Path of the Healer

No, no, no – seriously no.

Posted on November 13, 2014. Filed under: Path of the Healer, Seasons and Climate, Spiritual Practice |

It’s Fall.  Despite any denial to the contrary.  We’ve had the calendar shift, the clock change and the weather, despite New England’s always amusing dance of the many temperatures and weather patterns, is shifting toward Winter and away from Summer.  Except there is still that part of us that is pulled by society’s busy, busy, frenzy into working as if it is not.  And that struggle makes life more stressful than it should be.  So not a surprise. 😉

Like many of us who know better, I slip into that mind set too.  Keep doing more.  Produce.  Accomplish. Strive, etc.   So I decided it was time for some harsh medicine.

What did I do?

  • I took the week off-line essentially.  The bare minimum that needed to be done.  No real social media, web surfing, etc with its pull to consume more and stare more a the monitor doing nothing profound.
  • Arranged with my day job that while there was too much going on to take time off, that I would be occasionally come in a bit late, leaving a bit early, taking a slightly longer lunch.  Not too much – but enough (and they didn’t need to know the reason why) that I could pause on the way to and from work to look at the world around me.  Take in the trees, the sky and the stars.  To sit by the river after eating lunch.  To live in a time, even if to a small degree that wasn’t quite as bound by the rushing pull of the clock, etc.
  • I set aside the non-essential things.
  • I set aside the herbal work that I thought needed to be done and could wait.
  • I read fun things, I watched silly movies.
  • In my off time, I RELAXED.  I PAUSED.  I REFLECTED.
  • I laughed.
  • I shifted the time to being rather than planning, thinking and such.

Of course, it wasn’t easy but I find it an essential part of the seasonal transition that we neglect and a great prelude to the change of seasons.   Shifting from running about to delving within.

Fall Beauty in Boston - (Image by Michael Blackmore Mad Crow Herbalism)

Fall Beauty in Boston – (Image by Michael Blackmore Mad Crow Herbalism)

Stopping and looking at the trees who show us the change with deep beauty, but build on the reality of changing for the new season.

Learning from the Herbal Kitty

Herbal Kitty Sunshine Therapy (Image by Michael Blackmore Mad Crow Herbalism)

Herbal Kitty Sunshine Therapy (Image by Michael Blackmore Mad Crow Herbalism)

That sitting in a sunbeam on a chill Fall day is the best medicine.

I say go and:

  • Break out that cup of Linden tea.  Or Tulsi Tea, or Chamomile.  Perhaps some Lemon Balm, Mint or whatever nervine friends best sooth your being into greater harmony with yourself and to be less driven by pull of a societal life out of balance.  Sit and drink.  By candlelight if you want – or pull open the shades and look a the Moon as you drink at night.
  • Draw a nice hot bath, light some candles, mix in some Epsom salts and throw in some herbal teas to sooth your body and your mind.
  • Dance, sing, make art and beauty.

It’s not like the media is going to say stop watching the news, ads, buying things and go relax and be at peace.  That’s the opposite of what helps them sell things to you that you don’t need to appease that hole you feel when you are disconnected from what brings you joy, calm and connection to self, other people and nature.

So you have to pause and do it for yourself the hard way.  Even if it is in small bits within the sea of your ever flowing life.

It’s Fall, make peace with it and yourself.   I feel better after doing it myself

Just my insane .02  🙂

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Herbal Madness

Posted on May 22, 2014. Filed under: Events, Healing, Path of the Healer, Random Musings, Uncategorized |

As I mentioned the other week, I’ve been busy lately editing the Herbstalk blog lately, but as we head into the final couple of weeks before the Herbstalk Festival – and you know you want to go don’t you! Heck, I’m teaching there so it’s almost a must! 😉   So I thought that each week, I’d reprint one of my posts from the Herbstalk blog here.   Here’s one I did in February called – Herbal Madness! Enjoy…


Stop! Step away from those herbs…yes, I mean you. I know this is a blog for an herbal festival and so it is all about herbalism, but I just want to make the case for not taking herbs – at least every once and a while. 😉

Shocked Cat (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism

Shocked Cat (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism

It is pretty easy to get in the habit of always incorporating all the wonderful plant friends into our daily lives – teas, tinctures, capsules, etc.   But sometimes I think it is good just to take a break once and a while from them all.

Too often, we tend to think of ourselves as static instead of dynamic. When in fact, we change from year to year, season to season and even day to day as our world changes, our lives change and even the weather changes.

