This coming Monday, June 15, I will be spending the day on a Medicine walk. I am taking the time now to share this with you as witnesses to my intention for that day. I will set off at dawn into the crater of Haleakala, the large dormant volcano here on Maui and walk until sunset, fasting though drinking. I share here some some thoughts behind the Medicine Walk and why I am choosing to spend my day in this way.
Walking to clear our head, a day’s hike, a prolonged back country trip - perspective, clarity, a change of scenery. We step out of our front door to take a walk for so much more than to fulfill tasks. For centuries human’s have set off on foot in order to seek guidance in some aspect of their lives. Nowadays we might just think of that in terms of being stuck in a problem at work and wanting to clear our head. However, since we have been able to wonder at who we are and where we fit into this world and universe, we have sort out ways to help ourselves gain greater clarity and understanding. Walking has played a major part in this as has solitary time in nature.
Gautama Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree, Jesus fasting for 40 days and 40 nights, the Aboriginals of Australia going on walkabout, the Native Americans on a vision quest, rites of passage of traditional peoples where time is spent alone in nature. These are times when people leave the familiarity of home to step out into the unknown of nature, taking with them nothing but the essentials and their own wits, in order to seek wisdom and guidance.
These practices are based in our fundamental link with the natural world. We are not separate from it, but are a part of it. We are not broken but are a part of a larger whole that is intrinsically good. The air that is around us courses through our body as our breath in the same way that it passes through others. The food that we eat is born from the soil and made up of the goodness, or otherwise of that soil. As Gary Snyder said in his essay, The Etiquette of Freedom,
To acknowledge that each of us at the table will eventually be part of the meal is not just being “realistic.” It is allowing the sacred to enter and accepting the sacramental aspect of our shaky temporary personal being.”
Our intimacy with the natural world, something that so many of us are alienated from in the “safe” cocooned world that we live in, allows learning to take place. We just need to rekindle and rebuild that bond, break from our comfort zones and open ourselves to the possibilities that time with our natural kin might be able to offer us.
Life is a process of change. Change is happening to us and around us all of the time. Yes, we wake up to a familiar environment and see the same people in the same places each day, but we know deep down that nothing around us is here forever. With the recognition and acceptance of change comes growth, but that acceptance is not always easy. Indeed we have probably all experienced times when we feel change happening around us or within us, but have resisted that change. Perhaps we are not even quite sure where the change in coming from, but we just know that we are outgrowing our clothes. But for all of that, we end up choosing to stay with the situation that we know rather than break free of the chains that we are wrapping around us.
Change can be frightening. We are stepping into an unfamiliar world. However, we also know from our own experience that for every time that we have crossed that threshold of change we have felt freer, our world seems larger and we grow in who we are as a person.
I have spoken here about rites of passage work and thresholds, all related to the Medicine walk. In this section I shall get more specific about a Medicine walk.
Before sharing the ritual of the walk, there are the practicalities. Let someone know what you are doing, when you are setting off and that you will be in touch with them when you return, whether by phone or calling in on them - this is for your safety. Make this someone who you trust and who shares in your belief of the efficacy of the walk. Choose a place that is safe to walk and take all necessary clothing for eventualities of weather. Leave electronic gadgets behind, expect perhaps a cell phone left in your car should you need it on your return. Take a journal for writing, thoughts, musings, reflections. Take plenty of water and leave some in your car for your return. The suggestion is to fast, it allows us to concentrate more on just being and gives us a clarity of mind, but if food is necessitated for medical reasons, that is fine. Carrying an energy bar or two is probably a good idea just in case of emergencies.
The Medicine walk calls on us to walk with no set destination. Big, grand goals or mountain peaks are not for today, but more aimless wandering. We start with threshold that we cross. Perhaps it is when we step out of the car, when we get to the trailhead, or an arbitrary spot that we choose and mark with a stick or a line drawn in the dirt. Before setting off we might say a prayer asking for guidance, read a poem, put down an object that means something to us that we pick up again at the end…a small ritual that means something to us and sets us on our way.
Take your time out walking as like a dream. You cross your threshold and enter a dream time. In the same way that you dream at night and wonder the next morning about the meaning of the dream, allow yourself to have experiences framed by the intention that you set yourself when you set off, and allow yourself to be open to what might manifest. While you are out look for natural objects that call you and draw your attention. Spend sometime reflecting. Spend sometime walking. There is no goal except to return at the end.
Sunrise to sunset frames the walk conveniently and let’s us share in nature’s rhythms more intimately, but a walk of a few hours, or even a stroll round the block done with intention can serve a purpose.
On returning from your walk take care of yourself. You might be raw and vulnerable. You also might be elated. Give yourself the time that you need to reflect and absorb your experiences. Be careful with whom you share the details of your walk. Someone who is unsympathetic to what you have done can crush your experience, even if unintentionally.
Some people will return from their walk with something immediately learnt and gained. Others will have nothing clear. Indeed some folks might find themselves quite bored and yearning for the day to end. Do not force insights. Spend sometime journaling your experiences. Talk with a confidant. Allow the experience to sit in your day to day life, marinating with the intention that you took with you. Watch your dreams. Allow time. Trust the process…
And what am I taking with me? I am going out on Monday asking “what is next with my business?” “What am I being called to bring to my business?”
At anytime that we feel as though we want clarity in our lives, whatever the issue maybe, a Medicine Walk is available to us. The form is there to adapt to the circumstances that you find yourself in. There is no fixed way, though there is the spirit of the guidelines.
What might your intention be on your Medicine Walk?