A Hymn to the Plants: Best of Friends

I count myself blessed that I was able to wander about in empty fields in my neighborhood as I was growing up – sit among grasses, follow the grasshoppers, collect bouquets of daisies, buttercups, and Queen Anne’s lace for my mom, strip the seeds off the yellow dock into my pail to make “coffee.”

I had forgotten a lot by the time I started my formal herbal studies in my late fifties. On our first field walks, the plants looked indistinguishably green to me. Over time I learned to observe smooth and wavy and notched leaf margins, the arrangement of leaves on stems, the patterns of veins, the colors and sometimes fuzz on the underside of leaves. I smelled and tasted. I started to pay attention to which plants seemed to like to grow near one another – like poison ivy and its antidote jewelweed. This was one adult way of becoming friends with the plants.

Science was another – the complex chemistry of each specie, how to extract  and then dose the desired mix of constituents, how different bodies may respond to the same medicine.

Yet always there remains mystery: green plants turn the sun’s energy into food and medicines for us.

Yes, this is called photosynthesis, and there is a chemical equation for it. Still, it is a mystery. The plants’ variety, beauty, colors and countless healing gifts are mysteries. Just like the hearts and gifts of our human friends.

Some of these phytonutrients have affinities for certain kinds of tissues in the body, and can be selected to nourish, soothe, tone and repair those particular tissues. Others interact with hormones, immune cells, and neurotransmitters to foster balanced communication between cells.

It is my deep prayer that we never entirely solve these mysteries nor come to the end of praising them.

A Hymn to the Plants

from the Rig Veda*

Plants, which as receptacles of light were
born three ages before the Gods, I honor
your myriad colors and your seven hundred natures.

A hundred, oh Mothers, are your natures
and a thousand are your growths.
May you of a hundred powers make whole what has been hurt.

Plants, as Mothers, as Goddesses, I address you.
May I gain the energy, the light, the sustenance, your soul,
you who are the human being.

Where the herbs are gathered together like kings in an assembly,
there the doctor is called a sage, who destroys evil, and averts disease.

As they fell from Heaven, the plants said,
“The living soul we pervade, that man will suffer no harm.”

The herbs which are in the kingdom of the Moon,
manifold with a hundred eyes,
I take you as the best of them, for the fulfillment of wishes, as peace to the heart.

The plants which are queens of the Soma,
spread over all the Earth, generated by the Lord of prayer,
may your energy combine within this herb.

*Translated by David Frawley in Ayurvedic Healing: A Comprehensive Guide, 1989

The healing I needed, not the one I wanted!

I regret and am embarrassed to report that the socio-drama in which I participated did not give me the healing I wanted. It only took me deeper into my grief, and left me untouched by the empathy that opened up for more than one of my friends, who could simultaneously see the terrorist in themselves and summon compassion.

Our group had selected a headline about ISIS from among five story banners in the morning’s New York Times. Our highly skilled facilitator then had us establish a time and place: we settled on Grand Central Station, 2:00 on a Friday afternoon. Roles were assigned: a shopkeeper, a cop, a businessman, a little girl on her way to see her first Broadway show with her mom, a terrorist. I watched as the players got into role, the shifts in body language, facial expression, as they moved through the space. Every once in a while, the facilitator invited our questions for the characters.

The story played out: the cop confronted the terrorist, shot him, detonating his explosive vest, raining havoc and death, and drawing forth strength and compassion among the walking wounded.

Here is the cop’s story: I’d only been on the job a week, I didn’t want to move in on him too fast. I didn’t want to fall into profiling him and overreacting. And the terrorist’s: my people, they are getting killed, I have to do something.

Here’s (some of) my story:

I can’t solve suicide bombings.

I can’t solve evil. Even we can’t solve evil.

I hope I never get to the end of my grief.

I know my own rage can rise up with a killing strength and desire in the face of the most mundane challenge.

I struggle with helplessness, despite the true and simple guidance I was gifted with by mentor Michael Broom nearly 30 years ago: You’re not helpless, you know.

I struggle to answer the question periodically posed to me: what is worth dying for?

I can delve into the dark history of racism and engage in education, in protest, in community action and turn away from inquiring into my own tribe’s history of pogroms – one of which drove my grandfather from his Polish village and then to America at a young age. From inquiring into the Holocaust, though my husband fled Germany for England in his mother’s arms just before his first birthday. From inquiring into the rise of anti-Semitism.

