I realised I wanted to start interviewing people over a year ago. At first I thought 'I'll start a podcast!' and then realized I didn't have enough bandwidth to commit to it fully. But the idea of interviews stuck in my head. There are people out there who are doing amazing things: healing, creating, living amazing lives that are their own; following their curiosity and their passion no matter where it leads them. They follow something intangible inside themselves, and it shows in their work and how they interact with the world. These interviews don't contain 'productivity tips', nor do they serve as a road map for how to get 'there' (where is 'there' anyway?). Instead, I wanted to talk about something inspiring-- show that there are people out there who listen to themselves, follow their hearts, and more importantly, follow the magic :). Here's the first: Sophia Rose, a herbalist who I've met at various herb conferences over the years, and who, through her work, is connecting people to a deeper part of themselves, and living a life that is unapologetically her own.Read More
Self-care is supposed to be a way for people to step off the never-ending action of the work-work-work hamster wheel, because people were exhausting themselves trying to be as productive as possible. Over time, and not much time, we found a way to turn self care into something you can buy. We have images of self-care now:
Scenario 1: pretty person (almost always female-bodied, able-bodied, young and beautiful, because only these paragons of society deserve to be cared for, right?), lying in a bath surrounded by rose petals looking peaceful/ contented/ blissed out.
Scenario 2: Pretty person (we can recycle the model in image 1; nobody actually notices the person, because it’s a general assumption that it’s either someone like us or someone not like us) on top of a mountain taking a deep breath, lit from within, not a care in the world. Maybe a good-looking significant other and a dog who is well trained.
Scenario 3: Pretty person (as above) lying on massage table, hands kneading back, serene smile on face. Bliss.
It happens with nourishment too: We have gone from knowing what our bodies want, to looking to others to tell us what is good and healthy for us to eat. We have our idols: someone beautiful like Gwyneth Paltrow who glows from within because her diet is ‘clean’ as in devoid of impurities and SHE is clean and devoid of impurities. And that’s what nourishment is: something that we all strive for but can’t possibly afford or maintain because for goodness sake we all want to eat an entire bar of chocolate in one sitting on occasion.
(Scenario 4: A fridge full of fresh vegetables and a green juice and some obscure herbal powder that costs as much as a week’s food budget that is the answer to all of life and the time to prepare it all and the money to afford it all and nobody tugging at your pant leg telling you that they just threw up on the rug in the living room ten minutes before you have company coming and your hair is still wet and now there’s vomit on the carpet.)
And if self care and nourishment are things that we’re constantly striving to achieve, that means they’re out of our reach. We can touch them but not dive into them. Stare up at them, glowing on their pedestals. But that’s not for us. Or maybe it is for us, but we have to do it perfectly. How can that be healthy?
Can we, for a minute, strip all of that crap away? Strip away the image of what ‘nourishment’ is supposed to look like. Strip away what ‘rest’ is supposed to look like. Strip away ideas about ‘self-care’. Strip away the ideas about home made face masks and baths and massages and clean sheets and a perfect environment and hours of free time and peace and quiet and perfect hair.
When self-care becomes a commodity, it becomes something that we have ideals about, mental images for, and assumptions about who gets to have them. They become things we strive for, things we are worthy of or not worthy of, and most importantly, things that have external markers that we need to look to others to understand. To say that in a different way, when we have images of what self-care looks like, we stop trusting our own bodies to tell us what they need in order to be cared for, fed, nourished and loved.
And I think the most insidious thing about it is that this thing that’s supposed to restore us becomes something that instead burns energy and makes us feel exhausted while attempting to make it perfect.
To care is to feel concern for, interest in, liking for.
What does it mean to care for yourself? How many of us treat ourselves as people worth liking? Worth concern? I mean, getting into the real, gross, nitty gritty details, if we’re trying to care for ourselves but are on some level rejecting that nourishment, then how well is it going to work? It’s like trying to feed a child but the child is turning their head away at the last minute so the spoon hits their cheek. If we can’t be kind to ourselves then its very hard to recognize in the moment what it is that we truly need, and we can't get the nourishment we want, regardless of what that looks like.
It can be something as simple as leaving the dishes in the sink at night, but it can also be cleaning the dishes in the sink at night so that you have a clean slate for the next morning. It can be taking a long hot bath, or it can be falling into bed fully clothed and covered in dirt from the day. It’s not something that you can quantify or describe for anyone else, because at any given moment it will be different for any of us.
