. Everyday Medicine Woman
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Engaging on a Path of Remembrance

By Susan A. Lipshutz, LCSW

Telling one's story is often the most profound way to share the wisest part of ourselves, for it offers the listener the choice to grow and connect without being influenced by the author's point of view. In fact, this form of teaching is the primary method utilized by ancient and contemporary indigenous elders.

There are many vignettes that when woven together create the mapping of our lives. The source of the journey often originates from the compass in our hearts in an attempt to redirect our path to that of our soul's purpose. Within this journey are many defining moments that offer the opportunity to change our life from an orderly logical pain into an alignment with the remembrance that we are spirits having a human experience. We have grown so far away from that divine understanding that the invitation to awaken comes on a regular basis. Nature-based spiritual teachings describe "wake up calls" as inviting a walk on the medicine wheel. This is when the universe conspires with the prayers of our natural self to create an opportunity to link back up to a way of living that is in harmony with nature and spirit. During certain critical times we are asked to walk the wheel as a culture and a planet. As those of you reading this know we have the privilege of being a part of one of these collective redirections.

Though we often think of the Shaman's initiation of death and rebirth as reserved to those individuals chosen by spirit who possess a calling or special healing gifts; we forget that we all have unique gifts that, if untapped, not only result in prolonged feelings of emptiness but also leave our community with a hole that can only be filled by the give-away of this gift. Since we do not go through a formal initiation process to assist us in identifying or developing these gifts, responding to these wake up calls becomes even more crucial.

My defining moment to agree to step up to the plate in this lifetime came with the spontaneous decision to have a child. Prior to that moment I never felt strongly one way or another about being a mother. I was firmly aligned with Feminist beliefs but not maternal yearnings. Further, I had no real understanding of the process of "spiritual awakening." I had my astrological chart read annually, as well as the occasional trip to the psychic and tarot reader, but lacked much understanding of native teachings or Shamanism.

The pregnancy, natural birthing process and breastfeeding were powerful initiations into womanhood and profound awakening of my heart. The experience of being able to become a sacred vessel to support the life of my beautiful daughter took me to an ecstasy like nothing else I have ever known. The first recognition of the connection linking this life experience with an ancient knowing revealed itself on a conscious level when I took a trip to Mexico with my baby. One day while taking a walk, I sat down on the curb of a street to nurse my daughter. As she began to feed, I looked up and my eyes met the eyes of an Indian woman who was sitting directly across from me nursing her baby. In spite of our obvious differences and the realities of our lives, I found us merging into one body — a collective understanding of a process that has supported life since the beginning of time. We acknowledged each other through tears of joy and smiles of light. In that moment my heart felt my soul. In a deeply unconscious way I knew that I had constant access to that level of openness.

Some part of me accepted the invitation to begin redesigning my exterior world to match with the internal whispers of my soul's purpose and tribe's chant. Most of me, however, began a descent into several years of extreme joy and utter discontent and confusion. This cycle peaked with the birth of my second child corresponding with the death of my mother. The veils between the worlds remained open long enough for me to accept that I was having a spiritual awakening and that there was no turning back.

The dark night of my soul came with the realization that in order to liberate my heart and rescue it from a certain psychic death, I would have to leave my marriage. Consistent with the shamanic paradigm — that we must allow a part of ourselves to die within the course of each lifetime if we are to truly live — that part of my ego and personality that chose that partner was almost gone. The shell that was left would need to be filled with my essence if I was to answer the call to live in loving service with the divine.

There have been many times since that profound transformational moment in my life when I have reconnected with the courage and faith I had discovered in the midst of that period in order to inspire and support the decisions and actions I was making. Though exquisitely painful and terrifying, I look back on this time and see it as the easiest part of my journey on the red road. Similar to a canoe moving more quickly with the aid of the raging current, the motivation and energy one can source from the fear of death (literal or metaphoric) is much less available when we shift our focus to our dreams. Some of the individuals I have had the honor to work with who were fighting a battle to heal cancer found that their true healing crisis came after the cancer went into remission; for it was then that the clarity they discovered about what contributed to creation of the illness needed to be actualized into a transformation of their life. From that point on, the motivation to live could no longer come from the viewpoint of fear, but rather from that of love.

Indigenous teachings offer us, in subtle and profound ways, opportunities to weave our spiritual practice into every aspect of our lives. If we limit out periods of expansion and illumination of the mind and heart to experiences that occur when exploring sacred sites or under the expert guidance of a master teacher, we are missing the point of the path. In these traditions many of the teaching metaphors are conveyed through the mandala of nature. These principles are often so simple that they require enormous dedication and honesty to integrate within ourselves and our lives. The agreement to walk our talk, and be impeccable in our word cannot be left at the completion of the workshops we attend or teach, but must be reflected in every encounter within every day. The mundane activities we diminish as distractions from important spiritual matters are all that matter if we surrender to the awareness that our life serves as a mirror for all that is perfect and in need of balance or healing — and thus our greatest teachers.

Among my fellow brothers and sisters who have accepted the invitation to claim their lives and their destiny, one theme I consistently witness is that the lesson within their sacrifice/death/rebirth appears directly related to the medicine they are meant to carry in order to better serve their communities. In my case, I experienced an intense repatterning of my connection with the feminine in areas such as family and cultural imprinting, the reawakening of the sacred feminine energies, the depth of my connection to the divine mother consciousness, and even my relationship to my own body. The challenge to manage my power through my heart, seeing all that I encounter as a gift from Pachamama and therefore precious, requires an ongoing dialogue with my ego and my soul. It demands that my mind become the servant rather then the ruler of my heart. If I am to be a sacred vessel for the birthing of babies as well as for collective dreams, then I must be part of the generation of women who heal their distorted self images and learn to accept and honor the feminine body in a deeply personal way. Whether Great Mystery decides to challenge me by writing this article or sorting 259 boxes of Girl Scout cookies, I must accept the completion of either assignment with enthusiasm and grace.

"Walking in beauty" is a saying that describes the process of being in right relationship with nature and spirit. Being human engages us with a struggle to keep our decisions, actions, thoughts, and relationships in harmony with our intent to live life in this sacred manner. As long as we keep our hearts open and take our commitments, not ourselves, seriously, the journey promises to be magical, instructive, and humbling.


Susan Lipshutz



"It is always such a magical experience. You just never know what spirit has for you to learn until you are there experiencing it. I never want to miss this wonderful experience."

– Lori

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