Salt is a Sacrifice

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Listen:

What we forget is that

Salt is a sacrifice

 

Each bite is Earth ground down

Body into taste to

 

Waken you

Here

To this bite, this breath.

 

To shield ourselves from this is

A strange falling

 

Listen: ritual can be simple,

Easy as noticing that this salt is

Earth,

Ground down.

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The changes I have undergone lately, the journeys I have undertaken, have woken me again and again to two things:

I have much to offer and

The world is hungry for me to offer it.

There is a strange falling in shielding myself behind the eternal student, the safety of beginnings, and yes, that infusion of fresh air is always necessary. But the accumulated wisdom needs somewhere to go. And it wants to go into my work.

The odd piece of this for me is that on the one hand I’m a baby counselor, not more than a month into my first counseling job, and it feels really disingenuous to start rocking the boat already. On the other hand, I am a seasoned woman. Life has taught me, and taught me, and taught me, and I have had the wits to listen.

So: I am all of it, baby and wise woman, student and elder. The fires that burn deep in my belly are the same fires: to fight for the personhood of mothers, for available childcare so that women can participate in the culture. The sweetness of self-determination for all, a yearning for each person on this planet to have the food and space and respect and love and art supplies they need to ripen into themselves. The deep, deep-in-my-bones love for this earth, these mountains, the stories the forests and stones and rivers tell and the magic beneath those stories.

To this burning I offer: a mind sharpened by the privilege of an excellent education, a heart warmed by the generosity and sacrifice of untold ancestors and fellow travelers, a life story that has broken my ears wide open to hear the experience of others without losing myself, and wisdom passed down from people, plants, and traditions that held me and held me until I learned.

In the day-to-day, this ritual fire takes the shape of a windowless office in the bowels of the Buncombe County Social Services building. Here, I listen to the stories of humans who have been batted around between walls of not-enough. Not enough options, not enough privilege, not enough respect, not enough attention, not enough love. My job is to assess their need for substance use disorder treatment and sometimes that is what I do.

But the fire burns, invisible beneath my pressboard desk, and what I really do is try to listen with every pore of my skin. I offer tea and water and a closed door and attention and flowers. If there are resources I can offer I will offer them, but more often what I collect is the story.  I place it as a twig on the fire. And the fire of these voices is growing  into a conflagration that wants to burn away all the not-enough and leave childcare, time alone, laughter, and fruit trees in its wake. I don’t know how to do that yet. But I have faith that I will. Or, more truthfully: WE will. 

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The mountaintop I left this morning was shrouded in fog and a sweet soft rain, a rain I realized suddenly was a hydrosol of Earth, every plant and clay and being in this watershed distilled and condensed in the falling mist. I am so blessed to have this time to make art, to learn, to nourish myself.

May I always feel the blessing in the rain. May I always remember that salt is a sacrifice.
May I be of service to the ones who walk into my office. May I be of service to the great fire beneath the surface of what I do.

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May 20, 2016 · 5:51 pm

of cleavers and crows

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I have had the odd sense, ever since I moved to Asheville, of seeds I planted and forgot years hence coming to mysterious bloom.  Over twenty years ago, I moved to Asheville with a frame pack and a guitar. I crashed on the floor of a friend’s dorm room and walked the streets until I found lodging in a sweet, small apartment in a house on Chestnut Street. I took long runs every morning, following Chestnut Street until it dead-ended in a stately old cemetery.

All these years later, I was told that finding lodging in Asheville was a difficult proposition. I should be prepared to live outside of town and to wait months for the right thing to show up.

The first house we looked at was on Chestnut Street, right by the old cemetery where I used to run. It was a sweet little wood-floored home with a fireplace and a yard, in the heart of the historic district, walking distance to town. The rent was astonishingly affordable, considering the location, and perhaps for that reason the open house was bombarded with applicants. Afterward we walked to a nearby restaurant and talked excitedly about how amazing it would be to live here, and how unlikely we were to get the chance. All those applicants!

I sat and watched the phantom of that seventeen-year-old girl run by, and I knew we would get the house.

We got the house. I live on Chestnut Street again, all these years later, this time with my family.

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Two years ago I sat out in the sun eating, in Boone, and talked with a new friend from my Expressive Arts cohort about our dreams and hopes for the field. We were both fascinated by the intersection between art and place, and I told her of my connection to Ireland and my deep desire to return there. She told me of friends in Ireland who had just started a fledgling expressive arts institute, and we began to dream of traveling to Ireland someday to visit them and collaborate on these ideas of art and landscape. We laughed, and made art about it, and moved on with our lives.

