A Restorative Approach to Health

Do any of these challenges sound familiar?

Exhaustion

Energy that bottoms out during out the day

Swings in mood and appetite

Difficulty falling asleep or Insomnia

Brain Fog

A feeling that you just can’t do what you used to

These are among the most common health challenges women voice when coming to me for herbal support.

If you’re dealing with some of these things right now, I want you to know- as crummy as you feel- your body holds the very healing power of nature itself. I also want you to know,

…there is no quick fix. Healing doesn’t work this way.

Your challenges, or symptoms, are showing you that your body is actually working to repair some state of imbalance, and it is asking for support to do what it knows how to do, what it is built to do: RESTORE health.

This was the view of Hippocrates, the 5th century Greek physician generally considered to be the father of medicine. He understood illness as a way that the body repairs disturbances of balance.

Naturopath James Sensenig views this innate force as “the tendency in nature towards organization, order and purpose,”  which aligns well with contemporary studies of how complex systems such as the body self-organize.

My Approach to Herbal Support

I share the perspective of Hippocrates and Sensenig in my healing work. I look for plant friends and allies who can nudge your body back in the direction of health rather than suppress symptoms or substitute for the body’s own functions.

I work with Restorative herbs that nourish, calm, and tone your body’s  stress response,  nervous and hormonal systems, and  cognitive function.

Early on in my three years of formal studies for a Masters of Science in Herbal Medicine, I was drawn especially to this approach, that now serves as the foundation for my clinical practice.

Ginkgo, pressed leaves
Brain and circulatory tonic: Ginkgo, pressed leaves

Over and over again, I have seen how providing this initial, nourishing systemic support can reset a client’s baseline health.

This is true even for clients living with challenging chronic issues such as fibromyalgia, lifelong asthma, and Parkinson’s.

Such conditions can be managed for greater comfort and quality of life (and alongside conventional medical treatment) as herbs calm stress and anxiety, lift a heavy heart and mood, sharpen attention, focus and recall.

A restorative approach is neither a quick nor a cookie-cutter approach, and it works.

A restorative approach takes time – weeks and months – first, to slow or reverse depletion, and then to nourish a vibrancy lost over months and years.

Many clients do begin to respond in a matter of days or weeks, and then continue to further benefit from a cumulative effect over time.

Each client brings a unique family and personal history, biochemistry, beliefs and knowledge – we unpack this fully in an initial 2-hour session, and the protocol goes like this:

1. You tell me the single change that would make the most difference on a daily basis. 
2. You name your formula for the overall effect you want: Cool down, Kick-Ass, Sweet Dreams are a few that have come up.
3. We choose a form – tea, tincture, powder – that you can most easily incorporate into your daily life.
4.  I draw on knowledge of scientific research and traditional use to select and combine herbs specifically for you, the ones that are the best match for you.

Practice = Optimum Results

When you adopt taking your herbs and observing their effects as a practice, you will see optimum results.

Herbs: Skullcap, Rose Petals, Lavender, Calendula
From top left: Skullcap, Rose petals, Lavender, Calendula

When you return for your follow-up with clear information about how you have responded to the herbs, this information is like gold, guiding the further refinement of selection, preparation or dosing of the herbs as we go forward.

We may work together to discover how you can become more attuned to your body’s responses. To notice and name with more detail and nuance the effects of the herbs, and of your emotional responses and behavioral choices on your body.

A restorative approach is a genuine three-way collaboration between the client, the herbalist, and the herbs themselves, a collaboration guided by the innate intelligence for health that runs through all.

 

The…life that runs through my veins…is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the Earth into the numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of flowers.  ~Rabindranath Tagore


For more about herbalism

For more about an herbal consult with Sara


Photos of Sara’s Herbs: Sean Scheidt, Baltimore Magazine

A Tale of Two City Neighbors and a Blizzard

Practice is the snow-cover that softens the landscape of our humanness.