And if we don’t recognize in the moment what it is we truly need, then we’ll be splitting our attention— focusing on one thing while trying to do another, so that we’re not really getting the benefit of either. For example, if we’re taking some rest time but thinking about everything we should be doing at the same time, then we’re not really resting, but not really doing the things. Whereas if we can recognize in the moment what it is we truly need, we can make a better decision: do the stuff first then rest, or rest then do the stuff.
How many of us ignore our bodies’ requests for rest, sleep, time off, food, because we ‘shouldn’t’ want it? How many of us ignore our bodies because it doesn’t make sense to be tired or to feel affected by something? How many of us, when feeling tired, immediately dismiss it as silly and carry on? How can we know what we really want and what true caring for ourselves is if we don’t even listen? And why don’t we listen? Because we don’t want something to be true: we are hard on ourselves, needlessly. If someone you loved came to you and said ‘I’m so very tired but I don’t want to be tired’ would you tell them to suck it up and get back to work, or would you make them a nest on the couch and tell them to rest for a little bit? Why can't we do these things for ourselves too?
Care for yourself like you’d care for someone you adore. Stand up for yourself the same way; make space for your WANTS, not just your needs. That can look like rest but it can also mean a kick in the ass. It can mean clean your kitchen, or wash your hair, or get some work done. But it can also mean ignoring it all and going to sleep. This can’t be sold, really, because its nothing to do with the external stuff and everything to do with your connection to yourself and your ability to listen without judgement. Which gets us back to kindness: listening to yourself without judgement means that whatever you are, in that moment, is acceptable.
The other, beautiful side effect of this kindness is that, when you stop blocking yourself, you stop blocking the world too, and that makes it so much easier to let the world, other people and nourishment in.
Feel it inside yourself— those places where you’re holding on, blocking, stopping the world outside from touching you. Feel it and if you can, let it go for a second. Let the world in. Feel how when you let the world in, it starts to feed you on a fundamental level. And when the world starts to feed you, your body starts to feel nourished, and starts to heal itself. It’s such a beautiful thing, this place of rest. And its something that you can tap into, not just when you’re 'resting' but when you’re moving around, working, cooking, chasing the kids, driving across town. You can tap into this place and move through the world in a way that is sustaining you. All you need to do is let yourself soften a bit.
This is a variation of an exercise I learned from my friend Rachel, who's a brilliant somatic body worker*:
A recipe for self-kindness
Close your eyes and feel your body right now. Feel your breath coming into and out of your lungs. Feel the edges of your body and the places where your body meets the world around you. And now feel for a subtle pressure that you're holding, most likely in your shoulders, your chest. Feel for a tension where you're saying that you should be doing something else, better, faster stronger, more efficient. Feel those places where you’re holding on, blocking, stopping the world outside from touching you.
Focus on it for a minute-- feel how it's coming from within you, and creating a place inside yourself that's at conflict. Then, start to make it even stronger. Tense it more. Make the pressure greater. Do this until the pressure is so great it’s uncomfortable. And then, let it go.
Soften. Choose, for a minute, to be kind to yourself. Let the world in. Feel how when you let the world in, it starts to feed you on a fundamental level. And when the world starts to feed you, your body starts to feel nourished, and starts to heal itself. It’s such a beautiful thing, this place of rest. And its something that you can tap into, not just when you’re 'resting' but when you’re moving around, working, cooking, chasing the kids, driving across town. You can tap into this place and move through the world in a way that is sustaining you. All you need to do is let yourself soften a bit.
One of my favorite plants to work with to encourage this softening is rose. I’ve been rose-bathing a lot lately. And if you wanna play along, here's what you need:
A few cups of rose petals, a big pot of water. Boil the water, then remove from heat and drop in the rose petals, and cover the pot for 5-10 minutes. Strain into a bath, and add 2 cups of epsom salts and as 4 pumps of Rose + Sandalwood body oil. Soak as long as needed, then when you get out, slather body with more oil, and use Marble + Milkweed's rose, cardamom and sandalwood perfume. Repeat as needed.
*actually its more like somatic bodyworker-wizard who helps people change their patterns and their entire lives simply by touching the body and helping them drop old patterns that aren't working anymore, but that's a bit of a mouthful for one sentence :).
Of undisputed origin; genuine.
Origin: late Middle English: via Old French from late Latin authenticus, from Greek authentikos ‘principal, genuine.’
