Caroline Myss, author of the New York Times bestselling “Sacred Contracts” and “Anatomy of the Spirit” can pin the start date of her commitment to helping the hungry on a harrowing yet enlightening experience in Chicago in 1979 when a snowstorm had paralyzed the city for several days. In the modest neighborhood where she lived as a graduate student in religious studies at Loyola University, she joined several other residents who had decided to check door to door to see if any neighbors needed help. Myss (pronounced Mace) found one elderly woman sitting in a cold apartment and quickly discovered that the only food in the apartment was cat food — but the woman had no cat. The woman had been living on the cat food for months.
“I felt nauseated just listening to her, not to mention more uncomfortable than I can describe,” Myss wrote about the experience. “I wanted to run away so fast but this was a human being weeping from a type of pain I never wanted to know so long as I live.”
Myss brought her neighbor food but felt overwhelmed by the responsibility of feeding this human being who she had happened upon in her apartment building. Her emotional turmoil continued for months — until she could give words to her feelings. “I finally realized,” she wrote, “that my myth about the wealth and abundance of this nation was shattered for me, not that there has not always been hungry and poor people in America.”
Myss, who is also a “medical intuitive” — if given a person’s name and age she says she can identify where illness is in their body, will be the keynote speaker on Friday, June 13, at a benefit for the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) in the Mildred and Ernest C. Mayo Concert Hall at the College of New Jersey. The full proceeds from the event will go to TASK, which serves 3,000 meals a week in Trenton. Myss will speak on “Healing through the Mystery of Grace.”
Myss’s sensitivity to the human condition has shaped not just her social conscience but also an ability to understand human illness and help the healing process. She says that when she was a young adult, she had not yet developed the perceptiveness and capacity for deep thinking that would come later. After three years working as a journalist, Myss, who earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1974 from St. Mary of the Woods in Terra Haute, Indiana, started to feel inadequate, as if she were missing the capacity to think maturely, wisely, and as deeply as she wanted to. “I knew I could not get out of myself,” she says. “My own attitudes were too suffocating; my opinion was too small.”
She considered pursuing philosophy and theology, but decided on theology. “Philosophy is more earthbound and deals with issues of mankind and humanity and man’s dealings with men, whereas the mystical realm was far more intriguing to me,” she says. She decided to study mystical theology and completed a master’s degree in religious studies at Loyola.
The degree was a turning point for her as she began to grapple with the place of the mystical experience in contemporary life. The pull of mysticism and its multi-sensory domain brought her to the field of human consciousness studies and new-age material. Describing the thrill of reading books on alternative healing and medicine, she says, “It was like falling down a rabbit hole.”
Myss soon joined a friend who had started the Stillpoint publishing company, which specialized in material on spirituality, human consciousness, and healing. As she became fluent in this subject matter, in part through her involvement with the publishing company, she discovered something new about herself. “I learned that I had an extraordinary ability to identify illness in people,” she says.
Then she met a Harvard-trained physician and brain surgeon, Norm Shealy, who was very interested in the kind of medical intuition that Myss possessed. Shealy was also the founder of the Holistic American Medical Association and founded the HUGS (Holos University Graduate Seminary) in Fair Grove, Missouri.
Myss ended up working with Shealy, writing books and lecturing together. They also made great strides in the field of energy medicine, which Myss defines as “the domain of medicine that is focused on the energetic stress patterns, for example, attitude or emotional stress or mental stress, that parallel the development of chemical or biological stress in the body.” She explains, “Your stomach doesn’t decide to go upset. It gets signals from your emotional system. If someone insults you, you are going to react.”
If someone with, say, lower back pain, comes to Myss for help, she will look at any financial stress, betrayal, and isolation in that person’s life as a step toward healing. “Things related to those survival issues would draw the stamina from that part of your body,” she says. “Those are the energetic issues that deplete the physical body in that area.”
As Myss began to understand why people become ill, she also became interested in why they weren’t healing. She realized that people are afraid of healing; they seek comfort in drugs and “want medicine to do a lot more than they are willing to do.”
People are unwilling to make the lifestyle changes that are needed to heal, in part, she says, because of our society’s involvement in what Myss calls “woundology.” People maintain a suffering consciousness, because this draws support from the society and the person’s family who feel obligated to help out. “It takes a lot for people to give up those suffering coins,” she says. “If you are healthy, you don’t get as much in the support system. What we have in our society is the notion that if you are healthy, you can’t simultaneously be vulnerable.”
Myss’s father was a banker and a Marine, and she traces her life’s calling to help resolve the struggles that define humanity, in part, as a consequence of being the daughter of a Marine. “It turned me into a military historian,” she says. “Because of that, I have studied war since I was 13.” History was her minor in college.
Myss’s experiences speaking around the world (after her June 13 event at the College of New Jersey, she goes to Copenhagen and Stockholm) have made her aware of how generous and kind Americans are considered to be, of the “grace” they have given to the world. But now, given the economic hardship most Americans are experiencing, Myss thinks that perhaps that generosity and that grace needs to be manifest at home as well as abroad. “I think Americans are going to have to count on that grace now,” she says. “What we gave so abundantly to the world, we have to give to each other now.”
Thousands of people participate in Myss’s online salon at www.myss.com, and she has written five New York Times bestsellers, including “Invisible Acts of Power,” “Sacred Contracts,” “Why People Don’t Heal and How They Can,” and “Anatomy of the Spirit.”
“I study war and I study God, and in between is healing,” says Myss. “People are always at war, and the only salvation is to do something spiritual about themselves. I don’t know anybody who is not at war with somebody or with themselves, and, at the end of the day, healing is getting out of the war, ending it.”
Caroline Myss, Friday, June 13, 7 p.m., Mildred and Ernest C. Mayo Music Building, College of New Jersey. “Healing Through the Mystery of Grace” presented by Caroline Myss, author of “Sacred Contracts,” “Entering the Castle,” “Anatomy of the Spirit,” and “Why People Don’t Heal and How They Can.” All proceeds benefit the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. $50 to $150. 609-695-5456.