Mariah Fenton Gladis
In a beautiful, natural setting far from the hustle and bustle of the world, Mariah Fenton Gladis lives and works helping others heal through Gestalt therapy as she continues her own growth and evolution. Living for 25 years with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as "Lou Gehrig’s disease,” she has beat the odds and inspired others who have been diagnosed with this life-threatening illness. Although everyone’s mission on this planet is different, and most people don’t live more than two years with ALS, Mariah has carved out a life for herself as a Gestalt practitioner, teacher, wife and mother, feeling blessed for each day she has. Sitting within view of the three busts she made of her family, and with the help of her husband Ron, we had a nice visit to learn more about this remarkable woman.
Dawn – You’re considered a “medical miracle”. To what do you attribute your amazing resilience and fortitude?
Mariah – I have a very comprehensive self-care regiment and all the love in my life. My husband, Ron, is the hero in this story.
Dawn – It seems to me that you have really had the support you needed to bring you to this place where you are. Obviously you have a mission that you’re determined to live, no matter what.
Mariah – And the responsibility.
Dawn – What were your beliefs about Life and the Universe before your diagnosis?
Mariah – That life was bountiful, and full of possibilities with mountains to climb. I’m living the life that I really enjoy.
Dawn – You have been living with ALS for a long time now. How has it enriched your life?
Mariah – It has made me a more stable person: I literally can’t run away from anything, I have to sit through it. It’s increased my compassion.
Dawn – Does the world look different to you now?
Mariah – I know that each person has their own tragedies, and it’s very important for individuals and the world at large to look at one another with compassion and forgiveness and a real interest and an appreciation for differences. It’s really the only hope.
Dawn – Do you see your work helping that become a reality?
Mariah – That’s my mission.
Dawn – Do you ever seen yourself overcoming this illness and returning to complete wellness?
Mariah – I am well. I already feel well. I am inconvenienced by this but I am healthy. My blood work is perfectly normal and the doctors can’t believe it. One day I hope for a cure but on the other hand I’m okay.
Dawn – Once you accepted that you had this illness what decisions did you make as far as your experience of it and how you wanted it to be different from the experience others with the same illness had?
Mariah – I knew that I could die; I could will myself to die. I believed all the predictions but I never really considered my own death. I always believed in the mind-body-spirit connection. I chose to focus right there. I was given a 10% chance to survive 2 years. That was 25 years ago.
Dawn – And that was 25 years ago?
Mariah – I avoided the people who gave me those predictions. I started taking supplements, changing my diet and doing acupuncture, massage therapy, exercise, meditation and Master Park helped me a lot. I stayed open and listened inside to what felt right to me.
Dawn – Are there other people who have ALS who have been inspired to live more full, more productive lives based on your example.
Mariah – I hope so. I have a very close friend Rita Cortally we only compare notes and usually we do the same thing and she’s alive 19 years. Coincidence or not? She’s not allowed to die and neither am I. I’m not allowed to die, in my heart.
Dawn – The doctors in your life now, have they turned around to see things from the perspective of possibilities for other people who have ALS?
Mariah – I think they notice how long I’m alive but they’re not curious about my regiment. That always surprises me. I had a very close friend, Doctor John Foster, who really helped me. Unfortunately he died three years ago.
Dawn – What type of advice can you give to others who have ALS?
Mariah – Believe in possibilities and don’t swallow the party line. Focus on your overall health and enhance your overall health. Build a strong foundation for healing and that includes a very loving inner life and a spiritual connection of some kind.
Dawn – What do you think has been the most important thing that has really helped you?
Mariah – Love: self-love and the love of Ron, my husband, and my sons Cole and other son’s name has been a driving force; my love for them, to stay alive and not hurt them, to never leave them by an early death. They are 24 and 22. They were conceived and born after my diagnosis. So I felt a heavy responsibility to stay around for them.
Dawn – Have you read any books since your diagnosis that inspired and helped you?
Mariah – Early on authors Bernie Siegel and Steven Levine were very helpful.
Dawn – Do you need extra support or when you teach people or have healing sessions?
Mariah – No, after one day they understand me. They are fluent in “Mariah”.
Dawn – You said that love is what has made the biggest difference for you. Would you also say that’s where your strength comes from?
Mariah – Yes. And that comes from a greater spiritual connection.
Dawn – Do you feel your spiritual connection is greater than it was 20 years ago?
Mariah – Absolutely.
Dawn – Do you feel there are other missions you have yet to accomplish?
Mariah – I have been writing a book for 15 years and it’s just now coming to completion and I have another one.
Dawn – What kind of an impact do you hope your book will make?
Mariah – I hope it will inspire, number one. Two, I hope it will teach skills for people who need them in their lives and relationships.
Dawn – The one that’s coming out now is about your life and work. What’s the next one about?
Mariah – Mostly ALS and my approach to healing: living with a life-threatening illness. It will be called, “Look Mom, No Hands!”
Dawn – I hope doctors will give it to their patients.
Mariah – That would be great. I know when newly diagnosed patients meet me they have more hope for themselves as has happened to us. We met someone who was alive for seven years when we were first diagnosed and that was a relief because we didn’t know of any body that lived past two.
Dawn – So it’s all in that mind/body connection and the spirit feeds the mind and the body and that has been a very key component for you as well. Do you feel that you are being supported by the spiritual realm to do what you are choosing to do?
