Category Archives: healing

my dear friend joe

My apologies to my newsletter family—I promised a good sweat and I did not deliver!  Let me tell you about my dear friend Joe Pye.

There is a strong oral history about Joe; some say he was a Mohegan healer, some say he was a freed slave.  In any case his power of healing was such that even now, hundreds of years past his time, this amazing plant still bears his name here in the Appalachians—far south of where he wrought his cures during typhus outbreaks in New England. Continue reading

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September 10, 2013 · 4:08 pm

i have a body

20130908_114201I woke up buoyant this morning.  Rose-gold early morning sunlight was just starting to filter through the leaves of the tulip poplars into my bedroom.  A few shreds of my dream still lingered, something about dancing in the night, in a clearing.  I started to reach for my phone to check the time.  Something stopped me.

Instead I noticed the soft weight of my hair on my shoulder.  After last night’s sweaty contra dance I celebrated with a long, candlelit shower, pouring rosemary infusion through my hair…now the scent of rosemary lingered there, a fragrance in the morning, mingling with the warmth of my quilt in a sleepy cocoon.

I noticed how clean this cool air feels as I breathe it in, here in the mountains.  My feet were tingling from last night’s long barefoot dance.  I drew my knees up to my chest and hugged them in, breathing slow. Continue reading

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September 8, 2013 · 3:51 pm

Women’s Joy Circle: Despair & Complaint

i swear.

Last Saturday I sat in a circle of women at the home of a friend.  We’d shared a bountiful and delectable meal, gathered around a cleansing fire, protected ourselves all around with candlelight and color and books and beauty. Yet when we sat to share and listen, there was such darkness there.  So much sorrow and pain and terror, wrong turns and misunderstandings and fury.  Our children were being put in danger, our elected representatives were trying to eliminate our basic rights, our voices were being silenced, and we were in PAIN.  I had actually turned it over and over in my mind whether I should come to this circle or not, as I’d been in a bit of a funk myself and didn’t want to inflict my turbulent energy on others. Continue reading

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June 18, 2013 · 2:41 pm

Women’s Joy Circle: Do Not Disturb

Barbed wire (rusting after years of hard work)...

For my half-birthday this year I sent out a letter to people I greatly respected, people who have known me through very diverse stages of my life, some dear old friends and some passing acquaintances.  I asked them to bravely, honestly, share with me what they saw as my challenges.  And I asked them to answer this question:  if you could wave a wand and ‘fix’ me without ever having to worry about my knowing or being offended, what would you change?

I did this because I was in one of those troughs of experience in which I had finished up one phase and not yet discerned what was next, and I wanted to choose wisely.  I wanted to step bravely into my strengths and shine a light on some of my weaknesses, to carve out new ways rather than following old comfortable paths.

Receiving the answers was terribly scary and difficult.  Part of me desperately hoped for responses of “I wouldn’t fix a thing!  Nope, you’re absolutely perfect as you are!” (even though I’d expressly forbidden anyone to answer that way.) But the curious, contemplative side of me wanted to know.  It wanted those shadows aired.  And I am so glad that my brave, wonderful friends responded to that side of me.  Their bravery started this blog, because one response I heard over and over again was that I needed to share my writing. Continue reading

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June 11, 2013 · 3:42 am

Women’s Joy Circle: Healing

English: Molcajete y tejolote, (mortar and pes...

I’ve been thinking a lot about healing lately.  I am taking 7Song’s Herbal First Aid class remotely, and dawnings of understanding about the body’s capacity to heal are beginning to break through.  To heal the body, I’ve learned, you clear away anything that might be interfering with the body, and then allow it to heal itself.  The antimicrobial and sedative and carminative herbs we prescribe do not, per se, heal the body.  They relieve symptoms, help deal with invaders and optimize healing conditions, yes–but it is the body that heals.

And since we are beings of mind/body/spirit…not just one or the other, but all, always…it is also so with healing the spirit.  Heartbreak and grief and emotional exhaustion can’t be “fixed”.  Healing is not something you add to your routine like a bandaid.  Healing, for the heart, is just as it is for the body.  You remove everything that is impeding it.  It is already there.

