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
I have this image in my head of us as a society, as this gaping maw of hunger that chants its war-cry into the night as it devours its way forwards. ‘More. More. More.’ it says as it chews its way through forest and ocean and pristine wilderness. ‘More!’ it chants as it gnaws through black rhino and ice cap. ‘MORE!’ it cries as it gnashes at spirit and joy and free will, leaving a wake of emptiness in its shadow. We beat our resources into submission, be it the planet, our employees, our own bodies, demanding more: productivity, energy, youth, attention. And rarely, if ever, do we stop to ask if what we are and what we have is actually enough.
During classes about crofts and the Highland clearances (a good Scottish education for you) when I was young, we learned about crop rotation. It was all perfectly logical: nutrients are being sucked up from the land into the plants and if you don’t rotate the crops and leave one field fallow each cycle then the land has nothing to give and eventually the crops fail. At some point, this changed. People discovered that you could keep pouring chemical nutrients onto the soil and spray chemicals to kill the insects that have taken advantage of the plants’ weakness. On the surface the crop still looks the same: big and plump and ripe for the picking. But underneath the surface, the crop is a sad replica of what it could have been. Read More
About six months before he died, my stepdad’s best friend sat me down and said ‘Your life is nothing but a series of choices: the most important thing you can do is to make good decisions. And don’t think that not making a decision is an option— that’s still a decision, and its a bad one.’
I thought about it a bit, and then he died, and then I thought about it a lot. Sometimes we’re so overwhelmed by all the choices that it seems easier not to choose. To click again. To refresh the page. To look at how Kim Kardashian did her hair this week*, because it saves us from having to act.
It seems like every time I get on the internet I’m being bombarded by things that matter so much they threaten to rip me to shreds. A 3 year old Syrian boy dead on the beach. His father lost both children and his wife in one day. Rip. 50,000 acres of the San Bernardino forest and my rose patch and all the pedicularis I gather every year burned to a crisp. Rip. Washington state devoured by flames. Rip. Unarmed man shot by police. Suicide bombing. Oil spill. Rip. Rip. Rip. Read More