In the latest edition of “Speak, Arkansas,” in which Arkansans tell their stories in their own words, we hear from Little Rock’s Zabe Barnes, a self-described “master healing teacher, gifted channel, modern-day shaman and transformation catalyst.”
I had what I think was fibromyalgia — it was never diagnosed, but I felt a lot of pain. I was not really able to function. My husband left, and I had this 4-year-old daughter, and I really didn’t know how I was going to take care of her myself. So I just started praying because that was all I knew how to do. I wanted to die, honestly, but I didn’t want to leave my daughter without a mother.
I had this plastic glow-in-the-dark rosary that a friend had brought back from Medugorje, in Yugoslavia. I wasn’t Catholic, but I taught in a Catholic school and I knew the Hail Mary because we said it every day in class. I didn’t even know the right way to pray the rosary, but I’m fumbling around with the beads and I’m saying the Hail Mary because I’m thinking, “Okay, Jesus must have been a handful because he was very precocious. It couldn’t have been easy to raise who they called the Son of God. So Mary was probably a really, really good mother, and I’m gonna pray to her and ask her to help me figure this out.” And I just started praying the Hail Mary over and over again, and the next thing I knew I’m seeing apparitions like these colored shapes and what I now know would be sacred geometry. I’m seeing these colored shapes: They’re lit up and they’re playing music, and now this happened without alcohol and without drugs. Some people have experiences like this when they take certain hallucinogens. This was just prayer. These colors, these shapes, I’m just completely mesmerized by them. Watching them and the patterns are changing and I’m not sure where they’re coming from, getting so wrapped up in them that I don’t care.
The next thing I knew, it’s a “Star Trek” scene, and I’m flying through space just like when they go into warp-drive. And I’m seeing planets, and this is all happening in my bedroom. I was absolutely fascinated by it, just spiraling in and spiraling out and it was this wild ride. I had no idea, but three days went by. I didn’t eat. I didn’t have to go to the bathroom. To me it seemed like five minutes. And at the same time it was like all of this information was coming through my brain but really, really fast — faster than words, faster than an auctioneer could speak and certainly faster than you could grasp the language, and different languages, too, that I’ve never studied. It was like I knew what was being said. And I was being shown how everything in the universe fit together and kind of shown what’s behind what we see as physical reality.
If you’re familiar with that Plato’s Cave allegory and there’s that story about the people who think they’re looking at reality, but really they’re looking at the shadows and reality is something completely different. That’s what I was being shown — there’s so much more to reality than what we think there is. There’s more to everything. And there was this deep sense of peace, and this bright golden light at the end of the tunnel or whatever, and by the end of the three days it was just like all those things I thought I was worried about didn’t matter. I saw — I call it — the heart of God, the heart of all — that’s where I feel like I was taken in those three days.
Now, coming out of it was a little bit hard. You go on a ride like that, it’s kind of hard to get back to physical reality, coming into the body. It was almost like I couldn’t breathe, but that’s when I started seeking out people who could answer what just happened. Shamanism kept coming up.
A friend suggested I go study with Alberto Villoldo — he’s an Incan shaman, an archaeologist, well known in the community of shamans. I went and did a class with him, and he said, “You’re a healer, you’re a shaman.” And I’m still thinking I’m so broken still. It took a while to catch up to the fact that I wasn’t as broken as I thought I was. I thought I was not worthy somehow. I started taking classes and started learning, but not seriously — more dabbling, more curiosity — it was not something I could go into myself. And then I had an absolutely freak reaction to an injection of dye for a CT scan. It caused nerve damage from the sternum down to the feet. My hobby had been dancing and choreographing. I danced with an ensemble from New Orleans, so here I am — I can’t even walk.
At a soul level, I think sometimes things like this happen as a wakeup call to jump us onto our path. I still have this child at home that I have to take care of, and I can’t walk, so I’m looking for answers. That’s when I started having energy healing sessions. After the first one I could move my big toe and I could move my ankle. Before, I couldn’t do that. That was just after an hour and a half. I went to different people and each time the feeling started to come back, more and more and more. Then one day one of the people I was going to said, “You know, I’d like to teach you how to do this yourself. I’d like to teach you Reiki. I’m happy to do it for you but I can teach you how to do it between appointments and I can teach your daughter how to do it also.” So she taught my 9-year-old daughter and me both how to do it to take the pain away. Once the nerves start to repair, it’s a good sign but it’s painful. It feels like fire. It feels like you’re walking on glass. So I would do Reiki when I would get to that edge when I couldn’t take it anymore.
The big shift for me has been moving from teaching and working with traditional systems to developing my own work, and that’s my new passion. I love the Mayan classes that I teach. But there’s something about developing something that’s your own that you know from the inside out that I never have to worry about, “Did I say it right? Did I get it right?” Because I know. I just know.
My whole life, people have given me seashells. That was my dream as a child; I wanted a seashell collection. And my favorite thing to play with was this seashell collection that a neighbor gave us. And then my whole life people have always given me jewelry and told me, “I don’t know why I’m giving you this shell, but I just feel like it’s yours,” and that’s happened for 50 years. I had this jar of seashells, this apothecary jar of seashells next to my bed. It was the first thing I’d see when I woke up in the morning, and it was the last thing I’d see when I went to bed. But I’d get lost in it.
So then I figured out I could work with seashells and use them to teach people how to tap into that energy. I use the shells as visual tools. Each spiral has a different vibration. We can hear it. We can listen to it and hear a different harmonic frequency. So I do a thing with people’s hands where I stretch them into all those different spirals and I put it — it’s like their hands become that frequency so they can use it on their bodies however they want. I don’t understand how it works, I truly don’t. I just know that it does.
And we know as children that, when somebody falls down on the playground, we run and we put our hand on our friend who just skinned their knee. It was such a natural instinct. Some part of us understands that if we take our hand and we put it there, they feel better.