Reprinted from Yoga Journal
By Stephanie Hiller
On a rainy September night in 1972, Mitchell May was traveling with some friends in a Volkswagen bus when a blue Dodge came careening down the road toward them, in the wrong lane. In the ensuing crash, May was thrust feet-first through the bus. His bones were broken in 40 places, his lungs were punctured, and a piece of bone two and a half inches long was missing from his right leg. He was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident.
Resuscitated, May hovered in and out of a coma for several days. When he regained consciousness, he was told the leg would have to be amputated. He was 21 years old, and he refused. Some weeks later, 70 orthopedic surgeons, meeting at the UCLA hospital to discuss his case, agreed unanimously that the leg must come off. His body was inflamed with fever and riddled with systemic infection; his life was on the line. Yet nothing could persuade him to give up the leg. Four years later, May was walking. He had regenerated new bone, tissue, and nerves and regained the use of his leg. Said Dr. Edgar Dawson, May's chief orthopedic surgeon: "In one word, it's a miracle. People who have this serious of a wound don't get better. It just doesn't happen."
May's recovery occurred through the unforeseen intervention of a remarkable healer named Jack Gray, who used nonmedical and unconventional means to bring May out of the paralysis of excruciating pain to participate actively in his own healing. Later, May became Gray's apprentice and learned to do the same healing work with others.
I got to know Mitchell May in the fall of 1993. I was a middle-aged housewife raising three children in a big country house too cumbersome to manage, and I was stuck. My marriage wasn't working, and my life seemed like the house - unwieldy and heavy. I wanted to change everything, but I couldn't see how.
Chronic health problems added to my sense of burden. My left hip had been replaced by surgery some years before, the right one was starting to go out of whack, and I had colitis that flared up whenever I faced the risk of change. The problem of earning a living had become an obsession, but how could I work if I wasn't well?
I had reached the limit of my ability to change myself on my own. The pressure was so great that for the first time, I called out for healing. It came in the person of Mitchell May, who played a major part in my healing that year.
May resists all familiar terminology describing his work, and he is meticulous in rejecting phrases with unclear connotations. He works in the moment and through relationship.
My first meeting with May took place over the telephone. He told me his schedule was "insane," yet he seemed to be in no rush at all. He told me about the redrock country of Utah, where he lives. "It's a place I love because of the silence. The silence, the vastness of space, the geological forces - we get along very well."
May's healing has been compared to a shamanic initiation. "We don't have stories like this in our culture anymore. I was dismembered. I was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident. I was told I would never walk again. That process was broken by another reality system; that other system superseded the reality the culture accepts."
I asked him how he worked. "Sometimes I work over the telephone," he offered. Talking? "Talking. Or sharing the silence." He said he liked to use the laying on of hands, when it was appropriate. "When you've been really touched, you remember. When you really touch someone, they remember who they are."
He cautioned me repeatedly that the techniques are not what's important. It's where you go, not how you get there. To heal, you break out of constricted and habitual states of consciousness. You enter a "place" of possibility, a place outside the confines of ordinary reality where we experience the "infinite resonance of existence." Without that, healing methods are useless.
It's like listening to music, he said, or even having dinner at a favorite restaurant; the change of scene, the new vibrations, the relaxed atmosphere invite transformation. This "vacation" from the goal-oriented, pressure-driven personality we maintain in order to "keep body and soul together" (as the saying goes), creates space for another kind of awareness. Great theatrical performances, festivals, a walk by the seashore, even a football game can allow us to briefly enter that enchanted, suprarational realm.
"Rituals create space to go outside the smaller space, the island that you're in, into a much bigger space," May explained. "When we reconnect with that essence, things begin to take place. All things become possible because you have no agenda."
May's words drew me in, transported me to a realm beyond my concerns, but it was hard for me to understand how entering sacred space can cure disease. "We heal ourselves all the time, yet this takes place at an unconscious level. When we learn to enter into a conscious and participatory relationship with this inherent healing space, we tap into extraordinary possibilities."
The breath, he said, is very important. "Breath is a way we have to interface between the conscious and the unconscious, the one place where we can move between the two worlds. In any religious system, the breath is considered identical to spirit. It is what carries life. How you breathe affects brain waves, brain waves affect blood flow, oxygen from the blood influences the nerve current, which affects hormonal balance." Breathing creates space in the body, he explained, opening the energy field so that new possibilities can emerge. "I teach my clients and students to breathe in a manner that activates healing energy."
I still wanted to know how his healing works, so I asked him to demonstrate by working with me.