Mariah – Absolutely and I want to very careful to say I also know that I’m not in charge of any of this and I’m very blessed that there are people out there who can still die within six months. I don’t want to say that I’m doing anything better than anyone else or that I have the answers, I don’t. I believe very strongly in the mind/body connection and I know some people who are doing it and not getting well. It can be very painful to hear success stories too. They wonder what they aren’t doing right. I certainly don’t want to do that to anyone. This is what has worked for me; it might not work for anyone else. There are people who have pursued a similar course and it still might be their time to go so they don’t survive. Ultimately none of us are in control. And at the same time I believe we have a lot of power. It’s the mystery where both are true.
Dawn – Where do you see your work going? How do you see it evolving?
Mariah – I hope my book makes an impact. I love working with a small number of people. I’m a regular part of their lives. I treasure that. I’d like it to ripple out further, as far as the ripple will go.
Dawn – What inspired you to be a Gestalt practitioner and teacher?
Mariah – When I first learned about it I found it was a modality where I could use my full creativity and originality and it was holistic, body/mind/spirit/heart. I knew right away I had found my place
Dawn – Was teaching others a natural extension of the joy you found from doing the Gestalt therapy?
Mariah – Yes, it gave me the proof I needed in my own life that I could make the changes that I secretly believed might not be possible. It renewed my faith in psychology and gave me faith that this was an affective process.
Dawn – Where did Gestalt originate?
Mariah – Germany. Gestalt therapy was introduced by Fritz Perls and although my style is a heart and soul based Gestalt, it’s not what the original Gestalt therapy was unfortunately it was much more confrontational so I have my own branch on the tree that’s heart and soul based.
Dawn – And you feel that’s more successful?
Mariah – I know it is.
Dawn – When you’re teaching Gestalt you’re teaching the heart and soul method. Students also learn how to draw out their own natural strengths as a practitioner themselves. So, when you’re teaching other people to be Gestalt practitioners you’re not just teaching them the techniques, you’re teaching them to find their own selves and bring it out in them?
Mariah – Perfectly said.
Dawn – What makes a really good Gestalt practitioner?
Mariah – A loving heart, a wealth of experience and someone who has done their own inner-work. Their level of master of their own health, that’s really important. It takes a long time. I made a lot of mistakes early on. That’s how we grow and evolve. It takes a long time.
Dawn – What inspired you to start the Gestalt Center in 1973?
Mariah – Other people wanted to learn from me. There wasn’t anyone else in the area that was really doing it. I probably began teaching too young but I was it at the time.
Dawn – Had you ever considered any other career paths?
Mariah – I started out in fashion design but there wasn’t enough meaning in it for me. I went back to school and learned Gestalt therapy.
Dawn – Is your work still evolving and do you see any particular pattern to that?
Mariah – Yes, as I grow it grows.
Dawn – What was the most amazing healing you have ever seen in your Gestalt practice?
Mariah – On a physical level there was a woman who was legally blind. As she cleared her emotional wounds her eyesight returned. She was able to drive again.
Dawn – So what do you want to do after this life?
Mariah – Well, my ideal would be, if I had the ability to help people who are still here. I hope, in the next realm, that I’ll have the ability to provide.
Dawn – How successful do you feel your life has been?
Mariah – Very, most important is my marriage and my children and then my work and being able to live a healthy life.
Dawn – What is the most important part of your day?
Mariah – It would have to be in the morning when I set an intention for my day and/or when I contribute in some meaningful way.
Dawn – In what ways do you like to contribute during the day?
Mariah – Noticing people and supporting them in some way.
Dawn – What fulfills you the most in your life?
Mariah – Love and work.
Dawn – What do you see as your greatest accomplishment?
Mariah – My children.
Ron – You have to understand, she had been given a death sentence in July. We got married in October. She got pregnant on our wedding night and then went on to have two children, which, in the neurological community was not the right thing to do. So that’s the drive. That’s why those children are so important because they validate her life, in a way.
Dawn – They prove that you really are healthy.
Mariah – That’s right. They are such a gift to us and to the world.
Ron – The circumstances under which they were born is just an interesting one, for us. We are so blessed in that regard because we went forward to do that.
Mariah – Looking back I don’t know how we had the courage, it was blind faith, Sacred Denial.
Dawn – You feel the journey that you have taken has made your children even stronger?
Mariah – Oh, yes. They have been amazing, so loving to me, accepting and helpful… and normal.
Dawn – Is there anything you’ve always wanted to do that you haven’t done yet?
Mariah – I’d like to go on a hot air balloon ride. I love to travel; there are a lot of places I haven’t seen yet. I have an image of taking newly diagnosed ALS patients on an empowerment workshop down the Colorado River.
Dawn – What do you see for the future of the planet and our species?
Mariah – I think we’re in a time right now of excruciating lessons. If we can only open our arms and hearts and if leaders can emerge who can inspire people to love and respect more. If leaders like that can emerge now there’s a possibility of more balance and harmony. I really hope that happens. I’m listening to the messages of politicians. If we can get more women in leadership around the world so there’s balance, it would really help things. I see possibilities.
Dawn – Do you work with other realms than just physical realms?
Mariah – No, I have enough to do right here. Certainly I pray a lot. I feel that healing comes through me, not from me. I don’t leave my body or anything like that. I’m a here and now, on the ground psychotherapist. I also reach outside myself for that healing energy and power.
Dawn – What would you like to leave as your legacy to humanity?
Mariah – When you’re lost, use your heart and soul as your compass.
Visit The Pennsylvania Gestalt Center‘s Website for events, classes and healing sessions