Bearing Witness

 The Peaceful Path to Healing

         I’m borrowing this title ‘Bearing Witness’ from the book written by Zen master Bernie Glassman, both to honor his healing work at Auschwitz (and beyond), and to underline what I believe is our key to healing.

There are many different modalities and tools used to help someone along their healing journey. Some of these tools are material, visible, and tangible – while others are invisible, hard to measure, and felt by the heart rather than the hands. No matter what the practice – massage, herbs, acupuncture, yoga, homeopathy, (or a combination of them), there are some intangible tools that are needed by anyone working in the realm of healing. The most important I believe, is the compassionate act of bearing witness.

Since I am a teacher by nature, I’m most interested in the path of supporting people in discovering their own healer within, empowering themselves to be their own greatest source of medicine and wisdom, and arriving to a deep trust of themselves and their own body. Helping them into peaceful witnessing of themselves and what is transforming within. Plants, shamanism, and bodywork are my main physical healing practices, but the truest tools of my healing practice are those invisible (but easily held) tools of compassion, gentleness, loving-kindness, non-judgment, openness, and a peaceful bearing witness. It happens that my main teachers of these intangibles, besides so many people who have given these things to me, are the plants and the natural world itself. These intangible gifts are aspects of one’s self that all people in a healing practice need to cultivate in order to truly heal themselves, or help another along the path. The tangible tools you use in addition can then be any number of things, be it plants, hands, nourishing food… etc. All vitally important.

Bearing witness I believe is the most important loving action in helping someone on a peaceful healing journey. Finding peace involves a surrendering to the unknown, and in the process of surrendering, we learn to bear witness to all the present moment holds. It is a letting go, and allowing transformation both of the body, the self, and the life we once knew. My role as I see it, is to help someone in their process of surrendering, awakening, unfolding, receiving, and bearing loving witness to themselves.

Healing is a journey that can be filled with fear, trepidation, and often a strong desire to control change as it greets us. Often we approach the healing journey as a fight to control the body, mind, heart, and self. Healing practices can become a war on the lives we lead, on our past, and on one of our greatest teachers, disease. We look angrily at the body or self that is not functioning properly in our perspective; we want to fight parts of ourselves, our environment, and war with the disease that greets us. When this teacher and friend knocks on our door we usually run screaming, feeling violent, angry, and ready to fight.

Greeting all disease as a friend, we allow ourselves to more gently and peacefully approach the visitor that has entered our lives, without being swallowed by fear. Somewhere within we know this great teacher wants to help transform us. Greeting a disease as a welcome teacher and friend, we no longer push ourselves away, or a beautiful opportunity arriving in our lives for deep healing. We welcome the body’s voice, greet it with tenderness, open to all that it communicates… ready to listen. We greet this as an opportunity to meet ourselves and the present moment with loving-kindness. We learn to hold ourselves in the joyful embrace of gratitude, no matter what we are experiencing.

In greeting a disease as a friend, we become curious to see what transformation and gifts it will bring into our lives. All disease, just as any teacher or healer, has the potential to change us in beautiful ways. Whether or not we choose to learn from a teacher that has entered our lives is up to us. The first part is in knowing that is who has arrived.

Each moment we step into the unknown, a wise fool, curious about what this new moment will bring. Emptying the past, knowing this moment has never occurred with the same ingredients as any moments before, or any that will come. A beginner in this moment in time, in this continually changing body, on this continually changing earth. We are left to witness with curiosity, experience an unfolding mystery, and awaken to what is greeting us. Knowing that all forms are constantly changing, and we are here to midwife ourselves, and each other, from one form to the next.

The path of healing can be one of peaceful exploring and witnessing. Each moment the body new and different than it was in the past, each moment an invitation to explore the mystery that is unfolding before us. Inviting us in to deep connection with all that is surrounding and supporting us. The path of healing is a wonderful opportunity to go deeper into surrender, receiving from all directions, and along a path self-discovery.

There is a path of healing that allows us to greet each sensation and experience in the body as a friend. In greeting the sensations of the body, we open to an unfolding self that is transformed and awakened by what is arising within. A peaceful path of healing is one in which we are gentle with each moment of sensation, journeying with this teacher, and allowing it to change forms, as all teachers do, when it is time. Surrendering control of how we wish things to be, or how we want an outcome to unfold. Learning to receive and trust a benevolent universe.

We compassionately listen to what is needed each moment, acting out of love and kindness rather than out of a desire to control the moment, or ‘fix’ what is unfolding. I listen to my upset stomach and I go make it a cup of tea, with friendly thoughts on what I am experiencing…. Releasing desire to control or silence the voice of my body or the teacher of discomfort… Asking lovingly what is needed, making my tea as an act of giving to myself – the kind act of relieving suffering. Then resting peacefully with all that is occurring in my body, curious about what I am experiencing.

As Bernie Glassman writes in “Bearing Witness”, he discovered after bringing meditation groups to Auschwitz, that places of great suffering are also places of great healing. These moments of arriving with a great teacher of suffering and disease invite us to awaken and surrender to the mystery that is unfolding before us. Letting go control and greeting the body and disease peacefully. Asking, who are you friend? Who are you that is part of me? I will sit with you and listen gently and without judgment. Thank you for coming teacher. I will listen now.

The healing journey is an opportunity to surrender to the delightful surprise of what can unfold before us in life, knowing that anything that comes can be a gift. All forms of suffering become opportunities for us to continue to feel deep gratitude for each moment we have, and all that we are continuously given.

All disease is a voice of the body and soul, expressing its journey in this moment. It is a map showing us the path we are to take, and where to go next. Disease invites us to transform our lives, and listen to the deep places within us in need of nourishment, healing, and awakening. These teachers stay as long as we need them, as all teachers do, though their forms may change. They are magicians in our lives, inviting us to enter into the beautiful unfolding that is the healing journey.

Healing does not mean a return to perfect functioning of the body and mind. There is no state of perfect functioning, since at all moments we contain within us death and life, disease and health, as all things do in the natural world. Death is needed in order for new life to grow, and this continual cycle is at work within us at all times, just as in the natural world. Healing can be occurring on levels we cannot see with our eyes… unfolding in the hidden places of the heart and soul. Healing can be occurring as someone dies, continues to be handicapped, ill, or lives with an unfolding disease. Healing can be occurring, or not occurring, as someone’s body is functioning ‘well’.

All life is a continual transformation of forms, a letting go and dying of the old self, being born into each new moment. Life itself is the path of healing, and there is no end in which someone is ‘healed’ forever. There are many moments in which we are fully ‘healed’ and whole, and then a new moment arises, and we greet the journey of healing again – nourishing ourselves body and soul, finding wholeness, and arriving again… separating and joining back together, breaking apart and reforming continually. Healing is as I define it, is about receiving deep nourishment, discovering wholeness, connected to self and source, transforming continually, and held in the presence of peace.

