You can’t know who you are until you know where you are.
As I shared last month, I discovered throughout the past year that I have twelve American Lotuses that are available to me each day as my foundation. They form a framework for approaching every day (for details on how and why they are American Lotuses check out my 7 December 2020 post). They are all different sizes. Some are scraggly. Some are well-formed. Some days I am diligent about tapping in to them and some days it is more free-form. They all have one thing in common – they are always available to integrate me and this land and universe I am part of. My intention is to share one lotus each month. So, here we go with the first I one.
Lotus #1: Earth/Nature
Growing up I was well aware of my German ancestry. My mother was very proud that her grandparents immigrated to Maryland in the late 1800’s. She knew her grandfather and shared with us the snippets of the family’s life before the USA, when we were willing to listen. No firm tie to a place prior to their arrival however. Generalizations – Germany, Austria-Hungary.
My father didn’t share anything. Not because of his abiding commitment to an overwhelming silence, but because he simply did not know. This not knowing ran deep. There was some inkling that his ancestor – why he identified with only one person I don’t know – came to the land that would become the state of Georgia as an indentured servant in the 1700s. That was it. (I still don’t know if that was accurate.) I rarely saw my grandmother and my aunt, I have no cousins on my dad’s side of the family tree, my grandfather died in 1945, and my dad’s aunt and cousins were scattered across the country from Arizona to Georgia to New Jersey.
I felt a strong lack of rootedness, in anything. I didn’t feel a tie to a place or a people. There was nothing that rooted me to where I was and there was nothing that drove me towards another place. I was very aware of this as a child. The more I learned about other cultures the more I felt disconnected from a place, a tradition, a people. I would get mad when I thought about it. There had to be more than just being a white person. I knew I had to be made up of people from distant lands with unique cultures that had been forgotten overtime by my nearest relatives. I desperately hoped I would find traditions to hold on to. I had to go out and actively and consciously seek it.
This rootlessness combined with a 7th Grade family tree project and my father’s illness compelled me to know and understand more. It took years for me to realize that I was attempting to reconnect with ancestral memories that had long been forgotten from time and neglect. All those years I was getting mad it was because those ancestors were whispering to me, wanting to be re-discovered, to be remembered. In an earlier post [17 February 2019] I discussed the ancestors I have uncovered and the importance of honoring their memory.
What I didn’t expect was to find clues about place and roots on a tiny off-shore island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay. That’s the thing about place, it awakens something deep within when you least expect it.
I remember the first time I saw Smith Island, crossing Tangier Sound on a workboat-turned-ferry, 10 miles from the mainland, giant sheets of ice floating around us. The Chesapeake Bay had frozen that winter and travel was just resuming. It was beautiful. Our first stop, and my only stop – the town of Tylerton. When we docked at Tylerton, I just knew. Elevation 3 feet above sea level. 1 mile around. An island. 94 people – descendants of the original English and Welsh settlers from 1659-1686, A town that was it’s own island. Isolated. I didn’t know what I knew exactly but I knew. Something was rising up inside of me.
This is where I learned about edges. This is where I learned to see the spaces in between. Being in Tylerton felt as though all was as it should be. Exploring the edges of the marshes. The transition between low marsh and high marsh. The sea grass meadows and the deeper channels. The guts and the thoroughfares. The power of a storm – the quickness of it’s emergence and the swiftness of the recovery. The wind that pushes all of the water out and the one that pushes all of the water in. The transition periods between the seasons. Edges. Shifting not stationary. Ebb and flow. Yes, being “away” was important but living “within” this community was so much more important. On this island, with these people, I was comfortable. And, because of that, I was able to test myself on the edges. Driving boats. Exploring “guts” (waterways through marshes). Sitting still in the salt marsh. Learning their traditions. Finding the wildness in my self. One with the Bay and the Sound.
This is where I discovered my compulsion to lay down and look up. Outside that is. Sometimes during daytime. Sometimes during nighttime. Sometimes when warm. Sometimes when cold. Sometimes in snow. Sometimes in rain. Sometimes in high marsh. Sometimes on beaches. Sometimes in salt flats. Sometimes in water. Always making full-body contact with the Earth.