This Monday my friend and I flew together to Ireland to attend the Expressive Arts Spring Symposium, and spent a week making art about sacred landscape in a conference hosted by the friends she’d told me of on that day two years ago.

Honestly, it frightens me sometimes, the way life brings its harvest in. I feel unworthy of it, and worried about the price I will have to pay for all of this beauty. I feel very conscious of each move I make, each word I speak, knowing how irrefutably the seeds grow and show their fruit in my life.

On the day we flew to Ireland, two very momentous things happened. I had my first job interview for a counseling position and I learned that Touchstone Farm, the place I landed right after I left Asheville twenty years ago–the place that set me on the path of herbalism and yoga and searching for the sacred–was being put up for sale. It felt like the closing of a circle. I had returned to Asheville, had reached the beginning of my life as an Expressive Arts therapist, and the door to the past had closed.

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Touchstone was very much on my mind and heart as I woke the next morning and walked out into the Irish countryside. Horses stomped and blew steam into the air, and a hooded crow lifted off from the fence in front of me in a heart-stopping line straight upward to the sun. It seemed to hang there for a minute, far above my head, and I wondered how the world felt to the crow, spread beneath it like that.

The hedgerow in front of me was overgrown with nettles and cleavers. Back when I was an apprentice at Touchstone, Shaker gave me a guide to edible plants from the community library and pointed out a few to get me started. Cleavers was one of the first I tried. It clings to you—the leaves are slightly sticky, and the seeds velcro themselves to your socks. This is a good way to remember its properties–it’s a spring-cleaning plant; it adheres to and cleans away the winter ick. I tried it plain and found its taste clean and springlike, full of chlorophyll. I liked the way it felt in my body, how it cleaned me out. But I hated the texture. Another apprentice suggested I put it in a blender and make a smoothie. That was worse. Finally, I read a recipe for cleavers coffee that consisted of dry-roasting the seeds and grinding and preparing them like coffee beans. I had a handy supply of cleaver seeds right there on my socks, so I tried this and found the resulting beverage delightful, slightly cocoa-flavored and smoky. Seeing the cleavers here on the tumbled stones of a farm wall in Ireland was like being surprised by an old friend.

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cleaver bouquet

I wouldn’t have known what cleavers was the first time I came to Ireland, because I had not yet been to Touchstone, had not yet learned to see the world through the eyes of a botanist. I was fifteen the first time I came to Ireland, and sixteen when I returned the summer after that, learning quickly enough what nettles were as I pulled them out to make a garden.

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nettles rampant!

That summer I was living in Miltown Malbay, working as housekeeper/companion for Josephine Phillips. If Shaker taught me about plants and the sacred, Jo taught me about poetry. It was alive to her. She sat in her windowseat watching the storms roll in and softly recited poems to herself. Her eyes were slowly losing their battle to macular degeneration, so she committed as many poems to her formidable memory as she could.

I was full of energy and wanderlust, wanting always to bike off to Ennistymon or wander by the sea, but Jo was very firm that I should take some time each day to sit still and memorize poems. On rainy days we listened to poets read their work aloud on the BBC and Jo would sit there, dreamy, lost in the words. I learned to love words, watching Jo.

The crow flew away, and I picked a little bouquet of the nettles and cleavers, thinking of Jo and Touchstone and the way these long-ago seeds have borne fruit. Here I am, in Ireland, writing poetry, I whispered to Jo. Your lessons took!

Nettle juice heals its own sting, I thought, recalling all the teachers who have guided my steps through the world of plant medicine. I rolled the nettle leaves between my fingers until their stinging hairs were crushed and I could take them like little Ireland-acclimation pills.

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Jo is gone now. I felt her so strongly this week in the wind that blew through the trees by the river Nore and the poetry that came flowing onto the page. Touchstone is gone too, in a way. But they are alive. They are all alive in me. 

I made nettles-and-cleaver tea when I got back to the hotel and sat sipping it in the sun, sending out a prayer for the seeds others have planted in my life and the for the ones I am planting. This world is sacred, and so is this life. I sometimes cannot believe the beauty of the stories I have been honored to carry.

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Carrying On 

(for Jo and Touchstone)

 

I am knee-deep in nettles and peat.

I am one beat of breath to the crow above me.

I am caught in the arms of ancestors long fallen.

Who remains in me? Whose story am I walking?

 

                                                        ~ Kilkenny, 3/30/16

 

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April 5, 2016 · 6:32 pm

Witness & Wound

photo 1Perhaps it’s the impending trip to Ireland, but I’ve been drawn recently to the story of Ceridwen’s cauldron.

