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The gift of medicine

Thursday February 14, 2013

I’ve heard it said that morning is the universe shrugging itself into wakefulness. I like that thought. I like it because it suggests that it’s possible to be part of that event every day. I like it because it promises a fresh start, with a new approach and a new spirit to every day. Just like waking up from a good, sound sleep, you become aware and then you rise and move into the day with hope, acceptance and open mindedness.

Or at least, you may. I remember days when mornings were painful haze. Some days were totally lacking in direction, motivation or inspiration. There were times in my life when a morning represented yet another in a line of bleak, despairing days devoid of anything resembling energy. But that was then. These days in our mountain home morning is a reconnection experience like none I’ve ever known.

See, in our home we start every day with meditation, prayer and a smudge with ceremonial medicines. Before we do anything we do this. We use sweet grass, sage, cedar and tobacco.
It’s held in an abalone bowl, lit with a wooden match and fanned with a traditional eagle wing fan. It represents the creative, nurturing, healing energy of the universe. Creation. Creator. Harmony. It represents our earnest desire to be a part of that vital affirming energy.

I bless my wife with it and then myself and then, in slow, measured, solemn steps, I carry that sacred medicine around the rooms of our home. I say a prayer as I have been taught. I offer thanks for everything that is present in my world and ask for nothing more. As I make that solemn walk through our home I connect to everything. I recognize it. I reclaim it. I comprehend that it is all a gift and I am grateful and I am filled with the knowledge that I walk in a particular grace.

That part of our mornings is special. Not only because we are approaching life in a spiritual manner but because we do it together. Another thing I’ve heard said is that spirituality expresses itself most strongly in community. It doesn’t matter whether that community is two or 20. What matters is a gathering of spirits, a meeting of hearts and minds in a purposeful approach to the energy of Creation. We are joined. We are made more. We are strengthened.
Then when life gets hold of us, when the busyness and the issues of our life lays hold of us and tugs it in wholly different directions, we’ll walk through a waft of that sacred smoke and remember. We remember how we started the day. We reconnect to the idea of prayer, meditation and peace – and we’re calmed.

That’s the particular gift of medicine – its lingering scent reminds us that we went into ceremony, we went into prayer, we went into peace and it allows us to bring those moments into the ongoing moments of our days and our lives. Or, at least to try our best to. We’re human. We have failings. We are prone to choosing a different sort of energy at any moment and we forget. But the gift of medicine is in our home to return us to that morning place.

The smoke and scent inhabit a room. It lingers on your clothes. It clings to your hair. When the travels of the day get you weary or irritated or anxious, there’s always that frail scent of medicine to bring you to ceremony one more time. I’m grateful for that. It’s easy to be spiritual in a quiet room. It’s out in the world where the real tests are. The presence of medicine always returns us to our natural state – harmony. That’s not just a natural state for Native people. It’s true for all of us.

Medicine burns when touched by fire. The smoke climbs higher, curling into the corners of the room where you sit watching it, following it with your eyes and there’s a feeling like desire at your belly and a cry ready at your throat. There’s a point where smoke will disappear and the Elders say that this is where the Old Ones wait to hear you, your petitions and your prayers, the Spirit World where all things return to balance and time is reduced to dream.

It vanishes. There’s a silence more profound than any words you’ve ever heard or read and when you close your eyes you feel the weight of ancient hands upon your shoulders and your brow and the sacred smoke comes to inhabit you and in its burn and smolder, a returning to the energy you were born in - and the room and the world is filled with you.

That’s the gift of medicine.

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