We made an appointment to meet two weeks later at my house. In the meantime, he sent me a package of tapes, a bundle of documents verifying the facts of his accident and recovery, and a big bottle of Pure Synergy ®, a superfood formula he has developed, composed of 62 freshly harvested herbs, algae, mushrooms and other ingredients. He told me the formula would provide support for the body's healing process, allowing it to tolerate higher levels of energy. I started taking it right away. I liked it; it made me feel clear, awake, and well nourished.
May came to my Sonoma County house one crisp November morning. He's what you might call a bare-bones type of guy; at five foot eight and 120 pounds, he hasn't an extra inch of flesh on his frame. He's a light but energetic presence, high-browed, with fine features, and a wide mouth that breaks into a huge, toothy grin. We sat at the kitchen table and talked until the sun started to set over the hills, seven hours later. He never seemed to tire.
Mitchell May's story begins in Los Angeles in the 1950s. His family was well established; his father was a businessman who later joined the faculty of UCLA. Mitchell was the youngest of four children. The family home was next to Griffith Park, and Mitchell spent hours there with his dog, playing in the creeks and exploring the forest. "I didn't feel any separation there. From the beginning, I seemed to have a lot of sensitivities. My nature was to bond and merge with plants and animals and people, and I could feel their energetic presence."
May's grandfather was a religious man who rose before dawn to practice davening, the Jewish morning prayer rituals. Mitchell used to watch him from behind the sofa. "He was able, with ritual, to create a sacred space, and I went into that sacred space with him." In the 1960s, May finished high school and hit the road. He checked out a few of the gurus then making star appearances throughout the Northwest but wasn't satisfied. "Something said, 'No. You'll be trading one system for another.'" Then he went on to New Haven, where his brother was attending medical school. There he spent a year working at a street clinic for troubled youth. He found it easy to work with people who were freaked out and bring them back to themselves. Although the work was rewarding, May took off again in 1970, hitchhiking to Colorado, where he learned of a remote cabin in the mountains, 9,000 feet up. He stayed there, alone, through the winter snows. Praying, chanting, breathing, and crying, he reached the peak he was seeking. Four months later, while on his way to a bluegrass concert with friends, the accident occurred.
"I was making sandwiches in the front seat of the van. I turned to pass a sandwich to someone in back, and as I did so, I saw a blue car about to crash into us. When I turned around, the same scene was about to take place!" Why, I ask, had he refused to have the leg amputated?
May chuckles "Just stupid, I guess." He went on to describe what he felt at the time: He was young. How would he live? How would he go to the bathroom in the middle of the night? What would happen to his relationships with women?
"It was not just the leg! It was my life! Did I want to take responsibility, to participate in what was happening, or did I want the priesthood - the doctors, and the drugs, and the fear - to dictate my experience?"
While still in a coma, May had an out-of-body experience. He hovered above his body for some time, then, zooming higher, he encountered three presences who spoke to him. "'Well?' they asked. Smartass that I am, I replied, 'Well, what?' 'What are you going to do here?' they asked. 'If you die, the seed that was planted in you will never bloom.' I decided to go for it."
When he continued to refuse amputations beyond all reason that the doctors could understand, a psychiatrist was called in. May tried to explain about the presences, and about his leg. He was given Thorazine and an ultimatum: The leg must come off in 72 hours.
May was also suffering from causalgia, a little-understood condition of the nerves that causes intense pain no narcotics can assuage. Stripped of skin and flesh, the nerves in the leg were completely exposed. "Even a little drift of movement across [the leg] would cause this severe paroxysm of pain," explained his doctor. When someone merely entered the room, Mitchell would scream as if they had hit him.
It was May's mother who approached Dr. Thelma Moss at the parapsychology department at UCLA in a last-ditch attempt to find him relief from the pain. Dr. Moss had been working with a healer named Jack Gray, who had demonstrated his healing abilities consistently in the university's tests, repeatedly exceeding medical limits. Gray agreed to take on May as a research case. (Gray had informed Moss two days earlier that a young man would be asking for him.)
Jack Gray had no formal training or licenses to heal. May says he was "licensed by life." Born in Austria at the turn of the century to a Jewish mystical family, he was the seventh son of a seventh son, a birth position that has special significance in the Kabalistic tradition.
The Gray family immigrated to New York in 1909. As a young man, Jack played clarinet with vaudeville troops that included various yogis as part of their act. Gray would hang out with these yogis, who could lie on a bed of nails and read people's minds, and he learned from them many ways to control his own physiology. They predicted that healing would be his mission.
