When our Wounds Become Our Medicine

This article was first published in the May/June 2013 issue of Branches magazine (volume 26, number 2, page 5) on the theme of Best Medicine. Branches magazine is a print only magazine available in the Indianapolis area.

When we think of medicine, most of us think of something that we ingest when we are ailing in an attempt to heal and often in an attempt to avoid the discomfort that comes with illness. Alternative medicine approaches have expanded our ideas of health care to include herbal treatments, energy therapies, sound therapies, physical movement, meditation, and more as possible ways to treat illness and to maximize health. In turn, many of these practices are increasingly being used to proactively maintain good health and prevent illness.

These are all good developments in our collective understanding of how to improve and maintain our health for a lifetime, but all of these understandings—from herbal remedies to energy medicine to yoga practice to preventative diet choices—focus on what we need to ingest or do in order to keep ourselves healthy. All too often even in this preventative way of thinking, our primary goal is still seeking to avoid the pain, discomfort, and brokenness of health challenges. The focus is still on what we do for ourselves, our own health, and our own comfort.

In the shamanic tradition with which I am most familiar, there is a very different way to speak of medicine. In that tradition, our personal medicine is our way of being in the world that brings healing to others. The focus shifts from what we might take in for our health to what we give for others’ health. Naturally, we are most able to give our medicine to others when we are doing our part to take care of our own health as well, but the focus is now on taking care of ourselves and being our best selves for the service of others.

The challenge, if you’re at all like me, is in determining what our medicine is, what we have to give that contributes to the healing of the world. One reason this is so often a challenge for us is that our medicine is something that naturally flows from who we are; it is such an intrinsic part of us that we tend to take it for granted. It could be the way we encourage people, the generous way we give of our time, our ability to see beneath the surface of the people around us, our way of listening deeply, or the peaceful space we carry with us into the world. All of these things we may do so naturally that we aren’t even aware that they are anything worth noticing.

Another reason why we may not be aware of our medicine is that it may express itself in ways that we have been conditioned to repress. Perhaps your medicine is a gift for intuitive knowing of things that makes some people uncomfortable because you see too much of what they wish to hide. Or perhaps your empathic sensitivity to the emotions of others has been derided as being overly emotional. When we find those parts of ourselves unappreciated or criticized, we learn to hide them, but this often brings out the shadow side of these gifts without the benefits.

A final reason why it can be hard for us to see our own medicine is that our medicine often grows out of those places where we have been wounded. As we heal our own wounds, the healing process itself brings our dormant gifts for the healing of others to life. But the fact that we associate those gifts with our deepest wounds may cause us to avoid expressing those gifts because we are ashamed of the wounds that fostered them.

It doesn’t have to be that way. The Japanese have made an art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer infused with gold. This process, known as kintsugi, makes no attempt to hide the fact that the object has been broken. Instead, the cracks are highlighted as a new source of beauty in the repaired form. These broken and repaired items are more valuable than one which has never been broken.

So it is with us. We spend most of our lives trying to hide our broken places, our cracks, our scars as something to be ashamed of, but the reality is that we are all broken in some way by life. It is those who have been broken and are able to celebrate their healed wounds as sources of beauty and treasure that people are most drawn to. Their healed wounds shine out encouragement and medicine to the rest of us.

If you are ready to discover and share your own best medicine with the world around you, there are a number of ways to get started. First, get feedback from trusted others who are close to you about the ways you bring healing into their lives. As you collect this feedback, start noticing how it feels when you act in these ways toward others. Expressing your medicine will have a naturalness and ease to it because it is part of your authentic nature.

Second, notice those things about yourself that you tend to repress or hide. Those are likely shadow versions of your medicine. Explore ways that these traits can be transformed into positive gifts to the world. For example, if you are often accused of being over-sensitive, how could that sensitivity be transformed into something that brings healing?

Finally, explore those places in your life where you have experienced the deepest wounding, be it grief, loss, pain, persecution, betrayal or some other form of brokenness. Look at what that experience has taught you as you have healed from it. How has it made you a better person? How can you make use of what you have experienced to bring healing to others who may be experiencing similar wounds?

We all need healing in our lives at one time or another because we are all wounded and broken by life, but it’s up to us how we choose to focus our attention. We can continue to focus only on what we can do to get medicine from others for our own healing while trying to hide the scars left behind. Or we can celebrate our healing by making our lives a form of kintsugi that allows our healed wounds to become our best medicine for the healing of the world around us. Which will you choose?

©2013 Kenetha J. Stanton