Village Medicine. The words came to me in the middle of Long Island Sound taking the ferry from Port Jefferson, New York to Bridgeport, Connecticut. One of my dearest friends, Paulette, had died a few days before after years of suffering metastatic colon cancer. Her husband had called me earlier in the week to say that she was nearing the end of her time. I made the four hour drive north and arrived shortly before she slipped into a coma.

Across Long Island Sound, another of my dearest friends, Sharon Simone, was in the underworld of treatment for Stage 4 metastatic pancreatic cancer. She too had called several days before Paulette’s husband, asking if I would come to be with her for what she anticipated would be a particularly difficult few days. Of course, I’ll come, I had told her.

I had been called to two places at once. I called Sharon and told her that I would be traveling to be with Paulette as she passed and said that I would somehow find a way to be with her as well.

Paulette did not want to die. Some of her last words to me were, “They tell me I’m dying.” She wasn’t sure she knew how to die, how her soul would respond when her body finally let go. When she entered a coma, I listened. I travelled to those places that I’d come to know over the years of dropping down in meditation, of entering the dream world while still awake. If I sensed fear, I sang. If I felt Paulette confused, I spoke words of quiet direction, “Take the next step. Look around.” Mostly we were quiet together. Her husband and daughter and I set up an altar by her bed now in the living room. Her favorite beings were there – whale and bear, an angel, and the land and spirit of the southwest that she loved so much. We sang. We laughed and told stories. Paulette was taking her time, much as she had done when looking at art in a museum, staying with a piece or a painting long after her companion had lost patience and ventured into another room.

There are moments when time slows down, when every detail is attended so closely that years lift into a moment, and the future breathes in you alongside the present. Here time and distance melt and places close and far dwell together. In this vast spaciousness, I was now also with Sharon. I had not known how I would be able to be with her, but there we were together. I stepped into the yard and called her. She said she could not explain it but she knew without a doubt that I was with her, and that she was also with Paulette.

Village Medicine. As I traveled across the water of Long Island Sound I saw the village. There was Sharon, our dear friend Karen, and our mentor, Deena. There were the many years of friendship we shared, and the countless months and hours we had all spent actively listening for a healing path forward in the midst of Sharon’s illness.

There was a dream from years before where I was invited to join a circle which had gathered around a patient for healing. A teacher asked me to listen for my death song which I knew somehow was also my life song, and then to sing that song into the heart of the person in the middle of the circle. He then asked all of us to sing our songs together. As our voices rose and fell, a cascade of melody and sound swirled around and above us. Each voice was distinct yet all our sounds together created music that came from somewhere simultaneously within and beyond us.

In the dream, I realized that we were surrounded by rainforest. The plants and trees had been dry and bare, but now I saw that the leaves were beginning to grow and the flowers were beginning to open in a whirl of tropical color. Birds from everywhere had begun singing. The rainforest was waking up. The patient in the center was healing. There was no separation. Everything and everyone was healing together.

There are moments when attending so fully to one member of the village, the whole village is present. The space of Medicine is that big. Nothing is excluded. Not the whale and bear on Paulette’s altar, not Sharon across the water, not the desert land of Arizona, not the shrinking rainforest.

The still point of Village Medicine I witnessed on Long Island Sound was only a glimpse, but it was real. Wrote Sufi poet Kabir: “Kabir saw this for fifteen seconds and it made him a servant for life.” Medicine is not merely a potion that is prescribed, though that is sometimes part of the landscape. It is a vast territory, a village of possibility, human and plant and animal, earth and sky, element and ancestor and spirit. The Village is an infinite net of relationship, tended and tweaked over years and generations. It is a realm where every being from bird to human to rock is a listening presence following the pulsating direction of the web itself and therefore contributing the precise offering that is asked for in the moment.

A few months after Paulette’s death, I drove north again to visit with Sharon during one of her chemo infusions at the cancer center in Connecticut. As we waited for the nurse to deliver the bag of chemo, Sharon spoke of her love for the rivers of her childhood in Colorado: the Platte, the Colorado, the Rio Grande, the Arkansas, the Gunnison. We talked about how we could no longer drink from their rivulets, how the damming of rivers had changed habitat, fish migrations and water flow. I began singing a River Song, first the melody followed by many improvised verses over and over. River, in her many forms, began to feel more and more present in the little treatment room. When the nurse arrived with the bag of chemo, I instinctively took the bag in my hands and began singing to it, thanking it, asking for its healing power and inviting the presence of the rivers into the flow of the liquid soon to enter Sharon’s veins. Suddenly, there we were, nurse, patient and friend, holding hands, wordlessly and gratefully knowing that as surely as chemo was entering Sharon, so was the presence and power of the rivers she loved.

In this village, when one is ill, be it the rivers or a human with cancer, we all become the patient. When ancestors and dreams rise up to guide us we listen and when the sometimes relentless quaking trauma of a disregarded earth rattles us, we gather for healing so that the future generations of all beings may thrive.

When we attend this way, with moment–by–moment awareness and precision, recognizing that every gesture of every being is capable of healing, we enter the vast terrain of possibility and even miracle.

Such is the reality of Village Medicine.

About the Author

For many years, Lawrie Hartt has apprenticed to the teachers, ancestors, and beings who have come in her dreams. A counselor, teacher and writer, she gathers circles of community rooted in learning how to live in reciprocity with our human and non–human kin. Though in her earlier life she served as an Episcopal priest and trained as a classical pianist, she remains most at home in the world of improvisation.

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