Eventually Gray made his way to Los Angeles, walking much of the way. Able to take people quickly into a trance state, he made himself available at the scenes of accidents to help the victims. Soon the medical establishment was calling on him to help patients allergic to anesthesia endure surgery. By the time Gray met May, he was in his 60s, with a wife and family. He was seeing patients night and day.
As he entered May's room, Jack traced with his hands the field of pain around the leg and walked around it. "Then he came over to me," May recalls. "He looked at me with these intense eyes and he saw all of me. All the elements I had shame about and had hidden from the world, as well as my essence. And that terrified me. He was looking straight at it. He just stood there with it. There was no way out. Then he touched my forehead - the most beautiful touch I had ever felt in my life - and he said, 'Mitchell, you were made in the image and likeness of God. Everything you will ever need is within you.'
"And I got it! I knew who I was and who God was - for about three seconds." His eyes twinkle. "Then I lost it. Of course. "Then he started putting his hands on me, making these guttural chants and sounds. He asked me to join with him in these powerful chants, and so we began our deep journey together toward my healing."
Gray worked through the night. At his request, May's parents remained present. The next night he came again. He used prayers and sounds, his hands, and disks of color. He worked to distract May's attention from the pain.
He came three nights in a row. He never sat down. He never slept. "When I woke up after the third night, the pain was gone." May's voice drops to a whisper. "Everything else was the same, the infection, the fractures; there were no physiological changes, but the pain was gone."
May was in a full body cast at the time, from his neck to the bottom of his toes. All his bodily functions required medical support; he couldn't eat, couldn't defecate. He had systemic infections and a fever of 104 degrees. The pain was so intense nothing could touch it, yet this man who stepped out of nowhere, without credentials, had been able to break its hold.
Though impressed, doctors were not to be put off. The prognosis remained the same. It's very nice that the pain is gone, they said, but what about this infection? Furthermore, they insisted, the leg would be useless. May would never walk on two legs again.
Ignoring the dismal medical verdict, Gray continued to work with May. Later he said that after the first five or six hours, he had known May would make it. "It was because I fought him all the way," May says. "In deep trance states I kept saying, essentially, prove it." The stubborn will that had refused amputation had become his ally.
After two months of constant work, Gray told May he had been looking for an apprentice for many years. Would May become his student? Despite his awe at such a request and the responsibility it implied, May consented. He knew he wanted to become "a vessel of consciousness" and help people heal.
The greatest challenge May faced was to abide by Gray's insistence that he do nothing, that he let go of all agendas and be open to the mysteries of the present. Gray also taught him about energy transfer, kinesthetic awareness, nutrition, active visualization, leaving the body consciously, turning off his pain at will, and much more. He also chipped away relentlessly at the belief systems that held unconscious sway in May's mind. "We would work for hours on end in expanded states of consciousness. You have to inhabit those states for long periods of time to understand how healing takes place. Jack exposed me to a field of energy that will almost burn you up if you don't change. He had to teach me to deal with my fears, my ego games, so that I could enter that energy field."
After several months in the hospital, May's weight was down from 146 to 87 pounds. He was still being given large doses of a chemotherapy drug, known to be toxic after six weeks of use, to control the infection. His doctors warned that his kidneys, liver, and hearing would be irreparably damaged as a result. Gray insisted that the continued infections were caused by a small chip of bone still lodged in the leg.
"I can see it! If they can get it out, they'll get you off these damn drugs and you can get well." Doctors reluctantly agreed to do a CAT scan; the chip was found, and when it was removed the infection started to heal. May's kidney function returned, and he began to get well.
One day, doctors told May that skin would not grow on that leg again. Gray became furious. "They're playing God," he said. "How do they know what's going to happen in the next moment?" He took a glass of water, moved his hands over it, and gave it to May to drink. The next morning there were bits of new skin growing out of the holes in the bone where the screws had been placed to hold it together.
The work went on in the hospital for an entire year. Gray showed May how to practice his healing work on himself while remaining his constant guide. All day, every day, still in the body cast, May practiced the skills Gray was teaching him. He visualized himself, leg completely healed, playing his favorite game - kick the can. "I had to feel the sensations as well as visualize. When you have sensations in the body, you actually have currents of energy moving in the nerves and muscles; that's the trick."
Gray also used sound and color. "All sound is a vibration, literally an electromagnetic vibration," May says. "Various cultures have used specific sounds to influence states of consciousness for ages. Jack invented color wheels that vibrated and pulsated at different levels, corresponding with certain energy levels in the body.
