Tami Simon: You're listening to "Insights at the Edge." Today, my guest is Lewis Mehl-Madrona. Lewis is certified in family practice, geriatrics, and psychiatry, and has worked for years in rural emergency medicine. He is the author of several books on what native culture can offer the modern world, including Narrative Medicine and Coyote Healing. Lewis has worked in collaboration with Sounds True to create the audio learning series, The Spirit of Healing, and also a new program on Native American Healing Meditations.
In this episode of "Insights at the Edge," Lewis and I spoke about what native wisdom can offer modern medicine. We also talked about the value of relational, storied, and ceremonial culture, and the role of spirit beings in the healing process. Here's my conversation with Lewis Mehl-Madrona.
Lewis, you have a very impressive set of credentials: an MD from Stanford, you're a board-certified family physician, a psychiatrist, a geriatrician, and you also hold a PhD in clinical psychology. First of all, you've dedicated quite a bit of your life to formal, academic training in medicine, and at the same time, you have roots in the world of indigenous healing, and have created a program with Sounds True called The Spirit of Healing. I'm curious: When you put all of this together-your academic training and your respect for the indigenous healing traditions-what comes out of all of those inputs in terms of how you view healing today? I know that's a big, broad question, but how do you view healing?
Lewis Mehl-Madrona: Well, I think probably one of the most important things that I've learned is that modern medicine needs indigenous ideas in order to be healing. Without those ideas, we can fix a few things-we're pretty good at trauma and putting people back together who get broken-but when it comes to making people whole again, we're not really good at that. We're not really very good at chronic disease, we're not good at end-of-life care, we're not good at mental health. We need to recover a storied culture. We need the input of cultures of story and cultures of relationship and cultures of meaning in order to really help people.
I think my sense is that medicine took a wrong turn with the Flexner Report in 1905, in this drive to be purely technical and to turn its back on the humanities and relationships. Luckily, indigenous cultures have preserved that. We've probably tried to beat it out of them, but luckily cultures exist that still focus on story and relationship and ceremony and interconnectedness. And so now in medicine, we can look to those cultures and say, "Hey, we need you guys! We need to get this back, this stuff that we've lost, that we thought was unimportant, that turns out to mean everything, so come help us out."
TS: Now, I think I have a sense of what you might mean by a "relational culture," but I'm not sure what you mean by a "storied culture." What is it that we're missing that Native American cultures and other indigenous cultures could help us with in terms of being a storied culture?
LM: In most indigenous cultures, there is a recognition that all human knowledge is in the form of a story. There's actually some neuroscientists at Northwestern and Yale that write the same thing-Abelson and Schank are their names. The idea is that anything that's important gets stored in the brain as a story. Indigenous cultures have mostly known this for thousands of years, and Western cultures have forgotten it and are just rediscovering the power of story. By a "storied culture," I mean a culture that listens to people in a mindful way telling what happened to them, and telling their story about their lives.
By an "unstoried culture," I mean something like what psychiatrists do with the DSM manual, which is to ask a series of checklist questions. So I'll say, "Are you sad more often than not? How's your concentration? How's your energy level? How's your appetite? How's your sleep? How's your libido?" And I'm making checks in boxes, and if you get six out of eight, then I call you "major depressive disorder." That's a nonstoried approach.
In a storied approach, I'd say, "Tell me about the last time you felt happy, and tell me what happened to make you so sad." I'm saying that we really need to recover that respect for the stories people have for how they got sick and how they think they could get well, and what the illness or health means in their lives. Well, people are writing about these things now in greater and greater detail, like Arthur Kleinman, who's a Harvard anthropologist, talking about how badly medicine needs these things.
TS: As a healer, when you listen to someone's story, you ask them certain questions. I'm curious, first of all, which questions you find are the most productive. Let's say if somebody comes to you with some kind of life-threatening illness and they want to work with you. Which questions bring out the stories? And then when you're listening, what are you listening for as you listen to the story?
LM: I think probably the first question I usually ask is, "How do you think that you came to be the way that you are? How do you think that you became ill? What do you think happened? What do you think went into creating this?" In a sense, that means every illness has a creation story. Probably everything in the world has a creation story.
