Colleen Linseman heals others with sound. When she plays the harp, this red-haired beauty looks quite a bit like the Lady of Shallot from the Pre-Raphaelite painting. But it’s perhaps when she plays the crystal bowls that her ability to channel some ethereal power from the greater cosmos is most in evidence. (During one private healing session she placed “singing bowls” directly on my body at certain chakra points, triggering an almost out-of-body experience.)
Linseman is a gifted sound healer and musician who sings like an angel and plays a variety of instruments. Sound healing is an energy healing modality that uses sound vibration to attune the body (and the “energy body”) to a balanced, harmonious state. Shamans in the Amazon who sing medicine songs during ayahuasca ceremonies use music to accomplish pretty much the same thing. Listening to her celestial songs, one would never guess the incredible turmoil Linseman has overcome. (See a video of her playing music, below.)
What might have been a conventional upbringing in rural Ontario, with a stay-at-home mom and a father who worked for the local hydro utility, became turbulent early on. Linseman, the middle child of three siblings (a younger brother and older sister), said one of her first recollections is of being dropped off at the hospital at the age of three with colic. She was placed in an isolation pen, and her parents unceremoniously departed. They returned three days later.
Linseman describes this abandonment as her “original trauma.” Shortly after, while she was still only three, Linseman’s mother left the family — overwhelmed as an unstable 21-year old mother of three. She describes her stressed-out single father with great empathy, while acknowledging that he was “mentally and physically abusive.”
Between age five and 14, Linseman and her siblings visited their mother on alternating weekends. By age 14, she moved in with her friend’s mother to escape the tensions of her dad’s home.
On top of her rocky upbringing, two car accidents have interrupted Linseman’s life. The first occurred when she was 16. She was ejected from the car during a highway collision. She says the healing process that followed the accident, which took two years, is what originally made her want to be a healer.
The second, much more severe collision happened 14 years later. It left her wheelchair-bound with a broken jaw, multiple fractures and head and brain injuries. At this point Linesman had no choice but to venture down a healing path. However her recovery took place not in a hospital or physical therapy center, but in the Peruvian rainforest with Shipibo shamans, where she trained in their ancient wisdom and used the plant entheogen ayahuasca.
Linseman’s life story — which involves a complete recovery from her injuries as well as an unusual combination of careers in modeling, music and healing — makes her pretty much the poster child for the potential of psychedelic plant medicines. Her story also underscores the absurdity of prohibiting these plants in North America and Europe.
Linseman spoke with Guy Crittenden of Reset while sipping herbal tea in the livingroom of her Enchanted Healing Center home-business in Fergus, Ontario last December. Here is her story (edited for order, clarity and length):
Guy Crittenden: Tell me how your music career started.
Colleen Linesman: As a teenager I liked to enter karaoke competitions all around New Hamburg. I would sing Karen Carpenter and Whitney Houston songs and win at these little competitions all the time.
When I was 18 (and I was in grade 12) there was an all-Ontario competition for which I signed up, just for fun. I placed in the top 10 from among hundreds of people.
Warner was there and Sony too. I was scouted by both and they wanted to sign me. I sang “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston a-cappella. There were a couple of thousand people in the audience and some relatives of mine. I got a standing ovation and I was asked to perform an encore.
GC: So did you sign with Sony or Warner?
CL: No, I wanted to focus on the modelling and to travel. I told Sony I’d like to return to singing but it wasn’t my path at that time. I wasn’t that confident in myself as a singer then.
GC: Somewhere along the way you got involved in modelling, right?
CL: Yes. I signed up for a modelling contest when I was 16. Elmer Olson, the owner of Elite Modelling in Toronto, wanted me to sign up for this contest, ‘Elite Look of the Year.’ But then the car accident delayed things by two years. He had actually scouted me in the mall when I was just 14-years old. He said I looked like the supermodel Linda Evangelista, who Olson had also scouted when she was 14.
After my recovery — when I was 18 — I thought about modelling again. I have a scar under my neck for which I could have had cosmetic surgery, but it’s not very noticeable and I got okay with it. So I contacted Elmer Olson and asked him if there was any contest I could enter. He suggested something called “Model Mayhem” for which he was the judge.
I won my age category and overall model. That was out of about 500 girls. I won $10,000 in prizes.
[Note: This ulitimately launched Linseman into a career that lasted about four years in which she did shoots and projects all over the world, but mainly in Europe.]
