I just spent the month of April in one of my favourite places on Earth, the Indian Himalayan village of Dharamkot, Dharamsala, where I completed my first Yoga Teacher Training course. This was a hugely momentous journey for me on a personal (and professional) level, while it also led me to meet some beautiful souls on a similar journey. One such special person is Meredith Marks, an architect-turned-natural -healer from New York City.
Meredith’s strong, calm presence caught my attention early on in the course and I wasn’t surprised when it emerged she was a healer (the more I meet the easier it is to spot them). It wasn’t until the third week of the course that I really got to know Meredith though, when she led a private healing ceremony for a friend and me. This was my first introduction to shamanic medicine, something I’ve been interested in for a while now and was keen to try should the right opportunity arise. It did. The tonic was Kambo – a secretion taken from a green Amazonian frog containing peptides Dermorfine and Deltorfine. This resin, collected without harming the animal, is known to have antibiotic properties, strengthen the immune system and help the body fight infection. It is widely used in Brazil and Peru, and increasingly across the world, to treat AIDS, cancer, depression, Parkinsons and many other diseases.
Meredith’s purpose as a healer became crystal clear to me as she beautifully led us through this cleansing, purifying ritual, attending to all our physical and emotional needs, singing beautiful mantras in Spanish and Shipibo and administering the sacred healing medicine. But more on my experience in another post!
Intrigued about how Meredith came to plant medicine, one evening we shared our stories. I was so moved and impressed by her journey that I had to interview her and share it with you. I hope you enjoy.
HB: How did you become a Healer?
MM: Well, I’m a ‘baby healer’ right now [she grins]. I’m doing a lot of healing work here [Dharamsala] for the first time, although for about four years now I’ve been practising and learning healing on myself. It’s only in the past year that I’ve really been working on other people and feeling that I’m able and wiling to take on the responsibility of having other people’s health in my hands.
Everything is coming together now in a really synergistic way. I feel like a general practitioner of healing – like I went to some sort of whacked-out medical school and now I have something for everything! [She laughs.]
HB: So what first led you to healing?
MM: I was going along in life, I had been working as an architect and was about to finish graduate school in Sustainable Development ; I was 27 and a half. I loved that career, a lot. It was my whole identity. I wasn’t doing office-based architecture – I did community gardens, sustainable herb and agriculture work, outdoor projects. I was just about to go and do my final year internship when I got super sick overnight. I woke up one morning with staph infections all over my body and was in excruciating pain. My whole body was sick.
I knew a bit about healing at the time, so I went on a fast right away but I ended up in hospital. My immune system was so weak. The doctors ran tests in everything you could imagine but they couldn’t find anything. So I continued with self-healing.
The infections kept coming, internal and external. My digestion stopped working completely. I was experiencing body pain, joint pain, fatigue. I was sleeping all day. I gained thirty pounds in a month even though I was vegan and used to run a lot. I didn’t know what it was but my whole body just stopped working.
I went back to the doctors a number of times but the doctors weren’t listening. I’d show up with infections on various parts of my body including on my face. They said it was acne and gave me antibiotics. They didn’t understand what was going on at all. Pretty fast I stopped going. It was too much stress to try to convince them what I was going through. So I began looking for alternative healers and worked on myself.
I started to do whatever I could think of to improve my immunity and flush this ‘thing’ out of me. I was living in Vermont at the time and saw an herbalist. I spent all day researching online. I tried everything. I totally detoxed from all chemicals – shampoos, soaps, perfumes, toothpaste, Chapstick – anything that could put pressure on my body. I was juice fasting, running, giving myself massage, eating herbs, doing yoga in my room (although I didn’t think of it as yoga at that time), taking hot baths, then contrast showers (to get the circulation going) four times a day…. probiotics, fermented foods… then I got into liver flushes.
In graduate school we’d been doing a lot of self-reflection so I was in this kind of mood. Luckily it was summer vacation and a friend gave me somewhere to stay. I really felt like I was going to die. I tried to accept that I might not have a lot of time left and be ok with that. I spent time with friends and got out into nature, taking a lot of walks, while doing twelve hours a day of healing therapies on myself.
It was actually a kind of amazing time. I found the strength to do all this stuff while thinking about maybe dying. I looked back at my life and was really happy with all I had done, seen, achieved. If that was the end then that was pretty good, I thought. Not everyone gets that much.
I was shedding all this poison in my life and coming back to the basics of what mattered. I realized that healing was really just about going back to nature.