I answered the deep call from the wetland with a passion to know and experience all I could about it. This place reawakened a deep connection to the Earth that had been a part of me as a child. Running free, and barefoot, in all weather. Taking rain showers. Exploring forests and streams. Digging with my hands in my garden of Forget-me-nots, Jack-in-the-pulpits, and herbs. Rising with the sunlight and staying up to run under the moon light. These experiences had forged a deep recognition in me of my relationship with the Earth. I found that connection once again on this island.
So, why did I leave this island? Because it was time. And, as I came to say later, “I had to leave because if I didn’t I wouldn’t.” There were new things to learn and it was time to explore them. And so, I moved back to the 1940’s urban-ring-suburb I grew up in. I am as far removed as I can be from checking the tides before leaving the house, standing on the salt meadow with brackish wind on my face, or using the stars to guide me. I can turn on my car from within my house so that it is warm when I get in during the winter and cool when I get in during the summer. It is possible for me to go 2 meters from our house to my car and another 22 meters from my car into our school at the beginning of the day and the reverse at the end of the day, and have that 52 meters be the only time I go outside all day long.
I have since discovered that not only do I have those deep German roots but I have deep Celtic roots in Ireland and Scotland. I am finally uncovering my deep ancestral traditions and memories. These roots of mine are entwined within deep-Earth-centered traditions, as are all people’s who journey through ancestral time discover. That is what my ancestors have gifted to me and that is what this wild island reminded me. These deep-Earth-centered traditions root me. They also keep me from disconnecting from the Earth. They empower me and challenge me to find ways to maintain my wildness, to accept responsibility for how our family lives our lives, to commit to life and authenticity while I live my life in service to our high school students in this suburban community.
Each day I root into this sacred Earth to find ways to nourish my flow, vitality, contentment, resilience, creativity, and to honor and steward the Earth and all she is.
I start my day with a 4am morning walk with our dog, Winston.
I rise before the sun and greet her each day with a moment of silence followed by a verse/mantra/prayer.
I wear an ammonite around my neck to remind me that in geologic time we are all connected and all come from stardust (read Neil Tyson deGrasse for more thoughts on how we are stardust).
I walk barefoot outside at least once a day in the grass or the garden.
I integrate herbal knowledge into my daily wellness routines.
I take a cue from my own AP Environmental Science lesson plans and have a place I return to outside each day to sit and see what the universe needs me to hear.
I park far away from any building I am entering so that I can walk even longer outside.
As a family we:
Practice ceremonies/traditions connected to the seasons.
Maintain a nature centerpiece on our table that changes seasonally
We read stories/folklore that corresponds to the seasons.
We grow our own vegetables and herbs.
We make time on the weekend to adventure and explore outside together.
Above all, as often as possible, I try to lay down and look up when I am outside. The feeling of being one with the Earth and being small compared to everything else still roots me.
In November 2019 I was in the midst of a conversation with Britt Kolo, the creator of MarketingPersonalities.com when I received a call that one of my high school students had died in a horrific accident. A beautiful, vibrant, talented, young life was taken in a freak accident that could neither have been predicted nor prevented. Everything shifted at that moment. I began to question this journey I was on. Why was I even trying to write a blog? Why was I trying to share my thoughts? Why did I think I had something to share? Why was I making any of the decisions I was making if life is so fleeting?
The result, I stopped working on the blog in January 2020. I tried to keep my social media posts going. But that too suffered from my growing silence. I followed a hunch that I needed to look deeply into what I was doing, why I was doing it, and how I was doing it. I didn’t intend for it to take most of the year but 2020 has been an unusual year to say the least. My intent was to look deeply into my creativity and to re-connect with it. My approach was a sabbatical. A time to delve intellectually and emotionally into the work of knowing myself as a creative.
“a period to devote oneself entirely to the development of a new and transformative project — whether that is writing a book, conducting fieldwork abroad or learning new teaching pedagogies.”
-“transition into the kind of concentrated period of creative work that is difficult to accomplish on a typical academic schedule.”
