This is What a Medicine Maker Looks Like

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I am a medicine maker. I grow plants on a tiny farm, forage and gather plants on land (which shall not be identified) and I process my harvest into herbal medicines. I also distribute these medicines and talk about them to everyone who can’t outrun me.

"If a sunbeam wounds me I shall succumb on the moss."-Arthur Rimbaud

“If a sunbeam wounds me I shall succumb on the moss.”-Arthur Rimbaud

Sometimes I overhear people talk about going back to the land, farming or foraging and living a more “natural” life. I feel like it is nearly impossible to grasp what this “feels” like until you do it.
It is so easy to disparage land-lovers as dirty hippies–and I am indeed soiled– or romanticize the relationship plant folks have with their land. The truth is, as usual, somewhere in between.

This shade of purple MUST be able to fix something!

This shade of purple MUST be able to fix something!


I can imagine nothing more authentic for myself than my relationship with the plants I love. I am deeply grateful that hunting for a root or mixing up an elixir is my JOB. It is not always easy–folks on the receiving end don’t always grasp that I am a tiny business or the variables within that paradigm. I run out of bubble wrap and my Blessed Thistle seeds all float away. It pours rain and I fall over and the TSA confiscates my darn Felcos. But mainly I am very very lucky to be able to serve.
bark of Liriodendron

bark of Liriodendron

But more than serving the plants, which I love, and serving the humans, also interesting, I am thankful to be an example of what a medicine maker looks like. I am saying, with my being, that we can do this! I am healing our idea of WHAT medicine IS. And I do not mean to discount standard Western medicine. Not at all. I mean to expand it. Expand our vision of what is possible. Expand our vision of WHO makes medicine, and where, and how. Expand our feeling about medicines, our connections to medicines and our medicinal lineages, rivers that have ebbed and merged but still DO flow.

Birch bones.

Birch bones.


There is still value in a medicine that has my hands in it, my heart in it and perhaps a memory of the soil it grew in. I accept the responsibility of making medicine with nothing less than joy, I go out to dig and snip and gather with a mission dammit a purpose and thank you, friends, for helping me to heal myself too. I am feeling grateful for the community support and the opportunity to contribute. Heck I even go to the post office with joy because life is just too darn short to lose sight of my mission. I love how there are multiple ways to BE and various ways to heal!
So thank you, friends and community, thank you for listening, for your support and sharing.
Yes, it's Poke.

Yes, it’s Poke.

Fetid cabbage!

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Ah, spring. A time of muddy pants and chilly streams, rebirth and almost-losing-boots, discovery and fresh air. Here is a photo story of my recent Eastern Skunk Cabbage
(Symplocarpum foetidum!) root harvest. This is NOT about how to use it, though i have provided a GREAT link about use, this is just about the sheer joy of mucking about with plant allies!

http://greenmanramblings.blogspot.com/2009/09/swampy-medicine-for-swampy-lungs.html

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Angel with her root

Angel with her root


Lauren

Lauren


the creature

the creature


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Play with your Herbs!

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When we think of the tools of an herbalist, we may think of Felcos, or a first aid kit. An intake form or a Ball jar. We definitely think of the analyzing brain, sitting in a serious chair and paging through stacks of books. All of these tools are indeed helpful in providing herbal support to people. However, I propose that another important tool to explore is PLAY. Sometimes we forget how much a playful spirit can give to us! On many levels there are benefits to recommending and incorporating both physical and mental play into our lives and our practice. 

Healing can be a serious business. Ailing folks come to us every day in need of our help. Listening to the stories, providing support and solutions is good work. But it IS work–and play can help us to navigate burnout.

Play helps us to build a dynamic type of herbalism, a living and breathing force, an art– instead of a dusty historical practice. Play can make herbalism and healing more holistic and can contribute to a re-vitalization of all involved. (plants too!) At its most basic level play is an outlet, and energy needs outlets.  I would argue that many who come to an herbalist or other healer present with a stuck-ness or a stagnation. I do recommend herbs here for both emotional and physical movement. But to stop there feels very limited to me. I may then suggest play to:

-help us process feelings and input.

-uncover hidden aspects/roots of the problem.

-generate ideas towards a  resolution.

-tap into deeper states of knowing.

-move lymphatics and promote circulation.

