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Coyote Wisdom

The Power of Story in Healing

Published by Bear & Company
Distributed by Simon & Schuster



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About The Book

An in-depth look at the therapeutic and transformative powers of storytelling in Native American and other cultures

• Explores how to create a healing state of mind using stories

• Includes healing stories from Native American traditions and other cultures from around the world

• By the author of the bestselling Coyote Medicine

Stories are powerful sources of meaning that shape and transform our lives. We tell stories to track our process of personal and spiritual growth and to honor and respect the journeys we have made. Through stories we are provided with experiences of spiritual empowerment that can lead to transformation.

In Coyote Wisdom, Lewis Mehl-Madrona explores the healing use of stories passed down from generation to generation in Native American culture and describes how we can apply this wisdom to empower and transform our own lives. A storytelling approach to transformation starts with how we were created and how we can re-create ourselves through the stories we tell. As we explore the archetypal characters and situations that populate the inner world of our stories, we can experience breakthroughs of healing and even miracles of transformation.

This approach to healing through stories runs counter to the current model of modern psychology. The stories we tell about ourselves may model our lives, but by introducing new characters and plots, we can come to see ourselves in a new way. The author also draws upon the cultures of other indigenous peoples--the Maori, East Africans, Mongolians, Aborigines, and Laplanders--to illustrate the healing use of stories throughout the world.


from Chapter 1

Creation Stories

. . . . I use creation stories to inspire people to uncover their own creation stories--the story about how their illness came into being. One of my favorites is the Hopi creation story. Since this is not a book about Native American stories but about how they are used for healing, I want to tell this story as I told it to Kathryn, a thirty-year-old woman with lupus.

To really hear a story and to absorb its fullness, we need to be relaxed. Our mind needs to be still. The brain circuits that make lists, plan our day, remember all of our errands becomes inactive during states of prayer and meditation. When this circuit is quiet, the right temporal lobe becomes more active. Our research has shown that an area in the right temporal lobe actually recognizes prayer even when the subject consciously does not. That area is very close to the area that recognizes language. We conclude that listening is very similar to praying, and that similar states of brain accompany both. My goal is to help the person enter this quiet, prayerful state to really listen to the story.

Having accomplished my preliminary goals, I began my story.

“Once upon a time, Kathryn, you were well. You remember that time though it seems like a long time ago. The birth of your lupus, was tumultuous, just like the Hopi story of the birth of the world, when the bellowing fire of the volcanoes and the roaring of the earth masses caused a huge tidal wave, and the winds began to laugh. Before you knew it, volcanoes were erupting in your knees and ankles. Pain roared in your hip joints. A huge tidal wave rolled over your kidneys throwing you into kidney failure. The wind blew across your face, scouring a terrible rash.

“This creation was nature at her best and her worst. The power of that display was awesome but the effects upon your life were devastating. Overnight, you were on an entirely different planet. Overnight, your life had changed. But, just as nature created the earth out of this turmoil, perhaps something good also came from the creation of your lupus that you will come to understand during the course of this story. Perhaps a part of you will begin figuring this out so you can tell us both later about ways that good can come from this illness.

“The creation of the lupus like the earth was both loving and angry nature. There were flashes of lightning and roaring of thunder, as earth was being born, like a new baby, crying and demanding. It must have been very much the same inside your body--flashes of light inside your joints, roaring of thunder inside your kidneys. All of your cells crying and demanding attention. And perhaps they still have needs to communicate to you. Perhaps already they are preparing messages to deliver about what they need to smooth over and soothe the disruptions of this illness.

. . . .They needed a song to actually bring about this Creation, a song that the created people could not forget, a song to keep inside themselves, lest they lose the way, else they would not survive. Similarly, you need a song to sing to your immune cells--song that could remind them of their ability to soothe themselves, to calm themselves. The younger of the twins wrote the song. Here is how the song begins (the other verses are locked inside you, inside each singing organ and dancing cell).

From the four corners of the universe:
From the East, for red is its color;
From the North, for white is its color;
From the West, for yellow is its color;
And from the South, for blue is its color;
Come the spirits and the ancestors;
Come the stones and the water;
Come the animals and birds, the plants and the water;
All to shape you; All to make you live.

“Perhaps, even as we speak, your inner healer is preparing a song that you can sing everyday to soothe your immune system.

“In our creation story, the counterclockwise motion of the Sun brought forth the four colors of the races of humankind and each of its leaders and its destinies. On still nights, on summer nights when lightning flashes silently in the distance, on winter nights covered with soft snow; and in the spring and fall when the leaves of the trees whisper, you can hear the song of creation. Even though they fought as was prophesied, someday they would unite. Then they will remember that Taiowa is their Spirit Father, Sotuknang is their adoptive one, and Spider Woman is the web that unites them all.

“As you sing your song, perhaps the intensity of the battle inside your body will abate somewhat, a little more each day in every way. Then you could imagine making peace with lupus and what that would look like.”