"We needed to regenerate the blueprint for the physical body so the body could lay shape around that. Jack needed to stimulate the etheric forces to generate matter. He lent me, so to speak, an extraordinary amount of his own life field. I lived within his life field for months. He gave me so much of himself that after he died I did not need to seek him anywhere. Plus, if I had done that, he would have told me to get lost. It's within you, he would have said."
After a year, May left the hospital in a wheelchair and went to live with Gray and his family. A year later he was walking with a brace. He had to learn to walk all over again, starting with crawling. May and Gray continued their work together, researching the molecular structures and energetic patterns of plants and various substances at UCLA. Eventually May went back to school to complete a master's degree in psychology. By now he was hiking, dancing and rock climbing.
Seven years after the accident, Gray announced that his own death was imminent and asked May to take over his practice. That night he had a heart attack, and a few weeks later he died in May's arms. Stepping into his teacher's place was an awesome task. May's first patient, a woman with advanced cancer, died, but May was able to relieve her pain and assist her passing. "That put all the healing work into balance. To see the beauty in death and the healing of death was a great gift to me."
May began to experiment with herbs, algae, mushrooms, and other plants. He wanted to create a superfood formula that contained the highest levels of nutrition and life force. For two years he lived on carrot juice and his formula, which he called Pure Synergy. Those years had the effect of a long retreat. His mind became clear and focused, and although he worked at his healing practice 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, he slept only two to four hours a night. It was an ecstatic time, but as he drew near the end of another seven-year cycle, he realized it was time to move on.
He headed for the Southwest where he bought a cabin outside of Moab, Utah, grew an organic garden, and began to limit his healing practice. As he began to share Pure Synergy with colleagues and patients, the demand for it grew. In 1992, May created The Synergy Company to produce and distribute the product internationally. "I discovered that when people received healing work, the healing energy would begin 'leaking' out," he said, "because the person's physical and energetic body wasn't whole - there was a 'leak in the bucket,' so to speak. Pure Synergy helps to heal the leak, so people's energy systems can handle higher levels of energy. When you can do that, all kinds of possibilities open up in your life."
With The Synergy Company, May hopes to influence the business world by demonstrating that "good faith, integrity, and environmental responsibility are eminently compatible with good business." Indeed, the company has made annual ongoing contributions to support a wide variety of environmental and social initiatives.
It was now about 4:30 in the afternoon. I was standing at the kitchen sink, rinsing the lunch plates, when May suddenly asked, "When did you stop breathing?" He caught me off guard. Lately, I had been short of breath, especially when I was in the kitchen, where I spent most of my time. I had become resigned to it, just another symptom of aging. But in that moment I felt it had been years since I breathed properly, maybe since childhood.
"I don't know," I said awkwardly. Switching from my professional role as interviewer to that of patient was not an easy transition. I had learned long ago to conceal vulnerability.
"I feel you collapsing right here," he said, indicating the solar plexus. "What do you want in your life that you haven't got?" he asked. I responded immediately: "Joyfulness!"
"What do you need to become joyful?"
My eyes began touring the ceiling as I mumbled once again that I did not know.
He touched my abdomen just above the navel with a precise fingertip. "Here," he said. "This is where it is for you. This is where the juice is."
Slowly he moved his hands over me, barely touching me. I began to feel energy spreading through my body, releasing tension, creating inner space.
He touched my throat, brushed my feet, and made some guttural sounds. Nothing momentous occurred, no mind-piercing entry to the galaxies, just deep relaxation.
Briefly I opened my eyes to see him. The afternoon light was fading. Eyes closed in concentration, he was moving his hands over me like a pianist. But he was not even touching me.
Something started to bubble up from my belly, reaching my heart in waves with deep, roiling sobs. Suddenly the waves broke. I raged and cried, pure, impersonal rage, and then a voice deep within: "I don't want to do that. Don't let them do that to me!"
I recognized the cry as that of a little girl, one and a half years old, on her way to the hospital where her congenital hip dysplasia was to be corrected by the construction of a cast from neck to toe. She wore the cast (or it wore her) for nine months.
In this crucial matter involving my own body, my will had been ignored. There I had lost my voice.
"What do I do now?" I asked Mitchell.
"Breathe," he said. "Work with it."
"I want to know more about the things that you did."
"That's just hocus pocus," he said.
