How does one begin to explain the variables of herbalism to the beginner students, the wonderful important joyful variables? We live in a world of standardization. How you should feel and function, how much you should weigh, how often and how much you should bleed have been standardized. The drugs have all been standardized and so have the patients. Fast food is carefully measured so the billions and billions served are exactly the same.
Living in a world riddled with variety and chaos we seek to impose order on her. Nature is not normal; no two snowflakes are the same. No two people are the same, nor are any two herbs the same. So how can we function in a world where nothing is ever the same? Behind nature there are patterns and cycles that operate in an orderly fashion. The earth rotates around the sun and spins on its axis creating the seasons. Water freezes, thaws, flows, evaporates, condenses, rains, gathers and freezes. It shapes, nurtures, dissolves, transforms and stabilizes life. Each season is stable in relation to the other seasons but unique unto itself. It may be a wet or dry winter a warm or cold spring but always spring will follow winter. If winter comes can spring be far behind? This may be a good spring for St. Johns Wort but an unproductive one for Wild Celery.
This weekend I taught a class on tincture making with all its variables. We studied whether to use the herbs fresh or dried and we talked about the appropriate ratios and menstrums to use to best extract their healing properties. The students, I felt, wanted order and standards to follow. That seems simple enough and it is within a Newtonian physical science paradigm - you use whatever methods necessary to make the herbs fit your procedure instead of following the nature of each plant.
I took the students to a special place of mine. In the morning when I woke up, I visited the plants with my spirit body to let them know we were coming to harvest them. I sang and drummed to the plants before we harvest them. How can you measure that? Well actually there is a beautiful book that shows how thought, music and prayer affects the crystalline structure of water. Don't forget, when we count one thing we often discount a whole lot of other things. For example, say I purchased my 500 g (objective) of Western Coltsfoot from a health food store vs. going to a special river, singing and drumming to it and making an offering and gathering it with my own two hands (subjective). Can we really compare the two? We explored how to transform it into a potent, convenient, stable medicine and a somewhat standardized tincture.
Well this is where the questions started. Who has the right answer? Who has the right way? Most herbalists give a ratio of 1:2 (one part herb by weight to two parts alcohol by volume). Well, I got off lucky because this worked for my herb because it is a root. I was able to chop it up and the alcohol easily engulfed it. What I didn't get was the fact that one author I read uses 95 percent alcohol and my teacher said it was OK to use 50 percent alcohol (vodka). He has found in his practical experience that 50 percent vodka works for most herbs except those with very high water content or resins. The difference being that he uses extra time (3 to 12 months) allowing many of his tinctures to develop.
Some of the other students weren't as lucky as me. One student was using fresh Cedar bows. Again the ratio was suggested to be 1:2. Cedar bows are light and bulky and there's no way she was going to get 500 g into 1000 ml of alcohol. What to do? Well just to confuse her, two teachers gave two different answers. Her head is already spinning with all the new herbal information, harvesting, ratios and menstrums and now they throw a paradox at her. Don likes to make his tinctures so there's always a small layer of alcohol covering the mark (a term to describe the chopped up herb). He also prefers not to grind the herb in a machine, which limits the amount of herb she can get into the alcohol. So his method is to weigh the amount of herb she has before chopping it up. First she filled her jar with 1000 ml of alcohol. Then she chopped the herb as fine as she could without using a blender and steadily immersed the herb that she chopped into the alcohol until the jar is fairly full with the herb and still has a small layer of alcohol on the surface. She then weighs the amount of cedar left which she subtracted from the amount she started with. This is needed to calculate her ratio. Well, chopping as fine as she could, she only managed to get 200 g western cedar into the 1000 ml of alcohol, so her ratio ended up being 1:5.
The other method is to grind the cedar in a blender to almost powder and add this to the alcohol. Well, she tried this and her jar was 3/4 full of ground cedar and about one-half of alcohol, so I instructed her to shake her tincture 7 to 8 times a day for the first week to be sure the herb got saturated with alcohol. After that, she can shake it once a day. Doing it to this way she was able to achieve the wanted ratio of 1:2. Once again we come to the challenge of scientific measuring. If we only measure the chemical constituents, they will vary slightly between the two tinctures, but we have no way of measuring the vibrational quality of not grinding. It is difficult for the western mind is to live with paradox - there were two answers and both are right, but different.
And sometimes Don gets a little too subtle for me and sometimes I want things to be simple. I am really attracted to the idea that how we handle the herbs and even how we think and feel does affect the quality. He did show me scientifically monitored photos of water crystals and how they are modified by music, thought and prayer. What a stimulating but confusing class. Don warned us at the beginning that it was a blend of art and science. It is a conflict between two separate paradigms.
