I’m a medical scientist who teaches about mind body healing, cell health, wine and the senses. But that’s not what I thought I’d be doing when I “grew up.” As a teenager, I wanted to be an entertainer in musical comedy, and though I did have some talent -I sang at my dad’s jazz club when I was 6 and in junior high did a duet to an audience of hundreds. I had a good voice yet I believed that I lacked the beauty for that career path, so instead of singing I use my voice in other ways, expressing through writing, speaking and sound, about hidden worlds and ideas. I started college as a journalism major yet somehow I decided to take an even harder path. I wanted to become a medical scientist, at a time when girls didn’t do that sort of thing.
On the way to now, my life has continued to veer off in unexpected directions. As a Ph.D. student in biochemistry, I studied influenza viruses and then did a post-graduate fellowship in immunology and hematology at the University of California Medical School (UCSF). I shifted my focus to cancer research while on the faculty at UCSF and here I leaped off the course of my expected career trajectory. My research on childhood leukemias took me out of the lab into the human dimension of life-threatening diseases and mind body spirit healing. I became the balloon lady and the morning mama in the hospital drawing with children, telling stories, exploring ways that could help these kids feel better even with having a malignant disease.
Every week I offered slide shows at the pediatric oncology clinic. The slide shows were photomicrographs I had taken of the secret universe of cells and molecules, Alvaro, a 5-year-old boy battling leukemia, was the first child to watch, and he became one of my greatest teachers. We spent many hours together in the year we had, drawing his feelings, watching slide shows, sharing family time with his sister and my two children. And everything I was learning for my own mind body healing, I would bring to him. But in the end, he lost his battle. It was with deep sadness and surprise when his family included me to be with them when he took his last breaths. The full Alvaro story is in my book Secrets of Your Cells.
I wasn’t prepared for all the emotional upheavals of his death and that of other children, so to learn to deal and feel where my heart and emotions were taking me, I began studying with a shaman and exploring somatic, body mind and expressive art therapies. One unexpected detour on this journey was my own potentially life-threatening illness, which forced me to look at the possible emotional underpinnings of why and how I got sick. This was a most unusual perspective for a scientist whose belief was “only what is measurable is real.” Emotions, thoughts, or spirit had no place in my understanding of illness or health.
I bridge art, science and spirit with the practical, integrating evidence-based medicine with complementary body mind health practices and surprisingly morphed into a teacher, coach and mentor on the mysteries of inner space, from cells and molecules to imagination and the sacred.
“One scientist who is busy reinventing herself and her profession by regaining awe as a priority is Sondra Barrett. Barrett has brought awe into her life by asking different questions about her specialty, biology, and by connecting biology to photography so that she and others can actually meditate on the awesome wonder of the cell itself.”
Matthew Fox in The Awe Project – Reinventing Education, Reinventing the Human
Over the years there have been other bumps in the road with my own health challenges – a herniated vertebral disc, a stroke, severe back pain, and a one-time scare of liver cancer. I brought to each of my health challenges what I offer now in online courses, coaching, and presentations. In my teaching, I use what I have learned from the science of our cells to the mind body spirit healing traditions of ancient ancestors of many cultures.
Having taught medical students, continuing education for health professionals and numerous in-person workshops for decades, I recently launched an online Cell Wisdom school where I teach several programs: Lessening Stress and Activating Your Cellular Intelligence. My most current online courses are Romancing Your Cells and It’s Elemental Secrets of Your Cells Book Club and Your Elemental Soul. I recently returned from China (left right before Covid entered the picture) teaching a 3 day workshop based on my book Secrets of Your Cells: Embodying Your Body’s Inner Intelligence (in 7 languages including Chinese.)
My other adventure into the art of the unknown took me into making visible the invisible through the microscope— to capture in photomicrographs the unexpected patterns and beauty of vitamins, minerals, wine, psychedelics, and molecules of taste. I have worked with wineries capturing the hidden beauty of wine and with nutritional supplement companies capturing the beautiful microscopic expressions of their products. My work with wine is documented with hundreds of bold color photographs in Wine’s Hidden Beauty. Photomicrographs of some of the wines are now hanging in numerous tasting rooms, exhibited in galleries, and part of visual wine tasting events. One winery uses the images to create a digital dictionary about their wines. What’s been most exciting in capturing the inside story of wine, is to follow the life of a wine, how it visually changes with age and when it loses its vitality.
My latest veering off the path has been discovering sacred symbols in our molecules. After photographing the microscopic expressions of 12 mineral salts-related to signs of the Zodiac I veered into metaphysics. I use the photomicrograph symbols to tell a visual story of a person’s unique elemental essence based on their birthday. This certainly is far removed from my scientific training. Yet these self-discovery readings with these symbols uncovered through the microscope teach my clients a lot about themselves, their hidden strengths and challenges. 2022 brought the birth of my MicroCosmic Wisdom oracle deck and guidebook. A few copies of this first edition are still left.
I have taken a most unexpected yet illuminating life journey, not wanting to be a teacher like all the other girls, I’ve become one. My wish of wanting to be an entertainer plays out in being a teacher and person who entertains with great joy sharing this healing wisdom, as a photographer and guide into the vast amazing intelligence of our inner space. I find myself asking questions — where does knowledge come from, how can we make it useful for healing, and can the microscope really show us secret messages in our molecules. And that is what a scientist does — asks questions and looks for answers. So I guess I haven’t veered that far off my intended path, after all.
Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org