Amazingly, wonderfully, I can still be true to a life of practice, true to my imperfect humanity:

I have permission to be a fool and a wise woman.

I have built up some muscle for turning directly toward what terrifies me, and a passel of teachers, friends, and fellow-travelers to encourage me.

I can keep engaging, keep listening, keep wrestling with myself about when and how to speak up in my life, in the life of my city, my country, my world.

I can even love the healing I got – the one I needed – which points me right at the inner work at hand.

FULL DISCLOSURE in the face of recent events

Version 2

The bumblebee I have been eyeing is having a hard time of it with the evening primroses, whose petals at high noon have mostly collapsed into soft mush. Every 3rd or 4th wilting bloom she lands on, she manages to work her way in to where the nectar is. Soon she gives up and goes for the easily accessible stalks of liatrus.

This morning, I am working at having a FULL DISCLOSURE heart and soul with myself. Because that collapsing evening primrose bloom is the body-mind of my country, spent, folding in on itself, and ready to fall to the ground. And I am the bee who insists: there is still nectar here, there is still something important to be gathered here. Don’t move on just yet.

To stay here, stay here, stay here long enough to weep, that is the challenge.

Last week I was full up with working against multiple deadlines. So when I came off an involuntary news fast the news from Baton Rouge was 3 days old, from Falcon Heights 2 days old, from Dallas, 18 hours old – an eternity in social media time. My heart rose to my throat and dropped to my feet all at once. My body went into its default state: dissociation.

Sorrow and determination, the same two words now rise in me again as they first did after the Freddie Gray Uprising in my home town, and then a few months later after the Charleston church shooting.

And something else, a fierce love for Baltimore.

A Mason-Dixon line city. A gritty city.

The-park-bench-with slogan-at-bus-stops-city: The City That Reads. Believe. Charm City.

Home of Shake and Bake Family Fun Center and HONfest.

The city of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Lenny Moore, Thurgood Marshall, Henrietta Lacks, Eubie Blake, Billie Holiday. And the city of Francis Scott Key, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Enoch Pratt, Philip Berrigan, Wild Bill Hagy, Barry Levinson, John Waters.

The history of my city and the goodness of its people are both rising up.

Native Americans have lived in this area since the 10th Millennium BCE, but were probably not inhabiting the land when David Jones settled a claim in 1661 on what is now the East Side. Thomas Cole settled the West Side in 1665, then sold it to Jones 14 years later. East and West Bawlamer remain vital cultural distinctions to this day, with Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland “Health Systems” the respective dominant land-holders.

We became the Port of Baltimore in 1706 and Baltimore Town in 1729.  By the early 19th century we were a major port for the slave trade, attracting  slave dealers from Kentucky, Georgia, Virginia and Tennessee. They built slave pens – yes, pens – near Pratt Street, now the major east-west thoroughfare that passes the Inner Harbor, a commercial development and community event and gathering place with a modern history of being inhospitable to groups of black youth.

I get the feeling that most any place I might step in the city I am obliviously treading on history, even holy ground, ground sanctified by suffering.

As individuals, we heal when we come out of memory into the present moment. We do this when we remember. When we bring into awareness our forgotten, suppressed, and frozen griefs and rages. When we feel them in our bodies. When we permit them entry and integration into our psyches and lives instead of acting them out.

This is the journey we seem on the verge of beginning as a nation. Towards naming our disappeared, both owned and owner.  Towards feeling slavery and all its repercussions in the civic body. Towards FULL DISCLOSURE. 

How can safety, justice, freedom,  reconciliation, possibly be realized in its absence? 

And this is likely to be a rough road, given how difficult it is to agree on “facts.” Given how poor we adults are at listening. Given our tendency to make the world over in our preferred image. Given the ways our tribal bonds have taught us to see the “other” as suspect if not outright dangerous.

I sit here, watch the bumblebees, hope the sunshine will thaw me into weeping.

Meantime, in this thirst to know my city, I sip bittersweet nectar, begin to gather historical facts to dignify some few drops of the lifeblood of all those who have been erased from my city’s narrative and living memory.


A wealth of historical facts is available through The Maryland State Archives’ Legacy of Slavery in Maryland – case studies, interactive maps, and a searchable database: http://slavery.msa.maryland.gov

 

Not all grown up? Embrace your orphans

EMBRACE, definition: hold (someone) closely in one’s arms, especially as a sign of affection, especially as in: one’s orphaned parts

Early in life, our egos masterfully and poignantly craft survival strategies in response to the caregiving we receive from our imperfect parents: in that process we abandon some parts of ourselves and come to depend on the rest to handle what life brings. To maintain these strategies – we commonly call our them our “defenses” – we push these young ones away, out of sight, out of mind. They don’t get a chance to grow up along with the rest of our personality, to unfold with our soul.

