Ethics for Herbalists part 1: Confidentiality

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The existence of groups and forums on the internet have given many people a place to discuss their health issues. In some ways this has been helpful, and in many ways this has not.

In a social media world, where employers, lawyers, insurance companies and exes can find out a lot about us, there is a new level of privacy concern around information about our mental and physical health.

It is important for us  to openly discuss the importance of confidentiality and to maintain privacy around the details of our own and others’ health information. What we may see as a private group is NOT really that private. What we may see as harmless chatting, the discussed person may see as a breach of trust.
Whether or not we use a full name,  (and sometimes people do), it is quite easy for others to make connections and know who is being discussed. This can lead to awkwardness at best, legal issues at worst.

And it is straight-up unethical.

People are vulnerable when they share their intimate details with us, and by keeping it confidential  we honor the exchange. This includes recognizing the various power dynamics that may exist within any  client/healer relationship.

So before we write up a case study or ask a question in any type of forum–online, in a class, speaking with any other people or practitioners, let’s ask ourselves  a few questions:

Am I respecting the privacy of my client or loved one?

How can I do this better?

Would it be better if I used less identifying details, called them person X or “a client” perhaps?

Am I telling their story or my story?

What is my responsibility to this client?

Is there a level of trust here that I am responsible to?

Would I be OK with this person knowing what I’m sharing? What if the roles were reversed? Would I be OK with this?

Do I really know who else can see this, and/or if anyone in this forum now or in the future is trustworthy?

There may be, occasionally, reason to breach the trust of a client or loved one, and that is when serious harm to oneself or another is possibly imminent. But an internet forum is not the place for this. Seek actual help.

And there may be a person who consents to their information being shared, and that is OK.

But ultimately I think it benefits all of us to examine our ethical obligation to keep the details to ourselves, to honor the trust put in us and to  remember the expectation that exists that–whether we are practicing herbalists or just people into herbs–we won’t compromise anyone’s livelihood or future by making their personal information available to others. Privacy around our personal information is a RIGHT.

It is not–not, not, not–about calling people out, not saying “you are doing this wrong”. It is only about saying maybe you didn’t know, and that is OK. Let’s consider, going forward, the implications of all of this sharing for the good of the whole community.

For more information about this, please check out the AHG statement on the herbalists’ code of ethics:

http://www.americanherbalistsguild.com/ethics

and Sevensong’s great handout on community herbalism, with a section on ethics:

http://7song.com/files/Community%20Based%20Herbalism.pdf

 

As well as HIPAA, the Health insurance portability and Accountability act.

http://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/index.html

 

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Standing in the road alone

This morning, very early,  I stood at my window and watched a man park  his large lumber-delivery truck on a very steep hill. It’s a blind curve, too. He put down the stabilizers and climbed onto the roof of the cab to check how close the powerlines were to the giant motorized metal claw. (Answer: really f-ing close.) He jumped down and put out some orange cones, then got back up and started to unload the pallets of lumber with the giant metal arm.
I noticed he was smoking the whole time.*
And why not? Here you are, literally standing in the road alone, behind/on/next to your giant, heavy, fully-loaded lumber truck. Here you are, one inch from the powerlines. Here you are, jumping 5 feet off of the cab of your truck into a ditch.

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Herbalism and “alternative healthcare” suffer from a common perception of being only for a certain type of person.

I hear a lot of talk within our community about making it more accessible. Accessible is  often presented as making the products or care more affordable. That which stands between working class people and an herbalicious lifestyle is often seen as money. But is that it? **

Wellness advice, marketing and media seems to focus on certain people too. I often observe health writing , books, podcasts geared towards people with desk jobs–it’s not that anyone is purposefully excluding the working class. It’s that the people who are creating this content are DOING SO at a desk, and their writing and, often, their whole life experience reflects this. We have a whole class of people today who are totally protected from daily experiences of workplace danger and elemental hardship, from childhood to death.

