Lesson 1: You Are Already Enlightened

Every human being is like a lamp that is plugged into a great power source. But it’s a relative few who ever look for a switch to turn on the light. You are one of those people! Acknowledge the light you have brought into your life and the lives of others. I want to start this book and this very first lesson by asking you to pat yourself on the back for the work you’ve done.

Your story is already a story of enlightenment. Over the past months, years, and maybe decades, you have begun to access the power that you’ve been connected to since you took your first breath on earth—the power of your soul and of life itself.

You have experienced times of change and challenge. Instead of withdrawing and backing down, you invested in your connection to your own power. You have learned how to help yourself in tough times. And if you’re reading this, I would bet that you have more faith and spirituality than the person you were five, ten, or twenty years ago. In short, you have already become a better version of yourself!

Journalist and comedian Mandy Stadtmiller tells with tender humor how a divorce at age thirty served as a catalyst for her to help herself. In her article, “30 Self-Help Books That Permanently Changed My Life,” Mandy writes:

If you met me in high school or college, you would not recognize me as the self-assured chick I am today. … I think that investment in your own personal development is one of the best investments you can ever make in your own life and happiness, even if it isn’t cool to admit to doing so.
My progress from a weepy, self-hating, paralytically over-apologetic, constantly worrying shy chick, to a person who is quite the opposite, is absolute testament to that, I believe.

I bet at this point in your life you also have a list of thirty (or more) books you would recommend to others as you tell them your story. Yet while you’ve learned and done a lot, you find yourself asking, “What now?”

The journey of self-discovery covers varied terrain. Sometimes it’s a soft, steady incline, sometimes a mountain so steep it requires you to deploy all the “gear” you’ve acquired. And sometimes you reach a plateau and are unsure where to head next.

But you haven’t been alone on this journey. You’ve probably sensed a companion along the way, nudging you in this direction or that, offering encouragement. That traveling companion is your soul.

While we in the consciousness community frequently use the word soul, we don’t always stop to focus on our soul and its role in who we are and why we’re here. Sometimes we take our soul for granted as that companion who’s just along for the ride.

I believe the next step towards enlightenment is to develop an intimate relationship with your soul; to learn to harness what I call your creative magic by learning how it is you got here, what it is your soul hopes to experience through you, and how you can use your newfound understanding to give your soul the adventure of your life.

The good news is the adventure has already begun! This book will show you how a more intentional and directed relationship with your soul will result in a “brighter” life for both of you and illuminate your path as you journey into enlightenment.

The Circuitry of Modern Enlightenment

Somewhere in the room in which you are sitting right now, you probably see a lamp or some other kind of lighting. If the lamp is plugged in, it’s able to conduct electrical power. When you turn on the switch, light shines because the power can now move through the electric cable to the light bulb.

The process of enlightenment is like turning on lights in your life and discovering what is there. All humans are “enlightenment-enabled.” We are all plugged into the power currents of our soul and All-That-Is. But as you can see by looking at your own life or the lives of others around you, being plugged in does not mean the light is on.

In order to turn on the light, we must take action. We must hit the switch. Only then can the energy of your aliveness flow to and through you.

The Energy of Enlightenment

What exactly is the power of enlightenment—this energy that flows through us? Where does it come from?

There are many words for this force or power: the divine, consciousness, the universe, All-That-Is, and of course, God. In my own studies, I like to refer to it as the divine. If you prefer another term, I welcome you to substitute it as you read. I will also use the terms spirit, source energy, creativity, and consciousness as nuanced aspects of the divine. When I do, I’ll explain their meanings in the context of the topic.

The divine fuels your soul with aliveness. In turn, the power of your soul enlightens you and guides you to your personal expression of enlightenment. What is your soul, then? It is the power that sparked the creation of you, personally. Your soul’s force embodies you and can act through you, if you allow it to.

A Note about “Power”

Before going further, I want to clarify what I mean when I refer to “power.” There are two kinds of power: “power over” and “power through.” I am not talking about “power over” something or someone; I am talking about a “power through” kind of power. Just as the electricity flows through a lamp so that the light bulb can shine, the passion of your soul to exist as you flows through you so that you can shine. You turn on the “switch” of your soul, but it does not have power over you. You invite the force of enlightenment to be present in you and you choose how to apply it.