It's so important to know why people think they're sick, because if we don't, if what I propose to do doesn't make sense within the story of why they think they're sick, they're not going to do it, or they're not going to do it with enthusiasm. When we doctors forget to ask people that, we lose cooperation. So the first thing I need to know is, why do you think you're sick?
I remember recently a woman with cancer saying, "I've got cancer because all of the men in my life betrayed me."
I thought, "Wow! I didn't know that was a cause of cancer!" And I said to myself, "I know people who've been terribly betrayed by men who don't have cancer." You know? So this is her story, this is not necessarily anyone else's story. And so I said, "Really? How does that work?"
She told me a story of how with each betrayal, her immune system had gotten more and more worn down, until finally cancer emerged. This was a personal story that she'd put together from her own readings about immunity and cancer and psychoneuroimmunology.
It didn't necessarily serve her to heal, because we couldn't really reverse the betrayals, so my next question was, "How do you think that you could get better?"
She said, "I would have to find true love." And she said, "Plus I would have to avoid all bad chemicals and toxins in the environment and eat completely organic, natural, raw food, and stay away from drugs and chemicals."
Now the story is getting even more complicated: one, because she might not be able to find true love within the time frame needed for her to recover, and second, I don't really like the "true love" story, anyway. I think probably "good enough love" is a better story. Since few of us are perfect and rarely do we find the perfect mate, I'd definitely settle for a good enough mate, you know?
And it turned out, as we listened to the story further, that her life was really miserable because she had invented all of these rules about how to get well, and any chemical exposure would make her more sick. She lived in New York City, and you can't actually walk around New York City without some chemical exposure! Any food that wasn't raw and clean and organic would make her sick, and that's hard to do! And so the poor woman was tortured.
My first intervention as a healer was to say, "You know, maybe it's not this hard." Or another way of thinking about it: "What if you're wrong? What if there's a certain random element to getting cancer or getting well? Or what if how you get cancer doesn't matter for how you get well? What if getting well is out of our hands, and we just have to, in a sense, apply to the spirits? And sometimes we get it, and sometimes we don't, and winning the Olympics isn't actually necessary?" That was a really difficult dialogue.
As a result of our interaction, she allowed herself to eat one yummy, delicious, chocolate chip cookie from her favorite bakery somewhere in midtown Manhattan, and it was the greatest pleasure she'd had in months. I thought that was a success of sorts.
Hopefully that gives you a sense of the importance of getting people's stories about why they think they're sick and what will make them better.
TS: It seems to me that an important aspect is how you're listening to the story and how you're helping the person potentially reframe it or see it differently. I mean, a lot of times people will report, "I've been in therapy for gosh knows how many years, and I'm so sick of my story! I keep saying the same story. I don't seem to be changing!" I mean, something has to happen in the interaction with the healer that generates some kind of new perspective. Would you say that's true?
LM: Absolutely. Together, we coauthor a new story. Another way of saying it is that we make new meaning together. I think a therapy in which the therapist lets someone repeat the same story for years is a bad therapy. I know when I hear someone-there are people who are stuck in telling a story about how victimized they are, and how terrible life has been for them, and how nothing can get better, and therefore that's what happens.
As a person who's listening, I don't ask the question, "What's true?" I ask the question, "Now how does this work in this person's life? What's the effect of living this story?" If it's clear to me that the effect is to make you miserable or to keep things the same, then I need to point that out in some way. I need to say, "Gee, it seems like the more you-you're like a car tire in the snow that's spinning, spinning, spinning, and going nowhere. Maybe we need to put a piece of wood underneath you so that you can actually get out of the rut, or maybe we need to pour some sand onto this snow. Something has to change!"
Really that was my response to the woman I was telling you about, that when I listened to her story, it was clear that the way that it manifested in her life, the way that she was living, was miserable! I think all stories are true for the people that tell them, where they tell them, but some stories work better than others. Her story wasn't working very well for someone who was living in midtown Manhattan. Maybe it could have worked in Fiji, where there's maybe fewer chemicals and more raw food-although who knows? Chemicals are everywhere! But it wasn't life promoting in Manhattan.
