I’m never sure where to begin…so I’ll start right where I am.
Currently inhabiting my body at Ironworks Climbing Gym, waiting for my joints to wake up enough to take to the bouldering wall and sort out a problem or two. I’m sipping on an Oolong tea and water filled with a B Vitamin complex as astragalus, fennel, reishi, and a handful of other herbs swim in my stomach and integrate into my flesh – rushing to support my stomach and adrenals for the day. I’m nearly ready for a pile of collard greens and sweet potato with chia, flax, and hemp hearts. Maybe a little chocolate coconut milk… I’ll probably take a few minutes to stretch my body before climbing, giving in to a longer restorative practice, detox sweat in the sauna and a good hot shower afterwards. For the moment, this is my Monday Morning ritual – a decadent dose of self-care and self-love I’ve not known up to now…at least not like this. Ah – the greatest gift of grad school is the break.
All of this is to say that self-care and wholeness – as a good psychotherapy training should teach – is a full time job. It requires unwavering attention to the subtle changes in energy and sensation in my body, enough options to explore various ways of being in my body that deliver me to a greater sense of wellness and contentment, and plenty of time to complete them all at my own pace – as they require my attention differently each day… because I’m slightly different each day…each moment of life. It’s a lot to learn. What foods to eat, what exercises to do, what stretches to explore, who to talk to about certain things and how, where I find most healing, and how to give myself permission to be with all of those inquiries is a long exploration as each turn opens up another infinite set of possibilities to explore. All of them ripe and sweet – ready for diving into. All of this self-exploration has been in part for my own well-being, but it’s also been an investment in how to hold optimal space for clients and students to explore their inner landscapes and find a deeper sense of wholeness. In realizing how much work it is for me – with all this time on my hands – I’ve sharpened my focus in how to bring about that sacred sense of healing for those on a tight (what we’re unfortunately calling “normal /working life”) time and space budget. How can I, as a facilitator, unite the practices I’ve found most transformative and facilitate their exploration with others in a way that deeply supports us all? That’s the mega question…
What I’m discovering is fascinating and exciting and I find I’m always overwhelmed with joy to share them. Even though I’m not an expert in some of the modalities I’m exploring, I am being deeply impacted by them and they’re beginning to liberate me from the “need” to be the expert so I can simply be a person who has learned the slow way – through experience. One exploration that has really opened my inner world to me has been the journey of Herbalism. Herbalism is the ancient practice (like… as old as the human race) of working with the plant world to navigate an entire host of human ailments from the psycho-spiritual to the all physical illness and injuries. People worked in deep relationship with the plant world to understand their medicine and bring it to the human world. “As in all cultures, western herbalism and healing are intricately entwined with the realm of magic and mystery. Shamans and wise women who knew the secrets of each herb, their songs and spells, are the ancestors of herbal medicine.” (Morgenstern) This practice asks us to deeply listen no only to our own bodies, but to the world around us – especially the plants that we’ve co-evolved with. It brings us back to that “Distant Time when humans and the more than human world were able to speak the same language.” (Abrams, 1996) When working with herbalism as a healing modality, we’re not only snagging a tincture (often alcohol based extraction of plant material for a high concentration of medicinal properties) but striving to remember this sense of wholeness and prescribe “nutritional healing dietary adjustments, daily movement of energy in the body via exercise, and cleansing of mind, body and spirit via fasts, sweats, meditations and days of silence, or other forms of release to ensure that the plants have optimal impact.” (Morgenstern) Herbalism is a relationship we develop with the natural world that expands us, stretching us into our most awesome version.
As we dive into this relationship, we begin to reconnect with something truly sacred – the Earth. To heal ourselves in the way of the herbalist, we must be able to recognize plants when we see them, call them by name, remember their life cycles and the optimal environment for their wild growth. As we start explore, we learn about the plant and all the offerings it has including how to be in its environment and how the greater network is both impacting and impacted by it. We develop relationship to place – our closest wild areas, our watersheds, our more than human neighbors, and the broader web of life that is constantly engaging around us. We re-member our bodies through directly engaging in a reciprocal relationship with the natural world and in that re-assembly process, come to know more about ourselves than we thought previously possible. We also learn how to listen to our own bodies and truly “are there” for ourselves in a way that is deeper and more intimate. It’s also pretty radical… I mean, if you are able to run out into the woods (or your local apothecary that you trust) and make something to nurture your headache or bum hip, you’re less reliant on a medical system that has ceased caring for people and has become a place to mask symptoms with chemical medications that may further complicate the issue. By lessening the load on our medical system, we are also taking a stand against Big Pharmaceutical Companies and the corporate patterns that leave us sick (and poor) – lost in the victim-izable role of the patient. We stand liberated, self-reliant, and resilient… all things that sound like space-makers for wholeness to me!
Aside from all of that, making medicine and caring for yourself and the ones you love in this way is FUN! Going for a hike and being able to say hello to even just three plants in the understory is an enlivening and exciting moment, taking it from “the woods” to the home of some of your allies and good friends. You’re suddenly never alone, but surrounded by companions that can take care of you if you get bit by a mosquito, suddenly get a headache, or long for something nourishing to the blood after a sweaty hike.
Whether using herbs for magic or migraines, the core principle stays the same: to heal is to make whole. Wholeness is maintained through equilibrium, the natural balance between body and soul. Sickness is defined as a loss of that equilibrium. Herbs are healing agents, therapeutic allies, witnesses and ancient wisdom keepers that can help us return to a true sense of balance. These little plants have co-evolved with us as a species – staying by us as we’ve torn across the globe searching for the meaning of life. We’re now in a time where we can begin to remember those other beings that have supported our arrival and by coming back to them and healing broken bonds, we may finally find the answer.
I am hardly a seedling in this world. Having just opened my eyes to the world of herbal medicine, I’m getting to know a couple plants very well while meeting their companions on my road back to me. I’ve got allies to help me with unpacking old psychological scars, plants that help to lighten my mood when I’m feeling in a funk, and tried and true besties that can handle my headaches or menstrual cramps with ease and yumminess. But this world is vast and in the exploration, its important to have guides in the woods. Teachers that can best uncover the world with you and pass on to you the ancient wisdom of those who have known the plants best. This summer, I’m hosting a workshop that hopes to strictly open the door. To invite you to the woods and ask you to stay a while. By sharing my story of returning to myself, I hope to inspire this journey for you – in your own way…building your own relationships that are deep, meaningful, intimate, joyful and passionate. To guide you toward teachers that can help you expand your vocabulary and teach you best – including the plants themselves. I’m not sure I’ll ever be an “expert” in the ways of herbalism, but I’m certain my relationship to the plant world and myself as my own source of healing and wellness has brought me to new horizons that reveal the something majestic that lies just over the next range… As I walk this path, I keep uncovering something more amazing than I last knew. I keep seeing the world with bigger eyes.
I invite you back to yourself.