“What are you? What is it you do again?”

I get asked these questions a lot. No matter how far we’ve come to integrate medicine into something more holistic and worthy of everything we know about healing the human body, the spiritual healer working in a medical setting is truly a rather new and novel thing.

For the past decade or so, it’s not been important for me to have a name for all that I do as a soul tender. My family and friends know me variously as Dr. Mom, the Goddess of Demands, Consigliere, and Sacred Witness when times get rough and they need loving support.

And it’s no longer my role in life to simply share my skills, experience, and gifts solely with my family members or the people who cross my personal path randomly. With my children grown, my communications career having fully run its course, and decades of training waiting in the closet, I’ve transitioned professionally into full time wellness and healing work.

For the past few weeks I’ve been working to develop clinical protocols to integrate the Five Levels of Healing into the medical practice where I work. This ancient model of healing is one of the precursors and foundational underpinnings of Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine and Tibetan Medicine, among others. In its basic, non-culturally assigned form, it’s slowly becoming a part of Integrative Medicine consensus reality, in spite of its relative obscurity at the moment.

The beautiful thing that the emergence of the Five Levels of Healing does in our practice is that it gives form and language to the hologram of the human body and illness. In other words, it’s a blueprint for Body + Mind + Spirit healing. It also inspires a powerful context for the various parts of healing that a conventional doctor’s visit just doesn’t include. My spiritual partner in this work is a physician who truly gets all of this and more.

For decades I’ve carried the awareness of how these levels work both in my own life and in the illnesses my children have experienced. With dogged persistence I regularly made the rounds about town to consult with the 2 or 3 people in addition to the doctor that I needed support from in order to fully heal or help my children get well. Thankfully, I work in a place where this isn’t necessary for our patients today.

So what am I? Well, that depends on who you ask.

In this 2016 photo, my dear Q’ero indigenous medicine teacher don Mariano Quispe Flores (to my right) had just called me his ñusta for the second or third time in as few days. This Quechua word for “earth goddess or princess” was also used centuries ago to indicate the virgins that Inka priests allowed only in the most sacred of ceremonies. This explosion of laughter erupted when I reminded him I was a mother of four!

My indigenous Peruvian teacher has used Quechua words like Chakaruna (bridge person), Ñusta (nature goddess), Paq’o (priest), and Pampamisoyak (earthkeeper) for me over the years. Some of the other words and titles that describe what I do include:

Sage, Wise Woman, Crone, Filidh (Gaelic seer, prophet), Druid, Celtic Priestess, Wortcunner (Middle Ages Anglo root-seer), Counseling Intuitive, Ordained Minister, Spiritual Counselor, Patient Educator, Peer Counselor, Self-Care Expert, Lifestyle Expert, Stress Management Coach, Life Coach…well you get the picture. My job is to help people feel better faster and stay that way.

I’ve even been blessed twice to be called Medicine Woman by indigenous healers who know me. Although I get the description, it’s become harder to accept this title that, although fairly universal, most people associate with Native American healing traditions. I say so with deep respect and awareness after my Standing Rock experiences that we still have so much to do to acknowledge and atone for the ways that Native Americans have been (and are still being) subjected to genocide and stolen culture, especially in the healing arts. In fact, the last time it happened, after thanking her profusely I asked my Taino (indigenous Puerto Rican) sister-friend and fellow healer why she used this term for me. She answered,

“I recognize a medicine woman and a spiritual grandma when I’m in their space.”

In more modern terms, I’m a practitioner of metaphor and symbolic modeling, things that neuroplasticity allows us to understand today far better than we did when my ancient ancestors practiced the healing arts. And I’m in good company when I say that when presented with a healing crisis by a client, I do what other Healer Women, Shamans, Sin Eaters, and Plant Spirit Healers around the world do and have done across the ages: I ask the spirits of the plants and my own guides and ancestors for support and inspiration, and they’re gracious enough to answer me.

Lest you’re still one of those people who thinks intuition or talking to spirits is odd, I’ll refer you to neurosurgeon Dr. Norm Shealy, who regaled an Austin crowd last year with a story of his downloads and dialogues with God, the guide he calls “G.” Or psychiatrist and empath Dr. Judith Orloff. Or dozens of other rationally trained healers. It’s really not a big thing anymore.