Play can help us to stop over-identifying as a patient or as a diagnosis, help us get out of our cyclical thinking and into a different state of being. Do you remember time just floating by while doodling or playing house, riding bikes with no destination or making out for hours? Have you ever just let go of your life and worries and embodied a mythical figure or an animal? Climbed trees or rocks all day with no plans or floated in the ocean like a seabird? It is a way of feeling integrated. Integrated into a storyline or a group of people, integrated into a piece of land or body of water….integrated into time and space. Basically the opposite of day-to-day life.

**Note that I am not promoting a disconnected state of being. Living in a fantasy world is not the same as embodied play–I am talking about grounded play which incorporates movement and has a beginning and an end.**

Play can also be a way to practice movement. For those who avoid structured exercise, play can be the solution to get moving and enjoy it. Insomnia and poor sleep quality are very common complaints–try play! Physically and mentally, the outlet supports healthy rest. Sexual dysfunction? Try play. Mild depression and anxiety? At the risk of sounding repetitive, have you played lately?

Outdoor play can help ground us and support us with fresh air and a delightfully uneven surface to navigate. (Important! Get off the concrete !) We also can practice “working play” such as foraging, tracking and gathering-a way to lose ourselves in a task that is primal and fulfilling. In a sense we lose ourselves to find ourselves–losing the 2014-responsible-wired-matching-outfit-upright-linear-worried self and finding the soiled human-animal interactive parts, the connected ancestral wild parts. Cause we are both, and more.

And ultimately play can help us to build resilience, to express ourselves more fully and to interact more with our environment and community. To grasp that we win some and we lose some, and life goes on. To see that we can take turns as “the leader”. Play is an innate drive and can be cultivated. You can’t do it “wrong”. It helps us to overcome fears and reclaim our nature, to restore ourselves and our power. 

So far I have been referring mainly to practitioners suggesting play to our clients but how can we as practitioners use play to become better? Other than using play to improve our own selves, we can use it as a practice for  problem-solving. How do humans gain new perspectives? Play. Have you ever needed to look at a problem differently, as a healer? Logic is great, truly, but there are times when it makes sense to get outside of that to find creative solutions. 
Ultimately, play is an important problem-solving tool. It can be used in many different ways, and we can find out which way works for us. We can bridge our different levels, and bridge the separations between ourselves and others, ourselves and the earth, plants, animals-if only for a moment. Hell, don’t knock moments of bliss–they can be a moment we didn’t even know was possible…Play can help us to lose ourselves and, in so doing, to find ourselves.

Play can help us accept ourselves, help us to manage our anger, burnout and stagnation too~we can push ourselves into new levels of practice, challenge our ingrained patterns and rote ways of thinking, bust out of cycles that no longer serve us.

And, most importantly, play can bring us pleasure. A simple pleasure of feeling the sun on our backs while we lose ourselves in examining river stones or the joyful pleasure of watching our basket fill up with wild blueberries…the pleasure of touch and sensuality or sounds. The underlying pleasure and self-acceptance can be an anchor in life’s storms and ground us on our journey. Health and healing are serious undertakings, we hold other people’s lives and trust and stories with respect and compassion. But it is not THAT serious–almost nothing exists which cannot give us a moment of humor, insight or creativity if we know how to look at it through the lens of play.

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The foundation.

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What has been proven, in studies, to build bones, to support mental health, to support recovery from addiction, and to be “as effective as” some medications such as statins in treating chronic disease? Exercise. Yet many of us don’t do it. Why not? I’d like to suggest that we don’t believe in it. Sure, we may believe the statistics about exercise. We may know, in our heads, that exercise is “good” for us. But we don’t all believe in it with our core, with the place where our truths reside. I would like to suggest that exercise itself is part of the problem. Culturally, it is seen as a chore and a punishment. Get through it, and move on to “real” life. Rehabilitation is seen as something to check off the to-do list–temporary–not a life-long practice of self-care. A guilt-inducing series of movements we perform under duress to help us stop hating ourselves–hating our bodies and our lives. How’s that working out for ya, America?

May I suggest we drop that whole line of bull and get on board with movement? Movement is NOT just exercise. It is locomotion. It is art. You can’t really do it wrong. Even if your body is non-conforming, your mind is atypical, your soul is really weird, some kind of movement is right for you.

Have we let beautiful people steal exercise from us? Have we let corporations hand sports over to professionals and schoolkids only? Have we bought in to the idea that we don’t have the right body type or equipment or outfit, not enough space or time or support? Have we lost the drive to get our asses up that tree or that mountain and see what it all looks like from another angle? 

