Why “Letting Go of Ego” Doesn’t Work for Survivors of Trauma

Iris teaching

Iris being herself.

We often hear that we need to overcome what is called “ego”, to abolish it. This doesn’t make sense to me because then we have no core, no self, no internal cohesiveness.

The word “ego” has too many meanings and is used in too many ways, often negatively, to be truly helpful.

I think a better word for the sense of “who I am” is self. There is self that is the core of who we are in this body, this being, this life. And there is Self that is our soul, the larger part of us that transcends this current life.

We can see what is usually called “ego” as that accretion around the self–what coats and covers that core self and accumulates over time, throughout our life–and can blur what is necessary and blind us to our best self.

“Ego”, then, can include those things that we consider negative–pride, self-aggrandizement, jealousy, malice, know-it-allness, etc. If we see these as additions or add-ons to our core/true self and as layers that make us immune, perhaps,  both to hurt, and also to growth and learning and ultimate happiness, then we can see how peeling back the layers of “ego” can make us “better” people, or at least allow us to start to see the world more clearly and act more in accordance with kindness, compassion, and consideration (for others, for ourselves, for the world).

I think this accretion is the “ego” that is meant by the Eastern religions–or at least the Westernized, translated versions of them–that urge us to purge ourselves of the ego.

But I see also that some of these religions or traditions urge us to peel away everything that is “Us”, until we lose our sense of self and become one with God/Buddha/Krishna/All That Is/ Whomever.

That has never appealed to me.

My sense of being a self was too smashed in childhood for me to find the thought of giving up my “self” appealing.

I don’t believe that while we are in this body, this life, we have to.

We each have a kernel of the Divine within us, which is that self, and that is who we are for our time in this world.


If we have had that sense of being a valid being–a person who exists as their own sovereign body, mind, emotions, set of experiences–demolished, then we have no sense of self, which is what is meant by “ego” in a general sense.

If we have struggled to find any iota of what might be truly a part of our own unique, sovereign self so that we can figure out that we actually exist in this world, that we may have a few rights to have our needs met (never mind any wants!) and we have rights not to be used, abused, tortured–then, then, THEN,  the thought that we have to give up that tiny sliver of knowing we are allowed to exist and feel and make our own decisions and choose what is for us alone–is intolerable, and is a torture in itself.

For many survivors of trauma and abuse and neglect and torture, the challenge is to gain an “ego” and a sense of self, of self, and to know that they deserve, have a human-being right to have all, all, ALL of their feelings, no matter how “wrong”, “stupid”, perverse, “selfish”, scary, and uncomfortable they are. That they have a right to get their basic human needs for shelter, food, water, safety, love and connection met. That they matter simply by being alive on this earth, in this life, right now.

Carrying Grief

statue of Kwan Yin“Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.”
Sheryl Sandberg COO of FaceBook

Grief is a burden that many of us don’t even know we carry. It is simply there, like a part of us, the air we breathe, inseparable from our deepest being.

We mostly don’t know that it is there,  welded into our bones, because it is so ancient that it cannot be seen.

We’ve been carrying it since birth, since before birth. We’ve been carrying it from earliest childhood, from middle childhood, from teenagehood, from adulthood. From the first time one parent or both failed us, from the first time we were abandoned, abused, hurt beyond repair, raped, scolded, hit, shamed, ignored, not seen. This is more than the usual childhood travails, though maybe those do us in as well. I don’t know, because I was thrown into the deep end before I was born.

The first grievous event happens and then  we grow up into the world and all the grievous happenings pile onto our core of grief and make it heavier, push it further into our bones, make it more solid and impermeable.

It is a pain that we carry in our deepest hearts, and that stains our being like dye poured into a mixing bowl, completely coloring all.

Sometimes we are able to see it. When we can we may be able to chip away a little tiny bit of it, maybe just enough to take away one iota of the pain. And maybe take away another chip of it before the next grief hits us.

What I have discovered is that grief is mostly always there when I look for it. But I have also discovered that when I have been able to take it out and look at it–look into my bones and the long hallways of my life where grief lurks, sometimes it can start to evaporate, shrink and shrivel. It doesn’t hit as many nerve endings. It doesn’t consume me.

