Happy Transitions Year!

In Chinese medicine, every being goes through cycles of yin and yang, one mode arising as the other fades, always a little yang in the yin, a little yin in the yang. A being cannot be all one or other. YinYangAnd yet, for me, 2014 was a “yin” year, full of a delicious, nourishing inwardness, a pause that, with every passing month, became more pregnant with possibilities—an endarkened ripening, maybe like what a crystal feels as it grows within the Earth.

The year was marked by a lot of work done with a coach, especially around migraines and perceptions I’ve held—perceptions long ossified—since childhood; contact with archangels, thanks to this coach; the loss of some part-time work; the creation of possibilities for work on my own terms; and, most recently, the rather sudden death of my oldest sister, Teresa.

If I were in any frame of heart other than gratitude, I’d say that 2014 basically stunk, as far as years go. But that feels off to me. Because I’ve also grown closer to myself/my Self in this period, and I cannot think of anything more important, not just for me, but for anyone.

One of the biggest markers of change is the deeply felt, experiential knowledge that there are beings here to help us and we need not hesitate to ask. Like many people, I’ve always wanted to do everything on my own. If I couldn’t do something on my own, then there was something amiss with me. This thinking neglects certain realities, of course, namely that Renaissance-Womandom is a mighty hard, if not impossible, state to attain (at least in one lifetime), and the work involved exhausts resources that are probably better utilized in other ways. So, I’ve started to ask for help whenever I need it, whether it’s a particular physical ache or the onset of a state of mind or an encounter with activities or energies that don’t serve me or anyone else.

Something liberating there is in the asking—a reminder that I am not alone, that it is okay not to have to feel I have to know everything, be everything, do everything.

This year has also brought about greater awareness around priorities—what are mine?

I have found myself at mid-life homing in on some things I’ve always wanted to do, such as rug-hooking, but even moreso around ways I’ve wanted to exist: to embody such unconditional love that anyone around me feels safe enough just to be themselves.WoolenLeafinProcess

It is especially this feeling of unconditional love and the safety it engenders that has ticked up quite a bit in the last month, around the death of my sister, whose illness came as a shock to all her family and friends. She was an anchor for all of us, but it turns out, she was also a canary of sorts in our particular coal mine. Her death puts me on high alert: Can we create enough spaciousness within ourselves to let go of our judgments, our attachments to outcomes, so that no one ever feels paralyzed by the perception of constant scrutiny?

In that vein—and with this gift that my sister could give me maybe only with her death—I end this yin year with more questions than answers and the hope that the courses of action I take in 2015 will begin to light the path toward answers—ones that satisfy not only me, but many others as well.

How can we transmute what feels icky into love?

How can we best find peace at any time?

How can we create loving relations with all our relations—not only other humans, but also everything in, on, and around Earth itself?

How can we become adept at nonviolent communication?

How can we best practice nonviolence?

How can we set and lovingly maintain good boundaries?

How can we best tend the gardens of our thoughts and intentions?

How can we create vibrant, resilient communities?

How can we change our conception of time?

How can we best learn how to breathe in sync with Earth and with one another?

And, how can we heal the illusion we labor under that we are each and every one separate beings?


A Beautiful Death

It is a near-perfect autumn morning. The mild air offers a hybrid of drizzle and very light fog. Elder and sumac berries, ginger, cinnamon and a single clove bud simmer on the stove. Despite the despair that comes and goes in me, I feel at peace, growing calmer in the knowledge that there are few consistent processes in this life, that everything changes, maybe especially the things we think—and hope—won’t change.

Some of our neighborhood trees have already lost all their leaves, including the maples, which are duller this year than last. The ginkgoes, which tend to drop their leaves in one fell swoop, are Meyer-lemon yellow. And the beeches are cloaked in orange.

Pokeberry, Phytolacca americana, takes on colors only nature can do this time of year.

Pokeberry, Phytolacca americana, takes on colors only nature can do this time of year.

