Casas de Santa Fe | Connecting to the Inner Self: A Conversation with Shamanic Teacher Luisa Kolker
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Connecting to the Inner Self: A Conversation with Shamanic Teacher Luisa Kolker

An Interview with Luisa Kolker

It is no secret many soul searchers have found an oasis in Santa Fe, discovering a sacred place where the self is free to explore nature’s role as both master and muse. But what is it about this particular environment that is so amenable to personal transformation and growth?

Apart from the splendor of the landscape and the rich, cultural history, one can easily see why the city has developed such a reputation by simply getting to know the people who call Santa Fe home. We had the privilege of speaking with Luisa Kolker, a longtime Santa Fe resident who is a licensed psychotherapist and shamanic practitioner, about how one can embark on a journey of self-exploration. Luisa teaches others how to listen to their inner voice and to become more attuned to the energies of the natural world.

You come from a family with an illustrious background in medicine and healing. Your father was a physician and a psychiatrist. Your maternal grandmother was the first female physician in Central America. Your great-grandmother was a curandera (a traditional healer) in Nicaragua. It seems as though your destiny was predetermined from birth! But the path you’ve taken is hardly conventional.

Kolker: As a young person, I had a lot of anxiety and self-doubt. I looked to the world of the spirit for assistance with my emotional torment because as well meaning as the adults in my life were, no one had any solutions.

I began to build a connection with the nonphysical world of the spirit. One of the essential turning points for me was in my mid twenties, during an emotionally tough time in my life. I realized if I did not do something courageous and outside of my comfort zone I would not forgive myself when I was older. I made the decision to leave my unhappy work life in Washington DC and traveled to Spain and Morocco on a quest to make my life bigger.

My quest was to find the writer Paul Bowles, who lived in Tangier at the time, because his books had shocked me out of my day to day stupor and made me realize that there was so much more to life than I had experienced.

Were you successful in your quest?

Kolker: Yes, I was, through a series of magical and inspiring synchronicities! After I met Mr. Bowles, my intuition led me to the Spanish island of Ibiza where I met Ioanna Salajan, a master healer and mystic. She saw that I had a gift of second sight and invited me to apprentice one-on- one with her. That was really the biggest turning point in my life.

After five years of apprenticing with Ionna, I moved back to the States. While I was in Spain my expatriate friends said the only place I would ever be able to live in the United States again was Santa Fe. They told me Santa Fe was an authentic, real place I needed to check out.

Most people are unfamiliar with the intricacies of shamanism but are keen to find new alternatives to confront mental and emotional issues. Can you explain shamanic healing to the novice?

Kolker: Shamanism is not new. It is inherent in our collective ancestry. Shamanic traditions and techniques are earth-based practices where an individual or a community accesses an expanded state of consciousness to make contact with non-physical, spiritual dimensions. Being in good relationship with these dimensions is vital to establishing balance and integrity between the human and spiritual worlds. As humans we are biologically equipped to access shamanic consciousness, or non-sensory based consciousness. Since the Industrial Revolution in this country, we have become quite disconnected from our relationship with nature and its dominion over human beings, so shamanic practices provide a way to reestablish this relationship.

What is so interesting about your work is the pairing of shamanic healing with psychotherapy. How do these practices complement each other?

Kolker: I believe it is one of the primary jobs of psychotherapy to help people learn to understand the dynamics and conditioning of their family of origin. Without that foundation in reality, spiritual practices can become an escape route for the emotional work that has not been done. When I teach people the shamanic journey technique, I insist they go through a foundational teaching with me on emotional intelligence so they learn to identify their emotions and take responsibility for them.

Speaking of developing emotional intelligence, modern society doesn’t promote direct communication and emotional expression due to technological dependence, which has led to a host of new psychological and spiritual maladies. When people are able to press pause and travel, there seems to be an urge to reconnect with the natural world. Can you speak to this?

Kolker: I am fortunate to work with clients from all over the world. The common themes I encounter are loneliness and isolation. There is a spiritual hunger and a desire to connect emotionally. In my sessions, I assist clients in reconnecting with Source—the spiritual nature within themselves. Often, when people feel isolated and alone, they think it is the outer world from whom they are disconnected. In my experience, the real disconnection is from their inner selves. So, that is the first place of exploration in our work together.

If someone is planning a visit to Santa Fe and wanted to get in touch with you, perhaps even schedule a session during his or her stay, what would be the best way to connect?

Kolker: People typically email me and give advance notice of their travel dates. Then we can usually set up a session.

I recently created a customized workshop on the spur of the moment for a woman traveling to Santa Fe with her girlfriends for a special weekend trip. She called me just a couple of days before their arrival and said, ‘I know this is crazy but I would really like to have a two or three hour workshop. Is there any way you could host one this weekend?’ As it happened, a function I was supposed to attend fell through and so I made a house call. I brought my ceremonial supplies and conducted a mini workshop!

These workshops are also mentioned on your website. What kind of role do they play in the work you do?

Kolker: My workshops serve several purposes. They create an opportunity for people to gather together in community, which amplifies the beauty of this kind of work. They are also instructional. In my workshops and ceremonies I teach participants about the components of ceremony and the relationship with energies and with nature beyond our personal selves. I will often bring in elements from nature, like local plants and herbs in an effort to fully engage the senses. We sing, drum, do journeys, make medicine bundles of herbs with a specific meaning, and set intentions. We have the experience of reconnection with a larger aspect of who we are as humans. My workshops are listed on my website. I also have a Meetup group that people can join to see what’s going on, even if they are visiting Santa Fe for a short time. 

What do you think makes Santa Fe an ideal destination for these spiritual pursuits?

Kolker: The land here is spare and vast. It becomes immediately obvious nature is bigger than our own egos. I find it easy to feel a sense of awe and reverence here when I see nature’s startling ability to provide so much in such a dry environment.

I notice when I travel to a more urban environment people tend to be much speedier. I am happy my rhythm is slower and I attribute this to living in Santa Fe. I also love the ethnic and spiritual diversity here.

What are some of the essential restorative activities a visitor to Santa Fe should include on his or her itinerary?

Kolker: So many things! Hiking, being in nature, hanging out on The Plaza, going to Museum Hill and walking the labyrinth. The four museums that make up Museum Hill reflect the three cultures you’ll find in Santa Fe – Native American Southwest, Spanish, Anglo. During the summer, there is free music on The Plaza, an event known as Santa Fe Bandstand. Locals and tourists show up to dance, celebrate and connect. To me, the bandstand in the summer is a great way to get a feel for the best of Santa Fe. I also love to walk through The Railyard, particularly during the farmers market on Saturdays. Art lovers will find so much to love in Santa Fe, from museums to galleries to amazing art installations. There are so many opportunities for gathering and experiencing what a true community is here.

Our readers might be curious to know how you like to spend your time outside of your work. What does Luisa Kolker’s ‘staycation’ look like?

Kolker: I love gardening. I love hiking. I love driving to Taos or Jemez Springs for a day trip. I love going up to Ojo Caliente and soaking in the spring-fed hot tubs there. My favorite spot to take visitors for a sweet treat is Kawaka Chocolate House. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that a wonderful part of a ‘staycation’ is a sampling of the myriad of amazing and diverse restaurants here!

Luisa, thank you for taking the time to chat with us and sharing about your work with our readers, not to mention offering a peek into life in Santa Fe!

Kolker: My shamanic work and Santa Fe are two of my favorite things to talk about. I hope my words have conveyed a glimpse of their beauty and magic.

As a postscript to our interview, Luisa offered a comprehensive list of recommended reading for those interested in understanding Santa Fe’s origins and multi-cultural history.