Thursday, November 19, 2009

Herbs and Gardens

This week my marks the end of my first “What’s Your Tree?” group, which is a circle that I’m co-facilitating that meets weekly to help us clarify our purpose and find ways to act in the world that align with our deepest callings.  (It is not, however, based on some sort of Celtic Tree Oracle thing, as my friend Esse had thought when I first mentioned it to her.  It’s based off of the work of Julia Butterfly Hill, who became famous for sitting in Luna, an oldgrowth redwood tree, for over two years and thusly saved the tree from being cut down by Pacific Lumber).  Last week, we created collages for the future that we want to create, and rather than sit around and think yet again about the state of the world, I found myself drawn to images and words about the coming winter that I want to create for myself.

I’m the type that’s prone to the wintertime blues.  For the longest time, I had no idea what was going on – it simply seemed a fact that every so often, inexplicably, I would fall into heavy bouts of sleepiness, loneliness, sorrow, and an inability to concentrate.  It was my ex-boyfriend Jack, who I dated for seven years, who pointed out the connection with the seasons, which was a truly illuminating insight, however irritated and exasperated he seemed about it at the time.  But even after getting a sense of this, and learning that there was even a diagnosable name for what was happening to me (SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder), I still couldn’t figure out how to change it.

In the last couple of years, however, I finally realized that what I need to do to stay balanced and sane is to simply slow down and let myself breathe and be in the sun as much as possible.  Forget the weird “Happy Lights.”  What a SAD girl needs, at this time of year, is less commitments and more slow-cooked meals, naps, reading novels in bed, and movie-watching snuggled up with her lover.  That’s probably what we all need, really, but for the seasonally-affected it’s the only way to keep from spiraling down into what can feel like having PMS for three months instead of three days.

My collage was all about the desire, even the anticipation, of this slowing down: it began with “doing less creates more,” a clipping that came from a magazine article about a modern-day reworking of the ancient idea of the Sabbath; moving into an image of a chicly bohemian woman leaning against the doorjam of a farmhouse kitchen with copper pots hanging from the ceiling, to express my deep yearning for afternoons full of from-scratch chicken soup; but it was the illustrations of garden plans from Sunset magazine was the centerpiece of the whole thing, the crux of the issue.

And so plan we did.  This weekend, on a Saturday morning so early that even the farmer’s market was not open yet (can you believe how much I’ve changed?), Jason and I went down to Nomad CafĂ© in Berkeley and, over lattes, visioned and planned and dreamed and wrestled with the small square footage of the yard of the house we’re moving into at the end of this month, somehow managing to find room for vegetable beds, an outdoor dining area, a graywater from-the-washer irrigation system, a clothes line, and fruit trees.  Then, and only then, we hit up the Farmer’s Market and got ourselves our leeks and greens and pears for the week, even splurging for some grass-fed pork sausage and free-change chicken legs (just the legs, though – the breasts are too expensive).

That night at home, I was going through my favorite gardening book, Golden Gate Gardening, when I noticed Mallow, a plant we’ve been studying my herbal medicines class, in the chapter, “Growing Like Weeds.”  I kept flipping.  Chickweed, another one.  Dandelion.  Burdock. Curly Dock.  Plantain.  Wild Onion.  They were all there, every last one.

I’ve known for quite some time that some “weeds” are actually medicines.  It wasn’t until looking through this book, however, that I realized that almost all our weeds are actually medicines imported from Europe.

Suddenly, in a single breath’s time, a vision came to me: I saw an ancestors woman in a bonnet, on a ship moving across the cold waters of the Atlantic with her “pot herb” seeds carefully packed away, not knowing what her future held but hoping desperately that the medicines she was bringing with her would take root and grow in this new, unknown land.  She must have treasured those seeds, guarded them carefully against the salt sprays and the sun in the long months of the journey.  These seeds might be the only hope for her and her family in this untamed place, as essential as the food stores and seeds they brought with them.

Then another vision: a portly, middle-aged man is spraying Roundup on his lawn, cursing the dandelions that are growing there.  Inside, his young son (though no one will know this for a few years yet) has cancer.  The medicine that would have helped him strengthen his liver to be able to filter out the deadly toxins is just outside – also being killed beneath the spray.  Next door, another green, homogenous lawn.  And another.  All of the dreadful “weeds” eradicated by poisonous substances that can supposedly can somehow tell the difference between broad-leaf plants and narrow-leafed grass, between humans and animals cells and those of the “undesirables.”

Sometimes, I can’t even handle it…any of it, this whole messed up world.

Instead of ending with that thought, however, here’s another: in some indigenous tribes, an apprentice herbalist was only allowed to work with an herb once he had dreamed of it.  If that were the case for me, up until last night, I’d be two months into my program without learning about a single one.

