Someone, Give me a Sign! Part 2

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When you go outside every day, every single day, and you observe the world around you every day you might begin to notice that animals and their detritus are all around us all the time. It is where they live. We are in their home.

Our world is built atop the bones of everything that has ever been, all that has ever lived has been incorporated into the soil and sand.  The beach sand in your buttcrack is as much a sign as the blue heron you are gazing out at.

We don’t have to view these things as separate. There aren’t isolated messages coming in with each bird feather. We are a blip in the continuum of the multiverse, and so is the “sign”.

I see something alive every day. Every single day. Outside, inside, mammals, insects, birds, snakes, larvae, lichen. The constancy of the “signs” is overwhelming. I lean into the lifeforce, the search, I enter the spaces where life lives.

It’s not mystical to me.

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To me, observation is a grounded, everyday devotional practice. It feeds me to feel a part of my world. Observation is a meditation and a mediation, the layer that lives between humans and other animals. It is the way I feel connected.

Calling each interaction a sign may actually block our ability to snuggle into our relationship with the world, with other beings. It might block our ability to be present with the life around us. Perhaps it works to  de-normalize interactions between ourselves and the natural world.

Maybe we can stop asking what it all means.

Maybe it just IS.

We may come at our relationships to animals via our culture, which infantilizes them, focuses on their juvenile phase, presents them as helpless and in need of “saving” or the opposite, presents animals as symbols of evil or darkness, killers who are out to get us. We see animals in commercials acting silly, speaking, wearing pants. We may see animals as products, see our “power animal” as something we can buy to represent our deepest selves, to wear around our necks.

We easily overlook their rights, their wildness, their instinctual indifference to our personal needs.

Our interpretations are clearly influenced by factors such as our religion, our modernity,  our life experience and various aspects of who we are and where we come from. A rhino means something different depending on where you live.

And sometimes we label things as spiritual, mystical, magical when they are just a part of reality, just a different layer that isn’t often discussed or acknowledged. It may be the only way some of us know how to talk about the ways we are experiencing nature right now.

Ultimately I want to be very clear that I am not saying “you are doing it wrong”. We all have the right to interpret our world in the way that we see fit. I speak only for myself. But I hope that by raising these questions, it inspires conversation around signs, both opening those that are closed to the possibility of signs and opening those that believe in signs to critical thinking. Symbols have been a vital part of what makes us human for a very long time, and our interest in symbols isn’t going away.

Nor should it.

But examining our interpretations is rarely a bad idea.

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Someone, Give me a Sign! Part 1

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The other day I ran into a bear. Literally, I was running along  and flushed a little bear out of the nearby underbrush and up a tree. It was very exhilarating, and I deeply appreciate the experience. However, someone later told me it must be a sign, it must be “good bear medicine”. Is it?

I did a little research and found a huge industry based on animal spirits and signs. {note: all are actual quotes from the internet.} Apparently any animal “calling” to us is a sign. “Every animal has significance.” “We all have animal guides.”

Apparently “we are drawn to an animal because they are drawn to us.” “There are no coincidences.” “Many times animals enter your life to help you overcome difficult transitions.”

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“Dogs stand near the road to get my attention.” “If you’ve had more than one [animal] bite, consider this a Spirit sign.” “When birds fly into my glass door there’s something I need to look at.”

“Every single feather that you find is a sign.”

OK. I want to believe in signs. Theoretically, I want to believe animals are dropping dead in order to give me what I need. I want to believe that everything that attracts me is due to vibrations that all conspire to support me.

But HOLY HELL is that a human-centric, egocentric and delusional model.

Seeing a bird in your yard might mean that you have bought a bird feeder and filled it with bird food. It might mean that you have grown a lot of plants that attract birds, such as Asters, or live near a lot of habitat that birds like, such as water, birdhouses, or little safe areas that they can hang out in. Seeing a dead bird might mean that you have a cat or live near one, or that the bird had a disease. Are the flies on the dead bird a sign? The maggots? The vultures? The bacteria that breaks it down?

Seeing a feather might mean that you keep chickens, or a neighbor does.

Seeing a bear in your yard might mean that you have some very juicy garbage and the bear is hungry. Or maybe he’s going to provide his spiritual signage to another person, and your yard is a handy shortcut.

I believe there could be some confirmation bias involved in this process. We choose what to see as signs and what to ignore. A hawk is a spirit guide, a pigeon is a nuisance. A bear is blessing us, a mosquito is ruining our evening.

We can’t take every darn beaver as a sign from the Universe while failing to see every plastic shopping bag stuck in a tree as such.