As Sheryl Sandberg says, sometimes what we feel and have experienced can only be carried. And sometimes knowing what we carry can be good enough.

What is Gained by Firing an Abuser?

(This was written in 2018, but feels very relevant today. )

We have White Birch--3 trunksbeen firing a lot of men lately who we have found out have been abusive in their work and/or home lives. Sexual coercion, innuendo, assault; battering wives and girlfriends. It makes sense and is necessary to remove men from positions where they can abuse their coworkers, subordinates, and others. To fire men from their jobs because of what has happened n their personal lives, not so much.

What is gained by firing a man who has battered his wife or molested his child? Will it stop him from doing it again, to her/him or the next wife/girlfriend/partner? No. Will the message be received by other batterers and abusers as “oh I better not do this because I could lose my job!” Most definitely not. Will shaming the men possibly make the situation worse for the victim? Quite likely, yes.

Our society seems to take delight in publicly shaming and punishing the men whose transgressions are discovered and publicly acknowledged.

Sadly, we also seem to think that the mere acts of shaming them and taking away their current means of livelihood will make a difference–cause them, or society, to change. Shaming and taking away a job serve to satisfy a sense of anger and desire for revenge, but beyond that, absolutely nothing, nothing, is accomplished, at least nothing of any value.

What is needed is a sea change. A change in our societal morés and habits and fundamental values and ways of socializing our children, starting in the womb. It requires, in the end, changing the patriarchy that is the bedrock of our society.

Saying this, it seems like an impossible task. It feels like lifting heavy boulders with my bare hands. It looks like it will never happen.

But I know that change is possible and, indeed, does happen. It can’t begin to happen until we acknowledge that there is a problem. I hope that this current spate of revelations of abusers will be the start of a real societal shift. Maybe it won’t. Maybe it will be just another false start. But I know that as we keep tearing the cover off what has been kept in the dark, eventually the light will get in and clear the clotted dregs of what is most vile in our society. May it be so.

Note: I am a survivor of long-term trauma and abuse and am in no way condoning the actions of any of the men, and women, who are abusing. I simply think that we don’t currently have adequate and effective ways of dealing with them and the system that supports them.


Gratefulness Throughout the Day

crayon heartWhen I was in a very deep, dark space some years ago, I started a gratitude practice of thinking of 3 things at night that I was grateful for. It gradually turned into all the things I could think of at the time. Then, because I was struggling so badly, I started looking around me during the day and saying that I was grateful for the most basic things as a way to focus my mind away from the pain I was in and to train myself to see differently. “I am grateful for grass.” “I am grateful for paint.” “I am grateful for this paved path.” That sort of thing.

Also, because I wanted to have at least 3 things to remember at night, I started paying attention to what was happening during the day that I could be grateful for. That started me being aware during the day of what was happening that I was grateful for. It started me being aware on a daily basis of at least some of what is going well, no matter how small, and I often just say thank you for it, even “thank you that I did not fall when I tripped just now!” (more than once!). I have even sometimes been grateful for the painful, uncomfortable feelings I have, because they are part of the whole human experience and they have taught me a lot.

I know that my days are so different now, for many reasons, but I find an amazing number of things to be thankful/grateful for and that keeps my mood in a better place. It has certainly shifted my anxiety and depression to a much lower state.

You Have A Choice

My last lifetime before this one, in linear chronological terms, was during WWII.

I was a young woman living in France, probably around 1944, and I came home one day and went into the basement of the brick apartment building where I lived. I found my young daughter (maybe 2 y.o.) and my mother in that life slaughtered with other people there. I immediately went into immense, overwhelming rage and grief. I swore I would do something to those who had done this–and turned to the dark side, the only way I knew or could think of to avenge these deaths. I then had any number of lifetimes of being and working in the Darkness in all directions of time, past and future, since time is not linear. I don’t know when I died, but I came into this life in the mid-1950s.
I remembered that lifetime during a class with my shamanic teacher when we journeyed on what was creating obstacles for ourselves in this lifetime.