Ceridwen lived on an island with a loathsome son and a beautiful daughter. Troubled by her son’s deformities, Ceridwen toiled for a year to bring together a complicated herbal potion that would grant him complete wisdom. The process so exhausted her that she fell asleep toward the end of the year, just as the three shining drops of prophecy and wisdom rose to the top of her cauldron. They were so potent and pure that the moment they rose to the surface, the cauldron shattered into pieces.

There is much more to the story–Ceridwen’s son, Afagddu (“utter darkness”) was pushed aside at the last moment and the wisdom was received by a boy who eventually became Taliesin, the greatest bard ever known–but it is this first part that haunts me.

 Awen, the divine spark of inspiration, arises from Ceridwen’s cauldron—a cauldron of transformation, a cauldron of experience and knowledge and suffering.

Struggle, difficult as it may be to accept, is a necessary ingredient in wisdom.

I wrote last week about the five kleshas and I’ve had the first klesha on my mind: Avidya, or ignorance of the truth.*  I’ve been thinking about what a slippery concept “truth” is. I’ve been led by the nose into very unhealthy situations while I was searching for the “truth”. It’s a chameleon. Grabbing onto any single “truth” dogmatically can completely destroy my connection to the evolving nature of experience.

 

Ceridwen’s cauldron is a glowing metaphor of this. The suffering, the knowledge, the experience, all of it gets stirred into the cauldron, and over time beautiful pearls of wisdom are distilled. But in order to create that wisdom, the cauldron has to shatter and spill all of the poisonous leftover dross. Every time I wake to a new truth, the cauldron shatters. New truths aren’t something I can contain while remaining the same.

The cauldron shatters every time. I wonder if that’s why it can seem so much easier to maintain ignorance!

This part is important to me. I have found, as I walk deeper into the field of therapy, that there is a danger when we examine wounds. We can fall into them and aggrandize them, make them into a story from which we never escape. Yes, it is important to confront our shadows and learn the origins of our pain patterns. But this doesn’t mean that we allow them to eternally weigh us down and prevent change. We confront them so that we can transform them; we place them in the cauldron, distill what wisdom we can, and then throw away what’s no longer useful.

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This offers a door of understanding into the first klesha, ignorance of the truth. Becoming aware of the truth in order to eliminate this cause of suffering is not a passive process. It requires the willingness to confront what is untrue and engage with it, distilling truth from it. It can even mean looking again at truths we’ve held past their usefulness (those cauldrons really hurt when they crack!)

Long ago I learned that complaints are just desires in drag. If you can figure out the desire behind the complaint, you will have a clear map to your own happiness. This process of confronting the truth and distilling wisdom from wounds reminds me of unmasking the desires behind my complaints.

There are wounds I’ve sustained that felt so destructive, so poisonous, that it seemed impossible they could contain a desire. I would never have imagined that they held any beneficial power or wisdom. Now, years later, some of those wounds exist ONLY as wisdom. They don’t hurt at all anymore. Other wounds, not yet fully processed, still lead to great embarrassment and dysfunctional behavior even when they are lightly grazed. The difference, I’ve found, is in my willingness to confront the wound. Once witnessed, wounds begin to lose their power. The ones I’ve owned and spoken of over and over again have faded in their power to harm me, and because I have directly confronted them, I’ve changed the problematic behaviors they led to. Others, I have not yet had the bravery to confront directly. They still operate from the shadows, guiding my behavior in unhealthy ways and sponsoring knee-jerk reactions that hurt those around me.

It is my ignorance of these wounds that causes suffering. By this I do not mean that talking about the reasons why I act destructively is enough. It’s the first step in a process that has to include changing my beliefs and behaviors, confronting the desire behind the complaint and acting upon it. Sometimes I remain ignorant to wounds because I know that confronting them would force me to change in ways I am not yet ready to contemplate. I’m comfortable in my ignorance… until it causes suffering great enough that I can no longer ignore it.

eostraeAs I’ve learned more about Expressive Arts therapy, I have found myself drawn again and again to witnessing the wounds. How do we use art and poetry and music and movement to safely uncover these parts of ourselves and look them in the eye? How do we alchemize them into wisdom, allow our old ways to shatter, safely pour away the dross, and move on?

Maeve and I will lead another iteration of this exploration on April 21st, using movement and art and poetry to contact both wound and witness. By witnessing our wounds, we begin to dispel the ignorance that leads to suffering. We gain in wisdom and self-control and self-love. We map out our desires and walk fearlessly toward them, fortified by the Awen distilled from our suffering.

All are welcome to the workshop–just bring your brave self and a journal. If you want to participate from far away, I’ll post details about how to watch live (just as soon as we figure them out!)