And yes, I saw a bear on Friday, but then I saw an empty can of Chef Boyardee ravioli and a pair of rumpled underpants while hiking on Sunday.

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But honestly, I believe it IS a sign. All of it. It is a sign of engagement. A sign of curiousity. A sign that I went outside!

It is a sign that the world is terrible and beautiful, dangerous and nutritive, raw and confusing and complex, and that we are in it, we are of it, not just observers.

Sandor Katz says “Sustainability is participation” and perhaps it applies to signs, too.

Intuition is participation. Signs are participation.

Relating to animals, plants, minerals, this could be a sign that you are participating in the world around you. Interpreting the world around you. Devoting your time and attention to observation. And this could potentially be a beautiful process, a way to feel supported.

And humans have been using animals in our stories since memory began, observing them, using animals to inspire our movements, our identity, our sexuality, our ideas about power and art and spirituality, and that is a sign of our amazing imagination.

Or it could be a sign that you are shockingly egocentric, extremely careless, unable to apply critical thinking or so caught up in wishing for a sign that you can’t see that we are animals too, that our power animal just might be the bacteria that really wears the pants in this relationship and that we can’t just pendulum our way to liberation….

Ultimately, of course, we can choose to interpret everything we see through any lens we choose, consciously or not. If choosing a power animal gives one good feelings, what is the harm? I honestly don’t know, and I feel like I have more questions than answers. But for now, I am going to laugh to myself about my vision of the bear I saw telling all of her friends about how I was a sign, a sign that humans are running around in yoga pants and OMG you shoulda seen her face when I ran up the tree.

You’re welcome, MS. Bear.

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If this schlock is clean, I’d rather be dirty.

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Perhaps you have seen the word clean thrown around a lot lately. It is having its moment, again. Heck, clean living hasn’t enjoyed this much popularity since the graham cracker saved us all from masturbatory hell!

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There are a lot of books on Amazon such as Clean Food, Clean eating, Eat Clean, Live Well, Oh She Glows (eyeroll), Clean Food, Amazing Body, Pure Food, Food rules and Clean Start. There are products too: a Clean Energy patch, Clean Energy Pills, an Amazing Miracle Cleanse And Runa Clean Energy drink.

Fun fact: some people who bought these items also bought a family-size box of disposable latex gloves. Infer what you’d like from that information.

So this brings up two of my very favorite issues. What is energy and what is clean. The energy piece makes me wonder why we have this cultural expectation that we are all supposed to live in this energized cheerful positive hell, never stopping or napping. It is a depleted state which is based on delusion. Real energy comes from rest, nourishment and a movement practice.

There is nothing inherently better or “cleaner” about using a caffeine patch or Guayasa tea for energy compared to a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.

“Clean, focused, balanced energy”…sounds like buzzword bullshit to me.

Now, the deeper issue is what is clean. The whole concept is based on our viewing ourselves as dirty, as broken. Because CLEAN implies that what is not clean is therefore  DIRTY. Religious concepts of original sin, body pollution and pleasure-phobia have seeped deeply into our culture to the point where we often don;t see them. We tremble in fear of being dirty in any way, from body odors to buttholes and go to extremes to avoid what we see as germs.

The result is a judgmental, holier-than-thou approach to diet and a bonus to the book industry.

The result is a heck of a lot of “othering”.

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So now all these things have been labeled as dirty: meat, grains, coffee, spices, sugar, salt, processed foods, alcohol, GMOs, all non-organic foods, cooked foods, alliums.

These foods make you less spiritual, less sexy, less glowing, angry, lusty, fat, stupid, un-evolved.

I think it is time to talk back to the overuse of “clean”, people.

I think it is time to admit that we are all dirty, and we like it.

We are setting up a binary that doesn’t exist. There does not have to be labels of clean and dirty on people, on foods or on your colon. We don’t have to put others down in order to raise ourselves up.

I do support all people in making healthy changes. I support your spiritual practices, your weird-ass teas and label-examinations. I support choosing sobriety, if needed.

BUT.

Let’s not let the marketing people manipulate us into judging each other as dirty. Let’s not loathe our own body parts and processes. Let’s not forget to delight in a sweet, sticky, meaty, lusty, sweaty life.  Let’s not hate ourselves for choosing a shot and a beer over a nasty-ass raw green juice on a hot summer night.

If we are the people being marketed to, if we are the people being represented by these products and concepts then it is up to us to say HEY, WORDS MATTER!! It is easy to dismiss words, to decline the debate. “Oh, words don’t matter.”

But they do.

