Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The Gifts of Sorrow

Dear colleagues in mission,

It is an understatement to say that these past few weeks have been difficult for our community as we have dealt with the loss of our dear friend and University co-founder, Dr. William A. Mitchell, Jr. Bill’s heart was big enough to encompass what Dr. Bastyr called “the truth of the medicine” and still have room for each of us as well. Somehow, his unconditional love of us and his passion to explore all that is unknown pulled us to a place where we could see things more clearly. His immense curiosity and his inclination to dig deep into diverse and unpredictable things worked to make him unusually attractive to all of us. We were literally drawn to him and we were fortunate to have fallen under his influence. He had such an ample mind and such a modest estimation of it. In him were greatness and humility uniquely combined. May we learn from his example.

While we were mourning Dr. Mitchell’s passing, we sustained another tragic loss. Autumn Sansom’s death struck us like a knife, taking from our corporate bosom one whose bright promise as a physician was unfulfilled but who, in her short time among us, blessed us with her intelligence, her smile, her optimism, her passion for life and her confidence in its potential. In a remarkable way, Autumn was like Dr. Mitchell in her capacity to explore, question, love deeply and pull us together.

In these weeks, as I have witnessed our community in mourning, I have come to appreciate one of our great strengths. I affirm that we are a nurturing community. I have seen faculty, students and staff huddled together holding each other as you wept. I have heard your poems, prayers and songs. I have seen extraordinary acts of kindness extended as gestures of comfort—flowers strewn, cookies baked, tired shoulders caressed, silence respected and tears dried by the kisses of Autumn’s dog. I believe that, however reluctantly in our sorrow, we are gratefully accepting the gifts given us by Bill Mitchell and Autumn Sansom. I am proud of you and optimistic about our future because of who you are and who we can yet become.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Daniel K. Church
President, Bastyr University

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Gaia's Immune System

I remember Bill teaching our class of 2001. There was one story particularly inspiring to me:

Once upon a time there was a man, and when he turned 40, he decided to change his life. He started doing yoga, changed his diet and became a better person. When he was 90, he rescued a little girl from being hit by a car. When he died at the age of 96, God thanked him for saving this little girl’s life. "Yes," said the man, "I saved her when I was 90." "No," replied God, "you saved her when you were 40, because until you changed your way of living, you were supposed to live only until the age of 82."

After Bill's death his story has acquired even stronger meaning. By changing ourselves to be better, both physically and spiritually - as Bill taught us - we are becoming more and more committed to "being Gaia’s immune system."

And now, when Bill is not here in a physical form, I feel even more responsible to being a part of that immune system.

Bill, we will miss you tremendously! But we now have the skill, the knowledge, and the principles that you taught us. Thank you for giving us a chance to learn from you. We will now continue what you started and never give it up. We’ve seen numerous examples of your kindness, love, courage, and dedication. These will guide us through life. We will always remember that "all we need to do is love one another." We the doctors, the healers, and anyone who was affected by your inspiration will produce so many immune cells that, together, we will save Gaia!

Rest peacefully, and know that we will do it.

With love,

Marina Yanover, ND '02

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Thundered Word

I am that supreme and fiery force that sends forth all living sparks.

Death hath no part in me, yet I bestow death, wherefore I am girt about with wisdom as with wings…

I am the source of the thundered word by which all creatures were made, I permeate all things that they may not die.

I am life.

Hildegard of Bingen (1098 –1179), favorite muse of Dr. Mitchell
Medieval abbess, theologian, poet, artist, musician, scientist and healer.

Evoking Magic

I had the incredible fortune to get my first tour of Bastyr from Bill Mitchell. My grandmother had arranged the meeting when she knew I was interested in Naturopathic Medicine. Her daughter, Abby, (my ‘half-aunt’ or cousin) was very close with Bill. Shortly before our meeting, Abby had died tragically of a cerebral aneurysm while pregnant and, of course, the family was devastated - but I hardly knew her, having only met her once when I first moved to Seattle.

I met Bill at his office in Queen Anne and was struck by his presence instantly. Any one that has seen that office knows its dark wood desks and molding speaks of tradition. I knew little about him or about Naturopathic Medicine, but I could tell here was a human being who had journeyed far within himself. I thought that, finally, this man fits my idea of a ‘real doctor,’ one that connects with people first and medicine later. As a young 23 year old, I was somewhat in awe of this gentle, easy-going man who introduced himself with a warm smile and a strong handshake.

Throughout the course of our meeting, as we discussed natural medicine in the cafeteria and he took me through the old Wallingford campus, I began to realize how much he was mourning Abby’s death. In essence, this turned the tables on me, for here was a man twice my age who was clearly mourning someone I did not know but was part of my family, and I was at a loss about how I might help to comfort him. I realized that if Bill had thought so highly of Abby she must have been an incredible person.

Not only did Bill help introduce me to the school that day, but he gave me the gift of sharing in his grieving process. It was only through Bill that I came to appreciate and begin to know my cousin. Whether it was conscious or not on his part, he drew me closer to someone whom I had had to let go of, even before I got to know her. I doubt this was intentional, but he had that way about him, the ability to magically connect people and ideas.

The other story I wish to share about Bill takes place many years later when I was a student in the ND program. It was Botanical Medicine V, the last in the series of the botanical medicine courses in the ND program. Robin Dipasquale had arranged for Bill to come in as a guest speaker that day, and it was one of those typical days in the Pacific Northwest, where the weather wants to "do it all" in one day. We’d had a mix of sun, fast scudding clouds and intermittent rain. Most of my classmates were anticipating Bill’s lecture for the day, since you never knew what you were going to get. It might be a pharmocognosy lecture, a piece of Bill-brand naturopathic philosophy or some natural or spiritual interlude to a day of cerebral overload, and likely all three.

