Let it be light

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The world has felt a bit overwhelming recently. Every day my news feed refreshes itself and I feel one spade deeper into disquiet. The skies here have been gray and there has been a general feeling of downtrodden timelessness. Mornings that look like evenings that look like the beginning of night.

I have a tendency, especially on gray days, to take things pretty seriously. Human rights, the environment, the state of things. But perhaps the thing I hold with the most seriousness of all is my own self. The sacred crux of my personal work, my responsibility to grow. The knowledge that all change begins on an individual scale, with my agreement to continue to examine, to dismantle, to expand.

And it’s good, it’s needed. But sometimes I get so serious about the path of self work and personal responsibility that it begins to feel as if my growth is also my greatest confinement. Even my self care regime (yoga, meditation, reading, repeat!) starts to feel like just another To-Do.

That’s when I know, it’s time to just let it be light.

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I hear, often, the idea that self care is a kind of activism. And I agree. Tending the inner wells is a practice that nourishes a much larger reality. But what about the idea of self care without an end goal? Self care for its own sake, without it needing to be political, radical, or even useful?

What if, sometimes, taking care of ourselves doesn’t need to be utile at all?

What if, instead, you gave yourself permission to engage in a totally luxurious sabbatical of self joy? Now clearly, I’m not suggesting a whole scale permanent check out from the waves of the world, but sometimes our hearts need a great shock of goodness, of levity and joy, to be able to become a part of things once more.

So, for this week, ditch the various To-Do’s of self care, of being a good person, the  right person, for this world and just try cultivating self joy.

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In the midst of a hard week last week I started doing something revolutionary. An hour before bedtime I turned off my phone, my computer, my work mind and just felt into what I truly wanted. I even let go of my normal routine of what-I-do-in-my-down-time (yoga, mediation, reading, repeat!). And instead I just let, as Mary Oliver says, the soft animal of my body love what it loves.

So I ended up taking a lot of baths, a ridiculously luxurious amount of baths. I ended up eating chocolate tarts. I danced for a long time in front of the mirror and tried on different outfits for fun. I watercolored, a practice that feels so liberating simply because I have no idea what I’m doing.

My dreams have all been pointing me in this direction as well. Even though we are moving through such deep times lately, every night I’m dreaming of dinner parties, and strolls on the boardwalk, easeful gatherings and wine. Of pleasure as an important part of life. And every morning I wake up with the same quiet voice whispering… you are allowed to let it be light.

So many of us worry that if we let something be light (anything!) we’ll somehow fall off the bandwagon of our responsibility to reality. But what if our ability to respond to the world is intricately tied to our capacity to find, and ultimately embody, the light?

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To let something be light is to recognize the full spectrum of its identity, its essence and personhood. To let something be light is to allow the source behind all things to shine through. To allow the nature of nature to make itself known. To notice possibilities, to be open to the divinity that wants to glimmer up from within the deep. Whether it’s funny political commentary, or the way the winter sun feels warm on your face. Or your desire to put on a witch-cape and dance to Stevie Nicks.

Let it be light.

Let it be fun. Roll around in the yard and make pancakes. Wear something goofy for a day. Build a blanket fort in the living room and spend the night reading in there by flashlight. Get take-out. Open a fortune cookie. Remember what joyful living feels like.

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Shadow work may be active, but the only way we can truly stay sane (and potent) during this time is to remember the truth — that the shadow is simply a by-product of the light.

So take a vacation, even if it’s only for an afternoon.

Because isn’t this the very preciousness that we are working so hard to preserve — the dream that all beings may be free to experience the joy of their aliveness?

The ultimate goal of a vacation is not to whisk us away, it is to help us to return. So take a vacation of self joy this week. And you will be surprised how very bright, and powerful, you will feel when you come back.

Shadow Work is Active

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Shadow work is light work. The two have always gone hand in hand. You cannot walk into illumination without activating the shadow. It is impossible to stand, in daylight or moon-remembrance, and not cast a darkness at your own feet. Having a shadow is part of the bargain of being here on this planet. It is as integral to being a human being as the marrow that runs through the canyons of our bones.

Shadow work means digging up oil. Hard, crude stuff that feels like poison to the upperworld. And though we demonize it, and the damage it brings to our above-ground selves, the darkness is natural. It is the organic accumulation of so many ancient wounds. The sediment of death untended.

Our shadow moves beneath us. And when it rises to the surface it is then that we know— it is time. Time to listen, to heal, to open our eyes, to get creative, to act.

There is no longer any doubt. Our country has entered a shadow time.

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You know you are dealing with the shadow when domination, misinformation, diminishment and division reign. When you are made to feel small in the presence of something larger, rather than expanded by the reality of such magnificent bigness. Shadow work is hard work, and dredges up the least refined, and most raw, aspects of humanity— depression, bitterness, anxiety, blame.

Like ducks wading in a spill so grand it coats all living beings, when we stay still in shadow work we become drenched in something toxic. But when we move, when we transform, when we respond to the upwelling with passionate action, true miracles can happen.

We are in the midst of an unbelievable opportunity right now in the U.S. Unbelievable being the operative word. It seems that everything we hold dear, the basic tenants of what our country was purported to be built on— equality, refuge, opportunity, inalienable rights, democracy—are crumbling.

The upside down is right side up, and the highest office in the land is ruled by a circle of shades. Half-people so haunted by their own wounds that they come bearing the only gifts they can carry— the ability to illuminate our nation’s darkest places. The trading of life for personal gain. Crudeness, bullying, the swallow-dark of greed. Everything that has happened on a national level in the past week was done to make way for profit and the consolidation of power and attempts, in no uncertain terms, to cut off our hearts from connecting with one another.

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Isolation is the biggest tool of the shadow.  And so shadow work is often done alone. In the deep of night, under the milk of stars or wrapped in blankets on dark thresholds. Such personal work is solitary by nature because the ultimate goal of the journey is to integrate all aspects of our individual selves.