 

Do we, in order to break down some barriers,  need to also remember how the social determinants of health shape our individual and collective attitudes around self-care? Do we need to consider how herbalists  are presenting ideas about wellness, how we talk about it, how we view health disparities?  Whose face represents us? It may not be someone’s current income that determines their attitudes about health. (For example, a lineman is doing blue collar work but could be earning more than a desk-based worker.) It may be, for example, that  doing dangerous work creates a different feeling about health and mortality compared to doing a desk job. It may be that simple pleasures like smoking, even if we know they could harm us eventually, pale in comparison to working on live wires. It may be that we don’t actually expect to live long enough to deal with the consequences.

So what if it’s not just the money that determines our choices but our values, the IDEAS around health and wellness that we have been forming our whole lives, that come from our family, our friends, our co-workers, our community and the media we consume.  We all have a lens through which we see our selves and the world, and this lens is shaped by many factors, including class.

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Our state of health doesn’t occur in isolation. History of choices create a target audience.  Our behaviors occur on a continuum, and in a context. When we are exposed to very real hazards every day, we may not give a shit about gluten, about emotional release, about our posterior chains. We may just be relieved when our boat pulls back in, when we don’t get run over or impaled or beaten to death. Or if we are actually  interested in creating change, we may get so much negative social pressure  from those around us that we give up.  We may be unable to find a practitioner that feels welcoming or some writing that we believe speaks to people like us. We may have the money to spend on a tincture, but feel repelled by the way it is presented.***

So basically health decisions don’t occur in a vacuum, and our outreach should not occur in a vacuum either. We have to live in the web of interconnectedness, and take a systems approach to improving health disparities. Ultimately it is possible for working class people to thrive when we feel supported and integrated and heard, even in the face of work and life that tries to chew us up and spit us out. This is empowerment– NOT someone charging in and  saving people from themselves but a community giving people the tools to create change.

Leadership from within can help create shifts in the values and behaviors that improve health outcomes. This includes understanding that risk does not look the same to everyone. To me, making these shifts is about breaking cycles that keep us in one place and building bridges that let us cross to another. I have observed amongst beloved working class family and friends a certain air of capableness and sturdiness that just crumbles into brokenness over time, and I do believe that this is not entirely inevitable.

So our challenge is: how to make our ideas about herbalism and wellness approachable while still respecting the dignity and intelligence of our brothers and sisters who are doing dangerous work every day, grinding away in all kinds of weather, getting up with the sun and coming home in need of support.  How can we help transform that capable strength and youthful resilience into a lifelong wellness, physically and mentally?
Perhaps seeing our place amongst a lineage of survivors is a start, coming at this work from a place of deep respect for our brothers and sisters and the work they do, a willingness to start from a harm reduction model and listening. Lots of listening.

*please note that I am merely observing this smoking, and judging the behavior is NOT my intent.

**Not to say it’s never about money, of course.

***I’m over-using we because I identify with both herbalists and working class persons.

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Relevance,discomfort and what are we actually doing here?

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“It’s much more about an approach than it is about a topic.”-Brooke Gladstone

I’ve been writing this blog for a long time now. Years. It’s interesting, slightly painful, for me to look back on some of my earliest posts. I see them as naive, poorly written. But I have decided to leave them up because it speaks to the evolution of my voice, the path I have taken is clear and transparent to anyone curious enough or bored  enough to read every single post.

And I leave these posts up because this says “people change”.  I’m not afraid to say I was wrong. I see this as valuable, the idea that we evolve as practitioners, as writers, and as a community. My biggest issue around herbalism is the incurious– those who cling tightly to what they learned once, read once, to their lists of this-for-that, their binaries and first impressions.

“Measure this, add that, shake once a day, I read somewhere that ____cures everything.”

I prefer to kill and eat my old ideas for breakfast. It is interesting to me, seeing how herbalism has evolved since I first got into it, both in my own life and in the broader community–and also how it has not.

Recently I wrote a post about sex-positive herbalism and the reaction of a few people was telling. My favorite feedback was “I see no value in the subject matter, it’s not necessary in terms of medicinal value of herbs.” (I’ll let the author remain anonymous)

Amazing! I love to hear things like this because it drives me, it lets me know I am in exactly the right place, asking the right questions. It tells me I have a role in creating the evolution of herbalism. And so do you. What is relevant to herbalism, anyway? What is necessary to be a healer?  Do I need to leave the fact of my sexuality out of it?  And yours? Should all writers and teachers stick to creating dry, factual  lists of herbs they have used to treat health problems?

