This is the second of a two-part series, inspired by the recent memorial
services for Dr.
William Mitchell, loved and respected naturopathic physician, teacher,
and co-founder of Bastyr University. The testimonials at the two memorial
services were memorable, as was the realization that it remains with
the rest of us to carry forward the torch of natural medicine. The
qualities that made Bill such an unforgettable doctor, mentor, and
educator can serve all of us who endeavor to be physicians and healers.
The Ability to Bring Out the Best in Others
Many of those close to Bill expressed, through many examples, how Bill succeeded
in teaching or encouraging them to reach their own potentials in ways they
would have not thought possible. Whether it was arresting oneself on an icy
slope after a brief five-minute lesson only moments earlier, being called
upon to teach a yoga class for the first time when Bill could not be present,
or being called by inspiration to write an article totally different from
the norm, as we are now. One young woman explained exuberantly how, whenever
she was around Bill, her heart, spontaneously and inexplicably, opened to
all of those with whom she came into contact. Bill brought out latent healing
abilities that his students never imagined possible. Whether it was generosity
of spirit, depth of soul, augmented physical stamina, or just plain enjoyment,
Bill was a master of coaxing it out of those who met him in such a subtle
but sure way.
Give Spirit Options
Bill had a way of opening up to possibilities not yet imagined or envisioned.
If one approach didn't pan out, another did. This was as true in experimenting
with therapeutics for a particular patient as it was for saving naturopathic
medical schools from financial collapse. There was a certain infectious fluidity
of style that Bill exemplified in every aspect of his life. It came from
Bill's relentless conviction that, somehow, everything would work out
for the best. And he was able to convince others of this truth as well. He
did this with college presidents, suffering patients, and, on the last day
of his life, with the mother of his son, Noah. As Roberta shared at the service,
she and Bill were led, the last morning of his life, into the room where
the body of their youngest son, Noah, lay. Noah had died suddenly that morning,
and Bill and Roberta had but a few precious moments left to spend with his
body. Instead of blaming God or questioning, "Why Noah? Why me?",
Bill remarked to Roberta that it was a good day for Jesus. At that very moment,
one that no parent anywhere ever wants to face, Bill accepted his son's
death as the divine will for his family. "Giving spirit options" meant
that there were many ways in which grace might unfold—if not in one
way, then another. This eliminated resistance and allowed for infinite possibilities.
No one would have imagined that Bill would have died of a heart attack within
hours of his son's death, yet it was clearly the option that spirit
We are not saying that Bill's life was necessarily easy—far from
it in certain aspects—but it often seemed that way. He had such a relaxed,
calm, easy style of speaking and interacting. It's odd, as we consider
it, that a man who had such a zest for life and intensity, on the one hand,
could have been so easeful on the other. But so it was with Bill, a man of
some contradictions. Effortless, in Bill's case, by no means meant that
he was slow-paced, even though, when he was with you, it felt like he had all
the time in the world. In fact, Bill hiked so quickly that he far outdistanced
the pack, so much so that no companion could keep up with him. (Funny that
we heard the very same description, the other day, of Dr. Bastyr's pace
during mountain hikes.) Even though Bill might be engaging in a remarkably
taxing activity, physically, mentally, emotionally, he just seemed relaxed
and at ease.
Even though he knew more about the wisdom and practice of naturopathic medicine
that anyone else alive today, Bill was amazingly humble. His style of teaching
and sharing was to try things out and see if they worked and to welcome anyone
else's ideas, regardless of their credentials or experience or point
of view. Bill always made you feel like he could just as easily learn from
you as you from him. There was nothing pretentious or arrogant about Bill.
It just wasn't in him to be that way.
A Voracious Appetite
Bill loved, loved, loved to eat…. and to eat a lot. Maybe almost as much
as Dr. Bastyr. Class hikes to mountains started off with the ritual of meeting
at the infamous pie rendezvous in Marysville. In fact, Bill was an avid pie-maker
in the final years of his life and left a luscious apple pie in the frig which
was eaten, posthumously, by his family following his death. Bill shocked many
a naturopathic purist with his predilection for good, old-fashioned hamburgers.
Maybe Bill's love and lust for food was what made him invite the rest
of us to sample this or that herb, savor a yummy piece of pie, or taste of
the awesome beauty of nature on those backpacking trips.
Bill was not one to judge others for their actions. He understood that we all
make mistakes and, in fact, that they are necessary to learn and to grow.