A “power over” kind of power covers your light. I know many people who grew up in the authoritarian regimes of Eastern Europe. I have also met people who have fled from their country of origin for religious freedom. In these cases, their livelihood was threatened by a real “power over” them in their everyday lives.

If you are like me, you did not grow up in an authoritarian or religiously oppressive state. So what has power over us? Beliefs we have about ourselves that are untrue and limiting have power over us. False beliefs about yourself, your roles, and life in general mask the infinite possibilities of your own creativity and separate you from the love of the divine and your soul. “Power over” can have many faces, some of which we will explore later in this book.

You know from your own experience that disproving false beliefs frees you from their power over you. When a false belief disintegrates, then—“lights on!” Your soul shines through you. When you experience your soul’s power flowing through you, its joy lights you up from the inside out.

The “power through” quality of enlightenment is tender yet expansive, magical and miraculous, but not aggressive and dominant. In contrast, you recognize the force of “power over” when you sense constriction, a lack of creativity, and a loss of personal freedom. As you continue your journey, notice the sensations that arise in you as you experience and interact with various forms of power, both internal and external. These feelings are strong indicators of whether you’re experiencing power over or power through, and can help guide your decision-making.

The power you want to connect with and let run through you is the energy of aliveness.

The Energy of Aliveness

Martha Beck says in her book Steering by Starlight that “enlightenment always tastes of freedom.” I would add to that, “And freedom tastes like aliveness.” When I sense aliveness in me, I feel free, and when I feel free, I sense aliveness. Therefore: Enlightenment = Freedom = Aliveness.

We dwell in a wellspring of aliveness. Wouldn’t it be great if you could take as many bubble baths or long hot showers as you’d like without worrying about conservation? Living in a physical world that has finite natural resources makes it challenging to imagine an endless energy source inside you, but it’s true—your aliveness is unlimited.

You might be thinking, “I do not have unlimited energy. I constantly feel like I need a nap!” I’m not referring to the energy you need for physical exertion, nor the energy you expend through mental/emotional activities. Instead, I’m talking about the unlimited energy of life itself—the energy of aliveness.

I first became aware of this energy by watching our family pets. I noticed that as our dogs got physically older, many of them still remained “young” mentally and emotionally. The retired hunting beagles never knew they had retired. At the scent of a rabbit they would still perk up, howl, and run the best they could, following their passion. At the age of fifteen, although she could barely stand, our favorite Labrador, Abby, insisted on trying to catch a ball.

Watching these dogs stay connected to their desire regardless of their physical state, I realized that it was because the energy of aliveness still moved through them.

The reason why this energy is both endless and ageless is that its source is your soul. Your soul is always excited to “be” you, even in the later phases of your physical life. Your soul always wants to create, experience, and evolve. (You’ll learn more about this in Lesson 2.)

You Are Someone’s Dalai Lama

You are part of a worldwide movement. If you don’t think so, the economy sure does—the self-improvement industry is estimated to be worth $11 billion in the United States alone.

But you are more than just a market—you are a change maker. And when you create change in yourself, you create change on the planet.

Like the thirty books that changed Mandy’s life, there are teachers, books, scripture, and other resources that changed yours, too. And there was someone who changed the life of that author whose book you read, or the teacher whose workshop you loved, and on and on. You can now continue the lineage by showing up for the people who will follow.

When you think of enlightened people, perhaps you picture the Dalai Lama, the inspiring saints of the world religions, or your amazing neighbor who has a twinkle of enlightenment in her eye at the ripe age of ninety-nine. I am convinced that for someone in this world (or perhaps many people), you are the Dalai Lama. You are a light bulb illuminating the space around you, making the whole world that much brighter.

Watching you turn on your lights by learning to channel the energy of your aliveness inspires others to do the same.

Your Strengths and Challenges

When I said that you are someone’s Dalai Lama, did you think, No way, not me? Did you maybe sink your head a little, shamefully admitting that you feel like you’re still in the dark, perhaps a lot?

