[An ASKLEPIA FOUNDATION Journal]
THE EMPTY MEDICINE BAG
by Graywolf, ©1989
This age that is drawing to a close--what we now consider the "old age"--seems
filled with hucksters offering us all assortments of ways to enhance our
lives and to obtain power: the right car, the right deodorant or toothpaste.
And the hucksters of these power objects are only exceeded in number by
those eager to pay their money to purchase them.
The ether is more than filled with the emanations of disembodied images
speaking through the channels of television (or "tele-mission") and radio
sharing with us the wisdom of Madison Avenue and the opinion sampler-makers
who tell us how to be popular and what image is currently fashionable for
us to assume.
We have yielded our power to the technology of science and its ideology,
which has fostered the illusion of power over and separation from natural
forces. It leaves us unnatural, ungrounded, and alienated from our
"Cure me! Make me better! Give me the new wonder pill-treatment
to make my problems go away!" We cry to the doctors, nurses, and
psychiatrists. And indeed they accept this power that we hand to
them and from it create the illusion of healing us.
It is said that we are now entering the "New Age," but I haven't yet quite
figured out how this so-called New Age is going to be any different from
the old age we are supposed to be leaving behind.
The New Age too seems filled with hucksters offering to help us fill our
medicine bags with all assortments of power objects: crystals, amulets,
bracelets and so on, all supposed to empower or heal us. The salesmen
of power are only exceeded in number by those eager to pay their money
to purchase these self-same power objects. And the ether is more
than filled with the emanations of spirits and alien beings.
They speak to us through a host of channels, sharing with us their disembodied
wisdom, telling what is in store for us and what images and ways of being
we are required to assume in preparation. We delegate our power to
the magic of psychic science as we alienate ourselves more and more from
the material world and enter into pure spiritualism becoming increasingly
unnatural and ungrounded in the process.
"Heal me! Make me better! Give me the magic elixir/spell to
make my problems go away!" we cry to the shamans, witches and healers.
And indeed they accept this power that we hand to them and from it create
the illusion of healing us.
"Yes, how is it different," I ask myself, "this 'New Age' and the 'old
age'?" The essential core has not changed in the slightest.
All that is different are the names and guises used by those who would
accept power over us and our destinies, and our mad rush to give it to
them. But then that has been the weakness of all revolutions, changing
one set of despots for another who claim to be better but eventually assume
the same power that was held over us by the old regime.
Why do we always insist on giving our power over to others, the power to
heal ourselves and to effect our own destinies, the power of the gods and
goddesses? Why do we lack so much faith in ourselves that we look
to others and to outside objects and forces to give us that which is really
within us all the time?
I remember back to my own introduction as a disillusioned scientist and
business executive in the early seventies to the first stirrings of the
"New Age." Back then it wasn't even called the New Age but its seeds
were sprouting in the human potential movement and the love generation.
We were an enthusiastic and eager lot as we broke loose from the strictures
of the old science, technology, and moralities that had ruled our lives.
I gladly exchanged the yoke of the oppressive limits of reason, structure,
and rationality for the apparently unlimited infinites of unfettered mystical
and magical thinking. My then new profession as a practicing psychotherapist
allowed me this leeway while allowing me to still maintain and use the
earlier scientific training I had received as an engineer.
But in the early eighties, the scientist in me was hiding in disgrace as
I surrounded myself with crystals, feathers, prayer sticks and a host of
other power objects in my relentless pursuit of the power path of shamanism.
I attached myself with breathless expectancy to the words of my guru-teachers
looking for the power that they would someday bestow upon me.
Those around me, my clients and friends were awed by my changes and intrigued
by the power I was reflecting and began to call me shaman-guru-teacher,
also. I too began to spew forth the words of wisdom as my followers
began to look to me for the power that I would someday bestow upon them.
And my medicine bag was rapidly filling as I groped for the ultimate in
power objects and techniques, the ones that would fulfill the un-named
It was right about then that I was to address a group of healers in Portland.
This address was to take place at an early morning breakfast meeting, and
so we had made the five hour drive to Portland the night before and stayed
at a friend's house near the restaurant.
The back of our car was filled with the contents of my medicine bag wrapped
in my powerful coyote skin. That night I was too tired to carry it
all in. But they would be safe. After all, who would dare to
steal a shaman's medicine bag or his power objects!
I arose early the next morning. With about ten minutes to make the
five minute drive to the restaurant, I approached my car. The door
was open, the contents of the glove compartment strewn over the front seat.
With a heavy lump of lead forming deep in my gut, I looked into the back
storage area where my precious medicine objects had been stored and the
horror became truth.
THEY WERE GONE! THEY WERE ALL OF THEM GONE!
An electric tingling sensation that began at the crown of my head began
to make its way into my body through my spine. My ears were ringing
and I began to feel light-headed, and the lightheadedness too followed
the tingling and infiltrated my whole body. Words entered my awareness
and I spoke them as if in a trance.
"It feels like spring house cleaning," I overheard myself say to Jeannie
Eagle and the others present and gradually awareness caught up to my voice.
The feeling of lightness was like unfettered flying! I had let go
and was free.
That moment began a transformation in my life that has paled the others
into insignificance. Burdens began to lift from my shoulders.
I felt as if I had been left with nothing except myself. The last
time that had really happened had been eight years earlier when I had gone
into the wilderness of northern Ontario alone with only my canoe and met
Graywolf. So maybe it wasn't so bad.
