Anima Definitions: Health & Healing

by on August 31st, 2008
8 CommentsComments

Health & Healing

blueriverswimhole2sm.jpgThe Sweet Medicine Sanctuary is a restored riparian wilderness, a river ecosystem made healthy again through the reintroduction of cottonwoods and willows, cattail and clump grass.  Ringtail cats cavort next to splashing muskrats, and fish make love under an expanse of heron wings.  It’s been nearly 3 decades since I first started excluding cattle from the land and replanting native plants.  With each new season, an increasing variety of plant life have made their way back home here, and every Spring comes the sound of yet another bird species I’ve never heard.  With every reintroduction the land becomes more of what it once was, and in this way, more itself.

Like this land, I too have sacrificed parts of myself, only to regain them through practice and prayer, personal insistence and the passage of time.  Things such as the willingness to laugh, and the ability to cry.  The honest depths of agony, and far extremes of joy.  My inner animal, and the reason for being.  The inclination to play, and the patience to stay.  It’s a good thing, because the longer I’m here, the better able I am to hear the will and whisperings of the Earth…. and more myself I am.

Of course, the walk downriver hasn’t always been easy.  Although some seasons I’ve leapt about, moving rocks for soil berms as if work had no weight, when I’ve been ill it hasn’t been so easy.  But in either case, I’ve never been truly healthier since coming here to home and purpose: knowing who I really am, what I most need to be doing, and where I most certainly belong.  Indeed, what is to be healthy, but to be whole: a balanced unity of gifts and needs, heart and mind, vision and action.  Gaia teaches that good health isn’t the absence of trauma or pain, but rather, the most complete embodiment of our authentic selves.  The depth of sensation, emotion and experience.  The fullness of expression and response.  The fulfillment of our passions and our purpose, our destiny and our dreams.   It’s how  we live, more than how long.  “Wellness” means living well: consciously and compassionately, artfully and purposefully.

The Anima Medicine Woman is adept at treating disease.  People come from all over for the healing effects of this place as well as Kiva’s insightful prescriptions and adept ministrations.  At the same time, it isn’t disease that makes us unwhole, for pain makes us more aware of our bodies and feelings, and the way both our lifestyles and our immediate environments are affecting us.  Suffering tempers our skills, tests our resolve, and strengthens our will.  Debility teaches us humility, and infirmity counsels patience.  The loss of one sensory organ leads to a heightening of the others.  At its worst, a deadly virus does nothing but return us to the earth we arose from, extend from, and belong to.  We are made unwhole not by death, but the failure to fully live.  By that which dilutes our focus, weakens our intention, or dishonors our spirit. That which makes us doubt our instincts and intuition, significance or value.  We are made unwhole by the suppression of our feelings, and the repression of our needs.  By the subjugation of our animal beings.  We have to give up certain aspects and components of our selves, in order to fit into society’s mold.  It is the loss or neglect of these parts that contributes to our greatest dis-ease: our imagined separation from the rest of the living world.  And with their re-membering and reclamation, we take the first of many steps towards the necessary cure.

Likewise, the Earth isn’t made any less — or any less healthy — by the eroding of mountain rock into fertile valley soil, or the death of a cottontail in the jaws of a fox.  Or even the shredding of forests by an erupting volcano, which relatively quickly grow back.  Even the natural extinction of species is only a recycling of the parts into the whole, each pruning back resulting in a new burst of growth, an opportunity for new color and form.  To the degree that it is sickened it is not because of the annihilation of individual life forms, so much as the overall reduction of biological, cultural and topographical diversity.  The extincting of species for no reasons other than obliviousness and greed.  The appropriation of habitat, so there’s little place left for the wildlife to spring back.  The monocultures of agribusiness, and the genetic manipulation of life.  And it’s not just the killing off of native songbirds, but the hundreds of indigenous languages being lost to neglect.  The defacing of the planet with asphalt, and the defaming with plastics.  By our failing to notice Gaia’s every miracle and gift, every hint of wind, the opening of a sidewalk blossom, the dance of a floating leaf.  And by our forgetting to give thanks.  We make the world sick with our neglect of self and planet, the dishonoring of Spirit, and the conceptual and physical dismembering of the which was one.

We say the “integrity” of a structure is compromised, and perhaps made unsafe, if any portion is degraded or removed.  It is the same with a person or an ecosystem. The health of people or places increases with the diversity and magnitude of their expression.  Thus any reduction in diversity impinges on the integrity of the whole— and the role of the activist becomes one not only of resistance but restoration and reimmersion.

oldbottles1tweaked-sm.jpgIt all starts with us literally “coming to our senses.”  Our creature senses are organs of reintegration, and when opened and heightened they bring the world we’re integral to even closer.  It is taste that can stir our gratitude, sight that can awaken awe, touch that can mend the imagined separation between body and soul, self and place.  Touch, through which we feel.  Touch that heals.   Our sensory and emotional contact inspires the protection, nourishment and celebration of that which we’ve engaged.  Our future personal, social and ecological health may hinge on our personal integrity, and the surviving integrity of the natural world that we love.  For us, to be reintegrated is to be accepted back within the identity of the earthen whole, to exist and act in harmony with tribal human community and the community of nature.