Walking the path of enlightenment does not mean being a perfectly enlightened master. Rather, you find yourself in a continuous process of becoming more and more enlightened. Even the Dalai Lama is still learning.

Sometimes your yearning to develop yourself keeps you from seeing how far you’ve already come. Let’s discuss three skills you’ve already learned, probably without realizing it. I call these skills, which you can count among your strengths, the “Three Rs.”

The Three Rs

These Three Rs are not reading, writing, and arithmetic (or “’rithmetic”). They are responsibility, recognition, and receiving.

  • Responsibility: You take action to help yourself.
  • Recognition: You see your true self.
  • Receiving: You benefit from your recognition.

Responsibility is about engaging. You choose to help yourself when life confronts you with challenges and change. You look for your inner power switch, and when you find it, you turn it on. Responsibility means showing up, again and again, for yourself and the soul force that wants to live through you.

Recognition refers to taking the time to look at what you see when the lights go on inside you. You ask yourself, Who am I? You explore the new landscape and make discoveries. You become more vulnerable moving into this space of the unknown, but you also become stronger as your inner truth reveals itself to you.

As you take responsibility and recognize who you are, the force of aliveness flows stronger. Your light burns brighter. You no longer search for answers, but rather the answers you are looking for start to come to you. You open to receive transmissions of knowledge and truth from inside yourself that enlighten you even more. You become your own power source.

The Three Rs are tools that help you address your challenges.

The Four Challenges

You and I live in a period of great political and religious freedom compared to other times in history. We are free to seek enlightenment outside any particular societal framework. We can go to India, Massachusetts, or our own backyard to pursue our growth.

Through my work as a teacher and life coach, I have identified four primary challenges on today’s path to enlightenment: regret, doubt, guilt, and reluctance. We perceive these challenges as personal, but they are also collective. I am among those who believe that when you heal them for yourself, you also contribute to the healing of the collective.

Regret comes to play when you cannot forgive your past; it weighs upon your freedom and creativity. Regret is associated with major losses we can’t seem to get over. Something was imposed upon you that you did not want—an unexpected loss, for example, left you feeling powerless. You may carry a suitcase of pain from the past and question why you are even alive. This questioning leads to what I call the “pain of incarnation.”

Regret relates to victimhood. You arrive on earth and are helplessly exposed to your environment. In your childhood years, you may have experienced a sense of powerlessness against your circumstances. As an adult, the pattern of powerlessness may have shown up in relationships—in a bad marriage, with difficulty parenting, or at work. Or you may have experienced loss through the death of a loved one from which you cannot recover.

A main goal of self-help and self-development is to find a point of personal power that goes beyond your victimhood, enabling you to reach the other side of regret and become open to aliveness. The practices of acceptance, compassion, and forgiveness for oneself, others, and circumstance are the key. Such practices free you from regret and victimhood. When you accept and forgive circumstances, developing compassion for yourself and others, regret dissolves and aliveness flows.

Are practices like forgiveness a form of taking responsibility? You bet. If you are like me, you may find that forgiving takes effort. You are responsible for finding tools that help you forgive circumstances and the actions of others. You are responsible for applying them. Depending on your situation, responsibility may mean receiving proper counseling to work through past trauma as you move towards forgiveness.

One of my preferred tools for forgiving is Byron Katie’s “The Work” (a method of self-inquiry and perspective shifting). I also find support for healing regret in the teachings of Pema Chödrön and Tara Brach. When I sense a bout of victimhood overcoming me, I remind myself to grab one of these tools and help myself. When I take responsibility, I always sense more space for aliveness and joy.

Doubt is the denial of your personal power. While regret allows the past to shadow your happiness in the present, doubt allows the present to constrict your creativity and freedom. For example, imagine that you would like to change careers, but you have a long list of doubts, such as I’m too old, I’m not qualified, or I won’t make enough money. And then you do nothing. Doubt took away your personal power.

You dismantle doubt by taking responsibility—the first of the Three Rs. You commit to taking action on your own behalf. You can then become the experimental scientist of your own life.

