A few weeks ago, along with my colleagues from the Turtle Island Project (www.turtleislandproject.com) we conducted an experiential workshop entitled, Creating Healing Ceremonies. The group, comprised of Western and Native American healers, believes that ceremonies provide the structure by which people get in touch with their feelings, the place the human spirit dwells.
We asked participants to bring along a sacred object (not necessarily a religious one); something that held special significance for them. During the workshop, we imbued those sacred/symbolic/totemic objects with new power. Using the language of neuroscience, myths, and ceremonies, we explored the many ways to influence the healing process.
Brenda, a woman and her 40’s, was a participant, and had completed a yearlong treatment program for a metastatic cancer of the sinus cavity just three weeks earlier. She came to this weekend to celebrate the end of a torturous regimen of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, which left her hairless, without saliva or taste, weak and tiring easily. She came to this weekend a scarred warrior who wanted to celebrate the end of treatment.
We set the stage for her healing ceremony by telling the story of the Native American Sundance ceremony; where warriors offer their flesh as a sacrifice ensuring their survival as individuals, tribe and as a planet. Then we created a healing mask for Brenda as she lay down on a long table holding her sacred object on her chest. A Native medicine woman (one of the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers) blessed the space and prepared her face; I applied a plaster cast to her face leaving the eyes uncovered. While the mask was drying, the other participants circled around the table holding their sacred objects listening to the drumming and singing of Sundance songs. The participants danced slowly around the table so that each one could look directly in Brenda’s eyes as they touched and whispered to her, filled her mask with the healing power of their love and investment in her continued health.
This is how Brenda described it…I closed my eyes as the mask was being made. The water from the plaster strips dripped into my eyes ears and neck and back of my head. I can still feel the healing waters on my skin I thought about the rigorous treatment over the past year and how I learned about a will to live through the toughest time of my life. The entire year was transforming from being sick to being healed, and this mask represented all that I was about to become.
When the mask was done and the drumming and singing started, I saw the entire group dancing around me; I saw their sacred objects, and felt their hearts through their eyes and touch. They held my hand, touched my feet and said prayers over my head. I was able to see deeply and feel the healing. People leaned over the table to look at me through my mask with the most loving eyes I have ever seen. I could see and be seen like never before. These objects danced, people danced and I completely felt the love my heart was touched so deeply as I thought to myself “they are all doing this for me”. This is the love that I felt during my treatment and it is a love that could only come from the Great Spirit. It is the true essence of healing.
After the mask dried the group decorated it with their own hair, beads, drawings, stones and feathers. Brenda said, “I can still hear the beautiful voices and feel the gentle healing touch I can see the people and sacred objects dancing around me and I feel so alive. I still don’t know my story will give the experience the power that it deserves, but I do know that I am truly blessed”