Lately I’ve been mulling over the word medicine.
As part of my work, I do a daylong thing with people out in nearby mountains that I’ve been calling ‘Medicine Walks.’ It is an ancient and familiar activity, quite indigenous to being human — something we do naturally at times when we seek guidance and solace.
I do it in this way, according to my training from The School of Lost Borders: A small group of good folks and I start on a slow magic car ride up the canyon in silence, each person holding a question or wondering; something important they wish to explore or get clarity on. After a short hike in, we make our base camp and then sitting in Circle, each person shares whatever they wish about why they are there and what they are seeking — witnessed and listened to with care.
We build a round threshold out of sticks, stones, leaves or pine cones and such, and one by one, each person steps through the threshold into liminal space . . . into the world-behind-the-world, wandering wherever they are called. Several hours later they return, back over the threshold. We sit in circle again and each person tells the story of where they went, what they saw, what they did, and what insights came to them. As a guide, I hold the space at basecamp, bless them in and out of the threshold, and mirror their stories back to them when they return.
Everyone’s stories always blow me away. It never fails that each person returns deeply wise. They always get something important, something right and true; something that eases them, surprises them, heals them. They always get something they can take back into their lives that will empower them to be more who they truly are. Medicine.
So my mulling. I’ve wondered if calling these things Medicine Walks throws people off. I've considered calling them Wonder Walks or Day Walks or Nature Walks. But none of those names for me really get at what happens out there.
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What is it about the word medicine that works for this particular kind of day walk?
In the Google search I went on to learn more about this word, this was an interesting tidbit that I found fascinating: The origin of the word ‘medicine’ is medicus — from the Latin, meaning ‘physician.’ Snooping around further, I found that the origin of the word ‘physician’ is physica, which means ‘things relating to nature.’ Things Relating To Nature. A favorable start!
Here are three dictionary definitions of the word ‘medicine':
1. the science or practice of the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease.
2. compound or preparation used for the treatment or prevention of disease, especially a drug or drugs taken by mouth.
3. a spell, charm or fetish believed to have healing, protective or other power.
I take all these definitions, put them in a big bowl and stir them together, with some leavening to make them rise and put it all in the sun for a bit. Then I knead them for a while until they turn outside in. Ahhhhh now they are ready!
The first definition becomes:
1. a practice of the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of dis-ease.
A Medicine Walk treats dis-ease of the psyche and soul and heart. Slowing down and being alone in nature with unstructured time literally shifts my vibration, my frequency. I entrain to the pace and pulsing of nature . . . which is my natural pace. All my cells and neurons and tissue relax and attune to my surroundings; the swwoshh of wind, the winding crawl of an ant, the stillness of a blue sky. Now I can hear my Self!
We are not made to go-go-go all the time and to never touch the earth with our bare feet. When I get disconnected from the physical experience of being with nature on her own terms, I eventually constrict and my natural ease will begin to erode. Disease starts with dis-ease, which is happens when we are out of alignment with ourselves, the earth and each other.
The second definition becomes:
2. a treatment for prevention of dis-ease, inducing a slightly altered state, taken by mouth and eyes and ears and skin and soul and spirit.
On a Medicine Walk, my language-and-logic-brain takes a break and the central, more primitive part of my brain gets to have some fun. I recognize patterns. I respond to my intuitive sense of where to go and what to do. Maybe I sit. Maybe I lie on the ground. Maybe I dance in an open field. Maybe I put my feet in the cold river and walk in the mud. Maybe I weep. Or wail. Or feel frightened or angry. Or laugh. Whatever I do, all of what I do is perfect and right.
On a Medicine Walk a part of us that is caged up most of the time gets to express itself, and its deep wisdom is revealed — the wisdom of my intuitive self and of our wild, animal bodies. This is true freedom.
Upon returning, we may realize that we were in a different head space out there on that Medicine Walk. Somehow we were more able to see the subtle signs and symbols offered up. We felt expanded inside, more clear and relaxed. Out there we exercise a different way of knowing, a deeper way of knowing . . . a strong treatment for the prevention of dis-ease.
The third definition becomes:
3. a transformative experience, like a spell or charm that has healing, protective and other power— especially if it is believed, cared for and remembered.
A Medicine Walk gives us much information that is absorbed by parts of us that lie below the surface. Solutions, insights and re-framing often come as the mirror of nature reflects our reality and perspectives back to us in metaphor. The complexity and pure aesthetic beauty of our life journey, with all its incredible pain and glory is revealed in one small breadcrumb clue at a time — a Heroine’s Journey that no mere mortal mind could dream up alone. The Medicine Walk is a cipher that helps us hear what our soul is whispering, decoding the next step on our path, and makes sense of the necessary obstacles, twists and turns along the way. It's our choice to take it as a serious and authentic experience and to not forget it once we return to our lives, for that is what is required if it is to have maximum effect.
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Our ancient indigenous ancestors, those humans who knew medicine walks before cities, before industrialization, before technology, were the scientists of this practice. May we in our modern world during this time of great change now re-member this simple but profound practice, which is our birthright — in our DNA as surely as all the patterns and cycles of this earth are. May we each find our own Medicine so that we can become who we came here to be and give what we came here to give.