Monday, March 4, 2013

March’s Peculiar Person of the Month: Healer and Journalist Helen Avery

David Rondinelli

Helen Avery with her dog Millie
I had the chance to meet Helen Avery at a Christmas party in the newly last year. Sitting around the crowded room while munching on some pizza bagel bites, I chose to introduce myself to her. She had avid control of herself around the bagel bites that I was quickly consuming as if death row were the next stop on my party list. Not wanting to finish the whole plate, I struck up a conversation in order to occupy my mouth with something else other than cheese covered white bread and booger shaped pepperoni shavings.

Helen greeted me with a smile. Enthusiastic words followed through that same smile charming me with a refined British accent that only needed a three-piece band and a steady melody to make my conversation with her sound like a modern musical. Making use of the word “multi-dimensional”, Helen is a healer specializing in Reiki and Hatha Yoga. She is also a journalist working on her first novel and a side musician who shares a life here in New York City with her dog Millie.

Recently, Helen visited her aunt at an Aboriginal community in Australia. She also studied with a healer specializing in organ regeneration outside of Perth on the West Coast of Australia. Upon returning from her spiritual trip, Avery offers some enlightening stories about her experience.

This Peculiar Life NYC: You have just recently gone on vacation to visit your Aunt. You mentioned that she lives with an Aboriginal community. Tell me a bit about what that experience was like?

Helen Avery: My aunt lives in one of the most remote Aboriginal communities in Australia in a place called Papalankutja, or Blackstone in the middle of the desert about 5 hours’ drive from Uluru (Ayers Rock). There she helps the community manage an arts center, which places their art in galleries and exhibitions and provides them with a space and the supplies to create their art. If you are not from those lands, you need a permit to be there so I was very lucky to be able to go and spend time with the community. In addition, it was just great to be with my Aunt who I rarely get to see.


T.P.L. NYC: What was the community life like?

H.A.: It’s a real mix of traditional life meets modern day. There are about 160 people that live in Blackstone in basic housing. There is one shop there (the nearest others shop is about an hour and a half drive away) and that sells food – the usual - frozen meats, some vegetables, coca-cola, as well as fans and batteries and microwaves.  There is a swimming pool for the children and a small schoolroom and a police station, a health center and a small church of sorts. Everything is covered in red dust and while there is infrastructure, the village is very basic and quite run down. There are many dogs. The first language of the community is “language” but most speak English also. Because they are so remote, their traditions and culture are very strong still. They hunt kangaroos, and goannas (iguanas), they collect grasses and wild tobacco (minkel), they have many ceremonies. They have a few healers/witch doctors in the community. They believe very strongly in otherworldly entities – such as a Featherfoot – which is an entity that attaches to women. Time is not really a concept that is grasped and the shop opening is marked with a siren. Family is everything. And material objects are exciting - everyone wants an iPhone! - but have no real worth to them. Abandoned cars are strewn throughout the desert, for example.

An abandoned car in the area
T.P.L. NYC: So how do they get money for living?

H.A.:  The government helps them with subsidies towards housing, but mainly they earn money through the art that they sell. They make jewelry from nuts and seeds that they decorate by burning; they make animals from binding grasses together, and they paint. However, the art is more than just about making money for the communities. The paintings are the stories and maps of the land. In each painting is a story of their ancestors. One woman explained to me as she was painting that it was necessary almost. She said that it was to teach the young and the ‘white fellas’ about the land and share the stories. If they don’t keep painting then the stories will be ruined.

T.P.L. NYC: What is the art like?

H.A.: It’s very abstract to us I suppose. It’s often dots and lines. Circles would indicate a fire pit or a watering hole. Horseshoe shapes represent people sitting down. A picture can represent an area of Australia or an ancient story – such as the tale of the Seven Sisters – and sometimes both. The community look at a painting and say – oh yes! That’s the tale of xyz, or – oh yes that’s Warburton. I’ve been there.  But to us it would look like lines and dots with a few circles. Once you start to see what the Aborigines see, the paintings take on a depth that is really quite profound. They are maps that would have helped the Aborigines trace their way across Australia. And they are stories that the communities have used to pass on knowledge and culture. These paintings are the same drawings that have been etched in the sand over thousands and thousands of years and are still being painted today. It is beautiful.

The Aboriginal artwork that the community sells.

T.P.L. NYC: While you were in Australia you also met with a healer. What was that like?

H.A.: Yes, my friend Ken Graydon is an amazing healer who lives outside of Perth on the West Coast of Australia. He works with regenerating organs. It is quite phenomenal. I’ve had remote healing sessions with him before so it was lovely to finally meet him and he kindly shared some of his teachings.

T.P.L. NYC: You are interested in alternative healing yourself, and are a Reiki practitioner is that right? What made you pursue that?

H.A.: Since I was very small, I have always been fascinated with the idea of something much bigger than us existing, and I have studied many religions and different metaphysical teachings. Inexplicable things happen sometimes that, for me, point to a greater force at work in the universe – perhaps a God. Perhaps it is a collective consciousness. I suppose I’ve always been a big fan of – if you can’t fix a problem in this physical world, maybe you can heal it by tapping into the world beyond. I’ve seen a lot of positive results from the power of prayer, intention, ritual, and healing techniques such as Reiki, so I continue to be fascinated with it!

