Grassroots Healing, Plant Medicine

Learning to converse with Pain and understand it’s language.

A Primer for the Post-Opioid Age.

 

Friday 26/07/2019

Last night I woke suddenly from a seizure of sleep paralysis that had made me feel trapped inside my own head. My brain felt drained and sore, like the top of my head had come off and everything was leaking out. I’ve had these episodes many, many times before over the last twenty odd years. The nature of the seizure changed about 4 years ago, but now on rare occasions when I’m all together exhausted, stressed-out, dehydrated, and have had sugar, one will come along and render me useless for a day or two. The episode itself is terrifying, exhausting, and traumatic, but the pain afterward is almost unbearable, as my already acute senses are heightened with the shock, only to be then bombarded with every usually inaudible sound around me. Pain is something every human suffers with at some point in their life – whether it is physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual – it hurts, and it makes us stop in our tracks. We either hold our breath hoping it will pass while our body frantically produces endorphins to try and numb it, or we numb it with external aids like drugs, alcohol, or whatever vice we have on hand. At best this just supresses the pain, and the underlying cause waits for the right conditions to align again when it can scream at us and try once more to get our attention. At worst, we continue to numb it and ignore what it’s screaming and end up either addicted to the drugs or with some degenerative and possibly terminal condition, or both.  Some of us are good at ‘relaxing into it’, or ‘breathing into it’, and this is also useful to a degree (it has particular merit during childbirth). But at some point, we just have to sit with it, and to really listen to what it’s actually telling us. Last night, while waiting for the cannabis root balm that I’d applied all over my head to take effect, I did exactly that.

As herbalists, more often than not we prescribe herbs for pain based on the nature of the pain itself – for example if someone presents with cramping in their gut, we may make up a formula with Wild Yam in it – which we call a spasmolytic, because it relaxes the spasms occurring in the gut, to which it has an affinity for. For period pain, we may also prescribe a formula with Crampbark in it – again because as its name suggests, it helps relax spasms and cramping – particularly in the smooth muscle fibres of the uterus. Sometimes we may also prescribe more general anodynes – or pain-relieving herbs – like Jamaican Dogwood, or Willow bark. These are all great and effective, and I use them as well, but we can easily fall into the reductionist trap of ‘here, you have a headache, take this generic pill that I give to everyone with a headache’. In our sometime anxious efforts to relieve the suffering of another, we can sometimes forget to check not only the nature of the pain, but what is actually causing it. Why is the uterus cramping? Why does my head pound at times, yet at other times I have sharp shooting pains radiating through it?

As I was contemplating all of this last night, I realised that the current iatrogenic (man-made) epidemic of opioid addiction, and antibiotic misuse and abuse fed this mindset of prescribing just to numb and supress. If we look at the energetics behind our medicines and the correlating energetics inherent in our physical makeup and the language through which our bodies communicate, both opiates and antibiotics are energetically very cold. Opioid drugs – originally derived from the Opium poppy – are ‘cold in the fourth degree’, according to the ancient Greco-Arabic system of medicine (and across most traditional systems of healing). This ‘cold in the fourth degree’ means that they can sedate someone to the point of death because cold is the absence of heat, or life. This category of medicines should only be used wisely and with great skill, matching with the persons own level of vital reserves. Modern antibiotics are the same energetically – literally the name means ‘anti-life’. So, the flagrant and unskilled use of both of these class of medicines can result in the cold/depression(as in lack of functionality) tissue state. This tissue state then makes a nice environment for opportunistic infections to move in. In the mental sphere, we might equate this with apathy, lack of interest in life, lack of motivation. In this state of apathy, we might lose our ability to discern and so we become more ‘suggestable’ and susceptible to things that in the end, aren’t really in our best interest. Cold is also constricting. In the mental sphere, this can equate with a chronic introspection to the point of narcissism. How well does this tissue state describe our Western culture just now?!

In the practice of holistic herbal medicine, we are in the unique position of having access to a vast materia medica of plants that may not seemingly be related to the nature of the pain itself but can effectively relieve that pain, largely by addressing the underlying cause.The pain, like most symptoms of the body, is the language used by the innate intelligence to tell us and direct us to a more specific and long-lasting remedy. In this regard, we are working with the body, rather than against it or simply ignoring its pleas. Learning to listen to this language, to understand the language of pain in particular, tells us a great deal about what’s actually going on. And, it has a lot to do with the energetics – again something that is peculiar to holistic herbal medicine across all traditions – including the Western tradition. Let me illustrate this concept with the example of processing the language of my own pain.

