Many people have a well-developed intuitive sense about other people. But imagine being able to know what a person is feeling physically and emotionally just by touching them! Elizabeth Stratton is able to do that as well as being a world-renowned spiritual healer, pastoral counselor, and teacher. She uses the laying-on of hands, intuitive diagnosis, dreamwork, guided imagery, and spiritual counseling in her work.
She is the founder of the Touching Spirit Training Program and has taught at Esalen Institute, the New York Open Center, Omega Center, Interface Center, Wainwright House, and Marble Collegiate Church. Elizabeth has been featured on both radio and television and has taught her healing techniques to over 650 members of the Catholic and Protestant clergy and healthcare professionals at a gathering of the Catholic Health Association.
Elizabeth was on tour in Seattle recently to promote her book Touching Spirit (Simon & Schuster). We were able to sit together for awhile and talk about her empathic and healing talents.
Krysta: How did you discover your healing abilities?
Elizabeth: I became aware of them years ago by picking up pain from other people. In fact, there was an instance when I was at a conference listening to someone speak when I felt a pain in my side. It was quite severe and I had to get up and leave the room. It turned out there was a man in the room whose pain I had absorbed into my body exactly where he was experiencing it. That was my awakening and the beginning of my journey.
Eventually, I realized I had been doing this my whole life. As a child I was a psychic sponge, absorbing people's thoughts and feelings and physical ailments.
Krysta: How did that affect you as a child?
Elizabeth: I was very sick as a child. I had constant upper respiratory illness and spent a lot of time out of school. Every member of my family had a physical illness, so I had to become my own model of health and healing. It took me a long time to learn how to avoid picking up other people's pain and feelings so much.
Krysta: What are some of the things you do to keep from being overwhelmed by other people's feelings?
Elizabeth: I have my own spiritual practice. Every morning I get up and I write down all my dreams and I work with that dream material on a day-to-day basis. Because of this, I know what's going on in my soul. I also meditate and exercise every day so I am working on all different levels: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. The first three or four hours every morning are devoted to my own spiritual practice. For me, the most important part of being a healer is that I continue to do my own self-healing.
Krysta: Your publicist warned me that you don't shake hands with people, so I was not to try to shake your hand when I met you. That is an unusual request that I've not had before. I'm curious why you don't want people to touch you.
Elizabeth: There was an incident at a conference a few years ago when a man shook my hand so hard that he almost broke it. I could hear my bones cracking. My life's work is with my hands so having them injured is not an option for me. More than that, I can feel something in a handshake. I can feel a person's physical condition-their emotional, mental, spiritual condition-and then I've got to work at releasing it out of my hands. My attention then goes to my hand rather than to the person or whatever it is I have to be doing.
If I've got a hundred people coming up to me after a workshop wanting to shake my hand, it's just too debilitating for me.
Krysta: What do you actually do when you have a healing session with someone and what do you experience when this is happening?
Elizabeth: First, I let the person tell me their story, very carefully listening and watching, allowing them to let me know who they are, all the while intuiting who they are by listening to their story. Then I do what I call a scan. This means that with my hands I feel a person's physical condition as well as their chakras which are the psychic energy centers of their body. I scan down a person's body and feel how the energy of each chakra is moving or not moving, and feel the energy coming off of the physical body. From that I can assess what kind of condition they are in.
Medical doctors send people to me whom they have trouble diagnosing. Sometimes I can make a clearer diagnosis than they can. Generally, though, I don't tend to make a diagnosis unless the person has been sent to me by a doctor.
Krysta: When you get a diagnosis, how do you get it? Do you hear words, see pictures, or just feel something?
Elizabeth: I receive the information in a variety of ways. I do receive it as words (which is called clairaudience). Sometimes I will hear the person speaking to me. When one woman came to me with cancer, the first words I heard when I put my hands on her were, "You can't heal me, just love me." She died about six months later.
Sometimes I hear a word that tells me something about a person's childhood, but I also see images (which is called clairvoyance). I might see an image of a rag doll that a person had as a child which leads into a discussion of their childhood, or I might see an image of something happening inside the body, sort of like an X-ray.
I also experience clairsentience (which means "clear feeling"). I used to actually feel what other people feel, but as I have gotten better at it, I don't have to actually feel it as much any more. I can recognize it and say "Oh, so that's what they are feeling," and then let it go. When I first started working with people that was harder to do.
Krysta: It must have been difficult to be taking on other people's feelings and try to know which were your own and which belonged to someone else.
Elizabeth: Yes, it was very confusing and I had to learn how to separate out which feelings were mine and which were not. I think something that is very important for healers today is separating out which is their own and which is not. Healers deal with their own internal suffering first and continuously as they learn to deal with the suffering of others.
The form of healing I do is the laying-on of hands, where I actually place my hands above or on someone's body and go into a deep enough meditation that I move healing energy through me. This energy acts as a catalyst for the healing energy in someone else's own body. My concern is awakening the healer within other people. I don't allow them to project the role of healer onto me. I give that back to them to do for themselves.
