In February of 1999, I drove up the long spine of the San Fernando Valley to the town of Sierra Madre to seek out the Rev. Rosalyn Bruyere. I was a pilgrim, desperate for a cure. I’d heard she was an “energy healer” but I had no idea what that was. I did not know yet that she was the most respected and well known practitioner of hands-on healing in America. I went to see her because I was willing to try anything.
For fourteen years I’d suffered from phlebitis – painful blood clots that form in the leg and can be life-threatening. I never knew when a demon blood clot would strike and I would have to cancel work, cancel parties, cancel life while I lay in bed and injected myself with a blood thinner, heparin, the way a diabetic injects herself with insulin. I’d spent thousands of dollars going to doctors, surgeons and blood specialists, none of whom could stop the clots from recurring. The best advice they could offer was to wear industrial-strength, support panty hose that were so thick and stiff I had to wear yellow rubber gloves to pull them on. For years, I never traveled anywhere without packing my yellow rubber gloves, disposable needles and bottles of heparin.
In the months before I sought out Rosalyn Bruyere, the phlebitis attacks began to come with disturbing frequency. The vein surgeon wanted to strip my veins, but the blood specialist wanted to give me stronger drugs and said that surgery wouldn’t help because the clots would form in different veins.
I called a friend, Dr. Andrew Weil, whom I’d met long before he became America’s favorite proponent of natural healing. “I can’t live like this,” I told him. After listening to my history, he thought for a time. “You should see Rosalyn Bruyere.” He said he’d brought her to the University of Arizona’s Program in Integrative Medicine to teach his research fellows how to work with energy. While there, she’d cured Weil of a nasty sinus infection that wouldn’t respond to any other treatment. “I bet she can help you.”
Without knowing anything more, I drove out to see her. I’d lived in Los Angeles most of my life but never heard of Sierra Madre. I had to take five freeways and when I finally arrived, I thought I was on the set of the movie, “Pleasantville.” The streets were lined with storybook homes from a Fifties sitcom. Many had American flags flying or banners depicting sunflowers, a birthday cake, a rainbow, blue birds or happy faces saying “Have a nice day.” The apartment compound where Rosalyn lives was designed by Irving Gill, the legendary California architect who created a network of cottages – all cubes and arches – connected by paths that wind around oak and orange trees.
I walked to a door marked “Healing Light Center Church.” After a few moments, Rosalyn Bruyere appeared: a large, striking woman in her fifties with flowing auburn hair, green eyes and dangling earrings with silver stars. Her face was warm and welcoming and conveyed imperturbable assurance. Walking with a slight limp, she led me to her treatment cottage and there, in the heart of this white-bread Fifties town, was a shrine to Egypt. The ceiling was painted bright blue and the room was filled with Egyptian statues, pyramids, papyruses and stuffed toy leopards. She asked me to lie on her treatment table and before I said anything, she placed her hand on the spot in my right calf where I’d had the most violent phlebitis attack. “You have an energy block here.” She frowned. “Oh, my. Your circulation is blocked from the foot clear up to the pelvis.” She said she was sending energy into my leg to clear the block.
Now, I’ve had Reiki and acupressure – different forms of hands-on therapy – but I’ve never felt anything like this. Something was pulsing, vibrating on my skin. Was she holding an electric device to my leg?
“What is that?” I asked.
“Energy.” She held up her palm and I could see the skin beating, pulsing outward. “There’s energy in everything that’s alive,” she said. “I’m drawing that energy and running it through your system, directing it where it will help you.”
Whatever she was “drawing,” whatever was pulsing through her hand, my leg seemed to crave it, to drink it in the way a thirsty animal laps up water. When I left her compound, I felt so elated I could barely sit still in the car. It was as if I was driving through an illuminated world: every tree, every building seemed a breath-taking work of art. Even the cars jammed on the freeway flowed in graceful colored swirls.
For the next few months, I returned to Sierra Madre and after five treatments, the phlebitis disappeared. My veins receded and my leg had shrunk in circumference. I stopped taking blood thinners, against my internist’s advice, and in the two years that have elapsed, I have not had a single attack.
What am I to make of this? I’m an observer, a note-taker with a skeptical, ironic mind and I’m also a seeker willing to put the mind on hold and plunge into strange waters. I felt certain Rosalyn had healed my phlebitis. But was it the “energy” that came through her hands? Was it the power of suggestion, or could it have been a case of spontaneous healing, as many doctors would suggest? Was it the placebo effect, the body’s most powerful demonstration of its ability to heal itself regardless of whether it’s receiving antibiotics or sugar water?