In this lifetime I was born into a seemingly devout Christian community that was in reality a cult hiding both ritualized Christian abuse and deeper pantheistic abuse (the kind you read about and go “Oh no, they’re making that up”). The abuse started 2 days after birth and continued until maybe my late 20s or early 30s, when I was finally able to remember what had happened and get clear of the perpetrators (though dealing with my parents, who were also a part of it, as well as victims of it, was a different story).


I came into this lifetime, I now understand, with 2 differing purposes. The first one, that has guided me from the beginning and has informed my choices again and again, was to go toward goodness and light, caring, loving, bringing the highest good into the world that I am able.

Doing Internal Family Systems work (IFS is one form of a number of therapies helping you to access and heal various parts of yourself, based by the originator on shamanic understanding). I recently found a part of me that held a different belief and desire. I have found many child parts and helped them heal and come to the present, but this one was surprising.

This young baby part had a belief and determination that I would go through these terrible things because I could handle it and wanted revenge. I had asked to come into this hell at least in part for this purpose. (This is not the only example of my hubris in this life!)

When I connected with this part of me I realized I had asked for this experience in order to take get back at those who had hurt me before. I also realized I couldn’t do it.

I had the life-changing understanding that I do not have to take revenge on anyone. I do not have to punish anyone for anything. God/Higher Power/Great Spirit will do this in all ways in all times in all places. This is what Karma is. I don’t need to do anything, it will be taken care of in Spirit’s own time and way. I don’t need to carry that burden.
I experienced such a lightness with this realization! It is not up to me, I can leave it to He/She who is here to take care of whatever happens.


On thinking about this more I realized that I can have compassion for my selves in all those lifetimes where I worked for the Dark, for evil, was mean and nasty, or whatever. Just as I have compassion for my abusers (and please understand, compassion does not excuse what happened). I don’t have to worry about getting even or getting revenge or whatever else on those who “wrong” me, because Spirit will take care of it. It doesn’t mean letting myself be used or abused or not protecting myself, but when things happen, I don’t have to be the one doing the punishing/avenging. Our experiences in all our lives are the whole range of human behavior, the good, bad, ugly, evil, saintly, life-giving, and so on. We will be shown what our actions do and how they affect the world, we will receive whatever learning is necessary, and “punishment” if that is needed or will be seen that way. We may not get to see it happen to those who hurt us, just as we often won’t see the results of the good we do, but it will happen.

I finally  realized that when I came upon that horrific scene in the basement in WWII and immediately turned to the Dark side without another thought, I actually did have a choice. I could turn it over to Spirit. For me that is profound.

Learning the Plants, Part 2

blackberry in flower1 6-1-2016

Flowering blackberry vines at the beginning of June.

Now that I am familiar with the plants around me, as I wrote about in my last post, I want to get to know them in more depth.

This is like meeting someone you like and find interesting and want to get to know better. It takes spending time with them and getting to know who they are below the surface, what makes them tick, their good and bad points, what particularly makes the two of you click. All of this leads to friendship, connection, and bonding.

So it is with plants, or to begin with, one plant that you want to get to know better. You want to know its name (common name, botanical name), where it came from (native or introduced, in what part of the world it originated), what it does for a living and for fun (growth habit; annual, biennial, or perennial; actions and properties), where it lives (what kind of soil, light, water requirements), how it spends its days and develops itself (watching it over the course of a year). In this way to start to develop an intimacy with the plant that goes beyond mere acquaintanceship and deepens into true knowledge and friendship.

Many herbalists and plant people suggest choosing one plant and focusing on it for a year, deepening your knowledge and connection with it. This is a wonderful idea, but I have always had too many plants that I wanted to get to know at one time and a somewhat scattered attention span, so I have never done the in-depth thing, instead greeting and observing various plants around me. Over the course of several years I will then have gotten to know a number of plants, both wild and cultivated, through all the seasons of the year. I know them from tiny sprouts in the spring to mature summer plants, to winding down in the fall, to winter silhouettes.

Get Up Close and Personal

New growth at tips of hemlock tree branches. June 2016

New growth at tips of hemlock tree branches. June 2016

One of the best ways to get to know plant friends is to spend a bit of time with them, even just a few minutes. Many times when I am working in the garden, or taking a walk, or even rushing to the train, a plant will catch my eye and I will have to spend some time looking at it, closely examining it, maybe the one part that caught my eye—the new growth at the tip of the branch, the flower, how the leaves are formed and attach to the stem. Maybe just how the whole plant looks and grows.

