The Tower’s gift: Erin Gilbert’s ascension to Reiki

The Tower’s gift: Erin Gilbert’s ascension to Reiki

A seasoned Reiki practitioner with decades of experience, Erin Gilbert, 48, has touched the lives of hundreds of clients. At the same time, Reiki, a form of energy work, allowed Gilbert to rebuild her own life, which allowed her to transcend a past ridden with tremendous pain and start over with her Reiki business in Madison. 

Beginning in her youth, Gilbert was swept by the current toward becoming a Reiki healer. But it took losing everything to embrace the feeling that she had a bigger purpose in this world and tap into the courage to start a business in something considered unconventional in the eyes of Western medicine. 

The beginning of the two-year crumbling that devastated the life of Gilbert as she knew it started in January 2020, when, living in Los Angeles, her car was totaled in a three-car pileup on the freeway. In February, her son Aidan, who was 22 and recovering from drug addiction at the time, relapsed and could no longer live on his own, so he moved in with Gilbert. COVID lockdown hit in March, moving her sales job to Zoom; having lost the face-to-face connections, the most gratifying part of her job, Gilbert decided to take a leave of absence. In June, wildfires blazed through California, and she and Aidan were forced to evacuate from their home. Then, the worst hit: In April 2021, Aidan passed away from an overdose. 

Without her child, house or job, the divorced Gilbert hit “catastrophic rock bottom.” 

Looking back in 2024 from her house in Madison, she recognizes that the universe had drawn the Tower card. In tarot, the Tower card sparks massive chaotic change, upheaval, and destruction. It’s what signals that every piece of your life is about to disintegrate. 

On the flip side of the Tower card, the soul can begin to mend. “When the universe is pulling the rug out from under you, you get up so much stronger,” she said. “You’re so changed from it.” 

“There was something more for her than just the pain that she was living through. There was a calling. There was a beckoning, and she chose to pay attention to it,” said Vida Groman, who is Gilbert’s mentor and has decades of experience in both conventional therapy treatment and alternative energy work

Growing up psychic

Six-year-old Gilbert sat cross-legged at the top of the staircase leading into the top floor of her grandparents’ funeral home in Alpena, Mich. She calmly gazed up at a large oil painting of Jesus, which was bordered with a heavy ornate golden frame, entranced by the image. Her overzealous nine-year-old brother ran up and down the stairs. As she tuned out the receding and approaching thumps of her brother’s footsteps, she began to still her mind. 

Voices emerged from the stillness, as clear as if they were right there in the room with her. It was the voices of the deceased, detached from their physical bodies that were being held at the funeral home. Young Gilbert felt no fear, no confusion – just the love they exuded. All they wanted was for their families to know that they loved them. 

Growing up in a church parsonage, Gilbert had one foot in the world of her dad, a minister, and one foot in what she described as the “woo-woo world” of her mom, a teacher. Gilbert would often sit in that same spot at the top of the staircase, listening to spirits, and eventually, her mom caught on to what was happening and wanted to encourage her gift. 

When Gilbert was around 11, her mom started coaching her in Reiki. As an angsty preteen, Gilbert resisted learning the practice, rejecting her mom’s hippy teachings. 

Over time, though, she began to gravitate toward it. But it wasn’t until her first official Reiki session that she plunged into the depths of mystical waters and was jolted awake. 

She was 19 when she experienced her first session. She entered a room resembling a doctor’s office with linoleum tiles and fluorescent overhead lights. The matter-of-fact practitioner, a woman who worked with her mother, gave off a “clinical aloofness.” As she laid on the examination table and the practitioner traced her hands over her body, she felt the burning emotional sensation associated with her past just as strongly as if she were reliving the moments. 

During her first session, the feelings associated with “some pretty terrible childhood” experiences came up unexpectedly, she said. “And it wasn’t just that it was hard to feel those feelings again; it was that it really caught me off guard.”