I think about this in terms of my young motherhood.  There was little sleep, there was screaming and crying and utter exhaustion, there were ceaseless cycles of not-having-enough-hands, there were impossible gordian knots of chaos that seemed interminable.  And then, suddenly, about a year ago, I realized that this part was over.  I’m still not sure when it happened, but somehow, at some point, my children learned to bathe and feed and dress themselves, and to walk around without impaling themselves on butterknives or hurling themselves over cliffs, and there were, all at once,  moments of serenity between the gordian knots of chaos. I did not have to learn that serenity.  It was always there, simply waiting for its chance to emerge.

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And I believe this is the human condition.  It is interesting to think of God/Goddess/Spirit/Tao/Universal Intelligence as a young mother, marshaling the growth of this immature, spirited baby species, utterly exhausted by us.  It pleases me to think of it this way because then I can believe that our evolution is not meant to be a slow, steady progression toward “good” and “right” and “balance”—because, if it were, there is no evidence that we are progressing at all!  Perhaps it is instead this chaos of fits and starts—exhaustion and misery and impossible complication—and then, suddenly, moments of clarity and peace, of deep understanding and beauty.  And then the swan dive back into the chaos.  (Because I don’t for a moment imagine I’m out of the woods.  Teenage years start in T minus 5 x 365 x 24 hours).  If this is so, then there is hope for us.  There have been these moments of deep beauty and understanding and there will be again, the chaos of war and genocide and genetic engineering and sex trafficking notwithstanding.  We don’t inch toward perfection.  Perfection is already there, and from time to time we manage to peel away the outer circumstances concealing it.

We circled up on Monday and shared, as usual, first our names and then one word to describe ourselves at this moment.  I am always amazed by the articulations:  overjoyed.  frazzled.  overcome. happy. grieving. in my center. nervous. giving it a shot. healing. frantic. healing.

Using the word “healing” as a focal point, we settled in for a long, slow yoga practice.  We noticed what parts of our bodies responded to the word “healing” and what emotions it elicited.  We did a lot of cyclical movement, hip circles and knee circles and shoulder circles and circles of the head and ribs.  We checked in with our center by doing cat/cows in forearm plank position.  We spent long moments in child’s pose, compressing the third eye, scanning the body for areas of tightness and coldness and pain, using the breath to melt them down and open.  Yoga is wonderful for asking the questions of the body that a good herbalist would ask of the patient.  What is going on in the body?  Does this hurt? Do you feel cold or warm?  What moves easily?  What feels stuck?  I love my yoga practice for reliably peeling away one of the layers between me and healing, that layer of disconnection with my body.

English: Udara Shavásana Português: Udara Shav...

ahhhh.

Then we ate some of the 756 leftover scones from the herbal high tea (slight miscalculation.  Sorry Molly) and sipped tea while I discussed the next exercise.  I like to call it “The Two-Year-Old.”  You sit facing your partner and ask them “What hurts?” and they answer. When their words slow or stop, you ask “Why?” They answer again, and you continue to ask “Why?” for five minutes.  Have a pillow ready so that if they try to punch you in the face you can protect yourself.  I’m kind of kidding, a little.  But kind of not.

Then you ask your partner: “What do you want?” and allow them to answer.  When their words slow or stop, ask “Why?”  and continue as before.  Go for five minutes.  Then switch and have your partner ask you both questions.

Getting to “Why” is fascinating for so many reasons.  For one thing, you get to discover what makes you angry—usually just past that point of anger and annoyance is a very interesting insight.  For another, you get to discover the similarities between what you most want in this world and what has most hurt you.  You get to see that what you really want is inextricably tied in with what needs healing in you, because what hurts us in the world, what feels painful or isolating or deeply wrong, is what we are strongly called to fix or make right.  I have found that my deepest pleasures in life have been the moments when I can prevent someone from being wounded in the ways I was wounded, or create circumstances that bring joy and connection where I once felt alone or isolated.  I know that this is my work, and my healing process.  As I peel away the layers of misunderstanding and pain and rote behavior that keep me hurting, I heal both myself and my world.  Not by “fixing” anything.  Just by revealing the beauty that was already there.