Growing plants gives such excellent opportunities to observe them up close and see them at different stages. If growing from seed then I get to see what the seed leaves look like, the first true leaves, how the plant develops into its mature form.

If I am getting a plant that’s already growing I can see how it settles in and how it goes through the different seasons.

Weeding is a particularly fine way to get to know weeds, or simply the extra plants that are more than I have room for in my garden. Pulling plants out by the roots gives you a very fine view of the whole plant, and a better than usual understanding of the roots.

When I am picking or harvesting plants, in the garden or in the wild, I also get to closely observe them. It’s important to know what parts I am harvesting, and if it is a plant that will continue to be there, how to do so without harming it. Just the fact that I am that close to the plant means I can’t help but notice its form and growth habits.

Communicate/Meditate with Your Plant Friends

Spending time connecting with the energy of plants is hugely important for knowing them.

Doing guided meditations or shamanic journeys to connect with the spirit of the plants, to ask questions and receive answers, or just to foster a deeper connection, changes your relationship with them.

Paying attention to what you perceive about a plant, to any whispers you may hear when you are with a plant helps you know the plant better. You can check what you learn/hear/perceive with books and other herbalists, but also listen to your intuition. A plant may work differently with you than with anyone else, and have gifts for you to use and share that it doesn’t share with other people. Many people find that they have one or a few plants that are their “go-to” plants, that have an efficacy that seems to go beyond the usual.

Live with Them

Sometimes getting to know a plant is as simple as living with it in your environment, whether in your living room or greenhouse, your garden, the local park, or the fields where you walk.

Having a plant, or plants, in your living space really helps you to get to know it better. Paying attention to it, caring for it, gives you a more intimate connection. And if it’s in your garden and you are really caring for it, that’s living with it too, and gives you the same benefit of getting closer to it.

I have found that also having the plant around in its dried form, ready for tea, or the dried stems or even whole plant, allows me to get a sense of it over time. Just having it in my living space for months, sometimes years, before I even do much of anything with it. Just feeling my way into familiarity with it.

Use Them!

dandylion flowers in a jar

Dandylion flowers in a jar

Of course, living with them leads naturally to using them in the different ways that make sense to you: Teas, infusions, plant medicines of all kinds, salves and lotions and scrubs, wreaths, dream pillows, dyeing your handspun yarn or silk scarves or fabric you love, energy work or magic, eating it.

If you have come to a plant in a time of desperation because of sickness then of course you will be using it right away as medicine. But there may be other uses for the plant, or other ways to know it. When you are no longer in crisis, you can explore those avenues. Maybe it is also edible. Maybe it dries nicely for a wreath or arrangement. Maybe its energy is used for Magic or energy work. Or it is dye plant. Even just getting to know its medicine better will get you more connected.

Every use you make of a plant teaches you more about it, deepens your connection with it.

Here is an article that addresses some aspects of getting to know the plants by Steph Zabel of Flowerfolk Herbal Apothecary: “Thoughts on Knowing Plants (meeting them with your heart)”.

What have you experienced with a plant you especially like? Share in the comments section below.



Observing the Plants Where You Visit: St. Augustine, Florida

crinum lily flower fla 1-21-2016

Flowering crinum lily in St. Augustine, Florida, January 2016.

“Send me outdoors and I shall be well-entertained.”
Iris P. Weaver

I got a fabulous Christmas present from long-time friends this year: a round-trip ticket to visit them at their condo rental in St. Augustine, Florida, in January. Besides the obvious pleasure of being in at least marginally warmer climes than New England, the trip was a chance to meet new plants and see a very different environment than I inhabit in northeastern Massachusetts. I always love seeing what the plants are wherever I am visiting.

Before I left I didn’t even know where St. Augustine was in Florida, and had to look at a map when I got there to discover that it is in the northeastern part of the state. I did know that it is on the ocean, as beaches were mentioned before I left.

In Massachusetts I also live near the coastline and beaches, and so know the coastal landscape and flora quite well. It has been fascinating to observe the differences between the two coastal areas.