In our own yard, the hazelnut leaves are the first to drop and this seems a consistent pattern. The leaves of the pokeberry I refuse to dig out are more wondrously colored than anything Pantone might conceive. They range from mild yellows to bright, from deep magenta to blast-me fuscia along with a wide spectrum of greens. Speaking of greens, the chickweed is pure green, ready to pick to add to salads. Its die-back will come in late spring when the heat starts to take hold. The sweet gum that shelters the few “permaculture zone 5” woodland medicinals I planted five years ago never fails to delight this time of year. Its five-point starry leaves convert into a finery I am not able to replicate in a hooked rug I’ve been working on.

The visible parts of these plants are dying back, sending their energy underground for the next several months. And yet, at this time, they are among the most beautiful beings that capture my attention.

Chickweed, Stellaria media, doesn't comes on in the cooler temps of autumn.

Chickweed, Stellaria media, benefits from the cooler temps of autumn.

This time of year is often a time of grief for humans. We have much to mourn, not just in our personal lives, for who among us doesn’t know someone who’s died this year—many tragically too soon, though who are we to judge the timing? But the multiple stresses we feel seem to be reflected in the world “out there”—and probably will continue to be, so long as we maintain the illusion of separation between “in here” and “out there.”

Even as I have grown weary of the apparent lack of kindness that humans visit upon one another and the planet, I see, I take part in, and I hear about all sorts of gestures of kindness. But most of these are invisible, except to the beings involved. Yet, it is just these small acts that remake the world, that heal the pieces that we split off from ourselves because, for whatever reason, we are ashamed of them or we believe they do not fit or do not serve.

What are we meant to serve, anyway? What ideals? Will we let fear rule more and more of life or will we choose to help expand the consciousness of love?

As I grow more conscious of these choices, I feel I’d much rather serve the ends of love than of fear. For love says, “This way lies sanity.” And anyone who steps up for love expands others’ ability also to step up.

From deep reds to chartreuse, sweet gums (Liquidambar styraciflua) have an autumn pallete all their own..

From deep reds to chartreuse, sweet gums (Liquidambar styraciflua) have an autumn pallete all their own.

What does this love entail?

I may be overthinking this, but basically, it means embodying certain ideals in our actions—the ideals of attention, gratitude and compassion, as psychologist Timothy Miller puts forth in his book, How to Want What You Have.

Attention means noticing—noticing a sunrise or a sunset, noticing someone’s smile or frown, noticing the beauty all around us and not running away when what we feel is unpleasant—whether sadness or anger or depression. Gratitude can encompass just feeling grateful to be alive and ties into attention, in that, the more you notice and the more you allow yourself just to feel—without judging what you feel—the more grateful you feel to be alive. And compassion means practicing first compassion for ourselves: We are human, we are imperfect, so why turn up the volume on the voices that criticize? Why refit those voices, which maybe initially in our early life belonged to someone else, to make them wholly our own? Rather, it is better to acknowledge these voices—maybe they helped keep us safe at some point, but for us individually and collectively, they have become maladaptive; they no longer serve.

Once we begin to feel compassion for ourselves, that feeling ripples out to myriad others, not just humans, but the whole of the world.

In my own family, we have a consistent thread: It’s called “not good enough.”

How do our judgments, which often carry the energy of disdain, affect others?

How do our judgments, which often carry the energy of disdain, affect others?

Many other families share this same thread and maybe all of humanity does. It is why when poets and writers like William Stafford describe their families and their upbringing, I am blown away. My impression of his childhood is one where the parents behaved with deep magnanimity and this led Stafford, in my interpretation, to become the person he became—where being fully human was more important than any accolades his writing or teaching may ever have garnered. His poems reflect his sense of just being.

What has broken this “not good enough” thread for me is the realization that, as in permaculture, the solution lies in the problem. And what problem is not an artifact of the illusion of separation?

It has taken me many years, but today I feel grateful for the influence of my parents, my mother for her overall generosity, my father for planting the seed of the ideal that everything and everyone has intrinsic value—whether a rock, a dog, or a human. Neither always behaved with generosity or acted in accord with the knowledge of the intrinsic value of all things, but then again, they are human and humans are inconsistent—at least in this phase of our evolution.

