Luz Elena Morey wonders if you dare to have the courage to be who you really are. She is a woman small in stature but not in mind.
She stands outside of an eight-sided building, sweeping off the front stoop wearing a long Guatemalan skirt. Her skirt, her height, and her dark hair and rich skin tone bring to mind generations of women sweeping stoops in much warmer climes. However, today it is snow -- not dust -- she is sweeping. Her smile is warm and her deeply recessed eyes and soft voice feel calm and inviting. She speaks with a perceptible enunciation of her consonants, like a brook bubbling over smooth rounded stones, another invitation to pull up a chair and listen.
Luz Elena lets spirit and the feelings in her gut guide her. She lives on a piece of land called Mahalo, meaning gratitude, which is a theme that runs through her life. Mahalo is home to the eight-sided building whose stoop she was sweeping, a temple of sorts, settled into the landscape and embraced by surrounding hillocks. Mahalo resides in West Brattleboro, just off of Route 9, though once you've driven up the long driveway and parked, you'd hardly notice you were so close to the busy road.
Inside, the walls are smooth and comforting, decorated with large shocks of colorful art. A wood stove snaps and creaks, offering heat in the frigid winter, and two chairs sit in front of the large stone hearth, waiting.
When Luz Elena thought about the piece of land she wanted to use for home and as a healing center, she knew one really important thing, that it had to be in nature but close to town. Finding Mahalo was an accident, but a serendipitous one after calling the wrong real estate agent who insisted Luz Elena look at the land she now calls home. When she first visited she "ran right to this place where the sound healing temple is now" and knew that this would be her sanctuary and a healing place for herself and others.
Mahalo Art Center offers programs for people of all ages, from personal therapy led by Luz Elena to workshops and summer camps, all centered around nature as a healer. Mahalo also offers workshops for therapists and healers as well as sharing the space with other practitioners for workshops in acupuncture, expressive arts, sound healing, and mural making. Luz Elena has a Master's in transpersonal developmental psychology, which she says "embraces all theories and technologies, but also embraces nature and spirit as allies in the healing process," stating that "what we don't understand is important."
A huge influence in Luz Elena's life has been the Iroquois Thanksgiving Address, a doctrine that gives thanks for all of life including the plants, the people, the animals, the earth, the moon, the sun and the creator. She has always felt moved by it because it's been a way to gather in gratitude with community. Usually the address is recited, but Luz Elena, who is also a drama therapist, developed a way to "put gratitude into action" by putting on community plays in which the actors "create myths of our time," making up the characters and themes, "becoming the water, becoming the thunder and lightning," and presenting it to an audience.
Luz Elena has spent the past seven Novembers working with several kids and adults from the community to put on "Gathering in Gratitude," with hugely different results every time. Watching the participants make up the stories and then act them out has been awe-inspiring for Luz Elena, who delights in the telling of these stories, searching her memory with her eyes raised to the ceiling, and laughing as she recalls asking a group of children "What is creator?" and one child's response: "an electromagnetic field that glows."
Luz Elena lights up when she recalls the children that participated in Gathering in Gratitude over the years, she loves the creative process that produced such different stories all centered around the theme of gratitude, and the effect it had on the children. The process is therapeutic for the group, the community, and the individuals who are performing. She feels that if she took the scripts and distributed them around the world, she could change the world.
This past year, Luz Elena took a break from the huge project that Gathering in Gratitude is, but plans to continue the process in schools and summer camps in the future. Currently, she is preparing for workshops and expanding her private practice that helps her clients release negative patterns, become more aware of their strengths, and to live from that place of strength.
As a therapist, Luz Elena enjoys watching the process of healing and "how people are amazed with their own selves." She sees Mahalo "as a place where people are evolving personally and collectively, going beyond the recovery phase, and freeing up the energy to create." Her aim is to have the programs that she offers be "unconditionally loving and supportive so that wholeness can be successfully created and blossom" and feels "that can't happen unless people are connecting in gratitude with nature, spirit, self, ancestors and community." She is also starting the process of fund-raising for a gathering hall she'd like to build on the land so that Mahalo can become more of a place where community gathers.
Mahalo is where people are free to be indoors or out. There are animals always wandering through, from moose to coyotes, to the chickens Luz Elena raises. There are hills and trees. It is a place to wonder what is possible both independently and culturally and a place that Luz Elena finds people can "focus within on the qualities of oneself while being aware of the intricate interconnectedness of everything around you to you and the whole universe. This awareness transcends time. It's supported by cutting edge research in quantum physics as well as ancient teachings from all over the world."
Luz Elena has written a book about romantic love called "Romantic Attraction and the Longing for Bliss" as well as contributed a chapter to another book entitled "The Heart and Soul of Psychotherapy." One can tell from speaking with Luz Elena that her work is her life and her life her work. She is very passionate about using the themes of nature and gratitude as companions in the healing process. One only has to visit the warm hearth at Mahalo's temple on a cold day to begin to allow the gratitude to seep deeply into their being. Gazing at the sparking beauty of the fire and listening to the river rock burble of Luz Elena's voice brings the gratitude deep into the bones.
Abby Bliss is a regular contributor to the Reformer. To suggest people for this column, write to her at email@example.com.