The Spiral Path Of Plant Medicine, by Vanessa Chakour
Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.
~ Mary Oliver
The first step on the journey of healing is listening. We take a deep breath and notice where we are. There’s no need to fix anything or figure anything out. Not yet. We simply drop into the body and listen. When we engage deep listening, we hear when our body is whispering to us, instead of ignoring her until symptoms are screaming. This can be quite uncomfortable if we haven’t connected for a while, but it’s essential to begin this journey with embodied awareness. When we learn to stop, attune to our inner sounds and sensations, we start to hear, and eventually trust our innate wisdom. Paying attention is an act of love.
Healing isn’t linear as many of us are led to believe. Just as plants grow in spirals, we heal that way to. When we go inward to uncover the root cause of a mental, physical or emotional challenge and release it, we create space within and expand without. Eventually, we grow stronger and are ready to dive inward again… deeper this time, as we expand further. This journey of depth and expansion goes on and on. Along the way, we create a greater capacity for joy and are healthier for confronting our challenges. For, it’s only one experiencing the sleepless night, the excruciating period or loss of love that has answers required to heal the whole self. It can be uncomfortable, but in my experience it’s the only way to expand, grow and heal. Though our work is never done, it gets easier, and we grow stronger if we listen.
Plant Walk in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. Photo by Shay Harrington
Our bodies communicate through sensation. When we’re heartbroken, we feel pain in our chest and may find it hard to breathe. When we’re stressed, adrenaline is released and we’re ready to run. When we’re obsessing about something we ‘should have done differently’ our muscles and jaw tense up, and if we’re unable to let the thoughts go, our tension can take on a life of its own. Every experience affects our body, mind and spirit and yet, we often treat our body like a machine that’s separate from who we are. We might need to cry, create, get outside and run, find a solution to the stress that’s activating our adrenaline and interrupt obsessive thought through meditation, writing, drawing, healing ritual or the help of plants. In the practice of herbalism, we’re asking for help from nature and there is no better place to begin than in the wild.
So, what is wild? Wild is our true nature freed from the bounds of social conditioning and perceived limitations. Wild is our authentic, natural self. Weeds are the epitome of wild nature. They’re strong, resilient and can’t be controlled. They live with us in rural and urban areas alike, bursting through cracks in concrete and bringing beauty, color and character to otherwise boring lawn. Weeds and wild plants like mugwort, burdock, dandelion, hawthorn and nettles are some of the most powerful guides to our true and wild selves. Conscious work with these healers can awaken our innate connection to the earth. When we deepen our relationship with the land where we live, it’s incredibly empowering. These wild guides connect us to the life force energy of earth that is some of the deepest healing we can find.
The practice of herbalism is a practice of building relationship. The plants that help us heal become friends that know us on the deepest level. There is no need for surface level conversation, they know our bodies, our quirks, where they need to go and what they need to do. When we see them on the city streets, in a field, or on our front lawn, we feel a sense of gratitude and connection. This helps us connect and communicate with the sentience and power of Earth. Intimacy with plants becomes intimacy with ourselves, as we practice deep listening and work with plants found in our immediate environment, we build relationship with the land where we live. We care for ourselves and our environment simultaneously. This is healing. This is regenerative living.
Herbalism class at Sawmill Herb Farm
There are many ways to work with just one plant. The first, is to spend time with the plant in the wild. If your chosen medicine is a tree, you can sit with that tree in all seasons and witness the transformation. If your ally is tiny, tenacious groundcover like chickweed, you can notice something new every day. Get a magnifying glass, look closely. How beautiful the flowers are. Nature begins to reveal her magic to those that stop, listen and pay attention. You can meditate with mugwort or any other plant or tree you chose to work with and notice who pollinates the plant, eats the plant or lives in the tree. Does your ally offer medicine to others in the wild? Does he or she have a symbiotic relationship with fungi or seem to grow alongside the same friends everywhere they go? As we pay attention, we begin lifting the veil between ourselves and the natural world. Then, when we bring the medicine home or eventually into our bodies, we are being helped and supported by a trusted friend. This, to me, is the true magic of plant medicine.
Woodland Plant Walk. Photo by Justin Borucki
Every single one of our ancestors practiced an earth based tradition at some point. I’ve been researching my Scottish, Celtic, Russian and Jewish ancestry and piecing practices together through teachers, folklore, connection with the plants they used, and land itself. As someone who lives in America, on Lenape land, I’ve also found it important to honor and learn from the stories and wisdom of people native to this landscape. This is not to romanticize or go backwards, but the reverence that indigenous people share is something we’re missing today: the understanding that we are nature. The disconnect and dissociation has allowed us to mindlessly consume things that are harming our home. If develop an emotional connection to the land and live with reverence, it is much harder to turn away. We take care of who and what we love. Experiencing interconnection and relationship creates eco-defenders and sacred warriors; so necessary at this time. The faster understand that we are nature and not separate from all of life, the better off we all are.
As a holistic herbalist, I’m always interested in the root causes of imbalance. A relationship with your body is where you must begin, for it is through this incredible vessel that we perceive and experience life. Where and when did symptoms start to occur? What are they communicating to you? We often have to travel deep to within for answers, and even beyond our own lifetimes to find the keys to our conditioning. Finding the answers usually starts with asking the right questions.
PRACTICES TO ENGAGE
Find time to check in with yourself each day and become acquianted with your internal and external landscape. Begin to look at the land and trees around you as though for the first time. Do the same thing with your body. You may want to get an anatomy coloring book and learn about the inner rivers, streams and functions of your incredible inner ecosystem. That knowledge is power. It’s the start to deepening relationship with yourself and the living earth.