As I sat with my pain last night and began to listen to it, to really feel it, I felt an ache, a dull but belligerent, all-encompassing draining ache. I instinctively cradled my head in my hands, as if creating a helmet that would hold my brain in. In technical jargon, we might say that my pain was ‘better for pressure’. I reflected on all of the pain that I had suffered through in my life, and for me, it is always relieved by pressure. I began to process why a pain might be ‘better for pressure’, and my thoughts immediately went to the First Aid principle of applying pressure to a bleeding wound. This action not only ‘clamps’ the blood vessel/s effected, but also shunts the now restricted blood flow into the surrounded capillary beds, which can expand up to forty times, thus reducing the flow of blood from the original wound. In the tissue state model, or underlying energetics of the tissues, this free, unrestricted blood flow (in the case above, from an injury), we refer to as damp/relaxation. There is no tone or restriction to hold the blood or the fluid in (until we apply pressure, or an astringent to tighten the tissue, or a circulatory stimulant to diffuse the blood into the surrounding capillary bed). If this damp/relaxation state is left unchecked it can lead to dry/atrophy– or a withered, malnourished state with loss of function. I note that these ‘seizures’ that I have often occur when I am really stressed and dehydrated. Therefore, the pain is worse when dehydrated. Already we can see a pattern; things dry out when there is too much relaxation of the tissue and there is excessive fluid loss that can’t be replenished at the rate that it’s being lost. Instead of just drinking a glass of water, which may help, we also need to address the underlying cause of the relaxed tissue tone. We have a class of herbs here with an Astringent action that work to tone and tighten the tissue, and we also have a class of herbs with Moistening qualities that help to rehydrate the intercellular and intra-cellular fluids throughout the body and help maintain that moisture.

At the same time, as we have damp/relaxation, this can cause pooling in some areas and contribute to damp/stagnation. For example, we often see this manifest as varicose veins. The vein walls lack the tone to effectively allow the blood to move along, and so the vessel may ‘kink’ and the blood begins to pool. The damp/stagnation tissue state can then lead to the cold/depression tissue state because there is no movement. In these tissue states, we need to use herbs that stimulate and move the flow of blood and fluid. These herbs generally also have a very warming quality, thereby returning vital heat to the area. An example of this particular type of pain may be with period pain. The uterus may feel aching and crampy, but also congested and boggy, it feels better for a hot water bottle and a back rub (again, note the need for pressure to diffuse some of that congestion). The cramping is coming from a damp/stagnation and cold/depression tissue state, rather than just spasm. The spasm of the smooth muscle tissue may be seen as a knee-jerk response to these underlying tissue states, as the body tries to create some sort of heat through the movement, as well as responding to a diminished flow of nutrient. We might use ginger here, as a tea, in tincture, or infused in oil and made into a balm to rub onto the abdomen, or added to a nice warm bath.

As our perception of pain is transmitted through nociceptors (or pain sensors) on the end of the nerves, we should be aware that the nerve endings are also influenced by the basic quadrune of life – the meeting point between capillary, extracellular matrix, cell, and lymph vessel. The integrity of this unit, of how well the flow through this inner ocean occurs, I believe reflects the type of pain we feel. For example, if an area of tissue is drying out, the nerve endings here will sense this, and the insulating properties of the myelin sheath will also begin to wither and leave them more exposed and more sensitive. Like a rocky shore at low tide, all of the rocks below the shoreline are now exposed to the elements. They are vulnerable. And over time, as the tides and seasons and climates change, a certain amount of erosion can set in. To me this feels like an ache. One might think a longing of things lost (dry/atrophy – although pain that occurs due to dry/atrophy I find to sometimes also exhibit a sticking like quality, due to a lack of lubrication.), rather than the burning passion of things anticipated – the pain of heat/excitation. The pain of heat/excitation (where there is too much friction or irritation, or too much blood) can be sharp and shooting or tingling, as in nerve pain, when the nerve is either severed or impinged, or pounding and throbbing when the blood is high, thick, and fast. Here I think of a strike of lightning, and the contrast to a hot desert sun beating down relentlessly on hapless explorers. The pain of heat/excitation may also more likely be tender to the touch. In both of these tissue states, we might also see damp/stagnation, or dry/atrophy as contributing factors, although heat/excitation can lead to a literal burning up of the fluids causing dry/atrophy. In the case of heat/excitation, we look to herbs that are cooling, and sedating. Many members of the Rose family find value here.