I’d freakin die. This might be the most boring path I can personally imagine.

Because this doesn’t excite me, but also because herbalism isn’t happening in a vacuum. It’s happening in a living system. Herbalism is not “plant + disease”. It’s just not. Herbalism is human+ their life experience+their cultural beliefs and practices+their movement, nutrition, rest+their class, occupation, gender+environment+disease+standardized medicine +plant medicine.

And maybe some other stuff, too!

“A lot of daily reporting and news commentary just reinforces everything we already think about the world.”-Ira Glass

And this is true of our social media circles.

A trained monkey can hand out tinctures to people. A robot can dispense this for that. Marketers generate shitty “factual-ish” memes and blog posts to sell their product every darn day. But my mission is to spark a different medicine–the medicine of asking WHY are we doing this, the mission of helping to create more, better, more interesting and more challenging paths for all kinds of healers and plant lovers. I’m 5 feet of why, all night long.

We talk a lot about finding our voice, finding our “calling”, and I am not sure I believe in any one right path. Sometimes the right path is the one you can actually get done, the one that pays for groceries, the one that hangs their help wanted sign out when you need it. But within that calling, we may carve out space for ourselves, slowly and methodically, one action at a time, with  the sharp spoon of our words and actions, until our voice finally emerges.

Every time we say WHY, what are we actually doing, what is the goal, where did you get that information from, let’s think that through, let’s try it, let’s look it up, how, how, how. Every time we say please stop reducing this beautiful complexity to a meme. Every time we say correlation is not causation or my body is not a petri dish or just because it’s written down doesn’t mean it’s truth.

In other words, people may say that challenging  ideas are irrelevant, not necessary, uncomfortable, inappropriate. And I guess I don’t know who is reading this, and maybe you are indeed full of crap. But on the other hand, maybe those that cling to narrow ideas of herbalism, those who cling to binary thinking and easy fixes, who avoid challenges and get up and give the same spiels over and over again forever, are the ones who need these irrelevant and unnecessary words the most.

So rock on with your questions, you sexy little body-owning, messy and complex non-binary, neuro-queer, differently-abled, weed-loving, obnoxious, traumatized, foul-mouthed, fat-ass, skinny-ass, heathen, non-conforming, too-much-or-not-enough askers and seekers. Find your voice and don’t let anyone tell you it’s not relevant to herbalism.

“It’s about challenging people who know.”-Jad Abumrad

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Book Review: Deskbound

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I just got my copy of the brand new book Deskbound by Dr. Kelly Starrett, with  Juliet Starrett and Glen Cordoza. Finally! Before I get into the book, I have to say, I am biased– I am already a fan of the Starretts–I like their giant quads, their cheerful, funny approach  and their seeming lack of douchiness.  And I already like the books Becoming a Supple Leopard and Ready to Run and Mobilitywod. To me, Kelly Starrett stands out amongst the many people talking about bodies in that he’s not waxed up, he seems to be respecting ladies, he and the others in his books and videos seem just like regular people. It’s like Yep, here’s a strong lady lifting stuff and it’s no big thing.  Here’s my kids,  here we are just running around. Refreshing.


OK, so Deskbound. It is about the sedentary life that is very common in our culture right now, why it matters, and what we can do about it. It is definitely about sitting, but, you know, it’s like 300-something pages, it offers a lot of information and solutions. Sitting is an issue that affects herbalists because 3 of the most common complaints we get are pain, digestive issues and “stress”/sleep issues. ALL of these issues may be helped by our changing the ways we move and live, so every time we hand out a product to fix something caused by a behavior, we are participating in, we are co-creating this cultural imbalance.

Yes, we are part of the problem, too.

So throughout the book, they are not afraid to say ” ____is a problem, here is why, move away from ___, here is how.” It is a format that actually makes sense, feels do-able and practical to me.