Having no preparation or briefing on this by the Reiki practitioner, she felt she wasn’t emotionally mature enough to be dealing with this drastic emotional purge. “It was so powerful; I hated it,” she said. 

However, in a twist of fate, the session inspired her to begin her own Reiki training. At 19, she began learning Reiki at the same center as her mother, and six years later, in 2000, she earned her mastery certification. 

The Usui lineage

The roots of Reiki trace back to Buddhism, as Japanese Buddhist monk Mikao Usui developed the healing method based on the Mahavairocana Sutra, an ancient esoteric Buddhist text. Upon researching and experimenting with “ki,” the universal life energy thought to give living organisms their vitality, Usui founded Reiki in the 1920s. 

Usui taught his healing method to several disciples but died six years after systematizing the teaching. Fortunately, the practice lived on through his students, including Hawayo Takata, a Japanese-American woman who trained in Reiki and brought it to Hawaii, where it successfully spread. 

Reiki is a non-invasive treatment method that heals any energy blockages. As a patient lies down on their back, a Reiki practitioner places their hands above or gently on the patient to direct their energy. It can also be done virtually, as the practitioner verbally guides the client to move their own hands over their body and navigate energy themselves. 

On the most basic bodily level, it promotes relaxation and stress reduction. In the U.S., it is offered in around 800 hospitals as a part of their services to patients who have stress-related pathologies such as high blood pressure, according to the Institute for Integrative Healthcare. On a spiritual level, Reiki is meant to unblock chakras, release past traumas, remove psychological scars and balance energy throughout the body. 

According to the International Center for Reiki Training, there are at least one million Reiki practitioners in the world, and that number continues to grow along with the rise of wellness trends and self-care practices. In Madison, there are over a dozen businesses in the Madison area that mention Reiki services on their website.

In my session with Gilbert, I quickly realized she is not your typical practitioner. In one session, she cured my headache, released tension from my shoulders and alleviated my anxiety. Coupled with her skills as a medium, she knew I had drank orange-flavored Liquid IV that morning, and she knew about my lifelong struggles with insomnia. She also sensed the presence of my deceased golden retriever and grandmother.

When I arose from the table, my entire body felt electrified and my head woozy. She gave me practical lessons to help with my anxiety and sleeplessness. The session acted as CBT therapy, meditation and Tylenol all in one. 

“She knows the tools of her trade,” said Groman. “You know you can trust that she knows her stuff.”

The office suite on Monroe Street where Gilbert meets with clients. Photo courtesy of Gilbert.

The California chapter

In her early 20s, Gilbert had her son Aidan and worked as a preschool teacher for more than a decade. She secured an associate’s degree in human development, then a bachelor’s in psychology and business at Eastern Michigan University. 

After marrying her husband, Nick Gilbert, she moved to Los Angeles in 2012 to support his work in film. Gilbert stumbled upon a lucrative corporate sales job. A year into living in Los Angeles, she divorced her husband, leaving just her and Aidan. 

Eight years after moving to LA, the universe drew the Tower card. Her life had burst into flames, and Aidan’s death cracked her open. 

“Once Aiden was gone, it was just, like, there’s nothing left,” she said. “In some ways it was freeing, like, how can I be attached to a career or to material things if they’re all taken away? Like, I’m still okay, I’m still here.”

She realized that even though her life had fallen apart, she was still divinely protected and that she had the unique opportunity to start over. 

“A lot of people could have gone a different way after the kinds of things she’s experienced,” says her fiancé, Jeff Helmuth. “[They] could be bitter, or cynical. But Erin didn’t. She does everything she can for these people, some of them complete strangers, so I think that says a lot about her.” 

A life rebuilt

It could have been the coronavirus creating a cataclysmic crisis that drove people to seek emotional support, or it could have been divine intervention, but a few months into the pandemic, Gilbert’s schedule was fully booked with Reiki appointments. Clients found her through recommendations from friends and her Instagram account, and she did the sessions virtually from her friend’s house in Long Beach. 

