Among the super-star gurus occupying today's mind-body-spirit galaxy, Caroline Myss, Ph.D., is a different kind of light. A lecturer, writer and medical intuitive -- someone who can, without a medical degree, diagnose illness before it is detectable -- she is earthy, direct, funny, vulnerable and as emotionally accessible as a cocker spaniel.
"There was no princess syndrome in my house," she says, perusing a lunch menu in Orlando in late May. "Thank God. That would have made me spineless. My grandfather did say a lot of girls-don't-do-that stuff, and my grandmother was hellbent to get me married. She warned me not to be smarter than a man."
Myss [pronounced Mace] did do the girls-don't stuff, has not married and, as a genius, is a whole lot smarter than most of either gender. She has penned two best-sellers. The first, "Anatomy of the Spirit," examines the interactions between the body and belief, cells and the soul. "Why People Don't Heal and How They Can," published last year, is equally acclaimed. Meanwhile, her nonstop, global workshop and seminar schedule would fell a less indefatigable soul.
Although she no longer gives private medical readings, Myss' reputation as a medical intuitive has long been validated by scores of well-known physicians, including neurosurgeon C. Norman Shealy,, who co-founded the American Holistic Medical Association and co-authored "The Creation of Health"with Myss.
In a Chicago Tribune interview, Shealy, who began working with Myss in 1984, spoke of tracking her diagnoses and finding an accuracy rate that exceeded 90 percent.
"I would call her and say, ‘I've got a patient here, tell me what's going on.' The less she knows about the person, the better she is. All she needs is their name and age. If she knows too much, she gets emotionally hooked."
While Myss' map to healing includes aspects of Christianity, Hinduism and Judaism, her ability to draw parallel messages from such myriad sources -- and translate them into a practical guide for growth and healing -- is what makes it a brilliant piece of spiritual and intellectual cartography.
Born into a close-knit tribe, to a father who was in banking and to "the most nurturing, wonderful woman alive," Myss grew up as a staunch Catholic on Chicago's west side, "in a consistent state of miracles. Not just when I was little, but always. Everybody has them," she says. "Nothing about my life was extraordinary." Notwithstanding the discovery, at 15, that she is a medical intuitive.
"Listen," she says, "I could ask anyone if they'd had phenomenal insights when they were growing up, and the answer would be yes. The thing is that I developed an ability to take my perception and convert it into ground-level currency that people can use."
By the time she entered St. Mary's of the Woods -- a tiny, classically French college in Terra Haute, Ind. -- Myss says she was a spiritually spoiled brat.
"Everybody was worrying about God; I'd say, ‘What's the matter with you?' It never occurred to me that everything wouldn't be taken care of. That wasn't from enlightenment, it was from habit: I'd always been educated by Catholic nuns."
Burned out on religion when the curriculum demanded more such classes, she decided "just for the hell of it, I'd go the Eastern route."
Thus, she met one of her great role models -- Sister Barbara Doherty, who would teach critical thinking to her young, arrogant charge. "I felt like somebody had turned on a light. She said, ‘It matters not if you like me; what matters is that I teach you with integrity.'"
Following college, Myss spent time as a reporter, a jobless person in Chicago, a wanderer in Alaska, in public relations, as a secretary, and finally as a publisher. "A part of me didn't believe in occupation until I was 30 years old."
She decided to go to graduate school and study something that filled her with passion -- mysticism -- and was fascinated with how the spirit and the mind interact with the divine journey.
"The thing is," says Myss, "I never had a passion to serve humanity but simply to do a nice occupation as a public servant. When I began looking at the world in a different way, I thought, wow, what a mess. It suddenly became incredibly important to me to do something, to improve the minds of people so that they could improve their bodies and souls."
She earned a master's degree from a Jesuit school and became captivated by the emergent spirituality, never dreaming it would become an occupation. "Even after my doctorate, I felt like I needed depth charges, a teacher in that world, someone with a candle -- a whole new vision."
Enter Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. At 25, Myss, attending one of her seminars, was impressed with Kubler-Ross' celebrated views on death and dying.
"I believed her, because I always thought we'd kinda misshapen the face of God; everything she said made more sense to me and redrew my values."
Then, on a drive home when she was 35, she passed a 35 MPH sign. Instantly, she recalls, there was an epiphany, a miraculous insight that she was about to journey into a more mature level of her life that would steer her. "I remember thinking, My life will never, ever be the same from this moment."
Shortly after, when her 10-year-old publishing company imploded, Myss trusted life's unfolding. She began writing and teaching. "I never, ever have had an absence of faith."
A health-care reformation is under way in this country that defines many illnesses as the result of psychological, emotional or spiritual crises. Nearly 62 million Americans now use non-Western medical protocol to maintain health and treat illness. Classes in spirituality and healing are taught at scores of medical schools, and the federal government has established the Office of Alternative Medicine. Clearly, the notion of mind-body-spirit interconnectedness no longer resides only in a fringe domain.
"According to energy medicine, the human spirit is a manifestation of energy," Myss says in the introduction to "Why People Don't Heal ... " "The intention behind using energy medicine is to treat the body and the spirit equally."
The Hindu system of chakras -- seven energy centers in the human body -- corresponds, says Myss, not only to life issues, but to the seven sacraments of Christianity and to the Jewish Tree of Life, and mark an inner path of spiritual evolution. To trace the evolution of spirituality and consciousness, Myss uses the symbolism of astrology, defining the types of energy that have dominated each Age, such as Taurean, Arien, Piscean and, soon, Aquarian.
"Woundology" is her contribution to the nomenclature of healing -- that is, the tendency to remain attached to past wounds in order to have an identity or to gain power. She writes, "... [W]hen we define ourselves by our wounds, we burden and lose our physical and spiritual energy and open ourselves to the risk of illness." While emotions are not responsible for every illness, she says, they are enormously important.
"The medical intuiting didn't become the fire in my belly that I have today until I found a way to teach," Myss says. "I never cared to produce a career as a medical intuitive, although I learned everything of any value from it -- the energy system, the content of the chakras, what power was there -- what I would teach!
Myss says that every life is a means to bring insight from a higher altitude down to earth. What determines whether we do that are the questions we ask about the roadblocks and mysteries of our lives. "There is no difference between the spirituality inherent in anybody else's occupation and mine ... . The struggle is the same; the crises are the same; the politics are the same; the fears are the same."
"I have a real fear of loss. A strong support system is the only thing I've ever known, and at the thought of my mother leaving me, or my brother, nieces, nephews. Well, I go into some kind of ..."
The candor is disarming, equalizing. Words fail, but her eyes don't. "I have a fear of that aloneness that you can't change -- when you can't turn around and touch them one more time."
The death of her father nine years ago was that kind of loss. "I still can't go visit where he's buried -- can't touch that yet. So I know what it's like to have a part of you so restricted," she says.
"If I went near the degree of mourning that would be unlocked, it would not stop for a long time. I'm not ready for my life to halt [in order] to enter the grief period of seeing his face, reviewing conversations, lonely nights."
It is by teaching what it is she herself needs to learn that most validates Myss to those who jam her seminars, buy her books and tapes, watch her on television. She faces the same shadows as theirs. They are charged by her voltage, made hopeful by her vision, inspired by her promise. She talks to them like a favorite teacher, a Jewish mother, an irrepressible sister, a doting aunt.
She teaches them with integrity.