The path of healing is one we will walk our whole lives, every one of us. All of our healing is connected, each a part of the whole. My healing becomes yours, and yours becomes mine. Just as my healing is dependent on the healing of the earth and all living beings, it is also dependent on your healing. From this knowing, compassionate action arises as we help each other to discover our own wholeness and peace. With compassion and understanding we allow each other to be just as we are, this moment in time. We compassionately listen to our own needs, and the needs of others as we open to loving them.

We greet each moment or person as something that does not need to be fixed, but as a perfect unfolding of themselves. We greet suffering with compassion, acceptance, and peace. We give what we can to help, out of compassion and love for another precious life. We do not assume that we can see all of who they are, or what lies within them body and soul. This journey of healing can be filled with joy, gratitude, gentleness, surrender, an ever expanding ability to love, and a continuing unfolding of peace.

There are many gifts of having chronic Lyme disease, one of them being that my body has become more sensitive to its own needs. If I create stressful thoughts and allow them to travel through my nerves, my body will hurt the next day – a fire through my spine, shoulders, and down my legs. Each joint invites me to go more deeply within to the friend who is there to teach me. Through these teachers, my mind becomes more diligent on what thoughts I create and sustain. The pain I have learned to greet with gentleness and friendliness. A welcome voice navigating me along a path of transformation. Each moment the sensations of my body are visitors along the path of healing, awakening a great amount of joy and gratitude in my heart. I am in this temple that is my body with such wise teachers that have come to visit for a time. In the midst of a painful Lyme experience, I have also never felt so healed and whole… as I surrender, find continual joy, a more deeply unfolding peace, with very wise teachers at my feet.

All disease is surrounded in mystery, it is not ever something completely understood, and all doctors and healers are conscious that they do not know what is happening in the body at all times, or what will unfold. They do not know how a certain medicine will work, if it will work, or why it did on one person over another. We can use our best judgment around how we can help someone, with the motivation to help arising from compassion and kindness rather than a desire to control or a need to know. We can hold surprised curiosity and gentle witness, peaceful with whatever comes to pass, knowing it is not ours to control.

The best we can do is greet each moment, person, and disease as a friend we will learn from until your time together ends, giving what we can to help along the journey. With peace and friendliness we can let go, let things die, and be reborn. We can see the healing that can occur even through continued ‘disease’ or death, rather than view the person or ourselves as a failure. We can hold compassionate witness for another, knowing they are not failing at the journey that is their healing, they are just in one beautiful unfolding phase of their transformation.

The path of healing is one not to rush to the end of… as a new one will only greet us, each unfolding into the next, the journey of transformation never having a beginning or end point. Every moment along the journey rich with treasure. With gentleness we continue on our way, resting as we need, nourishing ourselves as deeply as we can along the journey, receiving and giving help to each other. Drinking from the ever-present love that surrounds us each moment, awakening to the peace that awaits us as we surrender and open to the unfolding present.

“We start from the unknown, we bear witness, and healing arises. Then we let go of what we’ve seen and learned and begin the cycle all over again. It’s a continual practice. The next moment is never going to be the same. The ingredients will be different. What worked once won’t necessarily work the next time. What caused transformation in the past won’t necessarily cause it again. We must return to the unknown and look again at our ingredients, for they will have changed. And therefore today’s meal will be different from yesterdays and also different from tomorrows.

This sounds logical, but it’s actually hard to accept. We like to think that finally there is an end. We like to think that somewhere in the world there is a magic trick that will work every time. In fact, the better something works one time, the harder it is to let go of it. This become particularly dangerous when we have succeeded. Once we have a deep and wonderful experience of healing, accompanied by sensations of peace and joy, it’s very hard to drop it and start all over again. But if we don’t, it will condition us to act in ways that are not appropriate for the next day, for the next healing process.”

- From ‘Bearing Witness’ by Bernie Glassman

Drink

A woman so far from the sea,
displaced and holding perch.
She chases the intoxicating flowers to the corners
of the earth, the ones that spin
a fury of fire in the body, 
and turn the eyes to God.

She chases the intoxicating leaves
who bend her ear to heaven,
and move blood with Oya’s hand.
Soothing weary bones, breath
of the four winds in her heart,
their lightening in nerve and fiber.

Jungle to hand, to market, she chases the intoxicating fruits,
A sweet hunter.
Colorful pulp and seeds of spice spilling
between her hands,
Crushed like wet sand, flesh
of the stars, and the dreams of trees.

Wet seeds of rebirth, released from soft chambers
into the mouth. Juices of Oshun,
pleasure of the tongue.
Food of the feathered serpent,
held ripe in the hands of the Sun.

She chases Danu’s skirt, the intoxicating waters,
Rivers that carry her through time.
Entering the banks,
waters as old as the oldest star,
Ra’s lilies delivering her to the belly
of the moon.

Climbing over the rim,
the edges of her body spilling
into the lover’s,
Dropping into an ocean of awakening.

Come she asks, drink this juice.
Waters of the stars,
of the shaman’s vision, waters of Yemaya’s labor and tears,
Oceans whose depths you have been craving.
Drink this juice,
let it free you from fear.

Bring the stars down
to earth, and unlock the secret
whispers of your longing,
open your lips to drink again.

Hay-Scented Fern and Lessons from Childhood

Hay Scented Fern

Walking in the Vermont woodlands, along rushing streams and tall pines, hay scented fern fills the air with it’s sweet perfume. Being in these woods always reminds me of my childhood, so similar to the forests I grew up hiking in when venturing out of the city as a kid. Burying my head in the fern’s leaves, sighing with pleasure as I take in the scent, I remember the long love affair I’ve had with this fern over the years.

When I was a little girl I spent a lot of time on a small island off the coast of Maine. The walk from the dock to our cabin by the seashore was a relaxed stroll through beautiful wildflowers, cabins by the sea, and tall old pines. I must have taken this same walk thousands of times… carried by my mother as a baby, walking with my friends as a teenager.

There was one spot along the walk to our cabin where the air was always sweet, like flowering trees blooming in the spring. This intoxicating smell was musky and soft, fresh, and like nothing I had ever smelled before. Most importantly it seemed to call only my name… no one else seemed to notice it, though the smell would stop me in my tracks every time I passed it. I tried, but I could never find it’s creator, having looked over and over again for the flower I could thank.

