A DAY WITH URI GELLER
by Jane Bernstein
I choose an old teaspoon - just in case. I am not at all sure that I can bend a spoon with my mind, but I am not positive I cannot, either, and I'd like to keep my new set of flatware intact. I hold the spoon loosely in my hand, focus on it, feel a warmth moving down my arm, into my hand, into the spoon. I imagine the neck of the spoon softening, the metal melting, the spoon beginning to bend. I command the spoon to bend.
The spoon does nothing.
This is an unusual way to prepare for an interview, but appropriate for my subject, Uri Geller, "the world's most famous psychic"-according to the cover of his latest book. It doesn't seem fair to bring my own skepticism about psychokinesis to our meeting without any first-hand experience with the phenomenon. (Psychokinesis is the purported ability to influence physical objects through the power of the mind.)
Twenty-five years after Uri Geller first gained worldwide notoriety for bending spoons psychokinetically and reading minds, he is on tour promoting his recently published Mindpower Kit (Penguin Studio, $19.95). Designed to trigger a reader's willpower and psychic power, the kit contains a quartz crystal, an audiotape, an orange meditation circle, and a book that addresses subjects including visualization, color therapy, crystals, ESP, and psychokinesis. I am scheduled to meet Uri following his appearance on KOMO-TV's Northwest Afternoon. While he talks with the director of the show, I wait in the "green room" with Uri's small entourage of agent/brother-in-law, Seattle PR escort, and a man named John.
"Do you want to hear something incredible?" John asks. I do. John, who is about 40 years old, was a teenager when he first heard about Uri Geller. Scintillated by Uri's spoon bending and mind reading, he and a few friends started a club called the "Spooners." More recently, John and Uri had been communicating (in the usual way), and when Uri's book tour included a day in Seattle, he contacted John so they could meet. At this point in his story, John pulls a spoon out of his backpack: its handle is bent at a right angle to the bowl of the spoon. It is signed "Uri Geller" in black marker.
"This spoon was on the table at the cafe when we sat down," John says, holding the spoon toward me. "One minute I was stirring my cappuccino with this spoon, the next minute Uri picked it up and started rubbing the neck lightly with a finger. I saw a hump forming, which was impressive, and I thought that was it. Then the handle began to bend up! And what's really amazing is that when Uri handed the spoon to me, it continued to bend!" I examine John's misshapen artifact, and we agree that the spoon is quite solid. It would require two hands and some effort to force it back to its original state.
Why spoon bending? Uri writes in his Mindpower Kit that "spoon bending is important because of what it represents, not what it is." This evening during an appearance at Barnes and Noble, Uri tells us that he bent his first spoon inadvertently at age four, while eating a bowl of soup. As a boy in Tel Aviv, he realized he could read people's minds, he could mentally direct a basketball into a hoop, and could move the hands of the clock on the school wall while sitting at his desk. These "powers" were not so significant in his life until after his service in the Israeli Army. Uri was dating a model whom he accompanied to a photo shoot one day, and when the male model for the session didn't arrive, Uri stood in for him. Shortly afterward Uri saw himself glamorized "in a glossy advertisement with a beautiful woman;" he remembers the experience as his first "enticing taste of fame and fortune."
Uri has since been featured on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. In fact, the visualization techniques to which he credits his escape from poverty have been so effective that Uri no longer needs to earn money. His proceeds from the sale of Uri Geller's Mindpower Kit go to the organization Save the Children, he says. (Uri is reported to have earned much of his fortune by "dowsing" for commercial companies-that is, using his psychic abilities to detect oil and minerals in the ground.) When Uri was a boy, however, his family was poor and lived in a one-bedroom apartment. This changed when Uri became a popular model and happened to read someone's mind at a photo session. Impressed, the photographer invited Uri to a party to "perform," which he did, quite successfully, and more and more regularly. Israel's then- Prime Minister Golda Meir attended one such party, during which Uri sent her out of the room to draw something simple, then project it in-to his mind. He drew a star of David, as she had. Uri admits to us, as he tells the story, that the exploit did not require a psychic, but his reputation as one soared when subsequently Golda Meir's response to a reporter's question about Israel's future was: "Why don't you ask Uri Geller?"
Uri continued to perform for ever-larger audiences, exciting both believers and skeptics around the globe. Today's performance, televised live on Northwest Afternoon, is carnivalesque: broken watches, keys, and a compass needle behave strangely-ticking and bending and moving improbably. All the while, studio phones ring with the viewing public reporting stories of similar happenings at home. According to Uri, we are using mind power. It's not tricky. For example, to start the watches working, Uri instructs those of us who came to the studio with broken watches to wind them up. (My watch works fine.) At the count of three, we all shout "Work!" and the watches apparently obey. "You might feel foolish," Uri says at the outset, "but what do you have to lose?"
