By Sarah Elkins
Cari Cohen is sitting outside the Wild Bean coffee shop in downtown Lewisburg. Her face is shaded by a wide-brimmed hat. “I love this hat,” she is saying. It’s a new hat which is notable because she only owns what she uses. She lost the previous hat which she’d had for years. She is a minimalist in the truest sense, only recently adding a few basic pieces of furniture to her apartment.
Look closely and you’ll notice Cari’s left eye is blue and her right is brown. Heterochromia iridium is what it’s called, and it’s a rare condition in humans. For the sake of this story let’s just call it the first indication that Cari isn’t normal. She’ll laugh when she reads this. It will be a big laugh. Her front two teeth are bigger than the ones next to them. I mention it because it’s what I notice when she laughs.
Cari is an energy healer and advanced-level yoga teacher with more than 3,000 hours of training in different modalities. She has studied all over the world with renowned teachers and lives quietly and simply in Lewisburg, West Virginia. In her private practice she works, often long distance, with a global base of clients. She is also the Greenbrier Resort’s resident yoga instructor, meditation guide, and energetic healer. Her work is a constant balancing act which she maintains through a devoted and personal spiritual practice.
The path that has brought Cari to this place—the Wild Bean in Lewisburg, of all places, on a warm summer afternoon—has been a series of intuitive leaps, each leading to the next evolution of her work and personal development. She was born and raised in Pennsylvania the middle of three daughters. She went on to attend the University of Pennsylvania where she earned a dual degree in psychology and German. After college, Cari moved to Massachusetts where she worked with troubled youth in a group home environment.
At the end of her tenure working with troubled youth, Cari was punched in the face by a nearly-adult teenage boy and knocked out cold. She doesn’t remember the incident, actually, but soon thereafter she was regulating foster homes for the state of Florida. She loved that work. She loved living close to the shore, biking and running on the beach. She was in her mid-twenties, kept her hair in a buzz cut, and recalls that people would often call her G.I. Jane.
“I would get offended,” she says now, “but I don’t know why. I was a 20-something-year-old woman running in a sports bra with a shaved head. What did I expect?”
Cari was a devout Catholic at this time in her life, having come to the faith mostly on her own. She has always sought a deep spiritual connection to God, and if her life has carried her far and wide in a seemingly haphazard path, a pursuit of God and connection to what she sometimes calls Source has been the constant thread.
Alas, contented life on the beaches of Florida ended when Cari realized she needed to leave a bad relationship. She went home to Pennsylvania where she took time to collect herself and enjoy having her mother feed her. Her sister’s children were young, and Cari spent hours playing with them and waiting for her next calling. She knew she wanted to travel and study other languages, eventually narrowing in on Japan.
In New York City for an interview to teach English in Japan, Cari met an old friend for Shabbat dinner. She found herself at a table of well-connected, culturally-practiced young professionals all touting their most recent accomplishments. She was asked what she did for a living.
“I play hide-and-go-seek,” she answered. Her friend was embarrassed on her behalf and tried to interject, “No, Cari is actually a brilliant…”
“No, I’m quite good at hide-and-go-seek. I doubt anyone here can beat me,” Cari interrupted.
Today she laughs, “I one-upped them.”
“I’m probably not very good. I mean, they were like 4 years old,” her nieces and nephew, she means. A conversation with Cari will go this way. She is subtly questioning, always, the ways we think about the world, our rules for what’s appropriate, our gauge of what’s important.
Often people are intimidated by her quiet stare, her patient ability to sit in silence while someone is talking. Her silence draws out the words piled up behind the rote things people say first. Her eyes dart across your face as you speak. She isn’t thinking of what she will say next. If she is formulating a thought, there is no urgency in her to say anything until, self-consciously, your words slow to a stop and you sit squirming, wondering a bit embarrassed, who slipped the truth serum in your coffee.
Cari may come across a bit monkish. She is often dressed in robe-like, flowing, organic linen, a thin orange scarf wrapped around her neck. Perhaps without close examination, you may assume she is staid, nun-like, religiously withdrawn, but if you watch her dance—she is a naturally talented dancer and singer—you’ll soon think otherwise. He spirituality flows freely from the meditative to the erotic. The same woman who disrupts the rules of a who’s-who New York dinner party with hide-and-go-seek will also disrupt your rules for Godliness with her frank and shameless sexuality.
“We’re witnessing the rise of the divine feminine,” she says. Later this year Cari will travel to southern France to study with Kathleen Medina, a preeminent Mary Magdalene scholar. “The patriarchy is recalibrating, adjusting. A lot of this work is happening in southern France where Mary Magdalene was believed to have spent time,” Cari adds.
