Home > General, Spiritual Experience, Spirituality > Reflections on Coyote Medicine, Narrative Medicine, and Spiritual Healing

Reflections on Coyote Medicine, Narrative Medicine, and Spiritual Healing

Note: Not all the sweeping statements I make below apply to all doctors or spiritual workers.  There are very genial, understanding, and patient-oriented doctors, just as there are cold, uncaring, shallow spiritual healers.  Please understand that I am speaking from my experiences, and your own mileage may very.

In reading Coyote Medicine and beginning Narrative Medicine, both by Lewis Mehl-Madrona, Ph.D, M.D., I have a renewed appreciation for the place of story in healing.  In my own experience with medical professionals, most, including those doctors and other staff in hospitals, have a kind of haughty, “I know better than you” attitude that kills conversation, and ultimately, healing.  The lack of dialogue between doctor and patient, a five-minute conversation at best, usually ends up alienating the patient and stalling or decaying, if not destroying the healing process.  How can one feel they can heal if they are worth such little time after so long a wait?  As a Pagan priest and shaman, this is an attitude I need to avoid as well; the risks arrogance and hubris pose to destroying spiritual healing, including the kinds of spiritual healing that may affect physical healing, are as great as those in the medical profession.  We may come at the disease from different areas of thought, philosophy and treatment of what we see the problem is, but the denigration of the person through a lack of care can kill regardless of who does it.  A person clinging to religion as their hope may just let go or commit suicide; a person clinging to modern medicine to save them may not take the medicine or care about the procedures that can save their life if they feel they matter so little.

When someone comes to me telling me of spirits in their home, the wrong approach, in my view and experience, is to assume they are making it up.  When someone comes to me telling me that they are feeling spiritually oppressed or cursed, the wrong approach is to assume they are paranoid.  They are coming to me in confidence asking me to help them solve a spiritual issue.  They are not asking for judgment, unless, of course, they’re asking if I am experiencing or feeling the presence of spirits or something similar.  If I don’t feel/experience the presence of spirits, I am honest, but explore alternatives with them.  There is still something going on, even if only in their head, something that prompted them to seek help.  If they trust me to help them, and if I am confident I can, as opposed to them possibly exhibiting signs of mental illness or physical issues that a mental health or medical professional should look at, I am here to help.  The story they tell me often contains the seeds of their healing.  An oppressive spirit may be just that, or it could be oppression at home, or guilt over a loved one’s death.  Discovery alongside the person is paramount; the keys to understanding them is found in their environment, religion, ethnicity, and so on.  From the start the person is involved in their healing, and stay involved throughout it.

I think that is really the difference between modern medicine and spiritual healers; patients/people develop their story alongside the healer, whereas they give the doctor an outline to turn into a manuscript.  The doctors develop their healing independent of the patient according to norms and accepted beliefs about what the patient’s body should be doing.  This is not to say spiritual healers have no norms, or that medical professionals should not have their own norms either.  For spiritual healers, for instance, for energy bodies, there are norms for what the energy body should look like, but the norm of it depends on a number of factors: spirituality, healing training that establishes norms for the healer, what healing modality the patient and healer are coming from, and even what the patient’s norms might be.  Sure, you could say working in the 7-chakra system that the root chakra should be “here” or the sacral chakra “here”, but even human organs can be flipped or completely different, for better or worse, from where they “should be”.  Standards only go so far.  The said, the role of both the doctor and spiritual healer need standards to at least give their practice and their patient something to aim for.

Once you have the story of the client and a state of healing to aim for, the question then becomes “How do you help the client to effectively heal?”  To me, this is answered by more than a single ritual or spell; it often involves a conscious, long-term choice on the part of the client to allow the healing into their life.  Modern medicine asks the same when dealing with patients: are you willing to commit to healing?  In my case, my high blood pressure is regulated by both systems.  I take Lisinopril as directed by my doctor, and have been making the life changes she has asked me to make to affect my healing of my high blood pressure, such as a better diet, more exercise, and reduction of stress.  Similarly, I have done as the Ancestors, my Gods, and my spirit have asked to affect the change from the spiritual side of things, from engaging Runic Yoga, to meditating and praying more.  These two parts of my healing, the modern medicinal and spiritual approaches, do not need to be at logger-heads.  Rather, the approaches are working effectively together to make the long-term changes that will affect the healing I need.  In my case, I have answered the question of “How do I heal?”

There are times when a spiritual approach is simply not appropriate by itself.  I should not have to say this, but praying when a bone breaks is good, but setting it and repairing the damage through modern medicine is important and needed.   In fact, as I see it, for immediate dangers modern medicine tends to do incredibly well.  It is in chronic sickness, lifestyle choices, and more long-term problems that the two modalities especially can work together.  The National Cancer Institute recognizes this, stating: “There is a growing understanding that doctors’ support of spiritual well-being in very ill patients helps improve their quality of life. Health care providers who treat patients coping with cancer are looking at new ways to help them with religious and spiritual concerns.”1  Surely this approach can help with other avenues of chronic health problems.  An example of spirituality affecting the physical in positive, regenerative ways comes from Vol. 191 Issue 1 of Psychiatry Research from a study that claims “Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density”.2  While mindfulness does not, in and of itself need to be spiritual, it is often encapsulated within spiritual trappings such as meditation.  As time passes I think we may seem more evidence of this, and other ways in which spirituality can affect healing.

I will be writing another post on spiritual healing and healing from spiritual conflict, issues, etc. at a later time.


1  “Spirituality in Cancer Care”.  The National Cancer Institute.  2011.


2 Britta K. Hölzel, James Carmody, Mark Vangel, Christina Congleton, Sita M. Yerramsetti, Tim Gard, Sara W. Lazar.  “Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density”.  Elsevier Ireland Ltd., 2010.  <http://www.psyn-journal.com/article/S0925-4927(10)00288-X/abstract> 2-7-2011.

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