Krysta: I imagine people come to you with the attitude of "Here, fix me. I'll drop my body off and be back in a few hours to get it again. You fix it." And I am sure you hear a lot, "Can you do it in one session?"
Elizabeth: That's very true. People want to know if I can heal them instantly. I think as we move away from the notion that medical doctors seem to have the power to heal and place that role onto complementary healers, we sometimes forget that even in medicine and surgery you don't expect instant healing.
The first pill out of a bottle isn't the one that cures, but sometimes we forget that. People have to realize that they need to participate in their own healing process.
Krysta: How do you think the laying-on of hands works?
Elizabeth: The way I see the laying-on of hands working is that it lays down an energetic imprint- like a vibratory resonating imprint -of healing energy in the person's physical tissues at a cellular level and in the person's electromagnetic field. The client and I also talk about the emotional, mental, and spiritual bodies so the laying-on of hands lays down some layers of healthy imprinting there as well.
Sometimes this laying-on of hands will replace the old imprint instantaneously, but more often than not healing is a process, which seems to replace the old imprint of illness, accident, or pain. It's like laying down healing into the body and the body can either accept or reject it. The new imprint acts as a trigger or catalyst for a person's own healing, helping them to remember what it was like to be whole and well. Most of us are born perfectly well and whole. Being born into an imperfect world full of pain and suffering and into a family where there is already a lot of conflict and emotion leads us out of a state of wholeness.
If the healer can touch a person with love and a prayerful presence, then that person remembers what it feels like to be connected to the whole. That is healing.
Krysta: Where do you think your healing ability comes from?
Elizabeth: For me, it comes from going down into a very deep state within myself and opening my heart-which is the center of love and compassion-and connecting with God; feeling that I'm an open pathway for healing to move through. For me, it's about always staying aware of that spiritual presence and staying open to it, staying in touch with the vertical connection with God and the horizontal connection to other people. I keep the connection open and draw the healing energy through me.
Krysta: Do you think there is a point at which a healer becomes healed? Is there an end to the process?
Elizabeth: It's a lifelong process. I don't know if there's an end; I haven't gotten there yet! I don't think there is a point at which a person can say, "Well, I'm done."
I have yet to meet anyone who is fully enlightened. I think probably being fully enlightened is not a possibility while we're still on the planet. As the Buddhists say, life is cyclical and ongoing. We can continue to build a healing consciousness, but I'm not so sure this is a linear process with an end point we are trying to reach.
Krysta: You've been doing some work with mainstream religious groups. What is your experience with this?
Elizabeth: Twenty years ago, it was only a dream of mine that mainstream religions would recognize the validity of laying-on of hands. Frankly, I didn't really believe Protestant and Catholic churches would welcome the laying-on of hands back into the church. Of course, in Christianity we know that Jesus did the laying-on of hands. There are 72 instances in the four gospels-if you count the repetitions-of hands-on healing. But the Church has lost this form of healing for the last thousand years.
I was the keynote speaker at an interfaith conference with clergy, pastoral counselors, and hospital administrators from all over the country. I spoke about a reemergence of healing within the churches and outside of the churches, and this is finally coming together. I explained that this is about embodiment.
For all these years the Church has pushed away the body, saying the body is not important, don't pay attention to it, sacrifice your body for the good of your soul. Just pray and everything will be fine. We live in a physical form and we need to respect and honor the body God gave us as a vehicle for the soul and we need to pay attention to the body as part of our spiritual path. Probably the main thing that the New Age movement has brought to people's awareness is that the body is part of our spiritual path.
Last year I spoke to 20 hospital administrators about bringing hands-on healing into the hospitals. As we know, medical professionals are beginning to rethink the whole healthcare system in the sense of de-localizing from central hospitals and putting healthcare out more into the community. There was one man who stood up after he heard me speak and said, "I think we should retitle the pastoral care department and call it the spiritual healing department." Looking out at the sea of faces I could see those who were skeptical, with their arms crossed or eyebrows raised. It is a huge step forward for someone to stand up and say that.
I gave a four-hour workshop about laying-on of hands to 650 people of the Catholic Health Association. I thought I'd get up there and be burned at the stake; instead they were accepting. It was so moving to me to see the consciousness change. I think they realize that healing touch-touching someone with love and compassion -can be the real turning point that is taking place in this triangle of religion, metaphysics, and complementary healing.
Krysta: What about people from the far religious right? It seems that the people who would be receptive to your message would not come from that sector of the population. Do you have any experience with them?
Elizabeth: I have seen them in my audiences. I have two things to say about that. First, people who go by the Bible can read for themselves Jesus saying "Go out and do what I do." That's what I'm doing. So I'm not quite sure I understand their argument against it. The second thing is that everyone has to choose for themselves what path they want to walk on. I respect everyone's choice as long as they don't try to make someone else's choice wrong.
Krysta: Which, of course, seems to be their primary focus.