For example, if you want to change your job, what action would you need to take? You might start by creating a vision board, by taking a course at a local college on how to change fields late in your career—whatever suits your personality and needs. As you take action, you then can acknowledge and recognize what you are creating (for example know-how, contacts, and opportunities) and receive the benefits of your creativity.

Another challenge we commonly face is guilt. Guilt strikes when you experience the joy of living your personal power as wrong: In the present moment, you look at the good you have created, expressed, and received with a sense of shame instead of joy. Guilt results from the false individual and collective belief that your light should not shine.

Why would you believe that your light is not allowed to shine? I believe it’s because an authority you give your power to told you so. When you were a child, you had to give your power to authority figures, such as your parents and caretakers. If they taught you to dim your light (perhaps by telling you that you were “too much”), you may have believed them, because at that time in your life they had power over you. The authority might be an individual, such as a parent, or an organization, such as your religious tradition.

The truth is that you are allowed to experience grace and ease, even when the people around you struggle. In fact, it’s actually helpful to do so. Think of it as being a lighthouse, shining your beacon to others who are caught in the storm: They need your light.

You may worry about alienating others when you shine. However, when you glow with aliveness, you inspire others. Think about it—someone inspired you to step on the path to enlightenment. What if that person had chosen not to shine?

Connecting with other people on the same path can help you overcome any guilt you may feel. When you reach out to others, you experience community and support. These peers will understand your excitement and celebrate with you when you manifest your dream job or release the pain of your divorce.

I recently went on a girls’ weekend in the famous cathedral city of Speyer on the Rhine. For two days straight we talked about everything: from astrology, to energy healing, to coaching, to foot reflexology. Like enlightened teenagers, we piled into a bed around midnight to go through Doreen Virtue’s Goddess Guidance Oracle Cards. That weekend charged us all with aliveness. By sharing with each other, by hearing each other’s stories of changes and challenges, our fears about the new territory each of us was exploring on our path to enlightenment turned to calm.

The path to enlightenment is about going inside and connecting with your power in a very personal way. At the same time, finding support among peers helps us channel even more light. When I read Mandy Stadtmiller’s article, I saw my own story. I stomped, and cried, “I could’ve written this article!” In it, and in sharing my experience with others, I recognize that I am not alone in my quest to become happier.

Guilt for leaving family, friends, and even a large part of humanity “behind” is one of the greatest challenges along the path of personal empowerment and can sometimes make it feel as if we will end up alone. But the reality is that you are never truly alone, as new people who are aligned with your path will begin to arrive in your life.

Keep your light turned on, no matter what. Your loved ones, and eventually the rest of the world, will turn on their lights when they are good and ready.

The final overarching challenge I’ve identified is reluctance, which overcomes you in the present moment when you choose old, unsupportive patterns instead of new ones that foster your growing relationship with and understanding of your soul. Reluctance may result from mere habit, from a resistance to living a life of freedom and creativity, or from collective beliefs about personal power. For example, imagine that you want to reenter the workforce after raising children. You dream of giving back to society. Your idea is to apply what you have learned as a parent by creating a network of adults who offer online tutoring to children in need. But you don’t. So what is the problem? Are you too comfortable (i.e., stuck in your habits)? Are you afraid of expressing your freedom and creativity in new ways? Or does a belief like My role is in my own home keep you from taking action? Self-inquiry, coaching, or the support of good friends can help you overcome reluctance and take action.

Living in deep connection with the force that created you is new terrain for most humans. Today, in a time of relative peace and progress, you are one of the bold people who see a crack in the gate and dare to walk through it. You look back at the many behind you and the few in front of you. Phew! Taking this big step is daunting. After all, you don’t know what’s on the other side.

You are training yourself to live new beliefs that go up against the collective beliefs that have reigned for centuries. Your personal energy system receives information from its environment. Regardless of how your parents raised you, your aura is in the ocean of the energy of collective beliefs. We sense these collective beliefs and may believe they are ours—for example, although my parents encouraged me to be an empowered woman, I find myself falling into traditionally female patterns at work and home that do not serve me. I have to remind myself to keep the energy in my relationships balanced. If you catch yourself acting in a way that is not aligned with your true desires, ask yourself, “Am I acting on beliefs from the collective?”