There are a lot of visuals, both photos and drawings, that help to make the concepts clear. The approach feels like systems thinking, where we identify and unravel underlying causes, make connections, which excites me. I’m seeing lots of focus on standing and walking, which might sound boring but IT’S NOT–basically, how can we do these better, and how  will that support our overall health.

And the concept of “environmental loads”–  everything from shoes to chairs– is one that may be useful in talking about what makes us unwell–often we hear, in the alternative health community, about fears of chemicals or radiation, GMOs or “toxins”, from people wearing heeled shoes, sitting all day who don’t lift heavy things. HEY! It’s not the “toxins” that are going to get you, people! Go for a walk!

I also appreciate that there isn’t a diet section. I’ve experienced reading a book about movement or health which suddenly shifts into what to eat, or some pseudoscientific or religious views, or both, and it’s an immediate buzzkill for me.

My only complaint about this book, and much of the media around sitting, heck all fitness, is that they seem to be speaking to “white collar” office workers first. My personal background, community and family are filled with factory workers, farmers , cleaners and carpenters. While this information definitely applies to nearly all types of workers, some interpretation will need to be done to make this feel super relevant to much of the working class.

So go get this book, and learn how to perform basic maintenance on your bod. Bring it to your own community, bring the concepts into your practice, your teaching, or your way of thinking. The next big shift in our culture is out of the chair, and this book shows us how and why.

Changing the way we move will eventually help to change the way we view our bodies–we don’t HAVE a body, we ARE a body, and this book is an owner’s manual.IMG_0933

 

 

Survival Skills

So, survival. Is it about stockpiling water filters and number 10 cans? MREs and ammo? Or is it about saving ourselves, emotionally, from the onslaught of the world which seeks to beat us to death, emotionally, figuratively, to block our flow and steal our heart?

Not to be all freaking overdramatic here but I am about to move BACK to the city, back to the middle of the damn city which I love, where I’m from, which I miss terribly and which nearly killed me.

Mixed feelings much?

So I am making myself a special box to take out when I am in need. A self-care box, an emotional first-aid kit. I am old enough now to recognize that it takes work to be well amongst the rust and rubble, to stay well as a supersensitive kind of person amongst the screeches and wails, the pavement and the traffic. Work to nourish the organism, to build resilience and to value the inner self over the latest social activity.

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And you MIGHT wonder, perhaps, what is in this box? What does a grown-ass woman need to survive the city life?

Of course I am about to make a list. Cause otherwise all this buildup would just be weird, right? So here goes:

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-Mantras. I am a huge dork for mantras. I am a person who struggles with my lack of a Mother figure and have finally decided to just Mother myself. I am currently really loving Kirsten Hale’s mantra “I did such a good job of surviving!”  and yes, I am still obsessed with “What if there is no problem?”

I firmly believe that our own self-talk sets us up for the day, for the night, giving us the juice we need to get shit done–or the opposite.

So mantras are in my box o’ love.

-Movement   Of all the things we (able-bodied) humans can do to feel better, just moving around is the most obvious, cheapest, easiest and last-chosen option. Just go for a damn walk. A run. a stretch session. Sweat.  Lift something heavy. It really really works.

-Mindfulness Meditation, whether sitting or moving, has officially proven to actually change your brain for the better. Start small, people. And just make the idea that you can take time for your brain to just chill your own narrative.

-and a little stone to hold OK, OK, so I don’t believe in the miraculous vibration of crystals but I’ll be darned if holding a stone while meditating, or any object of focus, a bone, a root, whatever, doesn’t really help me get into the practice.

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-Wild things It’s about noticing. I was concerned about leaving the bird noises, the insects and the plant diversity I love here in the country. But then I remembered that time I saw a skunk trotting down Broadway. Oh, and the crabs that hang out downtown in the river. And the seagulls. And crows. And pigeons, I love pigeons. And the Mugwort. And the Leopard Slugs in my yard. And and and and…nature is everywhere. Note to self: Don’t put nature into that rural box. Go find it, anywhere, everywhere, all the time.

-and the Actual Wild. Super straightforward: time spent outside of the city. Camping, hiking, swimming, walking dogs, hitting things with a stick.

