Sometimes Spirit gives us a little nudge and sometimes spirit gives us a big nudge when we are not following the true path of consciousness. I moved through my blocks in an unusual way for me. Along the way I found something that could lead me into living a more fulfilling life on all levels, especially helping me with my writing career. I found the four-year Mystery School, led by New York Times bestselling author and mystic Lynn V. Andrews. Eight years later, I’m still closely involved with Lynn’s teachings.
Teri Williams interviewed me recently on her show Soulful Living about my experience in Lynn’s school. Some clients describe Teri as a “Shaman for business.” She also works as a Reiki Master and Shamanic Practitioner assisting others to release and shift that which no longer serves their highest good. That’s why she invited me on her show. She realizes the importance of these teachings which have transformed my life so much that I’ve created an opportunity where others can do the same through the Path of Consciousness, a spiritual and writing conference and retreat which takes place during the first week of October.
The Path of Consciousness is an idea born from a little spiritual hideaway in the Riviera Maya, Mexico where shamans perform a Mayan ceremony using a Temazcal steam bath. This relaxing mystical old-age rite is good for the soul and mixes a spiritual journey with an encounter with the basic elements of our planet: water, fire, earth, and wind.
Similarly to the Temazcal steam bath in the Riviera Maya, this community is about reconnecting to our inner power, healing and transforming ourselves, and creating a better world for our families and communities.
A number of medical schools such as Columbia University now have Narrative Medicine master’s program, recognizing the power that practices such as the art of storytelling provides for people to heal and grow.
I had scheduled a phone session for literary advice, not realizing our conversation would lead elsewhere: how the Iraq war had badly bruised my heart.
“Were you abused as a child?” Lynn asked.
The temptation to hang up the phone burnt my fingertips as if I had touched a car bumper that had been sitting under a hot sun for hours. I did not call Lynn Andrews — a shaman healer, mystic, and an internationally best-selling author with 20 books to her name — to talk about my childhood as if I was sitting in front of a psychiatrist or a talk show host. I hoped that this one-hour phone session could resolve some issues I had been having with my writing career.
“I actually had a safe and healthy childhood,” I said, wondering if I was once again being stereotyped because of the origin of my birthplace, Baghdad, or if I had been swindled by a con artist. Since Muslims are usually the ones who get a bad rap, I wondered if she would change her perception of me if I told her that I am Chaldean. Chaldeans are Christian Iraqis whose ancestors date back over 7,300 years.
“Did you have to be careful as a child?” she persisted.
I began to feel uncomfortable, and yet the conversation had an earthy and intimate hand that disrobed a garment off my character with each word. I laid down my resistance and said, “My parents never spanked me if I did something wrong. The first time anyone ever laid a hand on me was when I was in third grade — I had missed Saddam’s parade. It was mandatory to attend, but my niece, who was my age, begged me to spend the night at her house, and my family did not take the mandatory bit too seriously. The next day at school, as punishment, the school principal slapped me so hard I fainted. The second time someone laid a hand on me was that same principal. The teacher sent me to her office because I couldn’t answer a question in science class. Other than these two incidences, I led a pretty happy childhood in Iraq. I didn’t know what unhappiness was until I came here and felt alienated and isolated.”
A silence followed.
“You were oppressed by and had to be careful of an entire nation,” she said, “and then you came here and you had to be careful of another nation, in a different way. You had to be careful of two nations.”
Her words pinched my waist so hard that it shook my roots. Growing up under Saddam’s totalitarian regime, I learned that there was a boogeyman to fear and avoid through silence and good behavior. When I came to the United States, I discovered that it was best to remain silent in order to avoid ridicule.
“So, my dear, why have you called me?” Lynn asked. “What is it that you want me to help you with?”
We finally arrived at the subject I was anxious to talk about, writing, but now I was interested in further dissecting the role my two nations played in my life. I wanted to ask her what all of this meant. Why was I born in Iraq, yanked out of my birthplace at the age of 10, and placed in the United States? Being uprooted from my home made me feel as though I were a plant taken out of the soil. After repotting, plants often enter a state of shock as they struggle to adapt to the new environment.
If only there was enough time.
“I have lost my literary voice, and I want to get it back,” I said. “Last summer, I came across your book, Writing Spirit. I was in a really bad place with my work. I no longer loved it and half the time I woke up wishing I had the sense to quit and find a different profession.”
Writing Spirit had called for me to pick it up, as if it were a child, off the bookshelves. It was an odd-looking book about writing. The last thing I wanted was a book on writing. I had been writing for over 20 years, and the journey had proven so futile, I wanted to bury the pits of this desire into someone else’s backyard and start a new garden, one that resembled those in the One Thousand and One Nights stories, where the hero ends up with breathtaking trees bearing pears, apples, figs, pomegranates, and apricots made of real gold, diamonds, and rubies.
