the four healing salves

For much of the last year I’ve been fascinated by the process of healing.

That’s partly because I’ve been in a deep period of life transition. But there’s more to it than that.

A few months ago I finished my final relationship coaching class. (Yay! I’m now a certified relationship coaching specialist.) And just like all the other coaching classes I’ve taken, we were briefed on the distinctions between counseling and coaching.

So let me bring you up to speed by quickly sharing them:

  • counseling is about past issues, healing, and insight.
  • coaching is about present/future issues, personal growth, and action.

Got it? You probably saw that word-healing-again.

If you look closely you’ll notice there’s an implication that healing occurs only with what we’ve experienced in the past. And once we’ve attended to the baggage we’re carrying around (and trust me, we’re all toting something), then we’re done. Fini. Healed. Past tense. No more need to deal with that stuff.

OK, I admit, this had me scratching my head for years. Maybe it’s because I’ve been a counselor a lot longer than I’ve been a coach. But it just doesn’t make sense.

I mean, isn’t healing a process rather than an end result? And doesn’t it seem limiting to apply it only to the past?

I’ve noticed it pushes its way into the present all the time, and we may be in need of emotional healing for any number of bends in the road. You know, detours like floundering relationships. Lay offs. Confusion about the future. Loss. The existential questions of life. Feeling stuck. Being mired in not-enoughness.

All life challenges, by the way, that you can work on with a coach. Some very good coaches, as a matter of fact.

So coaching, I think, has some relationship to healing.

And that’s what I told my teacher and the other students. They were cool with it and even sort of agreed with me. They also pointed out that perhaps the coaching profession has to draw these boundaries for fear that coaches will get nabbed for practicing counseling without a license. But that’s entirely another issue.

Anyway, you might think I got what I needed on the healing front, right?

Well, no. Because even after these conversations my fascination with healing continued. And then everywhere I turned I noticed someone or some thing claiming to have healing powers. In some cases, even asserting that they themselves were Healers. With a capital H.

Just then my cynicism kicked in. I know: it’s not pretty. But I have to admit it.

Don’t get me wrong, you have my utmost respect if you’re a bona fide Shaman or Curandera or Medicine Man. But the rest of us, I think, walk a potentially dangerous path when we anoint ourselves as Healers.

Certainly, in the helping professions, we’re in service of healing, but we aren’t actually doing the healing. And that’s the mystery that was trailing me. That’s where my questions came from.

What truly promotes healing, I wondered? And how does it actually happen, I mused?

I finally decided to stop asking the questions and simply try to be with them. In so doing, I dropped into a moment and heard a client’s story. Just like I do each and every day. And at the end of our session, I realized I already know something about healing. Because the act of telling our stories, allowing someone to listen and witness them, is in and of itself an act of healing.

Yes, of course. I know this. Yet it seems so simple. Perhaps too simple. But I try to remind myself that I don’t have to make this complicated.

Maybe healing isn’t so mysterious after all.

Moments after having that thought I opened a book and read an interview with Angeles Arrien. In it she discusses how most indigenous cultures have four types of healing in common. And she names them the four healing salves. All possessing remarkable restorative powers, and the ability to reclaim our spirits from the slings and arrows of modern-day life.

Four glorious healing salves: Singing. Dancing. Storytelling. Silence.

Wow. Creativity and quiet as the essence of healing.

I put down the book and immediately felt deeply grounded, realizing that this is something I know and have experienced. Something we’ve all experienced and can come home to with that deep-in-our-bones trust I’ve written about before. 

I guess I just forgot what I already know. So I set off on a quest, only to discover that the answer was there all along, residing inside of me. Kind of like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.

Now, I’m interested in hearing from you.

  • Does healing apply to the past only?
  • Is it a process or an end result?
  • How do you respond to the four healing salves?
  • What do you notice when you spend time storytelling, singing, dancing, and in silence?