Traditional religious views and scientific reason do not support an individual, experiential relationship with the divine. When you adventure on the path of your enlightenment, you have to accept that some people may call you a heretic, a lunatic—or both.

One way to overcome your reluctance is by connecting with people who inspire you. Spend time with people who are walking the same path and overcome the hurdle of reluctance together. Find a good coach, join an inspirational training for positive self-development, or take a yoga class. Go to places where you will find like-minded people. Get lost in a biography of a historic figure who created positive change and notice how your reluctance lifts.

How quickly would the planet shift if all the people who ever read a self-help book learned how to step beyond reluctance, claim their power, and live the life their soul wants them to live?

Understanding the history of self-exploration—learning about the historic traditions and the people who followed them—can help you gain perspective as you seek to address these and other challenges of a human existence.

The History of Asking “Who Am I?”

The search for enlightenment has roots not just in Asian and Shamanic traditions, but also in the traditional western world of Europe and America. The practices of self-help and self-development, and the desire to commune with the divine and nature without an intermediary, have all existed in the West for centuries, though this history is not well known.

I immediately found a home studying esoteric teachings and wondered why such teachings were not part of everyday culture. Internet research led me to the academic research of Wouter Hanegraaff, professor of History of Hermetic Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam.

I understand the following from Dr. Hanegraaff: Spiritual-based self-help practices, and what is sometimes referred to as New Age, fall into the category of esotericism. Esotericism has a long tradition, but it has barely survived in a society dominated by religion and reason.

Esotericism in its broader definition refers to the path of seeking wisdom inside of yourself. The word esoteric comes from the Greek esoterikos, which means “the inner circle.” Esotericism is the study of the self: I (the subject) research or study myself (the object). The subject and the object are the same. If you are looking for an answer to the question, “Who am I?” you are embarking on an esoteric quest.

Why does this matter? I am always on the lookout for evidence that the search for the self and the adventure on the path to enlightenment is a global, collective experience not reserved for a particular culture, race, or gender.

Esotericism and the study of the self can be traced back to the pre-Christian Hellenistic period (323 BCE–31 CE). Islam, Judaism, and Christianity historically had esoteric streams of thought. Religion, science, and esotericism coexisted and even enriched each other in Europe until around 1750, the start of the Age of Reason, which is also (ironically enough) called the Age of Enlightenment.

Hanegraaff writes that “in the wake of the Enlightenment [esotericism] vanished almost completely from accepted intellectual discourse and standard textbook narratives.” Basically, esotericism was written out of the books. Religion and science no longer included ideas of the world as an enchanted place in their teaching. Mystery, which formerly formed a link between science and religion, vanished.

According to Hanegraaff, since World War II, and in particular since the 1990s, academia began increasingly covering esotericism. The inner circle of power, the soul as a source of aliveness independent of a religious framework, is making a comeback.

History Is Alive in Us Now

Antoine Faivre, a scholar of esotericism and contemporary of Hanegraaff, in his writings puts forth what he saw as fundamental characteristics of esotericism. I have experienced all these aspects at some point on my own journey. Below I paraphrase these ideas from Faivre’s book, Access to Western Esotericism, and explain how they show up in your own practice.

Correspondence refers to the ancient idea of “As above, so below.” The microcosm is the macrocosm. Correspondence is the basis for teachings like astrology, as well as for the idea of signs and symbols. Very simple examples would be that pink corresponds with love or a glowing light corresponds with wisdom. The angel who stands for love, Archangel Chamuel, is often portrayed as pink and the angel who stands for wisdom, Archangel Uriel, is portrayed with the sun or a torch. Such symbols help us focus our meditation, contemplation, and healing practices.

In my Martha Beck Life Coach training, I learned to work with metaphors to discover important new information about my clients. For example, I might ask you, “What is the least favorite room in your home, and why?” You would tell me about the room and describe in detail how you feel about the room. I would then ask you, “Where do you feel like this in your life?” Bingo! You and I just applied the esoteric concept of correspondence. We created a link between your messy pantry and a messy place in your life.