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-Sleep I remember the intensity of the desire to get a good night’s sleep when I lived in the city, and the relief of sleeping in total darkness here. But there are tools to help urban dwellers get good rest, and these are going into my box– great dark curtains which block light and muffle sound. Smushy mattresses, relaxing herbs, great snuggles and doing enough physical activity to feel physically tired.

-Community A big part of why I want to be in the city again, anyway. Socializing with people I find interesting and who are interested in me is a great survival strategy. It sounds obvious now, but I know how easy it is to withdraw when one should really be reaching out and asking for support.

-Plants, inside and out This should come as no surprise to plant lovers, but just having plants around increases my personal well-being by like a thousand.

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-Symbolic nature OK, stay with me here. It’s a little abstract– But in my experience, bringing elements of nature into my home helps me to stay grounded in what is important to me, what I love and need. A dried flower? A feather? A bone, a drawing or photo, a stone? Maybe it is just the visual, maybe it is the reminder that nature is a force I love, but it helps.

-Actively seek out inspiration A reminder to myself to actually open up this literal and figurative box and feed myself.

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-Notebook I love to have an outlet to record my thoughts and ideas, to make sketches and process scenes from the day which may be disturbing or inspiring or just confusing. A real pen and a real paper, more so than a notes app, helps me to unspool that day and let go. It is the build-up of one after another of indignities, of weird shit that I have to ignore, of other people’s energy that I’ve had a hard time letting go of in the past, and which I choose to deal with better now.

-Herbs I guess, since I am an herbalist with a fabulous apothecary, that I shouldn’t leave out herbs. I do leave it for last though, as I love them but cringe at the idea of herbs as our first line of defense against the world. It is not about suppressing our tension but about managing it, and there are some plant medicines that I find helpful for this. For example, there is Scullcap, which is my #1 let-it-go herb. A blend of Milky Oats, Rose, Tulsi and Hawthorne which is an every- evening  cooldown for me, a way to nourish my nervous system.  And there is Blue Vervain, my precious tension diffuser for the clenching, teeth-gritting, can’t stand it kind of mood.

Plus bitters, Sweet Birch rub and Black Haw….

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My main goals are to stay grounded, stay connected to that which keeps me going. I don’t really believe in ____ makes me happy, I think happy is overrated and even a bit boring. I want to be OK, I want to be creating, I want to be curious. That is my version of “happy”.

It is so easy to think we can just buy something, just get an object or make a consumer choice to solve the abyss of angst that comes from living in the world, that is just a byproduct of cities and media and too much information, things which I love but which also cause me harm. But I feel like the tension I feel in a city isn’t just my bad consumer choices. It isn’t the feeling that I lack the right crystal. It’s normal, it’s reasonable to sometimes get overwhelmed by this complex life.

So what I am excited about here is a long-tern strategy for self-management in the face of that structure  which doesn’t give a shit about our humanity. In the face of a system, a design that was not built to maximize human delight but to sell things or move goods or create the best real estate.

And I just want to share that we DO have the tools, we DO have the means to support ourselves through these changes and struggles–make the time when we feel good to put these systems in place and they will be there for us when we feel in need.

Find your little pleasures, friends. Find your moments of bliss, steal your quiet time and forge your own sacred space.

Concrete can’t really block the flow.

*ps yeah, it’s not really a box.

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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!

 

HERB SALE!!!!

Great news:

Fellow Workers Farm is moving, and I am offering a special sale on tinctures. It will help me move more efficiently and help you to have more herbs for less money!

Starting today, Thursday April 14 and ending on May 1st I am offering a buy 2, get one free sale.

Any 2 tinctures from the following list, choose a size, and choose the third (same size) for free.

E-mail me with your choices and address, Paypal me and I’ll ship them out right away. Pick up if you’re local.

1 oz, 10.00

2 oz, 16.00

4 oz, 30.00

USPS shipping for MOST orders is 6.80.

Quantities are limited. Please check  availability via e-mail. YES, it is possible to get a blend or bitters or special order and use the sale, see http://www.fellowworkersfarm.bigcartel.com for a selection of special stuff.

E-mail is fellowworkersfarm at gmail

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LIST:

tinctures are fresh plant in grain alcohol, folk method, strong, unless otherwise noted.