Creation stories such as this teach us where we came from and that we are free to make what we will. Collectively, we generate the tumultuous earthquakes, the erupting volcanoes, the tidal waves, the emerging mountains so tall they can be seen from far away. Through sacred forces barely understood, we collectively create the conditions of illness and of wellness--new challenges and new solutions for our perpetual improvement. Kathryn did devise a song to sing to her lupus.

Kathryn began singing to herself every day, participating in ceremony and ritual. She made the life changes I suggested. Her lupus disappeared. Twenty years later it is still gone.

About The Author

Lewis Mehl-Madrona, M.D., Ph.D., is a physician, associate professor at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine, and executive director of the Coyote Institute for Studies of Change and Transformation. The author of several books, including Narrative Medicine and Coyote Medicine, he lives in Orono, Maine.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Bear & Company (March 1, 2005)
  • Length: 240 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781591430292

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Raves and Reviews

". . . Mehl-Madrona shows how other forms of story have given his patients power, allowed for their transformation and healing, and shown them their connection with their community."

– Sharon Kayne, Crosswinds Weekly, June 2005

"There are few people who would not recognize some piece of their lives in each of these stories."

– Sharon Kayne, Crosswinds Weekly, June 2005

Coyote Wisdom is about soul and mind--the shared journey of healer and patient toward insights and images that break us out of our frozen-heart places and transform awareness, and thus permit us to let go of suffering. As a physician and one who also strives to heal patients, not just treat them, I honor Dr. Mehl-Madrona for achieving a practical clinical method in Coyote Wisdom that is woven from the artistry of storytelling in the tradition of his elders and his reverence for the healing power of universal myths.”

– James Lake, M.D., Chair, American Psychiatric Association Caucus on Complementary and Alternative Me

Coyote Wisdom is a gateway to understanding the importance of stories in rituals and ceremonies. Mehl-Madrona’s study of healers is a step forward in explaining the implicit wisdom that healers convey to help people get well. To journey with him is a way to be transformed and healed.”

– Barbara Biziou, author of The Joy of Everyday Rituals

“In this, his third book, Lewis Mehl-Madrona introduces systems narrative medicine, giving professional and lay readers alike a chance to learn the healing secrets of story from a master storyteller. Readers will finish the book inspired by the power of story as a catalyst for healing and enriched with practical guidance on how to access this power.”

– Pamela Miles, author of Reiki: The Definitive Guide

“Lewis Mehl-Madrona has spent many years exploring and developing means of integrating American Indian healing techniques into Western medicine. In Coyote Wisdom, he gives fresh insights into the power of the spoken word to bring forth miraculous healings and fulfill other human needs. His views on the psychology of the miraculous serve as an important contribution to our understanding of native medicine powers.”

– William S. Lyons, Ph.D., author of Encyclopedia of Native American Healing

“With his stories, I have seen Dr. Mehl-Madrona heal patients that all other physicians had given up on. The stories in this book are healing in and of themselves. Just reading them brings hope where there may have been none.”

– David Servan-Schreiber, M.D., Ph.D., author of The Instinct to Heal: Curing Depression, Anxiety, and

Coyote Wisdom is an inspired book about how the spoken word can transform disease. Lewis Mehl-Madrona offers a perspective much needed by medicine today: that stories matter. Just encouraging patients to tell their stories and listening to them with full attention can increase the probability of spontaneous healings. Doctors and patients have much to gain by incorporating this wisdom into their lives.”

– Andrew Weil, M.D., author of 8 Weeks to Optimal Health and Spontaneous Healing

“In Coyote Wisdom, Lewis Mehl-Madrona writes that patients’ stories hold clues for how we can best help them. This is another way of saying that beliefs, values, and culture influence treatment. Medicine can work so much better by appreciating this.”

– Thom Hartmann, bestselling author of Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight and The Edison Gene

Lewis Mehl-Madrona is certified in family practice, geriatrics and psychiatry, and includes Native American traditions in his practice. Healing through storytelling is the principal approach he shares in this book . . . . Through these stories, he helps people discover the inner healing resources that can transform their lives, including their illnesses. He reports dramatic successes--often with people who have struggled for many years with their health issues--including anorexia, lupus, victimization through emotional and physical abuse, panic disorder, and more. . . . These tales provide insights into a person’s hidden fears and hurts that often underlie and contribute to or even cause the development of many physical and psychological problems. The stories also suggest a variety of solutions and inspire hope that change is possible.

– Daniel J. Benor, M.D., International Journal of Healing and Caring - On line

"Coyote Wisdom demonstrates how to successfully utilize characters and plots from movies, books, popular culture and indigenous traditions, to easily reinterpret and reauthor the story of illness into one of health and well-being."

– Spirit of Change, Fall 2005

"Rather than a book of Native American stories, Coyote Wisdom successfully demonstrates how to . . . reinterpret and re-author the story of illness into one of health and well-being."

– Alec Franklor, Edge Life, No. 179, Sept 2007

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