Finding Your Own Medicine

Finding Your Own Medicine

From Chicken Soup for the Canadian Soul

Finding Your Own Medicine

Being oneself . . . is really the essence of all wisdom!

Roland Goodchild

Those who analyze such things say children who lack parental love don’t thrive. It was true for me—I didn’t thrive, I didn’t want to thrive. Specifically, I lacked the will to live. So, when in my early thirties, I found myself faced with death within a year, I chose not to take radiation and chemotherapy. Instead, I embraced death.

I didn’t have any close friends and had severed family ties long ago. It was easy to slip away from my urban life. I had enough money on hand to last a year—six months more than I figured I needed. I chose Quadra Island for my retreat, just across an inlet from Campbell River in British Columbia. I found and rented a small cabin by the Pacific shore at Cape Mudge near an old Indian village. Then I settled in with booze, smokes, music, books and death on my mind. I walked and contemplated, cried and laughed. I met people here and there, and when they got curious about me, I would make up a story. Whatever came to mind was the theme for the day.

Some days I was sick and scared. On most days, however, I had a surprisingly uncommon feeling of security, of being held and nurtured. My days were filled with wandering the shore and tidal pools and the high meadows.

I first saw the woman in a high meadow—a native woman gathering plants. “Medicine,” she later told me. I watched as she gathered leaves, flowers and roots— stooping low to bury tobacco offerings in Mother Earth. Her connection with the plants made me conscious of the tall graceful shaggy-headed plants circling my cabin. My landlord had told me to get rid of them.

“They take over,” he said. “They’re just weeds.”

I’d put it off. I just couldn’t do it. The plants seemed to be there for me—guarding me, looking after me in some way. I came to think of them as “my standing people.”

The next time I saw the woman she was digging up the root of the very same plants that circled my cabin. Surprised by this synchronicity, I asked her to tell me about them.

“You’ve found your medicine,” she said. “This root is good for the blood and good for tumours. This is your medicine.” She handed me a small shovel and we dug maybe twenty roots together. For every root she dug up, she dropped tobacco in the hole, making an offering of thanks to the plant. She gave me some tobacco so I could do the same. It made me feel connected to the earth, and part of something. I began to feel the power of earth medicine.

I learned her name was Standing Woman, and she was Kwakiutl. Words weren’t needed between us; she seemed to know everything she needed to know about me. That day she invited me for tea at her summerhouse—a tent beside a creek at the edge of the tree line. The tent was large, airy and filled with earthy smells. It was furnished with a cot, table and chairs. As we sipped our tea she told me she had known about me even before we met, and knew she could help me. The grandmothers had told her this. It was simply understood between us that I would stay with her and use her medicines to get well.

I stayed with her for three months. She took me with her to gather plants for my daily needs, telling me their story and how to prepare them. We would make the medicine together. Some days I wasn’t well enough to venture out, and on those days she sat with me and cared for my needs with more love and tenderness than I had ever known. As the days passed I became stronger, more confident, and more deeply connected to the earth—the same earth I had wanted to leave just a short time before. One morning, I awoke and simply knew my disease was gone. I also knew my apprenticeship with nature had just begun.

Now, some twenty-five years later, I walk close to the earth, and like her, I listen to the stories the plants have to tell. They teach me their medicine, and I pass it on to those who want to learn. Before she died, Standing Woman asked me to carry on her work. I cannot replace her, but I can walk with people to help them find the medicine they are seeking.

Some want to walk this way and some do not. For those who do, I am here in the meadow.

Kahlee Keane, Root Woman
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

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