I know I did. Yes, it happened to me. I saw exercise as a chore, a duty, something to “get through”. I’ll do it tomorrow.  I was not putting my love into it, nor my pelvis. I was in a state of separation and I allowed fear to keep me from moving in certain ways. One day I wondered–What the heck am I doing?

Where do our movements come from? Why do we walk, sit, dance in certain ways? Or not–Why do we hold back from moving in other ways? How much does our culture, our history, our social circle, our furniture, our clunky shoes and our intimate desire affect our own movements, our own idea of what is OK? 

For example, have we learned to stop jumping off things because it is not proper? Have we learned to sit down and be quiet? Have we learned to take up less space, be very careful, stop arousing certain feelings? Don’t lift heavy stuff lest you”get big” whatever the hell that means? Minimize. What movements are we suppressing to fit in?

 

What are we suppressing when we walk on a treadmill, going on and on to nowhere, or lift a 3-pound dumbbell over and over 100 times hoping to tone our triceps for beach season? What about training for beach season really supports our humanity, our self-love, our re-integration? I think it just re-inforces our fears. 

I had my own fears, and most of them were realized when I started throwing myself into movement. My pants fell down in Zumba class. I threw up. My glutes hurt and I didn’t really know how to shake my booty. I started lifting a tiny kettlebell. But I just kept doing it until I fell in love with myself all over again. I woke up one day and remembered what it feels like to have a body–and why I should care. I don’t give a rat’s ass if I have cellulite or jiggly arms. I don’t care if I “glow” or if I have a thigh gap. I am fast. I am strong. I move to rebel and I move to get hungry and tired and sweaty. I move to participate and I move because I have to. 

We are in a place, as a culture, where I believe movement is what will help save us. Movement will help us to get free, to unlearn all the baggage that keeps us sitting down all day.To bring back the joy, and maybe some endo-cannibinoids too.  Movement will help us to let go, to say “this is who I am!” and to play again. Movement will help us to re-connect to each other and ourselves and help us manage our anger and confusion. One day we will see movement for what it is–just a practice, with no right or wrong ways to be. Movement is self-care which we can scale to our level and  empowerment which we can tuck away for a rainy day. Movement is the foundation we can build ourselves upon, and that is the meaning for me.

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http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/12/11/exercise-as-potent-medicine/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3276339/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22442371

http://journal.crossfit.com/2014/03/sweat-and-sobriety.tpl

Upcoming classes 2014

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Greetings!

I am in the process of scheduling appearances for 2014 right now. It is fun writing class proposals and sending them off into cyberspace! So far I have confirmed dates for:

–Double class at Farmacy herbs in RI, tree medicine and natural foot care. How will I link them? Come find out! Saturday May 24, http://farmacyherbs.com/ for more information.

–Critical thinking for herbalists at Herbstalk in Boston MA, June 7 &8, come hear about how to think critically, how  to learn to learn and how to assess sources and research well.  http://herbstalk.org/

–September, date tbd, subject tbd at Northeast School of Botanical Medicine.http://www.7song.com/

Radherb Herbal Convergence, subject tbd, October 11-12 http://radherb.blogspot.com/

Please watch for updates as I have a special box of possibilities and I will be adding more to the public list AS they are confirmed.
My list of 10 classes currently offered is also available by inquiry.
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Meditations on doubt

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“It was okay to be wrong, as long as it was funny.”-Lewis Black