As an architect I was always interested in indigenous cultures and natural, earth-based building traditions . Going back into the arms of the Earth Mother is in every culture, every religion. Although I was an atheist at that time and wasn’t thinking about religion at all, I started to see the Mother Goddess in everything around me. I was taking walks out in nature and getting sunlight each day. Vermont is so beautiful. I tried to let go of stress, and not to freak out and be scared, as I knew it would not serve me in this time.
After three months I stopped getting worse and I felt like I was beginning to come up again – from a very dark place back into the sun. I was feeling well enough to do my internship, although my health was still a full-time job. I went to Asheville, North Carolina to work in natural building and permaculture. Asheville is an amazing place – full of hippies and healers. It was the perfect place to go heal. There were healing herbs everywhere so I was making natural medicines every day and eating from the ground and there were so many spiritual people there to learn from. I was doing dance, earth healing, soul healing, acupuncture, massage – everything you can imagine was in this town! The job was super stressful and my boss was a maniac but the location was perfect. After about another three months (about six months to day I got sick) I felt like I had healed. I was so happy! [She beams.] That was a beautiful time. I was bursting with love, I had great friends. I was understanding Spirit in nature more and more and connecting with that.
I’d been trying to heal myself in time to go to Asia for my thesis – a community project in Nepal. I was so happy to be able to go. First I went to an organic farm in Thailand to do an Adobe brick-building training for a month (building with mud, sand and hay). I thought I was all well, that my health was back on track, but then I came down with a big infection – a huge golf-ball sized boil on my ass, which appeared from an infected mosquito bite. I was in bed for three weeks: my whole health collapsed again. Eventually I went on antibiotics, which ruined my health even more.
I made it to Nepal to work on my thesis project, although I was sick all the time while there. I’d have episodes of illness when I was bed-ridden with infection and would have to go on multiple rounds of antibiotics, get better, but not really better, then sick again. I suffered a lot. The illness was bad enough but I also had little support; I was really on my own with what was happening. The people in charge didn’t understand and I felt I had to keep apologizing. I realized then that to support someone and not make them feel guilty and inadequate is such a big part of healing.
When the project ended I decided I had to take some time off to focus on my health so I left my career for some time. I went to Goa with my brother and lived there for two months. I was full-on concentrating on my health. I was pretty emotionally hollow at that time too after everything I’d been through, so I tried to reconnect with people, spent time at the beach, in the sun and salt water, cooked for myself (super healthy raw things and bone broths) and had a lot of healing treatments.
After a couple of months I was feeling a lot more stable so I went to Mysore on my way back to NYC where I met a guy who I had a long-distance letter-writing affair with. He was training to be an Ayahuasca shaman. We had a lot in common. I went to visit him in Germany about three months later. The relationship fell apart (it turns out he was a sociopath!) but I ended up at an Ayahuasca retreat for three days doing ceremonies with his spiritual family. The night before leaving for the retreat I had a vision of the Mother Goddess coming down to see me. I experienced ecstasy: I was crying and laughing and hyperventilating and I had the realization that this experience [my illness] had been a test and a training (because I sure had learnt a lot from two years of self-healing!) and that I was about to go to my ‘initiation’ – sort of a graduation from boot camp, if you want. She [the Mother Goddess] told me the Ayahuasca was going to help me get to a certain state to communicate with higher realms of consciousness and bigger energy than I was used to.
It happened pretty much just like that. At the ceremony The Goddess came and gave me many energetic gifts. My whole practice and understanding of the world was completely changed and elevated, forever. I could feel the veil of the world – the veil of ‘reality’ laying thinly over the true reality of energy and information.
I stayed in this state of trance for three days or so. Actually the experience of trance was not new; I’d experienced it before during my sickness, it was just much stronger now. I recognized that what I’d been doing all along my healing journey was a form of spiritual practice – yoga, fasting, meditation, cleansing and detoxing.
Then I went back to New York and had to integrate all this information, which was super hard. I was seeing God everywhere but was I was also still in excruciating pain. I was so open, I was feeling everything. I feared I would have this illness my whole life and it would isolate me forever.
HB: What about your friends and parents? Did they support you?