But when shadow work is attempted in the greater body of humanity it inspires, not division, but history-altering reunion. It brings us together, perhaps for the first time. It ignites unprecedented integration and collective revolution. It makes us stronger. In the heart of our country we have a unique opportunity to realize the kind of union the U.S has never quite upheld. To move, not alone, but together.

This blog, my work, is not normally political. But this is not political.

What is happening on a national scale in our country is no longer political.

It is human.

And it is about healing on the deepest level.

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Cross-culturally there are many different concepts to describe this moment of confronting the shadow. In the archetypal myth of the hero’s journey, Joseph Campbell calls this time the belly of the whale. In shamanic traditions is it the arrival of the near-death experience, a moment when we are dismembered so we may be put back together. In herbal circles we call it the healing crisis, when things fall apart so utterly that the next step, the only step you can take, is towards wholeness.

These are important initiation experiences. To be swallowed in darkness. To stew in the belly of something unknowable. To be locked in fear, grief and sorrow. But this is just the beginning of a revolution known as deep reunion, as re-creation.

Throughout the world, myths of darkness and dismemberment abound. Of all the variances, however, there is one common theme. You must be willing to work. You must be willing to travel. You must walk fearlessly to the edge of the abyss. You must dig through mud. You must ride on the back of dragons. You must be buried lower than you ever thought possible. You must find steel in the earth.

You must find your power. And use it. You must re-devote yourself to what is the natural goodness of the world: togetherness, wholism, compassion.

And we must work together.

Read on for a ritual of both action and support. And know that I am with you.

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<< 15 Minute Ritual for Daily Action >>

When you make something a ritual and it becomes a sacred part of your every day medicine. This is my own 15 minute ritual to enact compassion + bring my love into action.

1. Spend Five minutes catching up on the headlines.

There is a fresh batch of overwhelm every day, but staying aware of what is going on is important. Don’t dwell, but stay informed with at least five minutes catching up with a reputable news source.

2. Make Five phone calls to your representatives

Calling is the most powerful way to make your voice heard. I’m an introvert by nature and have always been shy of the phone (I remember having a near-panic attack every time I had to call a friend for a play date when I was little) but when I came to the realization that it is my representative’s job to represent me, and it is my job to tell them what I care about, so much of my anxiety shifted.

5 calls is an awesome website that makes calling super simple. I love it. And if my socially-anxious self ever needs any extra support I always feel soothed by this great cartoon.

3. Take Five minutes to breathe + anchor the light

Your dreams, your envisioning is important. And so is the strength of staying in your light. Take five minutes after your calls to simply breathe and reconnect to your source. Envision the best possible scenario and imagine sending light to everyone who is in need of loving support, beginning with your own self.

Pine + The Dreamtime

Every year is a cycle of living and dying, and every transition is medicine. In winter we approach that beauty of endings. As the cold pushes life back to the roots, the land enters a kind of dreamscape. A stretch of consciousness that carries us into death, and then beyond. (And could this year’s winter be any deeper of an initiation into that death journey?)

The sheer depth and length of darkness in winter’s tilt creates a perfect cocoon for a season of dreaming. With only the faint milk of a winter’s day and a preciously guarded stockpile of wood, many traditional people spent much of the wintertime in intermittent sleep. With the hours of darkness dominating the luxury of light, winter was a time to explore one’s dreams. It was a season of recognizing what continues to exist despite the waning of all outward life. Just as dreaming helps us explore what lies outside the boundaries of our day-to-day existence, winter takes us on a journey to see what lies beyond the door of death. Even as our eyes perceive the fading of the aboveground world, streams still continue to flow, owls swoop quietly from bare branches, and evergreens remind us that the realm beyond death is flecked with ever-present life.

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In many cultures, winter is considered the realm of the ancestors and the shaman alike, those who are the keepers of this beyond-death realm. With the hold of the physical world loosening its grip, it was a time of inward journeying. An exploration of pure being, without the fetters of such a physically oriented routine.

In sleep science there is a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping called hypnagogia. Termed a “threshold consciousness,” in hypnagogia our mind dwells in a borderland, not fully in waking alertness and yet not entirely in the amnesia of sleep. We rest, instead, between the worlds. During the long hours of the night, with few distractions to keep us occupied, people would traditionally slip in and out of sleep for many hours. With darkness quilted around you, there is little distinction between the mystery of dreams and the mystery of night.

When we allow ourselves to rest in this in-between state of hypnagogia we interact with our own inner muse. According to some researchers, this hypnagogic state is some of the most fertile time for creation within our brains. A time for connecting to new thoughts, inventions, feelings, and directions in our lives. This winter, allow yourself long hours to simply lay in the darkness, rest by candlelight in the minutes before bed, or allow yourself slowness upon waking in the morning. Let yourself slip in and out of deeper states of consciousness, and see what harvests lie there.

In many ways sleep itself is a small death, as our consciousness escapes from the confines of daily life. So, too, is wintertime. When we engage with our roles as sleepwalkers in the dream state of wintertime, we can more fully enter the hypnagogic mind. Hypnagogia is a literal brain wave state, one that allows us to slip into deep stretches of meditation, inward exploration, and richly embroidered dreams. In wintertime we realize that we are, in truth, the dreamers of our own life. That we have the ability to create our own lives. In winter, we can dream our lives anew. To figure out, as Mary Oliver so eloquently posits, just what we would like to do with our “one wild and precious life.”

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>> Pine (Pinus spp.) <<

Evergreens have been a symbol of sacred continuance as long as people have been living in the deciduous world. Emblems of eternal vitality and the possibility of life beyond death, evergreens like Pine show us that there is a flicker of consciousness that continues on even after the wide scale sleep of aboveground life. Evergreens are the master of sustaining. They remind us that we can live through anything, even death. Traditionally all evergreens were revered, but none so legendarily as the Pine.

Pine is a deeply versatile and abundant medicine. There are varieties of Pine in almost every corner of our world. The best way to begin to ID your local Pine is to count how many needles grow in a bundle. Here in our Western Appalachian forests we are dominated by Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus), but you may be graced with Ponderosa (Pinus ponderosa), Jeffrey Pine (Pinus jeffreyi) or Red Pine (Pinus resinosa). Our Eastern White Pine has five needles per fascicle (or bundle), but others will have a different count. This winter, treat yourself to a botany date with a tree ID book and introduce yourself to your neighborhood Pine variety.