Buzz-words. Like ‘forage’ and ‘artisanal’, and all the other words that take over our collective consciousness with a meme-like speed, these words start out meaning something. Then, because of how quickly trends spread in our current electronic age, what starts as a well-meant thought spreads to the next person, and then the next, until it seems like everybody is using it, and then it no longer has the weight it used to. It hangs there like a dead word, an empty shell of a word, and the original meaning has beat a retreat for the hills. The word and its repetitive re-use loses its authenticity. In an ironic twist of fate, ‘authentic’ has started to become a buzz word itself: meme-fied and scattered around the internet with happy looking people flinging their arms out and quotes about how to ‘be authentic’, or to ‘find your authentic self’.
I thought nothing of it until a few months ago, when an article a friend wrote was plagiarised (almost word for word) on a herbal website. We had an in-depth discussion both about the plagiarism but also that ideas don’t really happen in a vacuum, and I got to thinking about what it is that differentiates between copied content and authentic content, when so many of us herbalists have such similar goals. And also, on a deeper level, what is it that makes a person, their work, and what they contribute to the world, authentic. In this essay, I’m attempting to take a closer look and explore what authenticity truly is, why this is important, and also how we can all work towards finding it in our own work.Read More
Surrender. Our bodies feel water and surrender to it in a way that is almost archetypal: that feeling of stepping into a body of water gets us all on a cellular level, as though the amoeba that are at our ancestral root are still somewhere in there wiggling with joy at returning to state of one-ness with everything. There’s something so immensely healing about water, and how we let go and allow the greater world around us in when we’re floating in it. But, this is not something that we often do willingly or naturally.
Most of the time in our lives, we push for things. We are in a hurry to get places, or to finish our to-do lists, and so we push ourselves forwards as quickly as possible, often with a running dialogue of everything we need to get done. There’s pressure there, and its immense, and it usually comes directly from us. What happens when we do this is that we extend outside ourselves: it’s a push forwards, a drive, an expansion.Read More
Water as an element:
Our planet is blue and that is evident mostly when you look at it from far away: the glow of the water that covers 3/4 of its surface shining out into space like a beacon. The clouds, comprised of that water’s vapour hovering above the surface as a harbinger of that which gives life, nourishment and sustenance to all of us here. It is the water here that makes this planet what it is, that allowed the first life, millions of years ago, to emerge from the waters an amoeba with feet, crawling to land and crying out its first breath. And so we do the same each time we are born, crawl to land and cry, removed from the water that sustained us. And throughout our lives, we are called back to the water in one way or another, be it the sea, the river, the lake, the snow.
It is water that represents us: not just our planet but our humanity, making up, as with the surface of the earth, 75% of our body’s mass. We are water, and we are the space between our cells, and yet for some reason, we forget this. It is the water in us that moves, constantly, ever changing yet always the same. Plasma, moved by external forces and pressure becomes interstitial fluid becomes lymph becomes plasma and all along the way it is the same substance underneath it all, despite the name change. Water in the world becomes vapour becomes cloud becomes rain or snow or sleet or hail and hammers its way back to earth, then moves, pushed by outside forces, moved by pressure, tumbling over itself to seek out its lowest point again, always seeking to settle, and yet never settling, because settling brings stagnation, and stagnation brings decay.Read More
Fire as an element:
A flash in the pan, a slow-burn, the thick slow crawl of lava as it crawls down a hillside. A meteor, a lightning strike, a raging churning forest fire. Fire as an element is ferocious in its display. Place matter in front of it and it’ll burn through it on principle, because it can, because that’s what it does, the very purpose of its existence is to consume. But what comes after that consumption? Volcanic ash is fertile ground, the scorched earth rich with ash and minerals. Forest fires leave room for plants to sprout; some plants can only sprout after the seeds have been burned.
Let it get out of control, however, and it is all-consuming its ferocity: a supernova, blasting through forests without a back-thought, blasting through homes and collected memories with the flick of a wrist. And let’s not forget about man-made fire: an abomination, really, in its ability to decimate, melt structures, leave a crater in the earth and our collective history. Our world’s collective shell-shock for the atrocities we can commit with fire rattles through us and serves as a warning: never again. Fire out of control is a horror because it doesn’t just destroy, it decimates. It melts skin from bone and building from foundation and is the alchemical force that renders substances unrecognisable from their original form: something we want in small quantities but on a massive scale is abhorrent.Read More
It’s an easy matter because the gravity of air is so small, but when the winds shift, they do so rapidly and without great thought or effort. It is this lightness that we love air for. Inhale deeply as a breeze carries upon it the smell of orange blossoms on a warm spring day. On that warm breeze comes good tidings, chattering of news, the rustling of grass, and it bolsters you with its good spirits. That breeze picks up, lifting your hair, and how can you not lift your arms up out to the sides and throw your head back with abandon. This is the universal pose of freedom, and it is the air that is in many ways the most free: while other elements have to fight gravity, inertia, lack of fuel, the air is unencumbered by the solidity that inhibits movement. The air can move as it pleases, when it pleases. Freedom.
