She may have started swimming competitively at age 6 and breaking state records by 8, but don’t expect Cape Elizabeth native Whitney Rockwell to dwell on the sport in which she qualified for the US Olympics, earned All American status and was inducted into the Maine Swimming and Diving Hall of Fame. Today, her life looks really different.
She describes it as an unconventional life, outside of the status quo, in which she has found purpose in being of service and facilitating community. She notes that there is an element of being more courageous and daring. “I taught myself to be that way,” explained the 37-year-old medicine woman, who has lived largely out of the states for the past six years, training with various shamans around the globe.
Swimming got her a four-year scholarship to University of California at Berkeley. From there, she did a 10-year stint in New York City, where she translated her art history and studio arts studies (including painting and sculpting) to work in the fashion and interior design industries.
But a seed had been planted during her college years, that eventually changed the trajectory of her life. Each semester she opted to take an elective that introduced her to alternative wellness classes, including yoga and meditation.
While working in NY she began teaching herself astrology, and studied the history of tarot with a curator from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“I took virtually every class possible under the spiritual umbrella,” she recalled.“I had the nice apartment and the boyfriend” who worked for a pharmaceutical hedge fund, but then things changed. “I stopped going out with my friends and my interests shifted.”
She was simultaneously searching for something but not necessarily trusting what she was exploring. “I was trying to make sense of something. I wanted to be moved. There were no highs or lows. I kept on experiencing the same old, same old.” However, she was skeptical of the new modalities and topics she was learning about, as it is not her nature to believe something unless it can be proven through personal experience.
“One of my friends told me once, the opposite of courage is not cowardliness, it’s living a too-comfortable life. Where you get so comfortable, it becomes uncomfortable. And that’s where I think I was right before I embarked on this journey. I was so comfortable, I had everything I wanted, but it was so uncomfortable, I didn’t want it. I felt ungrateful for not wanting it,” she explained.
“It was a crisis for sure. I had this foot injury, and I literally couldn’t walk. And it was unexplainable. One heel started and then the other heel, and I literally couldn’t walk. It was telling me ‘You’re on the wrong path.’” That would be the shamanic meaning of it. There were all these weird things happening, I couldn’t make sense of. I was having heart palpitations, my heart was out of alignment,” said Whitney.
She recalled there didn’t seem to be a lot of places to find support. After much digging, she unearthed an article about shamanism in Ecuador in National Geographic magazine. And that changed everything.
A Whole New World
Whitney found a spiritual home in shamanism, which she describes as a Western word describing the ever-evolving connection with nature and learning and understanding the language of nature, during that initial trip to Ecuador. That trip kicked off her 8-year nomadic lifestyle and study of diverse shamanism traditions.
“I feel it’s important to be honest and vulnerable with your path, your story, and it can inspire others.” When asked about the transformation she underwent and if she were a wounded healer, Whitney noted, “I think that’s always the case in these situations where there is going through darkness and pain, the sorrow and sadness to birth the shaman or healer, or whatever you want to call it.”
“This has been my path for many, many years. I did it full time, even during COVID, in ceremony every other day. Very intense training with Samer (Mouawad),” she said of the shaman with whom she trained and established Samadi Healing, a retreat center in Peru’s Sacred Valley, at the base of the Inca Trail in the Andes last year.
“There’s such joy seeing people come in, and I don’t want to say broken, but really in need of help, and not to empathize but to hold their hand. To really be a part of their journey, which is so satisfying at the end of the week. To see them in a completely different way, shining with a twinkle in their eye,” Whitney said of the ceremonies and retreats offered at Samadi (Sanskrit for ‘a deep concentration, or ecstatic state, where one achieves the identity of soul and spirit’) healing, which attracts clients from all over the world.
The center offers transformative experiences through use of the San Pedro cactus, a native medicinal plant. Thousands of years ago, explained Whitney, two shamans combined certain leaves with a certain vine that activates the pineal gland, releasing a naturally-occurring chemical that is typically released when we sleep, are born, and die.
“It’s just a tea. I could open my eyes and have a normal conversation. It’s not like being under the influence whatsoever. You can still have a conversation. You know what’s going on but there’s an inevitability of a meeting of the self which happens that is very powerful,” said the medicine woman.
It is used to treat a broad range of problems, including addictions, depression, emotional, and existential issues.
Whitney was interviewed remotely while in Laguna Beach, CA, after she returned to the states from Peru, in July. She was readying to return home to Maine in early October.
“Things here are changing and the attitude toward what I do is becoming more acceptable. Especially in Los Angeles, it’s very common, people seek it out,” she said.
The medicine woman expects to return to Peru a couple times each year to lead retreats. But she is now at work trying to put together healing experiences to be offered remotely and around the country with others in her expansive network, cultivated during her extensive travels and living around the world, including diverse European countries, Mexico, Bali, and Thailand, in addition to Peru. If she were to create a bricks-and-mortar center in the United States, it would be in Maine, or another spot in New England, she noted.
She is in a period of transition. “This past year became more difficult with travel and restrictions. It makes you rethink your life.” Being stateside for a long stretch for the first time in nearly a decade, she is investigating and exploring, she said. “It has been about re-finding my love for my own place.
“I really have grown to respect everything about the United States,” she said, noting political unrest and civil rights problems in places including Peru. “Being back here I feel very blessed to be American. After you see how different parts of the world operate, you realize how fortunate you are to be born here and to be able to come back here, especially at a time like this.”
Connect with Whitney at firstname.lastname@example.org