Summer is the domain of the manifold. In spring, I find I can delight in every flower, the succession of blooms feels manageable, comfortable, familiar. But by midsummer in Appalachia, the flowering is so fierce, so frequent and so diverse, I simply have to throw up my hands. I will never be able to count, capture or see it all.
In summer the diversity of life simply explodes. Fed by long hours of sunlight and lush rainfall, the earth cloaks itself like mica in layer upon layer of growth. In most of the deciduous world summer is when ecological communities hit their peak population. Archeologists have shown that, in many parts of the world, human diets consisted of several hundred different plant species! In summertime, such diversity seems easy. We could wander the woods and fields and dine upon a seemingly infinite array of leaves, roots and vines.
The manifold aspect of summertime is what gives this season such spice, vigor and possibility. It is also what makes it so overwhelming at times! If you’ve ever tended a garden then you know that the most backbreaking work comes in spring and fall, but summer requires an ever-constant attention to detail. If I even miss a week of weeding, pruning or watering, the long arms of honeysuckle will have crept back into my garden, the thorns of blackberry begin to sprout beneath the surface of the soil, and the basil sneaks into flower. In summer we are asked to manage a million tiny details— seeds, fruits, flowers, waist high grass and vines. Barbeques, potlucks, river swims, play dates, road trips and making batch after batch of pesto. Like a diamond with a million facets, summer is a precious, but inherently scattering gift
Medicine works in two ways. It is both something that heals, and something that precipitates a situation in which we have no other choice but to seek healing! The manifold nature of summertime does both. It empowers and enlivens and opens possibilities. And it also drives us crazy! The most effective way to engage with the hair-rising medicine of this multitudinous season, however, is to work with the allies that truly nourish our own ever-expanding selves.
>> Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum) <<
In the realm of the multitudinous, the complex and the mysterious manifold, Tulsi (or Holy Basil) reigns queen. A sacred herb of the Ayurvedic traditions, tulsi has one of the longest lists of herbal actions I’ve ever seen. It embodies so many different medicinal properties, it is considered a virtual panacea in some traditions. And as such, tulsi is a brilliant ally for helping us to integrate complexity within our own systems, expanding out into the possibility of our own manifold selves.
There are many different species and cultivars of basil in the world, and each one has its own distinctive taste, aroma and medicinal profile. Many people forget that our most basic culinary herbs are also medicines, and basil is no different. Ocimum basilicum, or what we would consider true basil, has been used since the time of ancient Egypt as an enlivening stimulant and antimicrobial. We tend to disregard such culinary herbs, but their power is so mighty they have become foundational. Different species of basil flourish throughout the temperate world, but one species from India has become the golden standard of medicinal basil— Tulsi.
It’s hard to know where to begin with tulsi, like standing in the midst of a garden grown wild with abundance. But perhaps the best place to start is in the realm of history and lore. In traditional Indian society, tulsi is revered as a holy plant – everything from the pot the plant is nestled in, to the water given to nourish its roots, is considered sacred. Tulsi is so esteemed is has come to be considered the avatar of the goddess Lakshmi and its name, which comes from the Sanskrit Tulasi, means “the incomparable one.” Tulsi has been in cultivation for over 3,000 years. Considered a rasayanic herb, Tulsi is thought to balance all the chakras (talk about balancing the multitudes), harmonize all three doshas (Vata, Pitta and Kapha), and invoke higher feelings of compassion and love. Many Indian households plant tulsi right outside their door and I’ve heard of several Indian families in American who keep tulsi growing in pots inside their homes all season long. There are five common cultivars of Tulsi – Rama, Kapoor, Krishna, Vana and Amirta. Each one has a slightly different herbal profile, but all four are often used interchangeably for their medicine.
Flourishing as a perennial shrub in India, in the temperate world tulsi grows as a vigorous and self-seeding annual. I’ve known tulsi to spread itself far and wide in my garden, cropping up in flower pots and fire pits across the yard. Its multitudinous and spreading nature is a deeply indicative doctrine of signatures— in terms of medicine, it seems tulsi does it all.
To give an abbreviated list… tulsi is adaptogenic, antiseptic, anti-oxidant, anti-microbial (including anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-protozoal, anti-malarial, anthelmintic), anti-depressant, anxiolytic, carminative, diuretic, expectorant, galactagogue, immunomodulating, anti-inflammatory, hypotensive, anti-diabetic, anti-mutagenic, hypoglycemic, hypo-cholesteroemic, hepato-protective, neuro-protective, cardio-protective, anti-allergic, anti-catarrhal and radio protective (are you out of breath yet?)
