Recently, I had the pleasure of giving a presentation at the University of New Mexico on integrating traditional healing practices into modern medicine. I was even more elated to learn that I would be sitting on a panel with Dr. Lori Arviso Alvord, M.D., the first female Navajo surgeon, as well as author of "The Scalpel and the Silver Bear." I also had the pleasure of meeting additional panelists Dr. Eliseo "Cheo" Torres, who has written two books on Curanderismo " Mexican Folk Healing." To say the least, we were a very interesting group of panelists. I think it is rather an amazing thing when healers from varies cultures can come together to share their traditional knowledge, as well as discuss how it can be integrated into modern medicine. Why is this amazing?....If you've ever met a medicine man/woman, you will quickly learn that they are very busy people. I'm not calling myself a traditional healer by any means, for that title takes years of apprenticeships and spiritual calling. However, to have "scholarly" individuals like ourselves interested in learning and sharing traditional knowledge, as well as integrating it, that is short of a miracle. I honestly felt truly honored to even be considered "knowledgable" on the level of these other two panelists....and yes I did have Dr. Alvord autograph my copy of her book. I would have had Dr. Torres sign a copy of his book for me as well, but I wasn't aware of his accomplishments before hand, otherwise I would have brought his book with me too!
Aside from being excited about presenting at this academic star studded event, it really allowed me to take an in-depth look at our Navajo teachings and what they really mean. I named the title of my presentation "Our Life Ways, " because that is really what they are. A set of values, teachings, stories, and basic necessities to live. What struck me the most about these teachings were that they were very basic and made a lot of sense. I didn't find them in a self help book that showed me how to reach enlightenment, but rather bits and pieces of oral history I had remembered throughout my life. I also had the pleasure of spending some time in Chinle, AZ, where I got to ask two medicine women about our Life Ways and what they mean. It has been quite an education and something that has really made me think about everything I do and what knowledge I will pass on to my children. Most importantly, I had to ask myself ..was I following our "Life Ways?"...and how was I going to integrate this knowledge into my care?
I think it's important to first acknowledge that Native Americans think differently and to remember that how we experience the world is through our traditional knowledge and teachings. Part of socially supporting our needs is to first give voice to our Life Ways and accept that it is who we are. Rather then trying to get us to fit into a medical model of care that is completely detached from our Life Ways efforts need to be made to use that knowledge to reach the positive health outcomes we are all striving for. Also, to be mindful that our teachings and healing practices have their own timeline. You can't necessarily take a pill and feel better tomorrow, nor can you learn all there is to know about health in a 20 minute office visit.
Here are a few basic Navajo values that I will share with you and I pray that they make you think a little deeper at what you are saying and who you are caring for.
Think and speak in a positive way
Our thoughts and language have the power to shape reality and control events.
Importance of relationships
Awareness & respect for interconnected systems in the universe
All living beings have a natural lifespan, and the cycle of birth, growth, maturation, and decline is essential to the worlds harmony.
Like I said, these are basic teachings, but filled with so much meaning. Don't get lost in the science, but rather respect and live by the meaning......
Here is a wonderful article that expresses what I mean by speaking and thinking in a positive way..
Setting up Realistic Expectations
Who We Are- Dine