Lately I have been working on writing–a LOT- and I have finally created a list of 10 classes I would like to bring into the world. This doesn’t sound so hard, does it? Lots of people teach classes and write stuff. But I am not interested in teaching herbalism 101 right now. I am proposing classes such as: finding your movement practice, play therapy, exploring the mind-body connection, the healing power of humor, critical thinking for herbalists and obstacle courses as a metaphor for life. It is not always what others are looking for–or, to be more specific-they don’t YET know they are looking for it! And the proposal process is hard for me, the need to sell myself, to make myself into a brief bio, to convince others that i CAN do it, that I will show up and kick ass…even though I am in many ways self-educated, loud, working class and still a little rough around the edges.
Presenting these classes and this writing feels personal, to me, and though I value constructive criticism very highly it can be hard to hear-and I can be my own worst critic. I can be cheerfully walking along and BAM! in comes a moment of doubt. Am I doing the right thing? Can I pull this off? Should I stay in a “safer” zone? And why am I so driven to push my own and others’ boundaries anyway?!? Wouldn’t it be easier to just teach how to make a salve, or write about love and hugs, or just get a nice hairdo and take a job at the mall?
And this is doubt, which can be both a blessing and a curse. As a person who thinks a lot, and I love to think, it sometimes gets to be a little bit too much steam and rolls my ass over. All gifts, paths and talents have a darker side. Thinking is a tool and I can use it as such-to build a piece of writing or a great class. But, like a hammer which can build a home or build a protective wall, knock down barriers or destroy a work of art–my doubt can either push me into a new level of effort or send me back to my cave of worry.
I do believe that most of us have some fear, some self-doubt inside and it is very easy to let that rule us, to be an excuse for not pushing ourselves further, for not getting up in front of a group of strangers and spilling our guts. I wonder how we can use this doubt, to accept our imperfections and rejoice in them, and to avoid getting stuck in circular thinking like quicksand? When I get stuck in the depths I look around, I open up and I hear an amazing song, I read a mind-altering piece of writing or watch someone else succeed despite their struggles and challenges. I look to my friends, to nature and to my heroes and examples to show me the way.
Because doubt does speak, and it says to me that maybe I am pushing some of my boundaries. It says I am going somewhere and that has a risk, as putting oneself “out there” is opening oneself up to others’ opinions and criticisms. It says shit or get off the pot. It says stop being so self-indulgent and that noone else is as worried about my pants falling down mid-class as I am! And it says own it, commit, use that doubt like a judo move and turn it around, see the humor, see the lineage of doubt and use that sharp edge to rip up the chrysalis and emerge! Moments of great discomfort can precede moments of great breakthrough and genius emerges best for me in dark moments rather than cheerful times.
I will be a good example and not a cautionary tale, I will take a moment of self-care for the little girl inside of me who still holds onto my fears and I may not succeed at this new endeavor but it sure as hell won’t be from lack of trying.
note: Muchlove to those who ARE teaching herbalism 101 and/or how to make a salve. You are doing important work. It is just not my path.
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Further meditations on WInter

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How often I hear that Winter is death, is desolation. And in a way that is true–rest is a pulling back and a shrinking of all our energy. But it is giving, too. In winter WE can be the main attraction, the excitement, the energy. We aren’t competing with the rest of nature, the distractions are asleep. The bareness and sparseness can be scary because they are so revelatory. Our loneliness, our humanity, our weakness are all obvious, winter does not give us depression but reveals that which was already there. It also gives us the time to mourn, to feel, to listen, to simmer our own bones in themystical crockpot of our heart. 

Maybe it is within that desolation when we can best hear the voices of our own ancestors and our own inner self-where we can best see the beauty of the earth just as it is–radically unadorned.The movements of light and sound through cold thin air, unencumbered by leaf and plant, unslowed by humidity or insects. I see a long, long way off into the wispy distance. I hear an owl hoot miles away, the lone crack of an axe from down the hill. I almost hear the snow fall…

Because the beauty of the earth is not just flowers and greenery.  It is not just perfect days and starry nights. The grey, the clouds, the snow contain an equal beauty and importance. Much is bare and spare, reduced to a raw form, a skeleton, a structure completely unadorned. All is a meditation, all is distilled and clarified, broken down to the pieces and all bullshit frozen out, all clamor stilled. Nothing is juicy or robust now and I slide down hills, I struggle back up and struggle has meaning for me. Difficulty has meaning and energy. It brings me a sense of accomplishment.Much that has been obscured is now revealed to me within the context of this struggle. 

I see a lack of support in our culture for weathering discomfort with dignity and pride, for understanding patterns and seasons, rythyms and cycles. We are still expected to produce the same amount of units, to dress the same and act the same and be on time. We are expected to keep up on our suntans and ignore our melancholy, our recovery and introspection and our wintry shadow sides. But I look to the philosphizing, the simmering, the clarity and the longing as healing and as a balance to the outwardness and overstimulation of summer.

I’ll be taking my bitter rooty tonics, delving into mythology and scribbling in my notebook, loving on some lichens and meandering through the snowy woods, searching for the voices that I can’t or won;t hear amidst the sheer green joys of all other seasons, bundled up in my wooly wonders and hooting back at all who dare to venture out.

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