Living nature is the esoteric idea that life force flows through all of nature. Faivre writes, “The word magia, so important in the Renaissance imaginary, truly calls forth that idea of a Nature, seen, known, and experienced as essentially alive in all its parts, often inhabited and traversed by a light or a hidden fire circulating through it.” He quotes an interpretation of St. Paul, writing, “suffering Nature, subjected to exile and vanity, also waits to take part in salvation.”

On your path to enlightenment, you may find yourself called to connect with nature more deeply. Most of my coaching clients express a strong desire to work with animals and spend more time in nature.

Trailblazer Clare DuBois, whom I admire greatly, has devoted her work to the idea of living nature. DuBois founded the organization TreeSisters with the mission of reforesting the planet. She asks, “What becomes possible when millions of women remember who and what we really are—and then direct that collectively towards the greening of our world?” Applying the first principle of correspondence, DuBois also offers courses to “reforest your own feminine nature.”

Imagination and mediation are additional characteristics of esotericism. Faivre describes imagination as a “kind of organ of the soul.” Just as your heart pumps blood through your body, your imagination “pumps” the soul’s creative force into your mind and life. Best-selling author Sonia Choquette packages Faivre’s concept for the modern audience in her book, Your 3 Best Super Powers: Meditation, Imagination & Intuition. She believes these practices can give you the ability to live a life of tranquility and empowerment. She believes your life can reflect your imagination like a mirror and encourages us to “fully, deeply, and steadily focus our imagination on what we truly feel and desire for a sustained period of time” to harness its power.

Faivre refers to mediation (not to be confused with meditation) in the context of esotericism as the use of rituals, symbolic images, mandalas, and intermediary Spirits. To mediate is to go between two people or things: If I connected you with a passed loved one or an angel, I am mediating for you. Best-selling authors like Doreen Virtue and Denise Linn popularized oracle cards as a form of mediation. If you pick oracle cards to connect with divine guidance, you are applying the concept of mediation. Whereas twenty years ago I went to special esoteric bookstores to find angel cards or tools for rituals, such as sage, today I can find dozens of card packs and a broad selection of space-clearing gear at general bookstores.

Experience of transmutation refers to your power to sustainably shift your inner state through practices to gain knowledge or gnosis. Faivre emphasizes the idea that you do not just transform, you actually move from one plane to another. You transmute or alchemize into a new you as you discover deeper knowledge of yourself and the world around you. You take responsibility for your path. You recognize and receive the wisdom of the path. As you spiral through the current of responsibility, recognition, and receiving, you do not just change: You transmute to the new plane of your enlightened self.

As I mentioned, I can attest to having encountered each of these characteristics in my own experiences with esotericism. My own journey towards enlightenment began, as it does for so many, in an unexpected way.

My Encounter with a Healer

If you had told me twenty years ago that I would become a yoga teacher, life coach, and expert on the soul, I would never have believed you! Becoming a guide for people who want to connect with their creative magic was a zigzag path of highs and lows, changes and challenges.

Twenty years ago, after finishing a master of business administration degree, I began a career as a stock analyst at a small merchant bank in downtown Frankfurt. In 1997, stock prices went in only one direction—up! I traveled through Germany and Europe to visit the top management of up-and-coming technology and media companies. Part of my “work” was to attend the international media festivals in Cannes where I enjoyed boat trips, slurping down oysters, and dancing at the chic hotels on the famous Croisette. I even kissed a real prince (but that’s a story for another book).

When equity research started to bore me, I took a chance and went to work for one of the media companies I covered as an analyst. But in this new position, I saw the company’s numbers from the inside and witnessed for the first time the lies that would become visible to the markets a few months later.

By 2001, the technology bubble had started to burst and I sought refuge at an oversized industry gorilla that would survive the market turbulence. It should have been the career year of my life—I had a new job and I went on to pass the second level of the Chartered Financial Analyst exam, a rigorous industry qualification of the highest standard. The weekend after the exam, my company sent me to attend a management assessment center.

But I had a secret: For several months prior I’d been suffering from menorrhagia and had recently been diagnosed with fibroids and endometriosis. A poorly performed operation only worsened my condition and I was losing blood every day. On the first day at the assessment center, I became so weak I had to go to the hospital. I ended up having to take several weeks off work.