I feel another “Permaculture and Parenting” article coming on, about removing limiting factors.  I so love this principle, that the perfect ecosystem is already there if you just set it up, get out of the way, and let it thrive.  That miracles happen in Zone Zero and Zone Five.  That you always leave a little wilderness as example and seedbank.  That the chaos is part of it all.

moments of serenity: our lovely Herbal High Tea

moments of serenity: our lovely Herbal High Tea

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May 15, 2013 · 4:05 pm

Women’s Joy Circle: relationship

English: Flow of Merced River after Autumn's r...

Here in North Carolina it has been raining nonstop for close to two weeks.  Long walks of exploration through newly roaring creekbeds and exciting leaf-boat journeys down gutters aside, it gets depressing.  When we assembled last night for joy circle, I could feel it in the room.  We were all out-of-sorts.

I have learned through hard experience that when I am facing turbulent or charged or discombobulated energy, the only way out is through.  I can’t pretend it’s not there or fake it until I make it or put on a glossy mask and act as though I’m utterly self-possessed.  I have to jump into the messy emotions and the fear and the not-knowing until things change.

So I threw what I had planned out the window.  Next week is our herbal high tea, and there was loads of planning to be done, but none of us were in a “planning” kind of space.  I took some deep breaths and did a quick internal scan of what had been coming up again and again this week.  And what emerged was relationship.  Disintegrating relationships, or painful confrontations, or loneliness, or longing, or miscommunication.  So many friends had been calling to talk about this, so many articles and conversations and books had turned up to shed light on it.  We would explore relationship tonight.

Supine Pigeon

pigeon pose…compressing the third eye is wonderful for the nervous system

We started with some very slow, deep hip openers.  All of us store emotional tension in our hips, but for women especially the practice of hip-opening stretches like thread-the-needle or pigeon can be very intense and cathartic.  We warmed up with cat-and-cow and slow vinyasa, then took our time in pigeon, using the breath to expand on the inhale and fall down on the exhale, compressing the third eye on our doubled fists or the floor.  From this place of release we slowly resumed a seated position and went through a guided meditation.

In the meditation I asked everyone to identify a pattern in their relationships that has caused pain.  It could be a pattern of abandonment, or betrayal, or loneliness, or a sense of unworthiness…any painful experience that seems to repeat from lover to lover or friend to friend.

When we think of these patterns it hurts.  We followed the pain within, to the place in the body it seemed to originate.  There, in the body, we stayed, feeling the pain, noticing the sensation it caused.  I asked:  if this feeling had a voice, what would it be saying to you?  What is its message?

I could see the messages on faces lit by flickering candlelight:  you’re impossible to love.  you’re not good enough.  you try too hard.  you don’t try enough. 

I asked everyone to identify the age of this voice.  Was it a little girl speaking?  A teenager? A grown woman?  And  I asked each woman to return for a moment to her breath, to her own power and centeredness.  From this place of adult self-assurance, I asked each woman to extend her love and power to that voice, to contradict the message that caused such pain, to envelop it in love and warmth and safety.

And then I asked for each woman to conjure up within her body the feeling of being loved.  The feeling of being adored, cherished, cared for.  I asked for each woman to draw this feeling through her body with the breath, filling each cell with that sensation of warmth and bliss.  I asked each woman to imagine her ideal mate sitting before her, regarding her with complete love and acceptance, and to notice how that felt.

I put a paper and pen in front of each woman and, still in a space of candlelit silence, asked that they write down how it felt to be loved this way, what thoughts and resistances emerged from this feeling.  I asked them to write who they were within this relationship of love, how they walked when they were loved this way, how they spoke, what changed in their lives, what they let go of, what they learned.