So what does this all means? It means that Tulsi can help treat both depression and anxiety. It is a wonderfully enlivening remedy for the memory and mind and one of my go-to medicines for increasing concentration, studying, and helping to focus and hone my thoughts. It is helpful for the sniffles, as it is both antibacterial and antiviral (common colds are caused by a viral infection) and can be effective in addressing hay fever and allergic asthma as well. Tulsi is also considered an immunomodulator, meaning that while it has strong antibiotic effects, its overall influence is one of helping our immune system to find its perfect balance, a quality that is particularly important for those who have autoimmune conditions or hypersensitive systems. Tulsi is considered an anti-catarrhal, meaning it helps to ease coughing and has traditionally been employed to expel excess mucus in the lungs. It is a wonderfully soothing remedy for the digestion as well and can help relieve gas, indigestion, heartburn and bloating. In clinical trials, Tulsi has been shown to lower cholesterol, blood sugar levels and even help prevent the mutation of cells. This zesty basil is also a powerful nervine. I almost always carry a bottle with me whenever I travel for stress, anxiety and scattering overwhelm.
A student once asked me if I could take any herb with me to a desert island, what would it be? And the answer was easy – Tulsi! Very few herbs can boast such a long list of actions, and even fewer can claim such efficacy along with such divine tastiness and profuse growth. Tulsi truly grows like a weed, which means that I can drink fresh tulsi tea all summer long, and dry enough from just a few plants to keep myself nourished throughout the winter. Grown in the garden you can cut tulsi back two, three, sometimes four times a season, for ample yields.
Tulsi is a tonic is the truest sense of the word. It is most effective when taken over a period of time and can work wonders for your long term health when imbibed regularly. Truth be told, tulsi is the only herb I take every single day and since I’ve became a tulsi convert I rarely ever catch colds. I find my baseline level of stress has plummeted and I can start each day with a distinctive clarity of mind (a much more even-keeled and peaceful kind of focus than what I experienced when I was an intravenous coffee addict).
As such a multifarious medicine, tulsi is a powerful energetic companion for helping us to expand. When faced with such natural bounty and manifold, there is a natural tendency to get stressed and overwhelmed. Tulsi helps us to see that such complexity and bigness is an invitation to expand. The manifold of our surroundings can become manageable, encouraging and inspiring, when we can recognize and be in a serene state of communion with our own manifold selves. A shining plant of such a vibrant and peaceful nature, Tulsi asks us to embrace the bigness, the diversity, the raucous growth of our own beings. To let summertime light a million candles in the temple of our being and invite a divine litany of life.
M A N I F O L D B A S I L P E S T O
One of my favorites ways to enjoy tulsi is in combination with Genovese or sweet basil in a pesto! You can also feel free to add other types of basil, such as lime or thai, and make it a true bowl of diversity. Have fun and remember to enjoy it all.
- 1 packed cup Genovese basil (Ocimum basilicum) or other basil of choice
- 1 packed cup holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum)
- 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts
- 1-2 medium cloves of garlic
- Salt + pepper to taste
- Nutritional yeast or parmesan cheese to taste
Yields: 1 cup of pesto
1. Roughly chop basil.
2. Add olive oil, basil and nuts into a blender or food processor. Blend until somewhat smooth and add nuts (reserve some for garnish). Blend until nice and chunky or smooth as butter, whatever suits your fancy.
3. Once you reach desired consistently add in the nutritional yeast (or parmesan) and salt and pepper. Blend to combine.
4. Garnish with nuts and wee basil flower and serve with as many different, diverse and divine dishes as you like!
Article originally published in Plant Healer Magazine
Like an anxious spike high on the thermometer, a hot summer day can hold a whole lot. The heaviness of the past, the humidity of future-tripping, the density of a too-tightly-packed schedule. It’s life, intensified, with everything being experienced at once. Like the sound of the cicadas rolled into one giant buzz or the morning glory vines inching back into your freshly weeded garden, the tangle and overwhelm of summer is real on almost every level.
Continue reading “Thunderstorm Medicine”
Last week I took a legitimate vacation. An honest to goodness, leave-the-computer-at-home and pack a sun hat, vacation. Those just don’t happen all that often for me, I can probably count on one hand the amount of real vacations I’ve taken in the past decade. But something inside was tugging like a sailboat in wind to be cut free so I loaded up my pack basket with my camping gear, weighed my car down with snacks, and headed to the wilds of Florida for a week.
