Love and questions for Hard Times

“Curiosity is your best weapon.”

-Peter Bresner

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Dear Friends,

I have  gathered you all here today to take a hard look at the state of our community. What is up with us? I’m watching arguments happen daily, watching people in left-of-center, activist and alternative health circles, and I am wondering.

Why do we tear each other apart?

Why do we burn out, why do we implode?

(And we do, yes, and there is no debate about this.)

We game-i-fy our activism. Who is the most radical? Who has the most up-to-date language?

And here we are, currently faced with a challenge that literally threatens to end our community, our country and our planet. Seriously. It’s time to get our shit together.

And to start, may I please present a question:

What if, when faced with something, an idea, some words, that challenges us, emotionally, that pokes at our sense of self, that riles up our privilege, that causes our heart to itch and our digestive system to rumble, when faced with REALLY BIG QUESTIONS, when faced with others’ pain, our own complicity, systemic ISMs, structural inequities we just S-T-O-P.

We don’t talk.

We don’t immediately jump to offering our “opinion”.

We don’t get all defensive.

We inquire within.

We delve, we read, we listen, we breathe.

What. If. We. Asked. Good. Questions????

Questions of ourselves, questions of history, questions of who controls the narrative.

Questions of WHOSE story are we identifying with?

Questions of WHAT is behind this feeling?

Especially vital when a marginalized person is attempting to share the story of their own marginalization.

And I am not saying, don’t eviscerate rape apologists. I am NOT saying don’t punch Nazis, don’t talk back to racists, don’t shut down mansplainers.

Boundaries are good.

I am not saying don’t all strive to be better at our inclusive language, better at outreach, better at performing activism.

But Christ on a cracker, my dears, look at how we are hurting each other!

Perhaps, in our frustrations with hearing other sides, with hearing others’ truths, we could just say “OK, I will think about this. Thank you for sharing this.”

(Perhaps, we can stop with the whole “both sides”, too, and move to a word beyond “both”.)

Perhaps we can stop seeing social media as the best outlet for these conversations. It’s too easy to hit send, too easy to verbally destroy the faceless other. Remember when we wrote on paper? When we journalled about things, made first drafts, thought it through?

Go for a walk. Meditate. See where inquiry takes you, and THEN share.

Let’s crack the information bubbles, bridge the feedback rivers, connect the identity silos.

And let’s, when faced with the critiques of our communities, whether we are white people, the middle class, cis-gendered, straight, Americans, men, the gainfully employed, whatever the heck you identify with, for fuck’s sake let’s just say I HEAR YOU. I see you, you matter. We don’t have to agree on everything. We don’t have to fix it all, now. We don’t have to immediately convert to queer-poly-pagan-gender-warriors to prove our loyalty.

But we can listen.

We can say “I was wrong”. We can say “I didn’t think of that” or “thanks for sharing”.

We can stop pushing people away.

And we can love.

“We need a love that starts out in tenderness and moves outward until it manifests as justice.”

-Omid Safi

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In Praise of Worry

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Don’t worry, people say. Just let it go. Escape.

Worry is bad for you, just stop. The odds are in our favor! It can’t happen.

But I did worry. I worried a lot about this election, about this reckoning with America and its discontent. I indulged in news every single day. Radio, podcasts, internet, even the so-called “failing New York Times”.

My fear has been realized. The exact thing I was worrying about has happened. I knew that it could happen, because I am of the “uneducated, white working class” and I have been listening for 38 years. I’ve been observing what we do, what we say, what we believe.

Those who chose to avoid this worry have to mourn today. They have to accept that what they thought would not, could not happen HAS happened.

The media says “noone saw this coming”. But worriers DID.

I do not need to spend today accepting this.  I’ve already ground down my teeth, and now I am ready to go to work. I needed 5 minutes to wallow in my own despair, but now I am ready to do something.

I think that saying “do not worry” can be a bit too easy. When something is too easy to say, how might examine it further? How might we look into the cognitive dissonance that is allowing us to avoid this worry? Why do we think we deserve to live without it? To disengage from the news and our community?

Of course, there are different types of worry. One is a circular type, going over and over the same things. It can be paralyzing, keeping us from action. Worrying can take the place of doing the work, can keep us from being present.

We might say “do not worry in circles”.

The other type is activating. It can spur us into problem-solving, forming a strategy, taking action. Activating worry  is preparatory and engaged, in conversation with the ongoing situation.

We might say “worry better”.

And ultimately, I think neither worry nor escape are inherently good or bad. Perhaps we need both. Perhaps the problem is making either path your home, living inside of one or the other and being unable to move back and forth between different approaches. The need to escape is very real, and I do recognize and honor this need. We might need to let go of the things that we can’t do anything about, and these things DO exist.

But right now, many of us feel powerless. We may feel despair like never before. And if my 18 months of worry have given me anything, it’s a plan–and maybe this can help those of you in shock right now.

So. What can we do to get through today? What can we do to get through the next 4 years?

