The Gift of Presence

I am in a hospital room with a dear brother, who is very ill. He is on bags of liquids that are streaming into thin plastic tubes that run into his body, seemingly keeping him alive. He is being fed through a tube that goes up his right nostril and into his stomach. He has had his colon rerouted to have his feces empty into a bag, and a catheter to go along with it. He is inundated with Dilaudid, an opiate 7x stronger than morphine, whenever he chooses to push the button connected to his PCA pump to wash his pain away, if only for a short while.

A doctor walks in as I am sitting beside his bed, and he says,

“Not looking so good today, are you?”

A short while later, a nurse outside speaks to his mother in law and says

“He is deteriorating…”

There is confusion and the strongest lack of communication between the multiple doctors and medical workers. One doctor walks in and suggests the use of a suppository while our friend here is with a colostomy. Another doctor comes in and begins to order a CAT scan, when he didn’t know our brother had gone through one 2 days ago (each scan is worth about a year of environmental radiation). Another doctor speaks to him and tells him he will be leaving today. The previous doctor tells him he can’t leave today and will leave tomorrow. Up, down, and all around.


This is a small taste of what it can be like in the chaos of a disease process in our current medical system. There are of course, the multitude of beautiful and kind souls who practice perfect patience and share their hearts… and this is not to be overlooked. Yet, it can pale in comparison to the strange and toxic relationship that some have experienced while in this cold building.

I walked into our brothers room and prior, I prepared myself. I had gathered myself in the car, centered and focused, I began to walk into the hospital. A maze of lefts and rights and elevators to here and there, I finally enter the room. I notice his heart rate is at 157; extremely high. His blood pressure and oxygen levels were also at extreme levels, rising and dropping into the red zones multiple times, letting out a disturbing electronic signal.

I brought a lot of things with me, unaware of his true state of health and consciousness. After feeling out the space and knowing that its potential benefits outweighed whatever strange judgements might come at me from the staff, I decided to ask his permission to sing a medicine song for him. He agreed, maybe a part of him hoping that anything will help him feel a bit of ease.

The shacapa is a bundle of leaves that is collected from a plant in Poaceae family (grass family) in South American traditional medicine. It may be Pariana radiciflora, but I am unsure as most local curanderos don’t know the latin names of the plants they are born knowing (and latin names seem not to affect medicinal potency as much as they help us to classify plants). Regardless, it is used in the ceremony space as a sort of shaker, keeping the rhythm going and also employed at times to touch the person being sung to directly, the leaves themselves having the reputation to wipe away negativity and densely stored emotions. Depending on how it is maneuvered, the energy can be experienced as a blend of cleansing, soothing, revitalizing, and lifting; something like a bird’s wings taking off very close to you.

I pulled a shacapa out of my travel bag and started to bring presence to our brother. I whistled in an icaro, a sacred medicine song, and began to shake the shacapa over his body, bringing myself more and more into a state of deep presence. Dancing the shacapa just over his body, going in circles, I sang like this for about 10 minutes.

When I was done, my body was buzzing and I knew it to be a good sign that I was connecting with what heals. I opened my eyes just as he opened his eyes and seemed to return back to his body… I looked up at his vitals on the LED screen. Everything had begun to normalize. His energy was returning to his face, he was calmer and relaxed. Verification of the invisible can be nice sometimes.

David Winston says “Anything that has the power to change you is medicine…” It can’t be any more true. I am still always moved by the simplicity of finding my center and singing a song that comes to me in that moment, and how effective it can be to myself and those who are in the space of such sounds.

So, do we need to all go out and learn medicine songs? Does everyone need to grab a shaker or make their own bundle of leaves to shake over their friends? Not at all. Coming back to Winston, he speaks to anything that has the power to change someone is medicine… Yes, and even before we start to analyze which gift is the one we can share in our lives, we can remember that there is a foundation! This foundation is presence, and it doesn’t matter what it is that ends up being our tool of transferring such a space, be it singing or speaking or even better, just listening, but just that it is not forgotten.

These doctors that I had experienced with their rushed and anxious energies… it could be that they have forgotten the primary act of their practice; Presence. It is how we do what we do that matters so imperatively! I don’t know that much about cancer. I don’t know that much about surgery or intense health conditions to begin with. Yet, I do know that how I feel and what I decide to say when I am around someone affects the space inevitably, in one way or another. We have a responsibility in this to manage ourselves in a conscious way, taking into consideration how we may influence those who are so very sensitive, and especially in times of illness or distress.