A Life-Changing Trip

My mother, a registered nurse, flew to Frankfurt to support me and we went to see the best specialist at the best hospital. The head of the Gynecology Department recommended a hormone treatment to put me into a state of menopause and then an operation to remove the fibroids.

I was twenty-nine years old. When I considered what he proposed and all it implied for my life, a voice in me said, “No, no, no. That isn’t my path.”

I didn’t know it yet, but help was on the way.

A friend from Italy, I’ll call her Mary, had taken Level 1 Reiki training. When Mary heard of my troubles, she told me her Reiki master was a powerful healer and he could help me. For lack of any other options, I agreed to see him.

We were four women on a mission—my mother, Mary, her mother, and I went on a pilgrimage to a small Italian city to meet the healer. Sometimes people ask me if I was hopeful or skeptical when I left to see the healer. As you can imagine, my body was weak and my mind was tired from so many doctor visits and my new job. I had neither hope nor skepticism. The presence of my mother and my friends, as well as their hope and curiosity, gave me strength. Perhaps because I was raised Catholic and had heard of the miracles of Jesus and the saints, a part of me was open to the idea that I, too, could experience a miracle.

As we traveled, my mind filled with images of a pious, bearded man in a long robe, a healing room surrounded with candles, and pictures of various holy figures. I would lie down and he would put his hands on me and chant incantations. A spark of light would flash in front of us, lightning would surge through my body, and, following a good shake, I would be healed.

Needless to say, that is not how it went. Instead, the five of us squeezed into a one-room apartment. For the first hour, the tall and charming man told jokes in Italian to my friend and her mom (I didn’t understand them). The five of us kept our respective seats in the tiny room, my mother and I squeezed together on a love seat. Eventually, the conversation shifted to the matter at hand, and the healer began to treat both my mother and me.

First, he talked us into an alpha state—a relaxed state of mind that is like a mild daydream space where you are present, but your focus is soft. From this relaxed state of mind, he began to guide us on a visual journey to a nonphysical place where our bodies were already healed. He called this space an etheric or heavenly temple. Then, with the razor-sharp focus of a surgeon, he envisioned exchanging the damaged, unhealthy parts of our bodies for new ones. The healer then called upon the support of nonphysical helpers, who he told us were angels and ascended masters.

The journey ended with us asking our souls to overwrite our injured bodies with our new, healed bodies. We were told to repeat this “overwriting” visualization as often as possible every day for the next two weeks. The healing session ended, and he said the bleeding would stop in four days. You might be thinking, Four days! Did you believe him? During the guided visualization, I noticed shifts in my bodily sensations away from sadness and heaviness to openness, lightness, and positivity. When I did the visualization exercises (my “homework”), I could recreate a positive shift to some extent. I didn’t have to blindly believe the healer because I was already having a positive experience. I was open to the possibility that I could be healed.

Discovering My Calling

True to the healer’s promise, my symptoms stopped in four days. I no longer needed harsh pharmaceutical treatment or invasive surgery. It was a miracle.

The healer also initiated me into Reiki. I followed a routine of laying my hands on my body and letting ki, or universal energy, flow through my hands to where it was needed.

The successful healing treatment inspired a series of questions:

  • What had happened with the healer and why did it work?
  • Where did the healer take us? Is there a nonphysical place that is as real as the physical world itself?
  • Are there really angels and so-called ascended masters?
  • Is belief or openness a necessary part of the process?
  • If this type of healing is so seemingly uncomplicated, why don’t more people seek it?
  • How could my life return to normal after such a magical experience?

I knew nothing about energy work or healing when I went to see this man. Because of my serious condition, I didn’t stop to consider whether I even believed in the soul, healing, and energy work or not. However, after experiencing the bliss of the healing realm to which he took us, and the physical benefits of the session, I knew I wanted to help other people at the soul level in the same way that man had helped me.