In order to further answer the tired, but frequent “what are you?” question, it’s also helpful to look at why and how what I do is still rather unconventional. Somewhere between our history creating a new Republic in this country and modern day empire building in healthcare we lost the tried and true old ways. It is the way our foremothers healed for centuries, this consulting nature and talking to the spirits.

Consider this statement about how and why we’ve lost much of our traditional healing wisdom:

Historically, the witches at the edge of the woods were early capitalism’s worst nightmare. Church and state collaborated to eliminate them through torture and execution in order to cut off sources of forbidden knowledge — especially the knowledge that plants and animals and rivers and stones were alive and speaking to us. The knowledge that the world was alive was the largest obstacle to separating people from the land and employing people to exploit the earth’s “resources.” Even after most of our forebears were killed or driven into hiding, the witches at the edge of the woods haunted the culture as the villains in fairy tales and folklore.

– Canadian herbalist, Sean Donohue on Gods and Radicals

Yes, these things working against us ages ago mean that we got lost temporarily. We almost forgot that we are a part of the living natural world around us. And we lost much of our indigenous healing knowledge. While tragic in some sense, the opportunity to replace the old ways with something new and relevant has not been missed.

What is replacing lost practices is non-culturally specific spiritual and energy-based knowledge that is being proven more and more valid by modern science every day. The new words for these phenomenon are things like epigenetics, neuroplasticity, psychoneuroimmunology, and energy psychology. What do these really mean? Story heals, nature heals, and your beliefs can become your biology. Bottom line:

We know more about the power of the mind and the spirit to heal the body than ever before.

Combining these new versions of spiritual healing with the best of modern medicine creates a truly powerful and synergistic response.

I’m not an anti-establishment fanatic. I am a holistic thinker. So take it with a grain of salt when I say that what European monarchs and The Inquisition began, the modern day medical-industrial complex drove home. And that’s okay. Because we’re waking up now.

Why all this came down hundreds of years ago to give us the wounded and dysfunctional system that we have now isn’t important. What IS important is that we’re taking charge of our own bodies now. We’re cobbling together the pieces of a whole healing system that works. One day health insurance companies, hospitals, and employers will get this. The reason that they will have to is that it’s cheaper in the long run than the “sick care” system we have now.

A few forward thinking institutions already have gotten the message. I regularly teach at the spiritual foundation for one of the largest hospital networks in Texas. Some of the energy medicine tools we use in my office have been used in large teaching hospitals since the 1990’s. The VA recently implemented two different forms of the very same energy medicine tools we use, and they’re working with Integrative Medicine experts as we speak to change their ways.

Yes! There is hope on the horizon.

The old messages were, “If you’re sick, there is a pill that will fix you. If you’re broken, a doctor can fix you.”

(Oh, and subliminally: “Don’t mind that the pill is outrageously expensive. We have to make money for our investors and to pay for our CEO’s private jet. Go Capitalism.”)

Today’s message is – your body knows how to heal itself!

Today we know the best healing is self healing. And the best medicine is prevention. The gifted doctor of today is an open-minded, holistic-thinking and happy individual who partners their skills and experience with your body’s own innate healing ability to help you get well. She sees that the stress you’re in is a part of your illness. And she gets to know you well enough to care.

Yet these gifted healer-doctors can’t do it all. Hence the lifestyle and allied practitioners we’re seeing enter the medical environment today: health coaches, mind-body experts, peer counselors, and energy healers to name a few.

In our office, when you’ve used up your generously allotted time – about 2 hours – with the physician, you have options for ongoing support. I pick up the healing story where it meets the mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of illness and we’ll work with plant essences, healing ritual or other forms of energy medicine to complement the lab work, supplementation and lifestyle changes the physician prescribes. And when you’re ready to get it all organized, change your lifestyle, set your goals, and see them through – you can spend time with our health coach.

Between these three aligned practitioners, our model is a whole, autonomous way of treating illness with only steps between the support team members. More importantly, there is a common language and consistency of purpose between the three of us. We collectively meet our patients where they are and act as loving guides as they work to heal themselves. Or create new lifestyle habits to prevent getting sick in the first place.

I’m truly blessed to be a part of a medical renaissance!