I’ve been in a love affair with Florida for years. An entanglement that never fails to set my heart aching whenever I think upon that pastel stretch of earth whose very name, the land of flowers, is a droplet of poetry. Florida, wild Florida, is a dreamscape in hues of tropic— hibiscus, emerald and aquamarine. There are roadside thickets full of tangerines and crystal clear springs so deep, blue and clean that they’ve been likened to the eye of an angel. Upwellings of water straight from the heart of the earth that form entire rivers, clear as glass and warmed to a perpetual 72 degrees.
Florida itself is something small, and infinitesimally bright. A disappearing peninsula gifted from the sea, submerged, revealed, shaped and changed countless times over the eons by the touch of ocean waves. What we know of as Florida is just a tiny flicker in the monument of time. A coastline that will always return, sooner or later, to the sea. It is a place of microhabitats, hammocks filled with dwarf-sized trees, middens made from shell fragments, and springs that glitter in the shards of a thousand crystals.
I went to Florida to remember, in blessed relief, what I truly am – something small and infinitesimally bright. And it was a kind of bliss. To strip down my thoughts to simple, light-filled things. Like how far I wanted to paddle for the day or when to feed the fire with palmetto fronds. Noticing how much closer to the horizon the north star is this far south, the tiny diamonds of the Pleiades. Small things, like the whole constellation of seeds in a single wild tangerine. Or the tiny bits of Spanish moss the cormorants carry, beak by beak, back to their collective rookeries.
I gathered seashells, one at a time, and at night I gazed up at the sky, remembering that there are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on all the beaches of this earth. Before sleep I found myself repeating, I am cozy inside this world. And every morning I woke up, clear as quartz.
When we become small, when we acknowledge that we always have been, a truly incredible thing begins to happen. We can allow ourselves to be cared for. We remember that to be on this earth is to live in a cradle of nourishment. And Florida, land of flowering abundance, is a place that shows you how very deeply we can be cared for when we cherish our minuteness.
The Calusa, the native people who built a complex and enduring civilization across Southwestern Florida, lived inside this knowing. The Calusa are unique among the large civilizations of native North and South America in that their vast society was never sustained by agriculture, but by the sheer bounty of the ocean. With nets and boats and vast estuaries, they lived solely off the shoals of the sea. The water teemed with such life there was no need to spend much time cultivating fields of sunflower, corn or squash. They ate heartily, with their hands, from what was offered. Which was, in short, everything.
It is a luxury that is hard to imagine these days, but it is also not a luxury at all. It is what it means to relish the seed of one’s being, to embrace one’s smallness in the wider orchard of this world.
Our perceived bigness in this time of human history is a burden that ripples out devastation in its wake. A cultural ethos of primacy and grandiosity that is a heavy weight indeed. So what a relief it was, for a week, to put aside being anything but tiny, being anything but me. To let go of the feeling like I must always be wide enough to hold all the responsibilities of the world. As if it were up to me to change the unchangeable, to shift the tides.
Like many indigenous peoples, the Calusa believed in reincarnation, but their hue of rebirth looks very different than what has become our common vision. For the Calusa, reincarnation began with being human. And instead of getting larger, wider, and more expansive with each go around, our selves, instead, got smaller. Once you shed the skein of being human you could become a jaguar, an alligator, a deer. From there you might pick through the marsh as a heron, run under the waves as a pinfish and finally, alight upon the world as a mosquito, the ever-present wetland companion that is known to those who live here as swamp angels. Until, one day, you became so small and so bright you simply disappeared into the vast light.
There is something so liberating about this to me. Instead of the pressure to become larger, what if we are actually here to get smaller?
This one idea has helped me so much upon my return. To let go of multitasking, the impetus to be always expanding my attention out to what will be, what might be, what I should make happen. Instead, since I’ve come back, I’ve let my attention be small and bright. Alighting only on the task at hand, moving like an egret, one foot at a time, through the pond of my day.
I let go of big ambitions, the need to be grandiose or successful or even seen. The endless scrolling and complexity. I let it be simple. I let it be… just me.
So if you are feeling overwhelmed, join me in this place of the small and bright. Give yourself permission to take on tiny tasks, one at a time. Go outside to feel the sun on your face and remember how deeply you are cared for.
It is a blessing to be a grain of sand with you here in this wide and wondrous world.