*Disclaimer: everything I know about kleshas and Ceridwen I know third- or fourth-hand. I cannot read Gaelic or Welsh or Sanskrit and have not immersed myself in the cultures that originated these beautiful stories. Please take my interpretations as what they are, the impact of these stories on one woman’s life and experience.

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March 31, 2016 · 10:15 am

The Moment and the Messenger

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tayatha om bekandze bekanze maha bekandze bekandze randze samu gate soha

I learned this mantra years ago, while living in the garden oasis guest house of my dear friend Shui Lan. We listened to it together as we sought and claimed islands of peace in our chaotic lives. Shui Lan taught me to use this mantra to overcome both physical pain and the deeper pain of believing I am ever separate from the Oneness.

I have returned to this Medicine Buddha mantra over and over again as I surf the changes and excitements and pains and disappointments of this life. The words translate, I am told, to this:

do it like this:

start with OM, the undercurrent of the universe

do away with the pain of illness

do away with the darkness of ignorance

do away with the great separation

send this prayer to the highest, the widest, the deepest

offer this song and then relinquish it.

I offer this song, and then relinquish it. Because we don’t get to keep anything, do we? Sometimes at night, just before sleep, I review the golden moments of the day in my mind: the tickle of my son’s soft hair as he squeezes me tight, the deep joy in the clear eyes of my beloved as he laughs, the steam rising from a cup of perfect tea in that first sweet hour of the morning. I don’t get to keep any of that. I savor it, and breathe it in, and then relinquish it. Spring is bursting out in delirious joy all around me, a song to the sky that rises and then transforms. It doesn’t stay.

 

This dance of offering and relinquishing has become more subtle and complex as I grow older.  When is self-acceptance called for, and when do I need to change? When am I being lazy, and when do I need deep rest? When should I retreat with a cup of herbal tea and when should I jump madly into the fray?

Where is the sacredness in the afternoons I spend engrossed in paperwork, allowing the stress and frustration to mount until I lash out at my family?  Why do some days feel infused with magic and play, and others so heavy and purposeless? How do I reconcile the world of deep reverence and joy with the world that allows a friend to lose her child?

Lately I’ve been drawing the Raven card over and over again, the messenger from the great mystery. The message is: pay attention. The moment is a message, and my job is to pay attention. IMG_6648

I have come to accept that I will never arrive at the perfect balance between these poles. Each is as true as the other. The afternoons of waiting endlessly on staticky hold for the IRS while children screech at each other are just as real as the afternoons of liquid light and synchronicity. Life is a surge between them, a spiral of coming to peace and being devastated and coming to peace again, a little deeper each time, a little wiser each time. Yesterday I learned Pema Chodron’s definition of compassion:

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”

This strikes me as being deeply true–true not only in our relationship to others, but in our relationship to our own lives. My life is not an interaction between the healed and the wounded. I am not wrong or broken when I am sick, or out-of-sorts, or reeling from loss.

Can I learn to relate to myself in those moments as an equal–not try to fix myself, or paper over my sadness and frustration with deep breaths and positive thinking? Can I learn to approach ALL OF IT with reverence and grace, to understand that ALL OF IT is an expression of an underlying Oneness?

Maybe not–not yet, anyway–but I am certainly being called to try. Again and again, life teaches me to stay on board through the hard things instead of wishing myself away to an ideal future. Sitting with friends who have just suffered unimaginable loss is every bit as sacred and important as sitting with friends who have just given birth.

IMG_6649This is especially scary, I think, because I have a fear that if I pay attention to the darker parts of life, I will somehow lose my way and fall entirely into darkness.  This is a shadow of the relentless “spiritual” drive to purify and enlighten and transcend, and it comes at the expense of authentic experience.  Somehow I have taught myself that joy is more valuable than sorrow, that happiness and idealism are more important than anger or fear.

Really, all of them are just temporary states, weather for processing experience. Yes, happiness and joy are much more pleasant to experience and socially waaaaay easier to explain, but are they innately more valuable? My times of deep anger, rage, and pain have all led to phenomenal growth and courage. I don’t particularly wish to return to them, but they propelled me forward to where I am now.

There is a fear, too, that if I find the sacred in the painful, I will somehow negate the misery, the wrongness, of suffering. I don’t want to ever be okay with the fact that there are hungry children or women who cannot vote. Instead, I want to be able to stay with my life when it takes me into these experiences: to let the righteous anger and sorrow and terror lead me forward into action rather than paralyzing me, and all without losing my reverence for life and beauty.

Life is short and full of unexpected joys and sorrows. Don’t I want to be able to welcome all of it? Don’t I want to be fully present for each moment, rather than wishing half of it away?