  1. Self-examination. How have any of us contributed to this situation? This culture? When have we stayed silent? How have we participated or othered? What conversations have we avoided? How can we be better people?
  2. Volunteer. Whether it is with an organization that helps refugees, provides accountability, Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, food banks and domestic violence lines we ALL need to get to work. Give time, money and resources.
  3. Heartfelt communications. Tell someone who is hurt by this political climate that you are with them, you love them, you care. Write it, sing it, spray paint it on a bridge:  YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Give a smile, hug, listening or a supportive note to a neighbor or community member who may have suffered from this political rhetoric.
  4. Go talk to people. Gather information. Outside of your comfort zone, that is. We need to learn WHY people voted this way in order to move forward, to fix the problems.
  5. Support the media, Be the media. On my path towards journalism, I personally vow to tell everyone’s story with ferocity and heart, a commitment to truth and justice.  The media can play a very important role going forward in addressing othering and forging whatever is next for America, and we can all participate. Now is NOT the time to lose our great journalists or to check out of supporting our storytellers. Stay informed! And remember that those who help us all  to do so have value.
  6. And yes, take care of yourself and each other. Today I am taking a walk, hitting up the Hawthorne tincture, reading a book that I turn to in hard times and writing. Do what you need to do, and get some sleep. You’ll need it

I love you, friends and neighbors. It is only because we love each other so much that it hurts so bad. Don’t look away. Witness these times with your whole self. 

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Guest post: Harm reduction and the community herbalist

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INTRO–Hi, readers! welcome to the first ever FWF guest post.-Traci

Harm Reduction and Herbalism

By Rippy, herbalist and owner of Riptide Herbs

*This is based on my experiences in the field. I would like to state that there are many methods and principles out there that work for folks; these are some that have resonated with me as a community herbalist*

 

The Principles of Harm Reduction are most often applied to folks who misuse substances.  However, these principles can also be applied to interfacing with folks in general. What brought me to this topic has been my own work with active drug users and folks who have misused drugs in the past.  Illicit drug use is commonly associated with drugs like heroin, meth and crack, but it’s important for us to think about drug misuse happening with prescription and non-prescription drugs as well. I think this is an important caveat as with the recent opioid epidemic and health crisis in New England (and other areas)– often times the misuse has started with prescription drugs. If you want to read more about this please check resources listed below.

 

The Principles of Harm Reduction as distilled from The Harm Reduction Coaltion.org

http://harmreduction.org/about-us/principles-of-harm-reduction/

 

“A set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences…Harm Reduction incorporates a spectrum of strategies…to meet [folks]“where they’re at”. Because harm reduction demands that interventions and policies are designed to reflect specific individual and community needs, there is no universal definition of or formula for implementing harm reduction.”

SO FUCK YEAH TAILOR IT, MAKE IT YOUR OWN AND APPLY IT!!

The Harm Reduction Coalition has come up with these evolving principles:

Work to minimize harmful effects rather than simply ignore or condemn them

  • Establishes quality of individual and community life and well-being-as the criteria for successful interventions
  • Calls for the non-judgmental, non-coercive provision of services and resources to people
  • Ensures that folks have a real voice in the creation of programs (protocols) designed to serve them
  • Affirms folks themselves as the primary agents, Seeks to empower folks to share information and support each other
  • Recognizes that the realities of poverty, class, racism, social isolation, past trauma, sex-based discrimination and other inequalities effect both people’s vulnerabilities to and capacity for effectively dealing with their health

 

How can these principles be applied to Herbalism?

 

  • Let us broaden our scopes, suggest that any momentum, movement, is good and implement a client-focused model.
  • Let us adhere to the notion that folks coming to us are knowledgeable about their bodies.
  • I often hear conversations about accessibility, especially when applied to the sliding scale model. Instead, I want to hear conversations about approachability. Let us ask ourselves, how do we as herbalists make herbs “approachable?”

 

My thinking is that most folks do not want to hear everything they have to cut out of their life; everything they have to give up and stop doing. Often I hear the rhetoric of “no alcohol, no sugar, no coffee, no grains, no wheat, no fun? Let us NOT draw a hard line. The first step to bridge the gap, rather, should be how to use food as medicine, and how to integrate herbs (especially with no contraindications) into a person’s CURRENT lifestyle.

 

I want to encourage herbalists to meet folks “where they’re at” while remaining aware of their own internal biases and dialogue and applying the principle of cultural humility. Cultural humility is the idea that one’s cultural lens and perspective is not superior to another’s, just different.  Cultural humility allows us to approach cross-cultural situations with a humble attitude and to have an openness to the reality of others.  Cultural humility is sometimes referred to as cultural competency. However, ‘competency’ has weight and gravity; that we are finished; that we have learned. It’s never learned as in complete/competent—it’s a lifelong learning process (Tervalon, Murray-Garcia, p 118).

 

A part of this process has been learning from the folks I interface with daily, in a polluted city, with limited resources. I work with folks who are living on the street, not sleeping, not eating, living with co-occurring infections, misusing substances and facing limited resources and socio economic barriers that include classism, racism, sexism etc.

 

Question: When folks are going through active withdrawal from opiates, will they listen to your opinion on what they should do and what they shouldn’t do? Will they listen to you if you tell them how to live their life?  Hell no!  Folks are attempting to manage their life in the best way they know how.

