(Or The Life and Times of an Itinerant herbalist and her Well-Travelled Aloe.)
Some people have a T.A.R.D.I.S and a short-lived companion. I have an ever-growing entourage of books and pot plants and the steadfast loyalty of an Aloe vera named The Kraken that accompany me on numerous adventures around the small contained universe that is this vast sunburnt land.
As well as my husband and children, of course.
We are currently once more in Transition, that wonderful state of being neither here nor there, not entirely sure where we’ll end up but optimistic that our leaps of Faith will somehow land us on stable, solid ground. Seven or so weeks ago, we packed up our possessions, hired a dubious-looking removalist with which we reluctantly entrusted our stuff, and in two fully-loaded cars (including packed-in children) made the great journey north from Melbourne back to the Sydney basin. We have landed just north of Sydney, on the rugged sandstone headlands of the Central Coast. Our stuff arrived safely, although in somewhat lesser volume than what I had packed, largely because Husband went on a last minute unsupervised culling rampage. Thankfully, all of my books and plants were accounted for. And the children, of course. I can mark them all as Safe during The Great Exodus of 2018 on Facebook.
Moving house is said to be one of the most stressful experiences that the modern human in the Western world has to endure. I’ve endured this roughly around 30 times or more in just over 40 years. Once, when I was a teenager, my parents even moved house while I was away on holiday. You think I would be used to it. I am not – particularly when children and multiple bookcases and acclimatized pot plants are involved. Although I enjoy the travel, the opportunity to live in various places, I don’t enjoy the upheaval. I don’t enjoy the attempt to settle and find some stability only to be uprooted again not long after. I also don’t enjoy the uncertainty of where we’ll be living. Will it be a tent, a mouse-infested shed, or simply couch surfing in someone’s living room? A garden would be nice. We had just over two years respite in a house we were only meant to live in for 6 months in Melbourne. It was wonderful, and it was finally our own space, but for the first 6 weeks of moving in, a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder appeared. Have you ever noticed how the body does that? You can be running on nothing but adrenaline in order just to get things done, but as soon as it’s over, you crash and burn. It feels completely disorienting. Focussing on gratitude helped me to settle down, establish new friendships, deepen older ones, acquire more plants, get the kids into a good rhythm, and get working again. Working with the plants is my passion and my coping mechanism, making medicine is my own personal healing regime as much as it is to facilitate healing in others. Melbourne was good to me in that regard. In spite of my constitutional aversion to the cold, autumn and winter were my busiest seasons. My Winter Immune Zoom Elixir was my most sought-after product.
Yet the winds of change blew once more, and we heard the call to bug out and move back to be closer to our family. We had six weeks to pack up and move on. I paced myself, made lists of what needed to be done and when, and managed to get the whole house sorted and packed, and I was feeling pretty confident. This was the first time we had to pack up a whole house full of our stuff in about five years. I could do it. For someone who doesn’t have great stress coping ability, I was feeling pretty calm about the whole thing. We were literally giving up everything we had settled into in Melbourne and jumping headfirst into the Void, but I could do this. I was grateful for the respite that we had been given. I was grateful that I had been able to move forward in my work and settle into a more stable form of practice. I was grateful for the opportunities that we had been given. So, I could do this. I had come to accept that we were sojourners. That some of us are given the job of traversing the globe sprinkling magical pixie dust here and there, hopefully bringing some form of encouragement to people’s lives only to then move on again. It was all going to be okay. But then a week before we had to move, I got an early morning phone call. My Nanna had died.
My Nanna – my paternal grandmother – and I were made of the same stock and we got on well. She was a voracious reader – I think she must have been the local newsagents most loyal customer. The latest copy of New Idea, Woman’s Day, and Woman’s Weekly, AND TV Week could always be found somewhere within reach at her house, although she would say that she got them for the puzzles and the crossword at the back, not so much for the celebrity gossip. She was a farmer’s wife, and always seemed to be working. Even when she watched Days of Our Lives and Young & the Restless late at night when everyone had gone to bed, she’d be ironing the clean laundry. Getting the VCR was probably one of the best days of her life. She also loved her garden and was a quiet conservationist. When my aunt died at the age of 22, my Nanna began planting a forest of natives in her memory on an unused one acre paddock on the property. She started that project in 1986. Now the paddock is a dense woodland full of mature trees. Stepping into that forest that my Nanna planted is like stepping into another world. It has its own climate. It’s soothing, calming, and refreshing. It’s an amazing legacy and a testament to a woman with a quiet, yet strong determination to just get on with things and do the best that you can, and with the faith that everything will somehow work out.