During the next few weeks I spoke with three women who had been clients of Mitchell May. Trudy Goodman, a Boston psychotherapist, never met May in person but she worked with him over the telephone. She had broken her back and pelvis in a car accident and had been in constant pain for a week and a half when she contacted May. Three sessions later she was free of pain.
"I was lying on the floor," she told me in a phone conversation, "talking to this man I had never met, and I felt like I was letting this guy into my body!
"He could go into the energetic body and be there with me, guiding me to the point where I experienced my energy body as so big, that the pain became little areas of coagulated energy that I could move into and dissolve. And the experience was very loving.
"His other gift is that he can teach you, he empowers you. You never get the feeling that this is some Houdini and you're just the passive recipient."
Lily Chu (not her real name), an acupuncturist, also had been in a serious auto accident. The tibia in her left leg was broken in 12 places. The bone was so shattered that the doctors proposed a bone graft, although they were not sure it would work. Lily did not want surgery. Instead she tried a new procedure, "a closed reduction," by which doctors can move bones and muscles into place without cutting. It worked, but Lily endured excruciating pain which she chose to face without painkillers. She would walk, she was told, but not as well as she had before the accident.
Lily called Mitchell May. They worked together, first on the phone and then for five days at her home in Berkeley. "Together we would go into the area that needed healing and be present," she explained. "You have energy moving through your body all the time, but you may not be conscious of it. Energy cannot move for lack of space. When you pay attention to the area, you open up the space so the energy can flow. Mitchell helped me move the pelvis, which had atrophied after the cast. The other thing he taught me was expansion. You actually imagine your energy as big as the room, as big as the house, as big as the whole city. As Mitchell says, you have to change the blueprint for your body. My body learned how to make that jump into a new kind of blueprint. It was incredibly helpful."
Lee Goodman (not related to Trudy) was diagnosed with a lethal type of brain cancer early in 1991. The lemon-sized tumor was removed, and she underwent two and a half months of radiation treatments. The prognosis was poor; doctors told her that if she managed to live one or two more years, she might survive. They urged her to have chemotherapy to improve her chances about 20 percent. Instead she called Mitchell May. "Don't see yourself in the doctor's mirror," he said. "You're going to see terror, and you might not be feeling that terror yourself."
Lee went to him weekly for six months. "We'd sit face-to-face and talk. He'd do a sort of healing hands thing. He challenged the ways I look at the universe. Mainly what I got was a lot of acceptance and love."
Many years after diagnosis, Lee Goodman is cancer free.
Perhaps my favorite story of May's work is one he told me himself a few weeks after our first meeting.
He was called in to help a child who had been hit by a car. The little girl was in a coma. May went to the hospital, where the mother was sitting by her side. He went into a deep trance state to encounter the child's being. "I kept going and going. I can't even tell you where I went. Then I found her! She was lost and confused. I told her that her mommy and daddy had sent me, and I wanted to take her back to them. She said her parents had told her never to go with strangers."
"I had to befriend her and coax her and play with her. It took a long time! I was there for an hour and 20 minutes, but of course I had no sense of the time. Finally, I got her to take a piggyback ride with me.
"When I opened my eyes the room was full of light and the mother was in tears. The little girl had awakened."
How healing works can never be fully explained, says May. "How does a drink of water satisfy your thirst? The person in front of me may have a need to be nurtured, to be loved, to be stirred up; the energetic frequency touches that need. You shift a little something here and there, and wow! The blood can flow, the kidneys are cleaned out, the joints move more easily, but we don't really know how the healing worked.
"Everybody's different," says May. "Some people need acupuncture. Some people need laying on of hands. Some people need surgery. There's no virtue in one way or another. We need to make use of all the resources that are available for our healing without succumbing to the limitations of any dogma."
I tell May I think of him as a shaman, but he says no. "I'm not interested in people thinking that it's me. Everybody can learn to access their own healing abilities. The body's infinite capacity for healing is the real miracle. We have a nervous system that's designed to be in intimate relationship with the energy of the universe. What do most of us use it for? Cigarettes, beer, running around doing all kinds of mindless things. That's OK, but it's so tiny. I see us designed to experience ecstasy."
For me, meeting Mitchell May was the boost that helped me spring onto the path of joyfulness. That is what I asked for on that November afternoon two years ago, and that's what I got: a spark, if you will, an opening that enabled me to begin to change my life.
I could hardly ask for more.
Author Stephanie Hiller is a freelance writer from Sebastopol, California. This article originally appeared in the January/February 1997 issue of Yoga Journal. Used with permission. All rights reserved.