 

Instead, harm reduction can come in many forms. It can come in the form of a cup of tea, a sweetened cold brew, ramen noodles with some freeze dried shitake mushrooms, creams to help with track mark scars, ginger chew candies to help with nausea.  It’s important to offer options, a smorgasbord, and encourage folks to try different options and experiment.  Ultimately, it will be their choice to take it or leave it and I encourage folks to do so and experiment. I encourage herbalists to think about these principles and ideas and experiment with integrating it into their own practice.

 

Below is a list of resources that I have found helpful and inspiring:

 

  • The Harm Reduction webpage including the Guide to Getting off Right and Harm Reduction Newsletters specifically Witch’s Brew articles that feature herbal remedies
  • Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari
  • Chasing Heroin, Frontline Documentary, PBS
  • Cultural humility versus cultural competence: A critical distinction in defining physician training outcomes in multicultural education by Tervalon, M, & Murray-Garcia, J. (1998). Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 9, 117-125.
  • Health Food Junkies: Orthorexia Nervosa, Overcoming the Obsession with Healthful Eating by Stephen Bratman
  • Donna Odierna, herbalists, MPH, Harm Reduction, Herbalism and Needle Exchange
  • Motivational Interviewing, read about it, go to trainings

 

Questions or comments? Please contact Rippy at: emkmoulton@riseup.net

What does sex-positive herbalism look like?

“To get mired in the dirt is to miss the exaltation.”-Jane and Michael Stern, Elvis World

“Maybe a little dirt, though.”-me

I’ve been thinking on sex in herbalism for years now, observing how we talk about it, and well, it’s an awkward subject that can be hard to discuss. But I think we have reached a moment, culturally, that is ready. We are experiencing the growing pains of a third wave of herbalism and it feels to me like a time of change.

I’d like us to ask, collectively and individually, what does sex-positivity look like within the world of herbalism? How will we participate in this change if we don’t know what it looks like? What are we doing to create and promote and maintain a culture that supports our own and others’ sexual wellness? How are we examining ourselves–  our attitudes  and our words to co-create something better than what came before us?

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So, to get the conversation started, here are a few sparks:

–What does it mean to be a sex-positive herbalist?–

Body Positive: we can start by assuming that ALL bodies are potentially sexual bodies. Fat bodies, skinny bodies, old bodies, younger bodies, able bodies, less able bodies, ill bodies, well bodies, queer bodies, poor bodies, marginalized bodies all hold the seed of a sexual self. When we deny another’s sexuality, we deny their humanity

Consent: promote and support consent and the right to sexual agency for all persons.  Make a point to mention consent in the context of a class or discussion of sexuality-that we all have the right to give it, or not, and the responsibility to seek it. There are some areas where consent is a grey area, such as people experiencing certain physical or mental health challenges, such as dementia for example, and there is no reason to shy away from learning about the complex ethical discussions happening around this

Sexual Health IS health. It’s not a secret, and it doesn’t need to hide in dark places. We do not need to separate sexual health from a “normal” class, educational curriculum or a “regular” intake. Integrating discussions about sexuality and wellness, normalizing words that refer to stigmatized body parts and acts, and just generally acting like the world won’t end if we talk about sexual subjects are all ways to help create conversation

Masturbation IS sex. When we talk about sex, that can include all types of sex, and sex alone is just one of those types. It’s been linked to sin, hell, moral repugnance, inability to find a partner and “self-pollution”, all of which are total bullshit myths that need to die. Masturbation is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, a fantasy life is a valid human need, and there is no need to perpetuate shame around either

Shame. And while we are on the shame train, let’s let go of all sexual shaming. Don’t judge or shame others’ pleasure at all, unless it is causing harm to another

-As for harm, let’s try to understand sexual and physical trauma and the issues around that which can contribute to physical and emotional pain. Trauma-informed herbalism means, very basically, that we acknowledge that trauma is real and that we are open to listening/supporting around it. So you can just say that to people.

– Pay attention to power dynamics. Teacher/student, healer/client, expert/seeker, male/female, and so forth–there is a lot of potential within our community to misuse our position. It is important to be ethical in our boundaries and power dynamics.

Stop selling products that exploit sexual problems and body issues. Stop misunderstanding the mechanics of sexuality, and promoting so-called aphrodisiacs. Stop calling it a “men’s herb” or a “women’s herb”. Stop offering easy answers to complex social issues like romantic love, intimacy, body composition, the stress response, and rock-hard erections for 3 easy payments of 19.99. Please

Include, include, include. If our sex positive culture doesn’t include everyone, it’s crap. If it doesn’t include ALL bodies, it’s useless. My liberation is useless if it excludes you, and the opposite is also true.  Not all groups are treated equally by alternative health culture. For example, I’ve seen a streak of anti-trans “Activism” within the wider herbalist culture, and, let’s call it what it is: hate. We can all help to expose the limits of the gender binary and support the rights of ALL persons to gender identity, sexual self-definition and full-spectrum expression.

Reproductive rights exist. We need to support others’ choices to do what is best for themselves. That is all.

Harm-reduction approach. There are people who engage in sexual–or otherwise–practices that are known to be risky. There are dangers inherent in the sharing of bodily fluids and challenges involved in navigating intimate acts out in the world. And there are also rewards. But we can provide information in a straightforward way to promote safer sex and safer choices, that also lets people know that we respect their humanity, no matter how they choose to get off.