I didn’t know that Florida has a range of climate zones. I had previously only been to Orlando and Miami Beach, and just assumed that Florida is warm, warm, hot year-round. Not so. There are actually several growing/climate zones, ranging from Zone 8a to 10b according the USDA Plant Zone hardiness map. A book I got (Florida Landscape Plants: Native and Exotic*) divides Florida into 3 zones: North, Central, South, but the USDA map is more nuanced, dividing Florida into six growing zones. I had no idea there was so much variation in temperature and climate in this one state! The USDA places St. Augustine in Zone 9a and Florida Landscape Plants in the Northern zone.

flowering aloe-Florida, 1-21-2016

Aloe in bloom, St. Augustine, Florida, January 2016.

I was surprised to find that there is not as much diversity of plants in St. Augustine, both garden and landscape plants and weeds/wild-growing plants, as there is in New England. I guess I thought that warmer automatically meant lots of diversity, maybe even more than in colder climes.

Nevertheless, it was wonderful looking at the plants and wondering what they were, or seeing familiar plants, some that live only in pots in Massachusetts (though of course some of them live in pots in Florida as well).

It was so different from the last time I went to Florida, almost 40 years ago. Not that I didn’t notice the plants then, and wonder at and appreciate them. But since then my connection with them has grown so much, and my knowledge and ability to observe have grown as well. I am able to see, know, and understand so much more about the plants that I am meeting, and able to make some educated guesses about the plants that I don’t know.

It is amazing, for a Northern gal like me, to see plants growing in the ground that in Massachusetts are sold in the indoor, tropical plants section of stores like Home Depot, and that must either live entirely indoors, be brought in before the snow begins to fly, or get treated as annuals. For instance, lantana grows wild as well as being a garden plant, and hibiscus bushes bloom everywhere in front yards and ornamental hedges.

Plants that live in pots or are annuals in New England

asparagus fern, Florida 1-2016

Asparagus fern with ripe berries, St. Augustine, Florida, January 2016.

As well as the lantana I mentioned that gets treated as an annual in New England, and the various tropical hibiscuses that also have to winter over indoors, there were other tropical plants in the ground in Florida, such as asparagus fern (related to our culinary asparagus), snake plant or sanseiveria, and philodendrons. Agapanthus, lily of the Nile, was everywhere, though it wasn’t blooming. I recognized it by its leaves. There were clumps of aloes by the sidewalk where we walked to the beach, and a few were just starting to bloom!

Live oaks and Spanish moss

spanish moss strand curly

A single strand of Spanish moss.

I was ecstatic to get off the plane and see live oaks and Spanish moss. For some reason I hadn’t seen them when I had been in Florida before. I had to ask to be sure the trees I was seeing were live oaks, because they have small, unlobed leaves that are very different from our oaks in New England, and from many other oaks. But the Spanish moss was unmistakable! I recognized it immediately.

Fresh living Spanish moss is greyish, with a slight greenish tint to it. It is surprisingly springy and alive-feeling if you’ve only ever encountered it as the dry stuff used for crafts and basket filler.

spanish moss strand stretched

A strand of Spanish moss stretched out to show growth pattern.

It has a very interesting growth habit. It has a rosette  of skinny leaves, around 4 or 5 of them. One of the leaves grows a few inches longer and another rosette grows out of it, then another one of the leaves grows longer and another rosette grows out of it, and so on. This is how you get a long strand of Spanish moss. This strand is actually very elastic—if you pull it out and let go it will quickly pull itself back into its somewhat wavy, curly pattern. It doesn’t exactly snap back, but springs back.

You get a lot of these growing together and they become long beard-like formations dripping off of trees, or sometimes even directly on the bark of tree trunks.

Palm Trees

There were so many palm trees! which I knew there would be. It was interesting to see how many different kinds of palm trees there are. Since I just didn’t know them well enough, I couldn’t tell if some palms were different species or just the same species at different point of development or growth. But I was able to tell a few kinds of palms were the same.

