The Humble Path of the Medicine Carrier (Part 2): "so you call yourself a healer"


By Jeff Firewalker


Everything Grandmother Redleaf did and taught was filled with humility and reverence. She would say to me that it is hubris to call oneself a healer, and downright arrogant to call oneself a shaman. In the early days with Grandmother, I didn’t really understand the significance of this teaching. I remember thinking “What’s the big deal?!” But as time passed, and I witnessed a never-ending stream of spiritual fads, new-age BS, healing systems claiming to be new and innovative, as well as charlatans claiming ownership of special powers. The fallout from all of this awakened me to realize the depth and significance of Grandmother’s teaching. Language structures reality.

In consumer culture we love our titles and resumes! In a time not so very long ago, during my decades-long immersion with Western science and academia, my compass was always centered on the next title, the next manuscript, the next award. Just as, to be regarded as a healer, for many of us is so exotic and alluring! The ego says, I am important because I am a healer! The title of healer has come to mean something. And the worst dimension of that ‘something’ is that it provides the illusion that we are somehow special; we are exalted members of Griffindor in a sea of mere Muggles, for goodness sake!

My decision to not call myself a healer or shaman stands as a constant reminder that I do not and should never stand in a place of agency or authority. History has taught me the dangers of this kind of authority. The suffering caused by people and institutions who claim the special status of authority is well documented, and too well overlooked. Redleaf taught me that healing is an intelligence that is innate; it lives within the very fabric of the universe. To claim that we have agency over this actually makes us less capable of healing service. It is not so very different than someone in robes thumping their prayer book saying that you need them and their system to understand God.

At the heart of this teaching is the concept of becoming the ‘hollow bone’ … Grandmother would say to me, “Jeff I have no power, I possess no healing medicine, but the traditions have taught me where these things live.” Perhaps our task is to lean into our tradition, 100% without reserve. Perhaps our task is simply to practice, practice and practice more so that we may become clear and unencumbered by our past. This, say the wise traditions, is how we hollow ourselves out so that spirit can do its work through us. I am reminded of a teaching from St. Teresa of Aliva, who speaks of the hollow bone through the Judeo-Christian lens: Christ has no body now but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours, Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

I hope this sharing of Grandmother Red Leaf’s teaching inspires you to deeper self-inquiry and a new perspective on what it means to carry medicine.

jeffrey schmitt