Pine was an important medicine and resource for the people of this continent for as long as memory can reach. Traditionally the bark and sap was utilized as an important anodyne (pain reliever) and antiseptic. It was also a prized medicine for disinfecting wounds and staving off wintertime colds and flus. Boiled in a decoction, Pine bark was a foundational remedy for cold weather aches and rheumatism, as well as dispelling coughs and lung troubles.

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Bright Pine needle tea is one of my wintertime treats. As an excellent source of vitamin C, Pine is an indispensable beverage for those who have little greenery to eat throughout the cold months. In the early days of the colonies, Indigenous peoples showed European settlers how to avoid scurvy by drinking an infusion of the needles throughout the long winter season. Just make sure to brew your batch of Pine tea with branches straight from the tree, as the vitamin C is best preserved in fresh needles.

Traditionally, every part of the Pine was used as a means of survival. When collected and distilled, Pine’s sap lends its volatile oils to create turpentine, an important solvent and cleaner in the early American colonies. Its rosin, the sticky byproduct of distillation, was often used in waterproof glues, sealing waxes, and to grip the strings of bowed instruments like fiddles to make them sing. Today, we can interact with this aspect of Pine’s medicine by collecting previously fallen sap droplets (a reminder that wounds are often our greatest source of medicine) and melt these antimicrobial gems over low heat on the woodstove or in a double burner to combine with salves or apply directly to the skin to heal fungal infections, burns and abrasions. Pine wood itself burns fast and bright. It is a choice log to begin any fire and often the first tinder to be thrown over the coals to get the hearth flaming anew.

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Once upon a time there was a forest of Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris) that ran the entire length of the south, 140,000 square miles, from Virginia to the edge of Texas. Over harvested to create pitch and to carve the masts for navy ships, today there are only a few patches of these mighty Pines left. But organizations like the Long Leaf Alliance are continuing to bear the torch of this majestic species, replanting forests and embodying the very essence of Pine itself. Life continues and regeneration is always possible, even in the face of seeming extinction.

As a living embodiment of everlasting life throughout the wintertime months, I like to spend time sitting and meditating with Pine to connect into the aspects of my own consciousness that continue on past the borderland of death. For centuries, Pine has been a gateway into the realm of the eternal, that dreamspace where all things continue and are created anew. This winter, try brewing yourself a cup of Pine needle tea before bedtime and see what dreams may come.

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>> Pine Needle Tea <<

1 handful of fresh Pine needles (chopped)

1 quart H2O

Put your chopped needles into a large mason jar or French press. Bring your water to a boil and pour over the herb. Let steep (covered) for 20 minutes.

Press (or strain) and sip to revive and stay resilient throughout the long winter months!

 

// post originally published in Plant Healer Magazine, Winter 2016 //

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Bringing Giants to their Knees

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There are two kinds of growth. Either we grow so slowly we are like mountains gaining a centimeter a year, or we grow as fast as kudzu covering an entire valley in one summer. No matter which path we take, however, growth happens. It cannot be stopped. Like the roots of a tree breaking through city concrete, the burgeoning of what the earth deems as good is unstoppable. Diversity, intricacy, the flourishing of all of life.  There are two ways to grow, quickly and incrementally. And we, as a country, have decided to grow at the most rapid gait.

When growth looks like death it is then that we know— we have chosen the most accelerated of paces. Death, darkness, the shadow are all precursors to the most transformative swing of change. They show us what needs to be stripped away, what has reached its expiration date.

As a populace we have elected a man who is a helpful emblem of everything that is not working, everything that must be dropped from this earth. The narcissism of a culture that cannot see beyond the welfare of the few, ego that hides deep wounds. Hierarchy, division, disregard for the unbelievable gift of simply being on this earth. On a subconscious level, it is always our brave choice to face the shadow that initiates us into a space of darkness in our lives. And as a country we have elected to do this heavy work, and embrace the rapid evolution that exists just on the other side.

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I have been steeping myself in much commentary about this upcoming inauguration, this dark death and large growth. And from so many big-hearted, strong-hearted, bright-hearted authors I am hearing the same word— resist.

Resistance, of course, has its place. It is powerful to put up boundaries, to say no, to decide to actively block an energy that has hurt you or others you love. It is an important place to start, to go from passivity to resistance. And yet… hearing this word something inside of me shrinks. And when I explore this feeling of inner smallness, I always come back to the same truth– that resistance, at its heart, restricts. In resistance, our energy is defined by what it is we oppose, instead of what we promote; what we negate rather than what we affirm. It narrows the range of energy that we operate within, and it is often as effective as trying to beat back Kudzu in mid-summer. Resistance is an initiating tool, one that can help us begin to redirect our energy flow, but we were never meant to dwell in this place. It simply isn’t potent enough. Instead, it is time to learn how to use the power of what is. Like harvesting Kudzu roots to make baskets and brew tea, or feeding our animals on its abundant acreage of leaves. What if, instead of resisting the encroachment of destruction, we started harnessing the power it brings?

The earth does not spend time resisting. Not because our planet does not acutely feel the damage of pollution, deforestation or development, but because it is far more powerful to just keep dreaming a bigger dream. The earth does not define herself by our waywardness, but by an energy of growth and goodness that expands far beyond our concepts of right and wrong. The earth is aligned with the Dao that runs through all things. And as compassionate, caring, and powerful earth-tenders, we can connect into this eternal spring of strength by finding our Wu Wei.

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A guiding principle in martial arts disciplines such as Tai Chi, Wu Wei is a state of being in which you are so fully immersed in the Dao, the natural way of things, that resistance drops away and all actions become effortless. In Wu Wei, you merge so completely with the innate river of energy, the creative soul that runs through all of life, that every movement is a manifestation of the greater movement, and so you are supported in every stance. To be in Wu Wei, you must first stop resisting the small currents, and start aligning yourself with the wider ocean of creation.