Belief in reincarnation was common throughout the ancient world. It is found in the oral tradition of many tribal societies, including the cultures of Siberia, Greece, the Celtic Druids as well as many peoples in Western Africa, North America and Australia. Reincarnation is a central tenant to many world religions including Hinduism, Jainisim, Buddhism, Taoism, ancient Kabbalistic Judaism, and certain sects of early Christianity. Take joy in exploring your multi-hued self!
Interested in going deeper? Check out light-hearted video guide to exploring the lake of time. Connect with the herbal realm to access other lifetimes + imaginative aspects of your inner self.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
<< 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.
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.
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.
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.”
>> 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.
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.
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.
>> 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 //
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.
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.
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.
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.
This post is a bit of a departure from my normal blog material (namely— nature, plants, poetry, ecology and metaphor), but with the coming march on Washington this weekend, and the potency of so many women standing in their power across the county— proclaiming, in hard set voices and many-faceted hearts, that we will not stand by and see any section of the population belittled — has me thinking of the old ways that are ready to die. The tired ways of seeing that are about to expire. It has set me thinking, most particularly, about a concept in our culture that is utterly, and completely, worn out.
The nice girl.
You know what I mean. You might even be one yourself.
>> Nice Girls <<
At some point growing up I internalized the idea of needing to be a “nice girl.” It was never something my parents proffered, it just seemed to permeate the very walls of our culture. From early on I recognized that life as a female (and an empath to boot) would be easier for me if I just became unreservedly nice.
Pleasant; agreeable; satisfactory. This is how the dictionary defines nice. And on a subconscious level this is how I fashioned myself to be in the world. I became someone who always put others needs first, defaulting to an attitude of cheerful mildness. Even as I empowered myself with education, knowledge, life experience, starting and rocking my own business, there was always the impetus to be a nice girl. Which meant, among other things, agreeing to situations that didn’t always feel comfortable or resonant. Saying yes when I wanted to say no. Going out of my way to make sure I didn’t step on any toes. Apologizing for things that I had no need to feel sorry for, like speaking my mind or just enjoying my life. Heck, I’ve lived (and ended, thank goodness) entire relationships that evolved simply because I couldn’t immediately say “no” to someone else’s interest. I had focused on wholly on tending to other people’s feelings I couldn’t even trust my own.
Sometimes, niceness takes you so far down the rabbit hole that you lose track of how to even understand what it is that you need on a deeper level. When we spend so much time securing other people’s comfort, we lose connection to our innate desires. I remember a partner who used to get deeply frustrated with me because, whenever he asked where I wanted to go to dinner or what movie I wanted to see, I never had an immediate answer. When posed with the question of what I wanted I consistently drew a blank. At the time this partner thought I was being purposely elusive, but the reality was that I actually had no idea what I wanted. I had spent so long being a nice girl in my relationship that I lost track of the woman who had forthright interests and desires.
In our country being a nice girl is such an ingrained expectation it is painful, and sometimes shocking, to realize that we’ve cultivated so much pleasantness that we’ve dulled our own power. But as daughters and descendants of what feminist historian Max Dashu lays out as over one thousand years of oppression, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that this is a defense mechanism a millennia in the making. For our mothers, our grandmothers, and the many women who came before us, being a nice girl didn’t just make the world more friendly, it literally kept you alive. For many women living in the world today this is still the case.
But becoming, and remaining a nice girl, is a kind of malnutrition to the soul of a woman. To remain a nice girl means just that. To remain, in the eyes of the world, a girl. And it is clear that the world, our aching world of imbalance, is starving for something different.
Woman on a Riverbank – Ferdinand Heilbuth
I remember being part of a panel once where every presenter was introduced with a short mention of their work, and the medicine of their character. I was one of the last speakers to be introduced by the older gentleman who ran the mic and the central tenant of his speech, offered to describe me and entire body of my work, was this: Asia is sweet. I stood on stage and felt as small, and hard, as a candy in someone else’s pocket.
When we devote ourselves to being nice girls we give up both agency and power. At its root, the very world “nice” is something that is defined by others. One does not declare oneself to be nice. Nice is a title that is bestowed upon you by those you have pleased, a reward for agreeability. Your skill at fulfilling this role is wholly judged, decided and anointed by others. As nice girls, we don’t have the power to decide whether or not we are good; this lies directly in the hands of those who judge us to be nice.