* * * * *

In the coming weeks I want to explore the four healing salves. In the meantime, you might like to consider these questions, from Angeles Arrien:

  • Where in your life did you stop singing?
  • Where in your life did you stop dancing?
  • Where in your life did you stop being enchanted with stories?
  • Where in your life did you become uncomfortable with the sweet territory of silence?

This post was recycled with fresh art for Art Every Day Month 2012. Comments are closed since I’m on vacation.

* * * * *

I invite you to follow me on twitter: @pattybechtold. And if you’d like monthly resources for Living Deep delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here. Thanks!


40 thoughts on “the four healing salves

  1. Does healing apply to the past only?
    No, for what hurts now means that it hasn’t been left in the past like you thought it was.

    Is it a process or an end result?
    Life is not linear enough for there to be an end result. You might get taken out by a double decker bus before you’ve conquered your personal demons. So, in that sense, all you can ever concern yourself with is the process.

    How do you respond to the four healing salves?
    Brilliant! That’s what I want to do with my life, but everything else conspires to kill those things. Bleh.

    What do you notice when you spend time storytelling, singing, dancing, and in silence?
    I notice that I’m happier, more productive. I get to admit that I don’t understand, and in not understanding find new ways to express what I do see and feel. That’s the point for me, not being in a cubicle to help fill some unseen fatcat’s wallet.

    • Hey Tony – Thanks so much for your thoughtful responses to my questions! Love this line: “I get to admit that I don’t understand, and in not understanding find new ways to express what I do see and feel.” Beautifully said.

  2. I loved my job as all I did was listen. It was amazing to let people talk uninterruptedly for over an hour and what came out.
    Nobody hardly ever gets a chance to tell their story in such a complete way and I loved letting them. I too was not aware of what I was doing at the time but it felt so good for them and for me.
    Now I realize it was healing for them, it also taught me never ever to judge a person again, we never know the full story, never ever.
    For me it was dancing I never could do, I felt so self conscious. One day I did some healing dancing at a dance session that was set up that way. The feeling of feeling my body move was so delicious. Now I dance and loooooove it.
    For me a moment like that unleashes potential, that is what I love doing and healing is for me. xox Wilma

    • Hi Wilma – It’s interesting that we don’t really understand what’s going on when we’re in it, but then we can look back and notice that magical experience of storytelling and listening. And by the way, I love what you say about your experience with dancing. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. I’m not a big fan of bringing up past ills in order to heal them. I’ve been reading some things about the law of attaction lately, and those ideas resonate with me. The idea with this is that you can recognize a past (or present) ill, in order to learn from it, but then you really need to focus on what you want rather than what you don’t want.

    I’ve seen people around me discuss bad things that have happened, but that discussion doesn’t heal. In my own life healing takes place almost naturally when I focus on what I want. I suspect this focusing on what one wants is more along the lines of the coaching you were discussing.

    I also believe that we are all Healers. At least Healers of ourselves. I believe we have an innate ability to heal, both mental and physical issues. Our physical bodies heal all the time, they are in a constant state of regeneration. If I get a cut, my body heals itself. If I get a cold, my body heals itself.

    I like the idea of the four healing salves. It’s like creativity as a healer.

    • Hi Eric – So right. I do think creativity is perhaps the greatest healer of all. Interesting too what you say about focusing on what you want. I used to think that was the answer too. But in recent years I’ve come to believe that not knowing is more the norm, and allowing ourselves to be in that space of not knowing and let the path unfold anyway is the true call. I mean, if someone has clarity about what they want, I think that’s great. But I also think such clarity is rare, and learning to be OK without it is an act of healing. Thanks for the visit.

  4. Let’s say then that you are a ‘healing facilitator’. If it wasn’t for the facilitators on my path (professional or otherwise), the road would be so much more chaotic. Healing is a time-free process for me. It involves my past (letting go), my present (accepting), and my future (dreaming/intent). It’s emptying my inner bucket of what is now irrelevant, filling it with what matters, and connecting it to future sources of wholeness. Storytelling is a powerful healer for me. Singing and dancing are limited due to my brain injury. Silence is the ultimate healer. Maybe that’s when I dance and sing, after all. Inside.
    Thank you, Patty!

