An Introduction, by Julie McIntyre
Indigenous medicine people make the point over and over again that the practitioner must have faith in her medicines. It must be based on personal relationship with the medicine or the protocol you’re suggesting. Without personal trust in your medicines, as if your own life depended on them, your confidence in the medicines will fail as you approach diseases in which death may occur and your clients will ~ at some level ~ know it.
Plants are living entities and what you do when you heal with plant medicine is that you bring together the living entity of a plant, with the living entity of the person, with the living entity of the organ system through the introductory medium of the herbalist. Your perception has to be sensitive enough to understand how to do that and to perceive what happens inside the person when they are all introduced.
Different herbs may affect the body similarly but they often affect the psychological structure very differently. The only way to know how they affect people psychologically as well as physically is to have a personal relationship with the plant. Over time you will understand the personality of the plants and know how to make them into medicines of all sorts while keeping the living spirit of the plants alive.
I work a lot with Ailanthus (Tree of Heaven) which is considered an invasive bane of many neighborhoods. It grows all over Southwest New Mexico where I live. I love with this plant-it’s a gorgeous tree and it’s here for a reason which is another story for another time. What little information there is in the materia medica is limited to its use as an anti-protozoa, specifically against Girardia, a water born pathogen that infects the lower GI tract. Interestingly, Ailanthus often grows near water ways. I’ve come to know Ailanthus as an adaptogen-helping us adapt to the changing world we live in- and which acts psychologically very differently in each person.
In people who are ungrounded, in their heads, pretty much hovering above their bodies, it will immediately ground them in their bodies bringing their energy to their feet. Conversely, in people who are too stuck in their bodies, have difficulty making decisions or moving out of a stuck situation, it opens them up, gives them breathing room and flexibility of thought and motion.
You can get a sense of the importance of getting to know a plant in all sorts of scenarios. Plant medicines are not a one size fits all model. Because I love this plant I keep it in my awareness I continue getting to know it with each sitting and use. While hiking one day, thinking about plants in general and Ailanthus specifically, a thought dropped into my mind: invasive plants are often stronger medicines since they have moved through various ecosystems making their properties more potent in the presence of unfamiliar environments and pathogens. Plants must be their own physicians--must be able to change their chemistry in response to disease.
Authentic knowledge comes from the individual being in relationship with what they are doing. Working with plants over time it is possible to get a little more understanding and information about how they work and what their medicine is each time you sit at their feet and ask them to teach you.
The Role of Trust
Perhaps you’ve had the experience of working with a client and suddenly a plant appears on the screen of your inner vision or you hear the plants name. Almost instantly a little, nasally voice inside you says, “that’s not what that plant is for, it can’t be, I’ve never heard or read of it being used that way before.” The plant just communicated something to you and it’s important to heed that gift from the plant—it has been here far longer than we have been. Trust that communication. Do a proving with the medicine by putting a few drops on the client’s tongue or on their wrists. Then sit back and watch a moment, with the unworn sides of your eyes, what happens, how the person responds. Notice closely. It happens immediately and the response won’t wait for you to be ready. Train yourself to see such as color returning to their cheeks, changes in breathing, a relaxing of the shoulders, or a deep sigh may escape them.
One of the most profound and heartwarming things to witness is when a plant meets the person inside. Often there are tears of welcome and relief when the medicine touches the pain or wound inside the person.
There is more happening here than simply a tincture of a plant going in a body.
Something invisible is taking place and you hold the space for that to happen, as an herbal midwife. Don’t rush this process. Let it steep; give a little time for the two to make acquaintance. Beginnings are delicate times, you know. A few times I’ve given a second dose if it feels like the first one has met a resistance somewhere inside or I want the medicine to go a little deeper the second time.
The spirit of a plant is an invisible thing. The client’s belief in and sense of themselves and their ability to heal are invisible as well as their fears of death and life and what it means to them to be ill or even to be well.