As a little girl I’d stand by the pine tree that marked the spot on the trail, close my eyes, and breathe in with such pleasure. I’d make people stop and smell it with me… no one else knowing where the sweetness arose from either. All through my childhood I never figured out the source, and the mystery of where the intoxicating smell came from was also delicious, as if someone was teasing me all these years and wouldn’t give in and show their face to me.

When I moved to the woods of Vermont, the house I rented in the woods was surrounded on one end with the most beautiful light green fern… which I recognized from years in the New England woodlands. Sitting on my porch in the spring, the smell of the honeysuckle blooms perfuming the air, drawing in hummingbirds for me to watch while sipping tea, the wind would blow across the ferns and through the porch where I sat.

As the ferns uncurled in the first spring of my arrival there, I caught the whiff of this long enamored smell from my childhood. I realized it had begun just as the ferns had uncurled, and so I went and visited them, sticking my head in their leaves, and breathing deep. Hundreds of moments from my childhood washed through me, as I saw the ferns I had always been standing near but never associated with the mysterious perfume. I was so delighted to finally have discovered the creator of this smell, who had been wooing me for so many years. This beautiful, soft, delicate fern that I’d always thought seemed to belong to the fairies.

Once I finally knew it was the feathery fern that had been creating my heavenly scent, I began finding her everywhere in the New England woods and breathing her in. On my land now, the house is surrounded on one corner with hay-scented fern, and they greet me whenever I walk down our dirt road for a swim. Every time I see her, I am filled with a feeling of deep pleasure and happiness. I am a child again, able to lose myself completely to joy.

This smell sends me into a place of total surrender to pleasure and goodness, forgetting anything my mind may have been carrying, and into the bliss of being alive on earth… living in this body of nerves. Scent I’d came to understand years back, is picked up through nerve cells in the nose, and these specialized nerve cells register chemical compounds in the air, sending messages straight to the brain and nervous system, (bypassing the blood/brain barrier.) For me, scent has been one of the most powerful forces at work on my nervous system, and has often been a driving pull in my movement through the world.

As an herbalist often trying to keep out the overly-westernized and science-based way of thinking about plants from my healing practice, it’s no wonder the hay-scented fern has become one of my most beloved plant teachers. As I walked with the ferns today in the woods and we sat together by the pond, I thought about our relationship, and the healing affect the fern has had on me throughout my life. Why this plant seems to touch me in ways that is unlike any other. As someone who studied science in graduate school, and who adores ethnobotany and ecology, I thought about why I’ve never wanted to read or inquire about this plant I’ve been so in love with… The answer came clearly, from my child mind.

Don’t ruin it.
Don’t ruin what?
Don’t ruin it!

One thing I knew for sure, I didn’t want to know anything scientific about her. I thought about it for a bit, sitting in the Vermont woods next to the ferns. I watched the sun slip lower behind the pine trees on the other side of the pond, dragonflies dipping together close to the water. I listened to their wings beat in a hum. Big fish relaxing close to shore, rising up to catch the occasional bug, a woodpecker’s beak drumming on a tree above. I lay back and watched the reflection of the sunlight on the water dance in wavy patterns across the tree trunks, across my body. Following the patterns of light.

I look over to the beautiful fern, and think about why I don’t want to read anything about her. I hear inside my mind the simple truth – I already know you… and you have known me since I was a child. Naming and dissecting with my mind (which we call understanding) can sometimes take out so much of the enjoyment and magic.

Looking up at the incredible long needled pines above me, my mind says “red pine.” I tell it to shut up and stop trying to own things. I let everything lose their names, or my need to know them.

I settle into meditation by the water as the sun sets.

Walking back along the forest path, the smell of the hay-scented fern filling me up, feeling waves of peace move through my nervous system as it travels through me. Feeling I am a child again. I thank her for the medicine all my life, and promise I will try my best, not to ruin it.
S. Maurer

Plant Teachers – Healing from the Source


Watching the snow fall among the pines and evergreens surrounding my Vermont home, the sunlight streaming through the trees in long bands… I’ve forgotten what day it is, the things I had planned, what my name is. Everything empties and fills again, with light and snow, with the sound of the pines swaying in the wind. Taking in their size and beauty, the play of light as it slices through their branches and hits the flakes of white snow. Nothing else seems to matter in this moment, and all is gentle and still.

This is how I experience and know these trees and their medicine – a combination of bark, wind, quaking wood ringing like chimes… plays of light, the presence of silence and stillness… green needles in snow, white sky, clouds, soft earth, breath… All of these are pine tree in my experience. Pine does not exist on its own in my consciousness separate from its environment. I experience it as a web of many different things weaving together to become “pine tree”.

The presence of the sky is strongly present in pine – possibly because the white and red pines here tend to be so tall that I am always looking up at them. Their lack of lower branches always lends one a view of the sky. When I am working with pine in healing and medicine, I am also working with the presence of the sky. Wind is also strongly present in pine for me, because I so often watch them sway in the wind, or feel wind blowing around their trunks. I breathe more deeply when I’m among them. I feel expansive, taller, and open. Their lower branches fall away as they grow taller and they create openness and spaciousness around them – less dense than other evergreens such as hemlock, which keep their lower branches. In a pine grove I meet the presence of wind and breath as it moves unimpeded through the trees.

With pines I also take in the presence of regeneration after destruction. White pine is a pioneer species that grows after a forest has been completely cleared and is then left alone. Here in Vermont around 150 years ago 70% of our land was cleared for sheep farming, but as sheep farms were abandoned from people moving west, pine trees began to cover the bare landscape. Slowly over 70% of our land here in Vermont returned back to forest, at first covered mostly with pine. I don’t need to know about this ability of pine from history books, on my land the pines try to populate wherever land has been cleared. When I am with pine I am also taking in the sadness of loss, and of regeneration. I feel their energy of new growth and restored vitality.

My example here of Pine is to explain that when we learn from the plants we are not taking in just the plant on it’s own. It does not exist isolated from its environment, the land it grows on, the cycles it lives within, and the animals who surround it. What we receive from a plant is also then set within the framework of all that resides within our own consciousness.

Pine medicine for me brings the spirit and energy of wind and sky, sunlight, the stillness of winter, openness, silence, breath, awakening, loss, and regeneration. The scent of pine makes me feel calm, clears thoughts from my mind, and wakes me when I am sleepy. Pine is connected to all those feelings (and millions of others) in my consciousness and within my body, forming how I experience and receive its medicine. When I work with pine I receive medicine from an incredible number of sources from both outside and within myself. With the sky and wind comes the smell of pine resin in the air, peaceful walks in the woods, meditations sitting at its trunk, summers with my family by the sea… all of that, and infinite more, is in the medicine of pine in my experience.

