One of the things I love about this time of year is how the sunrise and sunset (cue the song from Fiddler on the Roof…) aligns so closely to when I wake and go to sleep. This year I decided to build upon that and surrender a bit to the cycle of day/night.
Yes, cats are so the masters of solar alignment in their own magical way. 🙂
One of the first things that I’ve been doing is using no electric lights. When I awake (which is just around sunrise) I open the blinds throughout my apartment. Then they stay open all day long – only being shut for the night when I go to bed (which is technically a little more than a half hour after official sunset.)
The hard part about that is actually the loss of control. We’re so used to using our artificial light for our convenience that we grasp hard to that control over “the light.” When it is cloudy and dark there simply may not be enough light to read and I have to adjust my activities indoors accordingly. The same thing happens during that time from when it is before sunset but it is no longer quite light enough to read and when I actually go to bed.
I’ve begun listening to audio books or dramatic podcasts (I use a voice controlled device for this so I don’t have to deal with computer/electronics lights.) Which is actually kind of nice since its restful for the eyes just listening rather than watching something or reading. Plus, there’s something particularly cozy and comforting about being read to.
One of the nice things is how substantially calming it is to let the light gradually dim into darkness (well, as dark as it gets in the city which is why the blinds are finally shut.) During the wintertime, I still shut off the lights and electronics a few hours before bed and use candles – which is nice but not quite as impactful for me as just the natural setting of the sun.
It is amazing how much it improves the quality of my sleep and my mood and allows me to feel more the real cycle of things that we so disconnect from in the rush of our daily (especially urban) lives.
Let the sunshine in and follow its lead…
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I needed an acorn for a talk I’m giving and that quest ended up reminding me of an important lesson or two.
I ventured forth on my journey hunting the less then elusive acorn. This time of year is better than average for finding acorns and there was no shortage of acorns trees about (generally Red Oaks in the city here.) As I went to my favorite tree haunts I, of course, found a bounty of them.
And that’s where my problem began. Had I seen just one – the deed would be done and I’d have my acorn. But the more I saw, the more the illusionary perfect acorn that arose in my mind.
The more I pursed that delusion, the more inadequate any of the acorns in front of me seemed. I started going to other locations searching more and more deeply. Still not realizing that the more I searched the further I went from my goal.
Finally, I realized I had been caught in the most human (and consumerist) of traps. The more choices I had the less able I was to choose. And the more I followed the mythic ACORN – the less I truly saw and appreciated the many ones right in front of me.
So I closed my eyes and grabbed a handful – and these were the acorns I held clenched my hand. I looked them over carefully, as if they were the only acorns in the world, and saw them with openness. They were all different and yet all perfectly imperfect (or imperfectly perfect!) in each of their own ways. And I’ll show them all off during my talk.
So the “humble” acorn reminded me of a powerful truth or two. And at the very least consider this a gentle nudge to remember to spend some time out in nature finding some truths for yourself. 🙂
BTW – it is only through the sheerest act of willpower I didn’t call this post Acorny (A-corny) story…Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Yes, it’s August and September is peeking around the corner, but, for now, it’s still summer and definitely time to squeeze that extra bit of fun out of life. And, of course, out of your herbal life too!
Some fun things I like to do in the summer time is create things that combine the playfulness of summer treats with the magic of plants. So I thought I share a couple of things that I love doing this time of year.
Make your favorite herbal tea blend and combine it with your most loved sweetener – in my case local honey from the farmers market and put it in dedicated pop molds or ice cube trays will work just dandy and put them in the freezer for the day or overnight.
One handy tip is a bit of acidity helps them set, so if there aren’t berries involved in the tea (which often have just the right amount) then try adding a little fresh lemon or lime juice. This also enhances the flavor in just the right amounts. Berries like Hawthorn, Elder or Schzandra are most awesome here. I also like the light summer feel of Linden or aromatic flowers like Rose or Jasmine. And don’t forget flavor enhancers like Cinnamon and Licorice!
Other than that experiment and enjoy!
It’s so easy to forget that lemonade can be so much more fun than that powdered nonsense sold in stores. If you don’t already, the pleasure of discovering its magic lays ahead of you!
In the same vein as the herbal pops, make your favorite herbal tea blend and add some freshly squeezed lemon juice. Or even better in my view lime juice! And a touch of your favorite sweetener. Throwing in crushed slices of your favorite fresh berries like strawberries, raspberries, blueberries or blackberries is magic as well!
Things like Basil, Lavender and Sage are awesome. I have some special affection for Nettle lemonade as well as Red Clover.
Be inspired by the plant bounty all around you.
The Most Important Thing – really!
But the most important thing for true summer herbal fun – is to remember to get out in nature while the weather is so awesome with many new and old plant friends are abundant and dying to meet you!
Remember winter is coming.
Seize the magic while you can!
With apologies to the musical Grease…
Had me a plan…”
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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. 😉
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 .02Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
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.
