing I could see was warmth and kindness.
“Wishes are the basis of our life”, she said. “Without them there would be no life at all. Not wanting to have wishes is just another wish.” The old woman smiled. “We have wishes all the time and they can be fulfilled if we work on them. But if we deny them we will end up with nothing.”
Slowly I began to feel more interested in this conversation.
“But what if your wishes are not realistic?” I challenged her. “What if you want something that is not possible?”
“All right”, the old lady said, “let’s look at that a little bit more closely. How do you know what is possible and what is not?”
This was just the right kind of discussion for me to vent some of the frustration with relationships that I had felt for so many years.
“Well, that’s very easy”, I blurted out. “You just look at your own experience and at the people around you and then you know what’s possible and what isn’t.”
“Can you give me an example?” she asked tilting her head with a little smile.
I pretended to think a bit because I didn’t want her to know how obsessed I was with the topic of relationships.
“Yes”, I finally said, “let’s take the example of a happy, fulfilling marriage. I don’t know a single couple to whom I could apply that description. Wherever I look I see nothing but misery. And I myself have certainly never had a wonderful relationship in which the happiness lasted any longer than the illusions of the honeymoon.”
Now I had given myself away, admitting my major problem but it didn’t really matter. My desire to talk about it was bigger than my need to hide it and pretend that everything was fine.
The old woman continued to smile at me. “So you think that a happy marriage isn’t possible because you and your friends haven’t experienced it?” she summarised my statement.
“It’s not only me and my friends”, I exclaimed. “There’s plenty of other evidence. Half of all marriages end in divorce nowadays. And for me it’s too late anyway. I’m thirty-five and I’m much too old to find a partner. At my age all the good men have been taken.” Then I played my trump card, “Haven’t you read”, I asked smugly, “that it’s more likely that a woman over thirty will be hit by a nuclear bomb than find a suitable partner?” Satisfied with my argument I sat back and sipped my coffee. Now she could try to prove me wrong – I knew it wouldn’t be easy.
The old woman was still looking at me attentively. “Is it true that you don’t know a single happy couple?”
I thought for a moment. Actually, I had heard about couples who were reputedly very happy, strange as it might seem. A friend of a friend of mine had found a wonderful partner some years ago and, according to my friend, they never argued and were the big love of each other’s life. And then there were my neighbours who I could see from my balcony. They were very sweet to each other and did a lot of things together. And from what I sometimes heard through the wall, they had a pretty good sex life too! Reluctantly, I told the old woman about these examples.
“How old were the man and the woman in this happy relationship when they first met?” she asked me.
“I think they were already in their forties.” I admitted even more reluctantly.
“So, how does that relate to your theory that you can’t find a partner when you are over thirty?” she asked.
“Well, I think they must be exceptions”, I defended myself. “It’s not realistic to think that everybody can be like that.”
She chuckled a bit. “What’s realistic?” she asked and went on to answer her question herself. “You know, when people tell me about what is realistic they always talk about their past experiences and about what they and their friends agree on. And why have they chosen these particular friends?” She chuckled even more. “Because they all agree on what’s realistic!”
I breathed in to contradict her but she didn’t let me speak.
“For most people”, the old woman continued happily, “it’s much more important to be proven right than being open to new insights. So they choose to hear only those things that they want to hear. And in that way”, she said with a slight sigh “many people can never go beyond what they’ve experienced in the past. That’s sad, very sad.”
What she said made sense but it was also disconcerting.
“But there must also be an objective reality”, I finally argued. “Even if I get it wrong maybe some scientists can access more objective facts and from these facts everyone can conclude what’s true and what’s not.”
The old lady shook her head. “Scientists can say very little about what’s possible for an individual person. But nowadays people treat science just like people used to treat religion. They believe whatever `research shows’ – just like people used to believe whatever the priest told them. But the fact is”, she paused for a moment and smiled again, “nobody, neither scientist nor priest, can say what reality truly is.” Then she leant forward to me, stared me in the eyes and almost whispered, “Reality is a big mystery.”
I started to feel slightly tense. This was challenging stuff and I didn’t really like it. What was I doing here anyway in a dimly lit palm-reading shop discussing the nature of reality with an old woman?
“What does this all have to do with my wish?” I asked in an attempt to bring the conversation back to more familiar territory.
“Well”, the old lady said leaning back again, “if you limit your wishes to what you’ve experienced in the past or to what you and your friends agree is possible, you can never experience anything better.”
“Isn’t that a little bit extreme?” I contradicted her. “Wouldn’t it be possible to experience something better just by accident?”
“Sheer accident is unlikely” she said with a smile. “As I told you, most people are much more interested in being proven right in their old ways than opening up to completely new possibilities. Mostly unconsciously though, I have to say in their defence”.