TS: Yes. Now Lewis, you mentioned that what indigenous cultures can give to Western medicine, at least part of what they can give, is this relational focus, a storied culture, and a ceremonial culture. I know you work with ceremony and healing, and I'm wondering if you can speak some to that. What kind of ceremonies help people in the healing process?
LM: I think that ceremony is a way for us to engage the supernatural world, the spiritual world, in dialogue. We need, in a sense, to open a portal to that world in order to communicate with it. Ceremony allows us to do that. In ceremony, we create the space for spirit beings to come into the ordinary world and interact with us, and we also create for us, in a very limited sense, [a way] to step out of the ordinary world into the spirit world and interact with them. Through that, change can happen in our lives. Change can happen in the physical world.
I've been trying to understand one of the questions that we talked about earlier: "Where am I on the edge of my studies of healing?" My edge is reading Henry Stapp, who's a physicist who writes in the Journal of Consciousness Studies about how this comes about, that it's kind of a quantum-measurement effect where we focus and direct our attention on a possible outcome in such a way that it becomes real. The math is heady; it's difficult reading, and that's really my edge. But I think, whether or not one can understand it in an intellectual way, cultures have known for centuries that ceremony is a way to get the spiritual forces working on our behalf.
TS: Now, I'm not sure I completely followed you, Lewis, when you were talking about kind of quantum realities and how that might relate to ceremony and spirit beings.
LM: Well, there's something called the Quantum Zeno Effect. It was discovered in 1977 in Austin, Texas. It's being used a lot by people in consciousness studies to explain how mind, which is nonphysical, changes brain, which is physical.
The idea of the Quantum Zeno Effect is that if you observe something frequently enough, you prevent it from changing; you keep it locked in the same state. Statistically, things should change all the time, but if you make frequent enough measurements of a system that should be changing, it won't change. People who are writing about consciousness are talking about how, when we focus our minds or our attention on a particular possibility or state of being, we fix it in place. It's really an intriguing idea that, actually, Buddha already thought of a long time ago, which is that where your attention goes is where you go, that where we focus our attention is everything about where we take ourselves in our lives.
The idea of ceremony is that as a group we're coherently focusing our attention on praying, on asking, on requesting a certain positive outcome in a humble way, saying, "If it's not too much trouble, and if it's possible, would you spirits please help us out in this way?" For instance, "Our friend Michael has Parkinson's disease, and he's shaking and it's hard for him to walk. Would it be OK, if you could, to make it a little easier for him to walk?" So we're all focusing on that possibility, that Michael could walk a little easier. And if our minds are focused on it, if the spirits' minds are focused on it, then maybe it gets locked into place in this particular physical-coordinate system that we live in.
That's the quantum tie-in: the way that in the quantum world, everything exists all at once, simultaneously, and that when we query it, something gets locked into place in the physical world, in our world, so that we see one outcome from all those many, many possible outcomes. I think that ceremony is a little bit like querying the quantum spiritual world in such a way that we can lock a particular outcome into place in the physical world, which is the outcome that the person improves, or that you're healthier, or that life is happier, or whatever it is that we're asking for.
TS: I'm curious: If someone's listening and they have a health challenge in their life, is there a ceremony you could recommend? I mean, I know it's a little bit generic, since you don't really know what's going on with the person, but are there some basic principles of ceremony that anyone could use?
LM: Well, yes, and one really simple idea that I think is relatively easy to use is that whenever you look at the clock, take one or two minutes to imagine being well, to just playfully, lovingly, laughingly, compassionately toward yourself, imagine being as healthy as you want to be-not in a demanding way, you know, but in just a playful way. "Wouldn't it be lovely to be well?" Just imagine it as if it's true in this moment, right now. And then after a minute or two, just let it go. Walk away.
In that way, I think we begin to move forward, potentially. I say "playfully," because we little people never know if we can get well or not. It's really out of our hands. The answers to those questions are at much different levels of existence than we can access, but we can put our intention that we sure would like to be well.
That's a really simple ceremony that people can do right away, right now. It reduces anxiety, because a lot of the time when people are sick, they're worrying about "What if I get sicker?" "What if I die?" "What if I don't get well?" And it's a simple antidote to just take a minute or two, periodically throughout the day, to visualize wellness. Athletes do the same thing to visualize a superb performance, and it's been shown to be very effective, this particular technique/ceremony, for athletes. Why not for sick people?