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!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 4 so far )
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.
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 .02Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
I was thinking about happiness, spirituality, herbalism, yoga and living in general recently. Call it a confluence of thought leading to an a-ha moment.
Part of it came when I was flipping through a couple of volumes of an annual anthology of best spiritual writing and I was struck by something. Not one of the essays was about helping or even dealing with other people. They were all about turning in or at times about connecting with nature. Nothing wrong with that but I was bothered by how not one essay was about spirituality and helping others.
Then I was thinking about a friend whom I would call a self-help addict. She was always a bit lonely and unhappy, always broke and chronically “busy” running to seminars about improving herself and changing her life as well as buying books about the topic – while never truly connecting with others or actually seeming to find her own happiness since she was so busy in quest of it. I could only help but think how much her fuller and richer (in many senses of the word) her life would have been if she channeled that money and time away from her “self-help” and into connection with others.
In herbalism, one of the most popular requests is about herbs to help with emotional issues that really could be said to stem from being lonely and/or unhappy. And folks go to yoga to often work on themselves in similar ways as well.
While I do think these are valuable tools and great parts of one’s life, I look at some folks using them and think how they are still so aimed just at themselves and change eludes them.
Sometimes, I think when you focus too much energy on yourself and changing yourself it becomes almost like a black hole continually sucking your time and energy inward allowing little light to emerge. There has to be a balance of energy connecting you out and to others. And, as you do, you get positive energy back from them as well. And it becomes a wider web of support and connection supporting you rather than a hole growing ever deeper.
Practicing acts of kindness and connection to others is powerful and profound and should be a part of one’s “self-improvement”, spirituality, yoga and other practices.
I think parents can touch upon that magic with their children (and many folks can with the animals in their lives as well) which is of course why it is so easy to spoil them too. 🙂
In other words, make someone happy.
There’s actually a lot of wisdom in that song, which is why I’ve always been fond of it.
So, of course, it is good to be self-aware and work toward changing yourself though whatever modality you are drawn to but try to balance it with energy toward being kind, helping and connecting to others as well. For that is an important part of your practice and growth as well.
Perhaps in finding the balance of that is where happiness can be found. 🙂Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 7 so far )
Book Review – Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga by Benjamin Lorr
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.
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.
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.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 6 so far )
I wanted to share a thought that has been bubbling in my brain about herbalism gone wrong or perhaps misused. I recently had a couple of encounters with what I sometimes call magic pill herbalism or thinking of healing as a magic pill. Something I’ve always been a bit suspicious of.
Suspicious Cat is also suspicious of such things!
Not too long ago I had a couple of people tell me about their stress problems, adrenal fatigue and how they were taking adaptogens and licorice to help out with that but how they were still having problems. And in parallel to that was remembering the seasonal rush in the fall by folks to use herbs that stimulate the immune system during cold and flu season and when they felt something coming on.
But as I mentioned to a couple of people – that’s a classic case of the cart before the horse. What you really need to be doing is give the body something to support it in doing all these things. Don’t forget your nutrients – the vitamins and minerals your body needs to deal with the losses caused by stress and to support a ramping up of the immune system.
Otherwise, all you’re doing is flooring the gas pedal and not filling the tank and you’re just speeding up the time until you completely crash.
I think that is one of the things I see happen a lot with folks who go crazy with immune stimulating herbs intending to prevent getting sick. They keep revving the immune system without increasing the things the body needs to do that, then when they get sick they get sick bad.
As a rule of thumb we in the US don’t have a problem with too little protein or calories in our diet, but we generally have a chronic one with vitamins and minerals – which gets accentuated by stress and illness as the body uses these even more quickly and they were already in short supply.
Now I’m not going to go into a whose diet is better debate or advocate a particular diet – but I do think a parody of West Side Story with Paleos and Vegans would be rocking and I may someday write it. I will just throw out some things both sides could deal with.
Don’t neglect seaweed in your diet if you can deal with it. Seaweeds (nori rolls do not actually count since they are so processed the seaweed goodness is essentially gone!) are packed with awesome collections of vitamins and minerals – one of the true superfoods.
In the classic world of herbalism you can’t go wrong with stinging nettles which are practically the next best thing and probably overtaking your yard if you look! Steam them like spinach, throw them in soups – but probably not raw salad unless you like a numb tongue. 😉
Even just making sure you get a wide variety of different colored fruits and vegetables in your diet is amazingly important in general, but especially if you’re sick, stressed, etc. Think soups. Seriously it is not an accident soups are so helpful when you are sick – it’s probably the largest variety of vegetables most Americans get in their typical diet. Which is incredibly sad.