I thought for a moment. I certainly didn’t want to be among those people who only wanted to be proven right and never went beyond what they had experienced in the past. I had always thought that my next relationship would definitely be better but I had found myself in the same old misery over and over again. Was it possible that this had happened because my desire to be proven right was bigger than my wish to experience something better?
“What is reality in your opinion then?” I asked tentatively because I was almost afraid of what she would reply.
“Are you ready for some challenging views?” she chuckled and her eyes twinkled even more.
I nodded slowly.
“All right then,” she said. “Let me put it this way – people treat the world like a shop and complain that some articles are out of stock. But they don’t realise that they themselves stock the shelves. And the way to stock up your ‘shop of life’ is to ask your wishes into existence and to act in a way that is in harmony with what you want.”
I laughed half-heartedly. “That sounds too good to be true. According to you I simply have to ask for wars to end and I can make all that happen?”
“Unfortunately, you can’t”, the old woman replied seriously, “because you can’t impose your will on other people. But for yourself you can create the life of your dreams and then you can invite others to join you.”
Somehow her argument seemed refreshing and intriguing. My earlier excitement returned and I stretched my palm towards her.
“Is there anything good in store for me?” I asked, my heart pounding.
The old lady switched on a little lamp and looked at my hand. “Your emotions are incredibly deep and volatile,” she said. “That comes from your childhood; there was a lot of turmoil in your family.” She paused and looked hard to see more. “You are very stubborn and unfortunately there is also a great deal of denial in you. But you are capable of working very hard. If you put all your energy into your wishes you could go a long way. And”, she said with a little surprised laugh, “I see marriage, very soon actually, but only if you want it. It’s up to you.”
She looked me in the eyes. “No more palm-reading for today. It’s your choice how you create your future. But if you want I can show you how your deepest wishes can be fulfilled.”
I thought for a moment. Everything she had said about me was true but I wasn’t terribly impressed. Anybody with a certain amount of common sense could have guessed these facts about me quite easily. And the thing about marriage didn’t impress me either. That was a common trick among fortune-tellers. They always told every person who was single that they would marry soon, so that they would pay for the session more happily.
But despite my doubts I was intrigued by her offer to help me fulfil my deepest wishes. What if the thing she had said about my marriage was true? If there was a chance I didn’t want to miss out on it.
“What would I have to do and how much would it cost?” I asked cautiously.
“I won’t charge you”, the old lady replied with a friendly smile, “but I have one condition. When I suggest something I want you to give it a serious try.”
I was suspicious. Although I really liked this woman I was afraid I might become dependent on some kind of weird charlatan.
“Can I try it out before I make up my mind?” I asked.
“Yes, my dear”, she replied. “You can try out what I tell you today and if you come back to see me again, you’ll agree to my condition. And by the way, my name is Jane.”
It was strange but it was as if we both knew that I would come back. The peculiar feeling that we recognised each other from before had become even stronger. In my heart I was confident that she wouldn’t take advantage of me.
“Thank you, Jane, for this very generous offer.” I said, “I would like to give it a try. And my name is Julia.”
Jane smiled at me and seemed pleased that I had agreed.
“Very good”, she said, “we’ll start by finding out what your deepest heart-wish is. If you want something superficial”, Jane stopped for a second and smiled at me, “for example, if you want a perfect body, you may discover that it does not make you happy for long, once you’ve achieved it. Therefore it is wiser to work only with those wishes that will definitely bring you happiness.”
I wriggled in embarrassment. How could Jane have known that? What she had just described was a long-standing problem of mine. Since puberty I had been obsessed with my weight and I had tried one diet after another only to find that I was never slim enough to be satisfied with myself in the long term. Whenever I had successfully lost weight I was very pleased with my body but only for a short time. After that, my attention usually shifted to other parts of my body that I thought needed improving. As she had just pointed out, my weight-loss hadn’t made me really happy at all.
“Do you know your deepest wish, my dear?” Jane interrupted my self-conscious thoughts.
“I’m not sure”, I replied. “I’m afraid most of my wishes are like the superficial wish you just described.”
Jane leant forward slightly and looked me directly in the eyes. “Allow yourself to dream”, she said intently, “dive deep into your unconscious mind and give yourself permission to find what you want more than anything.” Jane paused and looked at me in a kindly way. Suddenly I realised that this was my first assignment and that our conversation had come to an end.
I wriggled uncomfortably in my chair and although Jane had said she wouldn’t charge me
I got out my purse. But Jane stubbornly refused to take any money saying it would be payment enough to see a little duckling transform into a beautiful swan.
I found this remark slightly offensive but decided not to take it to heart because the idea of becoming a beautiful swan was actually quite alluring. And no matter what one could have said about me at that moment I certainly wasn’t a beautiful swan yet.
So I thanked Jane and left the shop.
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