Whenever I see my internist, he looks at my chart with puzzlement. “Why do you think your phlebitis went away?” he asks.
“I went to see an energy healer.”
He sighs and rolls his eyes. Please. Spare me.
* * *
“Nobody wakes up one day and says, `I want to be a weirdo,'” Rosalyn Bruyere says. We’re sitting in front of the cottage she shares with her partner, Ken Weintrub, whom she met when she was studying karate and he was her sensei. He’s as slim as Rosalyn is ample. He sits in a chair, puffing a cigar, spotting her as she lifts barbells with 135-pound weights. “This is how I keep my bones strong,” she says, puffing between words.
After she completes her set, we move to her treatment cottage and sit down among the stuffed leopards. On the mantle is a picture of Cher. Although she doesn’t speak about it, Rosalyn has treated many stars including Barbra Streisand, Cher, James Coburn and the director Martin Scorsese. She’s participated in research studies on energy transmission at U.C.L.A., the Menninger Clinic and currently at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, a hospital affiliated with Johns Hopkins University, which is testing the benefit of energy healing on brain-damaged children. While none of the studies has yielded conclusive results, many medical schools are pursuing further tests. Rosalyn has also been an advisor to the National Institutes of Health for a workshop on “Unconventional Medicine Practices.”
She’s certainly unconventional. When she speaks about her life, she can be as funny as a stand-up comic. She says she had clairvoyant abilities as a child. “I did real well on multiple choice tests.” A mischievous smile. “I didn’t have to study because the correct letters would sparkle.” Her mother was sixteen and unmarried when Rosalyn was born, so she was raised by her grandmother, who was only 33, and her great grandmother, Nana, who encouraged her to try to see “the lights around people and plants.”
By the time Rosalyn was seven, she’d learned the hazards of seeing too much. When a man developed a crush on her mother, Rosalyn says she saw “a gorgeous fuchsia light shoot out of him and into her. When I asked my mother, `What was that light that came out of Uncle Paul and went into you?’ Whack! I got slapped.”
Not long afterward, Nana’s husband died and she reported to the family that she was having conversations with him. “They put her in the hospital and gave her electroshock treatment,” Rosalyn says. “I learned what happened if you saw lights and talked to dead people.”
She stopped having those experiences and tried to make herself like other girls in California. She rode motorcycles, talked on the phone late at night and enrolled at Monterey Junior College, then dropped out to get married and had two sons. When her marriage broke up, she worked as a checker in a supermarket. She was yanked back to the paranormal when her sons started seeing “fuzzy colors” around people. Rosalyn started seeing the same kind of lights and colors she’d seen as a child and thought she was losing her mind. A neighbor told her she was seeing auras–the light which, according to many mystics and healers, emanates from every person but which I’ve never been able to see.
“This was thirty years ago,” Rosalyn says, “before we had New Age bookstores and yoga and meditation classes everywhere.” The neighbor took her to a spiritualist church in Hollywood, which taught that people don’t die but move to another dimension where it’s possible to communicate with them. The spiritualists also did hands-on healing, and Rosalyn found that when she touched people who were sick, “their pain left and sometimes the disease left.”
She began to pore over anatomy charts and medical books. “I was teaching myself, one patient at a time,” she says. She studied with Hopi and Sioux medicine men and did research on Egyptian and Hindu healing traditions. One of her first mentors was Bill Gray, a celebrated healer who weighed 400 pounds. He’d developed stomach cancer when Rosalyn met him and he trained her by having her work on him. Rosalyn says Gray had what felt like an “electrical current” in his hands, which few healers have. After he died, Rosalyn discovered she owned it as well.
In her early years as a healer, people came to Rosalyn as a last resort. “Doctors had been mean or careless and I was determined to prove them wrong, to do what medicine hadn’t been able to do,” she says. One patient, Harry, had ankylosing spondylitis which had caused his joints to become fused together. Doctors told him he’d never walk again. He was combative and ornery and complained that Rosalyn didn’t know what she was doing. But after three months of treatment, he moved from a wheelchair to a walker, then to a cane, and after ten months, he threw the cane away.
