Just after waking, I head to the kitchen to prepare my ritual. The water placed in the kettle on the stove as I pack coffee grounds into a small percolator. I look over to see a jar I prepared days ago. A blend of adaptogen herbs and cacao, combined and placed as a reminder to replace old rituals with new. The blend...ashwagandha, eleuthero, cacao, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom all carefully blended to support me and the extreme adrenal drain I’ve been feeling. The jar looks back at me as I continue with my coffee. Feelings that I can only describe as existing somewhere on the shame spectrum begin to creep in. Sitting with my coffee now, I begin to turn the pages of my notebook. Still in the early morning, my favorite time of day, I begin to read instructions that I wrote for myself. My typical virgoan list of best practices that I truly know would serve me best. Drink water, make your adaptogen drink (not coffee), meditate for twenty minutes, eat breakfast. These are the things that I have clearly identified as practices that I must do to transition out of this slump. I reflect on this while sipping my coffee. Another day, another week, maybe even another month or year of not doing the things that I know are best for me.
Why is it that when we know all the ways in which we need to care for ourselves, we still don’t do them? I believe it’s because the responsibility of knowing is just sometimes too great to bear. This is awareness at one of its highest peaks. I’m not talking about enlightenment, that’s an entirely different mountain. This is like the highest awareness peak on the wrong mountain. One that you stand at the top of and look out only to see that everyone else is on the other mountain, evenly distributed for balance. The responsibility of knowing is lonely, and I believe it affects each of us. This loneliness is why some of us turn away, and continue to act in harmful ways despite knowing the result. As human beings, we love to turn away from discomfort, and being lonely is uncomfortable. When we begin to identify problems that exist in the world and they come into our awareness, we make a choice. We either continue to participate in the poison or we do our best to become medicine. There’s also a tricky place of transition where we might be both. By not turning away from the discomfort, we get through it.
Sometimes awareness of our own impact can be pretty overwhelming. It’s important to remember that this feeling is actually because we understand just how sacred each component of life really is and we want to do the right thing. As daunting as this sounds, it’s better than the alternative.
So back to the initial question. Why is it that when we know all the ways in which we need to care for ourselves, we still don’t do it? Well, as we have established now, its because it’s difficult; but I think we can make it easier. The truth is, you don't have to know everything. You don't have to be aware of every single pain and suffering, but you do need to place the acknowledgement of it inside the container of your heart consciousness. In a way this reminds me of being told to “Be Present”. I’m sure most of you know those three gates that your words should always pass through before leaving your mouth. Asking yourself before you speak; is it true, is it necessary, and is it kind. We would also benefit if we passed our thoughts and actions through those same gates. With awareness of problems and the responsibility of knowing, the idea of “Be Present” feels almost impossible. How can I be in the moment when people are suffering all over the world!? How can I assure myself that I wont get angry next week? Or anxious tomorrow? This is where the ripple effect comes in ( you know ..the overwhelming terrifying effect that is actually crippling your emotions?). If in each present moment, we are always trying to say words that are true, kind, and necessary, the ripple effect will naturally take care of the next moment. It’s like using adaptogen herbs. You are arriving in the present moment already prepared, because in your former present moments...you did the right thing. If you clearly identify the course of action that you believe will best serve the world, then you can always ask yourself if your words, thoughts, and actions are aligned with that path.
The question is, how do we hold onto our awareness without being crushed by the responsibility of knowing? Knowing that you yourself are sacred is a good place to start. Understand the difference between holding space for suffering and suffering holding you.
Fill your container of acknowledgment and honor it. It’s full of insight and understanding and because of its existence we can speak, think, and act without drowning in it. It’s when we open that container that the suffering floods out, bleeding into our ability to act, rendering all useless and tired. This is why we don’t take care of ourselves. We haven’t mastered the art of organizing our spirit.
We have entered into a new existence in 2019 where the golden rule of "Treat others the way you would want to be treated" needs an addendum. It should say "and when you have done this long enough, you will need to treat yourself with the same kindness that you treat others". It all of course comes down to reciprocity. The heart is not a trap door. It doesn't close when something enters. Once it's open, it's a two way street, able to give AND receive.
Here we are in the midst of winter. The plant life that flowered so beautifully in the summer has now gone back to the cycle of reciprocity while many others are holding medicine deep in their roots. I like to imagine a secret world underground where dandelions (bundled up in blankets of burdock leaves) hold tea cups with their little root arms while restfully preparing new minerals for spring. Their little heads lay on pillows of milkweed cotton... I could go on about their hollow stems being used as periscopes to peek up above the soil but I’ll let you make up the rest. Our green world is magical and I believe even more so when it's not so green at all. Winter is full of medicine - it’s just offered in a different way.
