Megan Riley is sitting next to her publicist on the patio of Stella's Coffeehaus, which is the kind of place where people aren't going to bat an eye when they overhear someone talking about her psychic powers.
That's exactly what Riley is doing, and I'm wondering how this will go. How do you approach an interview with someone who claims to be able to crack you right open and take a peek at your soul?
But it's completely not weird, at least at the beginning.
Riley moved to Colorado two and a half years ago because she fell in love with the mountains. Before that, she was running a retirement residence in Minnesota. She wasn't quite sure what she should do when she came here, because she had this gift -- the ability to communicate with spirits and animals and to identify people's auras and things like that. And as ridiculous as that sounds, it doesn't really seem that shocking when you actually talk to her.
Her nonchalant demeanor makes it seem like she's discussing something as normal as an ability to bake: She's always been good at it, but since it wasn't a practical career path, she tuned it out. And then she came to Colorado and someone saw her talent and said, "Wow, you gotta take some classes. Learn some fundamentals, maybe slap together a few ladyfingers under professional supervision, and then share this thing with the world." Only it wasn't baking. It was talking to dead people.
Her earliest memory, she says, is of a spirit at the end of her bed when she was three-years old. And ghosts aren't translucent and cold, she adds. They're more like a feeling, the feeling you get when someone you can't see is watching you. Fair enough -- I know that feeling. But then she starts talking about how these spirits are always around, how they're right here.
At this point, she extends her hand and indicates the area above my left shoulder. It's a bit unsettling. This woman is looking at spirits perched on my shoulder? She starts talking about how siblings and cousins are usually by our sides, and parents are somewhere else, behind us, maybe, and then grandparents and great uncles are in the area she's indicated on me.
I wonder: Grandpa? Just for a second, though, because that would be ridiculous. And if a psychic wanted to sound believable, that shoulder area is completely safe: Everyone has a dead grandparent or great aunt or uncle.
It's not just dead people. Riley says she can communicate with living animals. She sees what they see, and then she can sort of send images back. She tells the story of a cat whose owner was having problems because the cat kept peeing on the bed, and how she was able to image-negotiate with the cat on a compromise in which the cat would get twenty minutes of outside time every day in return for not peeing on the bed.
Riley can also look right into you by way of these things called chakras. Everyone has twelve of them, but she usually just focuses on the first seven in a reading because of time constraints. Chakras come from Hindu tradition and are "force wheels" located at various points of the body -- at least according to Wikipedia. Riley looks at these to determine things like your life's path (which is stored in the third chakra).
The first chakra is at the base of your spine. Riley says that people are experiencing a lot of lower back pain related to this root chakra lately because of the uncertainty in the economy. In case you're keeping score, this chakra business is probably the most plausible of all Riley's supposed gifts. That's right: energy wheels in your body she can see, but you and the X-ray machine can't, and that's the sane end of the spectrum.
Still, Riley is presumably paying the bills with psychic readings. Maybe people are just suckers, but she says 90 percent of her business comes from referrals.
We all want one more conversation with people who have died, Riley says. "We want to know that they're okay, that they made it all right."
I've never lost someone very close to me -- that aforementioned grandpa died before I understood such things. But I'll bet the prospect of knowing, of being in the proximity of a long-gone loved one, is incredibly enticing. To hear from someone like Riley that dad says he doesn't care that you never got a chance to say goodbye and that he's so proud of you: I'll bet that's worth the $98 she charges for a sixty-minute session.
"We want something like, 'The money's buried in the back yard,' and it's not like that," Riley says. The spirits of deceased love ones usually have messages more along the lines of "I was at the wedding; it was wonderful."
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Everyone has physic powers, Riley says. But it's like playing the piano: Some people are naturals, others will never get past "Chopsticks," but the first step is putting your hands on the keys. That out-of-season butterfly, that oddly prophetic song on the radio? Not coincidences, she says. It's the spirits making contact. You just have to be looking.
"My gifts come from God," Riley says. She was raised Catholic and still attends mass, but now she's more of a religious omnivore. The world has many interpretations of God, she says, but "at its core, it's really all the same."
I don't think Riley has some magical connection with the dead, and I don't think she can talk to animals. She can probably read people pretty well, but I don't think that has anything to do with chakras. But what do I know? She doesn't give ominous warnings or wear gypsy earrings, and she's incredibly welcoming. And if her words give you peace of mind, maybe it doesn't matter how she came up with them.
You can check Riley out yourself next Tuesday, June 9, at Stella's, 1476 South Pearl Street, where she's hosting a free group psychic reading from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. She advises that you come with a question about your life's path or your pet or a deceased loved one. If you're interested, RSVP with your first name only at firstname.lastname@example.org.