Ultimately, these abandoned parts can become somewhat unruly in the ways of young children who demand our attention – whiny, hanging onto our knees, “inappropriate,” prone to tantrum or meltdown.

Eventually we may recognize these as behaviors of the younger parts of our adult personality that need growing up.  That, in fact, our wholeness lies in embracing what we have been pushing away. And then we may need to do deep and forgiving work to nourish and integrate these orphaned parts of our humanity.

Well into my mature adult years, chronic disappointment and sorrow at the emptiness of not being met, not being understood, extended their shadowy, unacknowledged, and undermining influence into every single relationship.

I found 1001 ways to disengage, clam up or cut out early: anything to avoid that emptiness, to reject or abandon before I could be rejected or abandoned.

I am well-spoken, apparently at ease in the world, and not without professional accomplishments or spiritual “progress.”  But my mother had worn black mourning velvet to school for months after her mother died. And I was profoundly shaped by her grief-stricken childhood.

Before I could take in the melancholic and disappointed child in me, embrace her and give her a place, grow her up, I had to sort out my own griefs from my mother’s. And before I could do that, I had to feel the depths of my own.

 

the face of the deep

by Sara Eisenberg

 

B’li mah,

without what?

i am a boneless world suspended

upon nothingness,

a spiderling

ballooning out on breath,

a wisp of silk.

 

over and over

i launch myself into,

mingle materially with

emptiness, barren and

wearying until

I come up

up against

push up

up against

push,

push,

not landing,

push

against cloth black against

darkness, the shape of my mother,

herself bereft,

herself a mirror covered

against mourning,

swallowing light.

Listen to Your Body: It Speaks Truth

My body speaks to me all the time.

It speaks wisdom.

It deeply knows health

It is a system designed for adaptability, resilience, and self-repair. It is designed for health.

Breathing fast and shallow, brow knitted, nervous system buzzing?  Translation: I’m not getting enough oxygen, so how are you going to even think straight?  You’ve got me set on overdrive and I can’t switch into recovery mode. Slow down. Take those three items off your to-do list. Take the whole list way less seriously. Take yourself way less seriously. Take a break and walk around the garden. Look, really look at how the flowers are made. How you are made.

Bloating and distended belly?  Translation: I’m full. Put the other half of that green drink in the fridge for later. And for Lord’s sake, sit down and relax for a few minutes before you even start – give me a chance to get ready for the food, get some saliva and digestive juices going. When you’re standing at the kitchen sink or riding on the highway, I just can’t even get your digestive system going.

These are two of the messages my body delivered today, and I listened.

Some days I am too busy to listen.

Some days I listen and treat the messages as opinions of absolutely no merit or standing. My will To Do Important Stuff triumphs once again.

Spend too many days in one of those unresponsive modes, and I am headed for trouble: I begin to feel ill, when all my body is trying to do is repair its disturbed balance.

In this respect, I share the view of Hippocrates, the 5th century Greek physician often credited as “the father of western medicine.”  He called this faculty the vis medicatrix naturae,  usually translated asthe healing power of nature.” Physician and author Victoria Sweet writes in her extraordinary book  God’s Hotel  that a more accurate translation is “the remedying force of your own nature to be itself, to turn back into itself when it has been wounded.”

Vis medicatrix naturae2

When we listen to the body’s speaking, we know when our vitality is strong and when it is depleted.

We can also be frogs in a pot being gradually heated, not noticing until it is too late to jump out of the boiling water: we play down the body’s messages of fatigue, achiness, funky bowel patterns, aches and pains that come and go or move around, fuzzy mind, irritability or lethargy. We hardly notice that patterns are being laid down.

Or, we may be quite aware of changes and seek medical assessment, only to be told that our lab numbers are fine, or handed an Rx for an anti-depressant.