The pain caused by the “not good enough” can, if we accept it and allow it, shift us into a different, more whole/holy way of being.

Our value is not based upon how productive we are, how well we might satisfy someone else’s needs. People, plants, other animals, viruses and bacteria—they all have value just because.

Witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) flower about this time of year.

Witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) flower about this time of year.

I know this runs counter to what is presented “out there” among various media, in workplaces, in organizations, in government. The glorious sweet gum outside exists in part just because and in part, perhaps, because a seed chose to go along with a squirrel—nature’s forester—and be planted, chose to start growing and transformed itself into a tree, along with the help of others, seen and unseen. And this tree—Liquidambar styraciflua—was preceded by 20 others in the same genus, 20 others than are physically extinct, but metaphorically live on in this genus and species.

This particular sweet gum appears to be dying, however slowly. Two-leggeds don’t much care for the pointy fruits, especially if they have lawns and the fruits fall into their yards. Maybe people’s inability to see themselves in that pointy, annoying fruit influences the tree’s ability to survive. Maybe. I know scientists would probably disregard that notion as naïve or wishful, but science, like religion, operates from a particular set of frames—an often narrow set that accounts only for what can be seen and measured. Feelings can only be felt, and I will go with my feelings—not emotions, which are different from feelings—any day.

And I feel this tree continues to choose to be generous in the way it grows, with an increase in lower-down branches that, in the last few years, have come to provide additional shade for those woodland medicinals I planted, because ideally, they would have more shade. And who can say, but this act of generosity spurs more of the same among those woodland plants, such that they are helping that sweet gum to live longer.

Recent lower-branch growth of the sweet gum gives more shade to woodland medicinals like black cohosh (Actaea racemosa).

Recent lower-branch growth of the sweet gum gives more shade to woodland medicinals like black cohosh (Actaea racemosa).

One thing I know for sure and that is that nature—our inner and outer ecologies—are ever entwined, and we can look to nature for so many life lessons, so many metaphors upon which to check ourselves. After all, we are nature and nature is us, and it is when we believe and then behave otherwise, that we court difficulties. When we aim to grow at all costs, when we desire more, more, more, we can look at nature’s tapestry and see that every year, she takes a break here and there for some months. What would our lives be like if we did so, too? Would we give death to that which no longer serves us? What would create more time for the kind of work that really matters, for the sort of care-giving that our world needs at this time?



2014: New Growth on the Horizon

Every autumn when I assess my feelings around what I’ve been doing, I often come to the conclusion that whatever I’ve been doing is “never enough.” Seldom have I felt that wherever I am is exactly where I am supposed to be. Is this feeling of “never enough” a particular—and peculiar—artifact of Western culture or, more specifically, American culture?

Not 2010! Not as much snow...yet, but lots of growth predicted.

Not 2010! Not as much snow…yet, but lots of growth predicted.

In my life, I have found it difficult to step outside of the existing culture, but more and more, I know I need to. The culture at-large does not tend to support anyone who feels content with their life.

Living outside Washington, D.C., I am ever-cognizant of the hustle-bustle involved in “the American way of life,” in which discontentment plays a starring role. I used to participate more fully in that way of life, having had a decent-paying job, having spent about a third of what I earned on rent (many people spend much more than a third). When I moved to Annapolis, I then spent a minimum of an hour, often more, commuting to that job in Virginia. I did not enjoy driving; it seemed like a colossal waste of time, and yet, I felt I had to. I felt caught in a bind and as the months of commuting went on, I grew angrier.

That said, as long as I was learning something new, I enjoyed the work. And I enjoyed other benefits: having money to hear live jazz, money to take whatever classes I wanted to take, paid vacation, money for a painting now and then.

I’ve experienced a see-saw effect between that life and the one I now live: It’s as if when I had more money, I had larger holes to fill and I filled them with incessant activity or spending on things I thought could fill the holes. Now, I work to examine the holes, be with them, shift my patterns into viewing myself as whole and healed—as the way God or Creator sees us humans.