So here I am, balanced as usual on the fulcrum. I live in a beautiful city filled with incredible friends. I am deeply loved and I love deeply. I have just learned that I am going to IRELAND in a week for the Expressive Arts Symposium, which is like a thousand million dreams exploding into truth simultaneously, and all because of the support of incredible friends and family. It’s almost too much joy to take in—can I really deserve to be this happy?

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And also–real too– deep sadness. In my family, a child with mysterious symptoms that frighten us. In my community, children dying in a fire; dear friends losing close family, children losing parents. In my country, the rise of fear and hatred; in the world, waters rising, terror and devastating loss in Turkey.

Does the one experience negate the other? Or, somehow, can I live in such a way that I treat all of it with reverence?  I want to learn how to hold it all. I want to learn the art of finding the sacred in the devastating.

I found myself discussing all of this with my friend Maeve on a sunny patio on a beautiful spring morning last week. She has been exploring similar themes in the yoga classes she teaches and told me about the 5 kleshas, or causes of suffering: ignorance of the truth; labeling/judgment; attachment; aversion; and clinging to life.

I find such beauty in this framework: envisioning aversion and clinging to life not as forms of suffering, but as causes of suffering! It was in talking to Maeve that I once again remembered the Medicine Buddha mantra, and that fundamental sickness of thinking any of it is ever separate.

I am neither Buddhist nor Yogi, but I am profoundly grateful for the wisdom of those who have gone before and tangled with these questions so gracefully. Maeve and I have decided to explore this together, one klesha at a time,  through yoga and art and sacred slowness. We’ll attempt to welcome the shadows and the suffering with reverence and presence. (We’re meeting to explore the first klesha on April 21st, Lunar Beltane. All are welcome—if you’re in the area, we’ll be at our studio in the Phil Mechanic building; if you’re not and want to join in, let me know…we may try to structure it as a live webinar).

I offer this song and then relinquish it. I am filled with deep, heady joy even as I am devastated with sorrow.

Each moment is a messenger. I am learning not to turn any of them away.

teyatha om bekandze bekandze maha bekandze bekandze randze samu gate soha

 

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March 21, 2016 · 7:14 pm

Celebrating the Solstice

 

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Yesterday evening we held a lovely, warm gathering in the studio to celebrate the return of the light. There is a part of me that longs every year to travel north and celebrate the solstice in the company of the sacred circle dance community there, where each year they dress all in white and and dance by candlelight for the longest night. It dawned on me this year that I could dance these beautiful dances within my own community.

There is a subtle magic that happens with circle dance, when your feet follow simple steps that have been danced for generations upon generations, a sort of window of sacred time that opens and bestows a deeper meaning upon every movement. I watched the candlelit faces of dear old friends and new acquaintances as they moved in the circle, remembering other faces that have danced this dance, feeling so much love and fulness as we moved, again, in the steps that honor our changing rhythms and the way we mirror and learn from the rhythms of the Earth.

We opened the evening with a mini-herbal workshop, where we learned how to make massage bars with infused oils. There is something warm and wonderful about creating gifts this time of year, when sources of light and warmth are low and a small handmade surprise from a friend can be the candle that keeps us going for the day. I love to give massage bars as presents, because it is a gift that inspires further warmth, love, and touch in the using of it. Here is the recipe we used:

3 oz. unrefined shea butter

3 oz. cocoa butter

5 oz. beeswax (up to 6 oz. if you prefer a more solid bar; I like mine to melt bewitchingly in my hand)

6 oz. herb-infused oil (more on this in a bit)

1-2 tablespoons essential oil, depending on your preference

~This is a very forgiving. adaptable recipe and can be easily altered to make greater or lesser quantities. Just keep the beeswax and oil roughly equal to each other and use half that amount of cocoa and shea butters. For example, to make only 4 or so massage bars, you would use 1.5 oz of the butters, 3 oz. of beeswax and oil, and just half a tablespoon of essential oil. ~

imageThe first step is to infuse the oils. I prefer to use sweet almond oil, as I like the way it absorbs into the skin, but you can use jojoba, grapeseed, apricot kernel, even olive.

For a sun extraction, pack a mason jar about 3/4 full with your chosen herb (I used calendula for its skin-healing properties; other good choices would include rose petal, witch hazel flower, comfrey, and lavender) and fill with the oil of your choice. Make sure no botanicals are peeking up over the top of the oil; these can rot and introduce bacteria to your infusion. Nobody wants a bacteria massage (at least, nobody I’ve met).

Let your jar sit in the sun for several weeks, checking occasionally to be sure the flowers are submerged. When the oil has taken on a bit of the color of your chosen botanical (usually 4-6 weeks) you can strain it and it’s ready to use!  Be sure to label right away. If you’re anything like me, you think you’ll remember what’s in that jar, but you won’t.