There is no magical level of cleanliness that will save us from ourselves, no pure space that lives above marketing and critical thinking and debate, and perhaps that is for the best.

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Book Review: Yoga–Fascia, Anatomy and Movement

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Disclaimer: I have a love-hate relationship with Yoga. I am a big fan of moving around, and Asanas are one interesting way to do so. But I find some Yoga to be extreme. I love inner journeys, but I cringe at “Namaste”. And ultimately, I am turned off by the Yoga industry, by the strong association I find with positive thinking and by what I feel is the cultural appropriation and/or misunderstanding aspect of Yoga’s roots.

But Yoga is, at this moment in time in the West, many things and some of them are worth hanging onto, and I believe we can acknowledge these issues and move on.

So this is the personal context in which I was searching for a book to add to my movement-book-collection. I found that the majority of the Yoga books were either focused on looks, such as weight loss or the mysterious concept of “glowing”. Or had a spiritual angle, which I prefer to avoid.

I found Yoga-Fascia, Anatomy and Movement by Joanne Sarah Avison on Amazon. There were no reviews and only 1 copy available, and it was expensive compared to the other books I looked at, about 50.00. I’d never heard of the author, who according to her bio teaches in London, and it felt a little gamble-y to spend that much money on what I considered a longshot. But the foreword was written by Tom Myers, author of the book Anatomy Trains which is a groundbreaking and intense tome so I went for it.

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The result: the book is a masterwork. It is written for an audience of Yoga teachers–and I like that because I believe that if you want to really get into a subject, try to read books written for teachers of that subject. It’s got a whole different tone compared to books written for the masses–it’s an assumption that you, too, are passionate about this subject. There’s no feeling that she has to sell the tickets, cause you’re already on this bus.

Fascia is a newish subject, and one that I haven’t seen a lot of books about yet. I’d love to see a short, snappy, funny and photo-rich Fascia book with easy infographics that appeals to a wide audience…maybe it can come with a tennis ball and a  mat…but until then, we have to accept the challenge of more advanced works.

There are a few moments where I feel like she knows her subject so well that I am not quite getting it, but I suspect that is more my fault for not actually being a Yoga teacher. I haven’t been able to sit down and read it cover-to-cover, I keep jumping around from chapter to chapter, getting up to try things, taking time to think her ideas through. The book is as dynamic as the subject, which says a lot about her depth of knowledge.

I particularly liked that there are drawings and photos but no photos of very well-dressed super-perfect glowy people doing Asana on their stand-up paddelboard.

I particularly liked the back third movement section, and found that more accessible for entry-level people than some of the (albeit super interesting) theory.

And I appreciate that there is NO diet advice. At all. I have noticed many otherwise great movement or exercise books, such as Barefoot Walking and Strong Curves have large  sections on the authors’ ideas about food. Eat more, eat less, eat raw vegan, eat Paleo, eat this not that. Listen, writers, if I want a food book I will get one. Thank you to those who deliver movement content without assuming I need a diet!

Ultimately, I believe this book is going to be like the Velvet Underground, in which it quietly changes the world, becomes a favorite of those who are teaching and writing about t he subject and inspires a million people to start a band.

I am going to go ahead and suggest that if you have any interest in Yoga, movement, fascia, bodies or theory around these subjects you seek it out immediately.

Un-Woo the flow state.

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***Disclaimer: This piece is written in the spirit of inspiration, NOT judgement. Please take that into consideration. Thank you.***

Have you ever been outside with someone who is profoundly uncomfortable with their own body? Have you ever heard parents yell “Don’t run, you’ll fall!” “Keep your shoes on!”  “She’s clumsy, just like me.” “We don’t want skinned knees!” “Don’t get muddy!” “Don’t touch that, don’t eat that, don’t get sunlight on you, don’t breathe that smell!” “Sit still!” Oh, my heart.

Yikes. We put our bodies in ‘casts’ then wonder why they don’t move right-or at all.

We say “you’ll fall”, then look smug when it happens. I told you so.

We hit each other over the head with fear of the world and mistrust of a still semi-wild body.

It isn’t our will to do harm but our own baggage, our own  inner wounds that create this paradigm.

What have we turned off in order to survive, and what is it doing to us?

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We may split ourselves into little parts and pieces, boxing things off and shutting bits down in order to fit into a broken culture-without even realizing what we are doing.  Messy! Jiggly! Dirty! Aaaahhhh!!

Let’s look at it, let’s examine it. Let’s un-woo the vital force, friends, because the flow state is a real thing not hippie jargon. It is the moment when your body and mind are aligned. When your circulation is pumping, you’re building muscle, moving lymph, sparking thoughts, feeling free. And it is great.