Yet the book stuck to my hands like glue. I bought it, even though I barely had time to take a shower or eat a meal sitting down, let alone read a book. I was raising two young children and doing a lot of freelance work as well as trying to write a book.
The moment I read Writing Spirit, the fragrance of that Arabian treasure garden raced out of the pages, and I remembered all the reasons I’d become a writer in the first place: the calling, the sacredness of storytelling, the freedom this profession provides, in my case allowing me to raise my children without having to abandon my career. I had scheduled a phone session with the author for a bit of literary advice, not realizing our conversation would lead elsewhere: how the Iraq war had badly bruised my heart; how the loss of my agent threw my career off track.
I sat on the carpet and told Lynn all about it, adding that shortly after these events, I got married, had kids, and attained journalism jobs and other writing-related opportunities. The jobs led to wonderful experiences, but they also scattered my thought process. Trying to return to my literary voice since then was like trying to get to a very faraway place on foot.
“Don’t get upset at some of your past mishaps,” she said. “They made you who you are today. As for your stories, there’s a time for every story. When you live through life-defying experiences somewhere in your life, you come out on the other side with incredible abilities, abilities to survive, abilities to comprehend a higher reality. The Mystery School could help you make the right decisions regarding your work.”
“What is the Mystery School?” I asked.
“It’s a four-year school that will teach and awaken the beauty and power within you. It will give you the direction you need.”
Four years? It didn’t take me that long to get my bachelor’s degree.
“I have children,” I said. “I can’t leave my home to go study somewhere.”
“This is a school without walls. I created it so that anyone, anywhere in the world could do this work without having to move to a campus. I wanted to create a learning environment where people could learn through their own experiences, not to try to be their teacher.”
“I’ll check it out on your website and consider it,” I lied. Yes, she said some profound things that stirred me, and yes, I felt a connection with her that was ignited as easily as one lit a match, but no, I was not going to fall for this gimmick.
Yet after we hung up, I spent a moment staring ahead.
For a long time, I had struggled to fit into two worlds, my birth country of Iraq and my home, America. The process made me feel like a yo-yo, and oftentimes, like I was living a double life. Then, not knowing what shamanism is or who Lynn Andrews was, I stepped into a four-year shamanic school that dusted off the residue that clogged up my creativity, one by one removing the particles of fear and sadness, eventually bringing me from darkness into light.
I ended up completing the book I had trouble writing, called The Great American Family, which in 2017 won an Eric Hoffer Award. I also produced and directed a documentary with the same title, which this year won two international film awards. Sometimes it’s not writer’s block that’s preventing us from achieving our dreams but old wounds, patterns, and stories that need to heal and help us transform.
Throughout the ages, as the ancient and indigenous cultures were colonized, the teachings for an enlightened and empowered life had to be kept hidden to preserve the teachings’ powerful wisdom. Without this ancient wisdom, much of the world fell prey to strife and confusion. For over a hundred years, necessity has caused the Mystery Schools to emerge, releasing the teachings once again to the public. Today, there are many mystery schools that exist in plain sight. There are Buddhist, Hindu, and even Christian mystery schools. The school that drew me to it was Lynn V. Andrews’ Shaman Mystery School.
I stumbled upon this school in 2011 after reading Lynn’s book, <em>Writing Spirit</em>. Hugely influenced by this book, and because Lynn is an internationally bestselling author of 21 books, I called her up. An author and journalist, I wanted advice on how to move ahead with my writing career. Little did I know then the journey I’d be embarking upon. I had no idea who Lynn was let alone what shamanism meant. Looking back now, I see that was a blessing. Many people get caught up in names and labels and will solely pursue or reject a study based on the definition and popularity, or lack of, rather than what their instinct tells them about it.
Like magic, the Mystery School began transforming my life as a writer, wife and mother. It freed me of so much guilt and self-esteem issues, I ended up writing over a dozen books, which include a four-part memoir series about my experience in the school.
The ancient teachings were not strange to my ears. I come from a tribal nation called the Chaldeans, which are thousands of years old. My people are from Mesopotamia, where once upon a time long ago, similar types of teachings were the norm, causing that society to create incredible inventions such as writing and the wheel. When that land was stripped of those ancient teachings, it became a hell on earth.
On her website, Lynn describes shamanism as the oldest form of healing on Earth. It has been practiced across the globe for at least 50,000 years. She writes, “When you look at shamanic cultures today, you discover people who live with joy and a sense of purpose and knowing in life, people who do not contract the serious stress-born illnesses that we in the modern world do, even though they face a world that is encroaching on them and threatening to take away their very existence. It’s not that they don’t encounter the stresses of the modern world, it’s that their way of knowing life and resolving that stress is very different from ours.”