The other method we discussed last night was a warm extraction.  I tend to use this method when a) I’m infusing bark, twigs, or roots and b) I’m in a bit of a hurry. Roots tend to be concentrated sources of herbal compounds, so they aren’t as easily destroyed by heat, but it’s important to make sure you don’t overheat them all the same.

I prefer to use sun extraction with more delicate plant parts like leaves and flowers because they are easily overheated and their medicine compromised. You could do a warm extraction on pine bark, twigs of black birch (this makes a beautifully sassafrass-scented massage oil that goes deep into the tissues) and even garlic.

We used kava-kava root tonight, which has lovely muscle-relaxing properties when applied externally, making it an excellent choice for a massage bar. To do a warm extraction, you need either a crockpot or an oven-safe crock. Place your herbs in the crockpot and cover them with oil. I usually cover strong roots like kava kava with double the amount of oil.  Set your crockpot on ‘warm’ for two hours (or place in an oven at 100 for two hours) and then turn off.  Let sit all day, then repeat the process the next morning.  Do this for seven days and your oil is ready to strain.

imageNow you have your infused oils, you are ready to make the massage bars. First, melt the shea butter, cocoa butter, and beeswax in a double boiler (you can improvise one by resting your pan upon a mason jar lid in a larger pot of simmering water). Let them melt slowly; it does take a while.

When they have melted, remove pan from the heat and slowly add the infused oil. It may congeal a bit; continue to whisk and allow the residual heat to re-melt your mixture (you want to avoid heating your infused oils, as it can destroy the medicine).  Then add your essential oils.

We used a tablespoon of lavender with the kava kava for a deeply relaxing, skin-soothing bar and combined the calendula-infused oil with a teaspoon of rosemary essential oil and a half teaspoon of peppermint essential oil.  I love peppermint for its diaphoretic, opening properties, but you have to be careful with it as some people react to having it on their skin, so don’t use as much as you would use a safer oil like lavender.

Pour while still warm into your molds—I use silicon baking molds; you could also use muffin tins lined with waxed paper. You can pretty much assume that any implements you use with beeswax and butters are never ever going to get all the way clean again, so maybe have some dedicated pots and pans for your herbal creations!

Let your bars solidify and pop them out of their molds…you are ready to go!

***********************************************************************

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I wish all of you a deep dreaming in the darkness and a candle in the longest night. May there always be a source of light available to you, and may the darkness encourage deep rest and strong vision for the year to come.

 

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December 19, 2015 · 2:38 pm

befriending our burdens

altarLast night I had the privilege of facilitating, with my dear friend Maeve, one of the most nourishing gatherings I’ve ever attended.  We gathered to explore the idea of befriending our burdens—noticing the hurts that we walk with in this world, and entering into dialogue with them through art and movement and the senses.  We wanted to learn, not just how to better care for ourselves as we wrangle our shadows, but also what gifts and lessons might be lurking beneath the surface of the curses we carry.

Several minutes in, the lights went out. The rosemary tea for the footbaths I’d been planning, merrily bubbling away on two electric burners, had shorted the electric system.  Fortunately the tea was ready, the water was warm, and the evening continued even more beautifully than we’d originally planned–lit by candles and accompanied by the soulful, spontaneous singing of our circle rather than the pre-recorded playlist.

We nourished our feet with the turmeric foot soaks I wrote about here, and scrubbed them tenderly with grapefruit halves filled with salt and coconut oil. We sipped rose petal chai and rose-hawthorn wine. We tasted bitter chocolate, sweet dates, salty and pungent almond dip, sour raspberries, astringent turmeric sake. We listened to our bodies’ response. Each sense– from the sound of the tea pouring to the sight of steam rising from the cup, candlelight reflecting here from the skin of a bell pepper and being absorbed there by the flat richness of cacao powder, the scent of roses and neroli and fresh sage, the feel of our feet in warm water, our hands curled around warm cups—invited us again and again into this sweet body, this lovely moment of carrying our burdens with tenderness and self-love.

All of us carry something— the loss of a loved one, a frightening diagnosis, a hurting child, a country at war. We are born into a world of darkness and light, joy and loss. No amount of herbal medicine and yoga will ever remove these hurts from us. But we can learn to love ourselves through the pain, take the moments of deliciousness and beauty fully in whenever they come. Our deep pain points the truest way to our most cherished desires, and we can choose to keep walking joyfully in the direction of those desires, however fearsome the obstacles become. (And we can choose to stop walking and give ourselves footbaths every once in a while!)

datesDecadent Mascarpone Dates

Slit several fresh dates halfway and remove the pits. (If the only dates you can get are quite dry, soak them overnight in a bit of fresh-squeezed orange juice.) Set aside.