This is how we build a relationship with a plant and truly receive its medicine, by taking in all that it truly is, and all the ways we personally experience and receive it over time… from other lifetimes, or the collective unconscious we tap into during deeper states of meditation… from the way it makes us feel when we take it in our bodies through sight, smell, taste, or touch… all that is experienced on the surface of our skin or within the depths of our consciousness in one present moment with a plant.

All of our relationships are like this. Each person, plant, or object around us is not experienced just by themselves. For each of us certain people come with the experience of specific places, feelings, sounds, energies, and sights around them. I experience my dog as a combination of things – soft fur, specific smells, the sound of teeth on bone, cuddling in bed, the New England woods, vacuum, the love I feel in my heart when I’m around her, snow falling, breath, running, soil, ice, water… all of these things come with “dog” for me. When I think of my dog, I take in all of these things into my consciousness all at once, since that is how “dog” is understood and experienced by my consciousness over time. I feel and receive from all those sources every time I am around her or think of her. If I didn’t have a dog and all these associations to what “dog” is in my consciousness, I wouldn’t be receiving the medicine I do from her. It is the depth of relationship itself that determines the strength and breadth of the medicine or potential of healing that can be received. The longer or deeper the relationship, the more medicine is available.

This is why plant and food medicines are so incredible and so vastly different from western medications – and why I dislike reducing plants to their chemicals/actions so much. Western medication is made up of a man-made series of compounds not found in nature or environment, so they can patent these compounds in order to make money (patents cannot be made on substances found in nature, unless they are changed or manipulated in some way). These man made substances are not embedded in the natural world and environment as plants are. They are lacking all of the energy, spirit, and medicine that is coming from many sources existing within and around the plant – as well as all the associations and connections within our own consciousness/soul.

What does it mean to learn directly from a plant as a teacher? It means listening to the earth and environment surrounding you and the plant, listening to your body, your memories, your associations, your nervous system, cycles of change, the animals and insects surrounding it… the wind, water, stone, sun, and beings that hold it. There is no way you will receive the same medicine as another person from one plant species, let alone one specific plant, because what we perceive, experience, have access to, are able to receive, and need in the moment, can be widely different from each other. Since our consciousness resides in every part of our body, this includes how we experience the plants within our bodies. Our context for working with the plant will also vary greatly – from purchasing a capsule online, to harvesting a plant in the wild after a relaxing hike.

For me to work with a plant as my teacher I am not trying to understand exactly what a plant “does”, I am witnessing my own experiences with it and witnessing who it is, each moment as it is revealed. Sometimes hiding, sometimes choosing to be seen. Hopefully as time goes on I will be blessed to witness many other people’s experiences with that plant, witnessing healing and nourishment occurring… Simply to be alive and to witness this incredible universe and natural world at work.

Slowing time, releasing goals or the need to control. Observing yourself and others in the natural world – being with the plants and their community of sun, water, wind, sky, and dirt. Listening, letting yourself be guided towards healing and nourishment. Observing the cycles of change over time. There is no endpoint and no mastery, there is only the continual dance of changing forms. All we can do is have patience and trust, hopefully delight along the way… joyful and grateful for what we experience and what we are able to receive.

Learning to observe and listen to what we experience within, as well as truly listening well to others around us is the greatest tool we have. Observing and feeling the plants, our bodies, each other, and the wild world around us. Learning to empty the mind and fill it again with life unfolding perfectly.

Trusting your own experience is and will be as real or valuable as another… even someone who you think is able to receive and listen better than you can. Most likely they have just learned how to categorize in their mind, articulate and regurgitate what they receive so that it can be communicated. This does not mean they are receiving the healing or the plants any better than you are – or that their knowledge is more valuable. In my experience the deepest understanding and wisdom is wordless. For many of us what we hear and experience dwells in the space of the mysterious ocean that is our consciousness and bodies.

If I couldn’t tell you in words how I experienced pine, what I know about it, or how it affects me, does that mean that I did not receive it? Does that mean someone else might know and should explain it to me? No. I receive the healing whether or not my mind understands it or I can express it to you. It came from a thousand sources working through the plant… and how I could (or allow myself to) receive it.

Most healing occurs in the space of the unspoken.

Plants and the natural world do not withhold healing and nourishment to anyone. It’s not about how it’s bottled. It does not matter how you categorize, theorize, understand, or articulate your experience or understanding of a plant.

Now let’s put away the computer together, put down our bottles and jars and go outside. There is no bad or good, right or wrong. Go rest your body and mind in the winds. There is no need to pick anything. You do not need to know anything.

The trees and plants meet us in a place beyond words and concepts, where sky and stars and winds dwell.
S. Maurer
IMG_4355

Confronting the Ego Within the Practitioner

 

“A great man is always willing to be little.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

One of my students told me something not long ago that has since stuck with me.

An indigenous elder they spent time with was asked what their one wish would be for the people of the Western world. He answered simply, it would be for them to become smaller. He went on to explain what he meant by smaller, since he wasn’t referring to physical size. It’s an understatement to say this prayer struck me deeply. I have felt its echo through me since. At the time this was shared with me I’d been reaching back into my Quaker roots and into the practice or attitude of selflessness and humility. In Quaker philosophy and silence, I had been meditating on the presence of smallness.

In our culture, we are taught to be big and do big. To have a big life, make big money, big influence, reach big audiences, have big love, own big things, have big ambitions, big dreams, big successful businesses, and big beauty. That is measured against other people’s bigness, otherwise your big doesn’t know how big it truly is. We are so often assessing how big we are, or our life is in any given moment, always seeking bigger and better… hungry souls eating feasts of emptiness. Metaphorically we are always on the search for the largest ‘meal’ we can find or offer, even if for a short time to have the illusion of being full, until we then desire something bigger. The ego grasps onto this concept of big and learns quickly that there is always someone or something ‘bigger’ to try to be, to have, or create… no matter what.

The spirit of big it seems, always wants to be bigger. And as most of us have observed, it tends to consume things and other beings/people in order to get bigger. Often what is consumed are many things we see as ‘small’.

In the weeks that followed the prayer I’d received about becoming smaller, it began to seep in more and more – the spirit of small, and the spirit of big. It seemed to be the answer my soul had been seeking for many years now, always feeling that this race was not something I wanted to be a part of. The prayer to be small, for the sake of my happiness, peace, and for the happiness and peace of all beings, rose up from a place that had been residing within me for as long as I can remember. The desire to remain hidden or in the background is unusual for a confident person that feels so comfortable teaching – but there it had been nevertheless all my life, and still where I find the most peace. Slowly the understanding that trying to be big does not help anyone, had rooted deeply within my heart.

Big in our culture means many things to us – most often to be admired, important, desired, wealthy, heard, seen, intelligent, recognized, elevated, idolized, honored, appreciated, cared for, and of course, loved.

