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Coyote Healing Excerpt from Chapter 4, The Medicine Wheel

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Chapter 4 Excerpt

The Healing Journey: Medicine Wheel

Having found our inner healer, it now compels us to take a journey. The archetype of the journey has many forms, including the quest for the Holy Grail, the pilgrimage from the Lord of the Rings, and the annual trek of the faithful to Mecca. The journey becomes more important than the destination, meaning that the work done to transform ourselves and our relationships takes on a life of its own. The process of growth and change takes on an importance in its own right. Being on this path (or spiral, as we consider the medicine wheel) is more important than arriving at a specific destination.

Another Rumi story illustrates this crucial point (which Alistair Cunningham has documented with long-term cancer survivors).


In this story, a man in Baghdad dreams of a magical house in a distant, mystical town. He is so inspired by his dream that he sets off on a several year journey to find this house. Each night he dreams further details to guide his journey. Finally he has enough details to recognize the city as Cairo. Then, each successive dream reveals more details of the house until finally he recognizes the section of the city. He explores this section of this city until his dreams guide him to the very house.

He reaches the house with great enthusiasm and anticipation, sure that a rare treasure awaits him. A servant opens the door and hears his story. The master is not at home, and has left a minimal staff in place to manage in his absence. Though puzzled by his enthusiastic desire to explore the house, the servant obliges him, showing him every room. When the final room has been examined, and none of the rooms contain any particular marvel, our hero becomes frustrated and depressed. Why did he spend so many years searching for this unremarkable house? He wonders where the master of the house went on his journey, thinking that he hoped that man had more success in finding something of value. The man puzzles at this coincidence as he sets off for home.

Midway, in a desert oasis, our hero meets a man to whom he feels inextricably drawn. They begin to share travel-weary conversation as they rest.

I tell patients this story, saying that the hero learns that the man also had a dream of a mystical house in a mysterious land and has pursued that dream until he found the house. To their amazement, their experiences are virtually identical. They discover that each has dreamed the other's house. But, why? What was so special about each of our houses, the men asked each other, gradually becoming aware as they continue talking of how profoundly each has changed as a result of the journey. In the telling of their tales, they gained entry, each to the other's soul, through the gateway of the eye. They realize that their internal changes were much more important than the destination (outcome) of the journey. Without a destination, they would never have made the journey.

"The healing journey is similar," I say.

"Without a destination (the image of what we want, be it health, justice, or democracy), we wouldn't undertake a perilous journey. The changes happening within us while on the journey become more important than the destination. Hope is the sense that we will reach the destination."

"Without hope, we would give up and go home," I say. "The opposite of hope is not false hope, but despair."

Hope keeps us on the journey, even when the outcome of the journey is contrary to our wishes, or uncertain. I always want to make patients happy, to speak the answer that would comfort the most, but also to always tell the truth.

Life is a journey, and the intensive healing format within which I work provides a structure for that journey. The illness provides an impetus for the journey and a destination.

The story of Moses presents a series of miracles that led to the release of his people from bondage in Egypt, including the spectacular parting of the Red Sea to let the people flee Pharoah's army. Moses found his miracles by following God's instructions to the letter, but can we? And what do we do, if we don't? Can we still find healing?

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Lewis Mehl-Madrona graduated from Stanford University School of Medicine and completed residencies in family medicine and in psychiatry at the University of Vermont. He is the author of Coyote Medicine, Coyote Healing, Coyote Wisdom, and (more...)

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