I think the other part of that is that we can all do something to focus our attention on feeling peaceful and feeling connected with nature and with everyone else, feeling whole, feeling in balance. That's got to make a difference, and people do it in all kinds of different ways. For me, if I could, I would burn a little sage, because the smell reminds me to let go of the things that I don't need to hold onto. When I'm in places where you can't burn, I like to bring a little sage spray, a spray bottle of sage oil, and I can spray it in the air and I can smell that same aroma, and that just reminds me to let go of the burdens and the worries and the things that I don't need that I'm carrying, and to focus on what it is that I'd rather be thinking about, you know?
Feeling connected to the tree outside the window, feeling at one with the birds that are flying in the sky, feeling like I'm a part of nature-nature is an amazing healer. If you've ever watched nature heal a forest after a fire, it's very fast. It happens really quickly, so much quicker than one could imagine! I've seen nature take over a strip mine, and completely cover it in an amazingly small amount of time. So if I focus on nature as the healer just a little bit, then that's got to be good for me.
TS: Now Lewis, as part of the idea of ceremony, you mentioned that we're opening up a communication with spirit beings. Here you have your MD from Stanford and so on, and I'm curious how you view spirit beings. Have you had personal experiences that confirmed for you, "Yes. These are spirit beings. They're talking to me"?
LM: You know, I have. I think that it's not necessary to be a materialist to be a scientist. I know many scientists who are deeply spiritual and believe in a spirit world and have encountered angels. In the vision quest, for instance, which I try to do every year, we see spirits. I've seen spirits; I grew up with grandparents who saw spirits, and it just seemed like an ordinary thing to me. It didn't seem special. It wasn't actually until I got to Stanford Medical School that I found out that, officially, spirits don't exist. As far as I knew until then, everyone thought spirits were real. I had Christian friends, I had Buddhist friends, I had Jewish friends. Everyone thought that the supernatural world was real.
I remember one of the most deeply spiritual teachers that I had in college was Sir John Eccles, who got the Nobel Prize for discovering neurotransmitters. He led a seminar that I took as an undergraduate that was on the neurophysiology of the soul, and how our physical bodies connect with our spiritual bodies, and then connect with the spirit world. I got three credits for that at Indiana University!
TS: Now, could you tell me a little bit about what experiences you've had from vision quest experiences? And then I'd also be curious to know, in addition to your personal experiences, what you see as the role spirit beings might play in healing, and maybe if you might have an example of that.
LM: Yes. Let me say that some of the most powerful spirit sightings that I've had are available to pretty much anyone without even going on a vision quest, and they've been in Hispanic wooden churches at Christmas Eve, in Arizona, in Mexico, in New Mexico. There's something about the Hispanic Catholic culture in the American Southwest that's deeply and amazingly spiritual.
And I remember one midnight mass outside of Tucson in a little Catholic church, in which I was just overwhelmed with the visitation of an angel. I know that everyone there pulled this being in. It was just so wonderful, because I realized that we can only hold that field for a very short time, or our nervous systems would burn out. It was just a marvelous sense. I saw and felt this amazing winged being who just broadcast pure love and compassion, and that for this being, everything we did, even things that we would consider bad things, were loving, were loved, were appreciated.
It was one of the most profound, transformative experiences for me, because I was trying to come to terms with somewhat of a negative Christian upbringing from my German stepfather who hated my Cherokee grandparents. It was this awareness that it's all one, that in the spirit world there's no religious wars. Nobody's fighting! It's all roads leading to the same joy and compassion.
How does that translate into my work? When I'm working conventionally-and I do, I see people in a medical setting who have congestive heart failure and hypertension, I see people in medical settings who have bipolar disorder and want medication. I think that one of the things that I can do in that setting is to hold the space for my soul and their soul to connect, and for the spirits who hang out with me or around me, from time to time, to be present and connect with their spirits, so that healing happens on many layers.