The last tissue state, which is perhaps partly most familiar, in terms of a general sense of pain, is wind/tension.The wind here denotes symptoms that change suddenly or alternate (such as with the alternating constipation and diarrhoea of Irritable Bowel Syndrome). Tension simply means just that. This is the pain often associated with bloating and gas in the gut. Or a true tension headache after a stressful day at work staring at a computer screen and dealing with uncooperative or demanding colleagues or customers. A pain typifying tension will be one of spasm, as opposed to the tension we create in ourselves when we hold our breath or hold in our emotions. It may also feel stretched, like a guitar string that has been wound too tight, or a belly that has just received a really big meal. It can also arise from the previous tissue states. Oftentimes, wind/tension arises from dry/atrophy as tissues start to dry out and harden or become rigid. For example, recently I supported a woman who needed a knee replacement. The tendon behind the knee that was being replaced was incredibly tight and caused a great deal of pain, in fact it had caused more pain than the actual knee which had, by the time I saw her, become bone on bone! The reason for the knee replacement was due to osteoarthritis, which I assessed was due to the dry/atrophy tissue state, caused largely by damp/relaxation and wind/tension (according to her constitutional pattern and an extensive case history). I gave Solomon’s Seal – a moistening herb that relaxes or tones tendons as needed, and she was able to find great relief, to the point where she noticed a difference when she had run out and needed another bottle. Her recovery from the knee replacement operation was also notably quicker than usual. However, generally speaking in this wind/tension type of pain, we do rely heavily on herbs with direct relaxing qualities, or herbs that directly affect the nerves.

In all of this ‘pain language’ of the six tissue states, we also want to juxtapose it with our individual constitution, as I described in the case above. We may have a tendency to lean in a particular energetic or elemental direction, and this may determine the way we perceive the pain and how it manifests. For example, I am a typically cold person, leaning toward dryness and nervous tension. In the Ayurvedic tridoshic system, I am predominantly Vata (a combination of the elements of air and aether/space). So, my pain will more often than not come from an underlying cold, dry condition. I need warming, moistening, astringent, and nerve nourishing herbs, that are also grounding. Currently, I am taking a formula that I made consisting of:

Agrimony (astringent, relaxing) – my constitutional remedy, Wood betony (circulatory stimulant to the brain, grounding, protective, astringent, relaxing), Skullcap (nerve nourishing, relaxing), Milky Oats (moistening, nerve nutrient), Sage (warming astringent, balances fluids, help assimilate the essential fats).

I also drink a chai or a Tulsi (relaxing, warming, adaptogen) tea with ginger (moistening, warming) every day. And once or twice/week I drink a cold infusion of marshmallow root, which is deeply hydrating. Because hydration should also include how well we use oils in our body, I usually eat a lot of good quality fats and use sesame oil on my skin. For acute situations like last night’s experience, we still want to match the acute remedy with what’s going on (e.g: when some women instinctively reach for the hot water bottle)I used cannabis root infused in olive oil and made into a balm because 1.) it is warming, 2.) it is anti-inflammatory and 3.) it does have relatively immediate analgesic and anxiolytic (anxiety reducing) and sedating properties, and 4) when infused in oil it also takes on the moistening and nerve-insulating properties of the oil.

When we consider pain, not only do we look at the tissue state, the overall constitution, the type of pain itself, but we also consider its: a) Onset – was it the result of an injury? (here we would consider first aid herbs for bruising and wound management, and if it began with an injury then it’s wise to give the herb we would have given at that time), when did it begin? What was happening in our life at the time? (In the example of my situation, I could see that I had been under a fair bit of stress, and had too many late nights, and wasn’t keeping up my hydration levels); b) Palliation/Provoke– that is, is there anything that makes it better (eg: pressure, warmth), or worse (eg: dehydration, stress, cold, touch, etc); c) Quality– what does the pain actually feel like (dull ache, sharp or shooting, congested, hot, cold, throbbing, tight, etc?); d) Radiates– where is the pain actually and does it radiate or travel anywhere else? This tells us a lot about the tissues, organs, or systems effected and helps us choose herbs that have an affinity for these particular areas. For example, this is quite evident with gallstone colic. Gallstones can form due to a number of reasons, such as congestion in the liver, heat in the liver, tension in the ducts, or drying out, and inactivity (remember the six tissue states?). Gallstones caused by dryness (due to too much heat in the liver) can be seen manifested in dry skin and hair throughout the body, and particularly if the skin of the right temple feels a bit rough like fine sandpaper. The pain associated with this may radiate from the area up through the back between the shoulder blades and over the head to the right temple. In this situation we need to cool and decongest the liver, and rehydrate the tissues; e) Severity– how severe or debilitating is the pain on a scale of 1 (mild) to 10 (extreme torture)? This tells us how much the area is affected, as well as providing a good way to measure how effective our treatment is; f) Timing– when, how often, and how long does the pain occur? Does the pain occur at various times of the day? After eating? Is it effected by seasonal changes, or changes in position, movement etc? This can help us determine if the pain is due to allergies or intolerances, as well as contributing food, lifestyle, or environmental factors; g) Concomitant symptoms– what else is going on with the pain? Constipation or diarrhoea, nausea, excessive or scanty urination, bleeding, etc?