As parents, as caregivers or teachers or just citizens who give a shit we can set an example. We can look at how we feel about our own bodies and shine some light into the dark places we have created. We can, at the least, stop passing this body baggage down. We may even join the next generation in unraveling the shame spiral and begin to re-connect!

What can we do?

We can examine how we rely on products and, rather than use them all because they exist, choose only those which serve our needs and use them lightly.

For example, when someone tells us they are bored, offer movement rather than products, snacks, devices. Free movement such as dance. Walking, running, skipping. Stretches. Use your body to act like an animal or a plant or a force of nature. Give kids a piece of rope, a ball, a hoop, a bucket of water.

Show them how to squat or balance or climb or grapple or forage or just make noise.

I call it imaginative self-inhabitation and it used to be known as PLAY.

We can stop thinking we aren’t doing it “right”. It is about getting free from the idea that there is one right way. It is about finding our own darn right way. It is about laying down the burden of the perfect body, the perfect form, the perfect expression. It is about the journey, the discovery, the practice.

We can stop with the fear. It’s unlikely that you’ll die from a skinned knee, bug bite, splash of mud or grass stain.

We can stop shaming bodies, no matter how they look or what their skill level is.

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We can use devices like strollers and chairs much less, and just let kids (gasp) walk around.

We can stop over-using those damn carseats. (note: of course we should use them in cars, for safety reasons. Referring to non-car use)

We can stop handing kids our iPhones!!!!

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We can let kids (and ourselves) go barefoot at times, let them feel their body touch some actual earth. Sure, you run a risk by taking off your shoes. Assess it. But hey,  how were you planning to teach risk management? Looks like a great opportunity.

We can give our kids and ourselves an outlet for physical expression rather than sedating-via food, meds, technology and tv-every emotion that comes up. This is a gift.

“Keep calm” is overrated-let’s also give ourselves the space to actively seek release.

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Boredom is a catalyst, a chance to transform yourself, your moment, your outlook, not something to fear and avoid at all costs.

It is never too late to shift this course we are on. It is never to late to look at our bodies from another angle, to untangle our feelings about our bodies and their history, to notice that we are NOT inherently “clumsy” people but maybe just insecure or under-practiced and that it’s totally solvable.  We can experience moments of revelation right up until our last breath, friends, so don’t give up. Movement does not  belong to someone else.

Because living in a state of fear is just exhausting.

Because we haven’t evolved out of a need for movement.

Because we are missing out on a great opportunity.

Because we can re-inhabit ourselves, and inspire others to do so, too.

Because we aren’t going to get another body.

It is not too late.

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Herbal Citizenship 101

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What does it mean to be a good herbal citizen? Does it mean that we are all love and light? Does it mean we never disagree or debate? Oh heck no. That’s just repression. But it does mean that we try our best to show each other the basic respect that all humans deserve.

It means we always share stories with an eye to others’ privacy. It means we maintain our own and respect others’ boundaries.

It means we keep racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, body-shaming and other outright harm out of our safe spaces.

And it means we learn to give and receive critique properly.

If we see another herbalist make a mistake-whether it be, for example,  a spelling or grammatical error, a mis-identification, a health claim we disagree with or an incorrect citation we can approach them privately, in person, via phone or e-mail, and discuss it.

And that is before we write a blog, make a Facebook post or tell all of our friends about it.

Because finding other people’s mistakes is not an opportunity to prove how smart we are, how right we are, how cool we are.

They’re just that–mistakes.

And they are an opportunity– to create mutual aid, to help someone who needs it, to shape our community and our future.

True leaders in the herbal community do not need to harm others to get ahead but use their example, their influence and their–dare I say it–LOVE to show how it’s done, not their cheap shots and low blows.

We are all fellow workers, we are all on this ship together.

What we do to others, we do to ourselves.

And is there ever a time for debate, critique, even  anger within the herbalist community? Sure. It ain’t all sunshine and Basil. But  direct that critique,  think it through, make it count. Keep it honest, keep it fair.

And when you make your own mistake, as I certainly have, when the critique comes down on you, you can hold your head up knowing that you tried your best, and maybe they’re right or maybe they’re wrong, but you’ll get the opportunity to change, too.

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Electrical Fires

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Train blasting the horn, warning

speeding along under

Ozonated air

Humidity 101%

Thunder loud enough to blow your

pants off

Sending the little birds out of the nest

Unprepared.

Snakes  on the ground.

“This is how we learn to fly.”

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