In martial arts we see Wu Wei in practice when a 100 lb woman is able to throw a 300 lb adversary off their feet. Instead of fending off the attack, the master of Wu Wei aligns herself with the energy of the moment and, with the flick of a finger, is able to redirect the incoming force, effectively undoing it with its own power. When we step into the flow of energy that is coming at us, instead of resisting it, we can bring even the greatest giant to his knees.

By connecting into the deeper sources of goodness, naturalness, and growth in this world we become unstoppable conduits for change. We bring ourselves into alignment with the wider dream of the earth, and her ability to fold all energies into the one truth– anything that is not a part of the flowering, is already part of the dying. And this cycle is what makes all growth possible.

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There is a lot of energy being inaugurated into our world at this moment. Use it. Instead of resisting it, harness that energy and actively begin to re-imagine. Start dreaming into another world, collect that energy to propel you into creation. Actualize a new reality by being your full self, by standing in your compassion. By making your art, and stirring your herbs, and by knowing that you are strong enough.

Because all this energy is arriving at your doorstep to feed you. And when you step into the Dao of growth, of regeneration and recovery, the force of the entire world will step right behind you.

Try Being Curious

The new year has dawned like a thaw. These first few days of the year have always felt like a special, liminal space to me. A crack in the long ice of winter, a small window to bask in the glow of self-reflection and nuturement. A kind of hot spring for the soul in the dead of winter.

In our culture, New Year’s is often a time when we make massive lists of scheduled self-improvements. Shoulds and wills and musts, the desire to shape our lives in a time of soft indefinition. Sometimes this can feel empowering. And sometimes it feels like donning a coat of stones.

So what if, instead of beginning this time with a new set of rules to hone the selves we know, we began with a fresh curiosity about our deeper unknowns? What if, instead of making decisions about who we are and what needs improving, we simply begin with a curiosity, a willingness to peer over the thaw edge and deep into the inner mystery?

 

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 There are endless fascinations in the world. The electric rainbow of the northern lights. Octopus ink. Orchids that stretch like long raindrops from the trees. But the densest and most fascinating mille feuille we will ever encounter is our own selves.

I recently ran across photographs of the massive waves that collect and swell at the heart of Lake Erie during the winter winds. They were stunning. We have this preconception of lakes as still and placid entities, but anyone who has ever lived beside a great lake knows— they are ever-changing, powerful and dynamic beings. There was something about seeing these photos that shook loose a swell inside of me. A kind of recognition. This is what it feels like to step off the shores of the known and go deep into the heart of my own being. I am that changing, tempestuous, mysterious and deep.

Because the truth is this: of all the endless depths in this world, the most surprising of all has often been my own self.

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 A friend once shared with me a mantra that, growing up, her Mom seemed to repeat to her almost daily. Whenever you are faced with mysteries, let downs and catastrophes, Try being curious. When life seems to fall apart at the seams, or you make a long life of New Year’s intentions and each one is like a skipping stone that misses the mark completely, instead of berating yourself or looping back into a familiar pattern of thinking, Try being curious.

Curiosity is at the center of all growth, all invention. It is that pure inquisitive wonder that causes photographers to paddle out in the middle of a massive lake just to know what waves look like in the winter. It is the drive to experience, unfettered by judgment or shoulds. The sheer desire to understand what is and, of course, what could be.

So this year, instead of setting specific intentions for shaping or dictating what comes next in my growth, here is what I’m placing at the center of my altar: Curiosity. Curiosity as to what kind of foods my body needs to feel healthy. Curiosity over why I might feel joyous in one moment, and crushed in another. Curiosity about the way things unfold in my life. Curiosity about why I desire the things I desire and why my heart asks me, over and over again, to swim into the unknown.

Each and every one of us is a lake unto ourselves. Complex, changing, part of everything, and yet self contained. And the journey of our lifetime is the one that begins when we step off the shores of the outer world and wander within. When we can meet the creatures that lurk in the deep and instead of turning away or paddling back, we embrace them and be transformed. Because you are not a lake that can be traversed in a leisurely day of kayaking. You are an inland ocean with its own deep mysteries and awe-inspiring waves. So be inside the country of your own self, and let curiosity move you as lusciously as the moon guides the waves.

And remember that the word ‘curious’ means both a marked desire to know, and an occurrence that is unusual or out of the ordinary. So as you cross into this new year be open to the unintelligible, the complex, the puzzling, the odd. Because each mystery you encounter is your sign that it is time to plunge even deeper.

Go bravely. Go curiously.

 

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The new year has dawned like a thaw. These first few days of the year have always felt like a special, liminal space to me. A crack in the long ice of winter, a small window to bask in the glow of self-reflection and nuturement. A kind of hot spring for the soul in the dead of winter.

In our culture, New Year’s is often a time when we make massive lists of scheduled self-improvements. Shoulds and wills and musts, the desire to shape our lives in a time of soft indefinition. Sometimes this can feel empowering. And sometimes it feels like donning a coat of stones.

So what if, instead of beginning this time with a new set of rules to hone the selves we know, we began with a fresh curiosity about our deeper unknowns? What if, instead of making decisions about who we are and what needs improving, we simply begin with a curiosity, a willingness to peer over the thaw edge and deep into the inner mystery?

Perfect snowflake

There are endless fascinations in the world. The electric rainbow of the northern lights. Octopus ink. Orchids that stretch like long raindrops from the trees. But the densest and most fascinating mille feuille we will ever encounter is our own selves.

I recently ran across photographs of the massive waves that collect and swell at the heart of Lake Erie during the winter winds. They were stunning. We have this preconception of lakes as still and placid entities, but anyone who has ever lived beside a great lake knows— they are ever-changing, powerful and dynamic beings. There was something about seeing these photos that shook loose a swell inside of me. A kind of recognition. This is what it feels like to step off the shores of the known and go deep into the heart of my own being. I am that changing, tempestuous, mysterious and deep.