Asking good questions and making observation of how we also instinctively respond to the pain (amongst our general observations of the complexion and feel of the skin, looking at the tongue, the eyes, and feeling the pulse) can give us a tremendous amount of useful information for not only being able to understand what the body is trying to tell us about its interior health status, it can also point us to selecting very specific remedies and treatment plans.

The formula that I made for myself, listed previously, will not look like a formula I might make for someone else because I’ve formulated it for my specific needs. None of the herbs I’ve used are specifically pain-relieving. This is the beauty of herbal medicine, that we can really make our remedies specific, not just for the pain but for the person as a whole, and sometimes we don’t need to use blanket pain-relieving herbs at all. Even our acute remedies can be more specific than “here, take a neurofen”. When we combine this with sound dietary and lifestyle habits (something which I fell back on and thus suffered for last night), we can affect positive, lasting change.

To summarise the flow of thought that I’ve written above, I’ve put together a simple chart highlighting the tissue states, the types of pain that may be felt arising from each one, the various virtues that we look for in herbs to remedy these, and some examples of these herbs. It is certainly not a comprehensive chart, just a quick overview to show that we have a range of herbs at our service to help with pain that speaks to us from a multitude of reasons. We might also consider herbs specific for nerve pain itself (sharp, shooting, tingling) such as Saint John’s Wort and Prickly Ash, as well as nervines (herbs that act specifically on the nervous system) for supporting the stress of living with chronic pain. These herbs not only include the more sedative herbs like passionflower, skullcap, and lavender but also adaptogenic herbs (herbs that help the body recover from and handle chronic stress) such as Ashwagandha, Tulsi, Eleuthero, and Reishi.

I hope that in my dull-ached and semi-functional ramblings I have been able to encourage you to see a way beyond the current opioid crisis and the modern view that nothing else can be done. Plenty can be done to alleviate people’s pain! We just need to learn to listen and take a wider view. If you are suffering from pain and would like to explore this way of approaching it, I encourage you to visit a herbalist to help you J

 

Tissue State Types of pain that may typify this. Medicinal Virtues Needed. Examples of herbs.
Heat/Excitation Hot, tender, throbbing, pounding, burning, sharp, shooting, intense. Cooling

Sedative

Rose

Hawthorn(cardiovascular)

Linden flower

Peach leaf

Chamomile

Yarrow

Lemon balm

Lavender

Peppermint

Passionflower

Catnip

California poppy

Yellow dock

 

Cold/Depression Dull, sometimes pins and needles type pain. Stimulating, warming. Ginger

Rosemary

Prickly Ash

Saint Johns Wort

Cayenne

Cinnamon

 

Damp/Relaxation Ache, sometimes a bearing down pain, can lead to spasm and twitch. Astringent (tightening and toning). Agrimony

Raspberry leaf

Blackberry leaf

Herb Robert

Ladies Mantle

Yarrow

Sage

Damp/Stagnation Congested, boggy, full, sometimes bearing down, sometimes dull and achey especially after sleep. Can be inflamed. Stimulant, warming, diffusive, circulatory stimulants, alteratives/blood cleansers, cooling diuretics (if hot and inflamed). Cayenne

Ginger

Black pepper

Prickly Ash

Rosemary

Turmeric

Cinnamon

Yarrow

Angelica

Celery seed.