I remember reading articles in the Chronicle of High Education a couple of years back about all of the think-abouts one should consider when going on sabbatical. Lots of advice to be bold in the development of one’s sabbatical. I decided to put those ideas to use during my time away form the blog. I began by setting my learning goal: to make peace with my creativity and to bring it into the open, fresh air and space so that it can breathe and speak. I considered all of the ways I see creativity expressed in my life and all of the ways I re-fuel it.
I joined a group of amazing creative women from around the world in Anna Lovind’s Creative Doer course https://annalovind.com/the-creative-doer-community-2/ and I began to focus on daily acts of creativity and connecting with creative women. Wow! A powerful group of creative women accepting and supporting creative women in the pursuit of their dreams. I was exploring the creative work that nourishes the rest of my life. I was re-emerging.
And then, COVID-19. Quarantine. Social Justice protests. Environmental disasters. Economic hardships. My creativity stopped. I found myself without words. That’s not entirely accurate, either. I found myself with lots of thoughts, feeling, emotions, reactions, but nothing came out. Even as I shared with our high school students the importance of creating in quarantine – whatever that looks like – and how much the world needs creatives during COVID, I couldn’t do it myself.
I realized that I needed to go back to the the practices that connect me to who I am and my place in this big, beautiful universe.
I shifted my goals.
1. 20 in 20 Adventure Challenge from Hike Like A Woman (HLAW). This has been an opportunity to create my own adventures and broaden my idea of an adventure. As HLAW explains, “an adventure is whatever you want it to be! For some an adventure might be reading an adventure book, a trip abroad, or a hike down a trail that they’ve never been on before. For others an adventure might be learning a new skill or starting a new habit.” The 20 adventures I will have completed this year look very different than the ones I envisioned in January 2020. Gone are the new countries and swimming in new places. In are the home-based adventures that spontaneously emerged. COVID has been an adventure all of it’s own. https://hikelikeawoman.net/
2. 365 mile challenge in 2020. Get outside and move! 1 mile every day or 365 miles total in 2020. It all counts – walk, run, hike, swim, bike, paddle. It’s not competitive, it’s collaborative as we share our success and challenges with each other. https://www.365milechallenge.org/
3. 52-books in 2020. In 2019 I read 33 books and set my sights on 52 books in 2020. All genres represented. With four weeks to go I am only at 75% but it’s doable.
4. Delving deeper into herbalism and aromatherapy, and my ancestral lineages associated with them. I’ve completed so many great courses in 2020 with Aromahead Institute https://www.aromahead.com/ and The Herbal Academy https://theherbalacademy.com/. The Intermediate Herbal Course and the Natural Perfumery course are two of my favorites, and I am in the final stages of aromatherapy certification.
5. Working closely with my teacher, Britt Steele, and finishing the year with the annual 108 day Pilgrim. www.brittbsteele.com
6. Coming back to my writing.
What I learned along the way is that I have everything I need and everything I have been searching for is already inside of me. It has been there all along waiting for me to see it. Waiting for me to see the interconnectedness. Waiting for me to free my creativity. Waiting for me to jump back into the work of creating meaning and sharing it with others in support of our collective remembering of our creative, powerful, unique feminine wisdom and knowledge.
The last conversation that Britt Steele and I had before our family escaped to a cabin this summer, was about lily pads as a metaphor for those things that that we go back to in order to re-connect and ground. Tucked away from our daily lives of work and obligation, my husband and I went hiking. As we emerged over a hill, there in Winston Lake, was a thriving community of Nelumbi lutea, American Lotus. The American Lotus is distinguishable from lily pads because it is round like a pancake. They are so amazing!
I have learned so much from these beautiful American Lotuses:
The American Lotus grows in shallow water but then moves out to depths of 5 or 6 feet. Reminding me to ground myself first and then I am able to confidently move into unknown depths.
The American Lotus opens in the sun and closes at dusk. Reminding me of the importance of daily rhythms. To be in tune with the natural world. We are a part of the ecosystem, not a-part from it.
The stem in the center of the leaf of the American Lotus draws oxygen into the plant. Reminding me that breath is life, and that, like life, I cannot control my breath but I can awaken my breath to move through and with it. Breath affects how I receive everything happening around me. Being breathed makes way for life itself.
The American Lotus comes together to form fields. Reminding me that when all of my lotuses come together each day, my creativity flourishes, my limbic system is nourished, and I am at my best for the divine work of supporting my family and community.