Drop the assumptions that others want what we want.  We aren’t the gatekeepers of sexuality, of desire, of womanhood or manhood, of what bodies should be or should like. I’ve noticed that some herb books/blogs/etc suggest that we ALL want sacred sex, soft music, “a clean body”, penis-vagina-only sex, straight sex, 4-hour-tantric-whatever, romance, monogamy, a giant erection, lots of cinnamon. Maybe we can actively challenge this paradigm when we are presenting our own classes/pieces of writing/advice around sex. Guess what, some people want a spanking.        IMG_0574

So let’s  make room in our views for other peoples’ lived experiences. Other peoples’ rich fantasy lives. Other peoples’ kinks and toys and means of expression.

It is OK for us to talk back to those who are sex-negative and body-negative, those who seek to shut sexuality down or tuck it away in a creepy little  box. It only enriches us all, over time, to create the space for exchange to happen around sexuality, to be an ally and an advocate for ALL of our  (consensual) sexy times.                                                                            And thanks to Sean Donahue for breaking the ice with his  recent blog post All Acts of Love and Pleasure: http://www.greenmanramblings.blogspot.com.  He provided the WHY, and I’m suggesting the HOW.  And let’s keep it going! What else should we add to the list?

Co-create the conversation.

“Having a conversation is not a death sentence.”-Bishop Gwendolyn Philips Coates

Changing our Minds

“I regard all neurology, everything, as a sort of adventure.”-Oliver Sacks


Anxiety underlies a million un-well moments.

Feeling trapped within ourselves. Can’t sleep, can’t let go. Tension unmanaged. Easier to shut it down than explore it. Easier to build a wall than dig in. And we don’t have a shovel, anyway.

Or do we?

Can we change our minds, our selves, or are we who we are and that’s it forever?

There is great comfort and great danger in saying “this is who I am.” Self-Acceptance is a joy. And yet so is the empowered breaking down of self, the loving self-examination,  the active dissolution of our story for the purpose of seeing  another possibility.

And so it is with understanding our anxiety–how can we accept it while seeking to release it? How can we break free of it, while also seeing that we ARE and ARE NOT the feelings we have? And what IS it, anyway?

To start with, we can view our mind through the lens of neuro-plasticity. How can we use the inherent adaptability of our brain to create change for ourselves? How can we identify the connections we have made that are not working for us, the narratives that are harming us, and build new ones?

When a cart drives over the same road many, many times it makes ruts. We can change the road, we can change the cart, we can get out and walk.

How can we build the belief that we can cope with life’s stresses and act on that belief, over and over, until it becomes true? Build new paths?

And can we see this as an opportunity, rather than just one more crappy thing we have to check off our to-do list?

Years ago, I was cleaning out a shack in the woods and came across someone’s scribbled notes from a Permaculture conference. One phrase stood out to me:

“Bare soil is in agony.”

Meaning, to me,  that when we are managing land, leaving soil uncultivated is our way of inadvertently asking “weeds” to take care of the problem. We can prevent this by cover-cropping after the harvest. It gives back nutrients to the soil and prevents the “weeds” from colonizing, maybe also providing forage for pollinators too.

We are the soil, and we are the farmer. Anxiety is the weedy plants that appear in the absence of a cover crop. **Dear weed-lovers, I apologize for dissing weedy plants, allow me this metaphor please.**


I don’t believe that we will ever eliminate all anxiety, nor should we. One weed doesn’t spoil the farm. An occasional burst of worry is warranted, especially if we did indeed leave the oven on, forget to pick up cat food or fail to save the planet. Anxiety is a perfectly normal response to being an animal in this world. But, like weeds, it can quickly take over, push other things out of the way-like joy and rest- and steal all of our Nitrogen.

OK, so how do we shift this?

It is a lifelong process of unraveling and re-raveling, examining our narratives and finding our place within an admittedly f-ed up culture, and working our asses off. It’s about believing in possibility. And it’s about asking a lot of questions.

I’d like to share a few strategies that have worked for me, to get you started. I take a harm reduction approach: Every action that reduces the harm is worthwhile. Strategies are our cover crops and we cobble together those that work for us into a system of successful coping that turns into who we are.

-Use neuroplasticity. It is exciting to realize that the brain is not static, but dynamic. Your body is dynamic. Your systems are dynamic. Your stress response is dynamic. There is a lot of potential in this idea!

“Capacities of resilience are innate in the brain, and develop in interactions with other resilient brains.”-Linda Graham

Essentially, coping with stress is something we can get better at! The stress response is like a muscle we can exercise. Our brain can forge new connections. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new connections throughout life. So talk to your brain. Tell it “I made this association, and I can destroy it!” Tell it “Hey, we are forming new connections! Isn’t this great?” And then do it.

-Use the pharmacy within. Remember the experiment with the rats who could press for cocaine? Your body is the rat’s cage. Press the lever and your brain will release your own innate drugs. For free! (kinda.)  The point is, Chemistry is real and can be used to our advantage. To learn abut your levers, check out the book Meet Your Happy Chemicals by Loretta Graziano Breuning for a basic introduction, Spark by John Ratey, and/or look up neurotransmitters.