Meanwhile, whip together 1/2 cup of mascarpone cheese (if you make kefir, kefir cheese works really well too) with raw honey to taste and a tablespoon of orange flower water. (If you are lucky enough to live in the presence of orange trees, you can make your own orange flower water using the hydrosol recipe I gave here; otherwise look for it in middle-eastern markets). Using a frosting pipe or a ziploc bag with one corner snipped off, pipe the mascarpone blend into the awaiting dates. Sprinkle with rose petals, calendula, or borage flowers.

feastAlmond Garden Bliss

Soak about a cup of almonds overnight in springwater; allow to sprout for a day. At the same time, soak 1/4 cup of sundried tomatoes in about 1/2 cup of spring water.

When the almonds have been soaked, the skins should rub off easily. Place your barenaked almonds and soaked sundried tomatoes in a blender, reserving the tomato soak water. Add a big handful of fresh basil and a clove of garlic and sea salt to taste. Blend until smooth and about the consistency of hummus, using the tomato soak water and olive oil as necessary to make the blender do its thing. (Last night the garden did not have nearly as much basil as I wanted, so I added a lot of fresh oregano and wild dandelion greens.  You could also use nettles! It’s a very adaptable recipe and lots of fun to play with!)


I want to say one thing more about befriending burdens. Nearly twelve years ago, I was walking alone in my neighborhood in Santa Monica.  I was pregnant, sad, isolated, and scared. Across the street I saw light and music spilling out from a little cafe and I was drawn almost magnetically to the sound of happy, laughing people. Inside, I observed a wonderland of art, music, color and beauty. Radiant people were sipping wine and gazing at luminous art. I knew I did not belong here, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave. I shyly stepped inside and found myself in conversation with the most beautiful woman in the room, a woman who turned out to be the artist who had designed the whole gathering!

She became a dear friend. She also turned out to be my lifeline as I navigated my way through that pregnancy and the crazy years to come.

I could so easily have succumbed to my burdens that night and not walked through that door. I could easily have listened to the voices that told me I didn’t belong there, could so easily have followed my normal patterns and quietly slipped home. Instead, I said yes to the quiet nudging of my lonely heart and fell into an opportunity for deep friendship, creative sustenance, and art, an opportunity that circuitously led me into this life I am living now, a life in which I am, somehow, miraculously, holding luminous artistic gatherings of my own. (I love you, Laura. )

All around me, the leaves are changing, falling onto the ground in incredible mosaics of color. If the chlorophyll did not die, we would never see the secondary pigmentation beneath it, these heartrending reds and oranges and purples and yellows.  I think life is like that sometimes. Life deals us a blow and BOOM! there goes our chlorophyll. But we are resilient, beautiful creatures, and we not only survive, we begin to show new colors that we never suspected were there. Sometimes our burdens walk us directly into the beauty.

kneelphoto by Maeve Hendrix

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way of starting
the conversation.

Start with your own
question,
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something
simple.

To find
another’s voice,
follow
your own voice,
wait until
that voice
becomes a
private ear
listening
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

~David Whyte, River Flow: New and Selected Poems

3 Comments

November 9, 2015 · 4:17 am

walk on feet of gold

2015-10-14 10.31.04I’ve been playing giddily in my new studio in Asheville, amazed at what it does to a life to have a space dedicated to creativity.   The lined-up jars of herbs and clays and petals and powders set my mind spinning down roads of possibilities and the scent is overpoweringly delicious.

Yesterday, dreaming about an upcoming workshop I’ll be hosting to inaugurate this space, I let the threads of life’s whisperings to me meet in this recipe for a fizzing foot soak.  That sounds a little grandiloquent, so let me explain.

This summer was a welter of weddings, dear friends diving with great celebration into the future; this fall has been a deep and sobering reminder of mortality, with the loss of loved ones to cancer and addiction and accident. I remember one moment from this summer, standing at the head of a lovely contra dance promenade to celebrate Anna Lena’s wedding. Her bridal bouquet, which was hand-gathered and heavy with fresh basil, was being passed from person to person in the dance. As I stood there, playing the role of ‘bride’ in the dance, the spicy-sweet aroma of crushed basil woke my memory of so many summers past, growing basil amid the rows of flowers at Touchstone Farm, blending basil from my california garden into a delicious potluck pesto, steeping holy basil in a tea for a hurting friend. This basil that I held now felt like a friend too. Yet this sprig of basil was grown in a garden far from those of my memory.  My idea of basil was overspreading, incorporating this sprig and every other I had held and grown and tasted.  This one branch of basil that I held was a symbol, both an individual and an archetype.

