This is the third overview of Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality, writtenwith Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow). Many of the concepts in the book seem apropos to these viral times of the pandemic. Here is a synopsis of the book in one long run-on sentence:
We start with an emptiness, a loss or a longing, a wounding or disorientation and this leads us into seeking. We embark on wonderful and terrible journeys, we descend in to the darkness in the center of our hearts, which is the center of the medicine wheel and we realize that our hearts are medicine bags, filled with sacred objects. Finding and receiving these sacred objects we learn to see light in the darkness; we are fully-filled with sacred objects and this fulfillment leads to us spilling over, returning and giving to the world the sacred medicine that we have found within ourselves. We realize that it is not our personal medicine, because the wisdom of these sacred objects of the medicine bag of our hearts teaches us that there is no self and other, it teaches us that we are all connected, it teaches us that we have a responsibility for all beings and the land and the cosmos and that we are all One.
Here is an overview of Part III of Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality.
Returning to the Land
When we begin our return journey, it can be difficult to find home. Odysseus took ten years to find home in the Odyssey, after he had already spent ten years at war in the Iliad. When we left home, in our seeking, we thought we knew what home was. Now, on our return, we find that we may not fit easily back into “home.” This is because our home has become bigger than we thought of before. As Bilbo told Frodo, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
Joseph Rael describes coming home to Picuris Pueblo, after 36 years away, he said that he “rediscovered myself!” To be indigenous is to be “of the land.” While many native peoples understand the sacred relationship with the land, going through a process of initiation opens one’s eyes and heart to see that the land truly is our Mother Earth and that we should be in a proper relationship with her. We are made up of Mother Earth, our bodies, molecules and atoms come from the food that we eat and the food that we eat comes from Mother Earth. After passing through initiation, we realize that the land is our home.
We realize that there is no such thing as “other.” In Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD Joseph said, “I am my brother’s keeper.” For returning war veterans we taught that one must shift from seeing “others” to seeing them as “brothers and sisters.” This naturally leads to spiritual democracy where we realize that we are all one, we are indivisible, and that it is up to us to work for justice for all. This is not just for people of one country, but we must work to become “planetary citizens,” even “cosmic citizens” Joseph tells us.
Spiritual democracy is an antidote for the current divisiveness and radical “othering” that is occurring in politics in the world. To dehumanize another is a very dangerous thing and the xenophobic fear of the “other” can lead to our country ripping itself up into smaller and smaller shreds of sub-groups of us and them. Spiritual democracy can help us move beyond what Martin Buber calls an “I-It” relationship to an “I-Thou” relationship and even to a sacred “Essential We.” We need to heal the rifts that are being torn into the fabric of the national and global community. This can only be done by realizing that we are each other’s keepers ― we are all in this together and we all are one.
Refounding A Living Spirituality
The subtitle of the book is Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality. A living spirituality is a process of becoming, an always evolving path. Anthropologist and Catholic Priest, Gerald Arbuckle, writes of the importance of refounding in any organization. He says that institutions periodically lose touch with their founding vision and they require a refounding person to get in touch with the founding values of the organization. It seems we are in such a situation now. Arbuckle tells us that refounding synthesizes the authentic calling and mission of the organization with the realities and needs of the current time. This is different from fundamentalism, which is a rigid attempt to return to some fantasized golden age by blaming “others” for the current problems. Fundamentalism only looks backwards and is exclusionary, while refounding looks backward and forward and is inclusive. Arbuckle writes that we face “a global epidemic of fundamentalism both religious and political,” (Fundamentalism: At Home and Abroad, 28). He describes a typical fundamentalist leader as “a populist, homophobic, charismatic, authoritarian man who likes to bully,” (15). As an alternative to fundamentalist narratives he offers refounding narratives:
“Refounding is a process of storytelling whereby imaginative leaders are able to inspire people collaboratively to rearticulate the founding mythology of an institution and apply it to contemporary needs through creative dialogue with the world. The purpose of refounding narratives is to find a positive way out of trauma by allowing people to reenter the sacred time of their founding with imaginative leaders who are able to rearticulate the founding mythology in narratives adapted to the changing world.” Refounding narratives are “regenerative” and “differs from a fundamentalist narrative” which is “closed to dialogue and responsible dissent,” (Arbuckle, 93-94).