When Lynn lived in Beverly Hills, a spiritual quest led her to her apprenticeship with Agnes Whistling Elk and Ruby Plenty Chiefs many years ago. At first, she did not know that they were part of a very private ad anonymous gathering of shaman women of high degree from several native cultures around the world – the forty-four women of the Sisterhood of the Shields. Nor did she have any idea that her life was about to change forever, that their work and their teachings would become her life’s work and her soul’s quest for enlightenment and that she would become initiated as a member of the Sisterhood of the Shields and their public face.
Lynn’s initial meeting with Agnes and Ruby came after she attended a La Cienega art exhibit and became obsessed with a photograph of an Indian marriage basket. After repeated dreams about the basket and unsuccessful attempts to track one down, she was led by a chance encounter with a Native American author to the two medicine women.
Lynn spent her first six months in the wilderness with her teachers. She wanted to stay with them, didn’t want to return to Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. But her teachers insisted she returns to the city and write a book about her experience with them. Agnes told her, “You are not Indian. The wilderness does not need you. Where do you think the world needs to be healed but in the cities? It’s very easy to be sacred with the trees and the wind. It’s very difficult to be sacred on the freeways of L.A.”
Lynn returned home and wrote Medicine Woman, the first of a long series that followed. In her books, she shares her travels around the world in the company and care to apprentice with the women of the Shields on four different continents and many, many different countries, from the jungles of the Yucatan to the Australian Outback, Nepal, Panama, the Solala region of Guatemala and the shores of Lake Atitlan, Egypt, the Hawaiian Islands and from the far North of Canada to South America.
Lynn describes these women as amazing and beautiful, many of them elders in their communities, all of them shaman healers of exceptional skill and personal integrity. “These are women who have survived the ravages of war, rape, the loss of children, the ruination of their countries by clashes between oppressive governments and rebel forces, the hatred visited upon indigenous peoples in so many parts of the world. And they are women who Know.”
I’d invited Vince Anthony Pitre on my TV show because his curiosity and commitment to master the healing process has guided him to study sound healing in Europe and shamanic healing in the jungle and mountains of Peru. I met Vince in January 2015 when a friend invited me to join her to a lecture series by the Metropolitan Detroit A.R.E. (Association of Research and Enlightenment) Community, a non-profit organization which was founded in 1931 by Edgar Cayce. The subject was Family Constellations and the presenters were Vince Anthony Pitre and Robert Auerbach.
These men described how unconscious limits to success often stem initially from the unresolved and many times unspoken traumas, tragedies and transgressions that weave themselves into the energy, “fabric” and conversations of our family.
They explained that we hold many of our histories in our bodies, in our flesh, and how Family Constellations is used to heal resistant, stubborn patterns that might not be ours, or it might be an issue that goes back into past family generation trauma or transgressions that was never healed or resolved. This energy sticks from generation to generation because it’s an unconscious process.
Pitre holds a Master’s Degree in Clinical Social Work from Wayne State University and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Windsor. For over 20 years, he has helped people in Windsor Detroit area to develop healthier, happier lives. He’s a licensed psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, and healer. He offers a long list of services, including workshops to help detox from family pain and/or drama.
“It’s done without making anyone wrong, or putting blame on anyone,” said Pitre. “It’s about seeing where issues came from so we can find a resolution. You don’t heal by chasing light all day. You have to face the dark side as well.”
Through movement and unspoken words, people in the room get psychologically reconfigured. Not only is the person with the problem being healed but so are their family members, even if they are not in the room.
“In this process, new images come up that counters what the person thought of themselves growing up,” said Pitre. “The person leaves behind their old story. This allows their brain to rewire to this new image which they step into and move on with their life.”
Bert Hellinger founded this therapeutic method, which draws on elements of family systems therapy, existential phenomenology and Zulu attitudes to family. Hellinger was a priest whose travels to Africa led him to gain fascination of how the natives honored their ancestors, and the way in which they helped each other heal.
Although I am familiar with similar teachings, being myself a graduate of Lynn Andrew’s shamanic school, I loved that this type of healing was evidently growing to where you can find them in local cities. For years, I have believed that holistic health is going to be as popular as yoga classes and I see it happening now. Such workshops, teachings and healings are especially beneficial for those who grew up in very old tribal mentalities that limit them from their full potential.
I believe in taking as good care of my spirit as I do of my mind, heart, and body, so I scheduled a one-on-one session with Vince. The experience was so effective that I visited him again a year later and plan to do future appointments as I feel suitable. On February 10th, I’m going to the Reset Gong Meditation and Healing Ceremony, a magical evening that begins with a Sacred Cacao Ceremony followed by two sound healing gong sets intended to wrap us into shamanic journey mediation. Afterward, there’s a social hour with hot tea, healthy snacks and integration.