The air brings good tidings, news from afar, storms, fog, dust clouds. Air is a ripple, a tinkle of laughter. The sound of the air is a great howl as it gusts down from the mountains kicking and uprooting everything in its path. And then it disperses, changes direction with the beat of a butterfly’s wing.
Capture it and it’ll go stale. Hold it in your hands and it will escape between your fingers. Air isn’t made to be held, but interacted with, played with, appreciated for its movement: tip your face to the sun and let it wash over you, breathe deep and let it dance through your body, watch the sunset and appreciate how it bends light to make burst into spectrum, but never try to hold it, for you cannot hold movement.Read More
Earth: the solid, the stable, the structured. In symbolism, it is represented by the number four, which incidentally is the number of the carbon atom which makes up everything in the organic world, and at its most condensed, the diamond which is the hardest thing there is. Earth incorporates both stone and soil, and on one side it is that which gives life to everything and on the other is it that which provides the structure for it all. Which is to say that earth, while often in the background, is very important indeed.
While air is quick, and fire is fierce and water is timeless, earth operates on a time scale that is is geological. Not measured in minutes or teaspoons or days or even years, the earth’s time is in aeons, and its voice is the slow rumble that growls from its big mouth reluctantly, deeply, at a frequency often too low to hear. To understand the earth you have to get down on your hands and knees or even your belly and really look at the details of things, of the lichen that grow on the surface of rocks, at the minute variations in soil colour as you climb in elevation, and the tiny individual pieces of sand that were once mountains and rocks and still contain the sleeping giants within each pearl. Speaking of pearls, the pearl itself is an earth-like protective shell built to protect the soft belly of the oyster from harm. The time scale and slow pace of the earth is sometimes unfathomable until you see the streaks of limestone along a mountainside and realise that was once the flat earth. To understand this however you have to stretch your timeline: To think of the rocks and soil as inanimate is to not get close enough to truly hear them and see what they are capable of: rocks speak in a language so low they are hard to hear unless you yourself slow down; soil gives birth to life in a pattern so slow that if you don’t slow down to observe it you’ll get frustrated. If you slow down enough to observe it, you’ll uncover a world within a world, layer upon layer of interesting thing that you might never discern if you just give it a quick glance and then walk away.Read More
Reality. The ‘real’ part of reality is something that few, if any of us ever get to experience: a mass of swirling, shifting, oozing primordial soup that takes form for a while and then shifts again. It’s likely that if any of us were simply thrust into seeing it exactly as it is, our minds would explode and we’d suffer some sort of nervous breakdown. It is outside of time, outside of form, and outside of reason. Every mystic tradition under the sun has a word for reality as it is, and the general consensus is that its something you cannot describe, cannot fathom, can’t pin down and definitely can’t communicate to your friends over tea on a Sunday afternoon. By the time it trickles into our consciousness, reality has passed through filters. Our emotions and awareness filter reality, our ability to perceive through our five senses filter it, and then our minds and personal history add a twist. While this applies to the whole, it applies to the smaller parts too, be it an apple, a rock, or a human. In order to make sense of the large amount of information we encounter when meeting, say, an apple or a rock, or a human, for the first time, we naturally start organising this information into patterns. Thus, apple, very quickly goes from being a strange round thing that may or may not be edible and may or may not taste good to ‘apple’. And the more apples you get to know, the more you can differentiate types of apple: that is a Macintosh, that a Granny Smith, and that [atrocity], a red delicious.Read More
I listened to a podcast last week, in which physicist Lisa Randall was being interviewed about dark matter. A relatively newly discovered substance, dark matter is at the forefront of physics research. It moves through us as it moves through everything, and is responsible for making up the majority of the universe. Yet, it is completely invisible. Dark matter doesn’t interact with light, and because it doesn’t, we can’t see it. What it does can only be inferred by the gravitational pull it has on other objects around it, but it has a strong effect on the workings of the entire universe: without it, nothing would exist.
As I was listening, I started thinking about in their own way, our myths, planetary cycles and mysteries have all described this kind of thing already: that which cannot be seen but is nonetheless important. We don’t really hold on to our ancient myths as a means to keep ourselves connected with the cycles of nature anymore, but this delving into the invisible darkness in science gives me hope that we might somehow come back around to appreciating that which is hidden.Read More