Monday, June 24

The Crestone Eagle is a nonprofit monthly newspaper serving Crestone and the San Luis Valley

Who We Are: Nicteha Cohen: walking a healing path of beauty

The grand vision evolving in Nicteha Cohen’s mind and heart is something that could have benefitted her enormously if it had been available some years ago. It’s a place of beauty where people with chronic illness can find retreat and healing, where those transitioning out of this life can be supported, and where healthy people of all ages can offer and receive the gifts of each other’s talents and skills. 

Nicteha knows her vision will take a substantial amount of money and time to become a reality. Meanwhile she is providing elements of the dream to herself and others through activities that have been important to her for decades: growing flowers and herbs and making botanicals; offering healing therapies; guiding young girls in learning about themselves and the natural world; creating art; and using her interior design skills and inherent aesthetic sense to transform her own and others’ homes into spaces of beauty and serenity. As she puts it: “Your space is your outer nervous system.”

Nicteha felt her own inner nervous system crying for help when she was about 19 and began suffering from a debilitating mystery illness with symptoms of chronic fatigue. It remained with her for more than a year, with doctors largely dismissive of the severity of her symptoms. Gradually she improved enough to live an active life through her 20s and early 30s, but when she was 35 the illness returned for several years. The experience, and the ways she learned to treat herself and manage her symptoms, became the motivation for much of what she does today.

A desire for order and belonging

Both nature and change have been central to Nicteha’s life from the beginning. She was born in a hammock, traditional Mayan style, while her parents were on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula importing hammocks. When she was two the family moved to the Southwest, where they alternated between Santa Fe and the Libré Commune in Colorado’s Huerfano County on the east side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. 

It was a gypsy bohemian lifestyle—her father was an entrepreneur and traveling performance poet and her mother was interested in the arts, working in galleries in Santa Fe. In many ways it was a difficult childhood, with frequent moves and little stability, structure, or adult supervision. At the same time, being in nature provided Nicteha with solace and joy. A quiet, introverted child, she also loved color, art, and making order out of chaos by arranging and organizing drawers, closets, and rooms—a precursor to her later passions for flower arranging and interior design.

A small, humanities-based high school in Santa Fe drew out her strong intellect and offered adult role models who supported and encouraged her. “It was the first time I felt connected to people and to myself,” she says. Following graduation, she headed east with a full scholarship to Bennington College in Vermont. She enjoyed art, dance, piano, and environmentally oriented studies. But socially she did not fit in with the majority of students from wealthy East Coast families, and after two years she returned to Santa Fe.

There she was struck with the first bout of mysterious illness, eventually regaining enough health to study culinary arts and to travel. In 1993 she enrolled in Naropa University in Boulder and completed her degree in environmental studies. Having become interested in self-discovery when she was about 12, she felt aligned with a Buddhist approach in Boulder. She began a meditation practice and was involved with the Boulder Shambhala Center. 

In 2001 Nicteha moved to the San Francisco Bay Area hoping to earn a master’s degree in organic architectural design. But her funds didn’t allow that, so she studied interior design and feng shui. Then she made a radical shift, spending the next four years traveling the world as a guide for a high-end hiking and cycling tour company. As one of a pair of guides in charge of 20 to 25 people, she might lead a 30-mile bicycle ride—in Australia, France, Italy, Hawaii, or the continental US—deal with emergencies, give talks, dress up for fancy dinners. “It was very fun, stressful, and really hard work,” she says, adding: “It taught me I could basically do anything, in really intense circumstances.”

The crucible and the gold

At the end of a tour in 2007 Nicteha fell ill again and had to quit the job. For the next almost seven years, her life was defined by illness, eventually diagnosed as Lyme disease. For much of the time she was bedridden, unable to drive or work. “It was one of the biggest things that shaped my life. It was very dark at times but also a powerful spiritual journey,” she says. “There was constant loss on so many levels, it felt like an initiation.” 

From that initiation evolved a focus on her own healing gifts. As she received biodynamic craniosacral work, she and her friends saw that it was helping her. She trained in the modality, later merging it with a somatic approach in something she now calls mytho-somatic craniosacral therapy. The goal, she says, is to rewire the nervous system while working with the “stories held in the body, from our ancestors through our own lives, to shift that story into the truer myth, into the true blueprint of who we really are.”

Another aspect of her own healing, a winter retreat at Dharma Ocean outside Crestone, resulted in Nicteha settling in the Baca in 2019 with her then-partner Nick. With a bountiful flower and herb garden, she began producing botanicals. She started a summer program for girls ages 7 to 12, which she playfully calls the Camp for Young Witches, in which she guides the girls in learning about plants, gardening, cooking, meditation, and themselves. This summer she hopes to start a second group for younger girls, ages 6 to 8.

As Nicteha hones her long-term vision while engaging in multiple activities that feed into that dream, she has come to realize that everything she does shares the same core quality. “The heart of my being is the beauty path,” she says. “Beauty is the primary healing power.”

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