Category Archives: healing

permaculture, psychology, and cancer

photograph by lori fernald khamala

sugar maple on my street…photograph by lori fernald khamala

I began my studies in clinical mental health counseling this fall.  I’ve been learning dozens of theories, from Freudian psychodynamics to Rogerian person-centered therapy.  But long before I began my studies in counseling, I studied botany and ecology, herbal medicine and permaculture. I can’t help myself; my understanding of people as ecological beings filters through and colors everything I am learning.

Permaculture, for those who are unfamiliar with the term, is the study of ecological systems and their application to human designs.  Many think of it as a gardening system, and it is: a wonderful design-based system for the creation of self-tending perennial food forests.  But permaculture principles, based as they are on years of studying ecology, apply to most of human behavior–from the way we grow our food to the way we build our cities and shape our lives.

I’ve found myself quietly ignoring psychological theory and applying permaculture principles to my studies instead.  It seems to me that there is only one system we know of that is entirely self-sustaining and functional under all conditions, only one that accounts for every life and death and galaxy and virus. Why not study that, instead of a man from Vienna, if I want to know how the mind works? Continue reading


November 2, 2013 · 3:25 am


Raking Leaves

I have had so many chances to observe myself lately.  Perhaps the most obvious was an assignment, recently completed for a counseling techniques class, in which I  ‘counseled’ a fellow student for a half-hour, videotaping the whole time. I was to use the session to demonstrate the skills I’ve been learning, making a certain number of responses from each of several prescribed categories.

Watching the video later, I was struck by how quickly I’d forgotten the prescribed responses, how immediately I’d been absorbed in my friend’s story.  The first few moments there’d been a struggle in my head between attentive listening and careful attention to the assignment.  Listening won, hands down.  I could not hold that tension in my mind between complete presence and detached focus. Continue reading


October 29, 2013 · 2:34 am


Acupuncture chart from the Ming Dynasty: The P...

Acupuncture chart from the Ming Dynasty: The Pericardium Meridian of Hand-Jueyin

This weekend I attended an illuminating workshop taught by Sarah Thomas of  Clarity Acupuncture. She described, from a Chinese Medical perspective, what happens to our bodies when we experience trauma.

Trauma, she explained, is so overwhelming that we simply cannot experience all of it in the moment.  As a result, the un-felt feelings get buried or frozen in the body.  How does this happen? Listen to this heartbreaking story:

The pericardium is the guardian of the heart.  Its job is to protect the spirit, the center of our ability to communicate and bring our light to the world.  The pericardium’s ability to open and close the gates of the heart is what allows us to love a friend deeply, yet take it in stride when she has a bad day and snaps at us.  It allows us to feel empathy for another’s tragedy, yet not cry at every cat food commercial.

But when there is trauma, something or someone attacks the pericardium with such might that it collapses and can no longer guard the heart. Continue reading


October 17, 2013 · 3:03 am

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


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


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


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


June 11, 2013 · 3:42 am