    • Hi Maryse – I like the idea of a healing facilitator. And the idea of a time-free process – yes! No boundaries. It’s beautiful how you describe it for yourself. Thanks so much.

  5. Hi Patty! This was wonderful – of course – and thought provoking. Some years ago I read Evolve Your Brain by Joe Dispenza – have you read it? He explained how so much of our past (as in our memory) is like ruts in your brain on a track you can’t get out of sometimes. The “cure” is to lay new tracks – always knowing it is very easy to slip back into the old tracks until the new track (or new thoughts) have laid a good foundation OVER the old ones. To me this explained healing. It’s all in our heads and it is all a choice. Some people just love – and feel comfortable in – their old tracks cuz gosh that’s just the way it is/they are! I think perhaps people who struggle so with trying to heal themselves imagine it to be way more complicated than it is and perhaps can’t imagine who/what they would be without their “stories” of their past?
    Looking forward to your future blogs on this.

    • Hi suZen – No, I haven’t read that. But I’ve heard about brain grooves. The question I guess is how do you lay the new foundation over the old one? I’m not so sure about the choice part. I’ve known many people who want to choose to lay down new tracks but can’t figure out how for the life of them, largely due to serious trauma. The story has gotten such a foothold that choice has little to do with it. One of my teachers would say the story is actually bigger than us, archetypal, deep, and what we have to do is build a strong frame (kind of like the foundation you speak of) to keep it out. That’s the mystery for me. Talking and processing and insight can be part of the frame, but often not enough. That’s where I think the four healing salves come in. Thanks for the visit, and hugs to you!

  6. Patty — Boy, do I love this post! You always help me look at something in an entirely new way!

    You’ve done this with my concept of healing. I love the idea of storytelling being part of healing and I think our stories also contain our past.

    I really like the idea of the four healing salves. If I dare, the only thing I would add to these four is “laughter.” All of these activities are transforming and like you said they have the”the magic to shift our perceptions about life and who we are.”

    I’m very pleased you’ve been thinking about healing and decided to share your thoughts:~)

    • Hi Sara – Thanks much for your kind words. Laughter does certainly seem like an important addition, doesn’t it? And so often, people laugh when they are telling stories, singing, dancing. A potent combo! I’m so glad you also pointed out that stories contain our past. Even a story that seems totally in the now has the past in it. Great point!

  7. Hi Patty, so good to see another article from you in my feedreader and what an important topic.

    In thinking about healing as it applies to myself, I have to say I’m a bit cynical at first because I’m not always sympathetic to myself. But once I warm up to it, I open up to what hurts I might have that need healing. The idea of the four healing salves is very appealing because I understand the value of each of these. It almost sounds too simple but maybe it’s because healing doesn’t need to be a complicated process like we make it. Maybe the hardest part is admitting that we need healing.

    • Thank you for saying that, Belinda. I think there is something about admitting that we need healing that makes us think we’re weak or stupid or something. We’re so stoic, at least in this country. But as I let these healing ideas float around me, I’m thinking that all of us need healing every single day. Not just for the big, bad stuff that happens to us, but for all the small potholes in day-to-day life. It’s probably more palatable for most people to think of it as stress relief, but I’m really liking the word healing lately. Lovely to see you here today!

  8. Looking forward to the coming weeks. Somewhere along the line we do make a choice to be not comfortable with silence, or to stop singing, and enjoying the stories. I don’t know why. I have done it myself and stopped singing.

    Sometimes we feel that everything should be perfect and nothing bad should ever happen. If we work really hard, obey all the rules, stand perfectly will all be perfect. Then we are devastated by the changes and unexpected events that are called life. There are up’s and downs, fair weather and storms. Some things may require healing, and some things need to be gotten past.

