Archive for March, 2010

Metaphor and Meditation

A WILD YEAR IN THE OHIO WOODLANDS – DAY 2

Crazy as it seems, I’m sick a-g-a-i-n.  Trying not to blame myself for not noticing the many blatantly obvious signs of impending sickdom.  The signs telling me, “slow down, or else!”  I think my main life lesson this go round is BALANCE.  Yes, in capital letters.

Often I tell myself, subconsciously, that because I’m an Herbalist, I’m immune from illness.  Ha ha ha, so laughable and ironic.  I believe many Herbalists sought out this line of work because we’d beaten ourselves so badly through overwork, overindulgence, and basic lack of self-nurturing, we hit that rock bottom place.  We didn’t want to feel this way anymore, so we took action, took our healing into our own hands.

Today, on the second day of this project, it was hard to get out into the woods.  All my body felt like doing on this sick rainy day was lying in bed.  But I had a goal, and to wimp out on the second day just wouldn’t do.  Plus, getting the ick in my lungs moving was probably a good idea.  So I pulled on my flowered rain boots, my raincoat, strapped on my camera, and headed out.

Within about a minute of getting outside, I knew I had made the right decision.  There’s something about being outside and breathing (somewhat) fresh air that can lighten my mood on the gloomiest of days.  One of the first thoughts I had was how nature really can be an amazing metaphor for life.

So the light was low and I haven’t totally gotten the hang of my new borrowed camera (thanks, Sis) yet.  I was hoping to catch the ripples in the puddles, but maybe you can kind of make them out.

okay, just imagine them

Metaphor #1:

I thought about how life is like the ripple effect.  We make one little change in an effort to make our lives better and it ripples out, through our lives, other peoples lives, and the world.  Just like this project.  It will get me outside, which will relieve my stress, give me more exercise and playtime, and keep me connected to the natural world.  Hopefully it will inspire someone else to get outside, even on a rainy day, and connect to nature, which will create an appreciation and a value for it.  Then, maybe they’ll go out to inspire someone else, and it will be one more step toward creating a healthy world.

It’s like this one morning that sticks out in my head.  I was rushing to the post office before work on a relatively average day.  There was a man standing next to the mailbox.  For seemingly no reason, he said hello and asked how I was.  Then he smiled and said something like, “I hope you have a fantastic day.”  I was touched by the random kindness of this stranger and passed that smile to other people throughout my day, who maybe passed it to others.

Metaphor #2:

I have laryngitis.  I love to talk, and joke, and even sing.  This has been hard.  It has forced me to be quiet and I’m learning silence really is golden.  Because when you’re silent, you have to slow down.  Another one of my goals for the year is to practice meditation.  The technique that I’m studying talks about first being present to all of your senses, including really listening.  As I walked into the woods, I listened to the falling rain, my footsteps, and the quiet all around me and my mind slowed.  In the woods, slow and quiet is a way of life (literally).

Metaphor #3:

Everything is wet!  The way the raindrops gently hang there on the edge of the new twigs and buds, the way the water flows.  It is the definition of rebirth.  That feeling of rebirth is palpable to all of us, especially me on this day after my birth(day).  I think we all get a little woowoo thinking about how we can remake our lives this year.  What an opportunity!

Metaphor #4:

Some really nice person, knowing how ridiculously slushy this trail gets, made a walking path through the mud out of bark.  This must have taken some time, energy, and thought.  Whether they knew doing this would help others make it through or not, they did it.  And this is how it is with me.  This new year of my life, one of my main resolutions is to really truly love myself.  Part of that lesson is really truly believing I’m loved and supported by others, that I’m taken care of and never alone.  And it’s always shown to me in the least expected ways and times.

As I sign off, I’m challenging you to get outside and look for the metaphors all around you.  Then come back here and leave me a comment about it!

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Birthday Resolve

On this auspicious day, the day of my birth, I made what is sure to be a life-changing New Year’s Resolution.  I resolved to start a project that I’ve been thinking about for at least a couple of years now.  The main idea was to document the life cycle of these woods for a year, the woods of my home, the Midwest, the Ohio River valley.  And, as an added bonus, I would get to venture into the woods every day for a year.