Because the truth is this: of all the endless depths in this world, the most surprising of all has often been my own self.
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A friend once shared with me a mantra that, growing up, her Mom seemed to repeat to her almost daily. Whenever you are faced with mysteries, let downs and catastrophes, Try being curious. When life seems to fall apart at the seams, or you make a long life of New Year’s intentions and each one is like a skipping stone that misses the mark completely, instead of berating yourself or looping back into a familiar pattern of thinking, Try being curious.

Curiosity is at the center of all growth, all invention. It is that pure inquisitive wonder that causes photographers to paddle out in the middle of a massive lake just to know what waves look like in the winter. It is the drive to experience, unfettered by judgment or shoulds. The sheer desire to understand what is and, of course, what could be.

So this year, instead of setting specific intentions for shaping or dictating what comes next in my growth, here is what I’m placing at the center of my altar: Curiosity. Curiosity as to what kind of foods my body needs to feel healthy. Curiosity over why I might feel joyous in one moment, and crushed in another. Curiosity about the way things unfold in my life. Curiosity about why I desire the things I desire and why my heart asks me, over and over again, to swim into the unknown.

Each and every one of us is a lake unto ourselves. Complex, changing, part of everything, and yet self contained. And the journey of our lifetime is the one that begins when we step off the shores of the outer world and wander within. When we can meet the creatures that lurk in the deep and instead of turning away or paddling back, we embrace them and be transformed. Because you are not a lake that can be traversed in a leisurely day of kayaking. You are an inland ocean with its own deep mysteries and awe-inspiring waves. So be inside the country of your own self, and let curiosity move you as lusciously as the moon guides the waves.

And remember that the word ‘curious’ means both a marked desire to know, and an occurrence that is unusual or out of the ordinary. So as you cross into this new year be open to the unintelligible, the complex, the puzzling, the odd. Because each mystery you encounter is your sign that it is time to plunge even deeper.

Go bravely. Go curiously.

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Tending the Embers: Chaga + The Creative Spark

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In winter we stir the embers. A motion of both caretaking and stoking, a gentle coaxing and potent remembering of that which lights our fire. Every winter, as color fades from the outer world, we are invited to journey into the vibrant tableau of our deepest self. To rekindle our inner colors with a gentle dedication to feeding our own sources of warmth. This wintertime enliven your inner embers by simply nourishing yourself, deeply and daily. Take a long bath. Sip good broth. Wrap yourself in quilts and go to bed early. Tend your inner hearth by feeding yourself fuel that burns clean and easy. Good food, warm slippers, laughter. With a bed of good embers, even the soggiest logs can catch fire. In winter we realize that self-care is an act of preparation, a gentle gestation for transformation itself. To tend our embers is to lay the groundwork for bringing new flames to life. Even the smallest acts of self nourishment are like breath on the coals, bringing our inner hearths to active possibility once more. Any good fire begins with a well-tended coal. In order to realize our wildest dreams we must be expert caretakers of these innermost fires. This winter, embrace this lush opportunity to nourish the embers, and by doing so create a warm bed in which any vision can catch fire.

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Sometimes the easiest way to restart your fire is to reintroduce a creative spark. The cold months are deeply generous with the space given to creation. Traditionally, winter was a time for luxuriously slow and meditative tasks. Winding wool and knitting scarves. Carving spoons, dipping candles and hand penning letters. Winter was devoted to the kind of tinkering and creative rekindling that can only happen when ones sole employ is to keep the fire going and stay cozily indoors. This winter, allow yourself the gift of rediscovering an art, or idea, or creative pursuit that brings your own spark alive. What was it that excited you as a child? Poetry or painting? Studying sea creatures or playing make-believe? As the cold months clear the landscape of leaves, give yourself the imaginative space to rekindle your creative spark. Engage in the sheer joy of moving by the unhurried torch of curiosity and experimental living. Use your creativity like a flint box, bravely striking into new creative pursuits to light something anew. With a slow burning curiosity and a house cat’s dedication to comfort, let yourself absorb gradually, learn in-between hearty mouthfuls of hot soup and a long nights sleep. Accept the natural pardon given by a world gone cold to withdraw from the quickness of doing and rest by the warm woodstove of your innermost interests, those things that make you sigh and bring you alive.

There is an alchemical altar inside all of us that aches to be fed. In winter, we are invited to pay homage to the sanctity of self-nourishment and our individual creative sparks, to become devotees of our innermost glow. Winter is an invitation to rediscover our light, for when we give our inner selves the care and attention we need, that ever present altar can burn bright enough to throw light into even the darkest corners of our wintertime world.

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>> Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) <<

** Please note: Chaga is currently listed as an at-risk fungus and is being overharvested in many areas of the world. Please practice ethical wildcrafting and do your research when purchasing from outside sources. And remember, a little goes a long way**

A living embodiment of both the darkness and spark of wintertime, Chaga is a rich and mystical cold weather medicine. In natural hue, this medicinal fungus looks like a hearty slab of rough volcanic stone or a wet hewn chunk of wood. In our area, Chaga flourishes on Yellow Birches (Betula alleghaniensis) but in other northern corners of the world it can be found on White Birch (Betula papyrifera) and Gray Birch (Betula populifolia) as well.

Dense and woody, Chaga needs to be decocted to receive its full medicine, and so is best drunk in the long months of winter when the windows are happy to be fogged by the warm breath of the stove. Chaga is a rich addition to your daily routine of self-nourishment. In the winter I like to keep Chaga in a pot on the woodstove for days, or sometimes weeks, at a time. On first simmer, Chaga will turn your tea dark cacao colored, but you can use the same chunk in your decoction until the brew turns a light caramel.

Medicinally, Chaga is a deeply nourishing immune tonic. Antiviral, immune modulating, and adaptogenic, Chaga has been an indispensible wintertime decoction in the far northern climes of Russia for centuries. I often like to add Chaga to a wintertime adaptogenic tea with Reishi (Ganoderma tsugae, G. lucidum), Eleuthro (Eleutherococcus senticosus) and good handfuls of cardamom and cinnamon for taste. I sip a cup of the tea every morning and the fortifying nourishment of it seems to spread throughout every limb. Chaga tea is also rich in antioxidants and most excellently paired with bitter dark chocolate. Traditionally used in Russia for cancer, Chaga has been shown to have an antitumor effect in contemporary clinical trials.

