According to psychologists, one of the secrets to achieving inner peace is learning to stop being triggered by the past. This involves identifying the situations that tear open our emotional baggage and rummage through it like an over-caffeinated TSA agent. But identifying triggers is only the first step—next comes acceptance, followed by resisting the urge to rehash the traumatic stories of our personal history (which is difficult when you make a living doing that exact thing), and finally reprogramming the subconscious through positive imagery.

“You need Reiki,” my friend Barb suggested when I described the steps involved in my quest for tranquility. Barb is a retired realtor who lives in an 8,000-square-foot house on a private golf course in Asheville, but looks like a woman who’d be selling crystal wands and turmeric shots from a beat-up Winnebago outside of Santa Fe. Imagine stringy gray hair, dream-catcher earrings, and earth-tone caftans, and you get a good idea of Barb’s vibe. “My friend Tara can do it,” Barb yelled while blending a wheatgrass and goji berry smoothie. “She’s incredibly gifted.”

This was not the first time Barb had pushed me toward New Age healing. Years ago, she gave me a gift certificate good for one chakra cleansing, which I quickly, and secretly, re-gifted. But after a series of emotional setbacks, including being “let go” by my therapist, I was desperate. If Barb had suggested sacrificing a live chicken, I would have fired up the rotisserie and asked what she wanted for sides.

Tara worked out of a small house in West Asheville that had been converted into a “healing center.” The waiting room displayed bamboo shoots jutting from containers of smooth stones, glowing salt lamps, and a gurgling tabletop fountain that made me feel like I had to pee. When Tara finally appeared, I was shocked at her appearance. I had been expecting a woman with a daisy-chain headband and a yin-yang tattoo, but Tara looked, well, normal.

Five minutes later, I was face up on a massage table with Tara’s palms gliding over my body like the sensors of a metal detector. When she reached my sternum, I began to feel subtle warmth at the base of my throat. Tara later told me my throat chakra was blocked, which can stifle honest communication and lead to insecurity and aloofness. “Well, duh,” was the only response I could think of. We ended the session with a visualization experiment. Tara asked me to close my eyes and imagine myself standing in a forest. “Now ask an animal to join you,” she said. From somewhere deep in my subconscious, a majestic grey fox strode out from behind a tree and sat down at my feet. “Ask the animal to say something,” Tara instructed. I did, but the fox remained silent. Whatever wisdom it possessed was to remain secret. I left the appointment feeling drained yet relaxed. Maybe it was placebo, but I did feel better, and isn’t that the main goal of healing?

A few days later, I drove over to my mom’s for a quick visit. When I arrived, she told me a fox had recently started coming to the back of the house looking for food scraps. I was instantly light-headed. It couldn’t be a coincidence, I thought—it had to be a sign. I threw a few pieces of bread out the back door and waited. Some time later, a furry creature scurried out of the woods toward the food. “Have you ever seen a fox that fat?” my mom said. I stared at the groundhog in silence. My throat chakra was completely blocked.