    Keep writing and thinking, you are a blessing.

    • Thank you for that powerful statement, Erin. I’ve done it myself too, and the more I explore it the more I’m reminded of Rollo May’s line from “The Courage To Create.” Something about creativity being an antidote to a “world that is too much with us.” That world has such power to suck us in, and you do a fine job exploring that world in your comment. I really appreciate it!

  9. The only truly healing thing I have found is Bactine spray or new cooling ointment.

    Okay okay, I find creativity to be extremely healing, if that’s the right word. it stirs stuff up, drags it onto the light, I get to play with my bogeyman the way a cat plays with a mouse, and then set them into some sort of order where there was none before. There is something magickal in simply naming what’s gnawing at me. I also find that my wiser self kicks in (didn’t you post about that recently) and teaches me stuff I didn’t even realize I knew.

    I have never stopped being enchanted with stories, from my earliest years. My comfort with silence comes and goes. As for singing, I love it, though I am not good at it. Dancing I will only do with my dog, who finds it highly amusing. I sing “My Guy” to him, and we dance.

    • Ha! You always make me laugh, Shay. And wow, everything you said in that second paragraph just took me along for the ride. The way you describe it and the momentum you build makes me want to say, “me too, me too, I want to come along.” And btw, you are speaking to someone who has much dog dancing experience. I don’t have a dog now, but I spent many years dancing with my old buddy Baron. Of course, you can dance with cats too, but it’s not quite the same.

  10. I won’t profess to be an expert on the counseling/coaching distinction, but your post has gotten me thinking. Our present and our future is created (in my opinion), largely by our response to situations we encounter. Those responses, however, are driven by the way we perceive things. Perception is biased by on our beliefs about self and others. To create lasting change in the future, don’t we have to change the beliefs? As most beliefs are created in childhood, don’t we need at least a rudimentary understanding of why/how they were created? I don’t think one has to dwell on the past in order to heal and/or change the future, but I can’t see how lasting change can occur without acknowledging our deeply held beliefs, thinking about the often illogical origins of them and trying to clear away those that are limiting us.

    • Hi H&W – Great points, about how the past is inextricably linked with the present. The only the place I differ with you is about the beliefs and thoughts being illogical. Because actually, they are quite logical, especially during the time that we are formulating them. Let’s say someone has a tendency toward low confidence, and they’re pretty hard on themselves. Judgmental, if you will. Well, if they had particularly judgmental parents, they might have learned to cope with that by judging self first, as a protecting mechanism. Beating the parents to the punch, so to speak. Perfectly logical, actually, showing a good instinct for self preservation. It’s just that as they get older this coping method no longer works, and in fact just makes them feel bad all the time. Hope that makes sense. And thanks for the comment!

  11. Patti,

    What heals…I believe love heals.
    When I was counseling I never though of myself as a healer…I thought I was the guide. Other people thought I was in fact one person said,”People can heal in just your presence.” I interpreted that as because I was full of love, kindness and compassion and with judgement I provided the space for them to heal.

    Is it only in the past? Well think of an iceberg there’s always something hidden under the water. So stuff from the past comes up subconciously and we only need to tell ourselves we’ve already healed that and we can let it go.

    I think healing is a process like grieving but the process does end and part of it is “dropping the story.” Who knows why some heal quicker than others. I had someone tell me last night that God who tell someone to go to AA but if the person isn’t ready he/she won’t listen.

    What makes someone ready is my question.

    Oh I do love the four salves and when I do one of those four things I feel JOY! And that’s as healing as love;)

    Oh and the questions are being written in my journal right now!

    • Those are indeed beautiful healing energies, Tess. Love, kindness, compassion, and no judgment. And what’s so great is we all have the power of that inside of us. I’m thinking about what you say about an end to the healing process. I guess what I’m pondering is the difference between healing and scars. Because even if all I have to heal from is a cat scratch, it will probably leave a tiny scar. I think that’s also true with emotional healing. I think about my own healing after losing my mom years ago. That’s grief, but like you say very much a type of healing. And I don’t know if I will ever fully heal from that. Nor do I think I would want to. But maybe that’s just me. Thanks for stopping by!