Nettle

Yellow dock

Cleavers

Dry/Atrophy Sticking, crackling, stiff, a pressure type pain as tissue rubs against other tissue with no lubrication in between. Demulcent/moistening, emollient (softening and moistening) Solomon’s Seal

Marshmallow

Slippery elm

Violet

Red clover

Burdock

Liquorice

Wind/Tension Changes suddenly or may come and go, spasm, cramp, tight, stretched, tension, twisted and unable to relax. Relaxing, nerve nourishing, carminative. Agrimony

Wild Yam

Chamomile

Ginger

Fennel

Crampbark

Magnesium salts

Cimicifuga

Valerian

 

Many Blessings,

Michelle x

 

 

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Birthings, Grassroots Healing, Musings, Reflections, Spirituality

The Mother Within

For Mum. Love you xo

 

“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love  her; rejoice for joy with her, all you who mourn for her; That you may feed and be satisfied with the consolation of her breast, that you may drink deeply and be delighted with the abundance of her glory”…”behold I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like a flowing stream. Then you shall feed; On her sides shall you be carried and be dandled on her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; and you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”

This is one of my favourite passages out of all the writings of the Prophets. It’s hard to imagine now of this troubled city, but it speaks of a time to come when a true, everlasting peace shall flow out of Jerusalem to bring comfort and healing to the whole world. The poetry evoking the maternal archetype is sublime. It touches that deepest part of ourselves, to that tiny baby that still exists deep in our core, who still craves the tenderness and comfort and nourishment that only a mother can give. The archetype is universal in its application, whether we experienced it with our own mothers or not, it gives us hope.

carnations
Carnations. My mums favourite. image source: Wikimedia commons.

The purpose of introducing this post with this quote is not to discuss or expound the belief system that it comes from, instead this central concept of drinking deeply of this outflowing comforting peace reminded me of an interesting parallel to that other, and equally archetypal mother we continue to carry within ourselves – the Extra-Cellular Matrix.

Today it is Mother’s Day here in Australia, so I thought it fitting to drop a post about a thought process that I recently shared on Facebook, that as Matthew Wood noted, makes the Extra-Cellular Matrix exceptionally human, and in my pattern-attuned mind, Divinely inspired. It came to me whilst listening to Matthew talk about the mucopolysaccharides in Marshmallow Root (which gives a cold infusion of the root a slimy, gel like consistency) and how in practice we might use it in ‘leaky gut syndrome’ because it is similar to the Matrix material which acts as something like a mortar in between the cells in the gut lining. I’ll explain what this means and revise what the ECM is as I share my thought process here in the fulness of its progression.

Which came first, the protein or the Matrix? For a long time, alternative health practitioners have said that dairy/milk is mucous forming^, it’s acidic (when pasteurised and homogenised), and it’s one of the top food allergens. Mainstream medicine and mainstream dieticians have always refuted these concepts, possibly dependant on where their funding came from. This post/thought process isn’t about the inherent good or badness of dairy in the diet, nor is it an invitation to debate whether breast really is best (it is), rather I am drawing correlations in regard to the role of the Extra-Cellular Matrix in the effects of milk on the human body – particularly the infant human body.

Many years ago, during a semester of Nutritional Biochemistry, I learned that babies are born with purposefully designed ‘leaky guts’. That is, their gut membrane is full of tiny little holes^^. These tiny perforations don’t seal up until the appearance of the first teeth. There’s an ingenious reason for this. Mother’s breast milk, especially the Colostrum of the first 2-3 days post-birth, is full of proteins such as antibodies and other immunity-founding components, as well as the macronutrients – fat, carbs, and protein. The ‘leaky gut’ of the baby allows these large proteins to move through and start establishing a good foundation for the immune system. Different microflora species, as well the food they need are also found in breast milk, and this – along with the flora received during the normal birth process – helps to establish the baby’s own gut microbiome. We now know that a healthy microbiome has far-reaching health affects – from our immunity to our mental health.

My understanding is that the emergence of the teeth signals that along with this sealing of the gut membrane, the baby is now ready for solids and other foreign proteins – found in other animal products and grains in particular. Introduction of these prior to this milestone confuses the fledgling immune system and sets up an immune response, which if coupled with other foreign intrusions (such as formaldehyde, aluminium, mercury, and recombinant DNA from bovine, porcine, and simian tissue, and aborted human foetal tissue – also known as Human diploid cells MRC-5), results in the development of allergies and food intolerances. But in learning about the ECM (extra-cellular matrix), I’ve now come to a slightly more developed understanding.