Years later, a radiologist from Massachusetts, Dr. Jonathan Kramer, diagnosed himself with Hodgkin disease. He’d taken classes with Rosalyn and after two sessions of chemotherapy–in what was supposed to be a six-month course–he flew to California for a week of treatments with Rosalyn. When he returned, prepared to undergo more chemo, he took an x-ray and found that the large tumor in his chest was gone. “It disappeared completely. That’s extraordinary in medical literature,” he says. “I’m still a scientist and it’s hard for me to say that Rosalyn did that, because I’d also had chemo and done a lot of meditation. But in my heart of hearts, I believe Rosalyn had the biggest influence.”
Not all her treatments were so successful. One man I knew who developed lung cancer had treatments from Rosalyn for months, then took a downward turn and died.
I asked her why this had happened. She shook her head, saying that every illness has multiple causes: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. “Maybe I didn’t know enough about lung cancer. Maybe he was too far along when he came to me. Maybe it was his time to go.”
Losing a patient makes her agonize, blame herself, forgive herself, blame herself and vow to do better in the future. “Being a healer is a hard life because it breaks your heart when you can’t help someone,” she says. Unlike healers who assert that death doesn’t trouble them because it’s a transition, Rosalyn says, “Death bothers me terribly. I take death personally. It’s failure, and I refuse to see it as inevitable. I fight for life and I’ll keep fighting until six men shovel dirt on the coffin.”
* * *
In l975, Rosalyn founded the Healing Light Center Church and became its pastor so she could lay hands on people and not risk being charged with practicing medicine without a license. She set up a clinic and school in the basement of the Maryland Hotel in Glendale, where she taught a generation of healers who now practice across the country, including Barbara Brennan who founded the world’s largest hands-on healing school in Islip, New York.
Rosalyn had developed a technique for scanning the body that she calls “chelation.” (pronounced key-lation) Diane Goldner, in her book, Infinite Grace, says chelation “has become a kind of MS-DOS for healers, a basic operating system.” In chelation, Rosalyn begins at the feet and moves her hands up the body, running energy through various systems and organs “until I see what the problem is, where the blocks are. Then I’ll come up with a treatment.”
Although chelation has not been studied scientifically, when Ellen Burstyn was cast as the healer in the film, Resurrection, she spent time with Rosalyn to learn the technique. “All right,” she told Rosalyn after observing her for five days. “I’m ready. Want to see me do you?”
Rosalyn recalls, “Who wouldn’t want to see an Academy Award winner do her?”
Burstyn asked a friend to lie on Rosalyn’s table and scanned her friend’s body with her hands. She raised her eyebrows as she’d seen Rosalyn do. Then Ellen called to Rosalyn, “Oooh! I saw an aura!” Rosalyn laughs. “I wasn’t conscious of it until I saw Ellen do me, but I move a certain muscle in my forehead when I shift from one kind of seeing to another. When Ellen moved that muscle, she saw the aura.”
I tried moving the same muscle and saw nothing.
* * *
Rosalyn is working in her garden in Sierra Madre, pruning the walnut trees where dozens of wild parrots come to perch. She’s recuperating from hip replacement surgery. When I’d met her, she’d been limping and explained that it was due to a congenital hip defect. To her frustration, she’d never been able to heal herself. “I was doing wonderful work on other people and was powerless to do anything about my hip,” she says. “I couldn’t get cartilage to grow where there wasn’t any. Everything I tried made it worse.”
She noticed, however, that the more disabled she became, the stronger her ability was to help others. “There’s a myth about the wounded healer,” she says, “which suggests you have to experience suffering – to know disease as a formidable enemy – to have the gift.”
For years she refused to have surgery because she was afraid she’d lose her healing power. “If I had a prosthesis in my body – something that was solid steel and not human – I was afraid it wouldn’t conduct energy.” But she was finding it more difficult to teach and had to take pain pills to get through the day. “It came down to a choice: I could accept the limits on my ability to work, or have the surgery and buy myself more time.”
She had the surgery in Ohio because she knew a surgeon there who was also an acupuncturist and sympathetic to her work. She recovered with remarkable speed and, to her relief, found her healing power undiminished.
She believes her most important work now is creating a way for healers to collaborate with medical doctors, to build a bridge between Western and alternative medicine. “I like doctors. I’m a boomer and was raised on drugs. My body responds very well to antibiotics.” She wrinkles her face. “But Chinese herbs make me sick.”