Spiritual and healing pursuits are often not handled much differently. We want big breakthroughs, big healing, big experiences, big connection to spirit or earth, big wisdom, big peace, big clarity, and to be ‘big’ ourselves – measuring how big we are by different criteria… what we feel is the highest wisdom, most healthy, most connected, or most enlightened.

In the American culture of built in self-hate that almost everyone carries around with them (in at least some percentage), there is the continual struggle to be better and bigger than we perceive ourselves to be. I’ve watched this exhaust and deeply hurt so many people that I love and have been honored to witness, including many people that appear to be very confident, or naturally ‘big’ themselves. The race to be big did not somehow pass them by… we are all swimming in the same river. The question I began to wonder is what we are doing in there together.


In the realm of the healer, and very much since Western medicine came into being (though it’s certainly found in many traditional cultures as well), the healer is seen most often as the “big” one with the power and control. Magnificent feats are performed showing just how incredible and big this magical person is, or their medicine. You know you’ve come to the right healer because look at their big results! Look at their amazing medicines! Look at the big line of people waiting for them! You know they are big because look at all the things they have that you have decided (or the culture has decided for you) are big… the big letters after their name, or their big recognition. Look at their big prayers! They must have the big medicine that will have the big effect. Just from these words it’s likely that somewhere inside you’re wanting to know who this person is so you can go to them, and quickly, for big results.

What you fail to see is they are just the same size as you. Small, as we all are, and each filled with the presence of the infinite.

You learn that what can appear to be very small and simple can be what is most treasured and precious to one’s soul and heart. I’ve also witnessed that as we become smaller, we become translucent enough to allow something much bigger than us to shine through… the presence of peace, or of compassion. It does not take becoming a ‘big’ enlightened being that has done ‘big’ spiritual work, it most often means erasing your self enough in order for something to be seen through you. This is when the deepest nourishment and healing seems to occur, when the self dissolves and the divine can be experienced. A prayer I’ve often held as a teacher is let me only be seen and felt as much as needed so that the student is not distracted away from themselves and source by the image/presence of me in the way. I pray to become hidden and small enough, so that as I fade into the background of nature and spirit, that is all they see… as if they were alone in a room with each other, unable to see me there.

In healing practice I’ve noticed more and more the ego at play, especially as natural forms of medicine and holistic living gain more attention and respect. Unfortunately it means that it’s also swept into the arms and influence of Western culture, consumerism, and paradigms of thought… Western ideologies on who the ‘healer’ is, and what ‘medicine’ is seems to take over. We hold the local traditional healers in our hands and try to make them ‘big’ so they will be noticed and respected. We don’t see the damage that can be done when we try to make small into big, or take what has been invisible and make it seen by as many as possible. Often some of the magic, spirit, and integrity is lost along the way… as well as invisible things that have no name. Sometimes what is hidden needs to be brought into the light, but it’s important for us to understand that many things are lost on the journey from small to big.

Medicine comes to us in an infinite number of forms. Healers come to us in an infinite number of forms, not just in the form you would recognize, and often not very big. Sometimes in the forms of those who challenge us or make us uncomfortable. Sometimes in the one you barely noticed in the room… In an ant, or a shadow, or something you overlooked because you were busy trying to find something big.

“Humility does not mean you think less of yourself. It means you think of yourself less.” – Ken Blanchard

To most of us in this culture, small is misunderstood. We have experienced it only as the state of not being big, not being enough, and not being free take up space (often due to others trying to be big). Instead of thinking of small as the absence of bigness, I began to invite the true nature of small into my consciousness.

I started observing within myself this presence of small and big. I spent time with the energy of big in my own consciousness and ego. I spent time with the presence of small, trying to set aside judgment about either, open to just observing how I am affected by them. Small seemed to silence my ego and nervous system, make it feel comfortable, content, loving, and gentle. It has simple needs that are easily fulfilled and enjoys silence. It does not seem to worry. Big I noticed in contrast, seemed to rile up my ego and make it feel excited, frantic, uncomfortable, loud, charged, needy, and harmful.

In my spiritual life I came to understand and experience true ‘bigness’ as a kind of merging with something bigger than just my small self. ‘Bigness’ of the individual continued to remain uncomfortable, as it seemed to always mean the oppression of others in some form I noticed – an unequal sharing of space, energy, and resources. I’ve never felt that everyone needs to have the same existence or way of being in the world, I know that is not the nature of things… but I was interested in how the presence of ‘big’ and ‘small’ affected me internally and others around me. I also felt the compassion and peace I experienced from the presence of ‘small’ was something I wanted to cultivate in my life.

I came to see quickly that being ‘big’ does not help others, not my students or anyone looking for support in their healing. Teaching or reinforcing the culture and presence of false ‘big’ does not tend to help others find peace or wholeness. Small can be the greatest gift and teacher, often because small does not overshadow or fight with you for space or things to consume, but helps you to see and look out for all those beings we can knock over or overlook in our fight to be big. I have learned that Grandmother/Grandfather shows up most often in those who are ‘small’ (an elephant has very deep wisdom of ‘small’) or the ones least often seen and heard. I watch them, silently experiencing their beautiful energy and presence… watching them unaware of themselves, simply lost in the present moment, not trying to be any bigger than they are.

I invite you to look at your relationship to big and small. How you are affected, and how it affects others around you. Are you allowing your basic nature to be what it is? Or do you find yourself trying to be bigger? When you try to be bigger, do you notice how it affects yourself and others around you?

When you’re having a bigness crisis, try on small. See how she feels.
She holds treasures that most of us have yet to discover.

Thomas Moore wrote, “Humility, that low, sweet root, From which all heavenly virtues shoot.”

May your sweet root grow deeper.

Relationships & Interactions Between Plants & People

Exploring relationships…

(as a pause during more scientific writing to reflect a moment…)

Sitting and writing about particular medicinal plants, I realize it’s important to talk about relationships and interactions between plants and people first. I believe questioning our mental constructs and ideologies about medicine, healing, and plants is important. Many of us are using the same term for ‘healing’ or ‘herbal medicine’ for practices and belief systems that are vastly different.

Science and the Western language of ‘parts’ is one of the main languages we use with each other to communicate about nature, and to come into connection with such wildness. Though I use this language as well, I don’t believe that seeing other living things through a scientific lens, as organisms or substances we can identify through their separate parts and actions is helpful when it comes to healing. Useful for relieving symptoms and some suffering, sometimes yes… But when we’re talking about deep healing, this language of parts and chemicals is very little help, and can often be a bit of a trap. We think we’ve done a good job controlling the situation, helping someone control their body/soul’s voice by silencing it for a while. A symptom my shift out of sight for a while, our body’s voice may quite when deeper healing has not occurred. We might have received a period of repose long enough to rest and regroup our strength, but the voice will come right back again until that deeper level of healing occurs… with the heart and soul.

