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

BOOKS, reviewed

What I’ve been reading this Winter: I chose 10 books that, to me, correspond with concepts that I would like to see discussed and taught within the word of herbalism. It is nice to read a book, but to me, even better if I can USE it as a tool. I read mostly non-fiction, and I do so with a (real paper) notebook handy so I can take notes on what excites me, what pisses me off, what I need to share or what I must find someone to discuss as soon as possible.

-A History of Public Health: revised and expanded edition by George Rosen

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A sense of our place in history.

I have a love-hate relationship with public health. It encompasses the history of waste management, which I find very interesting, and without a doubt useful. And it also encompasses a person or group trying to force another person or group to change, and a loss of cultural diversity that comes from calling individual humans “the public”. It raises questions around human rights and human responsibilities, access, communication, authority and information. Thankfully, Rosen does bring a bit of class consciousness to the stories, which I appreciate.

This book was originally written in the 1950s and does reflect that time, so if you are looking for something more recent, this is not it. But if you would like to geek out on the journey of public health, especially during the 1700s and 1800s, mainly European and American, this is the book for you. It has people and places, diseases and theory!

And this is one piece of the overall life-puzzle I explore constantly: How did we get here?  How did NOW happen? I just don’t think we can move forward without some information about where we’ve been.

What I found most interesting about this history is that Public Health seems, on first glance, like “the man”  but the reality is full of activists, problem-solvers and creative thinkers, and includes many working women.

 

-Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs, Eastern/Central, third edition by Steven Foster and James A. Duke

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Skills, baby, skills! Field ID, botany

OK, I am going to air out my internet pet peeve: “Can I get an ID?”
Why do we think it makes sense to take a crappy photo and post it on Facebook, where people we don’t know argue over whether it is a tomato or an Oak tree? Like the constant desire for an ID app, this speaks to a modern learned helplessness and an unwillingness to do a little work.
People. Get this book. Learn to ID.
For basic  field ID of common plants, it is convenient and reasonable.

I do NOT use this book for information about plant use, as I find that part of it oversimplified, outdated and overreliant on “used by X tribe for __”  and “experimentally, used as___” both of which I personally find obnoxious.
Example: Prenanthes alba, “Iroquois used tea as a wash for weakness.” This piece of information is so useless to me. What does that even mean?

But anyway, it’s a great book for identifying plants.

-H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald

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Finding meaning in the struggle

This book is a memoir of Ms. MacDonald’s journey of mourning. She struggles after her Father’s sudden death, and ends up combining a literary research project and the training of her own raptor  (a Goshawk, Mabel) to pull herself through. Slowly. Excruciatingly.
It is a beautiful book, wonderful use of language, very descriptive, it moves quickly and it’s emotional but not mushy.

I admit to scanning a few of the paragraphs about TH White towards the end, but this is a minor detail.

It ultimately  speaks to how we all need an outlet in life, a way to process all that comes at us, all that is hard to speak about or let go of, whether it is a dramatic death or just dealing with life’s many challenges.

-Out on the Wire, The storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio by Jessica Abel

This is a graphic non-fiction book about making great radio. The issue it hits upon that’s relevant to herbalism is story-telling and public speaking. It took me time to find my voice as a teacher and speaker, and I’d suggest this to new and old writers, teachers, interviewers and anyone who has to speak in front of others.

That is part of what being an herbalist is, really: a good interviewer. A good listener. And someone who can present suggestions in a way that grabs others and keeps them interested.

And many of us create audio or video of our classes, plant walks and/or discussions, so I see this as a useful tool in creating that work, too. Because becoming great speakers is difficult and takes time–but is a worthwhile pursuit, especially if we would like to share our ideas with others.

-Risk, the Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner 

RISK MANAGEMENT

Yes, we need an understanding of risk management in health care. YES, yes, yes.

From the tired old trope “vaccines are the cause of Autism” to the constant claims that a trace of ___chemical means certain death, or an herb that has SOME effect on the uterus will totally abort your fetus, from fearfully kicking trans folks out of “womyn’s” spaces to running for cover from “chemtrails” and conventionally grown bananas we just don’t seem to be interested in assessing real risk.

The reality of risk is that it is complex, that humans fear what grabs their attention and ignore what kills us slowly.

The reality is that we seem to want to blame someone. Anyone.

And most of the media we hear is based on  gross oversimplification, fear-mongering, and quick and easy words about difficult subjects.

So we need to really get how to ask questions!

Even just the most basic–What is the actual risk of doing or not doing this thing?

And ultimately, having a grasp of how risk management affects us, as practitioners, as end users, as participants in a system, might be the most important way to create  cultural shifts, to make change away from fear-based decision making  and towards more practical  management of our risk.

Systems Thinking for Social Change by David Peter Stroh

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Problem solving!

Quite possibly my favorite subject. We often talk about treating the problem, not just the symptoms. But how?

We can’t often change these underlying problems without a shift in how we look at these problems, without shifting how WE understand them.

Systems thinking is one possible solution to creating a broader perspective on these problems. It gives us tools to talk about things, to diagram the problems we are facing. And that is how to start.

This book has some interesting ideas for helping us to create that broader thinking. Chapters like Why Good Intentions are Not Enough, Storytelling for Social Change and Facing Current Reality excite and invigorate me.

I definitely suggest it.

 

-Advanced Style by Ari Seth Cohen

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Age Power to the Old People!

Ack, I loooooove this book. It’s an easy read, a break from all these wordy chaptery things. It’s about elders who are still having fun with their looks and outfits. But it also speaks to a deeper issue–shaming the aging process with our shitty marketing campaigns for wrinkle creams and butt slimmers. And herbalists do it, too–same baggage-laden products and concepts with an all-natural label stuck to the front.

Turns out that using the wrinkle cream designed for your face isn’t good enough for your neck, which has its own special needs and requires a separate  “décolletage cream”. UGH.

So this celebrates people–mostly ladies, in this case–who are rocking their wrinkles and it shows their style, beauty and spirit in an inspiring and fun way.

-Mind Over Medicine , Scientific Proof that you can Heal Yourself by Lissa Rankin, MD

-Cure by Jo Marchant

Mind-Body connections

I am going to write about these 2 together because I am lazy and want to go take a walk.

OK, how  many times have we heard someone get mad at being told “it’s all in your head”? And yeah, when people say that as a put-down, it IS obnoxious and shows that they don’t understand the mind-body connection. But what if we take control of that narrative for ourselves? What if, when we hear something is all in our head, we say YAY! That means that, though it will be long and hard, thought it will take work, I can create shifts myself!

That means it’s mine!

We often go to a practitioner wanting them to fix us. But sometimes getting better requires our participation, and rather than seeing that as a problem, maybe it is an opportunity.

Self-empowerment is an interesting concept, as it holds a lot of potential for healing but also some potential for loneliness. Challenging standard ways of thinking is not always easy or straightforward. But if the story is mine, that means it’s mine to destroy, or change, or accept–or some combo of these.

Of these two books, I’d strongly recommend Cure and weakly recommend Mind over Medicine–I think Marchant’s book is the better of the two.

I am super excited about new studies and ideas around changing our brain, around mindfulness and neuroplasticity. It is exploration  and it is Science. If you like Oliver Sacks, if you wonder how the mind and body intersect, if you struggle with something that is “all in your head”, or know someone who does, if you like stories, check these books out.

-Fuzzy Memories and Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey

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HUMOR

I am including these two for the sole reason of fighting the trend to take ourselves too seriously, and because humor  heals.

Happy reading!

 

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.

Special Social Ops

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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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