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How I Heal: Photographer Deb Achack

on trusting your intuition

Deb Achak is a fine art photographer whose work is rooted in the mystique and healing nature of water. The curiosity and intuition in her images is informed, in part, through the spiritual healing journey she started 12 years ago when her mother died. A grounded creative, she has learned how to trust and channel the Spirit guides who are available to us all.

How did your healing journey begin? 
The seeds of it have been there for as long as I can remember.  My mother was a spiritual seeker, and I was most definitely influenced by her pursuit of deeper meaning. She loved numerology, self-help books, and working with intuitives. She died twelve years ago, but her parting words to me were trust your gut instincts. At the time, I remember thinking it was a beautiful final gift from her, but the words grew in meaning for me as the years went on.  They have become a mantra of sorts. I think the key to everything lives within our relationship (or lack thereof) to our intuition. I thank her every day for giving me the gift of that insight.  

My mother’s death coincided with the early years of my own journey as a new mother. My first son was three at the time of her death, and my second son was born twenty-five days after she died. I spent several years mired in a soup of postpartum depression, grief, gratitude, anxiety, sleep-deprivation, awe (at my children), and anger that I was now the matriarch.  It was a complex time for me emotionally and spiritually. I remember reflexively wanting to reach for a phone to ask my mom where she was, how she was doing, what were her experiences on the other side? I longed for a relationship with her. I walked through my days wishing for a crystal ball so I could see into the future, see her again, hear her wisdom. Anxiety clouded most of my decisions, and I spent a great deal of time assuming I had cancer, like my mother had. I knew this state of being was not sustainable and I needed to release my hold on these negative thought patterns. I craved healing, growth, joy, renewal and deeper connection to spirit. 

It felt like the best possible therapy to work with tarot, astrology, mediums and intuitives…my own intuition was often confirmed during a session.

At the same time, I began to notice a pattern of intuitive insights or downloads that came to me at odd times. These flashes of insight became more common, and I slowly began trusting them. On a whim—or maybe it was intuition—I reached out to various intuitives, guides, and healers I came across. That crystal ball I wished for for so long, you could say I manifested it in the form of alternative healers. I found people who could share their gift of insight with me, and more importantly I started believing in my own ability to have that knowing inside of me. I was rather secretive about it at the time. This was ten years ago and not many people spoke openly about using intuitives, but the practice felt exhilarating and healing.  It felt like the best possible therapy to work with tarot, astrology, mediums and intuitives. One of the biggest gifts of that time was that my own intuition was often confirmed during a session. I might ask a question of my trusted tarot reader, for example, only to have her confirm what I already knew. The practice of confirmation helped me tremendously in the beginning. Over time, I needed her less, trusted myself more. That feeling continues to this day. I still utilize intuitives and healers for guidance, but it’s more of a partnership and less of a top-down relationship. I use it to help grow my own gifts. I also understand now that my relationship with my mother didn’t end with her death. It changed and deepened, and perhaps even improved. She is with me always and I feel her love and guidance every day.  

How did your life change after you started your healing journey?
For so much of my life, I looked outside of myself for confirmation that I was making the right decisions. This came to a head most notably during the early years with my kids. My anxiety was at an all-time high, and I looked everywhere for validation except inside myself. Although the shift from there to now took many years, it can be summarized as the gradual transition from believing the answers I needed could be found in a book, an expert, a friend, a teacher—anyone but myself— to finally arriving at the beautiful understanding that I know what I need, I know what my family needs, and most importantly, I am never truly alone. None of us are. We all have a  team of guides ready and willing to work with us. 

The shift created so much more space for joy, self-love, centered parenting, deeper meaning, and self-assurance. This was also the period of time when the seeds of my photography career were planted. My shift in mindset opened so many unexpected doors in my new career. I took more leaps of faith, and extraordinary things began happening.  

