I’m a pharmacist who has worked in the world of conventional Western medicine for more than 30 years; and also a shaman who has apprenticed in the world of "non-rational" healing for more than a dozen years. I stand with my feet firmly planted in two very different worlds.
To get to this place has been a long, exciting and mysterious journey. Born and raised in the resort town of Forest Lake, Minn., I graduated from the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy, and through a series of serendipitous events found myself the jungles of the Amazon apprenticing in the shamanic realms of nature and spirit.
My apprenticeship in Amazonian shamanism began in 1994 when I participated in an ethnobotanical expedition into the jungles of the Amazon, near Iquitos, Peru. Our expedition was part of an intensive course studying the medicinal bounty of the Amazon and looking at how indigenous societies use plants as medicines.
As a pharmacist, I already knew that the rainforest contains a vast storehouse of natural medicines that indigenous peoples have been tapping into for centuries. After witnessing the forest’s fecundity, I found it easy to believe that it might hold plant secrets that could change the course of medicine as we know it. That first trip into the Amazon changed my life.
I returned home with a new sense of purpose and founded the Association of Natural Medicine Pharmacists, an organization that educated pharmacists on natural medicines. And, yes, the magic of the rainforest kept calling me to return. Little did I know at the time, but I would end up apprenticing more than 12 years in the jungles of Peru with an Amazonian shaman to become an expert at plant medicines that heal the body and spiritual medicines that heal the soul.
As a shaman, fully understanding the importance of spirit in the healing equation, I founded The Center for Spirited Medicine. Here, I help people heal and integrate their body and mind with their spirit so that they may live a purposeful, meaningful, and vital life. Through the University of Minnesota, Center for Spirituality and Healing, students and adults may study Global Healing Traditions with me in Peru. There, they learn about and experience the great powers of medicinal plants, shamanic healings, and primal nature to bring about a deep sense of connection to the healing energies that are life itself.
Having been deeply touched by the jungle and its people, I founded The Spirited Medicine Alliance, a non-profit group dedicated to the preservation of indigenous wisdom and green medicines. The mission of the Spirited Medicine Alliance is to support the health and spirit of the earth and its inhabitants by fostering the spirit of good medicine through an alliance of medicine, spirit and ecology. We all need this profound sense of interdependedness for our health and the health of the earth. As my teacher and master shaman don Antonio always says, "There is only one disease…the disease of disconnection." Such a simple, yet profound statement.
And medicine is beginning to realize just that. There is a new medicine talked about now, called Ecological Medicine. Essentially, it is a shamanic approach to health, using Western terms.
To explain, we know that ecology is the dynamic interplay (the homeodynamics) of the relationships of all the nature’s systems – the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms. We have the ecology within our own bodies, the ecology of our surroundings and the ecology of the dynamic interplay between the two. As I define it, ecological medicine is the medicine of right relationship with every aspect of life.
If we look at where our modern medicine has come from, and where it is going, we get an overview that looks something like this: Allopathic medicine, the basis of modern Western medicine, is based on a system of looking at body parts as separate from each other. If a patient is suffering from bronchitis, it is only the lungs that need be considered.
Medicine recently has begun to realize that the mind and the body are connected. The terms "mind/body medicine" and "holistic medicine" were coined, reflecting the fact that our bodies are not separate systems, but a whole, integrated system.
Now medicine is taking the next step, expanding medicine beyond the body. Cutting-edge thinkers in modern medicine today are talking about "ecological medicine," healing within relationships outside of ourselves. Good relationships with family, friends and our surroundings – society and nature – are as important to our healing as modern pharmaceuticals and surgery. Interconnectedness is the only game in town when it comes to our health. And nature is our oft-forgotten connector.
Hundreds of studies have confirmed nature’s healing, energizing and rejuvenating effects on humans and animals. Even shaman don Antonio reminds us all, "Don’t you know? The medicine is in the sounds of nature, the sights of nature, and the smells of nature." But our connection to nature, especially to plants, is more than visual. It is visceral, primal, energetic and spiritual. Plants are more sentient, and our relationship with them is more intimate, than we realize. Shamans have known this for centuries.
From the beginning of my apprenticeship, don Antonio emphasized the healing power of nature and spirit, both directly and through the agency of plants. "Remember the plants, and trust the spirits" was one of his favorite sayings. Each of my stays in the jungle with don Antonio healed me on personal levels, and deepened my connection to nature and spirit. And as I became attuned to nature and the spirit energy behind nature, I began to understand and experience nature’s healing power in a whole new way, from a shamanic paradigm.
Let us all explore a new paradigm that integrates the best of two honorable and legitimate healing traditions: shamanism and Western medicine. I affirm the value of Western medicine, and also suggest how both patients and healers can look beyond pills and surgery for deeper answers to the dilemmas which every illness represents.
My vision and my experience tell me that these two seemingly incompatible healing traditions – one ancient and one modern – can meet and form a union more whole and powerful than their separate parts. My hope is that these ancient and modern medicines which saved and transformed my own life, may do the same for all of us. My prayer is that the unique wisdom of indigenous shamanism – green plants and spirit – can help to heal our planet and its inhabitants.
May we all help to promote the new paradigm of spirited medicine practiced by spirited healers, to make our own Garden of Eden right here and now on this planet we call Earth.
Connie Grauds events: The following events at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, 1501 Hennepin Ave., are open to the public, and continuing education credits are available: May 18 – 6:30-8:30 p.m., Jungle Medicine Amazon slide presentation and introduction to Shamanism; May 20 – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Medicine of the Earth: outdoor experiential worrkshop on plant spirit medicine. For registration, call (612) 659-6500 or visit www.minneapolis.edu/cect/register.cfm