-Use mindfulness. Ah, yes. The easiest and yet the hardest. Self-awareness. Asking questions of ourselves. Who am I? Is this me? Does it matter? Does anything? Mindfulness is bringing awareness to our lives, it is meditation, moving meditation, body scans, mantras(see below).

-Breathe. It is a  bit of a cliche, but breath truly is a powerful tool for centering, for re-embodiment and for getting into the moment.  Breathe deeply, breathe consciously, breathe ecstatically. I know there is a lot of New Age writing that says “you are breathing wrong” and it’s accusatory and obnoxious. Just ignore that. You are choosing to find your best breathing because you want to, not because you”should”. You forget, and you return to it, over and over. Breath is something that is always there for us to discover.

-Use mantras. So mantras can be cheesy. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make ones that work for us and use them as we see fit. It’s just self-coaching, and it’s useful. I have a few of my own, but I  also suggest generating one or a few that are specific to you and your needs. Remember it, or write it down and carry it around with you.

For me, mantras are not magical thinking. They are not the self-delusion that we create our own universe, or that we are affecting the world with our thoughts, attracting money or lovers or vibes. They are self-coaching for the purpose of shifting our perspective and getting unstuck from feedback loops.

My current favorites are:

  1. “What if there is no problem?”-from a meditation by Loch Kelly
  2. “You are letting go beautifully.” -from a class with Jill Miller
  3. “I have everything I need right now.”
  4. “Just be curious.”-from a talk by Pema Chodron
  5. “I’m plasticizing!”

-Avoid triggers. I hesitate to mention this, as I believe that ideally a resilient self can take on triggers and keep going. But while we are working on anxiety reduction, it makes sense to identify what increases our anxiety. And in the case of traumatic roots of anxiety, we need to make our own decisions about how much avoidance we need.  It’s not about hiding from our problems but from actively choosing to reject the aspect of our culture that seriously suck and contribute to  unwell states.

SOMETIMES IT’S ACTUALLY  NOT YOU THAT IS THE PROBLEM.

For me, I noticed that a lot of media was a trigger. If I watched Law and Order I was more likely to feel like a potential victim. We don’t always realize how we are internalizing messages. I try to avoid television, over-caffeination, big box stores. You might have different examples. I have been able to challenge some anxiety triggers though, and I do suggest that over a  longer term if resilience is a goal.

-Use movement as an outlet. I don’t believe that the  opposite of anxious is calm. I think calm can be over-rated in our culture. Suppression. Sit still. Don’t disturb anyone. Especially for ladies, “keep calm” seems to be this holy grail that we medicate ourselves into. We get stuck in stillness. Well, F that. What if we are too calm, too still? What if humans need to bash things, run up hills, pick up something heavy on occasion? We do. I think our bodies need a challenge and I strongly suggest we provide one. Seriously.

-And then there is the other movement. Wandering around. Time in nature! Walking meditation. Foraging. Dance. Swimming. Gardening, even. whatever helps you get into the healing “flow state”.

-Body stuff. The body and mind are connected, and can’t be looked at as 2 separate things when dealing with anxiety.  Try active release of tension via fascial release, bodywork, movement practice. (such as yoga)Try to find where you store tension and let go of it in whatever way works for you. Rolling it out, maybe. It’s about noticing. Notice what creates tension for you. Notice where it goes. Notice how you feel about it.  How about alignment? Are you in a prey posture? Are you grounded? Do you feel sturdy, connected to the ground? Expansive? Strong or weak? The body is in conversation with the mind.

-Use systems thinking. Have you ever gone to take a photo of someone or something, and realized you were cutting off the head/roof/Grandma/sunset/etc? And you took a step back, or used a wider lens, to fit more of the picture in? That.

It is gaining a wider perspective on something, consciously, in order to fit more into the frame of yourself and see things better.

-Ask questions, or Kondo yourself. Marie Kondo is an infamous organizer who wrote a book about getting rid of basically all of your stuff. Which I found a bit iffy. But her strategy of thanking an object for serving you, telling it “You don’t really serve my needs now” and letting go of it is a great metaphor here.

We can ask ourselves:  Is this narrative working for me? Is it true? Is it my baggage? How is it helping me or harming me? Can I let go of it? Can I let go of it and float, freely, off into a wonderful place? Can I keep it light enough to travel?

And we can ask what defines us, what limits us. We can ask ourselves

“What would it look like to emerge from this anxiety?”

-Build resilience into the system. Humans are adaptable, resilient, amazing beings. If our self-conception is one of resilience, we may behave differently than if we live in a frame of brittleness, brokenness, victimhood or distraction.

Resilience, in this context,  is building up our emotional immune system. A flexible, adaptable ecosystem is more able to handle the inevitable challenges and fix itself.

We can tell ourselves that an unresolved problem is just a problem waiting to be resolved. Or we can tell ourselves that we ARE our unresolved problems. See the difference? Operate from a place of flexible inner strength, and no person or event can take that away.

-Use herbs. I saved this for last on purpose. Herbal allies have a place in supporting our struggles. But the work is soooo much broader than just “taking something”. I will share my favorite herbs to help with anxiety–Milky Oats, Blue Vervain, Skullcap, Rose and Bitters. And of course we have a lot more, plus nutrition and micro-biome, to support this shift. The right herbs depend on the person, the place, the goals.  They get us through. But it’s my opinion that herbs are of limited usefulness here without a broader strategy.

