Special Social Ops

IMG_2329

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.

IMG_3002

Herbal formulation as a swift boat.

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

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

I am an herbal editor.

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

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

IMG_2479

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

Anyway. I digress.

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

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

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

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

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

The great herbal formulator is an artist and a navigator.

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

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

IMG_1407

So we can ask ourselves:

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

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

-Is this plan clear or confusing?

-is it actually realistic and achievable?

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

-could we do this with less?

-is there anything I can take away?

-are my claims ethical and truthful?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2034

 

Make me Now a Shovel of Your Peace: a poem of sorts

IMG_3124
“A detective is forced to say it.
To ask about the feelings of people.”
-Hercule Poirot
They say “keep digging.
But when I do, they say “Don’t go there.”
Secrets abound.
This lineage and this life are more complicated than I’d expected.
But if we wall ourselves off into bitter, brittle compartments we will never break our cycles.
“Won’t someone think of the children?”
If we don’t face who we are, who our people are, how can we put any faith in our narratives at all?
And without a narrative, are we not just floating through time and space?
This is not a coherent piece, but a meditation on being a human shovel.
This is just my thoughts on the destruction of digging into our lives, and the possibilities it opens up.
Perhaps some things should be destroyed.
This is my hope and trust: that in the end, all will be revealed. Or at least enough, enough to understand…
Mother tongues.
Big beautiful noses.
What they carried.
7 am shots of Gin.
Doorstop Bibles, Xs on the line, good loves and bad loves, 13 kids and some turn out saner than others.
Humans built one cell at a time, forged in the fires of deportation and shipwreck and feasts and famines, pillaging and exploration. 14 sheep and a gun.
Exploring roots, belonging, community, belonging.
And the fact is, some wanted to flee.
The fact is, some countries were founded by orphans, criminals and warriors.
Some connections were broken on purpose.
The fact is, some of us can’t really ever outrun our Catholicism.
We can’t outrun our voices, our baggage, our ticking time-bombs.
Affiliations are all multi-faceted, slippery.
But I am finding this new context freeing.
The huntress rebel returns, reconnects, and fixes shit up.
IMG_3012

Further meditations on WInter

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

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

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

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

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

ImageImageImageImage

 

Is it hot out here or is it just me?

So, it’s winter. I am going on and on writing about how y’all should get your asses outside- but I am not really saying HOW. How does one stay warm in 8 degree weather anyway? Because extreme cold, like extreme heat, is indeed potentially dangerous. Frostbite and hypothermia do exist, so take along a map or something! But I digress.

The fact is, I take a walk in the woods, sometimes a run, sometimes a slog, every day. In all weather, even if I don’t feel my best or don’t really feel like heading out. It is my mental health plan and supports my physical health too. This regularity  is partly thanks to my very motivating super-high-energy!!TM spotty dog and partly due to a slight addiction to endorphins. My hike is very steep and hilly, going from about 1,000 feet above sea level up to about  2,000 and then back down. Here are my tips:

1. Eat fat. You are not as likely to be a heat-generating furnace on a piece of toast as you are on a nice lardy fried egg.I eat nuts and nut butters, real butter, olive oil, avocados, cream, handmade lard, eggs, and so forth. Good healthy fats, not like cottonseed oil and margarine. And I don’t worry so much about the alleged “last 10 pounds”–I am cheerful about my strong, sturdy medium-sized body when I head out into a blizzard.

2. Apply oils. The best way to be oily is to stop obsessively removing your body’s oils. I am not saying “never shower” but when it is quite cold I do more rinsing than scrubbing of my arms and legs. I apply intense lip balm and I’ll slather my face and body with the natural oil of my choice before going out.

3. Feet/head/core. That means always be sure those are well cared for, the rest won’t matter as much if they are not. I always wear a scarf and at least bring along a hat. I am way into wool socks and I wear tall wool slippers as my footwear in the snow. Sounds weird, but I swear by wool and good barefoot boots are hard to find. I prefer Merino wool, if possible. (It is thin and tends not to itch.)

4. Layers.As I said, I am into wool and silk too. Yeah, I know that stuff is expensive–go nuts at the thrift store or purchase fabric and make your own. Don’t suffer in wet cotton when wool retains it’s warmth even when somewhat wet! Long johns or tights, knee socks, undershirts and even bras and underpants now all come in wool and silk. Layers are helpful because I will sometimes get quite hot and take them off.Image

5. Circulation. Keep your blood moving, and do the work to keep your body’s blood flowing well. I like to do some stretches and trigger point exercises to keep stuff open and remove blockages to good circulation.

6. Keep it reasonable inside. I set my house temp in the mid-50s because I find that going from a very hot space to a very cold one is jarring. Oh yeah and I am cheap.I am not some freak against all climate control but  It seems that we as a culture create these f-ed up super hot spaces in the winter where we work or live in a t-shirt! (I am pro-sweater.) Or in the summer we’ll wear a sweatshirt in air-conditioned spaces… this does affect us. The adaptability and resilience that helps us enjoy the outdoors is something we need to actively cultivate, to work at and practice in this culture! 

7. Attitude. No, I do not believe you can just repress feelings of coldness and be warm but I do think what we choose to focus on and value is ONE of the pieces that shape our world. Take a moment to appreciate your surroundings, the gift of movement, and the fact that winter or any current weather is a natural part of life.It is a force of nature, not an inconvenience. The  media doesn’t help, as they constantly claim weather is “dumping on us, pounding us, hammering us, barrelling up the coast, melting us, destroying all that is good and holy in the world and punching out kittens and angels.” (actual quote?) Have you ever seen kids spend hours outside sledding even though it is noticeably cold? It is because they are living in the moment and the joy and have yet to learn to hate weather. We humans have great abilities to adapt and to enjoy life, much of which is culturally unsupported amidst endless learned  whining and bitching about weather, seasons, wetness, cold, heat, bugs, scary stuff, poop and the perceived evils of getting up off the couch. The desire to go out is a huge part of the success. You have every right to say “I do not want to go for a walk”….just be honest about why.