Numerous doctors have begun collaborating with healers. For six years, Dr. Mehmet Oz, an acclaimed surgeon at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, has brought energy healers into the operating room while he performs open-heart surgery. “There definitely are energy fields that impact our lives,” he says. He’s conducted research that’s produced “interesting, curious results but there are so many variables that at the end of the day, all we can say is: There’s probably something there but we don’t know what it is.” Dr. Oz says that if scientists can identify what energy is, “if we can peel away the shrouds covering this jewel, it will open up a huge vista of opportunity. We’ll understand a whole new way in which the human body works. That excites me.”
Rosalyn has given up her private practice so she can concentrate on teaching and research. At the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, she’s participating in four pilot studies. Sharon Reeves, the chief health care executive, says Rosalyn gives energy treatments to children suffering from brain injuries, some of whom are paralyzed. “We don’t have a control group because with brain injuries there’s so much variation between patients. So each child serves as his own control.” She says the research staff collects data before, during and after Rosalyn’s treatment and looks for changes in the patient’s mobility and range of motion, “so we can document the impact of her treatment.”
Rosalyn is also training Reeves and other staff members to do energy therapy. Reeves signed up after receiving a treatment herself. “When I met Rosalyn I had a knee injury and was in excruciating pain,” she recalls. “Rosalyn worked on me–I was a bit skeptical–but the pain subsided immediately. The relief was phenomenal.”
* * *
It’s Friday night and 130 people-mostly women-have gathered at the Embassy Suites near Sierra Madre for a weekend seminar on “The Third Eye.” Rosalyn introduces her partner, Ken, who’ll be teaching with her. “We’re a real couple,” she tells the group, “and we live together with a fair amount of agreement and disagreement.”
They speak in a rambling style and I grow sleepy and bored. I can barely drag myself back on Saturday but the atmosphere changes. I feel alert, every sense is heightened and an intoxicating sense of well-being spreads through me like a drug. Others report similar feelings. “It’s Rosalyn’s energy,” they say.
Rosalyn believes most people can learn to heal, just as most people can learn to play piano “but only a few will play like Vladimir Horowitz.” She says we can all activate the third eye, which supposedly sits in the middle of the forehead and is the center of creativity, insight and intuition. “We all get a knowing, then we talk ourselves out of it and when it turns out to be right, we’re amazed!” She suggests we write down our intuitions in a journal, date them and see if they prove correct. “When the phone rings, never answer it without first asking, who is it?” After the seminar, I try this ten times and strike out ten times.
She says we also have to develop faith. “Every time you set out to do something, you have to conquer your fear that it can’t be done. When I begin a healing treatment, I have to believe I can see through the body even though there are days when I can’t.”
I ask her if a client needs to believe in energy therapy for it work.
“No. If I truly have faith, my client doesn’t need to because I’ll make enough for both of us.”
She asks us to choose a partner and practice drawing energy up from the earth through our feet and pushing it out through our hands into the person’s body. Then she asks us to pull energy out of the body, “as if your arms are hollow and you’re sucking it up.” I try this, having little faith I’ll be able to do it, and notice that it seems easier to pull energy than push it.
“For females, it’s easier to pull,” Rosalyn says. “But most of the time in healing, you’re putting energy into a sick person to get them well. You pull if the person’s in pain and push if they need energy. The art is to make it look effortless.”
Before we leave, she asks us to scan our partner’s head with our hands and see, “What do they need? Then let your hands rest on the head and send them what they need.”
My first partner, a small, dark-haired woman from New York, feels wiry and jangly and I sense that she needs self confidence. I place my hands on her head and imagine sending her this quality. Then we take a second partner and she feels different: heavy and inert. I decide to send her joy and liveliness.
When we trade places and the first woman scans me, I feel a strong desire for her hands to touch the top of my head but just off center, to the sides. To my surprise, she places her hands on those exact spots. When the second woman scans me, I feel a burning sensation in my forehead. I want to draw her hands there, I need her hands there. Rosalyn says: “Now let your hands rest on your partner’s head.” No one is touching the forehead, they’re all touching the crown, but my partner reaches around and puts her hands on the burning spot in my forehead. I let out a cry.
On the ride home, I marvel: two times I’ve drawn people’s hands to specific and different places. The thought ticks across my mind: was it coincidence?
Nah. Couldn’t be. Or could it?
As I make my way from one freeway to the next, I find that I don’t care if it was coincidence or if I’ve tapped into what Rosalyn calls energy – a force, a current I can palpably feel although I can’t define what it is. A full moon is rising over the San Gabriel mountains, startling in its intensity. The world seems a rich and intricate place. The mountains, the moon, my car, my own hands are shot through with mystery and unanswerable questions. For this I’m grateful.