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Often referred to as a mushroom, Chaga is actually an outgrowth of the mycelium of the fungus itself (mushrooms being the “fruiting body” of the mycelium). Mycelium, or the vegetative aspect of fungi, extends underneath the soil of our entire world. Indispensible and vast, mycelium is the unseen web upon which the entire living world is woven. Over time, this magical root-based system works to break down massive amounts of organic material, turning winters leaves into the fertile humus of a forest floor. Mycelium is so adept at breaking down organic compounds that many think these organisms might be the first to adapt to the new chemicals of our world, transmuting radiation and pollutants into something more benign. Mycelium is an undertaker of sorts, turning the opportunity of death into the rich possibility of rebirth. Mycelium also functions as a vast network of organic interconnection. Some scientists believe that trees and other plants are able, not only to communicate, but also send vital nutrients to each other through the infinite strings of this mysterious web. With each sip, Chaga invites us to step into the nourishing weave of interconnection, helping the entire complex system of our being to receive sustenance and opening up new threads of communication between all layers of our self.

Also called tinder fungus, Chaga is as an excellent ally for catching coals of fresh-drilled hand-fires and holding the spark for a miraculous amount of time. Used as tinder for eons, it was even found in the pouches of Otzi, the Copper age man who lived and died in the Alps around 3,300 BCE and was discovered in an ice flow 5,000 years later. A vital companion for sojourners who need to bring the spark of new life with them wherever they go, Chaga is an embodiment of tending our inner embers. This rich medicine reminds us that even in the bleak of winter we can strike new and nourishing sparks to flame, and that it all begins with the slowness of putting a pot of tea to boil.

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Chaga Maple Hot Cocoa

Recipe makes two mugs of hot cocoa

½ oz Chaga

1.5 cups water

2 tsp cocoa power

¼ – ½ tsp cinnamon (or to taste)

2 oz coconut milk

2 oz maple syrup

(Optional) Vanilla Extract

 

  1. Decoct Chaga. Combine Chaga with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and let churn for at least 20 minutes (or until your tea turns to the shade of dark wood). When your decoction is done, strain the tea into a separate container.
  2. Sir in cocoa + cinnamon powder until all lumps are dissolved
  3. Add Coconut milk and Maple syrup
  4. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and make a toast to mycelium!

 

Interested in up-leveling this recipe with stone medicine? Check out this post for to learn how Chaga + Hematite like to work together

 

// post originally published in Plant Healer Magazine, Winter 2016 //

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Journey to Santa

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Artwork – “Fly Agaric” by Amanda Clark 

This past week I had brunch with a dear friend. Over scones, she started talking about how difficult it is for her to get into the holiday spirit. As someone who grew up in a family that never celebrated this time, she shared that she is having trouble really feeling the magic. Now that she has young children of her own, however, who are independently jazzed about Christmas (and begging her to get on board), she asked me point blank “how do you get into the magic of the holidays?”

And my answer was — to become a child once more. In so many ways, our ability to feel that holiday cheer is directly tied into our inner resources of child-like wonderment. As children we believe anything is possible. The world of the invisible, the benevolent, the mystical that is just around the corner. It is flying up in the sky with a team of reindeer, lining our stockings with candy canes and leaving us notes of love next to cookie crumbs. As children it is easy to believe in magic. And, in turn, great magic comes about when we can be in such a state of belief!

So if you are having a hard time feeling the magic of the season, it may be time to reconnect with one of the most magical fixtures of our collective childhood imagination — Santa Claus! One of my favorite meditations this time of the year is to undertake a shamanic journey to meet Santa Claus, and the starry-eyed little girl who believed in him so strongly. When we have a hard time feeling the wonderment, sometimes all we need to do is reconnect with our inner child and her wild, imaginative, untethered connection to the magic of Mr (or Ms. Claus).

I love journeying this time of the year in particular because from reindeer to Fir trees, many of the symbols and icons we associate with Christmas celebrations are actually derived from the earliest Pagan traditions of the tribal peoples of per-Christian Europe. Our traditional Santa Clause, in fact, is an amalgamation of characteristics from the early European Shamans of the far North. With coats carefully stitched and tanned from reindeer hides, these ancient mystic, of the frozen north traveled easily between the between realms. From the tundra of snow to the star filled heavens, these profound mystics were accustomed to truly galactic sojourns.

To undertake this journey I suggest starting with this gateway: Imagine yourself in a gorgeous snowy landscape with a single reindeer (or a whole sleigh if that suits your fancy)! You will begin the journey by approaching the reindeer and asking for a ride and then, just let them whisk you away to Santa’s abode. Be open to how this spirit of the season (known as Santa) wants to appear to you and your childlike imagination. Santa might be a dryad, a Goddess, a stag, a pillar of light. However Santa appears to you, just ask him or her to help you reconnect to the deeply believing child inside of you… and open back up an understanding of what this season is truly about!

For me, every time I undertake this journey, I am shown just how precious this season of gratitude + light truly is— and what magic arises from giving in its purest forms.

Try it for yourself! If you’ve never done a Shamanic meditation before, check out my simple guide to journeying. And say hi to Santa for me…

Infusing Mysticism into the Holidays

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In between the hours of gift buying and cookie making there is a pause.

Can you feel it?

Between the time spent navigating family politics and trying to get the tree to stand straight in its stand there is a stream of quietude that runs just beneath the surface.

Can you hear it?

Across the world this time has been marked in sacred observance. With monoliths of stone and underground caves, geometric earthworks that all align to the same mystical compass — The Winter Solstice. For thousands of years people have built structures to memorialize the power of this event, the longest night of the year before the return of the light.

To this day we can still watch the dawn flood the underground chambers of Ireland’s Newgrange, the grass-topped temple built over 5,000 years in the past. Or witness the first rays of Solstice light run down the center of the Eqypt’s carefully calculated Temple of Karnak. The lightlines of the Winter’s Solstice still run throughout our lives, with its earth deep promise of rebirth and renewal.