8. Movement. You may feel cold standing outside in 18 degree weather. So stop standing around! Move that body while you still can. (obviously I apologize if you can’t move your body, I understand and this doesn’t apply to you.) 

9. Stay dry. Though I don’t at all mind getting wet outside my few bad winter experiences have involved wet feet. I like to block water and wind. I’ll even bring an extra pair of socks on a long hike just in case.

10. Thermos. If I am going out for more than an hour I like to bring a warm beverage. Hot chicory chocolate with a splash of cinnamon? Vanilla Rooibos chai? A little linden infusion, perhaps? Whatever you like, but it is fun and I like to hydrate, even when it is cold.

Although I am enthusiastic about going outdoors in all weather I do indeed have moments of doubt. I do not always want to go and I sometimes struggle to get motivated. But so far I have NEVER regretted a single hike,  not in any weather. It seems that. somehow, once I am out there and moving, the whole world conspires to move me forward, to support my personal quest for endorphins and health, everything seems just a little sharper and I warm up and get into the zone and my dog is just sooo thrilled and she’s a freaking inspiration and there are birds and it is all just too much. It feels to me like it is worth the effort, and I wish this joy upon all who seek it.

Image

Image

Image

Image

 

Problem-solving 101 for the aspiring herb enthusiast

Why are herbalists so annoying? Why do we insist on knowing the underlying causes of your issue before we recommend a solution? Why do so many of us rail against the dreaded list of “X is good for Y”? It is a matter of using our problem solving ability. When one is solving a math problem it helps–a lot–to know the variables, right? When making life decisions one is well served by listing pros and cons, right? Well it is so in the world of herbalism too. 

Because herbalism at its best is ` the solving of a puzzle, it’s like a treasure hunt, every time it’s a little quest. Herbalists can act like bridges between the world of plants and the world of people–and sometimes other animals–we are journalists, we are detectives, we are anthropologists. We are like scuba divers inspecting shipwrecks, always asking hey, what is under the surface here? We are kicking the tires of that used car you are selling, people, turning over your rocks to see what lurks beneath. 

And a good herbalist is a co-creator. We are co-creating a solution with you, the “client” and with the plant world too. It is mostly observation and critical thinking plus a little duct tape and a tiny dose of natural magic. 

In the spirit of this herbal journalism we ask who, what, when, where and why? We look at your skin, we look at how you sit and stand, we ask what you ate for breakfast not to drive you nuts but to build a picture of your overall health situation. We need to know if we need to refer you to other care providers. We need to check out your bad attitude. We might even want to know if you’re pooping OK! 

So why is it so important to ask WHY? Let me give you an example. Mr. R asks “What’s good for foot pain?” Do you answer “comfrey salve”? Do you answer “homeopathic Ghost pipe”? Or, let’s say you ask what is the cause. Maybe there is a thorn in your shoe! Maybe your shoe doesn’t fit? Maybe it is caused by diabetes! I suggest we rule out such things first. Then, we must know-is it chronic or acute. Absolutely basic information. Coughs, nausea, back pain, it is vital to know if your issue has been going on for years or if it came up yesterday. Can we treat an underlying cause? It is the definition of insane to give herbs for a pain caused by an external factor which can be addressed, thus eliminating the problem. 

Is the problem associated with an illness, an injury, a change in lifestyle? For example, I would treat the nausea of pregnancy differently than the nausea of  post-Thanksgiving-dinner. And quite key to us is “What else are you taking?” Are you using other herbal or pharmaceutical products? Are you using vitamins? Are you using drugs of any type? It’s not about judging, friends. But if you are using a daily painkiller we will take that into account.

Sometimes a problem can be addressed by looking at hydration, or a lack of good oils in the diet, or observing poor movement patterns. Think about it: would you prefer someone sell you a product for your knee pain or point out your poor squat mechanics? Would you prefer someone sell you some “fat-melting ass oil” or help you find the right exercise program for your life stage? Would you prefer someone sell you herbs for your chronic gas or help you discover a long-standing milk allergy? We can work like a team, or we can work like evil capitalist pigdogs.

We also may wish to know your energetic patterns. Do you run hot or cold? Systems approach, baby! If you are prone to hot shooting pains in the stomach we will avoid crazy-heating tinctures, you know? Concepts like stagnation, excitation and tonic underly our decision making.

To be clear, I believe in herbs. I love herbs, and I don’t think it is always an either-or situation. We can use herbal medicines AND exercise AND hydration AND footbaths AND practical footwear. But I don’t want to throw herbs at a vitamin D deficiency. I don’t want to give insomnia herbs when a heavy curtain could do the job. I envision limitless capacity for preventive care, self-care and community-based care and  an educated population who can take care of most non-emergency healthcare issues at home.I envision YOU skeptically asking ME why too! And I envision good questions and the good answers that can come from that. Dialogue can be a beautiful thing, and nothing brings about great dialogue like an “annoying” herbalist asking the hard questions, pushing your buttons and, like a big chunk of sticky pine resin, drawing out the narrative of your health and turning it into something which works, which meets your needs both short and long term, both above and below, and for both people and plants.

.Image