Dancing Fox: English Introduction
For something like six months of last year, a fire of inflammation consumed my entire body. The house frame of my soul was burned away. The shaky foundations of my life were charred down into the earth. Spirit sent cackling thunderbolts at every desperate idea I had to fix it, fix it, fix it. The ideas exploded as quickly as they formed. The world my body refused to move in split at its own self-sown seams, and the realities of my dreams took on a fresh and novel presence. The one who held my hand throughout was Death, that great cuddly tease. The North and South Poles traded places. The shoes I took off in the desert of loneliness, pain, and madness, were shoes of a rational life that I never put on again.
For the seventeen years that juvenile arthritis/lupus/mixed connective tissue disease plagued my life, I tried everything that was touted as the new answer for what is seen as a modern plague – autoimmune illnesses. Last year, in the worst series of flare-ups I ever experienced, I was able to confront, in more and less disturbed, devastating and inspired ways, the shamanic nature of the ghost of fire in my body. No one diet, one ceremony, one plant, one healer, one type of work, one tradition, one diagnosis, one frame of reference, one medication, one doctor, one method, one story, one dream, one grief, one event, or one trauma ultimately defined the process of stripping away the layers of meaning, cause and effect, and ultimately, direction, in my experience of this initiatory illness. The healing journey I went on was so difficult, so turbulent, so barely survivable, that often I felt I was clawing with my fingernails at a giant, empty, black-as-a-black-hole chalkboard of life, making desperate meaning out of a desperate situation. The story that emerged from the clack-clacking of a spindle dipped in the marrow of my soul was a story that constantly surprised me with its ingenuity, kindness, severity, pain, and wildness. Wild Medicine is what I discovered. The call of the Earth in my body. Truth. Deep Love. Deep Pain. Death itself. Dreams. Ancestors. Humility. Awe.
The Land of Illness is one that we all go to alone, to gather the lush and bitter wisdom that grows so plentiful there, and then to bring it back into our communities. The only way to go is alone, and not everyone returns. Any sane Society would be giving stipends to sick people to share the wisdom they collect on their way. Most of the time this wisdom is not anything that can be articulated – it is simply a way of being, a presence. As my Aunt, Ciocia Kasia, a woman with a lot of experience in the realm of illness and loneliness said: “every illness is a call to transformation.” And sometimes that transformation is only a new humility that has paradoxically blessed our foreheads with a bleeding wound. An ever-present limp and a fresh joy at the sunrise.
Our hearts deserve to be whole. So much of illness – whether it be physical, emotional, spiritual, psychological, familial, societal or circumstantial – crushes our hearts and splits our souls. Finding wholeness in the cracks is the ultimate sacral Art.
What exactly is it that makes it possible?
I came out of this experience traveling across the world to my two homes – Poland and Zimbabwe – with five instruments in tow, ready to take up the Artist-Healer call, in Ceremony and out.
My work now, as I understand it, is twofold: the work of feeding and celebrating the other world through beauty and Ceremony, and the work of sharing what I’ve learned in this one, with whoever wants to or needs to listen.
This introduction is some kind of beginning, but also an ending – an ending to hiding away, an ending also to the fear that I’ve carried within myself as a person with a chronic illness, the fear that when it comes down to it, who I am, and what I do, is tragically arbitrary and unnecessary. Everyone in the business of illness, creative work, or life period, carries that fear to some extent at times. However, since my creative work started to extend into the realms of feeling better – meaning, what is commonly known as healthcare – my search for meaning has been surprised by the experience of people as medicine: meaning, who administers medicine matters perhaps as much, if not more so, as the body of the medicine. (This includes self-administration.)
In the Scientific paradigm the healing response of a body to a substance regardless of what it is is known as a placebo effect. Our bodies respond to the psychological suggestion of wellness. This idea, that it is only our minds which control the world we perceive and live in, does not match what I experienced. First of all, that idea has all of us standing alone, victims of the chaos in our own heads. Instead, I believe, we are in constant relationship, even with medicine that is not considered real medicine by those authorities that tell us how to think, feel, and what is true. Yes, our thoughts are also in relationship with the world, and that matters – but to say that the creation of meaning is an activity that is left to us alone does not match the reality of illness. Illness is a process of creating meaning with everything other than other human beings. That is what makes every illness lonely, and every illness a shamanic illness.