(take away)

How will I choose to hold myself in my daily life, knowing that even my own thoughts affect the space all around me and inevitably, the world at large?

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Two shacapas, freshly bundled and ready to use in ceremony.

What do you mean ‘connect to my food’?

You might know a friend who all of a sudden has a deep interest in knowing where their food comes from and with how much care is it raised. This is happening more and more as we are collectively recognizing the link between our It starts to bring one closer to the cycles that keep them alive in a state of wellness. In focusing on what nourishes us, we may then be able to see we can see the nourishment or lack thereof in our lives.

Here are a couple of ways to connect with what keeps us going.

1. It is of course important to reach out to your local farmers. Why do we want to eat local?

– It is fresher. Local means it didn’t have to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to get to your table. It also will taste better being that it was actually allowed to ripen instead of being harvested prematurely to make the voyage!

– You are eating your local bacteria. Yes, you get to consume the little beings that help the party out in your stomach.

– You are supporting your neighbors and creating relations. This is crucial in keeping the ball rolling because these farmers usually face the competition of large commercial producers.

Connect with actual farmer’s markets (don’t be afraid to ask folk where the food comes from!)

*** Being certified organic shouldn’t be the deciding factor for your dollars placement. Some folk can’t keep up with the costs of maintaining the certification, where others see the errors that are externalized. Finding people that grow food in an honest way is it.***


Papaya, glorious in it’s abundant ways

2. Start Gardening

Getting our hands in the soil is now a days considered a form of therapeutic activism. We are coming together over what we actually have in common and in that, there is much to be done. We are choosing in what conditions will our food grow. We are nourishing ourselves with wholesome foods. We are remembering our roots as human beings.

Have a yard or access to one?

-Grow perennial crops (plants that you dont have to replant every year)
-Grow cover crops
-Understand your local wild weeds
-Learn permaculture principles and approaches (see inhabit and PRI)
-If you use chemicals to control pests, find natural means to eradicate them or recognize that that plant may just not want to live in your region

All that good stuff being mentioned, still feeling challenged in starting a food forest in your apartment’s patio? Don’t know the difference between a tomato and a potato? Want to understand what plants you could eat when walking around? There are solutions!

One way is to reach out in our local area to see where the community gardens are located… We can get invested in a plot or volunteer and learn how it all functions and flows. We can meet our neighbors in the garden and share in the ways of learning from those with more experience than us.


Edible Hibiscus, a perennial green!


Wild weed Spanish Needle

3. Gratitude. I feel it is almost indicative of our current mainstream cultural disconnect to what is actually important when it seems we need to have lists such as this one. Bless us all!

There exists a multitude of ways to show gratitude for what keeps us going (I am reminded of Rumi’s “There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground”). It can range from the direct prayer and gratitude blessing, done by everyone at the table. Or it can be even a silent feeling of gratitude before touching the fork to the mouth, envisioning the journey your food has made to reach your plate. The spirit dance ain’t your style? Well, we can at least all agree that feeling gratitude for the plants and animals that keep us alive isn’t a bad thing to do… It relaxes us into digestion and brings presence to our activity. Thank the plants, thank the cook!

If you eat animal protein, consider its source and if it can be found closer to your home or if you are able to raise it yourself. Also, consider the frequency of meat consumption and if it is truly what your body needs (I am not advocating eating one thing over another for there are many variations of diets and it is good to respect the diversity).

Of all these steps listed, I feel that above having the privilege of choosing which foods to eat, practicing gratitude for whatever is able to make it to your plate is most important. There exists too many food deserts all around us and in bringing the community together through gardening and permaculture, I hope to bring more awareness to all those in need.

***In working in the vegetarian/vegan community for a few years, I came to find that even if one is eating a pure diet of ultra healthy conscious this’ and thats, it doesn’t mean you are all good to go on the holy road to liberation! There is still of course the behavior that happens all around our meal and its ordering i.e. how we treat others! So what if the body is running perfect if the mind and heart are sour?***

Further reading: The Yoga of Eating by Charles Eisenstein

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