Rosa Rugosa flowers, tincture or elixir

Sweet Cicely root, tincture or elixir

Honeysuckle flowers

Hops

Aspen bark

Hawthorne leaf and flower(combo) or berry

Lobelia inflata, with or without added apple cider vinegar

Lemon Basil elixir

St. John’s Wort

Knotweed root

Elecampane root

Milky Oats, fresh tops

Scullcap (lateriflora)

Blue Vervain

Cleavers

Angelica root elixir

Peach Bark (brandy)

Mullein leaf

Spilanthes flowers

Solomon’s Seal rhizome

Wild Carrot seed

Burdock root

Turmeric rhizome

Goldenrod flowers/tops

Tulsi flowering tops

Russian Sage flowering tops

Sweet Annie

Motherwort

Mugwort

Meadowsweet flowers

Sweet Birch bark and twig

Lemon Balm

Boneset

Sweetfern

Usnea lichen

Ghost Pipe

Bull Thistle leaf

Ground Ivy

Calamus rhizome

Artichoke leaf

Fungi, all double extractions, can be combined if desired

Birch Polypore, Chaga, Reishi, Turkey Tail

Order some herbs, get a deal,  tell your friends and happy herbing!

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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

Thoughts on going places, with photos

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All Winter I have mused to myself on WHAT LASTS. What are the bits and pieces of life that endure through time? What creates cultures? And when we examine ourselves, our beliefs and our ways of being, what does that which lasts have to do with healing?

What is culture, and what is its role in shaping how we live, how we care for ourselves, how we view our health and wellness?

Going to Europe and spending time in places where the old, the super old, and the new all co-exist is something that has always turned my thinking wheels. Maybe this is where my dislike of false binaries comes from–the spectrum is very real in a place where everything is so clearly built on many pasts, figuratively and literally.

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Travel is also my preferred way to stress the organism a little, take advantage of the brain’s capacity for neuroplasticity. (this will be its own post!)

It gives me time for my favorite wellness-supporting outlet, wandering around noticing things.

And it’s an opportunity for me to explore my personal roots and history.

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It interests me that we have cultural ideas of what history is, and often that is found in books and museums, both of which I do value. But being immersed in it, we can see history in tiny doors and old stones, torn fabric taken form a garbage pile, words and values, songs and soil, human faces and their body mechanics, cemeteries and dog breeds, bread ovens and terrine pans.  I see the history of symbols that we recognize, animals and plants represented in art of nearly every type. There is history in every atom and cell, the seed banks and Sycamores.

And each of these has a hand in it, one or many, each stone was chipped off a larger stone, moved, stacked.

When we get close we see the marks of an ancient chisel, the strokes of a now-dust paintbrush, the flakes of gold leaf.

Not only does this give us a feeling for history, but potentially points to how we ARE history. Our hands’ work is creating tomorrow’s mysterious chisel marks. It’s easy to lose touch with how tangible the world we are creating will be for our great-grandchildren.

But the stones we stack today will feel the foot of tomorrow.

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Travel also makes me ask what is it that humans aspire to, what is all of this for? The timelessness of certain impulses, towards creation, towards seeking beauty, towards release, escape, praise, communication and expression makes me feel like these are an important part of human wellness.

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And really, there is all of this thinking. There are all of these ideas. But why do I really travel? It’s the food.

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Bt, ultimately, what I love best is getting outside of myself. Getting uncomfortable and lost. Being forced to navigate alone, from streets to language to culture. Navigate is a word that comes up for me a lot, because it connects me to my roots, generation after generation of people who literally navigated their ways across the planet and the sea, as a job or as a way to get around, and it’s a skill I hold dear.

Navigation is a skill we ignore at our own risk, as i believe it may contribute to our own wellness as  culture and as individuals.
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Wherever we travel, whether it is a walk around your block or a journey to a far-off land, the spirit of travel is always available to us, if we are open. Inquiry. Appreciation. Immersion. No cathedral is more wonderful than any other, and no culture is more important than another. But the opportunities afforded by a traveler’s approach are many, and lasting.

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.