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The teenager said at first that he didn't understand the question, but when it was repeated, he reiterated his self-healing techniques, straying as far off-point as a politician during a debate. But the questioner didn't press -- perhaps not wishing to be viewed as negative -- and by the time Adam had reached the part about visualizing healing, another question had been raised, and all was forgotten.
Most of the facts behind Adam's story are difficult to check out. In part, this is because his parents and Chow have kept his identity secret. Much of his written account also is purposely vague; solid timelines and dates are avoided, and the only witnesses to his remarkable energy flares are other members of Adam's family. With the exception of Ronnie Hawkins, the names of the people Adam has healed are kept secret, the explanation being that they don't want to be outed as weirdos who believe in this hocus-pocus. Conveniently, Adam apologized on their behalf during his talk: "This is something our culture doesn't accept, so I understand."
Yet those who came with open hearts and minds left Adam's talk filled with encouragement. He spoke passionately about the power of a positive attitude, and about how self-love is the start to a better world, "like ripples in a pond." He was especially effective in communicating his enthusiasm to use his gifts to change the world.
Karen Kim, a 31-year-old Berkeley resident, had come to see Adam after reading the Rolling Stone article. After a recent experience, Kim wasn't impressed with Western medicine. She'd been complaining of a pain or cloudy feeling in her head for a while, and when a CAT scan failed to turn up anything unusual, she sought out another opinion -- Adam's. She was aware of qigong, but Adam's presence drew her into the weekend, where she took a deeper interest in the discipline. She'd hoped he could work on her individually, but he was swamped with requests. Still, she came away inspired.
"I think just his manner of speaking, his tone, was totally honest," she said. "I think he was authentic. He was speaking straight from his mind. I don't think that can be fabricated."
If anyone at the conference was troubled by Adam's remarkable claims, they didn't exactly go public with their concerns. In fact, qigong's admonition to have an "open mind" seems, paradoxically, to forbid any such challenges. And that's why Adam thrives in this community.
Many of the people who attended the workshop were even reluctant to share whether they thought his claims were true. The world isn't that black-and-white, they said. Dr. Dean Ornish, a popular TV commentator known for integrating Eastern practices with Western medicine, and who sat through Adam's workshop, sounded the familiar, noncommittal answer: "It's hard to judge anyone without knowing more about them, but I found him to be sincere and charismatic and very likable."
It was hard to discern where a line might be drawn. It is well-documented that some people, given a little practice, can willfully increase blood flow to an area, relax tense muscles, or even control their own pain. Tai chi-style routines, like many other forms of exercise, help promote good health, as does maintaining an upbeat attitude. But curing cancer from different time zones? That suggests an astounding leap of faith. Perhaps most surprising is how few in the qigong community seem willing to question it.
"The majority of people in qigong are looking to improve themselves, to self-heal," Hayward qigong teacher Kenneth Charron said. "They're not going to call someone up on the phone and say, 'Hey, send me some qi my way.'" Charron stopped and laughed at his suggestion, then continued, "Although that works. And I understand that aspect."
Even Adam's father has commented upon how easy it has been for his son to gain stature within the qigong community. "Adam does not practice qigong," Frank explained in an e-mail. "However, the qigong people we met are very open-minded, and can easily accept what Adam does. Whether we call it qi, quantum energy, universal energy, prana, or whatever, it is all energy, just with different names."
At the dinner banquet for the Qigong Congress, Effie Chow presented Adam with the "Junior Visionary of the Year" award, but the teenager did not attend, probably because of the many cameras in the audience. Instead, his parents and younger sister approached the podium, and Frank was asked to speak a few words. "It's good to be here," he said, sounding a bit relieved, "to be around people who know there are things beyond our five senses."
Frank told a story about an interviewer who had recently asked him about all the "negative" attention that was bound to come toward Adam and his family. "We thought about it," Frank said to the hundreds attending the banquet, "and we couldn't come up with anything negative. We think he was alluding to the opportunists who would try and take advantage of Adam and his gifts. But still, we didn't feel anything -- we couldn't find anything negative that's come of this. Adam is positive energy. Being here has reminded us: This is positive energy. This," he said, looking around the room for effect, "is positive energy."
A week after the conference, back at the Taoism Center, Feng at least acknowledged the potential for exploitation in the name of qigong. Still, he steered clear of the possibility that Adam might be other than the real deal. "The continuum is wide," Feng said. "There are quacks, and there are those who are truly gifted. It exists in every field. We're honest about that. But you have to test your own reality. Does it work for you?"
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