Purpose As Medicine

We in the modern West most often think of medicine as either something given to us or done to us by a medical professional. In a nutshell, pills or procedures. But in many traditions across space and time, there has been a deep and intimate knowledge of the primary and essential place that the fulfillment of your soul’s expression has on your physical health and well-being.

On the whole, we are soul-starved and instinct-injured,* leaving us disconnected from our gifts and our reasons for being here. We squander our days recklessly, filling them with busyness, stress, worry and addiction. So long as we remain a stranger to our unique contributions to life, our bodies will always suffer in one way or another as we effort in vain to fill the void of an unexpressed life with food, shopping, screen time, alcohol, anxiety, and on and on it goes.

What would it look like “to live as if life depended on the gifts we try to hide?”** To come to the knowing that all of life is depending on you bringing forward what you came here to do. Can you imagine the power and the healing that would course through your life if it was charged with meaning and purpose? Would not the expression of your gifts negate the need for distraction and medication in all of its forms? Like a well healed scab, all of the ways you hide would begin to fall away. No effort involved. The new growth pushing off the old.

So, what is it that you love to do? What lights you up? What secret yearnings do you have buried deep within? These sensations point you in the direction of your purpose. What is one, simple, easy step you could take in that direction? Today. Pay no attention to the machinations of the mind when it starts in on the futility of doing this or of the need for it to be polished, perfect or a paycheck. What is it that you do (or want to do) that makes you feel most at home, most right, most in the flow? For you see, when we bring that level of expression into our life, our physical health will reflect that level of aliveness. Let that be your guide and let the power of this ancient medicine heal you and all of life.


* From Clarissa Pinkola-Estes The Women Who Run With Wolves

**From Climbing Poetry



“Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, “You owe me.” Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.” Hafiz

Did you ever stop to consider that without the trees, there would be no oxygen? Nothing to breathe? Nor anything to take up our breathing wastes? In effect, no life for us.

And yet, the trees give freely and honestly. They do not look for payment or recognition for a job well done. They do not lord their essential position in our lives over our heads, demanding our allegiance or coercing us into submission.

They do not need reminders, demands or pleas to give us what we need. They live not by our expectations of them; they are simply and naturally themselves. And in that, they give us life.

How might we do the same in our own essential relationships?

Give ‘Em What They Want

There are now four drivers in our family sharing two cars. Most of the time it works. But some of the time, someone is disgruntled over not getting what they want, when they want it. In between there is negotiation and compromise, the need to prioritize and to be organized. And while at times I have someone snarling, maybe a husband or a kid, I would not change a thing. Why? Because it is not good for anyone, our kids especially, to get what they want whenever they want it.

We live in a time where the learned skill of sharing and compromising is fast moving towards extinction. With the advent of personal devices and cell phones, there is less and less need to wait or to be “inconvenienced.” There is no waiting for your turn to use the phone. No negotiation necessary when someone else is having what they consider to be an epic phone conversation while you wait, fuming, due to the delay of the important and epic conversation you are waiting to have. There is no need to compromise on a movie choice as everyone can go off to their own corners and watch, alone, exactly what it is that they wanted to watch. No need to learn patience, an open mind or turn taking here. No need for the demands of a shared experience. Who needs that? And as for music, well, no need here either. Just pop in your ear buds connected to your favorite playlists and off you go. No messy conversations or negotiations around people’s different tastes in music. No need to learn about another person’s point of view or get introduced to something you would not have gotten into on your own. Who needs that difficulty? This is so much easier. So much better.

Up until last year, four of us shared an Ipod. It began when my daughter was in fourth grade and she and I received it to share as a Christmas gift. In no time at all though the other two, husband and son, had also somehow claimed a share. We had to talk about things like who would have it at certain times and how much music anyone could put on, taking up the ever shrinking amount of sacred space. Was 178 Green Day songs really reasonable? Someone thought “Yes, absolutely!”, while another thought indignantly, “This is a misuse of the space!”