  12. Hey Patty,

    Truly fascinating! This sentence jumps out at me. FOUR GLORIOUS HEALING SALVES: STORYTELLING. SINGING. DANCING. SILENCE.

    To me, real healing happens when we release the childhood self that’s gotten caged up somehow. Many illnesses can be traced to loss of self. We only give it lip service in our job title/career oriented world, but what could be more devastating than being made to lock your self up in a cage?

    Children naturally tell stories, sing, dance and spend time being silent. I used to wander endlessly through the woods and meadows just looking at things, overwhelmed with curiosity. One of my neighbors had this magical backyard for a child — all paths lined with lady slippers and other flowers that looped around – none of them straight.

    Only as I began school did others force me to see the world as one linear line that you were not supposed to deviate off.

    Now that I’m out of the cage, I once again see what lies before me as giant looping circles.

    Really enjoyed this! Thx. Giulietta

    • Hi Giulietta – Such great connections you make! Childhood to the cage and back to the four healing salves. They certainly are a part of childhood play, and play in and of itself is very healing. But don’t you think that releasing that childhood self that’s been caged up is an ongoing process? Something we have to work at each and every day? I’m thinking that’s true for me and so many others. I’m pondering, and wondering if this is partly what I mean by healing being an ongoing process. Thanks for making me think even more about this!

  13. Dear Patty,

    Excellent questions and powerful topic. I’ve asked myself for years: What promotes healing? Usually I think of altered state. Indigenous cultures know how to create an altered state that somehow seems to let healing slip right on in.

    Maybe that’s what these four salves you mention do.

    I’m with you. Generally I feel healing is a process, although there may be moments that create an instantaneous healing in a particular arena.

    How can we think we’re somehow all healed with nothing left to incorporate?

    Years ago when I was on a dating website if a guy wrote “no baggage” on his profile I clicked away immediately. Maybe it’s the psychologist in me! Are you kidding? I read that as not prone to self-reflection and too fearful to examine oneself.

    Last, speaking of stories, here’s a great one about someone claiming to be a shaman. I’ll make sure it’s anonymous.

    A close friend saw someone whom we’ve known for years in a store. He walked up to her and said: “I’m a shaman now”. Interestingly, he had just jumped into the parking space she was about to take in an obvious maneuver to “steal” it away, even though it was obvious she was there first – but he didn’t know it was her he did it to.

    Her response: Do shamans always take people’s parking spots by jumping in front of them? We got a laugh out of that one.

    Well, thanks for a great post on an awesome topic, one I ponder frequently as there’s so much to learn in regards to healing and what promotes it in us.

    Be well and warm regards,

    • Hi Lauren – So glad to hear there’s someone else out there pondering this! You’re so right about that altered state. And that’s exactly what’s been happening to me as I’ve experimented more and more with different combinations of expressive arts. Oh, not sweat lodge altered states or anything, but definitely some slight sense of alteration. I absolutely love that shaman story, btw. I had a good laugh too. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your wise and wonderful thoughts.

  14. This is so true! When you share your story with someone, the healing process is taking place through your words. By having the courage to share your experience, to find the right words to describe what happened and how you reacted, you are moving forward and healing. Sometimes just talking and narrating a situation can shine light on it in a way you didn’t see before.

    Also with silence. That’s a beautiful form of healing.

    I look forward to reading your thoughts on singing and dancing! Those two make sense to me, but I’m not sure I personally use them for healing.

    • Yes, absolutely Eva. I was just reading about this today. Even narrating those situations and stories through writing is apparently a healing process. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

  15. Oh, the healing salves! I love them! I love them!
    Just like you said, “Shoot, you’d think a creative gal like me would have known this all along. And I did. It’s just that sometimes we forget what we already know.”