I am not a traditional Western herbalist, though I do use some western language when communicating about plants. My relationship and work with plants does not fit into one particular language or cultural way of knowing; it emerges from the space of one individual meeting another, shedding language, pretense, culture, or mask. I cannot describe easily what happens there – that is for silence, tears, the body and heart to express better than words could. I am more of a lover of wildness than anything else, (and a crazy medicine person born into this strange mind and culture), hoping to sit with others in that space of silence and tears. Listening to and trying to express the mysteries I witness between people and plants.

In sitting writing about certain plants, I began to realize that in talking about anything we have to start boxing it in and categorizing what are indescribable mysteries… We do it because we love words and communicating with each other so very much. However in the dwelling space of silence remains where we come to know the plants (and most things), in a place much deeper than the surface of the mind.

If someone sings, the song is not isolated from the singer. The song, the body’s voice, might have it’s own presence and energy, but when the voice quiets, the singer is sitting there. I can write down what the voice of the body sounds like, what pitch, how long it expresses certain sensations, but it would be disrespectful and arrogant of me to assume I know where the source of that song arises from. That is territory only for the individual self. I will hold their hand, supportive space, guide them in if they ask for help, but only they have access to the source of what their body and soul expresses. If they wish me to enter into those precious and deep chambers, I will go without any other objective but to love and worship such a divine being unfolding before me.

I have access to what is within me, and if I’m lucky, their song will help lead me deeper into myself as I hold witness.

Only they have access to how a plant is touching them. I am there to listen to the plants when they speak to me, and bring them into the room for someone to taste, smell, and feel. Which of those plants the person will be pulled to or connect with is where I get out of the way. The plants teach me to listen and hold witness to what occurs, since there is no way to know exactly what will unfold in someone’s healing journey. I can guess, but better to keep that to myself, or I might block something from opening that is beyond what I can see. Gently inviting the both of us to listen and connect to ourselves and the plants – heart, mind, and body. Nothing to fix or do, just to be, open, and receive. Trusting the individual and their body, knowing that I do not have to control anything, and neither do they. All we are invited to do in the healing process is come close to ourselves and each other, gently letting go, and returning to openness with source. No agenda, no judgment of what occurs next, just being together peacefully with anything that presents itself. Healing will happen on its own. This is where the medicine of the plants can bring us.

Because we often use scientific thought as our first way of connecting to the natural world (or in understanding relationships between things), it’s an important language to be able to speak in this culture. If we desire to speak to people here – or we may choose to just stay in the woods and be quiet, which is certainly another option (sometimes a very appealing one). In my observation, science (or analyzation) though useful in communication in Western culture, is not a very reliable vehicle to soul/heart connection, communication, intimate relationship… or healing. If anything it is often used poorly and becomes an obstacle to intimacy – just as any reduction or judgment is. To me it seems it’s within the space of intimacy and the depths of the heart that healing occurs. Not in a test, or from something found under a microscope. I do love that we are so interested in looking deeply, I’m just not sure we are looking through lenses that help us to see.

Why use scientific/western language at all then, why not just bag it?
Because it is often our first way in this culture’s collective mind of coming to a place of honor and connection to nature, including connection to our own body. I adore science since it allows me to view one aspect of the natural world that I love. It’s important to understand however that this language of parts and provable interactions (seen through isolating, testing, and repeating) tends to cut off deeper knowing that arrives from the body, soul, and heart as it opens to connection and relationship. Science can cut us off from direct experience and intimacy… an unfolding present moment that can never be repeated. Science often relies on a repeatable, provable, factual (unchanging), and static nature of things, when the natural world and the conscious beings within it are continually transforming, often through interaction and inter-relationship. The tools of observation in science can be delighting, but we must understand that what we can see and measure is not even close to all there is.

Thankfully where there is separation, there is always union that follows, the two cannot exist without each other – and in that way, science has created a beautiful opportunity for us to experience separateness, and then if we choose, to return to wholeness and union.

I witness the medicine of these plants through their relationship and connection to an individual during a moment in time of interaction, something that cannot be explained and will never be repeated again. To say I understand what is happening when someone takes a plant into their being would be ridiculous. No one knows or can explain it fully in words. On a purely scientific level, there are hundreds of compounds in a plant working together, meeting your billions of cells, enzymes, chemicals, hormones, bacteria, and thousands of compounds that make up our body. On a spirit level (and really spirit and body are not separate), again there is no way for me to understand how a plant and individual, in that one moment, are interfacing. All I can do is witness, hold space, and stand in the mystery that unfolds. I understand that it is not my business what happens between one being and other, it is their intimate space of connecting and communicating with each other.

I can help guide someone along their path of healing without needing to know exactly where they should place their feet, but supporting them in finding their own movement forward.

What is the point of trying to explain or know what one chemical in a plant put together with a particular person, in a particular moment of their constant state of transformation has the potential to be? I believe we think we can truly control and predict what will happen when two conscious beings come together. I think the point is we are trying to control the universe as it interacts and transforms. Too esoteric? We are trying to control birth and death because of our own fear that we are not enough just being present to the unfolding as it happens.

So what is the medicine of the plants for me? I can only describe what it feels like… Deep nourishment to all parts of me, coming into union, returning home, communication with source, loving and being loved without judgment… surrendering my ego, letting go into the arms of the mother earth, our greatest healer. Drinking in incredible life energy… coming back to life and breath. Dreaming, awakening in my mind and consciousness. Depths of intimacy. The medicine of the plants for me is opening myself to be touched by ancients. The dissolving of my ego mind in order to feel for a moment the presence of my whole self. That is what I understand the medicine of relationships with plants to be. It cannot be attributed to the plant itself. It is in the place of union where plant, nature, spirit, and person mingle together. Intimacy and trust/safety does not often develop overnight, it comes with continual presence, kindness, and opening.

When someone says a plant doesn’t ‘work’ for them, or it stopped ‘working,’ I can launch into explanations of the mind, based on observation, facts about the plants, my past experience etc… The best and truest answer I can give is explain, plants and you choose each other – sometimes it’s time to walk together, sometimes it’s not. You are changed by the plant as you work together, and you are not the same being each time you take it – it will effect you differently over time. You are not going to explain it by braking you or the plant down into isolated individual parts that do not equal the truth of who either of you are each moment, or explain your relationship/interaction. Allow room for each of you to dance with each other, your own dance, for the moment you do. When you come, and when you go, no judgment needed. When you try to control it, less will unfold. With assessment we close ourselves off to the mystery and potential that is there if we let go and open to meeting the plant with a beginner’s mind, knowing nothing.