Really, all I’m saying is I love herbs…they’re great, but step away from treating them like magic pills and remember about eating right. Don’t just go for herbs when you are under stress, tired, sick or taking things to up the immune system, remember that is the best time to add more vitamins and minerals into your diet through eating a variety of good foods too. Use the herbs to support you while you work to provide the body with what it needs to work with them! 🙂Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 9 so far )
I’d become stuck in my blog writing the past month because I had been planning to review an herbal book that I read recently. Part of my resistance was my disagreement with the book but part of it was me having a bad case of Should (I should do this; I shouldn’t do that, etc.)….
As I read the book, I found my hackles rising. They had so many exact, seemingly arbitrary rules to their brand of herbalism it just struck me as soulless or at the very least very stifling. It was filled with rules that you Should only use one kind of alcohol for tincturing and no others were good, you Should only press out your tinctures at exactly x number of days and not sooner or later. Beyond feeling that was just plain wrong, it felt so undermining of the creative aspect of herbalism that I relish – of course, they had a bad case of Should too! The result was that I felt very uninspired about reviewing the book, but I couldn’t let go of planning to review it because I Should…
I had also been really busy in my life the past month or so. Heavy BASS (Busy Annoying Stressful Shit.) Sometimes when that happens I get into crisis mode where I become very seemingly calm and organized. This is great in an actual crisis (no panicking!) but very limiting and stifling to my creative self because it is all about what I Should be doing instead of what inspires me.
We all do this from time to time and in different ways. When life gives us stress or chaos we try to impose order. Ranging from full almost OCD rituals to subtler rationalizations – “I did it this way last time and things worked out, so I Should do it again the same way.” Or when we feel out of control in one, or more, parts of our life we try order to impose order in others or actively avoid change and focusing on what we should, or should not do.
That’s Should. But Should can be oh so stifling because too many rules can undermine creativity and strict rules can kill creativity. Yes that is a rule but let’s not look behind that curtain. Thank you Dorothy….
I see this pop up in herbalism a lot. I’ve had conversations where an herbalist wondered why I was thinking of trying different types of alcohol in my tincture making when the ones I make were so amazing. “You found something that works so you shouldn’t change it.”
Why? Because that is how you learn and grow. Being willing to shift things about is a foundation of creativity. (As it turned out one of the different kinds I tried was even better.)
It also drives me nuts when herbalists, or anyone, gets caught in the better/quicker/more (BQM) trap – just because a particular herb or menstruum may work/extract BQM doesn’t mean you have to use it. Others will work just fine. Just because something is familiar doesn’t mean you should keep doing it that way!
Should is often all about ruts.
I realized how it was showing up in my yoga practice as well. In my home practice, I found that too often after a long day of work I tend to just go back again and again to a combination of asanas I remember and feel “comfortable” enough doing. And so a rut is formed….
I know plenty of other ones (even if that I’m not so skillful in them), just somehow when I get home after a long day and I’m rushing around shifting things in my space to practice I find my brain goes on holiday. Brain: “Nope, other asanas. Never heard of them…” I know these so I should do them, but I don’t know those so well so I shouldn’t do them.
But how else do you grow but by practicing and trying what you can’t do, or don’t know, well?
Sometimes you get stuck because you find something you can’t let go of. I’ve always loved this Zen story:
Two Zen monks, Tanzan and Ekido, traveling on pilgrimage, came to a muddy river crossing. There they saw a lovely young woman dressed in her kimono and finery, obviously not knowing how to cross the river without ruining her clothes.
Without further ado, Tanzan graciously picked her up, held her close to him, and carried her across the muddy river, placing her onto the dry ground. Then he and Ekido continued on their way. Hours later they found themselves at a lodging temple.
And here Ekido could no longer restrain himself and gushed forth his complaints: “Surely, it is against the rules what you did back there…. Touching a woman is simply not allowed…. How could you have done that? … And to have such close contact with her! … This is a violation of all monastic protocol…” Thus he went on with his verbiage. Tanzan listened patiently to the accusations.
Finally, during a pause, he said, “Look, I set that girl down back at the crossing. Are you still carrying her?”
Which is a great example of Should as well as not letting go of what doesn’t work for you anymore.
This brings me back to how I was stifling my own creativity by getting too narrow in my vision from being busy and becoming caught up by Should. But also not letting go of what didn’t work for me. You see, my blog wasn’t reflecting all of who I was anymore.
Yes I’m an herbalist, but I actually spend just as much time, effort and self in my yoga practice and studies. So I’m just as much a yogi. Then it hit me, that is where my authentic self lay in herbalism and yoga and my blog Should reflect it.
I’ll still blog about my herbal explorations, but I’ll also blog about yoga explorations. Heck in the time I hadn’t reviewed that herbal book I didn’t like – I had read several yoga ones that I did. I’ll also blog about my particular intersections between my yoga and herbal lives. (Neat post about that coming up soon!)
So time to embrace change and real creativity through playful exploration and doing things a bit differently – or in other words by embracing Could instead of Should.
Which is one of the overarching themes of this blog, ain’t it? Somehow Should caused me to forget that. 🙂
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