MM: I was afraid to tell my parents about what was really going on with me. I thought they would either not believe me or that they would worry. They’re pretty conservative. I thought if I said: ‘I think I might die but I’m going to eat some herbs and have a massage’ they would freak out and cause me more stress. I guess I didn’t know how to ask for support. When I would ask [friends] for support generally I’d get disappointed. It seemed if anyone had to adjust their lives in any way for me they’d become resentful and passive aggressive. In fact I lost a lot of friends during this time. It felt like no one could really ‘get there’.
HB: Did you still think you would die?
MM: No. Well, actually, yes, until after my experience in Germany. I was still having terrible infections which were really scary. I thought they could easily pass to internal organs and give me blood poisoning, kidney failure or liver failure. Luckily they eventually would respond to antibiotics and fasting and go away.
No matter what though I was getting through it. I’d chase the infection away and regain balance. I was doing so much purification – of my life, of my values, of personality traits – everything. I had this insight in Germany that I was invincible. It was horrible, suffering and lonely but I could get through it, which gave me a lot of pride and self-confidence. I also knew after the ceremony that there was a reason for it [my illness] and that things would change. The worst was over. And it has been that way. That was about two years ago.
HB: And after that?
MM: I went back to NY and began reading spiritual scriptures – from all religions -talking about Kundalini awakenings, magic… everything. I recognized all the concepts in the scriptures that I had been practising in my own healing: gratitude, inner strength and will, appreciating the connection between everyone, seeing how actions affect others and everything is connected… the whole discourse on spirituality. I realized that this happens to a lot of people actually and that I had a lot more work to do on myself.
Then I came across the concept of shaman sickness. You get sick out of nowhere, it doesn’t respond to typical treatment, no doctor knows what to do, and you just have to deal with it until it’s over. You usually get some sort of vision and experience a sort of death and rebirth when it’s complete (just what happened to me). In Germany I had a ‘dark night of the soul – to see that something was deeply wrong. What is so beautiful though is I realized nothing was really wrong: the sickness was the healing. And now it’s done.
HB: So now you’re healthy?
MM: I wouldn’t say that but I am healthier. I am getting healthier all the time. I’ve delved into lots of healing and spiritual systems, understanding lots about energy and the soul matrix – stuff I would not have talked about or thought about in the first phase of healing, which I understood as mostly physical. Now I see how past lives and karma affect your physical life and how your physical health is affected by your emotional life. As I learn more I continued to heal myself and I’m doing pretty well. Sometimes I have episodes but I know how to handle it now. I’m getting more into yoga and meditation which is helping a lot and I feel healthier all the time.
HB: What led you to Kambo?
MM: I got introduced to Kambo while in New York. I was getting ready to leave for Peru. I looked it up online and saw it was helpful for cancer, auto-immunity, HIV – many difficult things. I was still having a lot of physical symptoms and thought it could help. Kambo is a traditional medicine for jungle warriors from Brazil and Peru, used for initiations, for healing severe ailments, for warriors before a battle or a hunt to cleanse their energy. I didn’t do it in New York, but I had my eye out for it in Peru.
While in Peru I spent two months at an Ayahuasca retreat and later was introduced to two shamans who I tried Kambo with. I really liked it and thought it would be great to train in it one day for self-healing and maybe to share with others.
Back in New York I was connected to more and more healers and Ayahuasca ceremonies. I met a guy in Brooklyn – a healer who’s been working with Ayahuasca and Kambo for years. I started seeing him once a week to see if things would improve. I saw him for about three months and it totally transformed my health. I still have stuff coming up but it’s much less than it was. I have so much more stability in my life and my health now. The Kambo helped cleanse my energy, opened my heart and helped me to let go of the trauma of this illness and other issues that were still with me. Physically my digestion improved and I felt strong and healthy again for the first time in years.
HB: Wow. And that inspired you to share?
MM: Yes, I told him [the shaman in Brooklyn] that I wanted to learn and to share. He taught me how to mix it, how to lead the ceremony etc. and that was it. That was October last year. My first ceremony was with my boyfriend. Then I did a few with friends in New York and a few more on my travels in Asia. Since being here [in Dharamsala] it’s taken off: I’ve done ceremony after ceremony. I guess it’s just the right time and I’ve been around people who are interested. I feel really comfortable with it now and enjoy combining it with bodywork and other healing practices.
HB: What led you to do the Yoga Teacher Training course?
MM: I was looking for something that would allow me to practise healing in some sort of official, legal way. I’d also been doing a lot of my own yoga. I wanted to make sure I had a good base of the concepts and work on my asanas [postures]. It’s important for me to do the physical work as well as the more esoteric stuff.