Just prior to leaving for Japan where she lived for two years teaching English, Cari would be in a car accident. This event becomes the catalyst of what will eventually be here career in energy healing. The accident causes chronic pain that remains untreatable by traditional medicine. After a physiologist, physical therapists, and pharmaceuticals don’t relieve the pain, Cari tries reiki, a Japanese technique of energetic “laying on hands.”
“It freaked me out. I thought it was against my religion,” she says, adding, “but it worked.” As she continued to seek reiki treatments she realized it wasn’t just healing her body: “It was healing my relationships, too.”
Cari was soon attuned, or certified, in reiki. At about this time, she was also becoming disillusioned with the Catholic church. She says, “It didn’t seem to support my connection with God. If anything, it was getting in the way of my connection.”
After two years in Japan, now fluent in Japanese as well as German, Cari returned home because, despite offers of more money and promotions, her intuition told her to leave. Within two weeks of being home in Pennsylvania, she heard a voice.
“At that time, I wasn’t used to hearing voices,” she admits. “The voice said to study massage.”
The guides who speak to Cari are quite practical after all, belying the stereotype of mystics who speak in cryptic metaphor and perform strange rituals. So, Cari researched massage schools in Pennsylvania and Ohio, but, with an Ivy League education from UPenn under her belt, she was wholly disenchanted by what she found in massage curriculum.
“There were people tickling each other on tables. I knew I wouldn’t learn anything; that wasn’t interesting. I wanted it to be serious and professional,” she says.
Then, a friend tells her she has to move to Santa Fe to find what she was seeking. Within two weeks Cari moves and enrolls at the New Mexico Academy of Healing Arts where she studies Medical Massage and Polarity Therapy with a focus on Ayurveda for nearly two years. Against the advice of the school’s director, she doubles her coursework to pursue two certifications at once and takes out loans to focus exclusively on training.
She reflects, “As it turns out, I didn’t need it. It was not entirely useful, but I’m that kind of person. I want to learn everything I can and then not do it.”
The demanding and prolonged study was good in other ways, though. “After that kind of intensive training, you can’t hide from your shadow self,” she says.
While most of her classmates made plans to open their own practices, Cari envisioned working at a spa. She wondered, “Why would I start my own practice when a spa could hand me clients?” She would quickly rise to the position of director and lead therapist at an exclusive spa in Santa Fe where she remained until 2010.
While in Santa Fe, Cari continued her training, earning a certification in Physical, Emotional and Spiritual Healing of Trauma based on embryology and sacred geometry with Steven Weiss, DO, whose work is grounded in mysticism and Native American ritual.
“He made energy healing so tangible,” Cari says.
“That really is the training that most informs the work I do now.” Cari reveres Weiss. She has many mentors and guides who support her; the intensity of her work demands it. But, Weiss was the first to point her in the direction of her deep potentiality, a learning she carried with her from New Mexico to West Virginia.
In 2010, Cari moved to Lewisburg along with then-husband Walter Cohen, also a graduate of the New Mexico Academy of Healing Arts and Weiss’ program. Walter’s own evolution as a healer led him to pursue a doctorate of osteopathy from the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine. The marriage ended amicably, and Walter practices medicine in San Diego. They still speak regularly and visit each other often.
Cari has been in Lewisburg now longer than she might have ever imagined she would be. It surprises her, in fact, but her career continues to evolve and grow in this most unlikely of locales. In recent years, she has traveled to Morocco to work with David Manning, an energy technician based in London.
Last March she was in India for a month of yoga training with preeminent teacher Kia Miller and completed her advanced yoga training earlier this year in California, also with Kia. Next is her trip to southern France.
As her career has evolved so too has her spiritual grounding. She says, “I have a different understanding of Jesus than I did before. I think Jesus came in with a teaching of equality for men and women.”
Cari’s keen interest in Mary Magdalene, not only her biblically historical significance, but the energetic she embodies, is the impetus of her upcoming trip to France. This is not unrelated to the seismic shake-up the world has been experiencing on an environmental, political and personal level, according to Cari.
“Once Jesus died, Mary Magdalene was the one carrying the teachings. I mean, she was the one who was there at all the significant moments. She was the one Jesus revealed himself to when he rose.” She continues, “There is a resurgence of the divine feminine. People are now hearing the teachings differently.”
Cari is particularly interested in the ways our many religious traditions overlap, in the commonalities found among all human faith communities: “When I was in India it was common to hear people say, ‘When Jesus was here.’ The Tibetan Buddhists talk about Mary Magdalene, a lot, too.”
If you ask Cari what’s next, she’ll probably smile and shrug. She’s not sure. Work keeps her busy, sometimes too busy, and she requires a lot of rest. For now she’s patiently waiting, but she has a new pair of emerald earrings. That’s even more noteworthy than the new hat. It’s a sign. I’m sure of that.