At the risk of bludgeoning the obvious like a rented mule, I've been under a bit of stress lately. Seven months without a job and two little mouths to feed help make for a highly unrestful limbo, and to borrow a line from Cop Shoot Cop, livin' in limbo ain't cheap. As such, the piercing Tinnitus in my right ear that I've been grappling with since October of 1999 has unsurprisingly spiked again. Stress -- along with a copious intake of salt, sugar, caffeine and alcohol -- is believed to significantly amplify the symptoms of Tinnitus. I've seen ear doctors and audiologists and tried the odd "remedy" here and there, but nothing's really ever helped clear it up. I continue to want to try acupuncture, but I still haven't gotten around to it. So, all I can do is simply deal with it, attempt to be responsible in terms of protecting my hearing and hope for the best.
A couple of days ago while walking through the West Village, my wife spotted a spa that offered "Ear Candling," a holistic therapy (or "folk medicine" as skeptics might call it) practiced -- I'm told -- throughout the far east. Like many other Eastern practices, it's said to help relieve a myriad of problems, chief among them being ear-discomfort and -- wait for it -- Tinnitus. It's also said to purify the mind and stabilize emotions and a whole lot of other claptrap, but never mind. In any case, I was immediately intrigued. It's so rare to see an open acknowledgement of Tinnitus' existence, let alone a service that purports to aid in the treatment of it that I immediately wanted to go investigate. So that's what I did.
The term itself -- "Candling" -- does have a disconcertingly medieval sound to it, as if it were practiced by the same folks who believe in bloodletting and leeching. It also sorta reminded me of some of the images in transgressive photographer Richard Kern's book, "New York Girls," wherein a candle was lit and summarily shoved into.....well, never mind.
The reality would be much less shocking. I walked over to the spa in question this afternoon intent on finding out more. Being that one could also get one's nail's done, one's legs waxed and one's shoulders massaged at the place, I didn't expect any transgressive candle insertion, much less the application of any leeches. After finding out how much it costed and how long the process took (it ain't exactly cheap, and it takes about a half an hour), I blithely chucked caution to the four winds and said I'd like to try it. What the hell else was I doing anyway? Hooray for foolhardiness, although it was arguably foolhardiness that won me Tinnitus in the first place.
After signing a short form that acknowledged that I fully understood what I was getting into (I didn't, of course, but why spoil a thing with prepared research?) I was taken down into the bowels of the place by a matronly Asian woman who spoke about as much of my native tongue as I did of hers, adding an extra dash of fly-by-night danger to the proceedings. Would she understand me if I suddenly shouted in pain? I was about to find out.
I was taken to a standard massage room replete with the usual trappings. New Age piano music tinkled from above -- a cross between the theme to "St. Elmo's Fire" and that George Winston December album my Mom insists on playing every Christmas. After I was instructed to lie face-up on the table, the attendant started busily preparing a bunch of stuff, including a couple of large, hollow candles that looked a bit like the comedy spliffs one normally encounters in the oeuvre of Cheech & Chong. She tilted my head to one side and slipped the open end of the candle -- now lit -- through a small hole in a paper plate and then into the orifice of my right ear. The paper plate, I assumed, was intended to prevent any hot wax from dripping on my face and burning and/or blinding me. This was a precaution I welcomed.
The experience was awkward but not unpleasant. As the candle burned, the attendant massaged my neck and scalp, presumably attempting to soothe me in my odd position. Inside my ear, I could feel the odd crackle and a pleasant warmth, but no great amount of activity. The candle is hollow and the smoke is evidently intended to act as a vacuum of sorts, sucking out waxy detritus and whatever spiritual ailments one has on hand. It took about ten minutes or so for the candle to burn down, at which point she gently removed it from my ear. After gingerly dabbing around my ear with a moistened swab, she displayed the remains of the hollow candle to me. It looked a bit like a one of those Phillies Blunts the Hip Hoppers used to smoke. There was indeed some brownish stuff in the cone, but if it came out of my ear, I'll never know. I turned over and she proceeded to repeat the process in the other ear.
All told, it was a very relaxing session. When we were finished, I asked if there was anything I was supposed to do or be aware of or expect. She just smiled and said something about how much her husband enjoys the process. We then went back upstairs and I paid up.
Was I just sold a bottle of snake oil (as this website would have me believe)? Was my chakra sufficiently re-aligned? I don't know. No one promised me anything, and the treatment was certainly pleasant. I think I did it more to satisfy a curiosity. Perhaps I'll feel the proper results in the days ahead, but I'm not counting on it.
Apart from the lingering scent of the candle, I can't say I really feel any massive difference. My ears feel clearer, I suppose, and the session was indeed quite relaxing, but it's not like I suddenly have a brand new head. Unsurprisingly, my right ear is still screaming like a hot tea kettle, but after dealing with it for nine years, I wasn't really expecting this treatment to be the miracle cure.
At the very least, I can say I've tried it and lived to tell the tale.