Mind Over Medicine: An Algonquin Elder’s Perspective
Can a “dead” arm come back to life because of the unshakable belief that it will, even when a specialist says the nerve damage is irreversible? What if chronic illness that pills and surgery cannot fix can be healed with positive beliefs, loving relationships, and spirituality? What if the stuff our modern western society tells us to do to stay healthy isn’t really the secret sauce to vitality and longevity? The following guest blog post by Julie Comber explores these ideas in an interview with Albert about Dr. Lissa Rankin’s new book, Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself. A video with highlights of this interview is posted here.
Julie: It’s my pleasure and a privilege on this beautiful Spring day in Ottawa to interview Albert, an Algonquin Elder from Kitigan Zibi (two hours North of Ottawa) about Mind Over Medicine. Albert is a poet, writer, spiritual advisor, and speaker. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather talk with about this book! First, I’ll give a brief overview.
Mind Over Medicine is a compilation of the mind-blowing data Dr. Rankin compiled from the scientific literature on healing, and a guide on how to apply this knowledge to optimize your own healing. Dr. Rankin suggests we can create our own Diagnosis, and then write our own unique Prescription to heal ourselves.
Albert, can you tell us your own story about your accident, and how you healed from it?
Albert: Sure. It was about 22 years ago when I was a bricklayer, and I was on a gristmill’s roof, and the roof buckled. I fell 43 feet and landed on my feet, but I crushed two vertebras, and cracked two vertebras above and below the crushed ones. I had four inches of collapsed nerve in my left arm, and the specialist said it would never come back. I broke my right heel and left ankle. So I had a lot of injuries, but I wasn’t paralyzed, and I was grateful for that. My left arm though was paralyzed, and they said that’s the way it would be for the rest of my life. And if I had believed that doctor, my arm would still be paralyzed. But I thought, “that’s a doctor’s opinion.” I knew I had Ancestors in the Spirit World who knew medicine, and that they would have a different opinion. I could make a request for them to come by my side and help with my arm. And as you can see, obviously that’s what happened, because my arm did come back. It was because of my belief that the physical can communicate with the spiritual. In the Spirit World, the spiritual will respond, and help you out. These relatives in the Spirit World love you. If you make a sincere, humble, respectful request of them, they will do whatever they can for you.
Julie: Along with your spiritual beliefs, you mentioned you did a Ceremony with an Elder you respected. Could you talk a bit about that?
Albert: Yes, there was an Elder here from Northern Quebec, and he was visiting at a friend’s house. I wasn’t worried about my back. It was sore and I was wearing a body brace, but I was moving. I was worried about my arm, which was still paralyzed. He said to go with him, and we went to Lanark County, because he said it was rich in medicines. We would be driving along, and we’d pull over, and he’d go into the forest and lay some tobacco down, and go get some root, herb or bark. Once he had enough medicines, we went back to his friend’s house, and he boiled up these medicines. He did a smudging ceremony from the basement right up to the top of the house, and in every room. Then I drank the brew. He brought out his drum and sang a song… After the ceremony, the Elder asked me if I believed that my arm would get better. I said I did. And he said, “because it will.” And it did.
Julie: Along with believing in the ceremony, you told me you also visualized your arm moving again…
Albert: That’s right. Because my back was broken, I spent a lot of time in bed, and I had this body brace on. Whenever I did exercises, I had a soup thermos that I would put in my left hand. Because I had that body brace on, whenever I moved my shoulders, my whole body moved, and it would make the soup thermos move up and down. But I was saying in my mind, “it’s me making my left hand move,” as opposed to it being because of moving my shoulders. I kept telling myself that.
Julie: It was like you were training your body, like a physical visualization of your arm moving again.
Albert: For sure, and I never doubted it would move again.
Julie: What do you think about one of the main arguments in Dr. Rankin’s book, that what you think and what you believe really affects your health, and positive beliefs can improve your chances of healing?