Method 1 (dried herbs) - using the Menstrum sheet (Earth Essences), follow the ratio and the Menstrum percentage.
Method 2 (fresh herbs) - using the ratio 1 to 2, cut the herb as fine as possible or blend it, at the required amount of alcohol and shake 7 to 8 times a day for one week and then once a day after that.
Method 3 (fresh herbs) - fill the jar with required amount of alcohol, weigh the fresh herbs that you plan to add to the alcohol, chop the herbs fine and add to the alcohol as you chop them, when the alcohol is full of herb and there's still a thin layer of alcohol covering the herb, stop and weigh the herb that you have left, subtract that from the amount you started with. Use this to figure out the ratio of herb to alcohol.
You doubt that this job is the right or best direction for you. You choose Wild Oat, a Bach remedy that is used for people who are suffering because they are unhappy with their life direction and the conflict is not allowing them to fully attend to the present. You also chose to apply the flower essence to the “gate of life” acupuncture point. Find out what happens.
Mihály Csíkszentmihályi's simple chart on the conditions of flow helps me see where I am at in my relationship of challenge to skill. Read on and learn how your challenges either make you bored, anxiuos or flow.
Focusing by Eugene Gendlin, PH.D
Felt sense. Feeling or sensing something with your body. Much larger and more vague than an emotion. An overall body feeling. Touching a problem, issue or concern with your body and sensing\feeling how it responds. Deeper than the thinking mind more like a body mind.
Tasting it with your whole body.
Six steps of Focusing:
1. Clearing a space.
Say, I feel wonderful and wait for something to come up. Feel\sense what comes up then put it to the side for now.
If that was resolved what would come into my body? Give it time to surface. Repeat the above.
Now I feel wonderful. If you get to an open good feeling you may want to spend the session enjoying a refreshing break from these problems for awhile. If not then pick one problem and move to step two.
2. The felt sense.
Bring the problem up in front of you and ask what is it "all about" this problem and allow at least 30 seconds for your body to respond with a body feeling. When you have the body feeling, say hello to it. Ask it if it is OK to spend some time with it.
3. Finding a handle.
When you have established contact with a distinct body feeling look for a word, phrase or picture that fits the body feeling. eg. cramped. closed in or a ball and chain. When you feel you have a handle then let go of the body feeling for a bit and then use the handle to bring it back.
Practice letting go and bringing it back a few times.
Become the felt sense and see the problem\situation from it's point of view. Ask it "what is the worst of this?" "What does this felt sense need?" "Is there an emotional quality to it?" If so "what gets it so....? When you get a definite answer you will feel a slight shift in the felt sense.
Ask the felt sense what "all OK would feel like". Ask it to show you what "all OK would feel like. Spend a little time absorbing the body feeling, accepting what your body gives you. Ask it if it is OK to leave soon or does it have something else it wants to communicate. If not, thank it and assure it that you will be back. You can use the handle to get you started during your next session.
To learn more about Focusing and other emotional healing techniques Click Here Now!
Body Symptoms & Dreaming by Don Ollsin
First, satisfy nutrition, reduce inflammation, improve circulation and enhance detoxification. As these concerns of your body are satisfied you can turn to deeper concerns like your dreaming body. As long as our body cells are in a state of distress we are usually not as interested in dreaming.
Now to the dreaming process:
At the end of this exercise I will ask you to reflect on your experience and record it with words, sound or pictures. The intention to bring it forth into this world often deepens the experience.
“According to old assumptions, the body is merely a machine. Currently there is a great deal of concern with the body, but most people have not yet discovered that special kind of “bodily sense” that is the “sense of a situation”.
Why does focusing work? How does "the process" come to be so wise? It is the body that is so "wise," but of course it is not the body reduced to physiology, not the body-as-machine, but rather the body “from out of which you are living”. This body is not one thing while you are another, a second thing. Your body enacts your situations and constitutes them largely before you can think how. When your attention joins this living, you can pursue many more possibilities and choices than when you merely drive the body as if it were a machine like a car. The body lives inherently with others. The body is born into interaction and physically implies moving toward and with people. When the body first arrives, it implies nursing and being held, and after the body absorbs all the complex human circumstances, it can suggest an intricate new move in an unheard-of predicament if we allow it.
The international nature of the “body-in-situations” is contrary to most theories. But even if we reject the theories, the old assumptions remain; they are built into common words and phrases. In my philosophy I find a way to devise phrases and sentences in which words come to be used in new ways, so that we can go on from here, to think further. I have built a theory with concepts of a new kind that have both logical and experiential connections. With those concepts I am able to build a new understanding of the physical body as continuous with and capable of, animal behavior, then of language, and at last of focusing.” Focusing – E. Gendlin
This exercise is something that can be done in almost any circumstance or situation. For the purpose of training I will recommend an ideal setup. Set aside a period of sufficient time, say 10 to 15 minutes. Make yourself comfortable but not so comfortable that you will fall asleep. Turn your attention to the inside.