Information about chemical constituents or particular actions a plant can have on the body should be understood for what they are, small aspects of a whole mysterious being that cannot be seen by the eyes of science or the human mind when it is disconnected from heart/body/soul. If you tried to explain me by the chemicals that make up my body, it would be pretty inacurrate… and it would not explain what happens when you mix me with all the many other spirits in body around me.

Each time I drink a plant, I am different than I was last week, the plant is new to me, and this is a new moment coming into being. This moment will change and pass into the next sip… when I will meet the plant again with a beginners mind. My whole being will be changing from one moment to the next – that plant (including all of its ‘parts’) are changing as well. Even if I could explain how a plant is interacting with myself or another, would I be able to explain what that interaction will be in the next moment as each being continues to change and transform? It is not my business to know or control. What I can do is witness and honor what unfolds as spirits meet each other.

Life and death will occur on it’s own whether or not I try to control it. This person and this plant are teachers, coming to me partly in order to help me learn to allow life and death to unfold within my own being.

The plants are whole conscious beings, just as we are, capable of interacting with conscious awareness in a given moment. Trying to understand with the mind how a plant will interact/touch someone I find to be a waste of time and energy I could spend loving. Trying to explain what occurs in someone’s experience of their own body, or in their healing process, as if I know better than they do, tends to stop healing from unfolding, dishonor and disempower anyone involved. It would put me in the middle of an intimate experience that is not mine to own or explain. Often this desire to ‘know’ is a way to make us feel powerful or important as practitioners, when it is the plant and the individual themselves that are responsible for the healing that has occurred… I may have played a role, but if I played it well, they are listening to themselves and the plant, not to me. I am just a guide at the gateway, hopefully providing support, tenderness, and assistance when it’s needed. I want them to be their own teacher and healer… and to not attribute the wisdom and healing from arriving anywhere other than within their own heart and body.

Each species of plant has particular gifts and medicine they can offer, but as whole beings, they are not understood through the sum of the compounds that make up their body – just like us. As we do, they carry within them the spirit of the land in which they grow, the spirits of the people who have connected to them throughout time, memories of the earth through it’s evolution, unique individual consciousness, and a depth of connection to the creator/collective consciousness that the deepest parts of us also hold.

There is enough medicine in their wholeness; we do not need to dissect them to find an imaginary magic bullet to control life and death. We do not have to match the perfect plant to the person or pattern of illness/energy we see within them and deduce what the plant will do within their body in order for healing to occur. Again, this may help with symptoms, and can be used in combination with deeper levels of healing, but transformations at the root are not going to occur on the surface level.

There is no perfect match we can select for someone in order for their healing to occur – there are an infinite number of perfect matches. There are two beings coming together, plant and the individual self, deciding where they go together – it is not up to the herbalist. What heals is not up to anyone else, and certainly not in the hands of the ‘practitioner’. All we can do is take their hand and enter together the realm of mystery that leads us back to self and source, opening and allowing transformation to occur as it naturally will… introducing someone to our beloved plant teachers and friends along the way who can take them deeper along that journey. I am healing, you are healing, we are discovering and learning together as we go. Each one choosing and discovering for themselves where they go.

Plants are enough as whole beings and we are enough as whole beings, we do not need to always brake us down or reduce us to what we are ‘good’ at. We can talk about these specific gifts we have, as long as we understand that is a way of reducing ourselves as well as our abilities to heal down to just chemical interactions that we have no true way of controlling or deducing – none of the tests can tell you truly how one plant will interact on any given moment with a person, and how a person will interact with it. Birch may be good at reducing inflammation, but who knows if Birch would choose to interact with me in that specific way since Birch is not controlled by the chemicals within it, just as I am not controlled by mine. This may seem like a ridiculous notion to you, but this is a truth that many people around the world have understood for thousands of years working with sacred healing plants. They are not drugs or inanimate objects, but alive, conscious, and constantly changing every second as we are – more complex than we can understand, and certainly more than the parts we can quantify. We also have a very powerful role in the transformation and healing that occurs within is, we can stop it or allow it to unfold, regardless of what plants we put in our body.

If a plant happens to be good at unclogging some phlegm from my throat while holding some of the deepest parts of my heart that I rarely expose, I see that as a nice added bonus, and will certainly share that with anyone interested in resolving a phlegmy situation, knowing full well it might not work for them… I don’t know how the plant and them will experience each other, that is where the mystery unfolds, and is up to their relationship.

Do I think the resolving of phelgm is ‘healing’ happening? No… I don’t think it is, though it could be happening at the same time. Healing can occur with or without ‘symptoms’ disappearing, with someone dying, or coming back to full vitality and function. Healing occurs in places I cannot quantify, label, or measure. It is not for me to explain. I am there to hold their hand and provide loving support, helping lead them back to themselves and to sacred healing relationships… back into the mysteries of life and death that surround us all. The plants are one of the most powerful gateways into loving the present moment, loving self, and loving another.

That said, practical needs such as making soup, picking our medicine and food, and relieving pain from a swollen ankle, are deeply valuable. Mucus can really be an issue!

© Sage Maurer

Opening to the Sacred

In the Spirit of Plants…

I am sitting at the ocean’s edge wrapping leaves together of Willow, Red Clover, Jasmine, and St. John’s Wort, in front of a lit candle. The full moon looms above me casting a long trail of white along the water. I am whispering into the herbs as I wrap them together. Once the herbs are bundled, along with a few strands of my hair, I sit with them in my hands. My mind clear, I fill the plants with my prayers – mingling their spirits with mine. I walk to the water when I am finished and throw the bundle into the waves, to be changed and released by the energy of the moon and the ocean. The spirits of the plants speaking, my prayers rolling across the waves. The sea will be my brew tonight. I am someone traveling the path of the healing plants, ancient magic, earth worship, and wise woman re-awakening.

Plants are gateways to the sacred, nourishing our relationship to Spirit and bringing us deeper into mystery. The Spirit realms teach us as we are ready – we are led into the mysteries often without instruction… Teachings come only as we are able to hold them properly, allowing them to live and survive through our work and lives. The Spirits ask those of us on this path to feed them, nourish them with prayer, ritual, sacred space… To continue to hold the council of all beings in order to heal/transform human relationships to the land once again.

