The Humble Path of the Medicine Carrier (Part 1) "the medicine doesn't belong to me"


By Jeff Firewalker


January and February are a powerful time for introspection. As I reflect on how I will greet the new year, I am reminded of a simple and powerful teaching gifted to me in my earliest years of training. This teaching informs nearly all of my work as a lineage carrier and teacher. The teaching is simple: “The medicine doesn’t belong to you/me/us.” Here ‘medicine’ refers to that which restores and illuminates, that which brings balance and healing. In the traditional sense, this term goes far beyond plants and physical medications. This teaching continues to reveal new layers of revelation.

In the early days, I struggled with the broad implications of this teaching because it is such a powerful foil to the deep sense of entitlement that I carried for so long. As part of the ‘academic elite’ I was conditioned to believe that what you learn, you own. Entitlement and self-importance are so prevalent in our culture. We like to claim ownership and credit. We like certificates that memorialize our investments. Our lives tend to be measured not by the depth of our compassion and service, but rather by our job title and economic standing. So, to make the conscious decision to care for and carry something that you acknowledge that you don’t own is potent medicine in itself. It is an antidote to the hubris of self-importance. 

As with all great teachings, it is a call to be humble in our service, for there is privilege and responsibility in practicing and sharing medicine. So most of what we are calling medicine here originates, and has been cared-for, by ancient cultures. Medicine doesn’t belong to any individual because it is the product of generations of caring and stewardship. It is a gift of evolution, of co-evolution to be more specific, the dance between ancestral culture, ancestral land and sacred ceremonial practice. The deeper we peer into the truth of medicine’s origins, the more thin and absurd the concept of ownership becomes. Nonetheless, if one were forced to ascribe ownership of a given medicine, it would be owned collectively by all of the people and cultures who cared-for, honored, practiced, shared and co-evolved with it.

This teaching is a call-to-stewardship. Not only must I honor my teachers and the ancestors who brought the medicine forward, but I must be clear about my intentions. Part of the responsibility of the medicine path is impeccability. Seek clarity about the motivation to practice and share medicine. Am I seeking credit or reward? Am i filling a void in myself? Am I bypassing my own work and healing? If the answer is ‘yes’ or ‘I’m not sure,’ then your sharing of the medicine will necessarily corrupt and diminish it. My friend and Teacher Jyoti in this regard says “you are either in service or you are not.”

In my work I share only if I have been given permission. I strive for depth and devote time to make sure that my understanding is sufficient that the teachings and practices that contain the medicine are properly respected and understood. Falling short of this puts one squarely in the space of cultural appropriation. In the language of Andean Nature Mysticism, we are not in ayni (sacred reciprocity) if we transgress any of these sacred principals.

I am so appreciative to be on the learning path with all of you. Day by day I pray that I will become more deeply aligned with this prayer: “Ancestors, may I do you great honor in sharing this medicine; thank you for the great privilege of sharing; may my work contribute to freeing all beings from suffering; please forgive any mis-steps I might make along the way.”


Alex Villegas