What does Earth Day have to do with medicine?
In my world, everything.
As a teenager, I began backpacking. The first time out, on a four-day trek in the foothills of the Appalachians in southern Ohio, I had blisters on every single toe, my shoulders and low back were on fire, and by day 3 I was suffering from heatstroke.
And I was smitten. Despite all the physical discomfort, I was completely enamored with the singular focus of the trail snaking up and down the steep, wooded hills, the movement of light and wind, and the comradery that comes from living simply in close relationship with the land.
Every summer of my teen years I spent time backpacking, for increasingly longer periods of time. When I was 16, I ventured with a group into the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming. There, on a late August morning, I crawled out of my tent early in the morning while the others were still asleep, and I moved along the snow-crusted trail to the edge of a wilderness lake.
I sat on a rock slab above the water and settled into the deep silence. The lake and the surrounding trees were absolutely still, and the water mirrored a cloudless sky.
In that stillness, I began to sense how everything around me was alive. My heart unfurled as I recognized that the water, the rock, the trees, the sky, the stars hidden behind the sun’s brilliance, everything around me was alive.
“God is alive in every part of nature.” Those are the words I wrapped around the experience at the time. That experience began to seep into every aspect of my life. For a couple of months, I was unable to sleep in a house. I spread my sleeping bag under a tree in the backyard and slept outside. I wore natural fiber clothes and spent my free time cross country skiing or hiking in the local woods. I began to change my plans for college and eventually completed a degree in environmental studies.
And when I knew I wanted to practice medicine, I looked first to what I now call “original medicine,” the healing ways of the Earth’s First Peoples. I wanted to become a medicine woman. I recognized, though, that few healers would be willing to train someone unless they planned to stay and serve that community, so I sought training within my own culture and discovered naturopathic medicine.
While I deeply appreciate the classical roots of naturopathic medicine, I am now returning to the wisdom of “original” medicine and the roots that nourish the deepest aspect of our lives. I no longer use the word “God,” a patriarchal construct for divinity, and I don’t use the word “nature,” usually used to mean all that is not human. I am embracing the original roots of healing that arise from the Earth, our ancestors, and all of the beings who share this planet with us.
I also celebrate the roots of science that have helped us come to know certain aspects of the Earth in exquisite detail. Science as well as inspiration guides my understanding of medicine.
So on Earth Day, I celebrate the marriage of science and soul, i.e. the union of the best the scientific world has to offer with the deeper roots of “original medicine,” the healing modalities that arise from intuition, dreams, and deep connection with the Earth. Original medicine guides me back to my body, my Earth’s deep well of wisdom.
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