Sandhill cranes...and other animals just are. How can we two-leggeds just be?

Sandhill cranes…and other animals just are. How can we two-leggeds just be?

This is not easy work, but it is the most important. If I still had that job and that commute, I probably wouldn’t be doing this inner work and, moreover, I would not be attempting to find or do work that I enjoy.

Life to me is a continual cracking-open of our hearts, which is meant to soften our hard edges, make us more vulnerable so they we can experience greater intimacy, with ourselves and in turn, with others and with Spirit. The cracking-open happens through our experiencing our own difficulties as well as those of others. It comes through pain and suffering, and yet we, especially Americans, I think, have quite a dualistic view of suffering: It’s horrible or it’s great. Seldom is there a middle way when it comes to suffering. We don’t want to suffer and we don’t want to see others suffer. Or, in some intellectual way, we know we need to suffer, but it remains an exercise of the mind while the heart goes untouched, because we are still protective of our hearts.

At this time, for me, everything is up in the air. It’s like the dry snow outside, swirling on eddies of wind large and small. Lately, I’ve explored a little of farming, something I’ve wanted to do since I was very young. I’ve learned that cheesemaking doesn’t necessarily resonate with me, at least on a commercial scale. I know I’d like to learn more about greenhouses and chickens. I know from what I’ve seen and the stories of friends who farm that it is especially difficult to make any kind of living that way and, maybe even worse for those who concern themselves with inner work as I do, there’s little time. So, I don’t know what will happen in that arena.

When I set out to be an herbalist, I had this idea that I just wanted to practice. Practice. Practice. Practice. They call it a practice because the practitioner never knows everything, everything that can help herself or her clients, but you practice, so you constantly learn. I thought it would be practical enough to build a business around herbalism.joe_pye_composite_icon_final_Web

But what I discovered is that many people don’t necessarily know what an herbalist is or what an herbalist does. Perhaps they believe that we have a particular “plant of choice,” such as marijuana—which, at least for this herbalist, could not be further from the truth. I like weeds—nettles, dandelion, plantain, plants accessible to most everyone, if they know what to look for.

I finish 2013 unsure how I can best help to educate people as to what herbalists do, I guess because for me, herbalism is akin to ecology and akin to permaculture; it’s a way of looking at life and at health, of looking at death and illness, of trying to understand how best to support oneself and others in the most healthful way possible, the most whole/holy way possible.

How can I help people get interested in making their own medicine—especially if the kind of medicine I’m talking about may not have anything at all to do with dandelion root, and everything to do with having an intimate conversation with a friend or family member?

How should I market what I do? How should I charge for it? What I do is energy-intensive, because it’s my goal with every client to be present to that person, to give her or him my full presence. Can anyone put a price on that kind of energy?

As I said, at this time, everything is up in the air. I’ve long viewed my business as an extension of all of the work that I do—the work on myself, the work in the garden, the work with family and friends. In 2014, I’d like to spread the word about herbalism, about the permaculture principles of Earth care/people care/fair share. I want to increase my sense of community where I live—to find people with whom I can garden and wildcraft. I have some new health and plant-medicine activities that I’ll share in the coming weeks. I expect that I’ll write more about health. I am open to what comes. I know whatever comes will be an adventure and, ultimately, fun.

Sometimes medicine is experienced just by being with a plant, such as castor.

Sometimes medicine is experienced just by being with a plant, such as castor, a pet, a place, or a person.

If you live in the Annapolis, Md., area and want to learn more about herbalism or want to focus on what your health means for you, please send me a note by e-mail at artofearth@yahoo.com. If you’d like to hear more about the activities of Art of Earth, you can join my e-mail list. I don’t bombard anyone with e-mail, though I do send out more e-mail if there’s a scheduled event. If you find it’s not for you, you can opt-out anytime.

I wish you a happy, healthy, soulfully prosperous 2014. Most of all, I wish you love and peace.