I’d like to leave you with an exchange from my favorite detective, Hercule Poirot and his crime-writer friend Ariadne Oliver.

“What do you think?”

“I think, Madame, that I take the little walk.”

It’s a journey, this undoing, this rebuilding, this long letting go. It’s a lot of  little walks. We change our minds by changing our minds, every day. It is learning to balance ourselves, to hold multiple truths inside of ourselves, to forgive and to hold accountable. But believing in the possibility of a better self is the first step to achieving it. As Pema Chodron says, “The power is in the seeing”, and we start by seeing our anxiety for what it is, and seeking to dissolve it, over and over, every time it comes up on us, every time it pops up out of the dark spaces, every time it threatens to hold us hostage to ourselves. It gets raw inside the struggle. It happens to us and yet it IS us, and that is a powerful visual that leads us to seeing a path out of it, maybe the only path out of anything, which is right through it. Keep digging!

*And remember, if you are in a place where help is needed, there is never any shame in asking for it, seeking it out.

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A modest proposal:

Have you ever gone to an herbalist conference? I have!

Have you ever felt lost and alone at an herbal conference? I sure have!

Have you ever wished someone would solve this problem?  I have–times 1,000.

I love events such as classes, conferences, herb swaps and community celebrations. But many times I have felt like a molecule in a sea of atoms, wandering around trying to figure out how people make friends. I have practiced and now I have the ability to randomly inflict myself on other people. But crap, it’s still hard sometimes.

I would love to help solve this problem for others!

I propose that organizers of events finagle a Special Social Operative to help bring people together and create the best possible space for events.

This person would ideally be a dialogue facilitator, an introducer, a bridger of gaps and a destroyer of social barriers. An emotional logistics coordinator who can take the social temperature of individuals as well as the group and distribute hugs, nervines and directions to the bathroom as needed.

This person (could be more than one person, actually)  could help create a space for blowing off steam in between classes, plan check-ins or movement breaks and help mediate misunderstandings.

They would ideally be armed with Very Clear Signs, a bunch of fun icebreaker-type games to help us reduce our social inhibitions and create connections and a big ol’ box of toys–for example, I have one of those big gym-class parachutes, some jump ropes, balls that bounce in all kinds of silly directions, art supplies  and some obstacle course props.

Planners may also consider adopting the system currently used at some Neurodiversity conferences where people who’d like to be approached display a green card, and those who want cheerful social coordinators to back the heck off display red.

We now generally abandon all of this to the commons, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who has ever felt left out.

I think that by including a social operative in our event planning we can encourage some team-building and bonding, creating a more intimate event which feels even more fun than ever. It could also take some of the pressure off of organizers, who may have “actual business” to attend to.

I would love to help develop this role, putting my hard-won skills to use, and I look forward to conversations that can be created around making it happen.

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Herbal formulation as a swift boat.

“To create angular momentum, you can either spin a really big flywheel with a lot of mass slowly, or a smaller one very fast.”-Michael Vatalaro

I recently received an inquiry from a client about their laundry list of inputs, with the intention of adding more. It is a frequently asked question, actually.  And my response to this is not “hey, take this!” It is actually “hey, let’s get rid of all that baggage!”

I am an herbal editor.

I think what we remove is as important as what we add.

I don’t think we are suffering, collectively, from a lack of supplements.

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In this particular inquiry, the person was using/had recently used both pharmaceuticals and many popular “natural remedies” including Oil of Oregano, Grapefruit Seed extract and Colloidal Silver. These products have the power of promotion behind them, with hellish fear-based testimonials like “She was dying until she used the micro-particle colloidal silver!” and “We felt that God had led us to this information!” They are sold as forbidden cures that the government is attempting to pry from our extremely healthy hands in order to enforce BIG PHARMA HELL.

Anyway. I digress.

My suggestion is to get rid of all this crap. Forget about padding your “word count.” Like an editor, remove all the chaff and create something workable and elegant that makes sense. Because formulation is an art. Make each ingredient count.

I believe we can free the statue from the stone, if the statue is your ideal herbal protocol and the stone is an entire apothecary.

Believe me, I enjoy excess. I love a Victorian parlor filled with fainting couches, ornate gilded mirrors, murals of cherubs and mermaids, and 1,000 layers of velvet. But who is going to dust all of this crap? How can you run in that heavy dress? Some beautiful things are heavy and  can hold us back from exploration. We can love excess, yet see that we don’t want to live inside of it every day.

Simplicity in formulation is like the small boat which can change course very quickly, steer around obstacles and adapt to input. The small boat formula is adaptable. The large boat gets stuck or hits icebergs.

“We have another chance to navigate, perhaps in a slightly different way than we did yesterday.”-Jeffrey R Anderson

The great herbal formulator is an artist and a navigator.

What do these 2 paths have in common? An ability to see patterns. An ability to make connections that others are not making, to respond to your observations.  And the understanding of balance, of the aesthetics of a protocol.  When we are at sea, we must do more with less. Less but better, that is. Every drop of fresh water counts, every lime and chunk of hardtack. In design, the negative space is as important as the line. Holding back is as important as adding more.