I find it helpful to take a break from time to time and see what is truly going on in your body. What changes have happened? Is there a new normal? Sometimes you can more profoundly recognize the effects of different herbs and what different combination are having on you when you aren’t taking them.

Taking a break and when you’re done – trying a new herb or re-visiting one that you never really connected with before can be a powerful experience.   And one always worth exploring. You may find a new herbal best friend or re-visit a long lost one! More importantly, you may learn something about yourself in the process.

One of the hazards of plant love is that we can begin to see the world through narrowed “herbal” colored glasses. Just like that old piece of wisdom, Maslow’s hammer – if all you do is hammer than everything looks like a nail.  You can see yourself, family, friends and customers and clients no longer as full individuals but as nails requiring an herbal hammer.

I see it all the time on line in places like Facebook, when a simple observation about a momentary mood, event in day, physical ache, pain etc. – invokes a torrent of “herbal” fixes from my many online herbal friends.

I generally just smile, roll my eyes and think “bless their well-meaning hearts”, but sometimes things just are and they pass. It is part of living life, impermanence and being.   Trying to “fix” things through herbs can be just as bad as the over-medicating that seems to be an epidemic in mainstream Western medicine.

Herbs: feel free to use and love them. Share that love with others.

But take a break from time to time to be not so attached. Then you can learn more about yourself and others while remembering to truly see people and be with them and not just see objects to be “herbaled.”

Just my own insane .02

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Enjoy Everything!

Posted on April 20, 2014. Filed under: Healing, Path of the Healer, Random Musings, Seasons and Climate |

It feels to me that the past few months of winter, with their relentless cold and storms, have been especially soul wearing this year.   And I know from talking to others that I’m not the only one who’d felt that way.  As I joked with a friend, if it weren’t for deadlines I don’t think I’d have gotten anything done during that time.

Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism

Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism

One of the problems with winter in our culture, is that we try to keep so busy during it.  Frenetically pursuing to do lists and tasks that require energy better suited to spring and summer.  When instead we should be spending our time quieting down, conserving ourselves and perhaps looking within – more being and less doing.  And working so hard against that seasonal pull can be especially draining (part of the reason I took a break from blogging and was very light on the social media front as well, but I’ll write about that another time.)

But at last it is spring.   The days grow longer and temperatures rise bit by bit. (Or if you live in New England the weather see-saws between seasons in a way that is almost manic depressive in its energy!)  To me, now is the time to break out the to do lists as your energies rise with the season – not January 1 – when  the days grow shorter and weather becomes so challenging!

The beginning of this month was April Fool’s Day.  I’m not much of a prankster, but, for me, I think of the spirit of the day is less in the notion of playing jokes or pranks as it is in sharing joy and laughter.  Remembering fun and to enjoy things – to lighten up.  Making that transition from the dark days and introspection – really a re-birth and very keeping in the spirit of spring.  And let’s not forget Easter time with all of its symbolism about rebirth!

Now take that rebirth energy go and make your to do list and change your life for the better but not in some somber task, work, work, work way – instead take the time to laugh and reconnect with that sense of fun.

As Oscar Wilde said:

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”

Or in a more fun take, here’s one of my favorite Buddhist jokes:

The Buddhist hands the vendor a five. The vendor gives the Buddhist the hot dog. The Buddhist stands there waiting for change. The vendor shakes her head and says, “Change comes from within.”

So it’s  Spring:  Be reborn, embrace changes and most importantly ENJOY EVERYTHING!

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Book Review: Planet Medicine: Origins, Revised Edition: Origins by Richard Grossinger

Posted on December 17, 2013. Filed under: Book Reviews, Path of the Healer |

Planet-medicine

I recently finished reading Planet Medicine: Origins, Revised Edition: Origins by Richard Grossinger  and what a ride it has been.

At its base, this book is an anthropological survey of healing systems from around the world as well as a bit of a philosophical examination of healing and healing systems.  Which by itself is completely made of awesome.

It is also a big shaggy dog of a book that often meanders about sometimes uncovering thoughtful treasures and sometimes digging up old shoes that may not be quite so exciting.    I have to admit there were times when I skimmed sections not quite convinced of the points he was making nor where he seemed to be going, but those were more than balanced by absolute gems and insights that would start me into deep attention.  Followed but exciting turnings of my own thoughts.