GC: [From a young age] you knew you were interested in working as a healer and studied shiatsu massage. Was there anything else at that time that suggested you’d follow a spiritual path?
CL: Yes, at age 17 I was introduced to a channeller — a couple in fact — who were also healers. They told me I’m a “graduated soul” and that I have a “twin flame.”
GC: What exactly is a “graduated soul”?
CL: A graduated soul is a soul that didn’t have to come back to the Earth plane but chose to come back, to raise the frequency for humanity.
GC: And what is a “twin flame”?
CL: Twin flames have a purpose here on Earth — literally a mission. We don’t have a choice. We’re here to raise consciousness and call upon humanity to wake up.
Twin flames have another “half.” It’s like the masculine and the feminine and then your higher self forms a kind of triad. When you connect with your twin flame you become one.
GC: That was a lot to absorb when you were 17.
CL: Yes. And I was told I’m a healer. The channeller told me I’d follow the modelling path and go to Europe and do this and that and not listen to them. He said, “But in a few years you’re going to return to the healing because this is what you are. You’ll even find yourself healing the photographers and helping the other models…”
And everything I was told in that session happened. I was healing everyone around me and taking care of the other girls, many of whom were only 14 or so. By then I was 21, when I was in New York and Milan, and I was a kind of den mother to them. I realized I wasn’t a girl who could go out and just “be pretty.”
GC: Who was this channeller?
CL: The man was Mel Brand from London, Ontario and his twin flame is Nicole Brand. Mel has written more than a dozen books on channelling and the meridian system and other topics.
GC: When the channeller is doing his work, what’s going on?
CL: Mel channels an entity named John, who is both Mel’s higher self and Nicole’s higher self. Mel’s voice changes and sometimes he puts glasses on. His whole physical demeanor and accent changes.
GC: Okay, let’s talk about [your] second car accident. When did that happen?
CL: It was in 2008, 14 years after the first one. I’d finished modeling in Milan when I was 24 and moved back to Canada…
GC: What did you do for work?
CL: I was hired as the assistant manager of the All About You Spa, which had massage and manicure/pedicure, etc. and different healing modalities. I did all the massages and ran everything. The owner was rarely there. I did that for two years.
I would do runway modeling on the weekends for some extra money, but then I quit modeling and left the spa to go out on my own and conduct healing for clients out of my home. I opened up my own practice.
GC: And you got involved in the indy music scene out there.
CL: I got introduced to crystal bowl healing by this guy Trent Hutton. He was a friend of my boyfriend at the time who was also a musician. We jammed one night and he loved my voice and I loved his crystal bowl, so we recorded a CD in a studio. I got the CD, Emerald City Wave Sounds, into healing centres all across BC and incorporated that music into my healing practice. That was in late 2006. Then I started doing shows and performing around Vancouver. I also graduated from a screenwriting program and wrote screen plays.
GC: So things were going well in 2006 and 2007, with you performing music and healing out of a spa in your own home, and then in 2008 you had the second car accident.
GC: Before we talk about that, I want to ask you if, up until then, you had any experience with psychedelics?
CL: When I was 18 I tried acid but strangely it didn’t seem to have any effect on me. Everyone else was tripping. So that one almost doesn’t count.
Later I did mushrooms with a friend in Toronto. It was in a field on the outskirts of the city. The grass and the trees and everything came alive. That was when I was around 21-years old and starting modelling.
GC: How about when you moved to BC?
CL: I don’t like to think about it but I did get involved for a while with another substance with a different vibration related to the boyfriend I had then. I gave that toxic substance up quickly as it was really dark.
I’ve used MDMA and I know about peyote but haven’t done it yet. I’ve drank San Pedro in Peru [a cactus with similar properties to peyote, as mescaline is an active ingredient]. I feel in retrospect that Mother Ayahuasca was testing me, to see if I would choose that path. I only tried these other entheogens a few times, concluding that, no, they were not my path.”
GC: So now let’s talk about that second car crash, on September 7th, 2008. Did you go through the windshield this time?
CL: Not all the way through but my head went through a little bit.
GC: Were you in the back or the front seat?
CL: I was in the front seat. I was with my ex-boyfriend at the time. We’d had an altercation. He had a huge Ford truck that I had to kind of jump up to get inside of. He was going to drive me home but was angry with me and didn’t wait for me to close the door as he took off, squealing the tires.