Elizabeth: That's not my primary focus. It's okay if they don't agree with me. I tell people I don't think they should believe anything I say. My only concern is offering people an opportunity to have a healing experience of their own, because as we know no one believes anything they haven't experienced. The most important thing about a relationship with God is that it be personal. I don't want someone else's relationship with God, I want my own.
Krysta: Have you worked on someone and the healing didn't work and they wanted to blame you for it, calling you a fake?
Elizabeth: Oh, sure. The first thing I say is that I'm sorry it didn't work; maybe this is not the path for you. Maybe laying-on of hands is not the path that is going to help you. That's okay with me. Part of me would like to be able to wave a magic wand over everyone's head and have everyone get healed, but that is not realistic and I know that. I try to help people find the path that will work. I also try to hold a mirror up to people and say, here's what I see. Here's the wound I see and here's what might be able to help.
Sometimes in the first session I refer the person elsewhere, to an acupuncturist, back to their physician. I am not concerned with being everybody's answer; that is impossible.
Sometimes spiritual healing doesn't work right away. I had a woman come to me who had rheumatoid arthritis for thirty years. She had almost died in her twenties. She was fifty when I saw her and her knees were locked; she could barely get down stairs with a cane. She came every week for five months with no visible improvement in her condition. But we worked on other issues, emotional and spiritual issues, really deep and meaningful issues. Then, all of a sudden, within one week, her knees unlocked and the inflamation began to disappear. She began to get better. It took that much healing for the imprint to shift.
I think sometimes people give up too quickly. They want to go to an alternative healer and in one session have their illness cured. Of course, they spent months and months going to medical doctors and weren't healed.
Krysta: Somehow healing is supposed to be more miraculous and more immediate when it's "spiritual" or "alternative."
Elizabeth: I've spent 20 years trying to break that illusion. Spiritual healing is not more miraculous. The word "miracle" comes from the French word for wonder. It's wonderful. But it's not hocus-pocus.
Krysta: It's not a magic wand.
Elizabeth: It's not a magic wand, and that brings me to my original point which is that the best I can do is to awaken the healer within a person because then they don't need me anymore. I would be happy to not be needed anymore because people could do it for themselves.
Surgery can remove a tumor but it is the body that heals. The body heals the surgical wound. Without that healing, a person would die of the surgical wound. The same is true with medicine. You can give ten people the same antibiotic and they will all respond differently; some won't even respond. There are no magical answers in medicine, either.
Medicine has many wonderful things to offer. If I break my leg, I want someone to take me to the emergency room, but on the way there I'll be sending light into my leg and I'll be doing healing on myself as my leg repairs. I want the acute care that medicine can give me and I'll use my healing abilities. That's the way we need to work together.
Krysta: Yes, because they can work together.
You've done some work with animals. How do they respond to this sort of healing energy?
Elizabeth: Animals usually respond much better than people because they don't have a conceptual process. They aren't thinking whether something is going to work or not. They just know if something feels good or not. Animals will let you touch them, feel the heat and the healing energies from your hands, and let go into that much as children do. They just absolutely surrender and open up to the healing experience.
When my cat was having kittens, she was having difficulty delivering the second one. I called the vet and was told to bring her in if she still hadn't delivered in a few hours. Then I realized I could use my healing abilities with her. I put my hands on her belly and could feel them getting hot. I could feel the healing energy flowing into her. Within 20 minutes the second kitten came and the mother was fine.
Krysta: Many of the people who read The New Times are healers. And there are a lot of readers who want to be healers. What would you say are the first steps for someone who thinks they want to be a healer?
Elizabeth: First, they need to look in the mirror and ask themselves, "Why?" So many people want to be healers for everybody else's sake. They forget that healing really begins at home. If it doesn't begin at home, within oneself, at some point they are going to burn out, and at some point their own inner shadow material, their own inner woundedness, is going to come up and catch them off-guard. Then they are going to have to go back and do their own healing work anyway.
In my three-year training program called Touching Spirit, one of the major requirements for the students is that they must go into therapy; either psychotherapy or psychoanalysis. I prefer analysis, especially Jungian work because it deals with dreams, symbolism, and the collective unconscious. People need to have that support system in place if they are going to train and work on themselves and other people. They need to be able to go home the next day and have someone they can talk to about it.
In training healers, I've learned the real healing is self-healing. I can't take anybody where I haven't been. So I say to wannabe healers "Why? Why do you want to be a healer?" And if the answer is "I want to help everyone and I want to help the world," that's the wrong answer. The right answer is "Because I want to learn how to live a healing life. If I can do that with integrity, then maybe my presence in the world will be healing and maybe it will affect some other people as well."
The Touching Spirit Center can be reached at P.O. Box 240, Litchfield, CT 06759; (860) 567-0600. On the West Coast, contact Debra Shibsted, a Seattle Faculty Member, (360) 692-7515 or Debbie Way in San Francisco, (415) 584-7310.