As a vitalist, I would say there are preclinical changes happening that are not optimal – changes for which we do not have lab tests to measure what is going on. What we do have are sensations and observations, clinical evidence the body is trying to restore its balance. We also have stories that help us make sense of all this information: it is very common to have a sense of your health Before and After an accident, an injury, an acute illness, a disruptive life change. All this evidence can be assessed and translated into practical supports, among them herbal supports

As an herbalist in the vitalist tradition, I know there are plant friends  from the mildest and food-like to the stronger and therapeutic that can:

  • aid and enhance our innate body wisdom rather than suppress its messages or burden it with side-effects
  • nudge our body back towards health
  • restore  our adaptability, enabling us to mobilize a robust response to physical, emotional, and environmental stressors
  • rebuild our resilience, allowing us to rest, repair, and recover from those stressors

So, listen to your body today.

It is speaking to you, and it speaks the truth.

What is it telling you?


Read more about a restorative approach to health HERE.

A Blessing Habit

Kwan Yin Goddess of Compassion

A siren wails in the distance as I head home from an early-morning stop for coffee. Not a police siren. Not a fire engine. Clearly an ambulance.

From behind the wheel, I send blessings. I have been doing this since my children were young, and taught them to do the same. I don’t think about it. The sound of the siren cues me to this. Pavlovian.

Its a good habit, a beneficial habit – it uplifts me, pulls me out of my pre-occupation with one worry or another, with one to-do-item or another. Pulls me out of isolation and into connection. And if you believe in the power of intuition and prayer, as I do, the blessing has some healing effect on the injured or ill one.

But blessing in this way is still a habit, beneficial only to the extent that I inhabit it. Bring awareness to it. Let the blessing live in my body.  Let the blessing draw from a well of compassion that is in no sense “mine,” but that I can access and share, from which I can partake and pass on.

When I hear a siren, I don’t have to remember to send a blessing.

I have to re-member myself.

I have to re-member connection, Source, suffering.

When I can be all this, I re-member wholeness, and the blessing is real.

The patient, the ETs, the ambulance driver are blessed.

I am blessed.


Read my guest story-teller piece, Dance Camp, about embracing limitations as opportunities HERE.

Read about this practice to break a common habit that doesn’t serve you.

When receiving becomes a gift

The general rule is: If you open a gift in the presence of the giver, then your verbal thanks are sufficient.

Emily Post

I checked my email one last time just before boarding the first leg of my flight from San Jose to Baltimore. There was a single new message, an apology from a long-time colleague who I hold in great respect, and with whom I had been in disagreement for some months. His words, “I feel sorry that I hurt you,” were neither casual not formulaic. And yet I struggled to take in his words, to actually receive the gift, the shift in relationship, that they held.

 

I wanted nothing more than to be able to simply open his gift, stand alive and in his presence across the geographic distance, and heartfully respond “Thank you.”  Except that wasn’t true. My feelings were varied, complicated, turbulent. 

 

Our relationship deserved more than a few words hurriedly sent off in response to his. For the many hours of flight and baggage handling, arriving home in the wee hours of the morning to a week’s worth of mail and tasks waiting for me, I struggled mightily to stay put in the gap between how I wanted to feel – generous, connected, forgiving, and the way I did feel: angry, small, closed, steeled.

 

Eventually…by the late afternoon hours, I recognized an old and familiar theme: fundamentally, essentially I was disappointed. I understood that I had burdened his words with a lifetime of disappointment, and I was able to respond to him:

I had to sit for a long time to be able to take in your words – “I feel sorry.” I have been waiting forever for God or Reality or Someone to say “Sara, I am so sorry…” It has taken me hours to let all the weight of the past roll off, and receive these as just your words.

The following week we spoke at length by phone. There was no barrier in our exchange. We each talked about our struggles and vulnerabilities and responsibility.  We did not “solve” our disagreement. Yet it was, from both ends, the most undefended conversation we have had in our twenty-one year relationship, both friendly and respectful, amends without glossing over, full of the nourishment and beauty of receiving, of being in friendly and respectful relationship.


 

Who in your life is waiting for you to receive their words, their heart, their being, just as they are, and just as you are, without glossing over?

What holds you back?

At the Heart of Healing & Awakening: Honesty & Kindness

Is there anything we want more than to know ourselves and to be comfortable in our own skin? in our own life? to be ourselves? to re-member our wholeness?

Is there anything more difficult than to see ourselves as we are, to see life as it is, to persevere in this exhilarating and terrifying effort?

Most of us have a strong preference, even a habit, of relying on honesty, or falling back on kindness on our healing and awakening journey.  But unless we draw on both, we are likely to get bogged down, off track, or lose heart altogether, running from angry ghosts or chasing after angels.