In a demonstration of telepathy, Uri draws five simple objects for us: a bottle, a star, a chair, a pair of glasses, and an apple. He projects into our minds the image which he has previously drawn and sealed in an envelope. Each of us in the audience draws the image we "receive" from Uri. In the last minute of the show, Uri reveals his drawing, which has been waiting ceremoniously inside a clear plastic box on stage since the start of the show: a star. We all hold up our drawings: about 75% of us, myself included, have drawn stars.
During our brief interview after the show, Uri insists that such phenomena are a result of his-and our-psychic ability and rely on neither trickery nor distracting the observer. "I've given myself to scientists to be tested," he says. "They've validated my powers. I've had flak from skeptics and from magicians who have tried to debunk me...but they're the minority. The majority of people want to feel that there is something out there. What I am is an opener. I open the minds of people through entertainment. I tell them, 'Look, this is what I do. You can do it too.' Helping people is my intent." Uri is confident that we all have psychic abilities which we can develop to enhance our lives, as he has. The techniques described in his Mindpower Kit are a part of his everyday life, he says.
"Because I have a certain power, you can imagine that, starting thirty years ago, people line up outside my dressing room and ask me to heal them, ask me for help for their children, and so on. So I started thinking about healing many years ago. I'm not a healer and I'm not a miracle man, but there are healers out there."
Uri believes in the healing properties of crystals and the efficacy of color therapy, but he is skeptical about "psychic surgery." "I don't quite believe in those healers who can go into your stomach and pull out tumors," he says. "I think many of those people buy chicken liver the day before and pretend that they go into your body. But the amazing thing is that the patients on the table, many times, heal because they really believe that the chicken liver was a tumor. They are programmed that they're healed, so it really works."
When Uri is not globe-trotting, he lives with his family in a small town near London, England. "At home I am just a normal person who wakes up in the morning, eats breakfast, exercises, walks the dog, plays with the kids. I lead a very simple life," Uri says. "But bizarre things do happen in my house: objects materialize and things move. Say we're sitting in the kitchen having breakfast, something will jump off the shelf. Those are the kinds of things that happen around me. I believe there is something behind it, but it's a puzzle which I cannot yet put together."
Uri's children do not appear to have their father's unusual abilities-yet. "I would love for my kids to have this ability, of course, because of the pleasure it has brought me. But I can't push them. Daniel, my son, is fifteen; he does what he wants. Because I'm so famous, everyone in school knows Daniel is Uri Geller's son. He just disconnects himself from it. Now, if he comes to me someday and says, 'Look, I bent a spoon,' I'll say, 'Great!' My daughter, Natalie, is mainly interested in me demonstrating my powers to her friends. She shows me off," he says smiling.
In general, children are especially successful spoon benders, Uri tells us during his talk at Barnes & Noble. "Performing these feats works better with the help of children, because their minds are open. They believe they can do it, and so they can." Halfway through his autobiography of psychic milestones, Uri invites a few of the children in the audience to assist him in a demonstration. He tears open a packet of what he identifies as radish seeds recently purchased in New York. One child holds the microphone for him, and another child helps him softly massage the seeds in his palm. "Grow, grow, grow," we all exhort the seeds, imagining them sprouting, as Uri directs us. "Look, a seed is sprouting," he says softly, and many of us rush toward him to see it. Carefully, Uri holds up a sprouted seed at least a half-inch long.
Toward the end of the hour, Uri answers questions and refers us to his Mindpower Kit. "It's all in the book," he says. He thanks us and wishes us well.
"The spoon, the spoon!" the audience calls, referring to the utensil a couple has brought from home for Uri to bend. It sits on the table with a stack of Uri Geller's Mindpower Kits.
As casually as he signs copies of his book, Uri picks up the spoon and walks right up to where I stand. He holds up the bowl of the spoon, which is upside down and parallel to the floor; it is twelve inches away from my face. Uri strokes the neck of the spoon lightly, and immediately, discernably, the handle begins to move up. He holds the spoon aloft and walks it like a trophy through the crowd. It continues to bend, as if the neck were plastic. Uri signs the bowl and gives the spoon back to the couple who brought it. He bows and blows a kiss to his impressed and applauding audience.
"I have days when my powers are very weak and you'd think I'd never bent a spoon in my life!" Uri has admitted.