Even if we don't talk about it, I can try to hold a mindful, spiritual space for that medical encounter. I can do everything I can to feel love and compassion for that person and their suffering. I can give them a smile, give them a loving touch while I'm listening to their heart with a stethoscope. I can take their blood pressure with joy. As a spiritual person, there's little things that I can do that enlighten, in a sense, that make the medical encounter better.
Outside of my conventional-medicine world, sometimes people come to me for doctoring-"doctoring" in the sense of energy medicine or spiritually-oriented healing. And in those contexts, my feeling is that it's the spirits that are working through me, that there are these spirits that I've met in vision quests and other ceremonies, who when I pray and ask spirits to come and help me, they come and they help these people.
I don't feel like I do very much. I just cultivate these relationships with spiritual beings who come and work on people who need work, and do what they can. They can't always make people better either, but they have greater powers than I do. In that sort of energy medicine, doctoring kind of activity, we're calling on beings with greater powers than we have to come and help us. I think it makes a difference.
You know, some of my colleagues think this is all metaphor. And I say, "Well, that's fine, because you can get a lot of places with metaphor." I think believing it makes it more powerful, but I also know that metaphor is really powerful, too. As a word in Greek, it means basically, "a cart to carry something from one place to another." If you're ever in the Athens airport, those trolleys that you put your luggage on, they're called metaphora. That was what really struck me about that word: it's just something that we use to carry our baggage from one place to another. For people who see all of this as metaphorical, well, that's fine! It can still help them, but I think faith probably ramps it up a notch.
TS: When you're doing energy medicine "doctoring," as you say, and you have this sense that spirit beings are working through you, what is happening such that you feel that it's a being that's separate from you, that's sort of working through your body, versus a higher aspect of your own energetic capacities to have healing energy flow through?
LM: I think that either one is a good story about what's going on, and probably the story that I pick is cultural. You know, it's the one that I grew up in. I could see that someone else, who grew up in a different worldview, would pick that other story. They make equal sense within the context that they're being told.
I don't have any way to say that the way that I see it is right and that other way is not right. I think they both sound great. Maybe they're both true. You know, "explanatory pluralism" is the idea that things can be true on many levels, and the levels don't have to be readily translatable into each other. So yes, maybe that's true.
I'm primed by the culture in which I grew up to see things in a certain way, so in the way that I was raised, when I feel something that I recognize as not ordinary me, and it seems to have its own ontological status, and sometimes it announces itself and says, "Hey! I'm this dude over here from the nineteenth century, and I'm happy to come help you!"
And I think, "Cool! Yes! Go for it! I'm really happy you dropped in! Go to work! Take care of things."
Someone else could have this same perceptual, phenomenological experience, and see it as their higher self or their soul or their angelic connection. I can think of many labels that one could use. You know, whatever works seems good to me!
I'm staying at a Carmelite retreat center in Australia as we talk, and "Holy Ghost" sounds really good right here. The Virgin Mary trumps everything here, and who couldn't love the Virgin Mary? What's not to love about the Virgin Mary?
TS: I love this! I love this phrase, "explanatory pluralism." It could be a new tagline for Sounds True!
LM: Hey! There you go! I can't remember who coined it, but some postmodernist made it up. And it sort of works, that there's so many layers, and they don't translate readily, but they can all be true!
TS: Now I'm curious, Lewis. Someone comes to you, and they're suffering from some kind of diagnosis, and they're terribly concerned about it. They're suffering from some kind of life-threatening illness. Do you have any sense, even just in your first meeting with people, which people you think will really get better, physically, and which people won't? I mean, are there certain qualities that you sense in someone, and you think, "OK. This person, they've got what it takes for the healing process to happen. This other person, I don't know. It's not looking so great"?
LM: I can sense qualities that are associated with not healing. I can't sense who will heal. I have some sense for who might not heal because, I think, healing is what's called an "emergent property." It comes out of the relationships that we all form together with each other and with the spirits that are involved and with nature, and we can't produce it on demand or control it.
What I can say I think definitely doesn't work is when somebody is really rigidly focused on "There's only one way to get well, and by God, that's what I'm going to do." [And that's] because I think we're called to be flexible, and I think we're called to humility, and I think we're called to acknowledge that we might not get well, even though we want to. We're called to acknowledge our smallness in the nature of the universe.