One ubiquitous palm is the cabbage palm, state tree of Florida, and a native plant. It was recognizable because of the falls of black berries hanging under the palm fronds. I also saw a palm which had tannish-yellow berries which looked edible and I learned in a book they were, but I didn’t buy the book, and the palm wasn’t in the book I got, so I don’t know its name.

Also, there were lots of palmettos, looking like very truncated palm trees, one of which is saw palmetto, whose berries are used medicinally.

Visiting a Historical Garden

blooming cactus, Florida 1-25-2016

Blooming, leafy cactus, seen on one of my walks; St. Augustine, Florida January 2016.

I went to a historical site, the Washington Oaks Gardens State Park. It’s a family estate that was given to the state to be used for the enjoyment of the public 50 years ago. The woman who gave it to the state was a talented gardener and her gardens have continued to be maintained. They are lovely. I saw so many cool plants!

The gardens are beautifully laid out with a wide variety of both native and introduced/exotic plants. There were 2 species of bird-of paradise, one that gets about 4 feet tall, and one that gets about 20 feet tall! There was also a beautiful Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochea) climbing on a short fence near an orange tree. It has an odd, amazingly shaped and  colored flower. You can wander around for a quite a while looking at the broad variety and beauty of the plants.

Same Plants Down There As Up Here

 The Washington Oaks Gardens has an herb garden in raised beds near the parking area. There are some familiar plants included, such as thyme, rosemary, and mint. It was lovely to see familiar friends.

In various places I went I also noticed dandelions and chickweed, inkberry (a native holly), and gaillardia, also called blanket flower and another native.

What I found most interesting was to see the wide growing range of some the plants that I know so well in New England.

So what places have you visited and what plants have you seen that piqued your interest? Comment below (the problems with commenting should be fixed).

*Florida Landscape Plants: Native and Exotic 3rd edition 2014 University Press of Florida



What is Sustainable Herbalism?

Lady's mantle and more

Herbs growing in a garden.

Sustainability is becoming more and more important as our economy continues to struggle and as people realize how fragile our planet is. As an herbalist and plant lover (and child of the 60s) I have always thought in terms of sustainability for my life and my work, and so, of course, it is something that is inextricably tied in with my practice of herbalism and of foraging and wild-crafting. I thought it would be useful to write something about sustainable herbalism and what it is, at least from my point of view.

In wanting to write about this topic I spent time on the Web looking to see what is out there on the subject, specifically “sustainable herbalism”. Along with various businesses that include sustainability as part of their practices or include the word “sustainable” for some of their products, there were some interesting blog posts and articles. They helped to expand what I had been thinking about sustainability to a broader level, beyond the more local level I usually think of.

Definition of Sustainability

Wikipedia begins the entry on sustainability with this: “In ecologysustainability is the capacity to endure; it is how biological systems remain diverse and productive indefinitely.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainability) And the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines sustainability as “able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed; involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources; able to last or continue for a long time.” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sustainable

This is how i think of sustainable herbalism: using locally growing and grown plants whenever possible for healthcare and other needs in ways that are harmonious with the environment, with the needs of a community, with one’s budget. It is wild-crafting responsibly and using wild plants when feasible. It is about growing what I can grow as much as possible, and when I can’t, to buy from people who grow organically and responsibly and/or ethically wildcraft, locally when possible, as much as I can. It is working with plants in ways that make sure the plants and the medicine will still be there next year, in five years, in 10 years, for the next generation, the next seven generations to come, and beyond.

Sustainably Global

As I was looking at articles and blogs I realized also that it is about approaching the growing and using of plants and their medicines with responsibility and care around the world as well.

I realized that sustainable herbalism is also more global and universal, encompassing the way plants are grown, harvested, processed, and transported around the world. That this happens in ways that maintain the integrity of the plants and where they are grown, the environment, and that don’t use excessive amounts of resources for growing, handling, and transporting, especially non-renewable resources such as petroleum or plastics.


One of the most important parts of what I think of as sustainable herbalism is affordability. It is crucial that if herbal medicine is going to be able to be used and incorporated into one’s healthcare long-term that it be affordable and available on an on-going basis. It doesn’t make sense to use rare, exotic herbs that are very expensive to grow or find, ship, and buy (unless they are what you really need and you can’t find a substitute). That is not a sustainable practice for a person or family of ordinary financial means. Being able to use a medicine as long as needed without worrying about the cost is hugely important and necessarily a part of sustainability.