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It was not a great leap from there, standing as I was in the role of “bride” at a wedding, to understand myself in the same way.  I have attended weddings in the role of flower girl, in the role of attendant, in the role of bride.  We move through the roles of these ceremonies in an ancient dance, sometimes the maiden, sometimes the mother, sometimes the crone. Our lives wax and wane, and we dance the circle and fall, but we are more than just our one small life in the dance.  As we dance it, we incarnate every archetype and hold all the power of that role, all those who came before, in our small selves. I felt that, standing there with the bouquet, that just as this small sprig of basil evoked every experience I’ve ever had with basil, each time I engage in love, or heartbreak, or art-making, or poetry, or friendship, I am participating in an ongoing dance that is far bigger than I am. I get to dance the idea of love, of art, of poetry, of friendship. And in that moment, I am more than myself. I represent the vastness of that idea, breathe in all that has come before.

So, you’re wondering, how the hell is she going to bring this back to footsoaks? So glad you asked.  When I moved here to the mountains of North Carolina, a deep sense of home settled in my bones. I have never been in love with geography the way I love the contours of these mountains. My feet lead me through twisting rhododendron paths and amidst towering oaks and maples, and my heart almost hurts with the joy of it. I explained this feeling to someone I’d just met at an herbal gathering, and she told me that the substrate here is mica, a mineral whose message is “you’re okay.”

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You’re okay. Isn’t that the essential message of self-care? I like to pick up flakes of mica from the soil and crush it in my fingers to a fine silver powder, then dust it into my hair and onto my face, so that I glitter in the sun.  I like the silver my feet pick up when I hike barefoot here.  I put powdered mica in all of my bath bombs now, so that when I step from the bath I am covered in a silver sheen, glittering and steeped in I’M OKAY.

I put lots of mica in these little footsoaks I made, thinking of that contact between foot and ground, the archetype there. Bare foot to bare earth, all of the feet that have walked these trails before me.  It’s powerful. We can have feet of clay and of gold, both. We’re all of it. It’s okay.

And I put turmeric in, thinking of a friend of mine from India with radiant skin.  I asked her about it one day and she said she made traditional turmeric masques for her face once a week. That weekend I mixed turmeric powder with an egg yolk and some calendula tea, placed it all over my face, and waited twenty minutes.  When I washed it off, I was every bit as radiant as she said I would be.  Because my face was yellow.  Deep, bright, permanent yellow. It didn’t wash off for a week.

I am too white, it turns out, for turmeric masks. But I never forgot the power turmeric has on the skin, the way it nourishes and draws life and color to it. A pinch of turmeric in a foot bath draws the blood to the surface, enlivening and awakening our heroically perseverant feet.

I added sea salt, for the power of the ocean and the exultation available in racing the surf, the deep delight of feet in warm sand. I added rosemary, for its woodsy scent and evocation of memory, and its way of stopping nasty little infections in their tracks. And lavender, because OF COURSE.

After I pressed the little golden, shimmering foot soaks into their molds, I went to rinse out the bowl in the utility sink.  It fizzed up golden and aromatic.  I balanced on the edge of the sink and submerged my feet in that scented water.  I breathed in, aware that in this moment, so many of my dreams have come true.  I am working as a counselor with women, doing what I can to ease the heavy burdens of their lives. I am deep in love and deeply loved. I have an art studio on the river! I carry everything that has come before, all of the other roles I have played in the dance, and the dance goes on.  In this golden moment, I am one with all of it.

Golden, sparkling feet touching earth, for this moment, and all moments.

FEET OF GOLD FOOT SOAK

1 cup baking soda

1/2 cup citric acid

1/4 cup sea salt

1 teaspoon turmeric

2 teaspoons crushed mica

2 tablespoons sweet almond oil (infused with calendula, if you have it!)

1 tablespoon cocoa butter

1 tablespoon rosemary essential oil

1 teaspoon lavender essential oil

Rosewater, for spritzing

Mix the dry ingredients carefully together, preferably with your hands, because then they will glitter the rest of the day! Add the cocoa butter and knead as though you are making pie crust, rubbing through your fingers until it pebbles evenly. Add the remaining oils and mix completely. Spritz very sparsely with rosewater just until the mixture holds together into a ball when squeezed. Work the rosewater in very quickly so the mixture doesn’t lose its fizz.  Press into molds (silicon baking molds work well, or old plastic easter eggs) quickly before the mixture sets.  Let dry overnight.

Drop one into a warm tub of water and submerge feet. Dream. Walk on feet of gold.

2015-10-12 10.43.24

7 Comments

October 23, 2015 · 3:22 pm