I’ve always been drawn to and fascinated by these woods ever since I can remember.  I used to spend hours as a kid in trees or exploring the creek bed below our house.  I moved away from Ohio a couple of times, but like many I know, it never stuck.  Certain times of the year I get homesick for my second home, the West.

But a weird thing happened last time I went to Colorado, thinking about the possibility of relocating again.  I felt disconnected, ungrounded.  I thought to myself, “How can I feel ungrounded when I’m surrounded by mountains?”  But I realized I felt disconnected from this lush, deciduous woodland.  So, though it would sound strange to my rebellious teenage self at the time, this is my home.

More on the project.  As an Herbalist, a budding (ha ha) Botanist, a nature lover, a spiritual person, and a mom with constantly too much on her plate, this project gradually became more and more attractive.  I added to it, too.  Not only would I document, in pictures and words, the progression of the local flora and fauna throughout a year, I would have an excuse to get out and connect to nature every single day and write about it and my experiences.  Then I would share it, in the hopes of peaking others’ interest in the local wildness.  Hmmm…

So here goes, . . .

A WILD YEAR IN THE OHIO WOODLANDS – DAY 1

I have several birthday traditions.  The most important of which is getting out in the woods by myself and doing some  introspection, meditation, and general feeling of my feelings.  This year was no different, even though I felt icky.  I felt the draw of the trees and the budding wildness.  I convinced myself I could take a short, low-intensity hike.  Of course, no matter the weather, once I’m out, I never want to go back in.

I’m not sure if it’s because I’m gradually opening to my spirituality, or some astrological event, or what, but this year the time around my birthday has been pretty rough.  Sickness, serious introspection, big emotional waves and more included.  It’s good, though.  So many things have been revealed that I needed to see, though they may be painful.

So many amazing things happened on this amazing hike!  First I noticed this beauty (sorry it’s a little out of focus), like a fungus rose just for me on my special day.  I love fungus!  It’s one of the few things you can see growing in the winter and it’s so interesting, the shapes, colors, textures, and how different it is from plants.

Then I saw a truly awesome thing!  I heard this weird bird call that I didn’t recognize, almost thought it was a crow.  I looked around and saw a beautiful bird with a big wingspan, a hawk.  Then there was another one!  It was a gray day and I forgot the binoculars, but I think they were Cooper’s hawks.  Unfortunately they eluded my camera, but here’s a picture of the nest they were making.  One of them kept flying to various trees, gathering sticks, and adding them to the nest.  What a birthday present!  At that moment I felt so blessed and the feeling just kept getting bigger.

I saw all the baby plants, plants I know and love, struggling with all their might to push their way through the leaf litter up to the light.  I felt their growth and my own and felt totally connected.  We’re really not that different.

baby wild strawberry plants poking out under log

The day was so inspiring, I couldn’t resist writing some poetry.  Here’s one I’ll leave you with:

THESE WOODS

How appropriate that I walk through these woods again,

The woods I know like the back of my hand,

but offer me a new surprise every time.

I walked through these woods every day of a sweltering summer,

big and pregnant,

feeling my life, the life inside me, and the life all around me

without boundary.

Soon after, I labored to push a stroller up this trail.

Now, years later, I reflect on my own birth.

Today the veil is thin and I reflect on everything,

I open my heart and the wonder peeks through,

like the new green growth sprouting

and working its way through the leaf litter,

against all odds.

These woods are a metaphor for my life.

I hope you’ll join me in this project, checking back for new posts of my adventures in the woodlands of Ohio and leaving your comments.

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The Other Dreaded “S” Word

I have been in serious transition mode.  Yes, I moved AGAIN.  For those of you who know me well, you know that this has been a recurring event in my life during the last two years.  I’ve had a little string of  difficult living situations, but am hopeful this one will stick.

Every time I go into the first stages of moving mode, I think it will not be that big of a deal.  However, then I get back to reality, start packing, realize how many things I have acquired, how few I’m willing to get rid of, and how much packing and unpacking that requires.  Then I realize and remember how much work it really is to move and how truly draining it is, physically, energetically, and spiritually.  A very wise man pointed out that moving even forces us to change the patterns or physical pathways we are used to taking every day through our living space.  All of this adds up to a lot of change.  Change usually results in one big bad ugly “s” word.  “Stress,” whether it be positive or negative, is hard on the body.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.  Anything new, any change can cause stress.  I tend to forget this, then wonder why I’m feeling weird, worn down, and not sleeping well.  These thoughts have led to me a curiosity and research on adaptogens.  In a previous newsletter I shared a link to a conversation on adaptogens by Maine Herbalist, Gail Faith Edwards.  You can find the article on her website, Blessed Maine Herb Farm.