That day Bill came in with a basket of cedar boughs. As Robin Dipasquale later reminded me, he told us he had been riding in a car with a Native American healer and remarked to him on the bundle of cedar boughs in the back of the vehicle. The Native American man gave them to Bill, who up to that point had no idea what he was going to teach that day. He explained this as he handed out the cedar boughs and asked us to divide them up between us. He stood in front of us and said, “Today I am going to share the gift of Cedar Medicine with you,” and right on cue, the sky split and a very close bolt of lightening touched down, the thunder ripped through the classroom and a terrific hail storm began. (I'm getting goosebumps right now writing about it.) It was one of those perfect moments when the synchronicity of Bill’s spirit and intention coalesced into a very tangible phenomenon.

He had us separate each of the ‘scales’ of the cedar leaves, as he had been taught. He said through this process we would learn about Cedar. As we did this at our desks, he told us about the properties and attributes of Cedar as a medicine, its use to the indigenous people of this area and as a plant spirit. I still cherish my collection of those Cedar scales.

At times, Bill had the ability to evoke magic but in a way that was very unassuming. As many people have written in their memorials about him, he was one of the few people in the Naturopathic community to so seamlessly connect the world of western science and reductionism with the soar and joy of the esoteric world that is energy, spirit and faith. Bill was a unifier, a coupler of people and nature. I believe one of the most important lessons we can take from his life and teaching is to remember that the Vis Medicatrix Naturae is, at its root, best stimulated by re-connecting ourselves, our patients, our friends, family and community with the natural world in its purist form.

May Bill’s inspiration never die within us. Journey well, Bill.

Sean Congdon, ND '01

Time Remembered

I do not remember Bill as a prestigious Naturopathic Physician and scholar. I remember Bill from a time that predates that.

I remember a student of Naturopathic Medicine supporting himself and his growing family as a guitar instructor at Everett Community College. I was his student. His passion for life, family, music, and the outdoors impressed and inspired me and had a great part in shaping me into the person that I am. His musical skill and insight about life, and his passion for his schooling live with me today after years of living out my role as a husband, father of two home-schooled adult children, guitar instructor and worship musician.

I remember getting up early on special Saturdays, meeting Bill at his home before anyone was awake and gently sneaking out to literally run up the slopes of the mountain lake trails of the Cascades, being home before noon to a family breakfast of lamb and eggs. I remember arriving one Saturday morning to do same only to have my hopes dashed by the sight of Bill on the couch grieving because he had just run over not one but two of his guitars, left behind his car the previous evening.

I remember a circle of people gasping in awe, as I stated, "Bill Mitchell, he was my guitar teacher," as if I had just stated that I had been in the presence of some famous actor or the Pope or something.

I remember one of Bill's beautiful young children sitting on his lap around a backyard campfire, nestled between him and his guitar, warm, loved, secure.

I live dusted with a small portion of the essence of the man you all know and admired as Dr. Mitchell. I feel your loss. There is nothing more important than taking the time to experience the joy of being with another person. Time passes.

Tom Hudon

Former guitar student and friend

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Marriage of Brain and Heart

Bill never stopped surprising us, even in the way he passed. We who knew him, learned from him, and looked up to him are stunned by the end of his story. And yet it is no end, because Bill's potency was great -- as a human, as a healer, and as an educator. The lives he has touched with Spirit continue to embrace his spirit now with love and honor.

As co-presenters over the years at conferences, I had the good fortune to share our stories and many unexpected laughs, while waiting in lunch lines or taking audience questions after a panel. One part of Bill's brilliance for me was his gift for inspiring every listener in a crowded room to nourish the inner marriage of brains and heart. He got us off our soap boxes and fixed positions. Bill inspired me by stating fearlessly his strong opinions, articulated so well that his more astounding statements - such as prescribing people as medicine - carried the ring of truth; that is, once he explained them. The result of time spent with Bill was that we opened our eyes more, used our minds more freely, and spoke from our hearts more truly.

I believe we all walk a path littered with beauty and pain. Bill Mitchell surprised me in the way he walked his road. I am grateful and sorrowful today in equal measures.

Amanda McQuade Crawford, Dip Phyto, RH (AHG), MNIMH, MNZAMH
Consultant Medical Herbalist, Los Angeles, California

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

You Have To Be Crazy!

Dr. Mitchell was the very first person I met when I was coming for my interview at Bastyr University. A friend of mine who knew him suggested I meet with him first before I set foot on the Bastyr campus. That was the best advice my friend gave me....

I met Bill at his office downtown. All I knew about him was that he was the co-founder of Bastyr. Nothing else. He met me with a warm smile, and he talked with me a good two hours about naturopathic medicine. During the conversation, I asked Bill what the best way would be to present myself to the admissions committee. His response is one I will never forget. He said to me, "First off, you have to be crazy and committed to Earth's medicine, and second, no matter how tough school can be, live each day as if it were your last." I laughed and said something like, "Well, I must be crazy. For a long time, I have been waiting to find this calling." Bill reached out his hand and said, "Welcome to the profession."

I am forever grateful for his time that day, and am honored to have known him throughout my time at Bastyr. His teachings and the many talks I have had with him will stay with me for the rest of my career!

Jill Ghormley, ND '06