Crisis, in the Chinese written language is a combination of the ciphers
or both danger and opportunity, and this was feeling very much like it
could also be an opportunity. And my drum, which is seen as a vessel
or carrier of consciousness like the canoe, according to some native American
shaman teachings, was safe. I had taken it into the house with me
to keep warm and tight so that I could use it in my presentation.
So there I was again, as with my meeting Graywolf, alone in the "wilderness"
with nothing but a "canoe." Last time I had met the wolf who had
changed my life and led me todevelop an intuitive and mystical side of
myself. What would the universe hand me this time?
Now free of the bonds of my medicine objects, I began to notice things.
For instance, it was the people who were looking to me for power who gave
me the greatest feelings of power, and those to whom I looked for power
who left me feeling most disempowered. And it all felt like an illusion.
I also noticed that in my work with people, I was drawn more and more to
my old standby as a psychotherapist--their dreams. And as I worked
with these dreams, I sensed that there was a hidden depth far deeper in
the dream than the symbols and the story line.
The few times I strayed deeper into this dream reality, the most bizarre
and interesting things would happen. And we all came away feeling
empowered and somehow more healed. I began to contemplate that my
own real power had come from a wolf vision and I had never been entirely
sure whether that had been a dream-within-a-dream (a product of my own
imagination and fear), or it had been a real wolf. It didn't seem
And so I began to refill my empty medicine bag first with dreams.
I and my clients began to explore deeper and deeper into their dreams.
We journeyed past the plot, past the symbols and into the deeper energies
that had thrust these symbols and stories into their awareness. The
symbols, I recalled from my earlier training in psychology, were meant
to fool the ego with uncensored energies and material from the unconscious.
"What was this unconscious material-energy?" I wondered. I learned
how to guide my clients deeper into their dreams and past the symbols to
experience this realm, and we found among many other remarkable things,
healing. They would feel things: tingling sensations, body rushes
and emotional states which brought much ease to their dis-eased minds and
The scientist in me re-awakened by my curiosity, returned to grace, and
began working now in cooperation with the mystic. I developed consciousness
maps and new models of the ego to understand these new phenomena.
They seemed more complete and explained more of the full nature of humanness
than the older models from either my psychological or shamanic training.
As I did this, I became aware that it was not I who was the healer, but
the energy in the dreams and the dreamers themselves. Gratefully
I retired from healer into the role of guide. In doing so, I felt
more empowered as did myclients.
Some of the states of consciousness we found within the dreams even began
to sound like what is described as God, Nirvana, or the Tao. From
these states my clients would return deeply changed. For example,
one client was unable to talk or form words for almost thirty minutes after
returning and then could only break the initial silence by laughing.
AND THIS DEEP, GODLIKE PLACE WAS ALREADY THERE, DEEP INSIDE EACH OF THEM!
I continued to notice things and soon found that imagination was another
path into these deeper realities, what I now recognized as deep and unusual
states of consciousness, states that exist in each of us and that are beyond
the structure and limitations of space and time.
My "canoe/drum" had begun opening these doorways and I soon found I could
dispense with the drum. Imagination was all that was needed and so,
it too was added to my medicine bag. My ego and consciousness maps
became even deeper, more refined and generalized.
I have now dropped the name or title of healer or shaman entirely, although
people usually get healed when we journey together. I am now just
a guide for the inner journey to self empowerment and healing real-ization.
The journeys inside that lead people to this state of the realization of
their own healing, power, and goddness are usually scary, just like someone's
first trip with a river guide down white water rapids. But the river
flows, and even if you get tossed out in the middle of heavy rapids, the
current still carries you past the rocks and into the next calm.
And the river guide is there to teach you and keep you safe until you learn
how to ride the current on your own.
I don't yet know how to describe these inner journeys that I share with
people who come here to AESCULAPIA for their healing. Each one is
unique and a product of our mutual creative energy. The words just
haven't been invented to describe most of them, but it is a terrain in
which emotions may be colors, pain a giant yellow sun about to explode,
and shadows may be filled with light.
The journey is into the fear and pain because the pain shows where the
healing energy is needed and the healing force is right there inside the
pain. But we usually surround the pains we experience with fear.
That is what keeps us away from them and the healing that is within them.
We give our power to our fear and so our power is held hostage by that
which we fear, and these fears direct ourlives. To get our power
and lives back, we must face the fears and move through them. Thus
in exploding, the expanding yellow sun of pain releases the pressure/pain
and the middle back and neck problem eases. And the lighted shadow
side reveals not demons, but inner allies, who light the way with their
wisdom and guide us to our power. It is a path directed by love,
trust and faith in ourselves and what we really are.
The essence of what I have learned on this path then is that there is an
immense and limitless source of power in all of us. We don;t really
need to look outside for what we are needing for our empowerment, healing,
and evolution. It is right there inside of each of us all the time.
This healing god-force is founded in, and emanates from that part of ourselves
we call our creativity. And that makes a lot of sense. Every
religion I know about or have studied has one common denominator: one of
the main aspects of the god definition is always the role of creator.
Within us, that personal force of creation or god seems to express itself
most profoundly, vividly, and real-isticly through our dreams and our imagination.
And no matter how deeply buried, that is something all have.
That is why my medicine bag is really quite empty. Because all we
need to heal and empower ourselves is just that--dreams and imagination--and
they don't take up any space at all.
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