The 'accidental guru': Energy therapist Amy B Scher offers a story of spiritual healing
Giving readers an honest, humour-laden account of her battle with lyme disease, and her adventures in India looking for a cure (amongst other things), Amy B Scher’s memoir takes on heavy topics with a unique sense of lightness. This Is How I Save My Life is the energy therapist’s second book after her hugely successful How To Heal Yourself When No One Else Can. She speaks with us about her understanding of medical practices, and the inevitable comparisons with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love.
Early on in the book you say, "This was Life or Death, not Eat, Pray, Love." Can you elaborate on how the book came into being and the thought process behind writing it?
Eat, Pray, Love helped give me the courage to go to India myself – and I loved how the author set out on her journey across three continents to both experience it and write about it. When I left for India, I was focused only on surviving and never imagined it as the book it is today. I did keep a blog that family and friends followed, but as strangers started hearing about my experience, people were asking for more. They wanted to understand the stem cell treatment, yes – but what surprised me is that they also wanted to know how I felt emotionally, how I got through the day in such pain, and how I knew which path to take when everything seemed to be a dead end.
My story turned out to be about so much more than illness. It’s most about how we live life and stay open to all the possibilities of it, even when it’s hardest to do. In the end, I could see why things happened as they did. I felt like I had to write my story because I wanted other people to see that no one gets through things easily; and that’s okay. It’s so important to feel like we’re not alone in things.
What were some of the challenges you faced in translating your experiences in India to pen and paper?
India was such a great teacher for me because I love the country but I also had a hard time adjusting to it. I was frustrated so much of the time, especially during my first few weeks. It was hard to translate my experience as a Westerner because I wanted to make sure it never seemed that I was disrespecting the country or its people.
My challenges came from my of my own inability to relax and accept the things that were uncomfortable for me: inconsistent hot water, lots of noise at all hours of the day and night, and culinary differences. I’m thankful that by the time I wrote the book, I had had space to reflect and see my experiences in a slightly different way. It helped me be honest and highlight my own faults instead of blaming everything else.
What were some of the major differences you became aware of between Western and Eastern medicinal practices?
The biggest difference was the mindset. In America, and with Western medicine, the focus is primarily on symptoms and dysfunction of the physical body. But in India, even in traditional medical settings, I noticed that physicians highlight the importance of the mind and how that affects the physical body. This was a difficult concept for me to accept at first, but toward the end of my journey, I found there was no other way to heal than to see the mind-body as one.
What exactly is energy therapy all about? Can you talk a bit more about your personal approach to healing?
Human beings are made up of a complex network of energies. I was familiar with this concept as Chinese Medicine is based on it and I’d had acupuncture before. When these energies don’t flow properly, it can create physical and emotional imbalances. These translate to symptoms such as anxiety and illness.
What I’ve found is that holding onto old emotions is a major reason for these blockages. When we worry, stay angry, or are too critical of ourselves, our entire being suffers. Energy therapy is a set of techniques that allow us to clear those patterns and blockages and restore a healthy flow in the body again. For me, this was essential to my full recovery.
You are also often referred to as the 'accidental guru'. Were there any particular inspiring figures in your life who helped you along the way?
I never intended to be labeled as a guru so it is surely accidental if I am ever considered one. I’m honored, but I see myself as only a woman who can help others because of what I’ve been through. My own parents were my biggest inspirations and are main characters in my book. They always taught me to love everyone first and help wherever I could in the world. I still try to do both things every single day.
Tell us about your journey as an author. What prompted you to share your story and how hard was it to write about your struggles with Lyme disease and still maintain a lighthearted tone throughout the memoir?
I have always been a writer, even before I was old enough to do it professionally. The American poet and activist Maya Angelou was my very first female role model as a young girl. I read her work and started collecting her books around age 12, even before I even really understood it. She taught me what exceptional writing felt like. One of the ways I get through hard times and make sense of them is to write about them. And thankfully, I have a good sense of humor, which has helped me survive.
When I was sick, it seemed like all of the stories were depressing or heavy. When it was my time to write, I knew that no one who was sick or struggling themselves would want to read a depressing book; and anyone who didn’t have an illness wouldn’t want to read one either. I made sure to think of myself reading this story as I was writing it. How did I want readers to feel? I knew I wanted this book to help people be lighter and laugh more – even if they had great challenges. So I made sure to break the heavy times with as many funny stories as possible. I get emails from readers all the time telling me how much they laughed so I’m proud to have succeeded in that goal.
Were there any authors you looked to for inspiration or whose writing style inspired your own?
Elizabeth Gilbert and Cheryl Strayed have been massive inspirational figures for me. They are both brilliant in their story telling and in their way of communicating with readers. Their work showed me that it’s okay for women to write how they really feel, even though others may criticise it. Vikas Swarup, author of Q&A (later turned into the blockbuster hit, Slumdog Millionaire) has also been a great influence in my life. I read Q&A while I was in India when I still didn’t know if I’d survive the illness. Mr Swarup’s mastery of his craft is stunning. When I reached out to him last year to ask for an endorsement for This Is How I Save My Life, he accepted with such kindness. It was one of the best moments of my life to see his words on the cover of my book. He’s a good person. You can sense that from him. Him and his work both mean so much to me.
What are some of your upcoming writing projects?
My next book comes out in 2019 and it’s about how to heal from anxiety. So many people are struggling with that and I hope to bring some help to them. While I typically write self-help and personal narrative, I’m also working on my first fiction book. It’s a fun new challenge.
Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster, INR 599.