In amongst the surveys of different traditions you’ll find intriguing quotes like this scattered about like gold glittering in a stream bed:

1)  Allopathy has become, first and foremost, a competitive multinational corporation with trademarks to protect, products to sell; second, a means for preventing disease and curing sick people.

2)  Western medicine is based on healing people to go back to jobs and niches. Disease in indigenous society is an opportunity for life change.

3)  Most of daily life hypnotizes us—its customs, jobs, vehicles, clocks, billboards, and other media all implant “post-hypnotic” messages while keeping individuals in zombie-like trances.

Wow, I love those quotes because they do capture a bit of truth so well.

Beyond just being a fascinating look at so many varied philosophies of healing it has a couple of particular things that I really appreciated in its general approach.

One was how he also talks about Western scientific medicine as one of the systems.  A philosophy with good points and bad points, strengths and weaknesses as well as blind spots and agendas.  Which is a valuable POV that should always be remembered – heck no system of healing, thought, etc. should ever be treated as truth with a capital T!

I’ve seen too many books like this simplify the explanations and theory so much to make them accessible that they instead instead end up uncomfortably bland and generic sounding.  It’s like saying most people have two eyes, legs, etc. – true but it is not a useful way to talk about different peoples around the world, any more than it is useful to talk too simply about different healing modalities.  And thankfully he doesn’t do that.  Instead he digs in to the stuff that makes them different and the things which leave the uninitiated going – “really? You think that?”

That is good. Actually really good because…

Real knowledge and understanding isn’t found in only being reflected back your current understanding and beliefs – but in being forced to re-consider them as you are exposed to different ones!

So sayeth I.

Lastly, there was one tidbit that really struck me, especially since I’ve had similar experiences in my yoga practice and working with my teacher.   In one section of the book  a man is told in a Tai Chi class to feel something in his body and had no idea how and was told “To whom did you sell your body? I hope you got a good price.”

Isn’t that one of the keys?  How many of our problems come from no longer being connected to ourselves?  Having a sense of ownership and care for our bodies and our health?  It gets too easy to ignore or treat our bodies as foreign things to be done with, or done to, rather than developing that understanding and connection with.  If there is one commonality to all good healing modalities to me, it is one of re-building that lost connection – buying back our bodies, our health.

Just my insane .02

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Pondering the Finger or the Moon

Posted on September 13, 2013. Filed under: Path of the Healer, Random Musings, Spiritual Practice, Yoga |

I’ve been thinking a lot about a Zen teaching concept – “Finger Pointing at the Moon” – and just how valuable a lesson it is in so many aspects of my life from my yoga practice, in herbalism, etc.

MoonThe short version of the it is that the phrase points out you can obsess about details while losing sight of the bigger picture or end goal.

Or more elaborately when you overly focus on the minute details of the teachings and practice as if they were the point but instead they are just the finger pointing the way to the moon (goal.)

This shows up for me in yoga practice far too often where I can overly focus on those nagging Pitta Perfect Self questions like am I doing this asana right, etc.  And tending to forget where the practice is pointing in general.   More often than not this shows for me in not letting go enough by aiming for a non-existent “just right” asana – instead a looser spiraling exploration of myself in the journey of asana.

But occasionally I have funny moments of letting go like when I was kicking up into headstand the other night and did it with a bit too much gusto and instead of obsessing/panicking as I fell – I just let myself fall and enjoying my butt whopping into the bed and my feet whacking into the workstation sending the keyboard and mouse of my computer into their own lunar exploration!   Then I laughed, and set myself up and did it again! 😉

In herbalism, this is part of the reason I’m not big on leading plant walks.  There’s always something that has bothered me about going around just categorizing (identifying) and talking about how you can use things.

Mind you, I love me a big old fact filling info buffet as much as the next geeky herbal sort, but it seems too using and ungrateful.  I think I want to create a plant (un)walk where instead you go around thanking the plants and sharing how you have worked together with them.

Kind of like how one Thanksgiving instead of doing the normal nonsense we do that day in America.  I wrote thank you letters to the people in my life.   Giving THANKS!  Which is the point of the holiday isn’t it? -Rather than all the other stuff which just points to that goal.

One final way of looking at this all is how I explained cooking and life to a friend once.  I’m one of those folks who can just throw things together and yummy magic happens.   I said recipes are great but you really learn how to cook once you get to the point of letting go of them and playing in the inspiration of the moment and ingredients you gather.  And you really start living when you let go of the idea of a path (recipe) and starting playing/living your own way.

