I find a kernel of wisdom in just about everything I read, but every once in a while I stumble upon some piece of writing that makes my entire being light up. I recently read “Medicine Women, Curanderas, and Women Doctors”*, looking to get some insights into the curandera way of seeing the world. I wasn’t looking to publish anything on my website or to declare anything about myself; I was really just looking for resonance with other women who find themselves in a healing capacity and maybe shed some light on another facet of my identity for myself. The book itself is good, but there were many parts that didn’t speak to me personally. As a Latina, I picked it up thinking I would vibe most with the stories of the curanderas, as I have good personal experience with this type of healing from my years spent in Venezuela. Instead, it was the eloquent and vibrant description of the Native American vision of illness and healing that made my heart sing. I am Panamanian; I am not Native American. I do not wish to appropriate the Cherokee, Navajo or Apache ideology or be disrespectful in any way. I just want to share the wise words of the two women in the photos above in case they might resonate with you as much as they did with me. I think most of us have read books about the Native American way of thinking (and I know there are more famous ones out there), but sometimes we need to remember how powerful this mindset is. I use remember to mean “re-member”, as in piecing together parts of ourselves that have perhaps been cut off or long ago lost (“dis-membered”).
Dhyani Ywahoo said to the authors of the book: “May this book you are writing bring many women again to the certainty of their gifts, and may the men who read it realize the mother within, and may we all realize ourselves in the circle of light.” In my very small way, I want to keep this going. (Ywahoo was understandably adamant in the book that her own words be used, so I use direct quotes whenever referring to her.)
The theme that emerged from all three Native American medicine women is that disease is about being off balance, in disharmony. It is not just about biochemistry or about being out of equilibrium in our own bodies, as in the Western medical thought, but on a larger scale. For Ywahoo, “the concept of illness is anchored in the idea of discord: discord in human consciousness, discord in our vibratory frequencies.” To them, consciousness-raising is the first step in healing, and the connection with the earth, sky, plants, the universe is a vital part to this. Annie Kahn explained that prior to her client’s arrival, she engages her connection to earth and sky, setting the intention for the client and preparing the space and the energy to flow. She is basically a conduit to reconnect the person to their own connection to Spirit. In her words, “Two people coming together make medicine.” This applies not only to massage therapy and healing practices, but to anyone, regardless of the nature of our contribution to the world.
“The relationship of human consciousness is always very real to the native people. No, it is not a metaphor. … You have a relationship with the spirit of every tree, and with the spirit of the sea, and with every creature that walks, crawls, swims, flies, walks on two legs, four legs, a hundred legs. Each one of us has a relationship. Somehow being out of phase with that cycle of relationships, either with ourselves, our family, is going to have an effect on the individual’s health and, ultimately, on the whole planet. … Acknowledging the sacred flow within is a key to evolving consciousness,” explains Ywahoo. Maybe most of us already know this, but I think at this point we could all stand to live it a little more. Many people these days practice mindfulness and gratitude, but there appears to be a nuance in this culture in that it only relates to Self, always trying to heal Self as a singular contained being. I can easily slip back into this way of thinking myself. From what I see, the generalized concept of wholeness needs not be only of Self as whole, but also of Self as inextricably connected to a larger sense of a Whole. One layer of the medicine, then, is our connection: connection to plants, animals, music, each other, Spirit.
For Ywahoo, “medicine is … a holy power that makes things well, one who can bring someone again to their remembrance of their true nature. The gift of the female healer is to comfort, to nurture the person, so that they can recognize the whole being within. To help someone heal is to allow them to recognize their holiness: through resonating, a song, so that one can feel themselves coming again to the right note of their true expression.” One of her many gifts is song, and these holy songs are a part of various indigenous and shamanic healing practices. Resonance is key. Sound healing is a powerful way to access resonance (I find biofield tuning with tuning forks to be profound), but I think this can be expanded to include other gifts. Everyone reading this has a gift to share; mine is touch. Through allowing me to share this, each client brings both of us closer to our connection to our higher selves. Therein lies one layer of the medicine.
Again, Ywahoo: “the ‘why’ to become a medicine person is to realize that one has the gift to share and has an inherently great capacity for carrying energy and that energy may be positive for the benefit of the people, one chooses to walk the medicine way. And it chooses you.”
This is not to say that anatomy and technique are unimportant. I will still blog about muscles, the nervous system and tips for more comfortable alignment. I am continually studying and learning. The body consists of multiple complex systems, and as massage therapists we have a responsibility to understand them as much as possible. However, as much as I rely on this knowledge and on evidence-based studies and pain science, I have never claimed that these explain everything. You are all probably tired of hearing me say that regardless of all of our “scientific advancements”, the body is still not well understood. There is a part of illness and healing that remains a bit of a mystery, and in trying to formulate an explanation, that explanation can sound quite mystical. I am ready to admit that I am OK with that.
I will leave you with a final quote from Ywahoo (PS – this book was written in 1989): “it is only now that some people are being stirred, and also through the recognition that the prevailing mindset of industrial man is only going to lead to death of the planet and everyone, that has brought people again to consider and look with curiosity (and some respect) to the native practice.”
*”Medicine Women, Curanderas, and Women Doctors,” Bobette Perrone, H. Henrietta Stockel, Victoria Krueger