I’ve also trained in Chi Nei Tsang (abdominal detox massage), Thai massage, Thai medicine and singing bowl therapy, which sounds like ‘hippy nothing’ but is the most powerful therapy ever!
HB: So what’s next?!
MM: I’m going back to New York after seeing my boyfriend in Austria for a month. He’s also a healer – at about the same stage as me – so we’re a very good support for each other. We’ll spend the month practising a lot of healing work on each other so that’ll be really cool. In New York I hope to start practising a lot more, continue to train in Kambo and yoga, start having classes here and there for friends. I also had the idea I’d like to volunteer at a hospice – to be there for people who are having a hard time and facing death.
I also plan to go to Brazil next winter to train with some shamans and work more with Ayahuasca and Kambo. Actually, a lot of the most interesting plants in the Amazon are other ‘teacher plants’, which can help you to continue to heal yourself and heal others. Hopefully my boyfriend will come too.
HB: What is a Healer to you?
MM: I think healers heal their own wounds. That’s how you become a healer.
There are so many springing up right now. In recent years something changed. People are coming back to the Earth and Spirit at a very fast rate, which is wonderful. There are of course problems with it, but it’s good. There are growing pains with the New World that is being created but hopefully it’s all going to go really well with people awakening around us.
HB: What is your view of the Western medical system?
MM: I think it’s very broken. Their priorities are completely screwed up. Too many doctors become doctors because they are looking for a comfortable life, money, and got A’s in school, but a lot of these people are not healers. They lack compassion and understanding and the belief that people have the power to heal themselves. Many doctors don’t want to give you even basic knowledge about your body; they want to control everything. Even the rare souls that are trying to blossom and want to expand their practice to incorporate Eastern medicine and spiritual practice have their hands tied by the insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies. They’re told to spend as little time with people as possible and open up to people as little as possible.
You’d have to wheel me in a wooden box to get me to go to a Western doctor now, unless it’s for trauma medicine or diagnostic testing, which can be useful for your own healing. Other than that they are slowly killing people and causing more damage to the body and soul than they are doing good.
[My thoughts exactly.]
HB: What kind of healing treatments can you recommend to my readers?
MM: Man, there’s so much and so much is so good! It depends on you. There’s no silver bullet for healing. A lot of it is healing your own life and outlook on life and what you’re doing with your time.
All healing techniques are really just support for your own internal evaluating and working on issues that are happening in your life. Aside from all the chemicals in our products, pollution etc. (the sickness of the Earth) I believe that all sickness comes from emotions – old traumas, not living the life you want to live, listening to what everyone else tells you you should do, not having good interpersonal relationships with lovers, friends and families… All that stuff is making us sick. Real healing is working on that, and, realizing that all that is coming from the greater society and the whole world – our economies, our beliefs about gender, class, and the wounds from that, that trickle down through generations… Once you realize that your health is what has personally affected you as well as the wider world you can go out in to the world to work on any issue to fix what’s broken. That is what healing is to me.
In so far as supportive techniques: Yoga, Yoga Nidra, working on the power of your mind, diet, supportive herbs (which are different in every part of the world). I use garlic, onion, beets and carrots as medicine – food is medicine! Abdominal bodywork is really good and highly underrated, massage (from people who really know about healing the body, medical issues and what to do with them), acupuncture, dance … I find sauna and fasting very good for me as well – detoxifying and relaxing and clearing out mental and physical junk. That’s probably it for my favourites! Oh and singing bowls. And Kambo! [She Laughs.]
Wow. Thank you Meredith for sharing your incredible journey. It is a relief and pleasure to meet someone who shares my views on the decay of the Western medical system, and society at large, in which by following ‘the rules’ one has little chance of healing or evolving in any meaningful way. Moreover, instead of giving up on life, as one could easily be tempted to do given the circumstances, you bravely searched inside and found the strength and courage you needed to take your life, your health and your destiny into your own hands.
Meredith’s experience of spiritual awakening, the call of the Earth Mother and her desire to go back to basics and to nature is echoed in my journey and that of others around me. Perhaps if you’re reading this you feel it to. This story inspires me to keep peeling back the layers of my own onion and heal myself from the depths of my soul, as I know this is the only true path to happiness, peace and liberation. We are all our own healers. Incredible power lies within!
What incredibly exciting times we are living in – times when we must stop blindly following the rules, look inside ourselves and become the masters of our own destinies.
SAT NAM! x