  • Just like in yoga when you learn enough to really play in the asanas, then you’re on your real path as a full yogi.
  • Or in herbalism when you learn enough to play with the herbs in ways that inspire you then you’re on your way to true herbalism.
  • There are no recipes/paths in your life.  A path is what is formed in your wake as you go forward.   Following others paths too closely never lets you create your own way.

Ponder the finger but let go of the finger once it helps you find the Moon.  Then you can dance in the moonlight.

Just my insane .02

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Book Review – Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga by Benjamin Lorr

Posted on July 17, 2013. Filed under: Book Reviews, Path of the Healer, Random Musings, Uncategorized, Yoga | Tags: , , |

I recently finished reading Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga by Benjamin Lorr  for a book club discussion and have to admit that it, and the discussion at the book club, stirred up a lot of thoughts for me about yoga practice, healing, herbalism and life.

Cover to book Hell-Bent by Benjamin Lorr

Cover: Hell-Bent by Benjamin Lorr

The Basics:

Even setting aside my complete aversion to heat to the point which hot yoga is as about as welcome a practice to me as a soapy bath is to a cat.  I have to admit the book was a bit of bear for me even though there were parts that I found good (such as his way of really getting into the heads of the some practitioners) because there were others that I found almost painful (like his sidestepping the more egregious goings on.)   I felt at times that the author was trying too hard to present all sides and often looking a bit too much to rationalize some of the behavior in the beginning of the book.

While he does toward the end of the book begin to look at some of the problematic aspects of Bikram and his style of yoga – he tries a little too hard to sidestep using the word “cult-like” to describe some of the goings on and that is just screaming out even through the filter of the author’s narrative.  Let’s face it, what else can you call a man who while leading a teacher training sits on an elevated throne, with a special air conditioner to keep himself cool while overlooking a sea of students sweltering in the heat, as a collection of women massage his body – it’s hard to sugar coat the imagery, and expletives, which something like that invokes.

At times, I try to be generous and assume he’s simply trying to present “both” sides while trying to preserve his access to write the book – as well as letting us draw our own conclusions. At others, I suspect it’s a disturbing blind spot.  Still a worthwhile read in trying to understand a world I, for one, would never want to be part of.

 The Deeper Stuff:

What’s really interesting to me about all of this is the issues of pain, growth and what is yoga (and healing) in general that this stirred up.

I often look at these people who pursue these extremes of heat and exertion in yoga (and other things) and I tend to wonder if some of them are a bit addicted to the brain chemicals the body releases to help you deal with it pain and stress on the system.

Frankly, when it is hot your body doesn’t want to be terribly active.   And if you’re exerting yourself extremely in the heat it can only assume your life is in danger and releases chemicals to suppress pain and cover up the damage and shifts the flow of blood and oxygen to the where it would be most needed until the crisis is over (which means shortages to the rest.)

That’s where it gets interesting to me.  Advocates for that sort of thing talk about how you can get deeper into your poses than in normal temperatures.  But then I see accounts of people, like in the book, who can’t do the same poses in a normal temperature room that they can in a hot one.  So essentially it seems to me to be a prop – but one that some of the advocates aren’t letting go of so they can learn to do the work without the external aid.  So at best it can be a illusion of a short cut to what their practice could be like, but actually isn’t.   As well as perhaps illustrating a classic Western obsession with achieving a destination, while missing the point that the true wisdom lay in the journey there and not the actual destination.

More importantly, it seems antithetical to what I view yoga as being.  Part of yoga is learning to listen and communicate with your body.  At its best, it can be a deep communing and learning encompassing both the body’s places of ease and discomforts.  When you push into such  an extreme position that your body masks its own injuries and pain to keep you going you’ve lost that connection and communication and instead are embracing a lie and false view of self. That is missing the meaning of yoga for me.

Beyond Yoga:

What struck me beyond this- is how much it parallels the way it can be sometimes with Western medicine, with herbalism  and in life in general as well.

Too often, we seek a drug or an herb to mask a symptom – lose that connection with the body and so avoid the deeper truth of what is going on.  Cover up that persistent itch or pain that is a warning and miss dealing with the deeper cause of it because you mask the symptom – avoiding communication and exploration.

Or we do something to mask a symptom of what may be going on with our lives and cover up that discomfort rather then learn from it to see what it is we truly need to change about how we are, and what we do, in our world.

