A Poisonous Brew

Homeopathic remedies work on an ancient alchemical principle that “like affects like”.  The same (homo in Greek) symptoms might be caused by a variety of situations (pathogens), so taking a plant or flower which causes those or similar symptoms and preparing a tiny amount, amplified through prayers, intentions, and magical processes could cure the dis-ease.  When we are uncomfortable, out of harmony with our natural balance, we seek remedies to restore the balance.  Most cultural approaches to health and healing start from the recognition that the ease and comfort of a life in balance is the “norm”.  When the normal life experience is disturbed in some way, we feel a lack of ease, a dis-ease, and when it becomes painful enough to disturb our functioning, we seek advice from someone with experience in regaining balance.

Several of the indigenous tribes of California had a branch of medicine people we would be surprised to discover in our midst.  The early Spanish Missionaries were appalled to discover perverted and evil practitioners among the natives.  They killed these people in equally perverted and evil ways, like being ripped apart by the Spaniards’ dogs or being burned at the stake as witches.  Some were unnoticed and imprisoned in Missions with the rest of their people.

San Buenaventura Mission

Slave labor is cheap. The guards were peacocks whose cries woke the soldiers, if anyone tried to escape.  Such attempts to run away were punished at the whipping posts where the Chumash Natives of San Buenaventura Mission were tied and whipped until they accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  Some of their descendents still have a fear of the peacock’s cry and of peacocks.  The intergenerational post traumatic syndrome has been passed on.  I first discovered this phenomenon while working with the northern California Native American tribal members and heard Dr. Eduardo Duran talk about it at a Wellness Workshop sponsored by the Indian Health Service in Ukiah, CA.

As the Spaniards moved north they intersected Russian territory and the Natives discovered that not all white men were alike.  The Russian Czar was looking for medical knowledge among the Natives along the Pacific Coast and instructed his sea Captains to peacefully gather information.  Educated Russian Orthodox priests learned the Natives’ languages and wrote about what remedies they discovered.  Natives married the Russians and returned with their husbands to Siberia and other interior lands.  Many California Natives know of these stories and regard the Russians as their relatives (unlike their feelings about the Conquistadores).  The Spanish were people who had little respect for native spiritual and medicinal practices, so the medicine people went underground and hid their traditions.  In the early 20th century things began to change with the coming of cultural anthropologists and linguists like UC Berkeley’s Professor Alfred L. Kroeber.  Natives began to tell their stories to people and books were written about their traditions.

In Deep Valley: The Pomo Indians of California (1967) by Burt and Ethel Aginsky and Mabel McKay: Weaving the Dream (1994) by Greg Sarris we discover a hidden “doctor” tradition in Pomo culture, the poisoner.  When she was a child Mabel saved her auntie’s life by offering meat to a visitor, whose refusal to partake exposed him as a poisoner.  The man ran away because the little girl was such a powerful spirit doctor.  Sarris tells a wonderful story about her inner spirit guide’s tutelage and how Mabel became a powerful weaver of dreams in making her traditional baskets.  My work with the Pomo Natives from 1998 to 2003 taught me to regard Mabel McKay’s spiritual heritage with the utmost respect.  I met many of her relatives and those who carry her traditional wisdom.  With that as the cultural and historical context, I want to talk about how these ways can be applied to modern psychology and religion.

I wrote an article in January of 2012 summarizing the teachings about the Inner Critical voice and how to give it a new job description.  There I said,  “We aren’t hanging out with abusive people any more. We are surrounding ourselves with people who accept and love us just the way we are, so we have to be vulnerable and show who we have become.”  I had sponsored a Native American Church ceremony for my 69th birthday.  The people I invited were intimate family members. I shared my intention with them. “My prayer is about Creator making any changes in me which will help me open up communication, so that I can tell the people whom I love how I feel and what I need, and to be OK with whatever responses they make.  I want this re-structuring to create balance and integration, to support my core confidently, so I can be as transparent and vulnerable as is safe for all of us.  And I want this with grace and ease.  That is what I am asking you to support for me, for my birthday celebration.”