But beyond the squabbling, and in between the “I didn’t get what I wanted” and “How come he got it”, is a universe of absolutely required experience if you hope to live reasonably on the planet amongst other people. We must learn how to share and how especially to navigate when it seems as though you getting what you want is at the expense of what I want. And it needs to be built into the living of our lives so that it is in our children’s bones, as opposed to some syrupy platitude that we roll out about the importance of sharing and compromise with no real effort required by anyone. This inability to navigate competing needs is at the heart of every single war and piece of terrorism we suffer through. And while we may not be able to weigh in much on the world stage, we as the adults can absolutely weigh in on the day to day around how many things and experiences we give to our children and the ways in which they either teach them that they can have what they want whenever they want it, or that we can all get what we want, eventually, with a little effort and some good will. And that perhaps, most importantly, the waiting and the compromise is of equal to and sometimes of greater importance than the getting.

As our children grow more and more accustomed to screen mediated relationships and experiences, we as the adults owe it to them to model what it really takes to be in a mutually satisfying relationship with other people; which by its nature requires sharing and compromise. What a lonely and cruel existence their lives will be without the need or the ability to traverse the challenges of being in relationship in a healthy and life sustaining way.


This past weekend, our farm hosted an herbal workshop. We spent the whole day outside identifying trees; learning about their medicinal properties and how to make medicine from them. We touched, smelled and tasted. We sat in the habitats that support the trees, learning about the plants that coexist with them. And while we sat in a field overlooking all of this, we learned even more from a woman I have grown to love and respect. Because of her plant knowledge, her feel for the natural world, her earthy and honest nature, she inspires me to want to learn and live this knowledge. She helps me to stretch myself not just intellectually, but in all ways.

Sure, I could have looked up everything we did on the Internet. This is certainly a common approach these days when we want to “learn” something. But I know much would have been lost. The “big picture” thinking, for instance, that she generated around bioregionalism would have been missing, along with all the questions that got generated from a diverse group of participants. Gone missing would have been the opportunity to engage all of our senses, which took the learning even deeper. Absent would have been what her own experience, sensibilities and enthusiasm brought to the table. I could argue that if you are looking purely for information, perhaps the Internet approach would suffice. I would wager, though, that in many applications something, perhaps many things, are being lost.

Take for instance what happened late in the day. As we sat around at lunch, while she made tea from Hemlock, one of the students noticed a branch was infested by the woolly adelgid, a tiny beetle from Asia that is wiping out the Hemlock population in our area. I could have gotten this piece of information off the Internet. But what happened next never could have been delivered by a machine. This typically light, easy-going woman got as somber as I have ever experienced her. It was palpable. It changed everything in those moments in a way that was beyond words and beyond reading information off a screen. I felt the seriousness of this disease and its impact on the forest through my contact with her. It changed me.

I am so worried about what is being lost for the up and coming generations who are receiving so much of their “education” via the screen. One of the great overlooked and unintended consequences of technology’s impact on our children is how many things are going missing from their lives. Regularly. Things like being engaged with all of their senses, along with the chance to know the world through more than just the lens of rational thinking. Or how about all of the the fragmented and of questionable value information dumps they receive daily, devoid of the credibility and big picture thinking that only a living being can offer another. And perhaps worst of all is the growing disregard for anything from the past, which includes teachers, elders and all of their accumulated wisdom. In the age of prometheum boards and virtual learning, where the role of the teacher is being reduced to downloader and button pusher, will the encounters with a machine convey the depth of feeling that can only come from another human being and their relationship to the material? Once these things are gone, will these generations even know to look for them or to miss  them?

Nothing other than the presence of this woman and her accumulated wisdom could have so impacted me the way that it did. Who and what are we leaving in the position of stretching, inspiring, calling forward and calling to action our younger generations? The machines…?


(Inspired by Jade)