Something to think about, isn’t it?

Just my insane .02 in reaction to the book.

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Dem Bones and more – Anatomy fun with a yoga focus

Posted on May 7, 2013. Filed under: Path of the Healer, Yoga |

I’ve been a kick lately of studying anatomy mainly coming out of my yoga studies but it is, of course, very applicable to herbalism as well.  So I’d thought I’d share the random collection of resources I’ve gathered and have been working with.

Online:

  • BioDigital Human.:  I’ve recently fallen in love with this site, with its interactive 3D rendering.  It’s worth the time to study the controls and features and learn to work them well it will pay off really quickly.  The free version will do most folks but the paid is relatively cheap and includes some nifty features.   One of the things I really wish they would change is how they handle the quiz function.   You can limit the body the system (muscles, skeleton, etc.) but not focus on a particular section of that system in the body.  And it only really quizzes you on ID and not form and function aspects.  But still a great site.
  • Anatomy Zone:  a great collection of videos which are also on their youtube account, but I like using the website for easier navigation.

Both go really well together but I do wish they had more of showing the body in motion as they describe the actions of things.

Smart Phone Apps (all both Android and Apple!):

  • Learn Muscles – very nice app with surprisingly good graphics.  I love that the quiz section lets you do a varieties of things like focus on particular areas of body, ID, origin, insertion and actions.   I do find that extra features come at  price that sometimes it crashes mid quiz and it doesn’t shuffle the questions as well as I’d like.  But still a great little app.
  • Visual Bones and Visual Muscles by Education Mobile.   Not quite a nifty as Learn muscles but still pretty great.  These two apps give you the basics in a pretty good form.  The quizzes are only IDing but still useful.
  • Speed Muscle, Speed Bones and Speed Anatomy by Benoit Essiambre. A level down by comparison to the above and just basic quizzing on ID.  The navigation is a pain since it shows you the whole body rather than a part during the quizzing and it grades you by how close you are to the exactly location – which is hard to do on a small screen.  But basic and gets the job done.

Books – General:

  • Concise Book of Muscles by Chris Jarmey. Great overview of the muscles of the body.  I routinely come back to it as a quick reference.
  • Know Your Body: The Atlas of Anatomy by Emmet Keeffe. Nice simple basic reference to fully human anatomy and surprisingly readable.
  • Anatomy and Physiology for Dummies (and workbook). Always a good place to start.  I actually like Know Your Body better, because it is more anatomy and less physiology here at the cost of the anatomy.  But still worthwhile.
  • Trail Guide To The Body by Andrew Biel.  If you can find a good used copy.  It is totally worth having.  More oriented to massage student but useful for many folks.
  • Medical Terminology for Dummies.  You’d be surprised how useful this is to have around.  Some of the anatomy books are not the best at defining the terms they use and this comes in more than handy to make up the difference.

Books – Yoga anatomy specific:

To go even deeper into the yoga poses I live by this series of Ray Long books:

Such a great resource to look up any individual pose and how the the body works in them.  How to get into them, tips, focus, etc.

I hope this random overview of resources I’ve been gather helps.  🙂

And, of course, I have this song running through my head:

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Spirit, Spirituality and Intention in Practice and Working with Herbs

Posted on August 14, 2012. Filed under: Path of the Healer, Random Musings, Spiritual Practice | Tags: |

The other day I saw a post online where the author was complaining about not finding yoga spiritual as part of a tirade about how corrupted the US is and pure India is.  Yada, Yada.

But it did trigger an “a-ha” moment for me.


Here’s a secret of searching for spirituality in practice – you won’t find it in Yoga, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, etc. You find it within you and how you approach things. That’s the commonality in all these teachings. But yet we see people like the author continually looking for it there and then complaining when they don’t find it.

The whole “chop wood, carry water” trope in Zen has actual meaning. If you approach chopping wood and carrying water spiritually you will find it a spiritual practice. If you don’t, it isn’t. The same applies to Yoga, all religious practices and so much more in life.

Intention is so powerful and key with so many activities.  Heck it is a powerful underpinning of Karma for Hindus and Buddhists.  And, IMO, it is also so potent in working with herbs and making medicines with them.

I’m actually pretty good at tincture making and get some nice extractions to the point that I routinely get asked about how I did it.   I’ve even had folks make things from the same sources in the same official way but not quite have as good a result as me.