There's a Lakota concept that I love, which is the concept that we're thrown into a world of forces that are so much more powerful than us, that buffet us around and toss us around and almost literally play soccer with us as the ball. And that the first step is to recognize our pitiful nature and our insignificance and smallness, and then to stand up and to ask for help, and to proceed to make meaning and purpose anyway. You know, it's a really transformative and powerful concept.
And so I think hubris is probably not a good idea if you're really sick and you want to get well-or the sense that you know how to do it, or that you can do it without help, or that anyone knows how to do it, for that matter. I worry when I meet someone who's really rigid and inflexible and insistent that they know the only way to get well, or people that come in with this sort of notion that I've heard bandied about in some popular cultural arenas, that people come in and they say, "I made myself sick! Now I'm going to make myself well!" That seems to me so oversimplistic as to be dangerous to think.
There are so many forces that play into our health and disease, and if we're healthy, we should just be so grateful for that health! If we're sick, we should realize that we don't have the power, necessarily, to make ourselves sick. It's so much bigger than us, and the help that we need is so much bigger than us, and it involves other people and spiritual realms. We just have to humbly request it, in a good way, in a way of supplication and humility and faith and devotion, and hope for the best. In the end, we get what we get, and I can't predict.
I remember I had a colleague, a neurosurgeon in Tucson. He had a formula for predicting how patients who came to see him for neurosurgical problems would do. He said, "In the first appointment, the more people they bring with them and the more hugs I get, the better they're going to do." I thought that was a pretty good formula! I liked that! He called it "Hamilton's Rule."
TS: Now you mentioned the word, "faith," and I'm curious: What's your faith, as a practitioner, your faith in the healing process?
LM: Well, I have faith that all of these things-healing, caring-happen at higher levels. I'm going to say "higher." I'm not sure that that's the best metaphor, but they happen at more profoundly complex and rich spiritual levels than we operate at. It's my faith that there are these spiritual beings who love us and care for us, and they want the best for us, and if they can work it out, they will. My sense is that there are also purposes and meanings that we can't fathom, that may help explain why some people get sick, or why children come into the world and die. It's so much more complicated than we can ever imagine. My faith works into this by my saying: In the end, we just have to trust in the powers of the universe, the forces of nature.
It's something that Soren Kierkegaard wrote about. I love his writings, because he's the guy that coined the term, "leap of faith." He said, "In the end, there is nothing more that I can do to prove this, so therefore I just have to take the leap of faith and believe in the things that are invisible, that I can't prove to anyone else, because they seem real to me."
That's where my faith plays in. I believe in these forces and powers, and I also know that I don't command them, and I don't control them, and I'm not smart enough to know what the right answer is. That's why we pray for the highest good instead of being specific and telling them what to do. I just think that the more time we spend cultivating our relationships with these higher powers, the happier we'll be. It's interesting, because the Carmelite nuns apparently agree with me!
TS: Meaning are you getting nods and signs of approval from the group that you're with?
LM: Right. Yes, they have the same idea: that one of the purposes of our life is to cultivate our relationships with the spiritual world in the same way as you would cultivate a garden, to spend the time that you would spend in a garden-that in a sense, the spiritual life is like a garden, and you have to put in the time to have a really good garden.
TS: I'm wondering here, at the end of our conversation, Lewis, if you'd be willing, as a gift for our listeners, to take us through a short meditation, a short prayer, where we're actually able to cultivate that garden together and invoke healing, whatever our situation might be.
LM: Sure! Of course! What I'd like to invite people to do-and I learned from the last time that I was in Colorado with Sounds True, to talk to you, the individual, because each of us are individuals listening-I'd like to invite you to take a moment and to close your eyes, and to just appreciate how joyful it is to breathe, what a wonderful thing it is to take a breath. Some of you have had asthma, or have had colds or bronchitis, and you know how that feels. It's so wonderful when we can stop thinking about breathing. It's so wonderful to just be able to breathe without thinking about it. That's why it's so marvelous to just step back and say, "Wow! Isn't it just amazing that I'm breathing today?" It's just so wonderful to be able to breathe, to breathe in this wonderful, fresh air, to breathe in all of the fragrances of nature.
