Real Bodies: Trick or treatment?

When a confirmed sceptic checked in for a week at an alternative healing centre, sparks were bound to fly. HESTER LACEY reports
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Patricia Moore's husband was diagnosed with cancer in 1990. Before he died, he spent thousands of pounds on alternative therapies. Patricia is a confirmed sceptic about such treatments, so when she was offered the chance to spend a week at the Shambhala Healing Centre in Glastonbury, Somerset, she jumped at the opportunity. Since her husband's death, Patricia has spent a lot of time investigating alternative medicines and cures, and she believes strongly that the industry should be far better regulated.

When her husband's cancer was advanced, he went to a "psychic surgeon", who performed a bloodless "operation" to remove illness or negative feelings. She feels that they were conned. "There is nothing to protect the buyer with alternative remedies," she says. After her husband died, Patricia wrote to the surgeon. "He wrote back and mentioned the wrong type of cancer in his letter - a cancer my husband hadn't even had. I would love to find there was something real in all these mystical cures, I really would. But it's a mirage."

Shambhala is run by Isis Nixon and her husband Argon. The centre never advertises, but word-of-mouth recommendations ensure that it is always full, with guests from as far afield as Japan and Iceland. Shambhala is the biggest house on Glastonbury Tor, which, says Isis, is a very holy place - a ley-line runs through the bed in the cottage that she and Argon share. The crystal star set into the courtyard at Shambhala is situated over a vortex in the earth from which healing energy flows, she explains. Isis was as eager for the encounter, which was filmed by BBC2, as Patricia. "I told the producer that if anyone needs healing, we'll be very glad to see them," she says.

Patricia's immediate impression was good. "Isis and Argon were very welcoming," she says. "They seemed all-encompassing - these big people in flowing robes." But things started to go wrong almost immediately. As soon as guests arrive, they spend time with Isis, talking about what they hope to gain from their stay. This initial meeting also includes the first encounter with Shambhala's therapeutic techniques - a visualisation session. "I show people how to come out of their thinking space into their healing space, from their head into their heart," explains Isis. She began by asking Patricia to relax and imagine swallowing some saliva down into her heart to create a glow. Patricia bridled. "I was lost. I know anatomy and I know that when you swallow spit it goes into your stomach. It would have been great to get into it, but I just couldn't." Isis was put out by this first stumble. "I've done this with thousands of people and she was the only one who wouldn't do it - she sent it up and really killed it," she says sadly.

Although Isis asked her whether there were any problems or issues that were particularly important to her, Patricia decided to keep quiet about her husband's death. "I thought if these people were so intuitive and sensitive they would soon pick up on the fact that I was a widow. I wasn't trying to hide anything. I gave plenty of hints: I talked about my children, but didn't mention my husband. As soon as someone asked me, I gave a truthful answer." Unfortunately, this didn't happen until the third day, when a visiting therapist asked the key question. This, feels Isis, was unfair, but Patricia is adamant. "Isis asked me to tell her anything I thought she needed to know, and I said there was nothing - if she'd been more specific it would have avoided a lot of confusion."

An inauspicious beginning, and things did not improve. Patricia refused to join in the early-morning group meditation sessions round the crystal star. She was unimpressed with the therapies she received. The first was a session of cranio-sacral therapy, where her persistent questioning on what exactly was going on left her unconvinced. Aura imaging left her equally unmoved. "As far as I can see, the only thing the machine that photographs your aura does is measure your ability to complete an electrical circuit," she says. Argon also performed psychic surgery - the main alternative treatment Patricia's husband had received. In a trance state he became the Japanese psychic surgeon Arkada, while Isis held her hand. "The psychic surgery was quite strange," says Patricia. "I could feel little tickles and hear muttering and heavy breathing. I didn't know what they were operating on, and it was only later I found they were trying to take out my anger. I'm not angry, just curious!" She noticed no difference in her anger levels.

The final straw came when Isis and Argon suggested she undergo a session of rebirthing in a hot tub, with Argon as facilitator. "Both Isis and Argon talked about the fact that they had been abused," says Patricia. "Isis hinted that there might have been a glitch in my life at around the age of three - to the best of my knowledge there was not. I really felt I had nothing to offload." And she had further objections. "The literature said that you had to do the rebirthing naked in the hot tub, and I'm no prude but no way on this planet would I get into a hot tub naked with a naked man who is not my partner."

By this time, the atmosphere at Shambhala was becoming strained. Other guests, says Isis, were alarmed by Patricia's attitude. Patricia counters by claiming that Isis was ducking her questions. "Isis started keeping other guests away from me. It was very strange being so alone in a houseful of people. In a supposed caring atmosphere, to be excluded all the time seems hypocritical. You're not allowed to be a questioner, you have to be an accepter."

Things came to a head on the final day. "We had a confrontation," sighs Isis. "She was very hyper. There had been a lot of anger the night before. I said `Patricia, I feel very sad you didn't tell me the truth, because I think this week could have been a big turnaround for you'. She went purple, and screamed at me." Argon stepped in to calm things down. "We carried on talking," recalls Isis, "and she attacked my husband over the rebirthing therapy, which was the only one she hadn't tried! After this, she got up, walked out, and never came back. The film crew had to come and collect her luggage."

With hindsight, does either woman regret embarking on an experience that was fraught, to say the least? Patricia has no regrets. "I'd go again tomorrow. Isis and Argon are fascinating people, and I learned a lot." Isis, too, says she learned from the experience. She feels that Patricia did not give Shambhala a fair trial. "I could tell that she was very angry. We tried many times to move her to a place of peace in her heart. Every day we'd start again, thinking this would be the day that we made contact," she says. "The fact is that you can't give healing to someone who doesn't want to be healed." She believes that Patricia missed a chance to change her life for the better on her visit. "I feel enormous compassion for her. I could feel her pain. Under the anger was enormous sorrow. We could have moved a layer of that, but we understand that in the end it is Patricia's choice."

"Living With The Enemy", BBC2, Wednesday 22 September, 9pm.