Sadly, around 12 years ago, she was diagnosed with dementia. Ten years ago was probably the last time I had the opportunity to really converse with her, and for her to recognise who I was. The grief of her loss, partly for this reason, has been profound. Suffice it to say, that the last week of living in Melbourne, attempting to complete the packing, figuring out if I could get to the funeral, and say our goodbyes to dearly beloved friends was like wading through a gelatinous fog. I didn’t make it to the funeral. It was 1500kms away, moved forward to literally 3 days before we needed to be out of our house and when everything had already been booked, and would have cost over a thousand dollars in flights, only to be there for an hour and have to turn around to fly back and then drive north two days later. In short, I just wanted that week to be over.
So, we moved, and found ourselves back in familiar territory. Our possessions are back in storage, and we are couch-surfing in my in-laws living room.
Grief is interesting. We go through stages in our grief. First there’s a sort of foggy disbelief, then numbness, then anguish, and anger, and then at some point, acceptance. Sometimes it’s not so linear. Sometimes it’s all over the place. Different things trigger it. Random things. Stress and perimenopausal hormone shifts, and sometimes you think you’ve got a handle on it, but really there’s a huge swell building up behind the dam wall. And when it bursts, in the flood of tears and emotion you realise that you’re not just grieving the loss of a loved one, or not having closure, but you’re grieving the loss of stability, the loss of income, the loss of some form of security, of a life that you had started to rebuild for your children, and for your own legacy. And it makes you feel a little redundant. Why am I here again? So in this current state of Transition, I am grieving more deeply than I have ever grieved before.
There are numerous herbs, flower essences, essential oils, and homoeopathics that one could use for grief. But I am reluctant to use these in ’fresh’ grief, although gentle nerve nourishing herbs and calming scents can be supportive, particularly when shock is involved, or the person has difficulty coping with stress in general. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) and Milky oats (Avena sativa) are staples in my personal stress support toolbox. If someone was having trouble expressing grief, or if the grief was old, suppressed and unresolved, the specific grief remedies are more appropriate, but by and large fresh grief needs to be expressed immediately and as it arises, and ideally in a loving and supportive, and therefore safe, environment. This can be around family and friends, and perhaps even a good support group, but it can also mean the physical environment.
I am fortunate that our current residence sits atop a hill in a very quiet community overlooking the ocean. There’s a large picture window at the back of the house that takes in this sweeping vista. The ocean and the beach are everchanging and no two days are the same. Some days the sea is as still as a millpond, other days, particularly if there is a storm brewing, the waves are rough, forming turbulent towers before they crash and pound into the shore. If I walk on the sand or gaze out the window, I can’t help but reflect on the analogy of the sea and our emotions. My grief has been as tumultuous as the stormy sea, and as calm as a clear, still summers day. But the first week we arrived here, it rained heavily, and it rained nonstop. The weather perfectly reflected the release that I needed to express. I find solace in this. We are fractals of a greater creation, connected to a greater consciousness.
“For everything there is a season …..”
The three primary ‘negative’ emotions we experience are anger, grief, and fear. Where anger is very dynamic, an expression of the fire element, yang-like, and about pushing away, grief (or deep sadness) is more fluid and therefore an expression of the water element, has more of a yin quality, and is about the need to hold on but then being willing to let go. Grief has traditionally been associated with the lungs, and it might be of interest to note that people with long-standing unresolved grief issues also experience asthma or other chronic respiratory complaints. Oftentimes grief can be coupled with fear, (the energetics of which is somewhat neutral and lies between the outward movement of anger and the inward movement of grief, this gives rise to the ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ response) and this will often show up in kidney/adrenal issues. Our emotions are designed to move us, to motivate us to make a change. We can choose to respond to them by listening, reflecting, and acting (what is the emotion telling me about me and my needs?), we can choose to vent it, express it and let it out at other people as our targets, or we can choose to supress it, to bury it deep inside of us, ignore it and hopefully it will go away. In venting, we often project it onto other people and try to make them responsible for how we feel, but this isn’t really healthy and won’t help us find peace within ourselves. If we bury or supress and hide the emotion, we are largely in denial, but our bodies store it. To bury an emotion, we literally tense our muscles and hold our breath. To effectively listen to, reflect on, and act (ie: to respond appropriately, to allow our emotions to flow in grace) it helps to understand what the emotion is about.