Ask “what wants my attention today?” For the purpose of this exercise choose a body symptom. We can apply this process to strong emotions, moods, sensations and situations.
The first skill that we need to develop is one of a warm welcoming attitude. We do this by saying “hello” to what ever we encounter. We welcome it. We talk to it in a warm and friendly manner. We ask it if it's OK to hang out with it today. Once we have established contact and we feel that we are in a healthy relationship with our body dreaming we can go on.
I find it helpful in this work to have a map of the three levels of awareness that we are going to explore.
To start with, we will be working in consensual reality and dreamland. Later on we'll explore dreamtime and the sentient level. So we all generally agree that a body symptom is a disturbance in our body that is usually aggravating and probably interfering with our over all sensation of well-being. Generally, we consider body symptoms as undesirable. In this paradigm shift, we are going to consider body symptoms as body dreams and see if they're dreaming has a message or purpose for our over all wellness. To access the dreaming we are going to establish a relationship with our body dreaming. We consider the body symptom as a doorway to dreaming.
Now, we are going to enter in to dreamland via the body symptom. Below I have mapped out a number of different pathways in dreamland.
Some of the simple ways that we can work with the symptom is to explore it in different pathways. After establishing contact with the symptom as outlined in the beginning you can now ask your symptom:
1. What kind of sound it would make. Allow your symptom to express itself through you as a sound.
2. Ask your symptom, what it looks like and allow it to express itself through you as a drawing. Color allows greater expression; so you may want to have crayons, pencil crayons, pastels, paints or markers available. Modeling clay can also be an excellent medium for the dreaming to express itself.
3. Ask your symptom if it has a movement and allow it to move your body. Start with small movements and if it feels right, slowly expand them. You may or may not want to stand and allow your whole body to move.
4. Does your body symptom have a smell associated with it? These pathways relate directly to our self. Some of them will be more familiar and easier to access.
The other pathways are more related to the world. You can ask yourself the following questions and explore the answers.
How does this body symptom relate to my relationships? Who is wrong with me?
What do this body symptom and my work have to do with each other?
If the body symptom were a part of my community what would it say about my community?
How does my body symptom relate to the environment that I live in?
These questions may or may not reveal information that is important to you at this time. The last pathway that we will explore is the spirit pathway. This is the dreamtime or sentient level of awareness. What was the symptom before it was a symptom? The simplest method of exploring this pathway is to ask “what the symptom was before it was a symptom” (Zen koan) and see if you can access the state that preceded the symptom. This is a lucid foggy nonverbal (preverbal) state without duality. This is the quantum level without form, the formless. Vagueness and fogginess are important tools to access this level.
“In Dreaming While Awake, Arnold Mindell defines lucidity as awareness of sentient experience, which precedes everything you think, see, hear and do. When you are lucid, you sense tendencies as well as actualities. Lucidity is a detached, diffuse state of mind that is essential for working with sentience. It is adept at catching the slightest suggestions of experience. Consciousness involves writing or knowing the notes of a song, while lucidity is awareness of the feeling background that gave rise to the song. Mindell also refers to lucidity as "cloudedness" to emphasize its loose, relaxed, not knowing quality. Like peripheral vision, is not focused on any one object or point of reference. It does not involve working or searching for meaning: nor does it try to achieve, understand or clarify.” Julie Diamond 1
Shamans call it “stopping your story.” What is this energy without any story attached to it?
Another way to explore the spirit pathway is through movement. It is a little trickier but often rewarding. You need to imagine something or someone creating the symptom. We call this the symptom-maker. Once you have discovered the symptom-maker, you need to embody it (shapeshifting). Once you have embodied the symptom-maker you allow your body to move as the symptom maker. Once your awareness is well anchored in the movement, you begin to slow the movement down. Using your awareness, notice what most fascinates you in this movement. Find the impulse (the kiss before the kiss) to make that movement. Right at that pre-movement, notice what flirts with you. It could be anything. Again, vagueness and fogginess are important to the process. We are like Alice in Wonderland. This is the rabbit hole. This is the unknown. It may be weird or wonderful. Part of the process is to suspend the rational part of our mind. Healing often happens in this pure state of awareness prior to the existence of the symptom. In this unformed state, form (the body symptom) can change. We are dipping into the world of spirit. This is the last pathway called the spirit pathway.
After getting in contact with this energy it is valuable to reflect on your experience and record it with words, sound or pictures.
A Path Made by Walking - Julie Diamond and Lee Spark Jones
Pathways to Healing, a Guide to Herbs, Ayurveda, Dreambody and Shamanism by Don Ollsin