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Winter Solstice at Stone Henge

Today, however, we are called to observe and invoke the stirring magic of this time in perhaps the most profound temple of all – our own selves.

It is easy to tap into the mysticism of this season when sitting in front of a candlelit cathedral or watching the stars wheel like a choir across a pristine sky. It is much harder to feel into the ancient magic of this time when we are in the full-on hustle that is the carpooling, present wrapping, event planning and people pleasing that seems to define our cultural celebration of the season.

The complexities of this time can feel scattering, but this is also their gift. For many of us there may be no central sanctuary (tradition, or church, or otherwise) in which we place our belief during the holiday time, and so we hear the call to become a temple unto ourself. A place in which light is anchored, tended, given as much celebration as the first ray of sun at the temple of Karnak. With each complex fractal of modern life the light becomes, not broken, but multifarious, proliferate. A flame scattered amongst many hearths. An ancient flicker of hope and renewal that we each tend in our turn.

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Solstice Sunrise at Newgrange

And so this video blog below is about tending that flicker, that inner light. Because no matter what tradition we come from, we can all tap into the magic of this time to re-infuse the holiday season with mysticism, meaning and life. Whether it’s with earth magic elixirs or rituals of reconnecting with the natural rhythms of light and dark— it is within our power to reignite our ancestral connection to this time.

Your Power Can Change Everything

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I remember the first time I heard the term “healing crisis.” I was in the depths of chronic pain, one of those crushing waves that comes after a period of breakthrough sunshine and the hope of light. And that phrase, that one phrase, kept my head still faced to the sky.

A healing crisis looks like sliding backwards. It looks like your worst fear realized. it is a return of every ghost you thought had been banished. A load too heavy too handle. But the gift, the unbelievable gift of a healing crisis, is what it signals—an end.

That last flash of pain, that last engulfment of fear, that final wave of panic is truly just the die off of what was. It is an echo. A clarion call that asks us to recommit, just one more time, “Are you serious about facing the darkness and coming into contact with the unbelievable power of your life?” And you say yes, I’m serious. I’m serious about my life.

So today, this week, in this time, we are saying yes. We are serious. We are serious about healing the darkness of racism, misogyny, bigotry and fear at the heart of our history. We are serious, and we are recommitting, right here and now. Because our country is in the midst of a profoundly healing crisis. And just as our own bodies send up flares of pain and sickness when an inner wound needs to be tended, so is the larger body of this common humanity speaking in tones we cannot ignore.

There is a sickness that is asking to be healed, and the only way to tend such a cavernous hurt is to go deep. To lean into it with love, and with our own incandescence and power. When I was experiencing chronic illness I remember how badly I wanted to simply push away the parts of my body that were in pain, push away from my own self. But one of the deepest gifts of chronic illness is the way in which it initiates us into our own power. Because the truth is, when we can face what hurts, head on, we bring ourselves to the most powerful place of all— right here, with all the gifts of our talents, intuition and determination.

 A few weeks ago, while preparing to launch my course Herbs for the Otherworld, I was ruminating on the experiences in my life that have brought me most deeply in contact with magic. Those profound moments that seemed to dislocate me from the limited perception of the day-to-day, and catapult me into a more ultimate reality. And it suddenly dawned on me, that the most powerful threshold experiences of my life have always been the most unlikely—  pain, hurt and loss. I remembered that, in devastation, when I’ve been torn from the outline of what I thought was life, I was always brought more fully into contact with the boundless possibility and magic of the Otherworld. And it is in these most difficult moments, when we can access a vision of Another world, that we can bring back lost bits of our own visionary power.

Here in Appalachia, the world is very literally on fire. The hills are burning because of a long and unseasonably scary drought. Forty thousand acres and counting. Smoke fills the air with fear, and there is a lit sorrow that is too great to put out. Our country is similarly ablaze, with a wildfire of hate crimes, of passionate protest, of panic.

And underneath the part of me that feels crushed, irrevocably crushed, by what is happening, there is another part of me that feels liberated by it all.

Because when your nightmare becomes a reality, there’s nothing left to be afraid of anymore.

Photo of the wildfire here in our mountains by Adam Clayton Banner

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And so it ends— the time in which we were scared of our own power. And so it begins— the time to wield that what moves through us to create real change. Because it is time to unleash the collective, mythological ethos of our inner dragons. It is time to recognize that true power never came from money, positions, and polls. True power comes from being connected to that which animates all of life, the sun source within, the divine. And make no mistake, real power is being called back into the world, and back into each one of us who aligns our heart with the shining heart of all of life. It is time to reclaim the rights of true power in this life.

And so it begins. With each of us saying yes to feeling the empowerment of being ourselves. To being potent. Being worthy. To recognizing the weight of our own magic, the profundity that spins out of aligning our consciousness with our actions. It comes from harnessing the power that moves through us, and seeing that all power leads us back to the same source. That true power is love, and it is unstoppable.

So make the decision to become charged by the same power that has surged beyond the sea walls of the sane, the same power that has torn down every lighthouse built along the shore. Because when we align our selves with true power, the power of our innermost hearts, the power of the living world, we are unstoppable as well.

So power up your magic dear ones, because we are being asked to channel in a torrent right now. A torrent of love. A torrent of solidarity. A wave that stays together and only grows stronger as it approaches the shore.

Because, though we may feel adrift, farther adrift than we’ve ever been, another world is truly possible. In fact, the other shore is right here. So as Clarissa Pinkola Estes says, set out your sails.

Remember to be radiant in what you know to be right. Love, togetherness, recognition of the sacred in every corner of this world.

Because your power can change everything. Your power can heal this earth.

Whether or not we realize it, we are all with her—our mother, the earth, and all that she dreams into being.

And she is with us.

And I’m with you.
And we are with one another.
And, truly, is there any greater power on earth?