The ECM is the gel-like fluid that exists between the capillaries, the lymphatic vessels and the cells themselves. It consists of single-molecule width polymers such as glucosamine and hyaluronic acid. This ‘matrix’ receives nutrient and metabolic waste product like some central transport station which then organises where everything needs to go. Whereas once the cell theory (that is, the cell was an autonomous unit that regulated itself) dominated medical thought (and still does), researchers have since found that it is actually this Matrix that regulates all cell function, and acts as a unified whole throughout the body as an organ in its own right. Most recently it has been rediscovered by mainstream science and is now known as the Interstitium. By and large this is the organ that the treatment of alternative practitioners targets the most. And we were doing this intuitively long before the mainstream got wind of it.

I’ll let Matthew, referencing Alfred Pischinger, the doctor who brought the Interstitium to the fore, describe the Extra-cellular Matrix with his usual eloquence;

“It was Dr Alfred Pischinger (2007) who demonstrated that the pathology and biology based on the cell as the basic “unit of life” was a delusion resulting from superficial observation and disregard for the complexities of natural systems. His research on the extracellular matrix is still to be appreciated in conventional medicine, but Pischinger has shown that the basic functional unit of life is the capillary/matrix/cell. The cell in a multicellular organism does not control itself, like a person or an animal, but is controlled by the matrix, which determines when and what it east, when it releases waste products, whether it reproduces or migrates, ad how actively it contributes to the life of the organism as a whole. The matrix is fed and drained by the capillary bed (including the lymphatic capillaries), and therefore this triad is the basic unit of life. Changes in the cell are related to changes in its environment, and changes in this environment are related to changes in the circulation.“(Wood, et al. 2015. Traditional Western herbalism and Pulse Evaluation: A conversation.)

klimt 1905 mother and child
Gustav Klimt.1905. Mother and Child.

Now I have to wonder, as I examine breast milk more closely – yes, it seems to be the same consistency as ECM fluid – indeed most secretions in and from the body are composed of this fluid. With this in mind, I contemplate whether the importance of breast milk lies not so much in the immune proteins etc that it provides (although the love, comfort, and nutritional nourishment is paramount), does it – as an extension of the mother’s matrix – actually entrain the baby’s matrix? We might compare this with how the mother’s heart entrains the baby’s heart to beat at a regular rhythm, or the mothers breathing patterns entrain, or teaches the baby to breathe more slowly and evenly. This speaks to the instinct to carry our newborns around, or sleep next to them, keeping them close to our hearts, now sadly often over-ridden.

When we introduce milk from another animal before the appropriate time, does the baby’s body instead recognise that this matrix material simply does not carry the same ‘vibe’ as the mother’s matrix? After all, as I write this I have to conclude that amniotic fluid also has its origins in the matrix fluid, and given that the baby has spent some 40 weeks being bathed in this very personal imprint of his or her mother, I suspect that the similarities would be instantly recognised – at least on a sub-conscious or instinctive level.

This is important, because if we understand the incredible significance of this Interstitium, this Matrix (interestingly, from the Latin – also meaning ‘mother’), on the regulation of our bodies and our overall health, then surely we should come to a greater appreciation of how important this innately human liquid gold is to our children.

I think another fascinating tangent off this is that for women who, for whatever reason, can’t breastfeed, the historical record going back to the most ancient of annals tells us that until we felt the need to sterilise our experience of life, finding a wet-nurse seemed instinctive. The wet nurse was a surrogate nursing mother, and often this was another mother, relative, or a hired servant. Occasionally, in the most dire of circumstances or in the mythological realm, the wet-nurse was an animal. But even the thinking that the intelligence of the wet-nurse would be inherited by the nursling is telling. And to complete the continuum, I was recently discussing this thought process with my own Mum, and she mentioned that when I was a baby her doctor told her that the baby’s saliva is exactly the same as the Mother’s. Instinctively, during the introduction of solid foods and foreign proteins, many mothers throughout history in all cultures would chew the food first before giving it to the infant. This instinct began the process of digestion, reducing the food to a mush and therefore making it easier for the baby’s young digestive tract to recognize and accept. I’m not one to think that the ancients were clumsily fumbling around in a darkness filled with the cobwebs of superstition. I think that they knew and experienced life in its full expression, something that most of us might only dream abou

It is beyond the scope of this platform, as well as your attention to go as deep as the subject will allow here, so if you would like to know and understand more about the Extra-cellular Matrix, particularly in regard to how we work with it through herbal medicine, keep an eye out for Matthew Wood’s new book on the subject, publishing sometime in the next year. A preview of his work on it can be found at www.matthewwoodinstituteofherbalism.com

I find that the physical manifestations of the untainted creation are an expression of the spiritual, and so some of you may continue to run with this concept of a unifying Matrix and consider what upholds and sustains the universe and keeps the planets and the stars in their orbits, or Who binds the cluster of the Pleiades, or loose the belt of Orion?

