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A Trip Into the Mystic

Caroline Myss
Palm Reader: Caroline Myss, energy medicine healer and author of the book 'Anatomy of the Spirit,' offers an alternative to conventional and many New Agey methods of healing.

Photo by Karen Preuss

Caroline Myss thinks Americans should stop babying themselves

By Sarah Phelan

TWO HUNDRED YEARS ago, medical intuitive Caroline Myss (pronounced "mace") would have been burned at the stake for her radical ideas about healing. But as the sands of time run out on this ash-choked millennium, ironically it's the once-barbecued shamans and mystics who are the ones setting the fires--spiritually speaking, of course--under audiences worldwide. Myss is no exception.

A hot commodity on the holistic health circuit, this energy medicine pioneer has crisscrossed the United States and traveled as far afield as Crete and Guadalajara to deliver her trailblazing theories about why people don't heal.

"When I began my work as a medical intuitive, I thought that people wanted to heal. But now I don't believe that at all. We're addicted to the power of the wound, to the privilege the wound gives us. We don't want to be in pain--but we sure don't want to heal," states Myss in refreshingly blunt fashion.

Part stand-up comedienne, part passionate teacher, Myss has garnered mixed reviews for her in-your-face style of mysticism. On one side of the New Age fence, fans herald her as a courageous visionary, straining beyond the narrow strictures of mob psychology and tribal thinking toward a more detached, symbolic understanding of existence--life as a choice contained in a "sacred contract" drawn up before we incarnate. On the other, detractors denounce her as a heavy-handed self-promoter who is blaming people for their illnesses.

Not Just Your Average Neighborhood Clairvoyant

WHATEVER YOUR TAKE on her, one thing's for sure--Myss neither looks nor acts like your average clairvoyant. Dressed in sweatpants and headband as she fixes a wholesome breakfast in her spotless kitchen in Oak Park, Chicago, she's more reminiscent of an earthbound aunt on a health kick than a mystic with a soul-stretching message. But appearances can be deceiving. For as Myss rinses off the breakfast dishes with a clatter, she slips in a tantalizing comment that this townhouse on a busy street corner is one of the most peaceful places she's ever lived.

"It's an illusion that the absence of noise equals peace," she says--then hastily pops a handful of enzymes. For a split second anyone would think that she was the Californian. But the truth is that Myss is a Chicago native--hence her city-slicker directness. And her Mother Superior toughness no doubt was contracted from the rosary-swinging nuns of her Catholic past. As for her eloquence, razor-sharp intellect and bone-dry humor, attribute those to her former lives as big-city newspaper reporter, theology student and co-founder of Stillpoint, an alternative publishing company in New Hampshire.

Dark Night of the Soul

BUT WHAT ABOUT her medical intuition? That developed overnight 15 years ago when she underwent what she calls "a mystical experience in the contemporary sense of the word"--contemporary because she touched something very profound and then tried to absorb it into her regular nine-to-five lifestyle without the benefit of a monastic support system.

Myss does, however, acknowledge that guardian angels and miracles were standard fare in her Catholic childhood. She also admits to having been something of a loose intuitive cannon on deck as a child. "I'd look into people's cars when we were driving down the street and get flashes of what their houses were like."

Nevertheless, her suddenly intensified abilities scared her. "Before I was a flashlight--now I'm a laser. And I felt this talent would cost me the world I knew, and in its place I'd have to enter a place I didn't recognize." And that made her really mad. So, in her typically outspoken way, Myss told God exactly what she thought. "You play dirty, because all my life I've prayed for guidance. So You give me a path that I would never have chosen. And You make it more authentic than anything I have chosen. Only I don't recognize it and I don't want it ... and I loathe You because I cannot not walk this path."

Mystic Meets Doctor

AT FIRST MYSS KEPT her newfound abilities quiet. "I was ferociously ambitious as a publisher--something for which I had no talent--and enormously talented for something for which I had no ambition," she admits with a wry laugh. So she squeezed health readings in between authors' manuscripts until 1984, when she was invited as a publisher to a conference in Kansas. There she almost spat out her coffee in surprise when she was introduced mid-gulp to Dr. Norman Shealy, a Harvard-trained neurosurgeon who was studying medical intuitives.