And so to one other aspect of sustainability, though not an absolute requirement. I think it is much more sustainable to be able to make you own medicines—tinctures, vinegars, infused oils, salves, capsules, etc.—if you have the knowledge, skill, and inclination to do so. It can make working with an herb affordable where buying the ready-made products might be vastly more expensive. Even being able to make a tea is a simple form of medicine-making that just about anyone can do.


I also found some resources. One of the resources I found was the Sustainable Herbs Project, started by Ann Armbrecht, one of the film-makers for Numen: The Healing Power of Plants. Armbrecht is making a documentary about the growers and producers of herbs around the world, and the project is about “following medicinal plants through the supply chain of the botanical industry.” It is about knowing who is growing or collecting the herbs, how they are processed and distributed, so that those who are using the herbs know how they been treated from harvest to medicine–making. They can see whether the plants were grown without chemicals, irradiated, stored correctly or not, and more. It is a way to know and support the small herb producers around the world, as well as make sure that the herbs you buy are good quality for good medicine. sustainable herbs project.

Here is a good blog post by herbalist Juliet Blankespoor on wild-crafting which lays out some good guidelines for foraging and wild-crafting herbs to use sustainably.

What are your thoughts and opinions on sustainability and sustainable herbalism? What do you do to work with herbs sustainably? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Welcoming the Spring Sun and Awakening Plants

ground ivy swathIn New England and elsewhere it was a verrrry long, cold, and dark winter. Even die-hard winter lovers were finally begging for spring to arrive.

And so it has, albeit slowly, perhaps still feeling the chill of the retreating winter. I did not see my first dandelion flower until this week! This is highly unusual as here on the New England coast, even when we have heavy snow winters, there are usually patches of clear ground where you can sometimes find dandelions blooming in December, and certainly they are coming along in a few places in late March and early April.

A few days ago I led my first Urban Foraging Ramble of the season, and we trekked through downtown Beverly (Massachusetts) finding the plants that in the city are beginning to sprout or put out fresh new leaves and buds or even to bloom.

Queen Anne's lace Daucus_carota

Blooming Queen Anne’s lace. It flowers the second year of its life cycle.

Excitingly, we found a Queen Anne’s lace second-year plant already in full feathery leaf, tucked into a little alcove where a building wall met the sidewalk. The warmth was just enough to encourage an early royal appearance! Unfortunately I didn’t think to photograph our friend, so you’ll just have to content yourself with this stock picture of Her Majesty.

Welcoming Sunlight

The sun was gloriously warm, helping dispel the coldish wind. Both while waiting for my students and when I got home I sat and basked in the sun. I have never missed the sun like I did this winter! I had never truly understood how vital sunlight and the Sun itself are to my happiness and mental well-being.

After sitting for an hour or more in the afternoon sun I wanted to go inside and nap, but when I got up to go inside I felt a visceral need to spend more time in the sun, a physical pull to stay in the sun. It was quite extraordinary, I’ve never experienced anything like that before.

Human beings have always needed sunshine and a connection with the great being in the sky, the Sun. It is only in the last one or two hundred years that many societies have lost their connection with the Sun and with the outdoors, coming to fear nature and sunlight.

Doreen Virtue, in her book Angel Medicine, talks about our need for sunshine, the light itself, and the rainbow energy it carries. She mentions that we need to spend time in the sun, though if we are fair-skinned it is better to do so in early morning and late afternoon. It is also important to receive the light of sunrises and sunsets, as they help to calibrate our chakras. And if possible, it is best to take in sunny energy without the mediation of windows, glasses, or sunglasses.

I turned to this book this winter while looking for ways to work through my severe depression. Repeatedly I would open it randomly for a message and find myself reading about sunlight and how it helps with depression and health. ‘Nuff said! Except that the sun wasn’t cooperating this winter. I was not only depressed but frustrated. How happy I have been to see the sun shining forth in the last couple of weeks!