At one level, I do have a powerful instinct for proportions and mixing probably honed from my cooking skill.   But I think it comes down a lot to intention as well.  I believe there are a couple of main ways ways to make herbal preparations:

  • Mushroom style making – keep them in the dark and mostly ignore them
  • Mechanically make it following the instructions, mixing and shaking it as needed
  • Sending prayers, good intentions, energy into things

I basically fall into the last camp, but in a different way, since I think it is way too formal.  Many people’s  spirituality is oh so serious – while mine is funny and joyful.  Laughing spirit rather than somber spirit.

Plus I believe just sending prayers and energy as making what you’re working with into just an object to be used.   I don’t believe that when you’re asking for healing,  treating as object is the way to to do it.  Anymore than treating someone as object is the way to ask a favor of them.  I think it is far too easy to treat plants as just another thing to use and I’d rather work with them as partners and in relationship.

For me, I like just talking with them plainly.  That’s right…I talk with my brewing tinctures and herbal products!   Everyday.  I also talk to growing plants too.  I say hello in the morning, goodbye when I leave for the day and goodnight when I go to bed.   And in between I talk to them, praise them, joke with them, etc.   🙂

Important FYI, Nettles hates fist bumping.   Don’t say I didn’t warn you….

Inspired by this  I did an incredibly unscientific and mostly biased experiment where I made both Goldenseal and Hawthorn berry tinctures but in three different ways each.  One of each in my usual talkative way, one of each in the more formal herbal way, one of each mix and ignore for a while.  All were made with the same sources and mixtures levels.

The unscientific result?

The first two Goldenseal ones were pretty similar with slight differences that could be more imagined than real, while the ignored one simply didn’t extract as well.

But the Hawthorn berry had quite the difference.   The regular way was fine, extracted reasonably with no problems.  My talkative one extracted better in my view and tasted far better.  The ignored one was the most dramatic result – it didn’t extract well at all and tasted awful with a sharp edge to it.

Concrete proof?   Perhaps not, but very interesting to me.   I suspect different herbs react in different energetic ways and need appropriate care energetically in making them.     And I think intention plays a role in how well you work with herbs and healing.

That’s just my insane .02.  😉

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Ayurveda – Initial Explorations

Posted on July 11, 2012. Filed under: Healing, Path of the Healer | Tags: |

A few weeks back I met with an Ayurvedic health counselor and it started me on a bit on an exploration of Ayurveda which inspired some thoughts.

One of the reasons I went was because I was interested in its take on my weather sensitivity. I’ve always been extraordinarily in tune with the weather and its changes and moods. When I was younger it was simply an uprush of energy as storms came in and general mood connections to the weather patterns. As I grew older it morphed into more elaborate and annoying trends. Difficulty sleeping during big weather shifts, lightheaded feelings during increasing temperatures, etc. And, in general, things that in an early time would have earned me an honored place as the weather shaman.

Just to share a classic example that happened recently. I was having lunch with a friend on a sunny spring day. There was no rain in the forecast, yet I told her it was going to rain soon. She laughed and said I crazy. Then while the sun was still out it started raining for about 10 minutes lightly before stopping again. (I decided to not perform my “I’m Right and You’re Wrong Dance” then….)

Now what was interesting to me was the recommended treatment was not herbs but adjusting my diet according to my constitution which is Vata-Pitta. I’m not going to go into the details here of doshas because there are plenty of resources on line about it but you can think about it as wind and fire. I was told that both my Vata was very unbalanced and my Pitta was as well, but we’d start on working on balancing the Vata. And I was given a list of foods to favor and foods to avoid and told to experiment for a month.

In my first couple of weeks, I’ve actually noticed some interesting changes. My dreams kicked into overdrive, my sleep changed for the better and most interestingly I was surprised by two rainstorms. I haven’t been surprised by a rainstorm EVER. I’m not saying everything is perfect given that I’m only a couple of weeks into this and merely by favoring certain vegetables, grains, etc. over other ones I’m noticing such a change is completely fascinating and something that should be and obvious extension from my herbalism studies but somehow seems to be ignored.

When diet is wrong medicine is of no use.
When diet is correct medicine is of no need.
~Ayurvedic Proverb

In herbalism, we often talk about energetics of people and energetics of medicinal plants. (Is it cooling, heating, etc.) But rarely diet and when I’ve seen dietary discussion it is often around the axis of Paleos, Raw food and/or Vegetarian/Vegans. But not in terms of the energetics of food plants – which is interesting because given the relative quantities of food plants we ingest weekly versus any amount of medicinal tinctures, teas, etc. – thus the effects of their energetics would be profound.