Many of us look to the colder temperatures to justify our “doing less” when actually we might be doing more than ever. Winter is about depth, not hibernation. I read somewhere there is an Ayurvedic concept that suggests the way we feel in the winter is due to how we treated ourselves all summer long. If this is true I’m going to assume that many of you reading this are participating in a much needed rest from the surface - just like the plant world. The surface world moves fast, buzzing and humming all day. The nights are short when the green world is active, leaving very little time for rest but winter allows us to steep ourselves into a strong cup of self reflection. The latin ‘hibernare’ (meaning "to winter") refers to the protective layers of our coldest season. This is the time to plan, to store energy and to decide what pieces we are bringing into our future. Winter provides us the opportunity to measure our strength. Doing this shows us what is unnecessarily weighing us down. We don’t always recognize this as medicine; but it is. Winter eliminates the buzzing. Green sound barriers disappear, colorful distractions fade, and sweet floral scents aren’t drifting through the air. Winter is crisp and it offers us a chance to finally listen to the voice that we least often hear - our own.
In winter everything is stripped bare and we become very aware of what needs tending to. Remnants of what no longer serves us are easily spotted, like abandoned nests in a leafless deciduous tree. If we don’t take the opportunity to remove these things during our restful months winter will encapsulate them in layers of preservation and we will find them as reminders in our future. This is the majestic power of winter. It provides us space and opportunity to work on ourselves so that we can emerge as a better version of ourselves in springtime.
An ecotone is a transition zone in nature where two communities meet and integrate. This past weekend I had the chance to watch as my two favorite worlds collided, creating their own marshland of natural law. I live in this ecotone of Plant Medicine and the Dharma. This is my natural habitat. The opportunity to invite other people into it was new and unfamiliar. Strangely, as much as I carry this balance of the two with me, expressing it wasn't as easy as it should have been. Reflecting on the weekend, I am aware of so much missed opportunity to share that which is so familiar to me. Also, I am reminded of how much I can learn about my own ecosystem when others are present. This is of course the benefit of sangha and community. This makes me think of synergistic herbs. Synergists are plants that amplify the effects of other herbs. It's along the lines of the 2+2 =5 analogy that we often use to describe whole plant medicine. The whole being greater than the sum of its individual parts. This is reciprocity and interdependence.
Waking up the next day, kicking myself for not highlighting important pieces of the plant/Dharma connection, something dawned on me. I had been fully aware of certain things separately and as individual concepts. Why did I not point out these obvious parallels!? I should have made a greater effort explaining how the Tulsi we drank on Friday and Saturday opens our hearts, and how Sunday's Hawthorn keeps it protected. I should have verbalized the connection to the Dharani's. I missed the chance to point out that the chicory and dandelion coffee in the morning was intentional food for the probiotics we would eat all weekend. I failed to relay that the walking meditation was in a spiral of pre-biotic plants! I missed too many opportunities to tie together the people and plant connections. Then I understood, that even though I already had the information, I needed a synergist to draw the two together. Knowing two facts separately is not the same as knowing them combined. When the two concepts integrate, they become an ecotone of their own. A whole new biome, and a brand new understanding. It seems fitting that the plant ally of the weekend was Goldenrod. Solidago, meaning "to make whole".
Somewhere in the wildest vines
Are twisted words that needn't rhyme
Lost among the bramble leaves
The berries speak in poetry
Sticking thorns into the sides
Left to right the wrongs they hide
If all of nature would unfold
Under story never told
Would the canopy obscure the places
Where saplings leave the smallest traces
Reaching up beyond the weeds
Rooting for the shrubbery
This past weekend I held a class on the medicinal value of culinary herbs, at the beautiful School House Wellness Center in Lockport, NY. We focused on some "new" old ways of doing things in the kitchen. Culinary herbs are so often forgotten and overlooked as being supportive to our health, when really this is huge part of family herbalist history.
One hundred years ago every home would have had an herbalist. Although we didn't call them that. We called them mother, grandmother, or great grandmother. Healing our family through food and gardens was an every day job, a role fulfilled in the home. Through the use of raw honey, vinegar, and a relationship with herbs we can continue this tradition. During this class we discussed the simple tradition of solar infused herbal honey, making syrups, and infused vinegars. Of course, things are much different than they were in the early 1900's and we now have a broad and solid understanding of phyto-chemistry. Honoring traditions and combining them with our science minds allows for an even stronger relationship with the plant world. Through the knowledge of solubility, we are able to cultivate a deeper connection. When we are mindful and respectful of how constituents of plants best respond to extraction, we enter into an agreement with them. This is reciprocity, a reciprocal relationship.
Reciprocal Roots offers weekly classes and events. Check out the Facebook page for upcoming workshops.
You can have Reciprocal Roots classes come to you! If you have the space to host, contact Kristin for available dates.
Wellness Consultations~ Let Kristin help you incorporate supportive herbs into your wellness plan.
Backyard Consultations~ Do you wonder what medicine is growing in your own backyard? Together, we can walk the land and see what’s already being offered.