Everything that happened took place in about a block and a half. I was bouncing around in the cab of the truck without the door being closed and then he went around one of those roundabouts with me hanging out with the door half open. He hit the curb and lost control, and the passenger side — where I was — hit a tree. The last thing I remember is seeing the steering wheel spinning and then I was out.
CL: The whole front of the truck on the passenger side was collapsed in.
GC: Okay, so then you’re in hospital badly injured.
CL: I had a broken jaw which was wired shut for nine months and they thought I’d never walk normally again. I was in a wheelchair for three months. My inability to walk wasn’t from damaged legs but from brain trauma. I had a dislocated shoulder, a broken wrist and a fractured jaw that was wired shut for eight months. It took me four years to fully recover from the head injuries.
GC: And there was litigation afterwards?
CL: The jaw became the subject of a malpractice suit because the doctors took the braces off before it was healed so they actually had to break my jaw a second time [to reset it]. So there were two traumas. A steel plate was eventually put in my jaw. I eventually returned to Ontario and recovered for several months at my mother’s place.
GC: At what point did ayahuasca come to play a role in your recovery?
CL: As I lay in bed in Vancouver I had a dream about drinking this brown coffee in a jungle setting with some strange men. I told my friend Brian about it (who was doing biofeedback sessions on me).
He said, “That’s not coffee. That’s ayahuasca.”
I didn’t know what ayahuasca was at that time.
[The friend gave Linseman documentaries about ayahuasca and recordings of people like Terence McKenna, which she listened to for the next three months in bed.]
GC: How did all this lead you to Peru and the Amazon shamans?
CL: A girlfriend visited me who does stunts in movies with another friend who does stunts. They double for people like Angelina Jolie and Nicole Kidman.
They visited me when I was in the wheelchair and couldn’t leave the bed. My girlfriend introduced me to her ex-husband Clint who traveled to Peru all the time and had done fifty-something ayahuasca ceremonies.
When I finished convalescing in Ontario I flew back to Vancouver and called Clint right away. We were on the phone for two hours and this started an interaction where he came and visited with his pouch and his feathers and his crystals — very shamanic. He’d been studying with maestros in Peru. He put me in a circle made of rocks and gave me a huge healing.
Things escalated quickly and he suggested we go a retreat center to drink aya. The next weekend I was drinking ayahuasca. I drank with Clint for three nights in a row.
GC: So this was the beginning of your relationship with La Madre.
CL: I was in Vancouver from 2008 to 2011 during which period I drank ayahuasca. In 2011, I went to Peru for the first time.
GC: What was it about ayahuasca that made you settle on that, as opposed to other entheogens?
CL: It was about the teachings mostly. La Madre taught me about the sacredness of sound, what sound is, which I’ve incorporated into my singing and crystal bowl healing sessions.
Everything is sound, everything is vibration.
GC: You took the relationship with the plant much further than most people.
CL: One thing was that the other people around me drinking ayahuasca in Vancouver were being taught things but they weren’t being taught icaros [medicine songs] by the plant. For me the plant was singing and my voice was changing and I was channelling the wisdom and these songs. People told me that sometimes the medicine chooses certain people to sing her songs, and that’s the path of a shaman.
GC: So that’s why you went to Peru, to apprentice?
CL: Yes. It’s not like I went to Peru only to get healing; I did most of my healing with ayahuasca in Vancouver. I went to Peru to study with shamans. But I was still stuttering and I still had anxiety so I wasn’t fully recovered, that’s for sure. I’d come far working with the medicine in Vancouver, compared to where I’d been.
GC: Did you work with any shamans in Vancouver?
CL: Yes, that’s where I met my first maestro.
GC: Of your recovery from the second car accident, how much would you attribute to ayahuasca versus conventional medicine and physiotherapy and so on?
CL: Ayahuasca came to me eight or nine months after the accident. I feel that if it had come sooner I wouldn’t have needed all those therapies, or at least not as much. I wish she’d come while I was still in the hospital bed.
[Linseman describes a whirlwind of doctor’s appointments and meetings with lawyers that kept her away from the fuller experience of ayahuasca and healing she would have preferred.]
GC: Did the doctors want to put you on a lot of meds?
CL: Oh yes. They wanted to prescribe me pain medications, anti-depressants… all of that.
GC: So tell me about Peru. You were there for three months at a place called Infierno, to study with a shaman?