A post-storm moment of practice in which I am reminded how important it is to know, as neighbors, both who I aspire to be and who I do not want to be.

 

Two feet of snow covered our car
Winter Storm Jonas

The morning after Winter Storm Jonas dropped 24” of snow on my neighborhood, I was on my third round of shoveling, my husband Gideon and I working in shifts to dig out his car. The sun was out, the snowfall pristine, everything sparkling. I was warmed up from an hour’s worth of effort, focusing on one shovelful at a time.

Exhibit, Neighbor A: a lean young guy in electric blue skin-tight running clothes trots past down the middle of the freshly plowed street, looks back and calls over his shoulder, “Having fun yet?”

Until he said that, I would have said, Yes, I am. Not fun in the way he meant, but I had been absorbed, in the zone. I found myself staring after him and said to myself, Well, F.U. And then I jabbed at the snowpile with more ferocity than needed.

Exhibit, Neighbor B, an hour later: A guy walks by with his son, shovels over their shoulders, and asks how I’m doing, could I use some help? Sure could, you guys for hire? “No,” Dad replies. “We’re on our way to Stephanie’s (a gardening buddy of mine who lives around the corner) to help her dig out her car. We’ll stop by on our way back, see how you’re doing, see what we can do.” Then we introduced ourselves.

By the time they returned, I was inside dosing myself with Arnica to avoid muscle soreness, and Gideon was out shoveling. The three of them, working together, dug his car out in a bit over an hour.

Without them, it would have been another day’s worth of shoveling for us.

This is the kind of neighbor, the kind of human being I want to be: Don’t even need to know your name to see you need some help and offer what I can.

But without Neighbor A, I wouldn’t have had the chance to wake up just a tad, to pull myself up short, to recognize (again) how a small thing, a few words, has an impact for good or ill.

Or to see myself as Neighbor A: I don’t have to reach so far for a few sarcastic words, or to treat someone to a flippant, smart-ass comment. A good reminder of what I can inflict without thinking.  And then – give us both a moment of grace for being human!

IMG_3526
I’ve learned really just in the past year how important it is to be able to say not only who I yearn to be, but to say just as clearly: this is who I do not want to be. This is who I no longer want to be. And then: I offer them both a cuppa tea, encourage them to talk to one another, bring those parts of myself into relationship.

Practice is the snow-cover that softens, rounds, and brings a glistening to the landscape of our humanness.


 

Which Neighborly and Unneighborly parts of yourself might you invite for coffee, tea, a good glass of wine or craft beer, for some good conversation and relationship-building?

Self-Awareness through Collaging

January is the namesake to Janus, guardian of thresholds, doors, transitions. He is typically depicted in a way that well represents human consciousness, with two faces, one towards the past and a second toward the future. This is a good time to reflect and come into a deeper relationship with your own wholeness. Collaging – as a creative act of bringing pieces together into a meaningful whole – offers us a unique way into this inquiry.Continue reading

Creating from Inside Motherhood Part II: An Interview with Suzi Banks Baum

 

The title for this series, “Creating from Inside Motherhood,” comes from Writer, Maker, and Mother Suzi Banks Baum. Years ago she committed to “finding her fullest self while mothering,” and came to see, celebrate and value her own contribution to the world as a mother, even as she lamented how our culture devalues that work by mostly ignoring it. Continue reading

Creating From Inside Motherhood Part I: An Interview with Tracee Vetting Wolf

We humans are relentlessly creative, so much so that we hardly notice. In my work I invite people to intentionally focus this inherent power into a process of Creative Inquiry because it is one of the most playful and enjoyable ways to explore our version of Reality, and in the process recover our true purpose, yearnings, and gifts.

This blog post is the first of a two-part series in which I’m delighted to introduce you to two women who take creative inquiry seriously-without taking themselves seriously. Their approach is playful, even mischievous, and demonstrates the value of creative inquiry for cracking open our habits of perception and views of reality, for slowing us down so we can savor our lives, and for awakening us out of lethargy or frustration to spread compassion and even engage in activism.