And both are about seeing. Seeing things as they truly are. Seeing things from a different angle. Observing with your eyes, but with your whole self too.

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So we can ask ourselves:

-What is the goal of this suggestion or formula or protocol?

-What are my reasons for using  a “kitchen sink” formula or protocol?

-Is this plan clear or confusing?

-is it actually realistic and achievable?

-Are we building people up or overwhelming their systems with this input?

-could we do this with less?

-is there anything I can take away?

-are my claims ethical and truthful?

-Am I selling something that replaces rest, movement, nutrition, or tension release?

-am I making the best use of my skills or relying on excess products?

-are there any ideas that I can let go of?

One can sail smart or one can sail strong, and the leakier the boat the faster we need to sail. There may be a place for the quick and dirty protocol, or the last-ditch bailout. But ultimately i think embracing simplicity, specifics, problem-solving and UN-treating may help herbalism as a whole to move forward and create exciting new paths.

It is the space in-between, and allowing for that, which creates the room for bodies to fill in the gaps. And that is what herbalism means to me–the body healing itself, supported by plants. Light enough to travel.

“A sailor is an artist whose medium is the wind.”-Webb Chiles

And I believe a formulator is an artist whose medium is the plants.

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Anti-aging politics, self-care and almost a recipe.

“I was just starved, though, to be visible to anybody.”-Joy Ladin, Gender and the Syntax of Being

Oh, my head. Or more specifically, my face. And all of our faces. Here they are, representing us.
How much of our culture is based on faces? Head shots, mug shots, swipe right for the hottie. Profile pictures on everything, from Facebook to Twitter to my “About Me” e-mail. Buy this thing to get a better face. Cut it, love it, hate it, inject it with botulinum. It’s too dark, too light, “uneven”, never good enough.
It is a source of so much of our personal anxiety.
I have one, too. A face, that is. And I think about it, and want it to be lovely.
I want to be seen, but not too seen. Or, seen for all the “right” reasons.
I’ve been thinking about faces and aging, lately. A lot. And how age can, potentially free us from this obsession with how we look, and how that sounds kinda great. Or it can do the opposite.
I looked up herbs for anti-aging, and you know, it seems to be a big industry. And it seems to be mostly full of crap. But it’s not just that a lot of the treatments don’t work as promised but that it is based on a false concept.
The anti concept.
Aging is not, by definition, a battle. It’s not something being done to us, independent of us. It IS us, cells plus time.
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But one can find a lot of articles on “___ # of herbs for anti-aging”. A LOT.
When we, as herbalists and healers, promote anti-aging as an entire category of herbal products what are we saying about time? What are we saying about age? What are we saying about our face?
Aging is not an abstraction. It is just a process. A natural cycle. It is many things to many people.
Some degree of observation (aka people-watching) does tell me, though, that there are a lot of different ways to age. There is the way in which we basically give up and wait to die. There is the way in which we attempt, at all costs, to be seen as something else, to hide, to battle the process. And there is the way in which we wrap ourselves in sensual pleasures, dive into the process, put aside our self-limiting fears of doing it wrong and finally just be who we are, wrinkles and all.
We can’t actually age well if we were not living well before aging became a concern. It is deliciously radical, punk even, to see oneself as whole and worthy, to identify as a process, to live in the culture without internalizing the constant messages that we need to battle our own bodies, not just today but throughout our entire lives.
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“The average woman is so beat down and besieged [by images of youth].” -Iris Apfel

And what is REALLY “anti-aging”? What keeps us from giving up? It’s not just what you apply to your skin. It is not a list of the top 10 spices you can take. It is a steadfast refusal to lose our sense of ourselves, our curiosity, our participation in the world around us. It is refusing to (figuratively) cut our genitals off from the rest of our bodies, or to dis-embody and float off into a world of caring more about The Price is Right or “kids these days” than we do about feeding our own senses.
It is the self-care we do out of love, not fear. The movement that keeps us strong and well. And the connections we have built up and maintained-with friends, lovers, our passions, the Earth and our own rich inner lives.
Oh, and it’s fiber.
It is indeed a paradox that I want to balance total self-acceptance with constant self-improvement, but they don’t have to be in opposition with each other. I’d love to hear how others are balancing this within their own lives, now and moving forward through age and time.
Ah, the ephemeral nature of life.
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Ok, so there is the dramatic stuff. Now let’s get to the juicy bits: my current favorite skincare product. Want to know how to make it? I am a huge fan of very straightforward, stripped-down products which are also luxurious and delightful. I like to do more with less, I like that which does “double-duty”, I like to pack light.
My personal skin-care story is that I have both super-sensitive skin and jumpy hormones, and therefore I am often trying to soothe the angry skin beast. I have tried many things and I do believe that most skincare should be internal–hydration, nutrition, supportive bitters, movement, laughter, sleep and stress management are the ideal long-term plan for most of us.
But anyway, I still wanted the perfect face wash.
I had tried straight coconut oil, straight honey and straight clay powder, all of which worked fine alone, but not amazing and not super user-friendly. Then I discovered something called “The Honey Mud” which combines all 3 and looks amazing…for 80-something dollars a jar. It’s a nice jar, but that’s more than I personally budget for such things.
I’ve now messed around with creating my own, and it’s so luxurious, so delightful and so easy to use that I’m moved to share the “recipe”. ( I use that word very loosely, but I know that recipe = clickbait so here it is.) It is in “parts” which means that YOU tailor that concept to the amount of product you’d like to make.
1 part each of:
raw coconut oil (yes, you can use a different high-quality oil or combo if desired.)
raw honey–(yes, it has to be raw if you want the enzymes and such, don’t ask if it doesn’t, just try it.)
clay-dry powder-I used 1/2 pink Rhassoul and 1/2 bentonite. There is a lot of info available about types of clay, basically some are more or less drying. Use your favorite or get a few and experiment. It’s cheap.