    That’s really an ah-ha moment — forgetting what we already know. I know what you mean, Patty.

    I’m looking forward to your upcoming exploration of the healing salves. Great work, Patty!

    • So glad you touched on that, Lori. Sometimes I think life is a series of re-rememberings, and I suspect that in and of itself is a healing process. So many of these stories that feel constricting are much bigger that us. You know, the ones about not being enough, or being overwhelmed. So we have to constantly re-remember what we know about the story. Like me, thinking I didn’t know much about healing, wanting to make it more difficult than it was. Thanks so much for stopping by! xo

  16. I love this post and your thought process. I agree with you healing can be about the past and the present. I agree with the four healing salves. Makes sense that we heal ourselves via creativity and that we heal ourselves within the vast openness of silence. Healing without a doubt is an inside job. I think for some the first question is do they want to be healed. Some people love the pain, some love the attention of living unhealed. It is essential to remember that we must first want to be healed and understand what that means.

    • Ah, very wise Mark. I agree with you, but I also think that those who love the pain and attention aren’t necessarily aware of what they’re doing, but rather caught in a big, unwieldy archetypal story. And in that they’re unconscious. I think of my brother, who died relatively young at 58, trapped in a spiral of addictions and homelessness. His story of shame and denial was so unconsciously huge that it prevented him from taking steps toward a healing path. Your comment helps me realize that perhaps I believe the healing itself isn’t complicated, but the willingness to embrace healing is. Thanks so much.

  17. Patty, I definitely see healing as a process and not necessarily to ‘fix’ something; to evolve to see it differently. Just as you have done with this post. Love it. Seeing it as a process somehow opens the doors to give it room to breathe. Seems to me that when we try to label something or put it into a container it really limits it. We stunt it’s growth by trying to own it.

    • I really like that, Davina – “We stunt its growth by trying to own it.” That seems to be true for so many things, doesn’t it? We want to get it all containerized and wrapped up and shipped out, as if these ideas or musings can be pinned down. Boy, have I been there. Thanks for reminding me that I always need to be on guard about that. Great to see you here.

  18. Patty,
    Insightful post, insightful comments!!!
    Healing…I believe in living mindfully present in this moment. Embracing what I have in this moment. In order to do this, I drop my past. Each time I retell the story of even the past minute I am giving Energy to it. I want my Energy in the here and now. If in this moment, something “hurts” I take the time to address it. It may hurt now from a previous scar as you mentioned, or from a new wound..but the cause is irrelevant to me because I want to heal it as it is now…
    Same with others. I see you in this moment now, not as you were or as I see you may be in the future..but right now. As a coach, if you’d like me to help guide you forward, in that process we may find a wound that needs addressing. We don’t let the wound fester, we don’t just apply a band aid, we check it out fully then use the necessary resources to heal it. In that sense, coaching and healing may intertwine a bit.
    I love the four healing salves!!! They are easily accessible, free, easy to share with others, all within my ability…and all expressions of my heart…And they are all treasured parts of my life 🙂
    I’m looking forward to this series of posts….

    • Hi Joy – Thanks for your lovely comments. Sounds like you’ve really given a lot of thought to what healing is and how it works for you. I’m reminded of a workshop I went to last year, where the teacher told the fairytale of Hansel and Gretel, from a psychological perspective. Those two kids certainly had a rough time in the woods, but they persevered and decided to return home, even though they’d been treated badly and forced to leave. I mentioned to the person sitting next to me, “Why would they even want to go home?” and the teacher said, “They have to go home. Home represents them. Their essence.” His point being that we all have to go home to our story, our past, whatever it is. We can’t really rewrite it or drop it, but we can certainly have a different relationship with it. That was an ah ha for me. So while I understand how compelling it is to want to drop that past, I no longer think it’s particularly helpful, because it usually just keeps coming back to bite us in the butt. But that’s just my two cents worth. Thanks!

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