Some women had to leave the room, overcome by trying to imagine a love like this. We are a circle of strong, self-assured women who juggle very meaningful work, studies, care of others, and personal evolution, and yet through each of us runs this fault line of self-acceptance.  We have difficulty creating for ourselves what we effortlessly give to others each and every day.  I never fail to be blindsided by this paradox.

When we gathered again over tea and lavender scones, the energy was subdued.  We had touched on something deep and vulnerable.  I talked a little about vulnerability, how it is the only way into communication, how the high gloss of self-sufficiency repels every attempt at connection.  I know a lot about this.  That doesn’t make it any easier.  I spoke about ways to use what we had learned: taking what we’ve written and using it to create a sense of expansiveness and love in our own lives, now, making the changes for ourselves that we sensed would happen only when we were loved.

Finally, I gave in to the quiet and turned on the music.  We danced, and outside the rain poured down and lightning flashed in quick illumination of our bodies letting this out, this unutterable paradox of strength and vulnerability, self-assurance and self-doubt.  This feels very important to me.  I think that the unraveling of this question will have a bearing on questions of environmental damage and social injustice and right living and mental health.  I know that our self-relationship has a bearing on our relationship with everything and everyone. I don’t know how yet.  But I am beginning to be clear on the question.

Lightning 2

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May 7, 2013 · 9:19 pm

on providence

English: , seen from Howard's Knob.

boone

I spent Tuesday on an impromptu trip to Boone, North Carolina.  Having just discovered that I’d been awarded a fellowship to attend the Expressive Arts Therapy program at Appalachian State in the fall, I was looking at apartments, meeting professors in my division, and just generally reveling in the blossoming of this new direction.

It has been a slow unfolding for me, this desire to counsel other mothers, this nudge to bring everything I’ve learned in the realm of herbal medicine, yoga, meditation, songwriting, dance, and art to benefit the spiritual sustenance of women.  This program will deepen and sustain and nourish that desire, allowing me to obtain a degree and licensure as a therapist, bringing me much closer to my vision of opening a therapeutic center for women.

Courtyard 2

This center that I will open, it will be set in an herb garden.  This garden will be filled with aromatic plants and flowers, so that therapy begins as you walk to the door and inhale the fragrance of sunlight on blossoms. It will be community supported in the sense that you pay monthly for a membership, on a sliding scale, and this monthly subscription entitles you to full use of all of the services we offer, as much as you like.  You can wander in the garden, take our herbal medicine and gardening classes, participate in yoga and meditation in our yoga studio, paint in our art studio, drink tea and read in our library, participate in our ongoing group therapy sessions.  Best of all, you can drop your children off at our free onsite childcare so that they can paint and stretch and explore while you get much-needed time in your own space, your own creativity, your own psyche.  We will have seasonal celebrations in the garden to acknowledge the transformations in the earth and how they are reflected in our own bodies and minds, and will regularly meet to give back to the community, sponsoring the subscriptions of women who might not otherwise be able to take part, beautifying the streams and streets of our village.

The moment I fully defined this vision, everything around me seemed to align to make it possible.  This degree, this program, is such a beautiful next step.  On my day in Boone I wandered, taking in the blooming trees and the fog-shrouded mountains and the roaring, creamy streams filled with rainwater and polished rock.  I stumbled upon a sunlit yoga studio at the very moment they were beginning their daily donation-based community class, and stretched and sang with strangers who felt like family.  Afterward I struck up a conversation with the owner of the studio, and she told me she would be renting out her house to a yoga teacher and her fiance who were just beginning the expressive arts therapy program.  They were looking for a third housemate, would I be interested?  Ah.  Providence.

I have discovered that when I allow the possibility of miracles to exist, miracles happen.  I think how nice it would be to receive a flower and a stranger, smiling, hands me a dandelion.  I pray for the transformation of my son’s suffering and the very next day his sulking misery is over and he skips all the way to school.  I show up in Boone to search for a house and am handed the ideal situation on a platter.