A close friend – a student, with Judyth, in the second class of Bastyr,
from 1979 to 1983 – told us a precious story about Bill's ability
to look the other way. At the time, some of our classes were held at a local
community college, where we had access to microscopes and other amenities
that the college could not yet afford. My friend and, at that time, sister
student, was young and innocent. She lived in co-housing not too far from
school where she happened to have a near-empty pond in her backyard, which
was quite lonely for the few goldfish it contained. Another partner in crime,
also in our class, happened to mention that there was a fish pond on the
upper floor of the community college overflowing with this very kind of fish.
And so it was that one day after class, armed with coat hangers and homemade
fish nets improvised from panty hose, they sneaked upstairs to the pond after
class. Rolling up their pant legs, poised to snag a few fortunate or unfortunate
fishies, depending on the point of view, they'd just begun when, lo
and behold, there appeared Bill. "Hi there," he casually remarked. "Whatcha
doin?" "Oh, nothing," they replied sheepishly, not knowing
whether to feel guilty or terrified. "Oh, okay." Bill answered,
with a knowing look. They were, as my friend put it, busted. Not a word of
reproach, just a telling expression. That was Bill.
There was many a day when Bill attended morning mass, so some might consider
him a Catholic. He taught yoga for over twenty years, which would could suggest
a connection with Hinduism. Bill demonstrated tremendous respect for Native
American rituals and knowledge, particularly in the world of herbs. In a
way he was a Shaman. After the auto accident resulting in the death of a
Vietnamese mother, Bill dedicated himself to understanding Buddhism. He was
a universalist. Filled with respect for all spiritual traditions, Bill was
able to communicate and celebrate God and spirit beyond any one religion
or text. Bill's religion was surely that of the boundless love available
to one and all sentient beings.
If we could say just one thing about Bill—the single quality that we
would most like to embody ourselves and that is so special in a doctor or any
human being—it is unconditional love: the ability to give from the depth
of one's heart, loving without holding back, and expecting nothing in
return; the simplicity of opening one's heart just because that is all
there is to do; love with no expectations, underlying motives, or need for
anything in return. Bill did this with all of us so graciously, so palpably.
This is, above all, what we will miss. Bill gave his love to the animate and
the inanimate, with such simplicity yet such clarity of intention, for this
is truly what Bill's life was all about.
If one genuinely believes that all works out for the best and that only love
exists, there is nothing to do but to surrender. Bill understood that all
too well. Those who knew him well shared that Bill yearned to be used to
the greatest degree possible and offered himself up consciously with this
in mind. Dr. Dirk Powell shared with us, at the Friday night memorial service,
an amusing Bill story. Having just remarked to Dirk that Bill wanted anything
that came between him and God to be revealed and released, the two of them
returned to find Bill's car stereo stolen, Initially, Bill was not
so happy about this turn of events, but he recognized that having his cord
of attachment to his stereo so swiftly cut was actually an answer to his
prayer. He chose not to replace it, allowing the dangling cords to be a reminder
of his promise to hold nothing back from God. Bill grasped fully, through
the lessons of the fatal car accident and its aftermath, that he was being
asked to rip open his heart as the answer to his prayer. For to love and
surrender fully, nothing can be held back. And, in the end, as with Bill,
even our earthly bodies are surrendered.
We are filled with gratitude for all that Bill taught us and continues
to teach us. May we all follow in the footsteps of Bill, and of Dr.
Bastyr, to exemplify all of these precious qualities as best we can.
All is well.
Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman and Robert Ullman are licensed naturopathic
physicians, board certified in homeopathy. Judyth graduated from Bastyr
University in 1983 in the second class to graduate from the school.
Bob received his ND in 1981 from The National College of Naturopathic
Medicine (the first two years of which were held in Wichita, KS and
the second two in Portland, OR. Their books include: A
Drug-Free Approach to Asperger Syndrome and Autism, Ritalin-Free
Kids, Rage-Free Kids, Prozac Free,
Homeopathic Self-Care: The Quick and Easy
Guide for the
Whole Family, Whole Woman Homeopathy, The Patient's Guide to Homeopathic
Medicine, and Mystics, Masters, Saints
and Sages-Stories of Enlightenment.
They teach and lecture internationally and practice at The Northwest
Center for Homeopathic Medicine in Edmonds, WA. They treat patients
by phone and video conference as well as in person, and can be reached
by telephone at 425-774-5599 or by fax at 425-670-0319. Their websites
are www.healthyhomeopathy.com and