by Dr. S Alexander Alich

“I spent my last night sitting at the Sundance Tree. The ceremony had ended and people were slowly packing their cars and beginning their long journeys home. I was filled with gratitude for all I had experienced. I knew it would take a long time to fully realize all that had taken place in the dance arbor. But for all that I had been gifted, and all that I had seen, my central question still remained, how could I heal the split between spirit and medicine that I perceived in my daily work at the hospital and bring that idea into the world?” – from the story of FoxFire June, 1988

The concept of life force is not new. Less than 100 years ago it was still common knowledge that a single animating force runs through all life what you may call Chi or Spirit. In many medical schools today though, not only is it taught that no such force exists , but you’ll probably find yourself laughed at for even mentioning it. Why did we get rid of spirit? Where did this idea go? How has our health been affected?

Luckily many indigenous cultures have not thrown away this idea. They hold the worldview that there are five aspects of each human being. The mind, body, heart and spirit which enable us to live on this earth and the soul which transcends human experience. Disease is seen as first arriving as an imbalance in the spirit. Knowledgeable practitioners who can perceive and work with the spirit are highly regarded in their communities. If the imbalance is not treated while in the spirit it will move into the mind, the heart and eventually into the body where it can manifest as a disease and cause a great amount of suffering and fear. Healing is seen as the path that the imbalance must take out of the person – the reverse of the way it came in.

When we threw away the idea of spirit we threw away what my Native American teachers referred to as medicine or the possibility to completely heal. Many people I meet and work with have been through an enormous amount of physical and physiological healing, overcoming the most challenging of illnesses only to feel not completely well or finished. Most of the time I find that their spirit has not healed or was left out of the process completely.

Scientific thinking is meant to investigate the natural world. Science and analytical exploration has helped end superstition and many forms of suffering. It was however, never meant to study the realm of the unseen or supernatural world. The gift of science helps us to question, study and seek answers within our daily lives and work. It can also help us to ground theoretical information into practical use.

Shamans as well as artists are the natural investigators of the supernatural or unseen realms. Like their scientific counterparts, shamans seek to discover new ideas and ways of solving problems but specialize in matters of the spirit.

Bringing these two fields together in a way that benefits everyone is what stands in front of the next generation of health practitioners. They are challenged with not only being scientifically correct but of reinstalling the humanity that went missing in medicine years ago.