I'm in a beautiful garden spot in the summer, and I'd just like to invite you to imagine the smells of the tea tree, the flowers, and to hear the sound of the birds, of the kookaburra bird singing overhead, and to take just a moment, wherever you are, to recognize that you're surrounded by nature. Even in the heart of New York City, nature surrounds you, that the buildings rest upon grass and rock and dirt, and birds are everywhere. Squirrels are in the trees. Wherever we go, we are a part of nature, because we're physical. Nature is us. We are nature.
It's marvelous to just take a moment and to feel connected to the earth, to put one's feet on the ground, on the floor, and to just notice that underneath us is a whole planet, and it's really large! You can feel the love of Mother Earth: it's called "gravity." It's what she uses to pull us to her bosom, so we always know her love, because we're always working with gravity.
And you can feel connected to the sky, because it's always around us, protecting us from the radiation belts, protecting us from solar flares. That ozone layer, that sky, is our protector, and it's always there, always taking care of us. It's so marvelous to be shielded by the sky!
And it's so fabulous to feel the birds! Wherever people are, there's always birds. In Tokyo, in Chicago, birds are everywhere. Maybe not so many kangaroos everywhere, but birds everywhere. We can feel the beauty of their wings outstretched, catching the wind and lifting them up. It's so marvelous to think about how those updrafts of warm air can help an eagle to rise effortlessly hundreds of meters into the air, way high into the sky, without ever even beating their wings. They just ride these thermal updrafts and glide-forever, it seems like-around and around and around. We're connected to that!
Just take a moment to feel, to play with the idea, to feel with me that these things-the sky, the earth, the clouds-that they might be consciously aware of us, that they might be noticing us, too. That the trees, the animals, they may be aware of us, that we may be all feeling connected, that the clouds can be sensing our suffering, our pain. One doesn't get through life without a bit of suffering and pain, and I think it's so helpful to share it with the earth, and with the rocks, and with the sky, and with the clouds, and the water.
Sometimes there's nothing more healing than to walk beside a beautiful brook, a stream, and to sit down at the edge of that stream, and to just watch the water flowing downstream, to watch the water just tumbling down, and to just imagine that we could let go of some of that pain and some of that suffering. We could just let it go into the water, and just let the water carry it away and take it down to the ocean, wherever the ocean is. Wherever you are, eventually that water will get to the ocean-some of that water evaporates and goes into the clouds, but some of it gets to the sea, and can take our troubles down to the sea and take them away.
You know, we can finish this by also feeling how deeply beneficial it is to feel each other, to feel each other's hearts and minds. Wherever we are, there's usually other people that we can feel connected to. Wherever we are, others are around us who care for us and care about us. We can connect to all of these other people, just as we can connect to animals. You know, some of the most loving relationships people have are with their dogs or cats.
I want to close with the thought that a fellow left me with the other day, which I think is so marvelous: He said, "I'm working so hard to become the person that my dog already thinks I am!" And so we could just imagine, to finish, that we're all in this together, and that my joy is your joy, your suffering is my suffering. And that the more we share it all around, the better it is for all of us, and to just feel that for a moment. And then to let it go, and to get on with whatever it is that we have to do next in our lives. And to just walk a little lighter, breathe a little easier, lose a tiny bit of those weights that we carry on our shoulders, and just be a little happier. That's all.
TS: Wonderful. Thank you so much!
LM: Thank you.
TS: That was very generous of you, and peace evoking.
I've been speaking with Lewis Mehl-Madrona. He's in Australia right now, joining us for "Insights at the Edge," and he's the author of two programs from Sounds True. One is on Native American Healing Meditations, and the other is a new, six-session, audio learning course on The Spirit of Healing.
Lewis, thank you so much for taking the time, and for speaking so heartfully, sweetly, and intelligently.
LM: Thank you. I've got to at least try to say, "G'day, mate!" from down under!
TS: Yes, good job! Good job!
LM: [Laughs.] Yes, I've been practicing!
TS: Thanks everyone, for listening. SoundsTrue.com. Many voices, one journey.