I will leave you to ponder.

 

 

Until next time,

Blessings be on the Mothers xo

 

 

 

 

Addendums and continuing thoughts:

 

^ A 2013 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that bioactive peptides in cow’s milk do indeed induce mucous production in the neonatal rat jejunum (small intestine). The response appears to be a protective mechanism. https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/133/11/3499/4817930

 

^^ It is now recognised that mouth-like openings known as ‘tight junctions’ exist in the gut membrane. Opiate-like proteins (bioactive peptides) such as those found in Gluten stimulate the release of a hormone called Zonulin which controls the opening and closing of these tight junctions, and this stimulation can give rise to gluten-sensitivity as the continual consumption of gluten-containing products keep these tight junctions open via the constant release of Zonulin, which then leads to an inflammatory response due to the entrance of the large foreign proteins in Gluten products that bypass normal digestion. Mammalian milk, whether from a cow, dolphin, or human also contains similar bioactive peptides that act like opiates in the body. This opiate like effect is evidenced by the ‘punch-drunk’ expression of a baby satisfied after a full feed from her mother’s breast, and why babies have a tendency to fall asleep whilst feeding. Further research is perhaps needed to determine whether these tight junctions in the newborn gut are permanently open and kept open by the continual supply of Mothers milk, or the perforations exist between the cells themselves and the tight junctions are not yet in operation until the teeth erupt.

Musings, Reflections, Spirituality

The Liminal Wildling

A Tale for the Autumn Equinox

 

The Great Wheel turns and the weather becomes a little spasmodic, a spluttering fisticuff between summer and autumn, and the elemental tussle between fire, air, and water. None willing to give in. Yet Summer knows that she must move on, and so here in the Southern hemisphere, in my neck of the antipodean woods anyway, this week leading up to the Autumnal Equinox saw the winds of change blow in a deluge. A great washing away of the vestiges of summer past. That hint of rain-sodden humus is Heaven scent as it marks a renewed covenant with the land.

IMG_3860

For me, this time of year is a time to start going inward, not just in preparation for the colder months ahead and the medicines I need to make, the warm clothes I need to start unpacking, but a time of self-reflection and self-examination. What have I accomplished in the previous year? How have I grown?

But this year I also consider not only how I have grown, but as the Mythologist and Storyteller, Dr Martin Shaw invites us to consider – to what depth?

The process of Autumn itself reminds us to go deep. As the energy of the plants begins to move down into their roots, the deciduous leaves are drained of their colour from verdant green to iconic hues of golds, oranges, and reds. These colours are reminiscent of the colours of those lower emotional energy centres in the body’s subtle anatomy. The yellow/ gold of the solar plexus, the orange/brown of the sacral, and the deep red of the root. They invite us to also turn and focus our energies on strengthening our foundations, our roots, and our sense of place. It is in autumn that we harvest most of the roots we use for medicine and for food.

I want to build myself a cob roundhouse, deep in the wild wood, and curl up inside Earth’s womb.

Inspired by the work of Matthew Wood and the seven guide posts outlined in his book  Seven Herbs: Plant as Teachers, I have arrived at my own autumnal Process, an alchemically liminal space of dissolution of ego into refinement of soul, forty one years in the making – of severing the bonds of civilisation’s lies, of religions control, of politricks and propaganda, of other people’s projections and beliefs, and of past hurts, and I’m coming home to myself – that wild, uncivilised self, where there is just me – naked and unashamed. I am in the process of re-wilding. Of walking new songlines in the earth. Of rambling with the bloodline whispers of an ancient people not yet encumbered by the burgeoning yoke of this particular age. Of dancing wilder dances with the plants of remembrance. Of pulling thorns and thistles with my bare, bleeding hands. Of being in relationship with the primal God, without mechanical interpretation.

‘Liminal, the zone between high and low tide, describes a place that is neither land or sea. It is a place of earthly fluidity where little of yesterday remains today. … We might extend the potential of the word liminal further. We can include the moments just before dawn and the slow minutes of dusk, to the whisper of a storm soon to descend, or the breathless beat of thunder directly overhead. All these times and places have one thing in common, the human consciousness is, momentarily, silenced by their power.