Both are artists and Moms, and their art-making has its roots in the creativity inherent in Motherhood itself. So much of what I see written about Motherhood these days is mired in one set of arguments or another. But Tracee Vetting Wolf and Suzi Banks Baum use their “role” as Mom to inquire into life, self, identity, connection, love, and voice in ways that are profound and eminently practical and shareable.

The fruits of this inquiry are some of the lovelier hand-mades I’ve ever seen, and, as you will soon discover, make beautiful gifts in time for this Season of Giving.

 


 

LOVE NOTES: An Interview with Tracee Vetting Wolf

 

Tracee Vetting Wolf
Tracee Vetting Wolf

Tracee Vetting Wolf prizes the compass over the map and the adventure of figuring things out. She successfully lived the paradox of working as a creative for logic-driven IBM Research and through her art, writing, and life teaches that “design is a vehicle for knowledge.” She embodies through practice the understanding that art-making is an essential tool for inquiry into personal potential and the world around us. She has amassed an impressive list of professional achievements, but to my mind her most delightful work, and most recent gift to the world, was born out of her love for her son, Max, out of that relentless creativity inherent in each of us that can help us find our way if only we’ll let it.  

 

Sara: Tracee, you began creating love-notes when your son Max started school. You were packing lunch daily because of his allergies. And you recognized that you both had separation anxiety. How do the love-notes express your relationship with Max, and with the world?

Tracee: On his first day of kindergarten, I packed his first lunch. It was hard because he’s allergic to peanuts, milk and eggs, and he was too young at the time to open a thermos, so it meant cold foods. I was sorting all that out. I was a bit stressed about it, trying to make it something he would also enjoy. I wanted to make it special. With the food packed, I looked around for something to add a note to his lunch. At that time, I wasn’t practicing art every day, but I had been playing around with my watercolors making a bunch of hearts. Quickly, I cut one out and wrote a message on the back. I had enough for a week and at the end of the week, I thought “I can’t stop now!”

 

MAX
 MAX

The separation anxiety was hard for both of us. I couldn’t get him on the bus that first day, he was so emotional. I drove him to school and I was that parent who was peeling her screaming, crying child off of her. It was heart breaking for me and distressing for him. His teachers were thoughtful and compassionate: when he felt weepy at school, they’d ask him if he wanted to take a moment to himself and draw his family. In a way, we were both using art to ease our separation anxiety and express our love. The lunch notes expressed how very much Max and I want to be connected. I think that’s true for all of us, for any relationship.

 

from the Wondrous Animals series
      from the Wondrous Animals series

To this day, he brings them back home: he has never lost one. They live for the week on the kitchen window sill, and then we place them in a special box. Every once in awhile, Max and I will take out the boxes of lunch notes and look through them together. “Remember this one?” “Oh, I love this one!” “This was when we did all that tie-dying!” “This was when we got our cat!” “Yeah, second grade was tough.” “Remember your first swim meet?” and on and on. We slip into this quiet, reverent state where we’re taking great care as we look through them. Each is wonderful individually, but we can also see across time with them. We can see our journeys.

Sara: And now you offer love notes in four different packs of six for $6: imaginary creatures, for sweet boys, woman wisdom, wondrous animals.

Tracee: My feeling is that love notes are a sweet little way of letting the other person know that you’re interested in them and reminding them of your connection with them. I make the love notes small, I would describe them as “intimate.” You’re forced to express yourself in just a few words. This creates a paradox where something so small can be of great meaning. Personally, I think it’s lovely and touching. Telling someone you care is a very sweet habit to have in life.

Sara: And the mischief?

Tracee: Spend some time thinking about where to place that love note, to surprise someone, to consider what the other person might receive with tenderness of thought. On their dinner plate? Under their pillow? In their gym locker? Taped to the bathroom mirror? In the silverware drawer? On the lawn mower? On the doorbell? Attached to the cat’s collar?

