Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
December 2019 - Volume 19, No. 12
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Nearby Healing Gifts & A Christmas Memory

(What we need may already be nearby)

There are often things we don’t know, yet often from deep within, we know. 

There are moments in life when we encounter some information or knowledge, only to realize “Wait, it’s as if I’ve already known that!”

Local Medicine

Many years ago (actually about 25) I attended a workshop with a teacher, Eliot Cowan[1], who had spent much of his life studying the healing properties of plants. His ‘home territory’ and therefore the location of his expertise was the American (US) Southwest and northern Mexico. I took away from that weekend two primary lessons.

1) First, in the ways of traditional medicine, it’s the spirit of the plant that is the healer, not necessarily just the chemistry of the plant. Therefore the healer is in contact with the spirit of the plants he or she works with. In simple terms, the healer talks with the plants. A common parallel is the practice of many among us to say a blessing over our food before we eat it.  

When I take “my pills” (I’m old enough to have at least a few), I consider there’s a connection between what comes to me from my pharmacy, and the world of nature - and especially the healing spirits of the plant world.  And so to remember (re-member) and maintain that connection, I’ll pray something like this: 

“Bless this medicine to the nurture of my body and my soul, bless the land, the creatures, the human hands by which it comes, that it may remember its source, and from that source bring me a healthy body, a full and prosperous life, and a pure heart….”

I sometimes wonder if my medications would be more effective if before they leave the ‘pill factory’ there would be a sacred elder man or woman blessing them so the ‘spirit’ of healing isn’t lost in the stainless steel behemoth of Big Pharma they must endure to get to me.

In a sense, everything is in place except for a blessing to keep the path open. And we can add that ourselves (locally) at no extra price.

2) At that workshop, the question arose - do we have to travel to the Southwest to get the healing plants he knew so well? His response was “no.” Since it’s the spirit of the plants that carry the healing power, those same spirits will find for themselves a ‘local’ plant in which to reside on our behalf.  

So the art of plant medicine is that we school ourselves well about our ‘local’ plants, our local healers.  One of my best resources for local plant medicine has been a woman named Osahmin, whom I’ve known as a friend for many years. A few years ago she put ‘all she knew’ into a book[2]. Again so the teaching - what we need remains close by.

I began this article with the title ‘What we need may already be nearby’. And I made reference to the healing gifts which the world of nature has available for us. But it’s more than just nearby ‘nature’ that has gifts for us. The ‘nearby’ can be people.  

When in Doubt - check for local resources

When first preparing this Newsletter, I was making a rather lengthy list of personal examples of local healing resources and gifts. But then one came to memory, and just wouldn’t let go. So I finally left my list behind, and focused on a particular Christmas gift teaching that I received year after year in my childhood. Perhaps this is where I gained so much regard for ‘local’ healing gifts.

“This Way to Christmas”

I’ve mentioned in other places that my mother was an accomplished story-teller. And Christmas stories from around the world were her favorites. One resource in particular, was a book by the story-teller Ruth Sawyer, called “This Way to Christmas.”[3]  It’s a rich collection of more than a half dozen Christmas tales from around the world.

The connecting narrative is the story of David, a city boy age “eight going on nine” who one Fall found his life terribly turned upside down. He was looking forward to Christmas as usual with father and mother, the boys on the block, and all the usual things - when his world was suddenly taken away from him. Circumstances called his father and mother to Europe, where they were needed in the war country (this book was first published in 1916). David was himself sent off into the safekeeping of his former Irish nursemaid Johanna and her new husband, now winter caretakers of a large summer hotel in the mountains. Far away from any Christmas.

In this loneliness, David found himself visiting the homes of various individuals from other countries, themselves living isolated and scattered among the surrounding Hill Country. And in each home David found and gave new friendship, and was given the gift of a Christmas story from their own heritage.

My mother would read us (me, my sister and younger brother) this book from beginning to end every Christmas. I have no memory when she began or when it ended for me. It was just “every year.” Also she would memorize many of the stories themselves to tell in other places around where we would be living. So I literally grew up with them. 

From this book, I grew up with a knowledge and appreciation of ‘local’ healing gifts. My mother was herself an immigrant in childhood, and both my mother and father were quick to make and develop at least a few deep and often life-long friendships wherever we were living. 

Two concluding remarks.

It seems I’ve almost written two separate documents here - one on “local medicine” and one a Christmas narrative. For me they’re connected, and I hope the connection works for you.

1) So often what we want and need, as well as resources for our own healing, can be found ‘locally.’  And those of us who have moved about in life, bring gifts from those journeys for the folks now around us.  

2) So often the stories that come to us as gifts, are ‘told’ stories, not ‘read’ stories. My mother was a story teller. She would probably initially read them from a book, but would memorize them before telling them. In my own storytelling, I will let the story that I have carried within me, come out of my mouth, and into your ears, where they then pass through your brain to your heart. Then in the retelling, they come from your heart, through your mouth and into the ears of another one who hears.  

And if you would purchase Ruth Sawyer’s book (still available), listen to your reading, and if opportunity allows read it aloud to someone else. The book comes from a story teller.

Healing can come from receiving and telling stories.

Healing can come from resources that are nearby.

And know, often from deep within,

We are never alone.

Pay Attention.  


[1] A more recent resource from this teacher comes in his book:
Eliot Cowan, Plant Spirit Medicine: A Journey into the Healing Wisdom of Plants (April 1, 2014) - available from Amazon.

[2] Judith Meister - Osahmin, The Spirit of Healing: A Journal of Plants & Trees (December 13, 2010) - available from Amazon.
Sadly, and after a time of ill-health, Osahmin passed away from us this past March (2019). We were age-mates, and delighted in each other’s company.  We had shared numerous campsites and meetings together over the three-dozen years of our friendship and cameraderie. I miss her also as a source of plant and tree wisdom. My original spiral-bound copy of her book, has long been baptized by various coffee stains.

[3] Ruth Sawyer, This Way to Christmas New York: Harper & Brothers, New York, 1916, 1952. It’s still (or again) in print after 103 years, and available through Amazon for $7.99. Go buy yourself a copy.

Comments (1)

  • Another memory

    The story I remember the most was the one about the shoemaker??(I think) whose cupboard was bare and it was Christmas eve and the tradition was to give something to the babe in the manger at the cathedral. Healing in so maky ways for me.

    — Alice Austin, 12/16/2019

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Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

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