After she lost her mother in 2021, Jess Wilcox was experiencing crushing grief, and a roommate referred her to Gilbert. After hopping on a call from her home in LA with Gilbert, she felt an immediate connection to her, even through the phone. 

The first time I ever had a Reiki session with Erin, I was just amazed with the amount of energy and how physical it is. It taught me a lot about my own intuition,” Wilcox said.

Gilbert not only helped unblock her chakras, but also gave her tools to alleviate her road rage, taught her meditation techniques and even channeled her mother so they could communicate. 

Having her business online gave Gilbert the freedom to move wherever she wanted. She had considered moving to Madison since early 2020, as she knew people who lived there and had heard there was an active spiritual community in the city. Sitting in her friend’s living room in Long Beach, talking to her host, Gilbert decided it was time to start rebuilding the bricks of her tower. 

In 2022, she moved into a steel-blue home on Madison’s east side, where colorful 60s-inspired murals decorate the sides of local shops. 

She set up her initial Reiki practice space in Madison upstairs in her attic, decorated this time without the orthodox religious icons of a small-town funeral home. Gray linen curtains filtered the sunlight, giving the room a smoky haze. Happy houseplants dotted each corner, and the sound of a trickling water fountain emanated from a skinny water fountain set on a dresser near her spa table. 

On the two-year anniversary of Aidan’s death, April 4, 2023, Gilbert needed the day alone to process. She blocked off her online calendar system so no one could make any appointments. Yet, somehow one person found a way. 

It was Helmuth. With a scientific background, he worked as a hydrogeologist. To him, energy meant E = mc², and his parents always reared toward agnosticism and atheism. 

However, Helmuth’s world turned on its head after his son James got sick in 2012 with Stage 4 cancer. Helmuth and his wife tried guiding James toward every kind of medicine in the books – normative and alternative – but it wasn’t until James did a Reiki session with another practitioner that his pain subsided. A few years into his diagnosis, James passed away. Around the same time, Helmuth’s mom passed away. 

Beset with grief, his other son started acting out, and Helmuth’s already strained marriage ended with divorce in 2018. He’s not exactly sure why, but he turned to Reiki to ease his pain.

“We were all going through a world of hurt after we lost James and grasping at straws trying to pull things together,” he said. He Googled “Reiki near me,” and Gilbert popped up as a highly recommended practitioner. 

The second their eyes met, “It was love at first sight,” they both told me. Gilbert has no idea how Helmuth broke through her calendar system on her computer, but she realizes Helmuth coming to her house on the anniversary of Aidan’s death was no coincidence – it was the doing of both James and Aidan. 

To Helmuth, the connection he felt came from the walks they took together, talking about life, their sons and spirituality. But without seeking Reiki, he realizes he would have never met Gilbert. 

In Madison, Gilbert’s private practice, which she named “REiCOVERY,” thrived, and found it to be well-received across a wide range of clients, including dairy farmers, public officials and professionals in internal medicine. Gilbert said clients report to her that the practice “works well in conjunction with other wellness practices,” like acupuncture, and as a mental upkeep for stress management.

Her success enabled her to open up a new office on Monroe Street in the spring of 2024. It has the same warm feeling as her attic, with cushy furniture, framed photos of Reiki symbols and a watercolor portrait of Aidan, where his long hair is swooped to one side and a wide smile crinkles his eyes. 

Gilbert and Helmuth recently bought a house together, and Gilbert reports she feels a deeper connection to the kindness and values of Midwest culture than she felt in LA. 

“When I settled on the east side, it was almost immediate that I found like-minded people, we call each other soul family,” she said. “I feel held by and a part of the community.”

“As long as the steps that I was taking towards transitioning to Madison, gave me that buoyant heart feeling, then everything would fall into place easily, almost effortlessly” Gilbert said.

Erin Gilbert. Photo courtesy of Gilbert.

For more information about Gilbert’s business, visit her website here

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