Myss doesn't believe in coincidences--and sure enough a unique working partnership was forged when Shealy called Myss from his office 1200 miles away in Missouri to ask for a reading on a patient. Myss never met Shealy's patients, nor did she know whether her diagnoses matched his. But Shealy's records show that Myss had a 93 percent success rate, and what began as one weekly reading grew into many readings a day for the next 14 years.

A Disciplined Science

MYSS IS QUICK to demystify medical intuition, which she calls a disciplined science, not a gift. "Doing a reading is not a visual or even physical experience, but an energetic feeling. I read you as if I were reading a series of computers," she explains matter-of-factly. So forget about crystal balls, Ouija boards and the shake-rattle-and-roll school of clairvoyance.

A telephone plus the name, age and permission of the patient is all Myss needs to receive impressions of the location and the nature of an illness--"cancer feels like concrete, epilepsy like an electrical storm in the brain." And with practice she has learned to read the emotional factors feeding a dysfunction.

Yet for all her ability, Myss no longer does any health readings, public or private. Instead, she's focused on making tapes, writing books and giving lectures and workshops on how to read your own energy systems and let go of old wounds. The reason for this shift? "In the early days of the holistic health movement there was this incredible optimism that any illness could be healed. But by the end of the '80s people were saying, 'I know I created this reality, but no matter what I do, nothing's changing. How come?' "

'Hello, Everybody, I'm a Recovering Alcoholic'

THE ANSWER--which Myss calls by the cumbersome, yet precise, name of woundology--hit her head-on when she observed a friend introduce herself--unnecessarily and totally out of context--as a survivor of incest. In a flash Myss realized that "we show our wounds as a way to bond--it's our first language of intimacy."

Myss admits that examining wounds--be they abuse, addiction, dysfunction or chronic illness--is a necessary step toward health consciousness. And she's not against support groups or therapy--"though these days there are even support groups for having your car stolen!" she laughs. But she does caution against making a religion out of our wounds. "After a while we have to move on. Otherwise we're swimming in the same muck week after week."

So should we drown the therapists and stop talking about our pain? "Therapy is a boat to cross the river. The problem is we don't get off at the other side," answers Myss. She recommends that we analyze our motive for mentioning our wounds: Is it a pre-emptive measure, a forewarning designed to control people and situations? And do we really want to bond through laying our vulnerable cards on the table? She recommends acknowledging a wound and talking about it with a friend three times. But the fourth time, to be truly supportive, the friend should walk away. Why? "Because by not feeding the wound, we can unplug from the perception that we were harmed."

It's Time to Stop the Inner Kindergartening

SUCH CHARACTERISTICALLY harsh prescriptions are guaranteed to offend the touchy-feely types out there. But then Myss doesn't suffer overindulged inner children gladly. In fact, she's on a conscious crusade to put some much needed "spiritual backbone" into the New Age movement.

"We've got to stop this inner kindergartening and get on with the business of living. And we have to break through the mythology that says, 'Until I'm fully healed I cannot live,' because we'll always be wounded somehow. The real point is what is the most effective way to deal with the day-to-day ups and downs and neither absorb them into our cell tissue nor our soul tissue. And how to discharge them, how to see better, how to take a more detached view," she advises.

In Myss' "energetic vision" of the world, we lose energy to fear or negative thinking. Thus it becomes vital to "call our spirits back" from wounds, both present and past, if we wish to practice what she calls "preventive energy medicine." And while this process sounds like an inexpensive alternative to health insurance, Myss cautions that it costs on the spiritual level because it demands faith, surrender and forgiveness.

Myss is confident that eventually we'll study the anatomy of the spirit before that of the physical body, and we'll stop seeing life as a series of personalities and events. Instead we'll start seeing them symbolically, looking for the pattern they represent. She welcomes that day "because then the messenger won't be the one you focus on, but the message instead, and you won't have to lay on the side of the road until you shoot the messenger. Instead, the journey will go on."

So if you're ready for a megadose of spiritual brain candy written in layman's terms--where else will you find chakras compared to computer data banks, and degrees of personal power likened to perfume, cologne and toilet water?--then check out Myss' bestselling Anatomy of the Spirit ( Harmony, $25). And if that's not enough, Myss is currently working on two more books: Why People Don't Heal and How They Can--due for release this November--and Sacred Contracts: Agreements We Make Before We Incarnate.

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From the July 17-23, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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