Besides sharing our connection and love, this act sharpens our creative instinct, a path to a creative life for everyone.


 

I hope you are nourished by Tracee’s story, and I’m sure you’ll be tantalized by the beauty of her line of “hand-mades” called  little Love. Buy your love notes HERE.

Learn more about Tracee HERE.

 

Watch for Part II of this series and my interview with writer Suzi Banks Baum on Writing From Inside Motherhood coming December 16.

 

However you observe this season, may it bring healing and awakening to you and your world.

Essential Questions: Wrestling with the Imperfection that Life Is

I want to share some essential questions with you that I’ve developed from a teaching that was at once a challenge and a touchstone for me from the moment I first read it.

The following words belong to Ben Azzai, a 2nd Century Jewish Sage:

You will be called by your name,
you will be seated in your place,
you will be given what is yours.
No man touches what is meant for his fellow.
No kingdom touches its neighbor by so much as a hairsbreadth. (Yoma 38 a-b)

This teaching held out a life that was so different from my own experience that I really had to wrestle with it, and I did so with the help of healing friends and professionals who helped me to make myself the first object of study in the light of its wisdom.

What made the teaching a challenge were some of the “givens” I had lived (and daily died by):

  1. When my name was called, I knew I was in trouble.
  2. I seemed to be the only one at the Table of Life who had no place card, no seat.
  3. I was more likely to envy than celebrate even a friend’s success.
  4. I carefully guarded my own little stash, not to mention my “self” from being touched.

Over time, I developed a practice of personal inquiry out of this teaching that I will share, because self-study is an essential practice in living this imperfect human life.

The Essential Questions

Pick one.
Begin anywhere,
Just begin.

A practice for cultivating a willing, open-hearted stance in the here and now.

Showing up in your life: “You will be called by your name.”

Who or what is calling you? Are you listening? Do you recognize your name? The biblical response of our ancestors was “Hineni,” “Here I am.” You don’t need to be bible-loving to try this.

A practice for resting more and more in yourself, in all your goodness, brokenness, and complexity, and precisely where you are in life.

Being a “good enough” woman: “You will be seated in your place.”

Do you long to feel at home in this world, rooted within yourself? Can you be at ease with your strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, even as you grow in character? Can you bear to enumerate and talk with them? Can you allow yourself to be a “good enough” but not complacent woman?

A practice for befriending the people and events in your life, and serving them in beneficial ways.

Befriending and serving: “You will be given what is yours.”

Do you long to understand and serve your singular purpose in life, to know your innate wisdom and see it flourish amidst your daily activities? Can you let yourself know what you know about your purpose and your wisdom?

Because no one else’s kingdom touches yours by so much as a hairsbreadth.

And as you begin to live into this, isolation melts and whole new worlds of connection, relationship, and intimacy begin to appear.

Really, this is how things work.


 

What givens have you lived by that may be challenged by this teaching? Which questions will you be wrestling with? Please share your thoughts in the comment area below. 

An Exaltation of Particulars

My prescription glasses are made for a near-sighted woman, but for most of my life I have taken a long view, “seen” sweeping possibilities, open-ended choices, many right answers to a question.

So when a teacher or colleague told me I was being too general, too vague, the only response I could figure out was to name, elaborate, and catalogue the details.

This may have helped move a project along in the moment, but failed to solve my dilemma, which, I came to understand, was not so much a failure to see the details as a contempt for them.

The contempt was a shell covering fear – as a child it was much safer to avert my eyes from what was going on around me.

It was when I began to celebrate the details, a journey helped along by playing with images, in collage, and in poetry, that a new level of healing unfolded.

An exaltation of particulars

by Sara Eisenberg

You will not find me in a long silky skirt,

covered buttons to the throat,

hair piled gracefully on my head,

held in place with a carved horn

butterfly…the look of my maternal

grandmother Fanny in the one

surviving photograph.

These are not my mother’s dress-up pearls.