CL: Yes. Actually I went there for three months to apprentice, then came back to Canada for a month and a half to sell my apartment and buy a house in Ontario. I then went back to Infierno, where I stayed for a little bit until the situation became such that it wasn’t conducive for me to stay longer.
When my work was done there I flew to Cusco and then went to a place called the Sacred Valley where I worked with three other shamans for about three months. I mostly worked with one shaman who introduced me to the San Pedro medicine.
GC: Where is the Sacred Valley?
CL: It’s near Machu Picchu in the middle of the Andes, between mountains.
GC: How did the Peruvian apprenticeship impact you?
CL: My practice includes shiatsu massage and aromatherapy but also shamanic techniques like Palo Santo oil and smudges, plants like sage, Florida water and so on. I use sound vibration with special singing bowls over the chakras along with the medicine songs, and my buffalo drum.
I was already doing some of this before my second car accident and before my apprenticeship in Peru, but working with the shamans and ayahuasca took things to a whole new level.
GC: We’ve covered most of your life story now, and how ayahuasca helped you heal. But we haven’t really spoken about what you see or experience on ayahuasca. I think people would be interested to hear about some of your most impactful experiences, maybe something from your Peru adventures. I gather it was pretty intense.
CL: Well there was the first time when I was apprenticed to Don Ignacio, I drank and my hands went up in the air and became eagle claws. My head turned into an eagle’s head and for three or four hours everything I saw — which was really fast paced — was through eagle vision. My hands were up in the air like talons and I couldn’t move out of that position.
Another night — less than two months into my apprenticeship — Don Ignacio said,“Let’s get up and go outside.” I was told by another shaman named Christian (who had apprenticed with Don Ignacio for 18 years) that this was unheard of for someone new to the apprenticeship.
GC: What happened?
CL: I could barely get up. Don Ignacio sat on the stairs and watched me stagger outside, encouraging me to go wherever I wanted. I felt awkward but I trusted and went over to this tree… I hugged the tree and became “one” with that tree. I sat under the tree in lotus position and started singing. I went off, kind of nuts, singing and singing…
Don Ignacio was sitting, staring at me. You normally have to apprentice for three months before you can drink by yourself, but the maestro told the other shamans,“She’s ready to drink alone.”
GC: What was it like there? Your daily life I mean?
CL: I did a lot of art and singing icaros and painting. I also helped a lot with the local village. Everything was very primitive, rundown. There was no running water, no kitchen. While I was there I painted the maestro’s hut and built a kitchen addition so we could serve food without eating on the ground. I went into town and bought food for everyone. It was pretty bad.
GC: The name “Infierno” sounds apt. What other things did you see?
CL: One time early on I drank with Don Ignacio and his icaros songs brought me to tears. Suddenly there was this huge mama lion and I was in Africa. It was like I was really there, not a hallucination. The lioness grabbed onto my jaw, the metal plate, and started ripping me back and forth. She pulled the metal plate out of me and I was mangled [in the vision] with blood everywhere.
A lion cub came over and licked me back to being whole. That was one of my biggest ones that I’ll never forget.
GC: I think you mentioned once that there were complications that caused you to leave.
CL: Yes. I wasn’t just there drinking the ayahuasca, I was making it. It was a lot of work traveling by boat every day into the jungle for three hours, harvesting the ayahuasca vine and chacruna leaves, bringing them back and and pounding the vine and cleaning the leaves. Amid all this work there were incidents with one of the shamans that weren’t of the highest integrity and I wanted to leave. But I’d prepaid for the whole three months so was pretty much stuck there.
GC: How did you cope?
CL: A lot of time during ceremony I’d leave and go down to the river, flying, and I saw a lot of strange and powerful things out there in the jungle by myself: spirits, ancestors, mammals, dragons, things I can’t even find a name for. I spent a lot of my time alone this way.
After her sojourn in Peru, Colleen Linseman returned to Canada where she continues her healing work at the Enchanted Healing Center in Fergus, Ontario. She envisions eventually expanding the center in a larger rural location and building a community. This spring she plans to film the final segments of a documentary about her life that is almost complete.
Guy Crittenden is a freelance writer with more than 25 years experience. Winner of 14 Kenneth R. Wilson Awards for excellence in business journalism, his articles in national media have covered diverse topics in the environmental field and, more recently, consciousness and entheogens. He lives in Collingwood, Canada and maintains a blog that you can access here.