A lot of people are under the impression that being psychic isn't something that can be taught, if it's possible to be psychic at all. But the Southern California Psychic Institute believes all humans have a so-called sixth sense; it's just about knowing how to recognize it. In order to learn how, prospective pupils are encouraged to attend an open house–style “psychic jamboree” and get a reading, like I recently did. Personally, I believe there's not much of a difference between being intuitive and being psychic. As it turns out, the local psychic academy agrees.

Founded in 1995 by Barbara and Joel Hipps, the Southern California Psychic Institute is run by a religious organization called the Church of the Rose. The school teaches people how to become more intuitive in order to accurately identify one's own true personality and life's purpose. Open to the public, the monthly psychic fairs are a chance to sample the institute's banquet of spiritual readings and clairvoyant counseling sessions, which visitors can then choose to explore further through meditation-based healing.

The fairs offer a range of readings on everything from career, family and the future to love, money, relationships and health. In addition to palmistry and tarot, there are services related to astral travel, spirit guides and past lives. One 20-minute reading is $10, and a series of three costs $25. It's a pretty good deal, whether or not you believe in psychic energy.

My own opinion on psychics is informed by a lesson I learned back in a graduate-level introductory psychology class. On the first day, our professor divided us into pairs and instructed us to do nothing but silently sit and stare at one another for 10 minutes. We then took turns earnestly communicating our gut feelings. Not only was I amazed with how well my would-be colleague knew me based on a wordless first impression but I was equally surprised to find that a lot of my feelings about her were pretty accurate, too. The point of the exercise was to illustrate how humans have an innate interpersonal communication system that can't be explained but exists nonetheless. It's basically the same phenomenon we attribute to psychics, which is really all about intuition. The students at the Southern California Psychic Institute are learning how to trust theirs.

Credit: Tanja M. Laden

Credit: Tanja M. Laden

I was having trouble trusting my own intuition, apparently. While getting ready to go, I took pains to appear as plain as possible so I wouldn't give away anything about myself. I debated whether I should mention off the bat that I'd been assigned to write about the event, or to remain silent until after the readings were over. If a psychic immediately knew that I was a writer, it could make it that much easier for them to read me, so to speak. And anyway, if a food critic is required not to identify herself, why should I?

I drove westbound to the event's address, which turned out to be a school in Santa Monica. After seeing a sign on a pole, I parked and navigated my way to the psychic fair, on the second floor in the school's gym. It was a Saturday and the place was quiet, but as I ascended the staircase, I heard overlapping voices that assured me I was in the right place.

I was greeted with a scene that reminded of my psychology-class intuition exercise. Inside the perimeter formed by high-end spin machines and core-training exercise balls were about 20 people who were paired off and facing each other while seated in hard, folding chairs. It wasn't readily apparent who were the readers and who were the subjects, though within each pair, one person had eyes open and the other had eyes closed.

Inexplicable black netting in the gym; Credit: Tanja M. Laden

Inexplicable black netting in the gym; Credit: Tanja M. Laden

While I waited for my reading, I glimpsed ominous black netting hovering overhead, hoisted as though poised to ensnare a roomful of spiritually starved people. I quickly snapped a pic before a woman glanced at me and called a not-so-secret sidebar with the psychic school's headmaster, Joel Hipps. With an arched eyebrow, he came over and kindly asked me to stop “photographing people.” I couldn't really explain why I was taking a picture of the weird black netting, so I assured him I wouldn't take any more pictures without his permission.

Then I was paired with a woman who was supposed to tell me all about my past lives. I asked if I could record and she shrugged, closed her eyes, then asked me to say my name three times. She proceeded to laugh, yawn and burp before mumbling something about a rose. Soon, my eyes were closed too, but apparently that was a big no-no because Headmaster Hipps was right there again, and this time he was visibly disturbed.

“Leave your eyes open, please,” he said, then immediately asked, “Are you a person from a newspaper or something?” I answered yes, to which he responded in a gentle though irritated tone, “Yeah, you need to identify yourself when you come in. That's not cool.”

I told him that I had debated it, but as I didn't want anything to influence my readings, I opted to interview him later after it was all over. “It influences your readings already,” he said cryptically, before leaving us to resume.

Reading in progress; Credit: Tanja M. Laden

Reading in progress; Credit: Tanja M. Laden

My psychic and I exchanged an awkward look and she asked, wide-eyed, “How did he know you worked for a newspaper?”

I really wanted to say, “Because he's psychic!” Then I remembered that I had emailed him to tell him I was coming, so clearly he was expecting me. Either way, I didn't need to take any precautions with my outward appearance, because the readers all had their eyes closed the whole time. Mine remained open.

What struck me after getting a total of three readings was how the psychics seemed to benefit from the exchanges just as much as the subjects, if not more. By focusing on other people, it's as if they learn what the subjects are thinking and feeling, which evidently makes it easier for them to recognize their own thoughts and feelings, too.

Joel Hipps, co-founder of the Southern California Psychic Institute; Credit: Tanja M. Laden

Joel Hipps, co-founder of the Southern California Psychic Institute; Credit: Tanja M. Laden

“What the readers are learning to do is how to separate the difference between the part that's you and the part that's not you,” Hipps explained. “We call it a 'spiritual hello,' where somebody recognizes you distinctly from everything that you think you are but has nothing to do with you. And it's a very powerful process, because as that happens, you start to expand and you start to heal yourself.”

I was grateful that Hipps and I regained some footing after our rocky start, and though I couldn't explain it, I felt lighter and more like myself in the end. As though reading my mind, Headmaster Hipps remarked, “You look different than when you came in.”

I just need to learn to trust my intuition, I guess.

The Southern California Psychic Institute's next Psychic Jamboree takes place on Sat., June 10, from 1-4 p.m.; 1741 21st St., Santa Monica. socalpi.org/calendar.htm.

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