An inquiry into healing, simplicity, urgency, and shame
Last week I found myself talking with a new group of herbal medicine students about simplicity.
I was sharing with them how I think about certain complex health pictures that clients can present: a mix of chronic infection, auto-immune or other disease with a history of trauma, abuse, or serious injury, a history of addictions or serious mental health challenges like manic-depressive illness. It is not unusual for a client to walk in the door seeking relief from multiple and intricate health challenges.
Each body is a personal history where genetics, behaviors, injuries, abundances and privations of all kinds come to rest. And my first approach to herbal care is often a simple and restorative one.
Not simplistic, but simple. Meaning that there is so much going on in that one body, that calming and nourishing the whole system is where I start. Changes may be noticeable within a week or two on a moderate dose of a small number of herbs that specialize in calming overworked systems, nourishing and toning weak systems, nudging the body towards its innate health. The body settles down, the conditions settle down. Some symptoms tend to be moderately to greatly relieved in frequency, intensity, and the degree to which they impact daily life. Then together we assess the new, slightly more resilient baseline, and continue to rebuild health from there.
It was only later in the week that I made the connection to urgency.
Because all over my life, all over the civic life of our country, urgency was doing what urgency does: putting itself forward, saying: pay attention to me!
And all those various conditions of ill health I spoke about with the herbal students, all the symptoms that accompany each form of dis-ease: all are forms of urgency that point to what Hippocrates viewed as the body’s attempts to repair disturbances of balance.
I am a poet at heart, and I can take a metaphor beyond where I should try. But it seems to me that our nation is that client who is unable to face the truths of our history.
And so we are ever in search of a cure for life-threatening, painful, bothersome, disruptive symptoms (depending on your societal experience). The illness itself remains unassessed and unaddressed.
When an herbal client is unable to be truthful with herself or me about her history, then we may make little progress in restoring health. We may chase down one symptom after another, never able to address the reality of her condition.
Embarrassment and shame are commonly behind this pattern.
In the body of our nation, wounds inflicted and self-inflicted have festered untended since our founding: since we appropriated first the lands of North American indigenous peoples and then appropriated the bodies and labor of African indigenous peoples.