Taking Our Medicine

A common dream image depicts the dreamer as being sick, infirm, or dis-abled in some way — not a pretty picture. To be in need of “Big Medicine,” as Native American Indians might describe it, implies that one is diseased or “dis-eased” in a paradoxical sense that is unknown to us, while being deeply felt by our unconscious selves. By all outward appearances, one may seem physically healthy and whole; so what a blow to my self-image or ego to discover that I might actually be psychically sick!

We know that medicine — particularly the kind of medicine that aggressively attacks invading armies of viruses, bacteria, or cancer — is often destructive in the service of hoped-for healing. Sometimes, we have to face the hard reality that we may, indeed, feel worse before getting better. Taking our medicine, while ultimately desireable, can also be terribly frightening. Will we even survive?

Cancer patients face this reality whenever they endure the loss of hair, appetite, and white blood cells as their chemotherapy regimens destroy both cancerous cells along with healthy disease-fighting cells. The poison and the cure are woven together in the process of healing.

From the view of depth psychology and world religions, the ego — our daytime consciousness — is the patient of the soul. The soul inevitably and aggressively wants more and more of life than the ego will allow. And so, we need “Big Medicine” in order to find meaning in our relatively short walks upon the Earth. By surrendering to God, the Universe, or the Great Spirit — by whatever name we call the Unknown — we open ourselves to a kind of life that both heals and challenges, destroys and creates, breaks down in order to make room for new structures of living and being, and facilitates dying in service of resurrection. Only in surrendering to a conscious death of the ego’s ruling domination can the possibility of a more abundant and meaningful life unfold in ways that are real and manifold.

Of course, we all want to know what is IN the “Big Medicine.” We want to know how prayer will help, or how long meditation should last in order to acheive “enlightenment,” or how in heaven’s name will our small acts of selfless service make any lasting differnce in the great scheme of things. But then, if we actually knew these things, there is still no guarantee that we would more enthusiastically follow through with the regimens. Maybe we’re better off trusting that the Source of Divine Healing is a Love so radical and unconditional that the Cure will be worth whatever the Cure may cost. And that if the goal is ultimately a matter of patience and perseverance, then the path of health, wholeness, and peace in the world is a contribution each of us needs to make a priority — with fearlessness and resolve.

If patience is worth anything, it must endure to the end of time. And a living faith will last in the midst of the blackest storm.” — Ghandi


4 thoughts on “Taking Our Medicine

  1. Mark O says:

    Yes! Discarding our safely, groomed self-images. I never dreamed I would shave my head but I did to support my wife entering chemo. Oh, if only it were that easy to lose some of my ego’s hungry needs for comfort and public respect. Great post.


    • Thanks for sharing such a great example of giving over our own cherished images of self for a greater cause, Mark. Your vulnerability and willingness to be there for Gayle is a great example of selfless and humble servanthood as she endures her own “big medicine.”


  2. doris snyder says:

    Letting go of things that are familiar yet imprisons us and narrows us is everyone’s challenge. And as we shed this and go deeper into our longing we find the graced edge of God’s healing love. I have another quote John that reminds me of what you so beautifully wrote:
    If we surrender our own limited vision of what our healing might be;
    If we can accept that presence is worth more than “recovery’ we may
    be amazed at what God has in mind for us.
    Deborah Smith Douglas
    Wounded and Healed


    • What a great quote, Doris!
      I’ve been experimenting in my own practice of psychotherapy with letting go of any attachment to the results of my efforts, while trying to focus on “being present” to what IS and to what people are willing to risk in the therapeutic process. It’s both wonderfully freeing for me, and seemingly very helpful for others as they develop curiosity about their own behavior and the mystery of their individual journeys. There seems to be more grace available if I can manage to let go of what to expect.


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