Greeting Emerging Wild Plant Friends

With the return of “good” weather, i.e., weather that you can go out in without bundling up in three layers, and the ground thawing out, it is time to go and greet plant friends and allies that are emerging and waking.

In late-ish April as I go walking and foraging I am finding dandelions with luscious leaves and buds starting to rise, a few with blooming flowers. Ground ivy is already scrambling along, ready to take over whatever garden and lawn areas it can conquer. Garlic mustard is putting out clusters of second-year leaves and since it is such an invasive plant, I am happily pulling them up and tossing them in my soup pot. Violets are beginning to emerge. Celandine is happily flaunting its medium-green, furry-edged leaves. Grasses are poking up higher than you’d expect at this time of year.

In all, it is a glorious time to be outside in the sun, finding the plants that have answered the call of spring and shown themselves!

Go outside and find the plants that are growing nearest to your house or office. What are they? Share them with me (pictures are fab) in the comments section of the blog. Happy, happy Spring!!!

Nurturing a Part of Yourself That Needs Healing

crayon heartRecently I have been finding new aspects of myself that hold the feelings and experiences of a young child. I have encountered many different aspects of myself over the years and it has taken much time to learn to deal with them compassionately and kindly.

Often, when I encounter these “child parts”, I find that they are holding a feeling or experience that needs healing. Until the feeling or experience has been acknowledged and healed it creates a stumbling block that prevents me from moving forward in life, or taking actions that need doing. When I have listened to and acknowledged that part of me, and offered it the healing I can, the block is removed and I can move forward with a new clarity.

One of the most consistent needs those “child parts” have is to be loved. This can be hard at times, as they hold feelings or experiences that are upsetting, painful, or uncomfortable. I have found, though, that I can hold that part of me in love and that changes everything. It resolves the bad or uncomfortable feelings I have about that part, brings love and compassion into the picture, and resolves the difficulty that has been tripping me up.

Here is a simple exercise you can do to hold a difficult part of you (or feeling) in love and heal parts of you that you might not otherwise be able to reach.

Find a comfortable place to sit and focus for a while. Make sure that distractions are at a minimum, phone and electronics turned off, other people told not to disturb you.

Take a few deep breaths to calm and center yourself, and then begin.

Visualize your heart center. It is in the center of your chest, behind your breast bone. You may see colors there, such as pink or white or green. It may feel like a space that is larger than that part of your body, and in the energetic realm it is bigger than your physical body. It may feel circular or round, or even square. This is where your heart energy is centered in your body and your being.

Now if you have an aspect of yourself that you are aware of that you feel needs love and/or healing, visualize it. You may see it as small person, as a feeling, as a color or shape, or maybe just a few words to describe it, or even a name or word for a name. Notice if it is located in some area of your body.

Bring this part of yourself into your heart center. Let it settle in for a minute or two.

When you are ready, visualize pink light filling your heart center and surrounding that part of yourself. This pink light is the light of love and has a loving feeling to it. Sometimes you are able to feel the love, sometimes you just have to know that it is love even though you can’t feel it.

Take 5 or 10 minutes to continue to hold that part of you in the loving pink light. When your attention wanders, gently bring it back.

You may find yourself speaking to that part of yourself. Do not say anything critical or hurtful to that part. You may say things like “I am so sorry,” “I love you,” “You are okay,” “I understand.” You might have a conversation with that part of yourself. You may find that you gain some understanding of why this part of you feels or acts the way it does (or did), and you may find that you have forgiveness or understanding that you didn’t before. If you don’t that is fine, it is important simply to continue to love that part of yourself.

When you feel you have spent enough time bathing that part of you in love and loving energy you can say good-ye to it. Tell that part of yourself you love him/her. Ask if there is anything else you can do. Let him/her know you will be doing this again, if it feels possible or appropriate. Say good-bye to this part of yourself gently and lovingly.

When you are done you may want to write down any realizations you have had.

This is a powerful way to heal aspects of yourself that you may not otherwise know how to deal with. It is also a powerful way to bring love into your life, and to love yourself.

So often we have a profound need for love and are not sure where to get it or how to find it. It doesn’t occur to us that we can give it ourselves, start to fill that very deep human need within our own selves, but it is possible, and one of the most healing things we can do for ourselves.