For years I have worked with “classical medicine,” the deeper roots of medicine that recognize the body as an organism gifted with the wisdom to restore and repair itself. This paradigm is very different from the conventional view of the body as a machine with replaceable parts that can be endlessly manipulated and suppressed.

In the last couple of years, I have realized that my understanding of medicine is even deeper than the tenets of classical medicine. When I say the word “classical,” I think of buildings with ionic columns, splendid in their regularity and balance, now crumbling like the shell of the Parthenon in Greece. The wisdom I carry is craggier and more subtle.

My understanding of medicine stems from its wildest, most uncultivated roots.

Initially, I thought of calling this “indigenous” medicine, but already that term has been claimed, hijacked by the plastic “shamans” who have wrested it from the hands of traditional healers.

After a few weeks of contemplation, I settled on the term “original” medicine because these principles are universal to all cultures, even industrialized societies that have long since paved over their roots. The corms are there, albeit atrophied and dying. My hope is that those roots may be uncovered and watered so they will flourish once again.

The roots of original medicine are not separate from classical medicine. Instead, they are the deeper taproot from which classical medicine branches.

A brief review of the tenets of classical medicine:

  • Vis Medicatris Naturae, the healing power of nature
  • Tolle causum, identify and treat the cause
  • First do no harm
  • Docere, the doctor as teacher
  • Prevent disease

Original medicine shares these understandings and draws upon other ways of restoring and building health. I will be sharing the key aspects of Original medicines in a series of articles. For today, let’s begin with the core understanding:

     Medicine is about the way you live your life.

Medicine is not something external, like a pill or a treatment. Medicine is about how you relate to yourself, your family, your community, and All That Is. Medicine is how you start and end your day, the way you speak with others, and how you bless your food with a recognition of the plants and animals that gave away their lives so that yours might continue.

Medicine is about living in right relationship with everything and everyone around you.

I was blessed to spend time with Sun Bear, an Anishnabe elder, almost a decade before his passing. He was living on Vision Mountain, a traditional vision questing site about an hour north of Spokane, Washington.

One of Sun Bear’s favorite mantras was, “Good medicine.” He never specifically taught what he meant by the phrase. I leaned in context, as do most people in a traditional culture. No one took me by the hand and told me what “good medicine” meant, or the effects of burning sage, or the power of praying for others. I discovered Sun Bear’s meaning in the context of his life, not in his words.

So I noticed when Sun Bear would nod and make a soft “Hmmm” before uttering his mantra, “Good medicine”:

The spring at the lower farm beginning to bubble through the last film of ice on a chilly spring morning.

A moon, unblemished by clouds, shining on a full moon celebration.

Blackberry canes laden with blossoms and bees in the spring.

Blackberry canes heavy with sweet berries in August.

Blackberry jam lining the shelves of the root cellar.

Blackberry jam on toast on a frosty autumn morning.

A couple who had been orbiting one another finally spiraling inward for their first kiss.

The hush that follows a performance when the musician stops yet the space is still filled with the power of the sound.

The first crocus unfurling in the spring.

The neighbor who arrives with soup after the death of a beloved family member.

The friend unclasping an admired necklace and placing it around your neck.

The hawk that swoops to carry off the elder mouse.

The winter storm that fells the giant tree in the forest that will warm next winter’s cabin.

The hot rocks glowing in the sweat lodge pit, smoldering with sweetgrass and sage.

Sun Bear standing under the canvas awning of the train station in Inverness, Scotland at 1 a.m., his traveling companion and a small suitcase beside him. He was arriving to present at a major conference, and his flights and trains had been delayed by over 12 hours. Sun Bear had a big grin on his face and a welcoming hug. “It’s good medicine to see you, sister. I’m glad you’re here.”

Are you getting a feel for “Good medicine”? I can’t give you a definition; I only can share the feeling of this state of balance, right relationship, or what the Buddha might call “suchness.”

I invite you to notice “good medicine” when it arrives in your life. Call it out. Speak it like a prayer or blessing. This grateful recognition reinforces the beauty and power of the moment, and in the process strengthens you and all of creation.


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