What is Medicine?
Sioux healer, Cliff Thompson, is reported to have said, “Medicine is a sacred word. It is something that joins you to the world.”
It is wonderful, is it not, to be joined to the world, to be connected in a wholesome way to all there is. Seen in this way, medicine can appear as many things. A quiet walk in a nearby forest can be great medicine. I know this to be true from my own life. Whenever I can, I end a stressful day of my medical practice by walking quietly in those woods, just being open to the mystery and magic of this small patch of nature in our busy city life. It heals me.
But, as good as this wonderful definition of medicine is, how do we flesh this out? I feel better after my walk, but what about the work I do before my walk? What about the work we all do, whether we are a mechanic, childcare person, retiree, whatever? What about how we live all the other hours of our day. And what does being connected mean and how can that help?
Perhaps being connected could mean that everybody and everything we meet in life is family.
We are all joined at the heart, whether we like it or not. So we have to hold all our life in a kind of strong love that knows that it is good that we are together. If we have an illness, we want relief, but we also need to know that we are bigger than the problem aspect of any illness and we can hold that illness as an organic part of our world. Nothing freaks us out. We are stable. We work with whatever comes our way. In working with our problem, we may find a remedy of some sort that makes our connection to life easier to hold. Or we may just see that our illness, just like that irritating relative we all have, does not have to disturb our relationship to our family as a whole. This remedy can come in a multitude of forms—a human-made remedy, a connection with the flow of nature, or just a change in mind or in events in life. Anything that helps us stay in a knowing, working connection to our world can be medicine. It can be like having a light come on. We know our life better. We feel better and we live better.
And once we realize that even in the face of our problem, we are still connected to the big family of life, we can know that in our heart that we love this family—all of it, even its problem parts—with that very heart. There is no other way. We realize that taking care of our individual issues alone can be a necessary beginning, but that by itself is never enough. When the light of connection is on, it is natural for us to care for both ourselves and this big family of our world. That is the human way.
If we were walking in the woods at night and we met another person walking in those same woods, and we have a flashlight and the other person is lost, we would use our light to help out. In the same way, real medicine not only reduces our own suffering, it helps motivate and empower us to help others. And the best medicine of all not only helps us and others in ordinary life troubles, but even more, helps us benefit our world in the most profound, spiritual ways. And we commit to helping all, those beings that we like and those that we don’t. Thus, real medicine acts in whatever way is possible to heal our world.
When we know medicine in our heart, we love ourselves and our journey, and we offer whatever we have to our world.
At some point we will all likely face some pain, some degree of loneliness, and certainly eventually death. When we practice Medicine Buddha, we know that even in this, we can still be connected to our life and our world in a healing, loving way. We know how to use everything we meet as medicine.