Several weeks ago, along with colleagues from the Turtle Island Project, I conducted a retreat entitled “The Last Mask of the Authentic Healer.” It’s an experiential workshop for people interested in expanding their therapeutic repertoire and effectiveness. Participants are generally a broad spectrum of health professionals, but it’s open to others interested in healing.

We utilize lots of ritual and ceremony, because we’ve found they provide a structure that allows people to get in touch with feelings. From trance induction, visualization, drumming, body movement, and the creation of sacred objects, we awaken the right side of our brains. The right brain is home to the unencumbered, intuitive, and spiritual parts of us. It is the place of imagination and dreams, where we are opened to a world beyond our physical boundaries.

One of the participants was a psychiatric colleague who has a hospital-based practice. Mary has had a life-long love of horses and has developed a capacity to communicate with them. Now if you’re a veterinarian and say you can talk to horses that’s one thing, but a psychiatrist who can channel animals arouses a different response. Mary wants to use horses as therapeutic allies in her work with patients and has taken some steps to make that happen. However, her community’s resistance to her unorthodox approaches to therapy concerns her.

During the workshop we do a mask-making ceremony, which is often an intense confrontation with one’s healing spirit. Participants are asked to decorate their masks with objects that they have gathered during a silent, meditative walk. People are asked to pick only those things that “speak” to them, and Mary found three stones that represented her mind, body and spirit. She would incorporate them into her mask to remind her to stay in balance and live her truth.

She glued the two smaller stones representing her mind and body onto the forehead and between the eyes. The last stone, which was quite large, she picked because she saw the silhouette of a horse in it that represented her spirit. She was trying to glue it over the mouth as I walked by. It was obvious the glue would not hold it in place so I said, “Maybe that big stone would hold if you opened up the mouth and wedged it in.”

Mary understood immediately, that unless she opened her mouth to say clearly the way she truly wanted to practice, she would never own her spirit and move beyond her ambivalences.

We made an opening in the mouth and as she stuck the stone in Mary said, “I’ve been waiting a long time to open my horse-woman mouth.” Change happens like a bolt of lightening when the mind is opened and the lips can speak the truth of your soul.