T.P.L. NYC: What is Reiki exactly?

H.A.: Oh I don’t think anyone knows exactly! It’s tapping into a healing energy that exists in the universe. That can sound completely abstract to most people, and so I always say – just experience a session and see how you feel afterwards. People mainly report feeling very calmed when they have Reiki. It is very good at helping to quell anxiety. Often people report a clarity or new insight that suddenly comes to them in that state of calm. I’m a big advocate of, rather than trying to wrap one’s head around something and seek explanation, just go and experience something! That’s why I love yoga too. You get to have an experience during yoga.

T.P.L. NYC: Why did you choose to study Tantra as a philosophy?

H.A.: I love the Tantrics! They believe very strongly that you should experience this life to the fullest – that this life actually offers us a means to experience different states of consciousness that give us new awareness about who we really are. So, instead of going to sit in a cave to meditate and find the answers to those most pertinent questions – Who are we? Why am I here? -  let’s also use our bodies (having sex, doing yoga postures, meditating) and let’s use our environment for guidance (including astrology, tuning into the elements of nature).

Tantrics, to me, really have juicy lives. They say – yes let’s study this – but let’s also really experience life and use that as a means towards reaching deeper understanding. We can’t just be in our heads all the time. There is always an intention behind enjoying life for the Tantrics – it’s not mindless fun. There is a real sacredness and acceptance of everyone and everything. It’s a very non-judgmental philosophy - If you think an experience will help you towards your goal? Go do it!

T.P.L. NYC: Can you explain the kind of experiences that one might have during yoga?

H.A.: Well I teach Hatha Yoga, which involves holding postures for long periods. The idea is that the longer you hold the posture, the more you have a chance to relax your physical body, let the mind shut off, and then you get to feel the subtle energies that are moving in your being. Each posture was tried and tested thousands of years ago and is designed to have a certain energetic impact on your being. After practicing for only a few days or weeks, you can start to feel tingling sensations, emotions start to come up, you can feel quite uplifted or different. I love it because I can say – let’s find out if I do this posture for 15 minutes what I will feel. Yoga is a science.

T.P.L. NYC: You mention on your website about how the west tends to miss this part of yoga.

H.A.: Yes I think in the west we are so rushed and body-focused that we have made yoga into a sport. Just think how many “power yoga” classes we have in gyms that are cardio-workouts. That is fine and there is a place for that, but yoga is so much more than contorting one’s body into shapes and sweating, and it is like we are afraid to mention this in the West lest we upset people’s religious beliefs. Yoga is not a religion! It is a healing method and a means to better understand oneself. Slow it down, experience these postures and enjoy it!

T.P.L. NYC: You mentioned that you are a journalist as well, what areas do you write and report about?  

H.A.: I write about business, economics, and finance. I have a broad beat for sure [as I have written about] investment banking, agriculture finance, film finance, city budgets, wealth. My favorite topics tend to be around philanthropy – where money can have a positive social impact - and what technology means for business and finance – so I cover crowd funding like Kickstarter, and I look at how social networking is changing the world of finance and business.
T.P.L. NYC: You have a cute dog Millie. Does she get to come with you on the different trips you take?

H.A.: Aww, sadly not. Millie goes to Vermont to a wonderful dog boarder and trainer there called Kevin Behan. She’s there right now – stuck there because he has a lot of snow and I can’t get there without a large four-wheel drive. I hope it gives her a chance to run around a forest and be a real dog once in a while.

T.P.L. NYC: With so much going on for you, do you have any new things that we can expect to see from you in the near future?

H.A.: I’m not sure about “near future” but I’m still working on my novel and hope to finish that. I’m playing a lot more music these days so I hope to do something later in the year at one of ABC Sanctuary’s Speakeasy nights. I’m hoping to have an article published about Aboriginal art in the coming months.

Children of the Aboriginal community play on a computer.

T.P.L. NYC: So this blog is about peculiar people and things, what is the most peculiar thing that you have ever seen or been a part of?

H.A.: I suppose ‘urine therapy’ is rather peculiar.  At my tantra school in Thailand part of the teachings cover amaroli (urine therapy) – where you learn about the healing powers of urine. So for a while last summer I was hanging out with people who were drinking their urine or bathing in urine – I was one of them! It’s not as bad as you think – tastes a bit like tea – again, you have to experience these things!

T.P.L. NYC: This blog is also about New Yorkers, what is the most peculiar thing you have seen, experienced, or been a part of in New York City?

H.A.:  Oh God. I live in the east village. There are so many crazy things that happen here. Parties at the squats are always interesting! I suppose my first trip to New York before I moved here would have been my strangest. It was in 2000, and I was here on a weekend vacation with my boyfriend at the time and we were staying near Times Square. On our way back to the hotel walking up to Times Square we saw a huge crowd of people all clapping and chanting at the top of their voices “Jump, jump, jump, jump”. When we looked to where they were gazing, there was a man on a ledge of a building about 15 stories high. I remember thinking – oh my God. These cold-hearted crazy New Yorkers are actually encouraging this man to jump to his death! I thought I would never live here! Since moving here in 2006, I’ve never found New Yorkers to be cold-hearted so even to this day I think about how strange an experience that was.

To learn more about Reiki and Hatha Yoga, check out Avery’s website where you can book your own session at

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