Come in. Shut door. Sit down. Close mouth.
Barely out of her teens, Joyce Surbeck-Harris found her life forever altered by those words. As a child, Surbeck-Harris was aware and proud of her Eastern Cherokee and Cree heritage but was starving for more cultural knowledge. Her search led her to the most influential teacher of her life.
Surbeck-Harris grew up on a farm outside Hillview, Ill., with her parents and older brothers and her beloved companion Silver, a white horse. Her father died of a brain tumor when she was 12.
Early on, she had indications that she was heading for a unique destiny: “I had a lot of knowings,” she says. While her mother and brothers held out hope for her father’s recovery, Surbeck-Harris recalls, she was fully aware that her father would succumb to the tumor. “The information was devastating — and I had no one to tell,” she says.
Surbeck-Harris also says she knew her that young husband, the first man she had cared for since her father, would not return from Vietnam. She was left a widow at the age of 21. Seven months after her husband’s death, on her way to finish her college degree in education, she encountered her cherished mentor and spiritual leader.
Surbeck-Harris arrived at a North Carolina Cherokee reservation and for three days searched for someone to teach her about her heritage. After being directed to several people, she says, a door was finally opened by “the tallest Indian I had ever seen.” He was 70 years old and stood 6-foot-4, and he uttered a simple but blunt greeting:
Come in. Shut door. Sit down. Close mouth.
Surbeck-Harris spent that first summer camped out in her mentor’s back yard and embarked on a lifelong spiritual journey. For the next 34 years, until his death at 104 years of age, Surbeck-Harris served as one of the man’s five apprentices learning healing methodology that she calls Native American Healing Practices.
“I always worked with him as a helper, and I was happy in that role,” she recalls. As an apprentice, Surbeck-Harris was taught methods of energy assessment and a variety of techniques to correct any abnormalities or imbalances in the energy field. It is after the practitioner achieves the balance in energy that healing can occur, sometimes, she says, with miraculous results. She began to treat others as her skills developed. There were amazing incidences of healing, such as the pregnant woman with an inoperable brain tumor that disappeared with treatment during a healing ceremony, that took place over a few days, incorporating energy work, Native American ritual and prayer. But Surbeck-Harris is also a firm believer in modern medicine and would like to see energy work used in a complementary fashion: “I think miracles happen when medicine has run its course or is off course.”
In explaining the complexities of her American Indian energy work, Surbeck-Harris says, “Science, namely quantum physics, has confirmed there is a field of energy around us. What occurs in that energy field affects us mentally, spiritually, physically, and emotionally — which are the four places on the medicine wheel.” Used for personal and ceremonial guidance, the medicine wheel is an ancient complex tool that also represents the four directions and four elements, as well as animals and plants. In her tradition there are 36 gateways to the mystery of the body’s lymph system, joints, and organs. During treatment sessions, clients remain fully clothed as they lie on a massage table and respond to her light touch as she assesses the energy and corrects any deficits.
Surbeck-Harris does not limit her practice to human subjects and has seen profound results of the use of energy work in animals. She tells of a horse in which gait problems persisted even after thousands of dollars’ worth of treatment at various veterinary schools and clinics. After one session with her, she says, the horse recovered, and the next day it cantered for the first time in months.
Is Surbeck-Harris gifted or trained in these American Indian practices? “Both,” she says. Surbeck-Harris says that she was taught that God, also known as “All That Is” or the “Great Mystery” or “Creator” — descriptions her teacher used — provides the healing. “Before each treatment I pray to become hollow bones to allow Creator’s healing energy to flow through to the person I’m treating.”
Her current practice is three-pronged, with the American Indian energy work as one prong. Surbeck-Harris, who holds a doctorate in education, says her educational consulting is a more mainstream practice; she specializes in assessing and developing an action plan for individuals who need assistance because of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, brain injury, or other special needs. The final prong is values-clarification work with couples who want to enrich their relationships. In eight sessions she helps couples understand their values and develops mission statements for their relationships.
Surbeck-Harris’ most important lesson thus far? “I am part of the Great Mystery — there is this place in me where God is. I wish everybody could find that.”
Joyce Surbeck-Harris’ office is located at 3233 Mathers Rd. in Springfield; 217-553-0106 or firstname.lastname@example.org.