We commit ourselves to learning how to make medicines and heal with herbs, good food and real magic in our quest to stay physically well and able… but we understand that real health is a state of being at one with the needs, expression and spirit of not only our physical and energetic beings, but with the living breathing Earth as well – engaged in the endless adventure and fulfillment of our awakened lives.  By learning to wholly be aware, wholly serve, we intentionally rejoin the Whole.  And it is through this bringing back together of disparate and damaged parts – of self and planet — that we never have to feel apart again.

-By Jesse Wolf Hardin

(To learn more about whole-istic healing, consider applying for an Anima studentship at

Feel free to copy and share this essay as you like. 

Categories: Practicing Animá Lifeways


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  • [...] check out his wonderful piece on Health and Healing over at the Anima [...]

  • You write so eloquently, Wolf, I wanted to thank you. I found your writings through Kiva’s work and your words speak volumes. We share a decade and maybe a philosophy yet we have emerged from different continents with different outcomes. I applaud your activities in returning your part of the world to its natural state. I have a very tiny part of England which I also designate as a sanctuary and encourage others to experience its peace and magic. You have a mighty, rushing river and herds of deer whilst I have a spring which becomes a small stream before it meanders away into the valley. Occasionally I am visited by a single roe deer but it is more likely the trails are made by foxes and badgers whilst owls and buzzards fly overhead. We are both healers, supporting others to develop skills they only dreamed about. Through your teachings and writings you wake the consciousness of many. I wish you well, in health, through challenges, both now and in the future

  • Your writing here gives me a lot of courage today. Thank you.

  • “it isn’t disease that makes us unwhole, for pain makes us more aware of our bodies and feelings, and the way both our lifestyles and our immediate environments are affecting us.”

    If this insight were more widely considered, it’d do wonders for the well being of us all. I’ve seen folks who were very physically ill who were far “healthier” in the sense of being present and who they were than people “in peak physical condition”.

    Wellness is more truly gauged by presence, connection to self/purpose/community, and integrity than by the presence of absence of more superficial things like infection, inflammation, or wear and tear.


  • God has blessed you. I’ve seen it and lived it the other way. I like your way.
    I’ve always known in my heart that it is the right way.

    I’ve got some decisions to make at the age of 61.

  • megan

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  • Kiva has explained the blog comment process to me for the third time, the benefit being discovering your comments here. Thank you everyone, for taking the time to leave these words and feelings. I believe in doing this and all good work as if no one will ever hear or make use of what’s shared… but that makes it all the more satisfying to hear of hearts touched and alliances shared. Thank you Megan, and Cathy.

    Dave, at every age the choices, cost (depth of consequence) and blessings remain much the same. How to embody, manifest and maximize our true selves in ways that best serve our whole selves and the rest of this world. Whether you are deciding about health treatments, whether to stick with a career, who to live or work with, or even whether or not to get time in the hammock, the criteria is also at best the same: Does what we choose to do best serve our spirits, growth and purpose? And does it best help us give to the world, best fulfill our most meaningful purpose? Talk about resonse-ability…

    Jim McDonald, it’s good to hear from you indeed. My worthy obsessions leave me no darn time for extra correspondence or I would long ago have written you. I’ve enjoyed hearing quotes from you from Kiva, insights and understandings I can heartily affirm, and pithy forum comments that make me smile as they stir whatever herbal stew. The combination of strength/clarity and sensitivity/caring is rare enough among both genders, but nearly absent (apologies) among men. I would enjoy reading any of your developing work, providing feedback only if asked. Maybe we can find a way to work together someday, but then we already share an essential project.

    Sarah Head, a delightful note! It somehow means even more to help inspire or in any way equip our allies already doing the work, than to first lift the eyes and open the hearts of the unaware. And as far from the masses of society and their thinking that we are, through sharings like yours we feel less alone. We have more to offer because we have contracted with and married place, lying intimate with a particular spot through its changes and ours. As important as the writing and teaching are, all conscious souls are in need of dirt beneath the nails connection to the land and its seasons, giving ourselves what we describe and promote to others, finding and then cleaving to and helping nourish and rewild a home. Also, it is a challenge for me just to sleep when I have so many wonderful and needed things to do, a mission of global proportions and ideas for art that won’t go away… and thus my (our) mission becomes also to be nourished, to savor, and to stay.

    I will start checking these comments more, now that I can’t claim ignorance. Now on to the kid’s book layout, books in progress, submittals, land chores and – yes – a non productive but sweet and crucial swim with Rhiannon in the beaver pond.

  • heh… mutual admiration society…

    I’m sure our paths will cross in time; I’d love to teach with kiva someday and would really love to wade my feet into that river, and would likewise enjoy a chat with you as well. Somewhere online I’ve come across some of your writing on the notion of the green/wild/true nature of masculine energy, which I deem a damn fine presentation, which sits with me better than a lot of other attempts to convey what male energy really is.

    My writings are currently too scattered by the trails blazed by the little ones to be in a perusable state, but certainly when I get back on the ball they’ll find their way out to anima…

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