The next day, naturally, I had a gratitude hangover.  I had been so full of light and appreciation and magic the day before that I woke grumpy with the whole irksome circumstance of it being today instead of yesterday.  And I did that exercise I wrote about in  setting boundaries: I stopped that thought, and showered my attention on all the incredible things that are unfolding, and told the new story.  It is amazing to be at an age where finally, daily, I integrate the things I know into my own life.  I actually USE what I have been given.  How refreshing!  How overdue!

Usually when I begin to write one of these posts, I know what it is that I want to communicate.  Today, it is just gratitude.  It’s all gratitude, for what has been given to me and for what is coming next.

4 Comments

May 2, 2013 · 3:43 pm

famine and feast

20130419_162453

fallen cherry petals on the herb spiral

Oh, the abandoned abundance of nature.  Autumn does not scatter leaves artfully here and there, but strews them in an eight-inch-deep blanket all the way to horizon.  Spring is not a few petals drifting on the wind, it’s a snowstorm of color that lasts for weeks.  Until it’s gone.  And then, sometimes, there is nothing at all.  For days, weeks, months on end.  For all that we cleave to the storied ‘balance’ of nature, there is nothing moderate or balanced in the least about natural systems.

Right now there are violets clustered everywhere, their drooping heads hidden beneath their rapidly greening heart-shaped leaves. I gather them by the fistful, walking by the stream, and when I turn to go home I see that I have made not the slightest dent in the wash of purple. Next week, they will all be gone.

Last year a friend had a particularly productive winter squash patch and we feasted on squash all winter.  Now our compost pile is overrun with squash seedlings, deep green and veined and beautiful, but doomed.  They are competing for sun, water, space, and most will not survive.  Beside the compost pile is a small mountain of grass clippings; I stalk the neighborhood with my wheelbarrow and cart them away.  There is always more than I can carry this time of year.  But a few months ago—nothing.

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I’ve been letting this sink in today.  Could it be that there is nothing wrong with me?  Could it be that is is natural to have periods of deep, flowering, intense productivity followed by a fallow season?  Could it be that there is no such thing as life balance?   Continue reading

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April 26, 2013 · 1:44 am

Women’s Joy Circle: Divine Feminine, Sacred Masculine

Franz von Stuck Ringelreihen

As I write this I am listening to ancient Greek circle dance music.  After high school I spent a year WWOOFing, traveling from one organic farm to another, exchanging labor for room, board, and instruction in horticulture and permaculture. My travels began in North Carolina, led me to Oregon, Ireland and France, and eventually dropped me at the Springfield, MA bus station, looking out the window at the scruffiest pair of derelicts I’d ever laid eyes on.

Please, let it not be them,” I muttered under my breath as I exited the bus with my framepack and guitar, scanning the crowd hopefully for more wholesome-looking farmer-types.  But sure enough, it was that scruffy pair of derelicts who had come to escort me on the next stage of my journey.  I climbed into their rusted repurposed ambulance, and thus began two of the most soulful, most transformative friendships I have ever been privileged to build. Continue reading

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April 23, 2013 · 3:16 pm

the perfect is the enemy of the good

English: Photo of Bee Balm Plant (Monarda)

It has taken me so long to plant my little garden here.  There was far too much information coursing through my mind—ecotones and hedges, guilds, layered food forests, medicinal companion plants, swales and ponds and microclimates.  I would gaze out at the muddy clay of this unfamiliar soil and feel too overwhelmed to start.

Or, more truthfully, too fearful of making a mistake.  Of not building a garden complex enough, beautiful enough, after all of these years of landscape design and permaculture  training.  Garden after garden that I’ve designed, labored over, loved, and left behind.  After a while it hurts.  So I built no garden here.

But somewhere I read this, or heard this—I forget now where— “the perfect is the enemy of the good.”  And I realized that I was doing what I have done far too often in my life, letting my desire for perfection inhibit me from acting at all. Continue reading

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April 13, 2013 · 12:50 am