But last night I finally dreamed of an herb.  In my dream, I was walking up a road in the hills where I lived, and came across a little white dog that was very wounded.  At first I thought it had been hit by a car, but then I saw what looked like massive puncture wounds or bullet holes in his third eye, his heart, and somewhere else (I can’t remember the third).  I took the dog up to the house, where my friend Ginnette – who has been appearing in a couple of these “animals in distress” dreams – was, and who incidentally is also in my herb class.  She was not nearly as worried as I was about the little dog, who seemed to be in good spirits in spite of its wounds, licking us and carrying on as little dogs do, saturated, concentrated little brainless bundles of love.  Then she, or someone or something else, said something about the herb Yerba Santa, which happens to be my herb of the week for class this week.

So, there ya go!  I wonder what the native herbalists would have said about such a thing?

Monday, November 9, 2009

November morning...

It's early, not as early as I'd like, but just the same the pale blue light of the sun cresting over the eucalyptus hills slants in through our window, making the beige walls seem violet.  Jason has already left for work, but Emily is curled up at my feet, and with her keen feline intuition has sensed the change in me from dreaming to waking -- she begins to purr, and then, as I stretch and my toes get too close to her tummy for her liking, gives me a couple of warning swats to the feet.  I adjust accordingly, stretching in a more diagonal fashion across the bed, then sit up and cup my hands in front of my heart, fingers outward.

"Karagre vasate Lakhmi.  Kara mule Saraswathi, Kara madhye Guari.  Prabhate kara darshanam."  This is my morning prayer.  At the tips of my fingers, fortune and beauty.  In the middle of my hands, knowledge and wisdom.  At the base of my hands, the creativity of the cosmic mother.  In the morning, a vision of light in my hands."

I brush my fingers lightly over my face, my body, and the space immediately around me.  Then I get up and patter over to the stove and put on the tea -- chai, to help my digestive juices start flowing and to wake me up a little bit.   Emily swirls around my ankles in a graceful puff of fur and purrs, reminding me that she's hungry, too.  I drop some dry cat food into her bowl which lands with a soft tinkle against the ceramic bowl, and she immediately sets to a contented munch.  The tea kettle sizzles, its version of whistling.  Its an old thing that came from a place I lived a couple of places back, in the redwoods.  I still have the tea kettle, and a rusty iron triangle and beater that hangs over our deck, and the memory of the trees at night under the moon.

I pour my tea, add a bit of oat milk, and then use the rest of the hot water to a pyrex dish with a jar of coconut oil sitting in it.  The hot water desolidifies the oil, and it turns into a thick warm yellow syrup.  I carry it into the bathroom, lay a smudged white towel on the ground, and light the candles.  Then I open the jar of warm oil and use the first couple of drops to anoint my crown chakra, feeling the energy open up and come awake there with my awareness of it.  Next, my third eye.  I close my eyes and feel my inner senses open up, as well as my ears -- my vision feels clearer as I open my eyes and begin to butter up my face and throat and shoulders.  From there, everything flows towards the heart.  Hands to heart, solar plexis to heart, womb to heart, feet to heart.  The oil warms me and grounds me at the same time, as if all the distractions of the November morning vata energy is being swept away by my hands on my body.  It's also a self-blessing time, a prayer of gratitude towards my knees and feet and elbows and tummy, all those parts of me that sometimes get  overlooked and unappreciated. 

The self-abhyanga has been a transformational change in my life, on that deepens with every day as I do it.  I have always had a problem getting grounded, being dedicated.  But this is different.  I look forward to it everyday.

I step into the shower and let the hot water pour over me, dispersing some of the oil, but even so my skin feels soft and nourished.  I don't use soap -- I simply let the water touch me and purify me in its own way.  A song rises, unbidden, to my mind and then I let it come out: The river is flowing, flowing and growing.  The river is flowing down to the sea.  Mother carry me, your child I will always be.  Mother carry me, down to the sea.

After a few moments I step out, feeling really awake now, and renewed.  In ayurvedic philosophy, morning is a time to cleanse of  ama, the staleness that clings to us like moss.  I feel sparkling and new, yet present. I dress and go out onto the deck to sit in meditation for a while, and feel my breath and hear the birds and the open up to the wind blowing across my face after dancing among the long sage green eucalyptus leaves.  This is a further settling in to myself, to really being present and peaceful and loving in my own skin and in this world.  From this place, I can pray.  I pray in gratitude for this morning, for the people in my life, for the blessing of life itself.  I pray to be more and more present to the great mystery in everything and to the great spirit that is in all things.  I pray in love and in connection.  I open to the visions in my mind and heart, but do not focus on them, instead letting the beauty of the world around me on this plane be witnessed and honored within me.

One more song rises from within me, and my voice joins that of the scrub jays and the wind:
Beauty above me, beauty below me
Beauty to my left side, beauty to my right side.
Beauty behind me, beauty before me.
Beauty all around me, beauty within me.
Beauty all around me, beauty within me.