Honesty without kindness is brutal.
We see our faults and limitations, act as judge and jury. We mete out penalties. Or we simply turn ourselves over to a taskmaster whose job it is to bring us up to snuff, into conformity with some idealized version of ourselves. We cut ourselves no slack. All while knowing we wouldn’t treat our friends this way.

Kindness without honesty leaves us complacent.
We let ourselves off the hook, unable or unwilling to see the trail of unhappiness our behaviors leave behind us. We strand ourselves in fantasy.


The truth of any situation is that we are mixed and mixed up, imperfect human beings.

Honesty roots us deeply into reality. Kindness waters the roots.

As we take the help of both honesty and kindness, we can cease shrinking away, turn directly into our life as it is, look directly into the mirror and see ourselves as the wholeness we already are. This is the heart of healing and awakening. This is the heart of  A Life of Practice

 

Repatriation

by Sara Eisenberg

no upraised arm,
no torch aloft,
no golden door,
no registry,
no frank welcome.
just me standing guard,
close by the only sign of vacancy:
a tent slit flapping in the night wind.

aerialists, beggars,
choosers,
medalists, losers,
the timid and the raging,
creatures graceful, one-eyed, or many-toed:
I might, from grudge or curiosity,
inquire into each one’s country
and allow in a likeness.

when I can bear to name
the Real,
grant it ground
that is not for rent, for sale, for land-grab;
permit it entry without
bath, deodorant, change of clothing;
give up my ragged belongings
and vain efforts to secure them;

then each dark distinction that longs to return
home
is belonging itself.

 


Honesty and kindness guide our inquiry into healing and awakening in every Nondual Kabbalistic Healing session with me. 

 

Psst…It’s Winter!

Winter is the time to turn inward, to slow down, to go fallow.

We know this. And we likely know that our culture of busy-ness makes tuning-in to the winter season’s call challenging, but this isn’t another post to admonish you out of busy-ness.

Just a nudge here-if you haven’t stored up some winter moments, the rising energies of spring may leave you lethargic, fatigued, slow to sprout, and even later to fruit and harvest come summer.

This time around, for me, the problem isn’t too much to do.

The problem is the UN-seasonal weather. I’m wondering if you’ve noticed that it IS winter.

you make the fire and I’ll show you something wonderful: a big ball of snow! Basho
you make the fire
and I’ll show you something wonderful:
a big ball of snow!
Basho

Until well into January, when Baltimore’s winter temperatures finally plummeted, we’d been treated to balmy days, migrating birds and spring-blooming quince.

Without the cold and grey, even shortened days were not enough to draw me often enough to curl up under an afghan with a good book and allow myself to go somewhat dormant.

Sometimes the cues, the markers, the signals change, and we unknowingly fall out of sync.

The cold and grey, have always reminded me what to do. This Friday in the north east, we’ll see twenty-four minutes more of daylight than just three weeks ago.

I know this: Only by allowing myself to arrive fully in winter (however it shows up) do I gift my body, mind and spirit the grace and gift of an interlude.

So, I’ve pared down my day-time commitments, jettisoned more than a few attractive outings – theatre, community sings, dance classes. And I’ve built more protection around my hours after nightfall for staring idly into the dark. All to let myself go more fallow.

Depending on where you live, you may have many more or fewer weeks of winter than here in the Mid-Atlantic.

Either way, to help you set aside and protect the moments you need to take your rest, so you can spring forward with the coming season, I invite you to pause with intention and

reach for

nourishment (try a pot of my favorite immune-supporting miso soup, friendship, conversation

soothing and cheering herbal tea (recipe below)

candle and firelight

or open up to

bare branches and long views through the trees

night-time hours resonant with stillness

grieving your losses

pared-down-to-the-bone clarity

TURN WITHIN, EXALE, SHIFT YOUR ENERGY DOWN A NOTCH OR TWO –

even while sitting at a red light, waiting in line, waiting for the water to boil

listen…

to the still small voice within

fall into the spaciousness of the HEART, that seasonal field

where we can meet, in Rumi’s words,

“out beyond right and wrong.”


 

An ALOP RecipeYoung and Restless Tea

Young and Restless Tea

One rounded teaspoon each of dried Chamomile, Linden Flower, and Elderflower, and one 1/4 teaspoon of dried Peppermint.

Pour 8 oz boiling water over the herbs.

Cover and steep for 10-15 minutes.

Strain, sip, inhale, enjoy to calm restlessness, help you (and a finicky digestion) rest, help you “manage.”

A plus for late winter sinuses and lungs: this tea is also a mild respiratory decongestant.