In his rather extraordinary training program on Emotional Healing (which I am currently working through), American herbalist and natural healer Steven Horne discusses the significance of grief, it’s energetics, and it’s physiological and anatomical associations. He says that in order to understand grief we need to understand Love, or rather the various types of love (which I covered in my previous post). Love, like grief, has a very yin quality. It’s about drawing in, receiving, and expanding (or giving). But we don’t and can’t control that which we love. (The desire to control comes from a place of fear and sometimes anger, which drives love away.) Grief then, is the recognition of this – as painful as it can be. Grief is actually about the process of letting go. In order to fully let go of that deep pain (whether fresh or supressed) we need to fully engage with it. Holding onto it only prolongs the pain and can lead to not only physical pathology (disease processes) but also to seeing ourselves as victims. This victimhood in turn sets us up for a feeling of powerlessness and the need to be rescued, manipulation of others to have this need met, and will attract further situations in which one plays this role. And in the long term, it can lead to bitterness if these needs aren’t met. This isn’t healthy either. Again, we look to the patterns inherent in nature and see that life flows in an ebb and flow of polarities. With inhalation comes the exhalation.
Steven gives some useful tools to facilitate the flow of grief and the process of letting go. I’d like to share them with you here, as I have found them quite useful in my own process;
- If possible, find a safe space where you can be free to express your feelings without disturbing others (if you don’t feel free to express yourself in front of others or you don’t have any loved ones around who can hold the space for you). Turn off all distractions and just sit with your feelings. This is why I find solace in nature, whether it is in a secluded spot at the beach, or in a woodland. It allows you to focus and reflect more easily. The fresh air and negative ions also help with the next point..
- Start with your breathing. Each emotion has a particular breathing pattern. The pattern of grief is a forced and shallow, difficult inhalation (like gasping for air, such as when one is sobbing), followed by a long, slow exhalation such as is heard when someone is sighing, wailing, or moaning. My children reminded me of the phenomena that excessive sighing is often a sign of unresolved grief. “Mum, you’re sighing again!” I sighed a LOT when we were packing up our house. One of the keynote symptoms of the homeopathic remedy Ignatia is excessive sighing, and this remedy is often given for unresolved and deep-seated grief. The normal breathing pattern follows inhalation, exhalation, rest, inhalation, exhalation, rest, and so on in a cycle that energetically reflects expansion, contraction, and equilibrium. We can shift our emotions and allow them to flow through us by tuning into the pattern that is expressed by our current emotion, and then allowing it to shift with awareness into a more balanced state. To do this with grief, we allow ourselves to fully tune in to the hurt that we are feeling and as we breathe in, feel that pain and acknowledge it, and then as we exhale, we seek to empty our lungs as fully as possible. Sigh with it and imagine the hurt and the pain flowing out of you. This will help to not only connect us with the feeling but also fully release it. When we empty our lungs fully, we release endorphins and interestingly, this occurs in both grief and laughter.
- Express your pain. If you feel the urge to cry, don’t hold back. Grieving involves wailing, weeping, and sometimes even screaming. Again, these are all ways in which your body intuitively is attempting to let go. When we cry, stress hormones are also excreted in our tears. To hold onto these will also prolong pain and can lead to physical pathology.
- Grieving takes time and you can’t rush it. There will be sunny days and there will be rainy days, but we can also use rituals to externalise what is happening internally. Creating a ‘letting go’ ritual may be helpful, particularly when we need some form of closure. To do this, we start by creating a symbol of what’s been lost, and then taking this symbol, letting it go somewhere.
It has also been said that because much of the pain of grief is about regret, because we didn’t fully appreciate what we had, experiencing grief fully allows us to be therefore fully in gratitude of all the blessings that we have now, as well what we had before. There is also a divine opportunity within grief because it has the capacity to open up our heart and allow us to surrender. To fully surrender to it empties that inner space and makes room for Light, Love and Joy. It doesn’t mean that we forget our loved ones, but it does mean that life goes on and with every ending, there is a new beginning. If we have lost a loved one, we might use their legacy to inspire the unfolding of our own.
In the time since we moved, several of our friends have also lost loved ones. This reflection on grief is as much for them as it is in expressing my own process. Grief, if we allow it to flow, is a deeply communal process, as much as it is a personal process. A burden or sorrow shared is lighter, the collective heart opens wider, the love with which it is shared grows deeper. As much as I find solace and comfort in the cycles and patterns of nature reflected back to me of my own inner journeying, I also find solace in knowing that grief is a shared experience. Even the Divine knows grief. Out of all Scripture, perhaps the one that is most poignant and speaks the most to this process, simply says;
Yahusha* wept. (John 11:35)
If we meditate on this, it is deeply profound. It is also deeply comforting.