Looking around at the distorted media that surrounds us, a dimness that we swim in as if it were most natural of waters, I cannot help but have a righteous wave roll up to break in my heart. Is it time we reclaimed our own ability to self define. To take back our self representation. Time to flesh out the image of women everywhere and be shown in our fullness. It is time to let go of the mild poison that is nice.
Let’s endow ourselves, our daughters with a more empowering way of interacting with the world. Let’s bring wholeness back to our own souls, and balance to this earth.
Let us be kind.
>> Kind Women <<
Instead of teaching our children to be nice girls, what if we raised them to be kind women?
Women whose goodness depended not on how others saw them, but how they decided to carry themselves in the world?
Merriam Webster defines Kind as “wanting and liking to do good things and to bring happiness to others.” In short, kind is something we own. Something we enact, instead of something we fulfill. Kind is something we can decide about ourselves.
Kindness is benevolence. It is the grace of our care, a gift that we can decide to bestow. Nice is mild and forgettable. Kind is a power unto itself. Kindness is a bigness. In many cross-cultural myths, we hear of references to the ancient Goddesses as being kind (though, just as often, Goddesses chose to be deeply wild, sharp and severe). But we never hear of a Goddess being nice. Goddesses simply aren’t nice. Nice isn’t big enough for the vastness that is feminine energy, compassion, and care.
It is in our nature to be kind. Kindness is something we can give. Nice is something we must mold ourselves to be.
How many times have we reacted to injustice by being nice, agreeable, mild, when we could have been kind? It is kindness, not niceness, that truly makes difference in the world. How would this world change if we all were raised to be kind women? Nice girls are quiet when injustices happen, especially to their own selves. Kind women take into account what is best for everyone’s health, which means standing up to those that caused hurt and recognizing that calling people out on their shit, their shadow, is important for the healing of the whole word.
It reminds me of a time in my early twenties when I was at a hot tub party. A stranger, who several friends of mine had been chatting with, invited me to come sit next to him to be closer to the conversation. Once seated next to him, he surreptitiously stuck his hand down my bathing suit bottom. I was in shock. And my immediate reaction, what I felt was the safest reaction, was to be nice. To sit stunned for a moment, move away without comment, get out of the tub to gather my things, to tearfully find my friends and leave post haste.
To this day, I wonder… what would have happened if I had been kind? It would have been a kindness, to everyone involved, if I had spoken to the man’s transgression on the spot. Kinder if I had been able to look him in the eye and tell him that his actions were inappropriate and hurtful. Kinder if I had been able to face him, not as an oppressor to whom I needed to keep myself safe from by neutralizing the situation, but a seriously misguided person who perhaps doesn’t understand what it is to make a healthy connection. To look him in the eye and ask him why he thought it was okay to touch me without my consent. To explain how broken and powerless and triggered I felt. To leave space for him to confront his own demons.
Now that would have been kind.
Milla Prince of The Woman Who Married a Bear
The other night I had a dream. I was in a terrible knock-down drag out fight with my friend Claire, one of the absolute nicest women I’ve ever met. Claire, who unreservedly puts herself last, and is sweet to a fault, is about the last woman I ever expect to see in a fistfight. In reality this friend and I have never had a single argument (we are, after all, both very nice girls!) but in this dream we were terrible. Nasty, mean, angry without knowing why. In one big burst, we lit it all up. We literally tore each other apart in a storm that seemed to rip through our souls. Afterwards we lay on the floor in a haze, holding each other in gratitude and feeling lighter than ever before.
When I first woke up I was confused, why on earth would Claire and I want to destroy each other? And then I realized. We weren’t fighting with one another— we were, in the most direct way possible, destroying the nice girls that lived inside us.
And it was about time.
Sylvia Linsteadt of Wild Talewort
The feminine, the divine feminine, has been starved from our earth. Kindness, and truly bold-hearted compassion, is the food that will reawaken balance once more.
So next time you feel pressure to say yes when you want to say no. Next time your truth feels uncomfortable. Next time you feel subservient or small. Look in the mirror and tell yourself that you are a Kind Woman. See how quickly the Goddess inside of you is nourished, grows.
And next time your daughter does something sharp or misguided instead of saying “be nice” try, “be kind.” Because one day she will become a woman, and that kindness might just save the world.
Mother’s Love by Phoebe Wahl
(All the photos featured in this section of the piece are women I look up to as fiercely kind, and changing the world with their bigness. I highly recommend checking out their work)
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?
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.
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.