Lynne Crandall | for NOISE
When Oren Schindler signed up with Michigan State's study abroad
program, he never dreamed he would be walking around in a cloud forest,
studying trees that walked if they weren't getting enough light or jumping
out of a boat into the Amazon River with nothing but a life jacket. The
last one was particularly nerve-wracking despite assurances from his
Quichua Indian guide and the locals that the anacondas and piranhas were
not out at that time of day.
But for this 21-year-old student, it was just one leg of his journey
that has transformed him from studying to be a traditional doctor to being
one that has a reverence for holistic medicine from traditions throughout
the world. NOISE spoke with him about his trip and his changing
perspective on medicine.
Q. What made you decide
to go to Ecuador?
A. I was there to study the Spanish language but I also wanted to study
medicinal herbs ... the capital city, Quito, Ecuador, had classes. The
city is (9,300 feet) above sea level. We studied medicinal plants in the
Cloud Forest on the mountains around the city. In Spanish, it is called
"El Bosque Nublado" or "where the trees belong to the
clouds." It was a very spiritual experience, very peaceful. I really
miss the beauty of the landscape.
Q. How did you study
A. The Cloud Forest is alive with plants. Our professor spent 30 years
clearing a 20-mile path for his students to study the different medicinal
plants. On these walks, he would identify the plants, give us a brief
description, tell us the dosage and let us use the plants ourselves. One
plant he showed us is used as a mild antiseptic. He cut it up and I put it
in my mouth. A minute later I was drooling and my mouth was numb. He gave
us a piece of chocolate to suck on and in about 30 minutes the feeling
came back. We would use other healing plants on our cuts and you could see
the skin start to heal immediately. With another plant called Sangre de
Drago, (Blood of the Dragon), he took a knife and cut into the bark and it
started to bleed.
Q. What did the hands-on
experience teach you that will be useful in your medical practice later?
A. We became acquainted with the Doctrine of Signatures, the theory
that a plant is shaped like the part of the body it heals. For instance, a
eucalyptus tree has two main trunks that correspond with our lungs and the
eucalyptus tree helps us breathe if we have certain bronchial problems and
when we have colds or flu. I didn't know the words for it until he taught
us, but I could see that there is a power there.
Q. How did you think the
plant life in the Cloud Forest compared to that in the Amazon?
A. The quiet of the Cloud Forest makes you feel like you're in heaven,
but the Amazon is completely alive with sounds, whether it was monkeys
communicating or the sound of the river -- there was a heartbeat. Our
guide was a 30-year-old indigenous Quichua Indian. He looked very young
and had enormous physical strength. He acted almost as a delegate, as if
he spoke on behalf of the jungle. ...
He showed us that everything you need is in the jungle. There were
trees that echoed differently so each one was used to warn of different
dangerous animals -- panthers and cougars. And the Walking Palm (is) a
tree that has its trunk above ground so the roots are like legs. Since the
jungle is canopied, if the tree is not getting enough light, it walks,
slowly, over a period of months up to 3 feet. And ants that have strong
pincers, so when you get a bad cut, the natives pull the torso off so the
pincers close and it holds the wound until you can get to a place for
Q. What was your
experience in the Amazon River?
A. We were in a boat and we jumped in with our life jackets on. You are
swept down the river very fast. The Amazon is very red, not clear, so your
feet are your eyes. ...
Q. How did it change the
way you look at medicine?
A. It set me on a path towards more of a spiritual, holistic and
natural approach. I came back and read a book called "Radical
Healing" by Rudolph Ballantine. He is able to practice with a
knowledge of many holistic traditions, and I realized that will be the way
future (doctors) practice. Now I want to go all over the world to study
different healing traditions. I would like to travel in a caravan and go
round and give hope to people and show them that, in many circumstances,
they have the power to heal themselves.
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