Albert: My spiritual beliefs tell me that these are our relatives, these trees here. There’s a Willow tree, and this is an Elm, and there is water here, too. Those are our relatives. When you really believe that we are surrounded by relatives, then we are never really lonely, and we are never far from help. Because a relative will help a relative, that’s my belief. Right now I can see an ant or spider coming down that tree trunk, that’s a relative. Those birds singing, those are our relatives. They offer something. If you really believe it and you make your request of them, you can heal. Because they are so strong in medicine, all these things.
Julie: Dr. Rankin writes a lot in the book about the stress response, and how this stress response switches off our body’s natural ability to heal. She gives tips on how to counteract the stress response and bring about the relaxation response. Could you please comment on the role spending time in Nature can have in promoting the relaxation response?
Albert: Well, shortly after my accident, I woke up one day and had a memory of a place I used to swim when I was a teenager. There’s falls, there’s rapids, and a swimming hole there. I’d bring my pipe with me, and I would go and communicate with my relatives. There were birds, bees, spiders, otters and beavers. And the rapids, the falls, the energy of the river, the wind. I would meditate on my predicament and why I needed healing. Because this was only a few years after I began my life of sobriety. I had a severe alcohol addiction. It was the starting point for me, that special place, that support, and the energy of that special place. It made me heal mentally, physically, emotionally, and I grew stronger spirituality as well… I would sit in the rapids, and it was like the spirit of the river was giving me a massage. And I would also lay on the ground on my sore back. Because Mother Earth, the clay, is healing. When animals are wounded, they press their wound to the earth.
Julie: In the final part of the book, Dr. Rankin encourages people to take all this research that she did, and apply it to their own healing. She suggests we write our own Diagnosis, and she has a series of questions in the book to help us come up with this Diagnosis. And then she advises that we write our own Prescription (and act on it!). And that may include all the conventional things, like pills and surgery, but it will likely include spending more time in Nature, healing relationships, etc. So it’s a very holistic approach to healing. Do you have any comments on this idea of writing your own Diagnosis and Prescription?
Albert: That’s exactly what I did after my accident. And to start my life of sobriety, too.
Julie: Dr. Rankin writes in the book, especially in Chapter 10, “6 Steps to Healing Yourself,” that you really need to “find the right team of people to sit at your healing round table” to support your healing, so that you are not alone. She wrote this team may be composed of doctors, alternative healthcare providers, and loved ones. For her, the key things about this team is that each person must truly believe you can heal, have your best interest at heart, have a positive outlook on your healing, and each team member must respect each other, even if they do not agree with each other. When we talked about this idea, you felt there were other beings, not just living humans, who could be added to this team.
Albert: Yes, we call it having a Spirit Helper. I have several. The robin is an important one for me, but the robin is not here all year. So I also have partridge, rabbit, hawk, cranes, and herons. And as long as they are there, then I’ve got a lot of help. They are part of my team. Most definitely my Ancestors are on my team, too, and friends. I have a big need to just be able to call up a friend and say, “lets’ go do dinner.” I get a lot out of that. And I believe in Ceremony (with my team).
Julie: Its been great talking about Mind Over Medicine with you! Anything else to add?
Albert: I’d just like to say that I stand proudly in my own Aboriginal spirituality, and I also stand behind anything that brings healing to anyone. I think reading Mind Over Medicine will help people understand how to heal themselves. Words fashioned together in a good way are healing, and I appreciate how Dr. Rankin is using her words to help heal individuals and to heal modern medicine, too. I agree that modern medicine has ignored the importance of the patient’s own belief that she or he can heal. Modern medicine has ignored the importance of so many parts of our lives that truly keep us healthy and happy, like our spirituality, the quality of our relationships, and the kind of work we do.
The fact that I can use my arm again is my own “scientific proof” that we can heal ourselves. I believed I would have feeling again in my arm, visualized it being healed, I had faith in the Ceremony of an Elder, and I knew that my own Ancestors would help me heal. And I did heal. I wish Dr. Rankin very well and I hope many people read her book.