Fundamentalism is about seeing differences, whereas a living spirituality is about seeing similarities and interconnections. This begins in your own heart and then spreads outward to transform national and global cultures. In Becoming Medicine we look at the lives, words, and works of many holy people who have put forward a vision of religious unity, such as Gandhi, Narayana Guru, Rumi, Wayne Teasdale, Llewellyn Vaughn-Lee, William Keepin, and Matthew Fox. Those who drink from the fount of Living Spirituality realize that the only real religion is interspirituality and intermysticism. There is a story about Indra’s Net from Hinduism, that there is a vast of web throughout all of reality comprised of multi-faceted gems which reflect each other. Rather than a materialistic view of ourselves as isolated organisms, we can imagine ourselves as reflective and interconnective beings.
Finding Your Inner Secret Garden of Paradise
Matthew Fox was expelled from the Catholic Church for teaching creation spirituality, which rejected the idea of “original sin” and instead focused on the “original blessing” of being incarnate in sacred relationship on the Earth. Just like Adam, he was expelled from the garden. What creation spirituality teaches us is that we actually cannot be expelled from the Garden, that it is right here, in our bodies, and in our sacred relationships with other beings and the Earth.
This is the ultimate transformation of suffering, to find the Garden of Paradise within ourselves – an ever-renewing source of revitalization for ourselves. In tasting this medicine, we are becoming this medicine, for ourselves, for our human relationships, and for our communities, ecosystems, and for the planet, herself.
The Secret Garden
Joseph says that we should pay attention to children’s stories because they contain hidden wisdom that the elders pass on to the next generation. We explore a lot of peoples of transformation’s stories throughout the book and we end with a telling of Frances Burnett’s Secret Garden. In this story, two young orphans, who are of about the age of initiation of 10-12 years old. In the story, the children are initiated into a living relationship with the land, they borrow from many different sources of spirituality, and they go through a process of healing – emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Colin, a young boy who had never been out of the old mansion in his life goes through a transformation. In the story they are talking about “magic,” but we can consider that the same thing as the way we are speaking of “medicine,” a healing and transformative force. In a ceremony in the garden Colin leads the children and animals, and the old gardener through this chant:
“The sun is shining—the sun is shining. That is the Magic. The flowers are growing—the roots are stirring. That is the Magic. Being alive is the Magic—being strong is the Magic. The Magic is in me—the Magic is in me. It is in me—it is in me. It’s in every one of us. . . . Magic! Magic! Come and help!”
Becoming Medicine During a Pandemic
Albert Camus wrote about a fascism in the guise of The Plague. Fascism is a hidden influence of our book and we hope that Becoming Medicine can be part of a cure for these times. The spread of a mental contagion is similar to that of a viral contagion – people can end up infected, spreading a disease, without even knowing they are ill. Camus wrote, “All I maintain is that on this earth there are pestilences and there are victims, and it’s up to us, so far as possible, not to join forces with the pestilences.”
The risk is that if we do not go through initiation into becoming a true human being (as Joseph calls it) or if we do not go through the process of individuation (as Carl Jung called it), we are at risk of spreading the pestilence of fascism as well as the COVID-19 Coronavirus. The sprouting fascism and fundamentalism of our times and the spreading viral pandemic can be a call to adventure for us, a call to enter into the disorienting and often painful process of initiation. This can be a call for us to transcend our “self-imposed limitations,” or as Camus wrote, “What’s true of all the evils in the world is true of plague as well. It helps men to rise above themselves.” We have no idea what the future will look like and we have no idea of what this “call” is asking of us.
Joseph Rael told me, “The thing I should have said in my books is that everyone already has their medicine. The way you become a medicine person is you practice who you are because you are already medicine. No one gives it to you, you are already it.”
Camus wrote, “I have no idea what’s awaiting me, or what will happen when this all ends. For the moment I know this: there are sick people and they need curing,” (127).