My career unfolded very quickly, I think in part because I was following my intuitive voice, rather than my rational brain. The shift affected not just the career opportunities that presented themselves to me, but also the content of my work. By releasing control and embracing joy and spontaneity, I captured things I never could have thought up. I started a little ritual that I continue to this day. Before going out to shoot, I prepare all of my camera gear (SD cards formatted, batteries charged, lenses cleaned, etc), and then I say a little prayer to the Universe: Please put me in the path of the shot I am supposed to get. After that, it’s just a matter of getting into the flow and having fun. I am constantly surprised by what comes my way when I co-create with the Universe. 

My career unfolded very quickly, in part because I was following my intuitive voice rather than my rational brain.

What does wellness in your work-life mean to you?
Try as I might, I don’t create my best work when I am unhappy.  The myth of the tortured artist just doesn’t suit me. Anxiety and depression override my creativity, so it’s important that I stay connected and grounded. Luckily for me, creating art is very therapeutic and it inherently reinforces my spiritual practices. It brings me tremendous joy to create and put work out into the world, so it’s a positive feedback loop.   

It became abundantly clear to me many years ago that the deepest meditation I can achieve is when I am in the flow with my work, be it shooting, editing, printing or writing. When I am in my flow, it’s an extraordinary feeling, unlike anything I have experienced in meditation. I lose track of time, all heaviness falls away and I am in the zone. As a result, I truly feel that my creativity and spirituality are inextricably linked. Ideas come to me in meditation or in my dreams, or there will be a tiny whisper to try something new. It sounds super woo-woo, but I have learned not to suppress the information. As often as possible I go for it, but even still, I’m sure I am only tapping into a fraction of what the Universe wants to share with me.  

What self-healing practice is essential for you?
I have so many practices that I lean on. Kundalini meditation is huge for me, but I’m not super strict about practicing everyday. I love automatic writing, similar to Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, but again, I don’t do it every day.  I love smudging, crystals, essential oils and oracle cards. Clean eating is big too. I recently revamped my diet, removing all gluten and dairy, and I feel so much lighter in every sense. I exercise at least four days a week, and I no longer drink alcohol. I am obsessed with warm epsom salt baths—they cure everything. I try to keep my chakras in balance. My favorite way to do this is by using root lock to bring energy up from my root chakra all the way to my crown. And, finally, time in nature. The effect of nature on my wellbeing cannot be overstated. I am the closest to my true self when I am swimming in the ocean or surrounded by a green forest. I need it like I need oxygen.   

Any book(s) that changed your perspective on life and/or yourself?
This is tough because I have such an appetite for spirituality/wellness-related books. Marie Manuchehri’s book on the chakra system, Intuitive Self-Healing, is definitely very high on the list. I think it is so important for people to understand their energetic anatomy. Her book explains the entire system so beautifully and accessibly. I also loved both of Laura Lynn Jackson’s books, The Light Between Us and Signs. I am a fan of Gabby Bernsteins’ work. The Universe Has Your Back is especially helpful, but truly all of her books are great. Kyle Gray, Angels: How to See, Hear and Feel Your Angels, rocked my world when I read it. Michael Singer, The Surrender Experiment, was very influential for me. Elizabeth Gilbert’s incredible book Big Magic is such a powerful book for anyone trying to understand the relationship between creativity and spirituality. I hung on every word.  Untamed by Glennon Doyle should be mandatory reading for all women.  And anything by Martha Beck. Martha Beck is a modern-day prophet.  Begin with Expecting Adam, then Leaving the Saints, and on from there. She is truly extraordinary.  

What advice would you give a younger version of yourself? 
I would love to rest both of my hands on my young shoulders and say: That weird feeling you have when you are out in the world, at a party or social gathering—that’s energy. You aren’t crazy, you are intuitive, you are picking up on the energy of others. It’s a gift you are blessed to have, but until you learn energetic boundaries, you will think there is something very wrong with you. Also, everything you need to know is inside of you. Quiet your brain and listen to your intuition.  

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