If you are like me, you have been asking yourself these and many other questions about how you fit in the grand scheme of this calling of working with the herbs.
This weekend I attended my first herbal medicine gathering in Portland, a city that is apparently full of all kinds of amazing herbalists and schools. It was like emerging out of hiding after three years. My hiding spot was deep in a bleached white lab coat, the middle of an ancient Chinese text, in a vortex of yin and yang. The world around my hiding hole is luscious green, so alive and vibrant. Chinese medicine has it’s own vibrancy, it’s own pulse of nature and cosmos and the Dao, deep and flowing. But Western herbalism is alive, grounded, accessible and earthy in a most nourishing way.
It was a joy to connect with other herbal folks and reacquaint with Western herbalism. Learning about herbs in a new light lifted me up. Yet I also I found myself stuck between two worlds. I was sometimes physically uncomfortable with the disparity I felt inside as I though, What if I am not a part of this world any more? The diagnosis and treatment methods that made me feel far away, on my own little Celia island.
I didn’t climb out of my cave to be (self)relegated to my own little island.
On one hand, what do I expect? I’ve changed, so what, there’s nothing wrong about that fact. But why does it make me so uncomfortable? Why do I have to have Western and Chinese herbalism walk hand and hand, all smiles and giggles and rainbows?
At the start of the herbal part of my education at Chinese Medicine school, I started integrating the pieces in my mind. It was part natural instinct and part survival mechanism. Beyond the Chinese theory, I thought about the botany surrounding the herbs; the family, genus and species, as well as the location in which it grew. Alterative? Astringent? Demulcent? I wondered about action categories. I also was interested learning about the chemical constituents. Because that’s what I did with Western herbs to get to know them.
Now 2 1/2 month post-graduation, I am trying to integrate what Western herbal concepts into Chinese medicine. Does lavender move stagnant Liver Qi? Is yellow dock too cold and bitter for Blood deficient constipation? Every one of my teas in my shop are going under the scrutiny of an energetic bent eye. I like it. It makes sense to me, and when I am working in my herb nook by myself, it works very well.
But then I go out in public, I meet up with old herb friends and things go haywire. You see, the most difficult thing is trying to convey the dualistic nature of my thinking in writing and speaking. When I am around my Chinese medicine peers or attending a Western herb conference like I did this past weekend, it is hard to get my point across. I want to offer a different perspective but am too timid to be potentially viewed as contrary. Mostly I just want to be included, as we all do, but my experience leaves me neither here nor there.
Somehow, when I am talking with a patient in a clinical setting, it is easier to speak fluently what I feel is happening in the body or with a treatment, herbal or otherwise. In those situations, I use a lot of metaphors or archetypal language, even sound effects to communicate, bypassing dogma or jargon altogether. Which is another reason why I am excited to start my practice…I get to be myself again.
I thought that when I got done with school I’d have it all figured out, but as always patience is a virtue.
Autumn is a season of looking inward and returning to our roots, so we can store the precious vital essence deep in the protectorate of the earth, and emerge in Spring with new growth. I am going to take this opportunity to explore my herbal story bit by bit, gathering the pieces of clarity and integration along the way. Thanks for listening.
Darcey Blue at Gaia’s Gifts has been offering some inspiration in this (oh, and many other) post.