On one level it is a tribute to medicinal plants that they can have such a powerful effect despite that. On another level I believe we do a disservice to people in ignoring diet and the energetics of food plants in terms of how they affect health.

I’m not necessarily implying a strict adoption of the systems of Ayurveda, or Traditional Chinese Medicine, in looking at foods. And even within those systems (just as in Western Herbalism assessments of medicinal plants) there are different schools and interpretations of how things get categorized energetically. But it is worth thinking about more and exploring how to include thinking about food, diet and attitudes about food as well.

Food for thought so to speak…

References of Note:

    • Prakriti: Your Ayurvedic Constitution by Robert Svoboda. Which made for an excellent overview and I particularly liked how it looks at emotional, physical, psychological and energetics of you and food and how they work together. What it lacks is how to truly put it into practice but it is really not intended for that purpose but more of a philosophic overview and it does that well enough.
    • Ayurveda: A Life of Balance by Maya Tiwari. A more substantial examination of the theory, foods and includes recipes. Much of her discussions of food, preparation of food and how to maintain your kitchen and your life for harmonious health are incredibly beautiful and inspirational. And overall, most of it is highly unlikely to be incorporated into most people’s daily lives – certainly not mine. But it can be a nice touchstone to remind you when your inner compass has gone askew because of the pulls of normal Western living. One of the things I really liked about the book was how the charts looking at the energetics of food according to your Dosha were broken down into the categories of Major (most helpful), Minor (less helpful but still helpful) and Regressive. Which I think works better than the chart I was initially given saying merely favor or avoid – a little too binary for me.
    • The Ayurvedic Cookbook by Amadea Morningstar. Briefer theory section than the other two because it is primarily a cookbook (in case the title didn’t clue you in.) I found the charts and symbol system less useful and less intuitive than Tiwari’s book but still a good resource as well.

I’ll certainly be reading, studying and learning more over time…

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Random Musings: Can You Hear Me Now?

Posted on January 27, 2012. Filed under: Path of the Healer, Random Musings | Tags: , , |

Originally, I had a completely different idea of what I was going to write about this week. But after reading the latest always wondrous post by Lucinda over at Whispering earth, I decided to go in a different direction. (As well as a different direction from her post!)

At the end of 2011, I had decided to spend part of my time in 2012 on a particular goal, learning how to become a healer who is an herbalist rather than just an herbalist (who may or may not be a healer.) This goal arose as I looked at the advanced training options at different herbal schools and, as I did, there were several small things that nagged me about them.

Two Paths (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbals)

The one aspect that’s relevant here is the focus on diagnostic systems – ways to box, label, access clients and their conditions but by itself it seemed to be missing something important – listening and being present. Medical schools have been struggling with this and are working to incorporate such things into their curriculum. It’s one area where the “alternative” healing arts have traditionally been strong that has disappeared in contemporary Western medicine. And it is something I would loathe to see lost as some herbalists try to be oh so more formal and official.

IMO, being heard, truly heard, is a key part of the healing process. And listening well is a key skill for healers of all stripes and anyone in general. Yes, you need your knowledge and connection to plants. As well as your diagnostic tool sets. But there needs to be a space before then where you are present and actively listening. I believe that hearing, not just the symptoms, but the experience the person is going through gives a context for the situation and can lay the groundwork for real healing, rather than just alleviating the symptoms.

But first one of my favorite Zen stories:

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

Beautiful on so many levels….

Now there’s a difference between passive listening (say like the veal like passivity people have watching TV where you listen but aren’t so present and engaged) and active listening where you are present and engaged. I tend to think of real listening as being present, letting go of your inner chatter and being open and focused. And for most of us that can be hard work.

Make no mistake. It is a skill that takes work and practice – especially in this culture which is almost antithetical to developing that skill. For me, studying and practicing various Buddhist techniques is invaluable in working on my listening skills and learning to be present. I personally find meditation an amazing aid as well.

Here are some books I’d recommend if anyone has interest in some of this:

In a more Buddhist vein focused on mindfulness:

Some may go, but what does this have to do with herbalism?  A whole lot if you really want to be a healer rather than just be an herbalist.  Which is the question that helped begin my journey this year.  😉

But I think that is enough talking. Time for me to practice what I preach…. 🙂

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