As herbalists we seek nature’s power, the medicine Earth Mother has placed in our hands since the beginning. This is our most ancient medicine. The plants teach us to understand our own bodies as living breathing beings, transforming and changing every moment. Moving with the stars, the seasons, with the rise and fall of the sun and moon, the turning of the earth and the flow of tides. The plants come into our rivers of blood and fluid, sending their energy and power to every cell. Their chemicals dance with ours, soothing our nerves, calming the mind, awakening movement. For every need, there is a plant who can help us. Clear our thoughts, relieve an aching muscle, an upset stomach, a tight heart, opening us to life again.

As we know, herbs have been used for thousands of years throughout the world magically as well as medicinally. The two, in most cases, were used together. Wise healers, shamans, and medicine people around the world knew that plants were helpers that could be called on in times of need. Herbs were used in ritual and prayer, as physical medicines, and were often worshiped as gods themselves. For millions of years they have been healing the human soul and the human body, keeping us connected to the earth and the realm of Spirit. Traditional healers, medicine men and women, have recognized and formed relationships with the plant spirits for hundred of thousands of years. As a healer walking with the spirits of the plants, this ancient path is where I have been led through the lifetimes.

The green nations are powerful guardians of the earth and of our lives. Our own healing, as well as the healing of the earth itself, can occur only if we learn how to partner and coexist in intimate relationship with all of life. Why are so many of us not learning to be connected to the spirits of the earth, as well as learning nature’s science? We do not seem to understand what many wise shamans and healers around the world have always known. The plants have an active, living consciousness, and they are our only true source of healing, medicine, and food. By giving back to the spirits we form strong partnerships that will aid us until the day we die.

Each of us has the ability to develop powerful relationships with the plants. They are eager for us to come back into the partnership that many humans in the past have upheld – the existence of life on this planet depends on it. It is time for us to listen again, with our hearts and bodies. There are few who still do and there must be more. The plants are looking for those of us who will partner with them, help preserve and heal life, support during times of illness and the passing into other realms. I am a woman who is listening, though through the hustle and bustle of modern life. I have dedicated my life to the service of the plants and to teaching earth wisdom and healing to others in the hopes that these partnerships will again be forged.

The plants are calling back to us. The herbs that we use in tinctures and teas, salves and pills, are powerful transformers and ancient spirits. They call back to us, not simply to be harvested by the basket load, but to be used in a different way. Spirit based, folk herbalism is needed now, when westerners have begun to catch on to the healing power of the plants and are over-harvesting endangered beings. You can catch glimpses of spirit based herbalism in our culture with flower essence therapy, homeopathy, plant spirit medicine, and in many locally based herbal practices. Some living close to the earth have begun to bring back and reawaken within themselves the ancient practices of earth healing and green partnership practiced throughout the world for thousands of years.

The intelligence of the plant spirits has been understood for centuries by many cultures. Approximately nine million people were killed in Europe during the witch-burnings (80% who were women) for practicing traditional folk healing and herbal magic – common knowledge and practice during pre-Christian times. Millions around the world have died trying to hold onto their folk healing traditions and spiritual practices that honored the spirits of the earth. As westerners today, when globalization has caused so many folk healing traditions to slowly die out, we are called to preserve what we can of them, in the hopes that our relationship to the earth, our health, and the health of all life, does not continue to deteriorate because of our disconnection. And if we are meant to be present as the passing begins, may we be training ourselves now to hold what is most sacred in our arms as it transforms.

The universe is an interconnected web of energy, the earth itself a matrix of many spirits interacting with each other constantly. Each of us carries specific energy that interacts with our environment, just as every living thing in nature does. The plants have powerful energy that can be learned from and used by the wise for healing and creating change. This is ancient knowledge that was forcibly taken from many people in the last few hundred years. It is our job to remember and hold it now.

Without the spirit partnerships formed between herbalist and the plants, true healing cannot occur. They are asking for you to learn, to listen as you would to elders and teachers. If you listen, they will teach you how to heal and transform your life and the lives of others. The plants can help to nourish and rebuild the body and spirit in incredibly deep ways. They can support our dance into wholeness (healing) through dreaming, through cancer, bringing love into our lives, mending broken hearts, breaking our hearts, transforming sickness, rebalancing the body, and helping to rebuild one’s spirit… Plants touch us on an energetic, spirit level, as well as the physical. They can change and shift energy powerfully and can help us to learn to do so ourselves.

The key to working with plant spirits is understanding that you are not controlling or commanding plants to help you, you are asking its spirit and body to be directed in a certain way towards creating needed change, knowing that the plant itself might work in ways different from your original intentions or desires. Come to the plants seeking knowledge and transformation. You will see they will often change your life and the energy around you in ways that you may not have expected. The plant spirits will help to challenge as well as support you. Do not be afraid or hesitant with them. Come when you’re called… with a compassionate heart, and willingness to learn. Come to them in your own power, respecting your spirit as you respect theirs.

If you can, sit with a plant before and after using it for medicine. Take time to be with it, breathing each other in, giving it time to take in where you are in this moment. Become familiar with it, the plant’s surroundings, growth patterns, the color of it’s flowers… All of this will tell you of the energy and spirit within the plant. Look at what the plant tells you through its physical body, how it’s colors, smell, touch, and taste makes you feel. Ask permission to use it for healing and spirit work, giving love and gratitude as offerings. Open yourself up to the plants… call in their spirits. Slow down and listen from under your skin. They will teach you their magic. Approach them with no expectations, with openness and trust. If you come to them seeking help, healing, or teaching, a plant will most often give some of it’s body and spirit to you. From this intimacy, we begin to rebuild forgotten relationships.

For the past 18 years I have been journeying with the plants into unseen realms, learning through them the ways of nourishment, transformation, birth and death, magic, intimacy, and relationship. They are my grandmothers and grandfathers, a source of continual teaching, bridges into the realms of Spirit. Journeying within these realms is not an easy path, or one that does not demand of us discipline, devotion, and practice. I’ve come to understand that it is a lifeway and practice that is not learned in a handful of years, but one that evolves through a lifetime (sometimes many) of relationship. This intimate work cannot be taught or given, what can be presented to you is an invitation in. One is chosen for and chooses relationships such as these. Herbal medicine can be used by anyone, just as each of us can learn to grow our own food, we can easily grow and make our own medicine. However the path of a devote, of one training in the realm of Spirits, takes us into sometimes dark, sometimes light, places of mystery.

Listen and they will teach you. You will remember the wisdom that is imprinted in your cell memory. We are holding in us the knowledge of healing and transformation. There is a common language that we all speak. It is up to you to discover it. The plants will help you enter.

These are some of my journeys into the realms of Spirit, my journeys with the sacred plant teachers, and stories of the beautiful green land I call home in Vermont.

Earth Mother, bless me to be present today, to the magic of life as it is unfolding, perfectly, and with immeasurable beauty. May all awake to your presence within and around them.


© Sage Maurer