Friends and family came.  They sat up all night and many responded to the ceremonial leader’s invitation to pray with cedar.  We express our feelings and concerns, praying to let go of the past resentments and problems so that when we throw the dried cedar on the coals, our lives can be renewed.  There were so many people with issues in the Tipi that we passed the cedar bag around to everyone who wanted to use it.  Each person expressed themselves about what the issues were and with whom, what they wanted Creator to do about it, and how they wanted it to be for themselves.  They all prayed while four songs were sung and each person got up, one at a time, and put their handful of cedar on the fire.  The poison we were carrying from past hurts and misunderstanding could be released in this way.  In 14 years I have never seen so many people use the cedar in a meeting.  I think it was a record!  I prayed with tobacco and talked directly with Creator.  Things got better.  Communication improved.  We started working in earnest on our relationships.

With the coming of the Eclipse of the Sun recently, unconscious patterns surfaced for me and many others.  My tendency toward self-deception showed itself for what it was, a poisonous brew.  Although I said six months ago that I was no longer surrounding myself with abusive people, only those “who accept and love us just the way we are”, I had to admit that giving my inner critic a new job description actually worked.  I was being honest, transparent, and vulnerable.  I was risking a lot more and was willing to accept an honest response to my requests for love and affection, for emotional and financial support.  And I noticed that I was spending my time and resources with those who truly saw and reflected me as the person I knew myself to be.  The Eclipse brought what I was hiding to the surface, that no matter how hard I tried to love and support a close friend, she couldn’t really see me (or maybe she just doesn’t love the man I have become).  It seems I have replicated a very old pattern, the one which had led to my divorce.  I stayed in my marriage for 30 years before my wife made me look at how subtle was our abuse of one another.

Throughout my years practicing the teachings of the Red Road, I am reminded of the central core of Native American philosophy.  We often say this to others and now I realize I must say it to myself.  “You can’t take care of anybody, until you take care of yourself.  You have to take care of your Self first.”  Self-care is central.  If you take good care of yourself, your mind, body, and spirit, then you will be balanced and healthy, able to “doctor” others.  Recently I wrote about my taking care of myself in the South American Yaje tradition of my Kofan brothers.  I submitted to being cleaned.  It felt great to be relieved of the burdens I was carrying.  I made relations that morning with a new son, someone I had just met, but who saw me so clearly and deeply, with such affection, that I could only respond in kind.  After spending two more days staying with relatives and friends drinking medicine and praying, I returned home.  My eagle eyes were seeing things very clearly.  Almost immediately I experienced the poisonous brew I had given myself for my healing and growth.  My companion began to “correct” my perceptions and my way of talking about my personal experience of the four days in ceremony.  That’s when I could no longer deny what I had done.  I had surrounded myself, in my home, with abusive criticism, the kind my inner critic was “protecting me from”.  What an odd paradox.  But being an eagle, I had to confess my truth, my perception.

There was proof right in the present moment that our relationship wasn’t working.  It was clear and poignantly obvious that the last 14 months of living together has not resolved our basic personality clash.  All the hours discussing psychological patterns, their causes in our histories, their activation in our relationships, the effects of archetypal “possessions”, thousands of hours of communication trying to “get real with our feelings” had brought a basic reality to light.  We can’t meet each other’s needs, no matter how well we learn to articulate them.  Sometimes I have told myself that I must try harder, be more accepting of where we are in our personal development, look at the good aspects of the relationship, appreciate the ways we have grown being in relationship and I do.  But the inherent clash does not go away.  It is there every day, it greets me most every morning with my coffee and cereal.  Staying continues to enable the patterns we both want to change.  Understanding isn’t enough.  We both waver at times, wondering if we can chalk it up to poor communication and work on better, more clear expression of our feelings, but I have to follow the medicine and do what it has taught me.  I need to surround myself with people who know and love me for who I am.  Letting go is difficult, but it is made easier knowing I no longer need to drink the poisonous brew I prescribed for myself so long ago.

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About Michael J. Melville

People describe me as a Spiritual Catalyst because their spiritual evolution speeds up when they share their process with me. Discussing dreams, addictions, sacred medicines, family histories, or personal relationships moves one closer to the core, where the inner child dwells. Once contact with her/him is made, growth resumes.
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