It is not only individuals who suffer illnesses – it is also societies, and places, and ideas, and traditions, and concepts, and villages, and organizations, and groups, and nations also. All of the illnesses they suffer are a call to this new individualism – the loneliness that will re-relate those who suffer to the Earth herself. We cannot move into wise relationship (as opposed to groupthink), until we chew our way through this chaotic and beautiful initiation, until we jump off of the cliff of control.
In this context, what is medicine? Medicine can be anything that moves the body, the mind, the soul, the spirit, or all of those together, towards re-relating, transformation, beauty, and love.
Every person carries medicine, or a song, or a frequency, or a kind of love that, when we put together, resonates together in a unique harmony. There are people who claim that rituals must be done exactly right, or that sacred songs must keep a certain melody, a certain time, a certain word. Certainly, respecting the songs themselves, the ceremony, or the stories does matter. However, fear as an impetus towards accuracy is not, I believe, the best way to feed more-than-human world (as David Abram calls it.) What matters is the way that our medicine is blessed and carried – the true intention behind the way that the medicine is administered. And by true intention, I mean what it is that arises spontaneously in the moment.
This is why I choose to call what I do, what I carry, what I have to give and sing and teach, as Wild Medicine. Because I have found throughout my life, not just in my own seventeen years of autoimmune illness ranging in diagnosis from juvenile arthritis to mixed connective tissue disease to lupus, but also in trauma and grief and heartbreak and the illnesses and ailments and plights and struggles of those around me, that there exists in our healing journeys an intangible alchemy of wild and creative spontaneity that glows brighter than the material technique of the forms that encapsulate it. We are more than our bodies. We are more than our output. We are more than our production mode. When we delight in each other, it is because of our way of being. That does not mean that a way of being has to necessarily be good or virtuous. When my brother Alexander died two years ago, I found that I was crushed more than anything, by his absence – and that included all of the things that were difficult about him. Presence matters. Who we are matters. Not just what we do, but how we are being.
This is one of the most difficult lessons that illness has to teach us. Our biggest fear – uselessness – is brought to the table when our arms and legs stop moving, when we can’t get up in the morning, when the bathroom seems too far away and the road to the kitchen a perilous road of agonizing pain, when those who told us they would always be there for us have evaporated like water in the desert in the morning, after a night when we thought it rained. We become useless to society, to a mode of thinking that defines us as interchangeable moral and physical machines. Physical – to be fixed when broken down. Moral – to be punished when we transgress. No wonder that we clamor for quick or slow fixes, no wonder we are angry. The fundamental pattern and paradigm of our lives is tousled and torn. The way that we make our meaning is rattled at its alarmed core.
What I have to offer is accompaniment, deep listening, support, experience, music, ceremony, stories, intuition, caring hands, wild joy, deep grief, real sadness, and an even wilder faith in the Love of the Universe. I do not offer cures or answers, as much as I constantly feel pushed into thinking about them, and fashioning them in my imagination. Cures feel like a form of manageability, a form of control. I wish I could sell them. I wish I could be the doctor I met recently who, at a roundtable of healthcare practitioners railed on, arms and legs splayed, “HIV is not a problem! Cancer is not a problem! Diabetes is not a problem! We fix it!” I wish I was convinced by the desire of all healers and artists alike, that organization, representation, and legitimacy will give us the lives that we want. I wish I could easily interchange wisdom and solution, as do those who, at least on the surface, rule the world. I wish I could understand why Spirit speaks so well through Suffering. I also wish that my faith in the language of Spirit was unwavering. Sadly, it is not. Sometimes more often and sometimes less, I wonder if making meaning out of tragedy and pain is not simply the desperate activity of desperate people.
Or is it the normal everyday activity of mystics?
Ah. Maybe that. Hush now. The Earth is speaking. Let us welcome her call in our ears.