Gail describes adaptogens as, “… natural substances that help the body adapt to stress, whether physical, chemical, biological, emotional or environmental. They support the normal metabolic processes of the body and help to restore balance. In order to meet the criteria as defined by the word adaptogen a substance must be non-toxic, produce a nonspecific response in the body which boosts the ability to resist multiple stressors, and exert a normalizing influence on physiology. Adaptogens strengthen the immune, nervous and glandular system, increase metabolic efficiency and reduce susceptibility to illness and disease.”

Currently I have two favorite adaptogenic herbs I’ve been experimenting with, eleuthero (or siberian ginseng) and tulsi (or holy basil).  I have been including both of these in daily tea blends to help me chill out and keep my immunity at a steady level while many people around me seem to dropping from various ick.  As an added bonus, they both protect the body from the effects of radiation and environmental toxins.  Of course there’s other lifestyle changes we can make that will help a lot, but first the herbs.

Eleuthero

Eleuthero used to be called siberian ginseng because it has many of the same health benefits as the other ginsengs.  Thought it is in the same family, it is not a true ginseng, meaning it is not in the panax genus.  Eleuthero, or eleutherococcus senticosus, has been tested with amazing results.  The root of the plant is the part that is usually used.  It is made, by the decoction method, into a tea.  I especially like roots because they are extra grounding, and being a Pisces with a Libra rising, I need as much grounding as I can get!  Even if you don’t believe in that astrology stuff, we could probably all use a little more grounding in this quick moving world.

Tons of studies have been done on eleuthero with amazing success.  It has been shown to increase athletic performance, decrease flu cases, fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, increase productivity, and immune system function, and more.  Eleuthero is even believed by many to promote longevity.  It is mild and considered to be safe for regular use and all age ranges.  Of course, always check with your Herbalist or health practitioner before starting an herbal program if you have any health concerns, are on medication, are pregnant or breastfeeding, etc.

Tulsi (holy basil)

Tulsi, ocimum sanctum, alternately called holy basil and a member or the mint family, has been a part of Indian ayurvedic therapy for around three thousand years.  It also has a multitude of uses and is revered in India as being sacred to the god, Vishnu.  There’s a whole load of benefits offered by tulsi including stress reduction, lowering blood sugar, preventing allergy symptoms, increaseing brain circulation, mental clarity and memory, fighting viruses, and boosting immunity with its powerful antioxidants.  Tulsi mainly grows in India.  Its leaves are used in a tea infusion.  Putting a tulsi plant on your doorstep or wearing its stems made into a mala (beaded necklace) is supposed to put you under Vishnu’s protection.  There are conflicting reports of the safety of tulsi for pregnant women or women trying to become pregnant, but otherwise it is considered very safe over long periods of time.

Other things you can do to help manage stress, though they seem obvious, are often difficult because they’re lifestyle changes.  However, as I’ve noticed, they can make me feel a lot better and that’s a huge reward.  I try to look at it, not as giving something up, but doing something to honor myself.  Some of these things include decreasing or cutting out caffeine consumption, at least coffee and sodas which have the most immediate and severe effects as opposed to tea which is absorbed more slowly and more gentle to the body.  Regular aerobic exercise is great for decreasing stress, along with more meditative practices like yoga, tai chi, deep breathing, and various forms of meditation which help to quiet the mind.

There’s a lot of information out there on adaptogens, just do a search on the internet for more.  Also, definitely read Gail Faith Edwards article (link above) and the book Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief by David Winston and Steven Maimes is a great one.  In this ever-faster paced world of ours, we could probably all use a little help adapting.  My favorite health maintenance practice is at least one big cup of therapeutic tea every day, blended personally for me by me.  Drink up and stay healthy!  And let me know what your favorite stress reduction techniques are.

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