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M E D I C I N E S    F O R     E M P O W E R M E N T

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Saint Joan’s Wort

(Also called St. John’s Wort || Hypericum perforatum)

Growing at the height of the summer Solstice, and speckled with deep glands of red that turn any elixir into a garnet ambrosia, St. Joan’s Wort is a powerful remedy for reclaiming personal strength and solar power. Often associated with the feminine empowerment of Joan of Arc in contemporary circles, traditionally this herb was used to ward off the evil eye. Saint Joan’s Wort can help us to invite the brilliant radiance of our inner light, and knowingness of what is right, releasing any attachments to that which stagnates our gifts and our growth.

I prefer to use Saint Joan’s Wort as a flower essence, or externally as an oil (as it has contraindications with many medications when used internally). I find it particularly powerful to rub the infused oil in my solar plexus and practice rolling my shoulders back to stand tall.

As both a protective talisman and herb of empowerment, this is a potent herbal ally to bring with you in the midst of mobilization.

Interested in ordering? Check out the medicines of my sister Amber over at Aquarian Dawn. She makes all her wildcrafted SJW oil by hand and is donating 10% of all proceeds this month to support the water protectors at Standing Rock.

Bloodstone

Bloodstone is a powerful ally for bringing your blood, the vigorous life-force of your own power, pumping back through your veins. An important remedy in Daoist stone medicine for releasing “frozen blood,” the traumas that live inside of us and have stagnated our life force. Bloodstone reinvigorates our inherent essence, lending courage in times of adversity and mobilizing us into movement. Nashia Ashian calls it the “stone of the spiritual warrior.” So bring it.

(Are you interested in learning more about the Chinese medicine concept of blood, trauma, and ghosts? Check out my most recent Youtube video)

Potent elixir: Put a piece of bloodstone in 4-8 oz of water overnight and drink first thing in the morning for two weeks.

Bloodroot gathering

Stand in solidarity

One of the easier ways to become empowered is simply to stand in your own power as an ally. No matter what the next four years actually looks like, the hate rhetoric spoken throughout this campaign has stirred up a hoard of bigotry and violence in our country. So stand in solidarity with those who will be made vulnerable by this administration, and use your power to protect All your Relatives.

1. Step in and deescalate a situation when you see hate crimes  + harassment

2. Donate to non-profits that protect the rights of women, people of color, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community. (Planned Parenthood, The ACLU, The Trevor Project etc..)

3. Join a movement and bring your heart to a local march, fundraiser event or peaceful protest. Check out  The Million Woman March happening across the country this January 21st.

4. Call your Elected Representatives and let them know your thoughts. This may feel a bit out of your comfort zone. If it does, know that I feel you. (I was literally terrified every time I had to pick up the phone to make a playdate growing up) but calling is so much more influential than just signing a petition or sending an email. I think we will all be asked to move out of our comfort zones in the coming times and it is a good thing because it is a sign of deep growth.

Walking with Ghosts

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Autumn has fallen here in the mountains. The trees are turning inwards, curling their leaves into colors of copper, ember and dusk. The canopies empty in a thick caramel of fire, and suddenly that which felt obscured or far away is close and able to be perceived.

There is a kind of haunting that comes with the arrival of autumn. Aches and old wounds, nostalgia, seeking, and the feeling of the veils between the seen and the unseen growing thin. It is no accident that Autumn is considered the season of the otherworld. A time of magicians, spirits, ancestors and ghosts. Most of us grew up hearing ghost stories, tales about past energies that linger on to wreck havoc in the living world. And if you were anything like me as a kid, then maybe these scary stories kept you up way past your bedtime. Unlike living people, ghosts do not play by the proper laws of living. Their presence cannot be prevented with locked doors, swords, or even the presence of a hero. Early on in life I learned that once a ghost appears in your life it cannot be ignored.

Little did I know the truth that every grown-person knows in their bones— that to be an adult is to walk with ghosts.

Several years ago I was introduced to the Daoist concept of ghosts and it was as if some keystone clicked into place, shifting the gears to provide entrance into a long locked tomb. It just made sense.

For the ancient Daoists, ghosts were anything that haunted you.

Past relationships, old traumas, hopes left behind, barbed nostalgia. Within Daoism everything on earth is considered to be animated by consciousness and energy. Unlike in Western culture where we consider the past to be history, in Daoism events and interactions carry their own energy, one that can attach to our own spirits, linger on.

Ghosts are created anytime there is a resistance to what is. When a trauma is too great to bear, when we cannot accept the hurts endured, when a word spoken was too painful to let in. For the Chinese medicine practitioners who work with releasing these energies the phrase “ghosts of the past” is literal. When something powerful gets to the core of our being— whether it be a belief system, relationship or ache— part of its power is left there. It changes us.

 

To be an adult is to have experienced your fair share of ghosts.

And even though we’ve all been indoctrinated with scary stories of ghouls and poltergeists, ghosts are truly just a natural part of being alive.

Ghosts are here for a reason. They remind us of the integration that still needs to occur and they give us a golden opportunity, to face those things that haunt us the most. To set them free. Because, in truth, all energy aches to be recycled, to move. And just as psychics will bridge the energy of a person left behind into the light, the ghosts of our own past want to be released from their duties of haunting and sent back home, back into the creative vortex of energy that they came from.

As autumn begins its extravagant display of copper and death, we are asked to do the good work of releasing and composting what has fulfilled its purpose in our lives.

So what are your ghosts? What events or people from the past do you still dream about? What memories would you rather avoid? What makes you feel listless, nostalgic, depressed? Because in autumn, even the oldest ghosts can be released.

 

 

Ghosts are a natural part of being alive, and so is the process of letting them go. As we tip headlong into this season of embered forests and wood-stove glows we are also blessed with a cabinet full of medicines that can help aid us in our journey of releasing.

Check out the video below to learn about the medicines that can help us do the work that autumn so empowers us to invoke. To release, to compost and, finally, to let go. Because dying can be exquisite, and every bit as freeing as being born.

 

 

p.s. Are you intrigued by these energies of the Otherworld and the practice of releasing ghosts? Come listen in on a brand new online class, Herbs for the Otherworld. Learn the contours of the Otherworld in this online course. Explore the plants + fungi that can help you to open the portals to this realm of mysticism and experience a meditation to bring you over the threshold.