Finding the Force of the Soul

After the encounter with the healer, I moved my attention away from learning about business and finance and directed my academic curiosity to esotericism and healing. I dived into books such as Hands of Light by Barbara Brennan, and I found a Reiki master in Frankfurt—a woman with long, crazy hair, and long, crazy fingernails—who explained the world of energy work to me. After finishing the final Chartered Financial Analyst exam, I gave myself the gift of attending astrology school.

My path to becoming a skilled energy worker and coach proved harder than I had thought. Looking back, I understand that I suffered from high-functioning depression. At the time of the healing, I was entangled in an abusive partnership, which took a further five years to end. After some time alone, I found a new partner with whom I wanted to start a family. I then struggled with years of infertility and suffered from two miscarriages. In the wake of my losses, I discovered my friendships lacked the depth to support me. Phew!

Life tested me so greatly that eventually I had nowhere to turn for help except to the force that created me. I told myself, “If I’m alive, there must be a force that wants me to be here. And, if I’m to find happiness in this life, then that force will take me there.”

Serving Yourself and Others

I’ll discuss more of my own journey of healing and connecting with my soul as we go forward. One thing I’ve learned over the last fifteen years is that anyone can acquire skills to direct energy and healing. Energy work is a craft you can learn. The healer applied healing techniques that he had learned, practiced, and mastered. He had his own teachers who accompanied him on his journey. He showed me that if you practice and find good teachers, you can heal yourself and others.

Do you want to work through change and challenge from a place of personal empowerment? Then I suggest you direct your attention to this process continuously. As I mentioned earlier, most likely you are already applying the Three Rs—responsibility, recognition, and receiving—without realizing it, as I was when I went to see the healer. When I needed help, I took the responsibility to go and see the healer. I booked the flights, spent time with him, and worked with the techniques he gave me. I was willing to receive healing energy and align myself with his intention. My healing led to the recognition that I, too, want to serve others.

And you can do the same. If you take responsibility for yourself, recognize your truth, and receive the gift of insight, you will evolve towards your soul and your true calling.

Over the years, I’ve met hundreds of individuals pursuing self-help, self-development, and modern spiritual practices. Each person has shared his or her own story of change and challenge—the catalyst for the search for answers and the power to heal and transform pain and suffering. After the initial search, most people experienced a phase of clarity, fullness, and harmony in their lives.

In most cases, after a personal transformation—an “a-ha moment” where a light switch flips and reveals a truth—the voltage from the shift eventually leveled off, as it did for me. The next opportunity for personal transformation starts from this new level. It’s important to understand that times of clarity and cloudiness tend to oscillate. For most, there isn’t one great transformation followed instantly by an easeful life. Learning is a process. The cloudy periods—if transformed—reveal a new potential.

This is the path of what I called the Three Rs: The life of a spiritual seeker seems to spiral through rounds and rounds of challenges and changes, followed by the cycle of taking personal responsibility, opening to recognize the truth behind the light, and then receiving the wisdom behind the challenge or change.

I like to think that those who jump in on the path to enlightenment now will drive on a road less bumpy than their forerunners. The evolutionary process you experience—change and challenge, responsibility through self-help, recognition, and receiving—is helping to smooth the way for those who will join us on the road ahead.

At this stage, many of us no longer question whether there is a creative light that guides us. We know there is. We have experienced some degree of interaction with it. Our focus now is on exploring how to get the light to shine brighter and more consistently.

Lesson One Journaling Prompts

  • Do you have a story like Mandy Stadtmiller’s? What is it?
  • Do you have a list of self-help and self-development books you want to recommend to people? Which are your top three and why?
  • In what ways have you already switched on the light of your enlightenment? Contemplate “power over” versus “power through.” Can you find examples of each at work in your own life?
  • Who or what shows you the energy of aliveness in your everyday life?
  • Whose Dalai Lama are you? (Come on, don’t be modest.)
  • How have you experienced the Three Rs—responsibility, recognition, and receiving?
  • How have you experienced the four challenges—regret, doubt, guilt, and reluctance?
  • Imagine telling a stranger at a party that you are on a path to enlightenment. How do you explain your path?
  • How do your secular and nonsecular environments support your enlightenment today?
  • Does it matter to you if your path to enlightenment is reflected in your culture’s traditions? Why or why not?