 Liminality is a quality of transitional, marginal spaces, places, and spheres of influence. Anthropologically it equally applies to humans, denoting that moment in a ritual when the old identity has been shed but the new one is yet to reveal itself. Illness and deep inner crisis can be as liminal as birth and death.  Some people live their lives in almost permanent liminality, some through choice and others through breakdown. These are often the outcasts of society, the misfits, the broken, the homeless and the inspired.

These people show us the boundaries of our culture and the shadows beyond. They do this not through any abstracted academic analysis but through every moment of their living experience. They are feared, fetished or idealised and if embraced it is only slowly and with caution. They take us to the margin where we stand at the edge of comfort and look into our personal unknown. On occasion they take us to a place of inner anarchy where comforting structures of cultural obedience fade to insignificance ” (Nathaniel Hughes – Weeds in the Heart.)

I might aspire to be a poet, but I am not one. Yet I can feel the poiesis move through the world along a network of these liminal spaces. Betwixt and between, in equinox and solstice, in the coming and going of cycles and rituals. This becoming of the invisibles of creation. This poetic manifestation of a much needed Light.

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But it isn’t the light of summer, or the light of the hearth fire on a cold winters night, or the luminous super moon that heralds this particular cycle. It is the light that can only be kindled during the dark night of the soul, when all has been lost or stripped away or shed in ritual and discarded and you seek yourself in a looking glass darkly only to realise you have become without form and Void. A little death ensues. And having found yourself thus, you’ve buried yourself in the leaf-mould of the garden, in the cool of the evening, and you look up to the wild God, and you say, “I have nothing left.”

And he says, “Good. Now we can work. Let there be Light.”

In this regard, I am reminded of the curse laid upon Adam when he was expelled from the Garden. That he would toil the ground for his food, and that it would only bring forth thorns and thistles. The name Adam is a root word for the word for earth (Adamah) – because that is what mankind was made from. I see this analogy as referring to the inner landscape of the humankind. A kind who let tangled chokeholds of thorn and thistle grow around their inner most beings – whether this is intentional or through supressing emotional wounds and believing other people’s lies. If we want to produce good, sweet, sun-ripened living fruit, we need to till our inner soil and remove these barriers that choke us and prevent us from healing and growing. Yet in doing so, as we till, we aerate the soil, we turn it and expose all the lies that lie beneath, and it forces us to be honest with ourselves. Often thorns and thistles indicate acidic soils, and often their roots dig deep and aerate the soil and bring up vital nutrients from the deeper layers. And many thorns and thistles provide habitat for other forms of life. So our thorns and thistles, in spite of their choking, also have a purpose in making us confront our deeper core as we begin to remove them, and the beliefs of others that attach themselves to us. If we do manage to produce fruit amidst this entanglement, it may be eaten from within or feasted upon by the denizens of the bramblechoke before it sees the light of day, and perhaps in this we might ponder the curse of Eve who was to produce her offspring in pain and sorrow. An offspring who have inherited in the flesh the thorn of their forebears. It’s a difficult task to face ourselves and to be honest with ourselves, to be prepared to die a little death. But we must remove these thorns, we must till the soil and lay ourselves bare if we want to heal, and if we want to stand honestly in reconciliation with the wild God. And oftentimes, the only way to do that is with our bare hands, alone, in the depths of the darkest night. IMG_3873

I seek during this tekufah, this turn of the year when day and night mirror each other, to rewild myself to the garden I used to live in before the devourer came and tore it down and left me only with a bramble-choked home. To leave the wilderness of a gnarled and twisted society and return to the wild, with my emptied, naked vessel eager to be filled with a small ember of Light, a tiny flickering aurora of Hope, of Healing, of Wholeness. A glimmer of warm comfort to carry me through the cold, dark times ahead.

And just perhaps, on reflection, I have grown deep, in spite of myself, in losing myself and shedding my old scarred and weathered and thorn-pricked skin, and my roots snuggle in to the bedrock of a renewed heaven and a renewed earth.  And I curl up inside the earth’s womb, a glowing ember keeping me warm, a new sprout gestating as I overwinter, waiting for the wheel to turn once more.

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The photos above were taken by me (M.Carnochan 2019) on the Autumn equinox during a nature ramble on the mountain behind our home.