(An excerpt from The Medicine Bag, a new book by bestselling author Don Jose Ruiz)
Every spring my father, my brother, Miguel Jr., and I travel to Sedona, Arizona, for an annual event called the Gathering of the Shamans. Just a short distance from the Grand Canyon, the area that is now called northern Arizona is sacred to many Native American tribes, including the Hopi, Yavapai, Havasupai, and Navajo.
If you ever visit, it’s easy to see why. The red rocks of Sedona are a unique combination of beauty and power. Home to many vortexes (energy centers), Sedona has long been a destination for seekers to help accelerate inner exploration, meditation, and healing. The more well-known Grand Canyon stretches on for over 220 miles, having been carved into its breathtaking and dramatic shape by the movement of the Colorado River over the course of millions of years. The canyon leaves thousands of visitors each year speechless with awe in the face of the sweeping dance of earth and sky, and the immeasurable power of water to wear down seemingly immovable stone. Its sheer immensity is at once humbling and inspiring.
While seeing this magnificence of Sedona or the Grand Canyon can stop the thinking mind in its tracks, you don’t need to travel to northern Arizona to experience the beauty and benefits of communing with nature. Nature is all around us—it is the literal air we breathe and water we drink, and we are in no way separate from it. We are nature, and nature is us. To be human is to be a part of all life—complex, evolving, interconnected. To live in a way that reflects the truth that all life is fundamentally connected is to walk the path of the shaman.
Because it is life, the natural world is replete with power that both creates and destroys. Water may arrive in the form of life-giving rain, or terrifying floods. Fire may cook our food and keep us warm through winter, or it may decimate entire forests. A cooling breeze may be welcome on a hot summer day, but tornadoes and hurricanes wreak unimaginable damage every year. And earthquakes shake our strongest buildings, even as we depend on the stable earth beneath our feet every single day. For these reasons and more, nature deserves our gratitude and our respect.
Nature is also a great healer. Even modern science is catching up to this ancient wisdom in measurable ways. The New York Times reported in 2018 that a variety of small studies have suggested that exposure to trees and plants may strengthen the human immune system, and also lower stress hormones and blood pressure. This would be no surprise to the shamans of my family’s tradition, especially my grandmother, who taught us a powerful ceremony to tap into the energy of trees that she often used in her healing work.
She would point out that fallen branches and leaves, which are often considered “trash” in the modern world, are important symbols of the power of nature. They have grown through the power of Mother Earth and Father Sun; they have been caressed by wind and drank deeply of the water. The thinking mind very often takes for granted nature’s unmatched ability to create. Even the most incredible structures or fascinating technology built by humans can never compete in complexity with a single leaf. For this reason, I would like to begin this chapter on nature with a ceremony based on what she taught us.
Communing with Nature
Prepare and gather:
- A jar, bottle, or thermos filled with water
- A small garden trowel for digging (optional)
To begin, find a quiet place in nature where you can be alone and undisturbed for at least thirty minutes. While the more remote, the better, this can be done in your backyard as well. Collect two or three small branches that have fallen from the trees nearby, ones that have some leaves still on them.
Once you have gathered a few branches with leaves, place them in a small pile in front of you. Take a few moments to reflect on how these branches came to be and what they represent: it all started with a seed, which took root in Mother Earth, was christened by life-giving water, touched by the warmth and light of Father Sun, nurtured by the air, and grew up, extending toward the sky. Think of how important the leaves are in the process; they take in the water, photosynthesize energy from the sun, and pull in carbon dioxide from the air. Now they have fallen to the earth, where they will decompose and help fertilize the soil for new growth to occur. These branches are miracles, representative of the power of life and Mother Nature. These branches are symbols of life and its cycles.
Next, open your container of water and pour a small amount over the branches, including the leaves. Let the water soak in for a few moments, and then say the following mantra:
Let these branches embody this truth:
that all things in nature make their way in cycles,
transforming from one thing into the next,
forever and ever, for always and right now.
I thank them for their gifts, for sharing their energy and power,
and I return them to the earth they came from.
Next, remove some of the leaves and gently rub them up and down a small portion of your arms, inviting the power of nature into your heart. You are now communing with the branches, a symbol for all life, and welcoming their energy into you.
When you have finished rubbing the leaves on your arms, sit quietly for as long as you’d like, absorbing the sights, sounds, and smells of nature as you do so. This is your true home, the cradle for all life.
To close the ceremony, scoop some soil from the ground with your trowel and partially cover the pile of branches with it. In this way you are symbolically returning the branches to the ground. They don’t need to be fully buried, as nature will determine their best course. As you do so, offer a prayer of thanks and gratitude to these branches, and to all the elements of the natural world for making them possible.
You may choose to place a leaf in your medicine bag, and when you are in a big city or a place that seems far removed from the splendor of nature, it will be your connection. Or set it on your altar as a reminder of the awesome power of nature. One day this leaf will dry and crumble, and then you will know it is time to do this ceremony again.
Ready to read more about the healing and transformative power of ritual and ceremony?
To learn more about this book, and to read the foreword, introduction and Chapter One for free click here.