Every religion, spiritual and ancient teaching has emphasized the importance of our spirit, of us looking within, of understanding who we are and how to use our inner power and wisdom in the outer world so we can live a healthy and happy life. Yet oftentimes we place our resources in more surface solutions that give us short-term relief. As I once heard Vince ask, “How much are you worth?”
That’s the question we need to ask ourselves as we look at our spiritual well being. We’re lucky to live in a country where many healers, shamans, and masters have traveled the distance to find their teachers, study, dig deep within, and bring their wisdom, knowledge and powers to our local neighborhood. It is up to us to utilize it.
I’m excited to announce that Vince will be one of our speakers at my upcoming Spiritual and Writing Summit in October. For more info, visitwww.ThePathofConsciousness.com
It was a full moon, a Wolf Moon in January of 2016. We were on a family trip in Cancun, Mexico, on a tour of the Riviera Maya. Before 3:00 pm, I left my husband and children and walked beneath a wooden archway with the words “Path of Consciousness” printed in Spanish and English.
The trail led to the Mayan ceremony I’d signed up for which included a Temazcal steam bath. This relaxing mystical old-age rite is good for the soul and mixes a spiritual journey with an encounter with the basic elements of our planet: water, fire, earth, and wind. I came upon a narrow pathway to the right, with a bowl of incense beside a large shell. Over it, a sign read:
“Enjoy a relaxing experience and feel yourself being reborn with this mystical old-age rite. The Temazcal steam bath is good for the soul. It mixes a spiritual journey with a truly delightful encounter with the basic elements of our planet: water, fire, earth, and wind…”
I went into the narrow road that seemed hidden within beautiful trees. The road led to a round area where three men dressed in white trousers prepared the burning of large black stones. They greeted me and asked that I take a seat on the bench, besides an Indian couple who also happened to live in Michigan. I then watched as the men continued to make the black stones hotter and redder.
During the ceremony, we had the opportunity to reflect on our negativities and then to throw them away, using maple syrup chips, into the incense bowl that the shaman came to us with. We drank a bowl of tree sap, were asked to close our eyes and dream in our new vision, and we were blessed by the shaman in the Mayan language. Then we were led into a sweat lodge.
The sweat lodge was dark, with only four lit candles. Soon the hot stones were brought in by a wagon and piled in the middle of the room. The room became warm, and when the men poured aromatic water over the stones, producing steam, it became hotter and hotter.
“I will eventually blow out the candles and the room will be completely dark,” he said, both in English and Spanish so all seven people would understand him. “If you feel you want to leave, that’s okay, just clap your hands and we will help you out. But I ask that you stay and take advantage of this opportunity. Allow the prayers to transport you to another place in time. Allow the steam created by the herbs and hot stones to envelope your body as it purifies your spirit, then experience a rebirth as you abandon to the warm shelter of mother earth’s womb.”
He talked about the feminine power, the importance of women in this world, how they are the backbone of society and therefore, need to be treated well by men. He then talked about the four elements of our planet. Not long after he blew out the candles, with the steam rising higher and the room getting hotter, I did have this urge to escape, to clap my hands. I tried to stay still, but I felt very uncomfortable, and then I asked myself, “What am I afraid of?”
Suddenly, I relaxed. I relaxed enough to listen to the answer which I was afraid to look at. I received much wisdom in this submission and remembered my teachers from Lynn Andrews’ school who had also held sacred space for me as I faced my dark side, and how facing my dark side has also helped me find the light.
We walked out of the sweat lodge into a waterfall of pure water. We returned to the circle for another drink, and to give gratitude. The shaman thanked us for keeping this thousands-year-old Mayan tradition alive by our participation. We thanked him for this amazing opportunity.
The last time I had gone to Mexico was twenty years ago, to chaperone my niece and her friends for their Spring Break. Back then, shamans were not a part of any excursion. Back then, few people had ever heard the word shaman. Luckily, today is a different story. Today that tradition is not only alive and well, but it’s available to everyone who understands and appreciates the healing and rejuvenation it provides for us and our Earth.
Here I am two years later, that one experience not having left my mind and spirit. Knowing I can’t easily go to Mexico for spiritual ceremonies, I decided to create a similar community in my neighborhood. So I started The Path of Consciousness, an idea born from the little hideaway in the Riviera Maya, Mexico. Similarly to the Temazcal steam bath, this community is about reconnecting through ancient teachings and tools; releasing what no longer serves us; healing and transforming ourselves through writing and storytelling; and creating a better world for our families and communities.
This year, we’re having our first yearly spiritual and writing conference and retreat, where you’ll have the opportunity to enhance your personal and business life with various ancient teachings, including writing and storytelling. It’s close enough to drive to and far enough to find peace, spiritual growth, and writing time at an affordable price.
Date: October 5-7, 2018
Place: Colombiere Retreat and Conference Center in Clarkston, Michigan