When we moved here, it rained nonstop for the first week and a half. It ended around the time of the Spring equinox. Almost overnight, the jasmine blossomed, the wisteria exploded in a shower of purple, and a very special shoot emerged from a pot that was seemingly devoid of a plant. A pot I had with some far-off vision of a future hope brought with me on that long trip from Melbourne. Last summer I bought a young Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum) plant. It was beautiful and green but come autumn, it suddenly died. I thought it was lost because of the schizophrenic climate that Melbourne is infamous for. Before I found out that it goes dormant in the autumn and winter, I did frantically check to see if the rhizome was in fact dead. I dug my fingers deep into the soil and felt a fleshy new bud. All was well. I’m not a cold climate person, and so I suppose that my plants – being, in my mind, subtle extensions of myself – would feel the same. By the end of winter, and when the almond and the English daisies and everything else was sprouting and blossoming, the new shoot hadn’t yet appeared. I despaired that I had lost the plant entirely. So, when it came time to take stock of my plants and pot them up for the journey ahead, I re-potted the rhizome in a smaller pot, hoping that perhaps God willing, it would come back to life and it would deal with the humidity that Sydney can experience. I think I may have even prayed over it.
My heart filled with insurmountable joy when I saw that tiny new shoot peering out of the bare soil. It almost exploded when the second shoot appeared a day later. Over the next week and a half, the tiny shoots grew with a fervour I’ve never seen in a plant before and within the space of about eight days, it went from two ½ an inch shoots to two 2ft tall elegantly unfurled and fully blossomed stems of verdant green. Eight is the number of renewal and new beginnings, but what struck me the most, is that the plant needed that deluge to begin again. Much like my grief. We are fractals of a greater creation, connected to a greater consciousness. My grieving process was being echoed by the creation itself. Grief is a deeply spiritual process, if we allow it. It reconnects us with Life, and the source of Life. And for this I am truly grateful.
One aspect of my grief was the sense of loss I felt around being able to practice, to have access to my already dwindling dispensary, to be able to make medicine, and ultimately to help people in need. I felt a bit redundant. But there will always be people in need no matter where one finds oneself. And there is always bench space somewhere for a jar or two of macerating tincture or culturing kefir. And I do have access to a stove to make deep decoctions. And on my sojourns, I’ve often found that the plants you need will be found growing around you when you need them most or appear through almost divinely inspired connections with others of like mind. I am practicing again, but I am in truth always practicing, whether it’s dealing with my child’s fever, another child’s wart, my husband’s ingrown fingernail, or coaching a friend through lifestyle changes, or dealing with my own stress. And sometimes a new client comes along, at just the right time, who just happens to need Solomon’s Seal.
Hope springs eternal.
The following are various herbs, flower essences and essential oils that you may find useful in supporting your nervous system, helping you to express your grief, and allowing your heart to heal.
- Nerve nourishing herbs (as teas or tinctures/glycerites, or added to baths)
lavender, skullcap, milky oats, ashwagandha, tulsi (holy basil), linden blossom, hawthorn blossom.
- Flower essences for grief
Bleeding heart (for release, grief over an ended relationship or death of a loved one),
Borage (uplifts and gives the heart courage, a balm for grief),
Dandelion (helps with releasing stuck grief or emotional pain),
Fuschia (for helping to acknowledge and express grief that may have been repressed),
Golden Ear Drops (helps to release tears that may have been held back in childhood),
Honeysuckle (helps to let go of the past, to appreciate the here and now so life can go on),
Love–lies–bleeding (for profound anguish and deep grief felt in isolation),
Sagebrush (helps to work through the pain and emptiness of any kind of loss),
Star of Bethlehem – calming after the shock of any death, loss, or tragedy.
Wild Rose (for people unable to accept the tragic events of life, when there is numbing or withdrawal during grief)
Yerba Santa (constricted feelings in the chest due to deeply internalised pain from repressed grief, often accompanied with melancholy)
- To Help the Heart to Open and Heal
Rose (flower essence, herb, essential oil), Hawthorn (Flower essence or herb), California Wild Rose (Flower essence)
- Essential Oils (to use in a diffuser, as a massage oil, or a roll-on on the pulse points, or adde to the bath)
Lemon Balm (Melissa)
Lily of the Valley ( a fragrance oil)
For those of you interested in exploring the significance of our emotions and how to heal them, whether supressed or vented, I highly recommend Steven Horne’s Emotional Healing Training Program. He has made it entirely free and is available to watch on Youtube. Search Steven Horne and click on his 2018 Emotional Healing Training playlist for all modules and lessons. There are four modules that cover the spiritual foundations of emotional healing, understanding emotions, understanding the heart, and tools and techniques to help us heal. He has also put together two gorgeous charts for ease in identifying stored emotions in the body and the relevant flower essences and essential oils to address them. These are available from his website www.treelite.com I am not affiliated in any way with his practice or school and I receive no kickbacks. I have been going through the program and have found it to be quite profound when incorporated into my own holistic practice with my clients as well as for myself. I am more than happy to pay it forward. We are all in this together.
*Jesus. Yahusha is his Hebrew name, within which is the revealing and proclamation of the Father, our creators Name – Yahuah. The Son’s name literally means ‘Yahuah is our saviour’.