I met Nick Lasky the day after my birthday during Charlottesville’s first-ever psychic festival. The tarot card reader, festival coordinator, and UVA fourth year wore a striped Baja hoodie and long hair under a fuzzy pink bunny hat.
“So you’re the reporter,” he said.
I’d come to the Aquarian Bookshop on the Downtown Mall to understand how Lasky, a business major with a concentration in marketing, had gotten so involved in a scene I associated with the ’70s and Venice Beach, the world of astrologers, crystals, and earth chakras.
Turns out Lasky is part of a new generation exploring spirituality through mystical teachings and metaphysical insights. Unlike many older people I’ve met with similar curiosities, he also openly shares his beliefs with anyone who will listen.
“A few summers ago, I hit the road and started traveling to music festivals,” he said. “I think when you’re out just experiencing the world on your own or with open-minded people, you start letting go of the societal constructs that are probably subconscious.”
Lasky has embarked on an inward journey to bring self-awareness to the center of his life. Researching all he could on his own, he began meditating daily, practicing yoga, and eventually became certified in reiki.
“Meditating helps you ground and internalize whatever you’ve been experiencing and reach higher and higher states of consciousness,” he said. “It turns you on to other things, like hypnotherapy and energy healing and mystical spiritual experiences like synchronicity.”
Synchronicity is a Jungian concept where two or more events occur that appear to be meaningfully, but not causally, related. Like longing to listen to the song stuck in your head and then hearing it on the radio.
“When it happens a couple of times you’re like ‘OK that was a pretty strange coincidence,’” Lasky said. “When it starts happening over and over again you think ‘OK, there’s something to this.’ You realize things aren’t random chance, that there are other things in play.”
In early 2013, he supplemented his personal practice with classes at the Aquarian. The courses provided the educational structure he didn’t know he’d been looking for.
In September, Lasky founded the Society for Awakening Souls at UVA, a group for students to share spiritual experiences and techniques for expanding consciousness. It’s an idea he developed after a 10-day meditation retreat on the West Coast this summer, and, though the group is only five months old, the Society already has 50 members.
“I wanted to give people, especially young people, a context for what is going on,” he said. “When I was having my spiritual awakening, I didn’t have anybody at UVA or in Charlottesville who I could talk to about it. It’s become my life over the last couple of years, and I know a lot of things now that I didn’t know then.”
I sat with 30 Society members in a semi-circle, watching a smile play on the lips of John J. Oliver. The professional psychic and owner of the Aquarian Bookshop was telling us the story of his unusual career.
“So I’m standing in the hallway and my first conscious psychic experience happens to me. I’m suddenly standing over here, looking at myself standing over there, watching myself over here,” he said. “I’d never heard about out-of-body experiences at this point. I thought I was having this fantastic wonderful dream.”
Clad in black, Oliver spoke in a low, soothing voice, making careful eye contact with each one of us. He saw ghosts throughout his boyhood, he said, and as a teen became deeply involved in judo and a daily practice of stillness meditation (what he described as “non-religious Zen”). His first out-of-body experience led him to try his hand at automatic writing. After months and many pages of illegible scribbles, a friend asked to watch him perform the act. The results were unexpected.
“I sat down and started meditation, and instead of just automatic writing, I have this sensation like water or electricity flowing up through my body, over the chair, crawling up my scalp, and it’s like my throat was talking all by itself,” he said.
When he repeated the experiment for his mother, he thought he fell asleep in the chair. “But she and my friend had this look on their faces—and I know that look, I’ve seen it many times since. It’s the look of someone who had just been with the entity that speaks through me. He said his name, then he spelled his name, then he told all these fantastical stories of how he knew me since ancient days. At first I thought they were pulling my leg, but my mother cannot lie,” Oliver said. “I knew that Jerhoam, as he called himself, had been talking to them for over an hour.”
The students around me appeared as riveted as I was. Oliver, who Lasky knows through his part-time job at the bookshop, was one of several psychic guest speakers to visit the group this semester. Typical meetings include 15-20 minutes of guided meditation and discussions of member experiences. At the end of every meeting, the group gathers in a circle to set a collective intention to help others or one another along their spiritual paths.
When I asked him what he meant by spiritual path, Lasky’s brow furrowed. “A spiritual path is just deconstructing the programs you live from, whatever you’ve lived from that’s not the truth. It’s opening up to a higher consciousness or the divine or whatever you want to call it, but basically connecting with spirit, with the earth and with yourself,” he said.
He spoke without a trace of self-consciousness about ideas I have entertained in private, if not aired in public, ones that critics dismiss as delusional, naïve, or trippy. The practical side of me avoids association with woo-woo New Age stigma, and rationally, I am skeptical of anyyone who makes extra-ordinary claims. But my mind is open and in my gut I believed that Lasky was on to something.
“You learn that the most important thing is the present. Especially with being in school and the crazy pressure to focus on your career—you start to ask ‘What about now? Why am I planning five years down the road when I’m alive right now?’” Lasky said.
I told him my own similar story. Several years ago, I was a millennial desperate to nail down my future, relentlessly questioning my job, my city, and my long-term relationship. A set of coincidences led me to yoga and meditation, and one morning I woke up and cried tears of relief. I saw that the present was a gift I’d been rejecting, and for an instant, it seemed, a window had opened to allow me to see beyond myself, to the peace of deep connection to something bigger than me.
Lasky looked thoughtful. “For me, a lot of it was realizing the abilities I didn’t know I had until I started experiencing them. Like synchronicity, and psychic— “ He cut himself off. “Just being more in tune with other people and being able to say, ‘This is what you’re thinking right now’ and being correct.”
“So once you saw synchronicities,” I asked, “when did you make the leap to be able to say to someone else or yourself ‘this is going to happen?’”
Lasky looked perplexed.
“[Being psychic] is not necessarily that you’re predicting the future. You get a feeling. It’s more about using your intuition. People who are mediums or connecting with spirits might be different, but… If you’re using tarot cards, it’s about having a deep understanding of the cards and picking up what you pick up and working with that on the spot,” he said.
Lasky implied that psychic ability hinged on reading people, not crystal balls. That divination is merely a product of interpreting some ineffable quality between us.