Put these things in a Cusinart or blender and add liquid to thin. Just, you know, blend, check, add a little liquid, repeat. You’re going for a consistency that is goopy and perfectly apply-able.
I used hydrosols as my liquid here-rose, and some cucumber. I love yarrow hydrosol if you can find it. Chamomile, maybe. Use what YOU like, and what you have. You could use nearly any herbal infusion as the liquid, or buttermilk if you will keep it cold.
I also added Cacao essential oil because I find it very pleasurable. Add whichever EO or combo you like, if desired. Or not.
I do not believe that external applications of Eos or herbs are necessary for daily skin care, or that they will magically fix your skin, contrary to marketing copy. But delicious smell is a thing people like.
And, at the risk of stating the obvious, put it in a jar and use it 1-2 times a day to wash your face. Can be left on as a “treatment”, I guess to increase general loveliness, and can be eaten in case of apocalypse scenarios.
Make it, love it, give it, sell it, just don’t tell yourself that it will fix you. Cause you’re great and don’t need to be fixed, and a product isn’t actually going to do it anyway.
Oh–and go watch Advanced Style, an amazing movie about fabulous women over 60 with a wonderful companion book by Ari Seth Cohen.

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

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 Amazon fact:  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 even 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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Opportunity knocks.

People who work the front desks of medical offices are like gatekeepers. They are ambassadors. They are the first voice or face a person encounters when they are seeking care. And the energy of that first interaction can be important.

Sometimes the person who is seeking that appointment  hasn’t always done the best job of self-care. Perhaps they were unwilling or unable to keep up on their medical care. Perhaps they are a little outside of normal, or have in some way not “measured up” to the American standard in terms of class, gender, sexuality, appearance, ability, religious or other self- expression.

This is an opportunity.

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As a gatekeeper, you have the opportunity, almost a sacred duty, to help bring this person into the fold of access. To welcome this person who may have obvious or hidden baggage around seeking some type of care into a safe space.

This person has reached out, has made an attempt to do the right thing, to access this care.

And this first interaction can truly make it or break it.

If a person who is trying to make an appointment, trying to ask a question or is in need of care feels judgement, feels pushed away or unwanted, feels uncomfortable, this can potentially reinforce the worldview that they don’t belong.

Or…this interaction could be a turning point.

If they walk into a gym, ready to make the leap of beginning fitness. If they walk into a farmer’s market, ready to add more vegetables. If they walk into an herbalist’s office, a massage studio, yoga class, health food store, running-shoe store, feminist sex shop….making this shift could change their freakin life.

They have taken a step.

What may be just another day to you could be a moment someone else has built up the courage to do for, like, ever.

Many people carry a lifetime of baggage, of judgement, of abuse, of discomfort, of self-loathing around like a big heavy stupid backpack,  and it’s just enough to hold them back.

Maybe they already know they aren’t from around here. Maybe they drink too much, don’t take enough walks, rely excessively on quick fixes.. Maybe they already know the pain of rejection. Maybe they already know what that damn raised eyebrow means.

There may be a reason that someone has avoided seeking needed care. There may be a history that you can’t see. Neither the mainstream nor the alternative healthcare systems have always been kind to everyone.   It is noone’s fault, it just “is”.

And, to those on the front lines of healthcare, I honor you, Physical care, mental care, fitness, alternative and mainstream– I don’t heap with you blame or anger for being human. Many of you are doing GREAT. And…Perhaps you have your own baggage. Perhaps you are just having a tough day. I thank you for the work you do.

But if you are able to keep this in mind, if you are able to welcome all the freaks into your space, actively welcome, to remember that it may feel foreign to some, dangerous even, to be accessing your services, perhaps you can see yourself as THE ANSWER. Or at least AN answer. This outreach position has the potential to literally shift someone’s feelings about the entire system. This interaction can be THE pivotal moment for a marginalized person. Or this moment can just reinforce the beliefs a person already holds.

“This is not for me.” “I am an outsider.”

They might bring vulnerability, shame, misunderstanding. You can be a bridge.

And around 90% of people are not seeking the lecture that you could deliver–even if, technically, you are “right”.

Maybe there will always be a douchebag who feels the need to yell at less-fit persons who finally worked up the courage to start running. Maybe there will always be a person who rolls their eyes when you say you have never had a primary care doctor. Maybe there will always be an herbalist who insists your colon isn’t clean enough. Maybe some people need to feel superior to those dorks who drag themselves out of bed, try their best, don’t fit in but do it anyway.

Maybe.

But don’t let that douchebag be you.

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