These are not Kali’s trophy skulls clad

in space, held in

the womb of time.

I stand on my own particulars,

pants loose at the waist,

jasmine tea fragrant in a small cup adorned

with rabbits dancing by moonlight,

sleepless nights an ally now,

and truths spoken haltingly but

spoken.

I lay up my treasures as working riches,

refuse to become a museum,

though I offer you these observations.

Visit again and again and the curator will offer a different gloss.

If you like, unstring these small transparencies,

fling them up into the sky:

their lights will arrange themselves for you,

constellations,

sky stories,

draw you back into your own.

The Answer to Your Big Questions

Like you, throughout my life I’ve grappled with the big questions – the same ones philosophers, theologians and awakening humans of all eras have had:

Who am I? 

Why am I here?

What am I supposed to be doing?

Sometimes I asked these questions as a general plaint, in a context devoid of particulars, with a kind of existential shrug.

Other times I posed them as dilemmas arose: Do I take this job?  Do I stay in this marriage? How much do I invest in this friendship?

The way I asked implied there was Someone – Oracle, God, the personal voice of my Destiny, an Inner Guide, who could see further, discern relative consequences, and who surely had the answer.

What I got was silence.

So I muddled through, and repeatedly asked yet another question:

How come I never get answers to my big questions?

An answer to that question came one summer during a brief ashram stay:  

Because you don’t listen to the answers to the small questions!

The full truth was – I didn’t actually ask the small questions. How do I respond to the check-out clerk’s obvious distress? What is the helpful thing to do here? Which words would be most appropriate? How might I begin this day to allow for more ease?

The small questions belong to moments, and they have an immediacy, an intimacy, that suggests the answers have a limited time frame and consequences.

It turns out that we don’t really know what constitutes big and little, the full reach or impact of any single action.

I distinctly remember how I taught my toddlers about “big” and “little.” I conveyed big by pointing to or holding out a large ball or cookie, by holding my arms as wide as I could, and speaking in a forceful, deep, and booming voice.

For small I  peered, squinted closely at my pinched-together fingers and spoke in a high squeaky voice.

If only it were this easy to know the extent of our reach or impact of any of our actions.

Our words, thoughts and feelings are all actions, and all leave traces. Our human perspective and knowledge are limited. And our days are nothing but one action after another. Even refraining, keeping our own counsel, are actions.

I suspect that the answer to “Why am I here” and the other big questions may come tucked into the pocket sewn from our countless small daily thoughtful actions.  

Thank You: A habit-breaking practice

It was one day too many that I woke up to a lovely, sunny day in a “Monday morning” state of being – ready to turn over and pull the covers up over my head, anything but gather myself to sit up, put my feet on the floor, enter the day.

I’m not talking about any particular dread of what I anticipated the day might hold – just an unruly streak of crankiness and a night of unrestful sleep.

That was the day I took a green Sharpie, printed THANK YOU on a small yellow post-it, and laid it next to the small alarm clock on my night table.

I intended THANK YOU to be a cue to help me enter my day with more awareness, and it worked.

Some days I was aware of softening as I alighted one after another on breath, spouse, health, roof, running water, the whole order of my physical world that had not been upended while I slept. On such days I was reminded that in spite of the fact that all does not depend on my personal acts of will and exertion, I do still have a place in the world.

And some days I was unpleasantly but equally usefully aware of a gap between my wanting to and my inability to feel thankful. Either way I was more whole, more awake, and able to bring that into my day.

THANK YOU is not just good manners, or WD40 for a civil society. It can be a habit-breaker.

When we habitually fail to notice what is around us, and that we are a part of it, we unconsciously say No thank you! to life, and cut ourselves off from aliveness and connection. Because everything in life has the vividness of its distinct existence, and the power of its connectedness.

Try a THANK YOU post-it on your night table, bathroom mirror, fridge, or screen saver.

Or maybe your habit-breaker is PLEASE or YOU’RE WELCOME.

Let me know how it works.