Paracelsus: The Physician should speak of that which is invisible. What is invisible should belong to his knowledge, and he should recognize the illnesses, just as everybody else, who is not a physician, can recognize them by their symptoms. But this is far from making him a physician—only when he knows that which is unnamed, invisible and immaterial, yet efficacious (will he be a healer).
A person’s life changes when they become ill. Sometimes that is what the illness is for-to create a change, to put them on the path they were intended for this lifetime or to take them deeper into themselves and the meaning of their life.
If they have been chronically ill over a period of years, getting well brings its own changes again. And it’s important to be sensitive to all of these things and the attendant feelings in your client.
A trust in your medicines, your plant allies, your client and your intuition must be cultivated. We must come to know ourselves-the oldest admonition there is in the pursuit of knowledge. Healers have to come to know themselves well enough that they can perceive how subtle shifts in belief systems affect healing outcomes.
Rigorous self-examination is essential to becoming a good healer. I have my apprentices do this work daily as part of their ongoing assignments. They go to their internal world to find the games they are playing, any situations where they try to rescue others, or when they play the victim or the persecutor. They identify what their deepest fears are, their hopes, dreams, needs and wants and how to tend to them and get them met so they are clear when they come to work with clients. When you feel scared, what do you do about it? Do you have a way to talk about it and is there someone you trust with your life to share these things with?
Healers must tend to their own healing, their own nurturing and self care. I believe as healers and herbalists, we must come to know ourselves, not only psychologically but we must have relationships with each of our organs, our skin, our GI tract, our heart and soul. All the parts that make up the whole of us need to be in relationship with each other, be friends and talking to each other. This is what integration is, every part of us integrated into the whole. There must be inside you a sense of personal responsibility.
Doing these things yourself gives you a deeper understanding of anything your client may bring to you and it gives you flexibility of options to use. And your client will know, at some deep level that you have a kind of authority that comes only from personal experience.
"When the sense of responsibility dulls, the downfall of an individual or nation begins."
~~ Torkom Saraydarian
“We can only find Wisdom in ourselves. He who seeks wisdom in the fountain of Wisdom is the true disciple, but he who seeks wisdom where it does not exist will seek it in vain.”
Give up Preconceptions
There is a necessity for seeing a thing as if for the first time. On follow up visits you must practice giving up what you know or what you think you know, and what you want to see this visit.
The knowledge of Nature as it is…not as we imagine it to be…constitutes true philosophy. He who merely sees the external appearance of things is not a philosopher. The true philosopher sees the reality, not merely the outward appearance. He sees the constitution of his patient as if the latter were a clear crystal. This is the philosophy upon which the true art of medicine is based. Paracelsus
You must be willing to give up preconceptions. Check inside yourself to see if you have any attachments to your client or a plant being one way or another, are you willing to see what is right in front of you, without projections.
One particular, not so fine day as it began, I was in a mood. I woke up in dark, gloomy funk, one I couldn’t seem to shake no matter what I did internally. I decided to go for a walk. I had gone 3 blocks when suddenly I stopped (or was stopped by something invisible) in my tracks. I made a 180 degree turn and headed up behind the Montessori school, pulled by some unseen force that had its hooks into me. I had gone just ten paces when I realized the source of the pull, the thing that got my attention. I recognized the imprint from previous sittings. Another ten minutes of walking and I arrived at the plant that called me. I stood still, breathing deeply and sighing. Sitting on the rocky ground beside Red Root, the last of its flowers clinging to the branches, I began to weep, deeply, uncontrollably. I told her of my troubles and worries. Soon, the weeping stopped and I felt a lightness of spirit. Everything I had been feeling that morning dissipated in the early morning light. Red Root lifted my heart, organized my thoughts and feelings and I saw clearly what I needed to do and how I would do it that day.
I had never experienced Red Root in this way. I realized she had done to my emotions just what she does in the blood; gets the blood unstuck, organizes and facilitates flow. I experienced her this way simply by being in her presence with no preconceptions.
Caring changes a lot of things. Love the plants, they respond well to love and caring. Make relationship with the organs that are not well and they will tell you everything about themselves; their story of how that got sick and what it will take for them to get well.
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