I don’t have it all figured out. And, this isn’t about getting it, whatever it is, perfect. This is about finding my way through the mess and imperfections of each day. It is about finding the tools that support me and using them each day. The best part of each day is the chance to begin again.
I discovered I have twelve American Lotuses that are available to me each day as my foundation. They are all different sizes. Some are scraggly. Some are well-formed. Some days I am diligent about tapping in to them and some days it is more free-form. They all have one thing in common – they are always available to integrate me and this land and universe I am part of.
Here they are, my 12 lotuses:
I’m so pleased with my sabbatical. The path has been different than I imagined but I have come to the other side ready to move forward. Each month in 2021 I’m going to share something about one of my lotuses. I’m also going to send out the newsletter again to share what I am listening to, reading, watching, etc.
This isn’t about me knowing the way. I know a way, my way. Right now, this way is working for me, and at a later time, it may shift again. Just because it is my way, doesn’t mean it will work for anyone else and that’s not the purpose of sharing. The purpose of sharing is to nurture community, to share experiences, to learn from with each other, to connect to our shared wisdom and knowledge. If you have made it this far in this post, be sure to sign up for the monthly newsletter at: https://tinyurl.com/ACrunchyLifeNewsletter
December 1st! ❤🎄🌟 Christmas construction has begun! We have transitioned from the orange celebrations to the red ones – amping up energy, light, beauty, and joy. Christmas Spirit essential oil blend is back in our daily rotation. Our mantra for the month is “Breathe in, the light and love of the season. Breathe out, embody the light and love of the season.”
Today is not only the beginning of December; it is also the beginning of Advent. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin, “to come,” and is observed throughout the four Sundays leading to Christmas. It has been observed since the fifth century with themes of watchfulness, preparation, and hope. Advent is a season of light and love.
By the end of the day today we will have placed our wreaths and candles in the windows of our home; set up our manger; prepared our advent wreath; found a special stone to add around our advent wreath; read together Day 1 of our St. Nicholas stories; and reflected on our first week of advent verse.
The light of hope. The first light of advent is the light of stone. Stones that lie in crystals, sea shells, and bones.
For our Advent verse we combine each of a Rudolph Steiner’s Advent verses with one of the four Advent themes. For this week it is stones and hope.
Our elf, Fred Woodchomp, also returned today. Fred moves around the house at night and leaves little notes to be found the next morning. His notes are focused around seasonal reminders and holiday preparations as well as the advent verse for each week. He gives the girls tasks to accomplish such as stories to read aloud, actions to take for animals, loved ones, and strangers, etc. so that we are continually focusing on the meaning of the season. Fred stays with us until Epiphany and helps fill the season with peace, kindness, light, and love for all. Last year Fred asked the girls to take a minute each day to write something nice about each other and tie it to the strings on their bedroom doors. The next morning the girls woke up to find the notes they wrote to each other and a candy cane. I was please to see that he continued asking them to do this again this year. Two sisters, 4 years apart in age, can sometimes forget to see how special each other are. It is important for each of them to take some time to sit and reflect on their relationship as well. It helps them grow stronger together.
With all of the focus on doing and hurrying and obligation that the holiday season can bring, Advent reminds our family to slow down and be intentional about the things we choose to do that will fill our lives with the spirit of the season. We don’t try to fill our days with obligation and busy-ness. We focus on what is meaningful for us and that which brings hope, joy, peace, and love to our family and others. We focus on savoring each moment and day. On filling ourselves with the light and love of the season, and turning that love and light back out into the universe for others. Plus, its a great opportunity to grab a fuzzy blanket, something warm to drink, and a book to read together or just have a chat as we gather together in the evening in front of a glowing fire.
Light gives hope and beauty.
How do you kick off this season of light and love?
I am so excited about this post. I know it doesn’t look like much from the picture but it represents a new learning and growth point for me. I love herbs. I love growing them and using them in cooking, body products, beverages, and all sorts of other ways to support wellness. I am always reading and growing in my herbal knowledge. But, I play it safe in my making. I make things that don’t require me to stretch beyond my comfort and knowledge boundaries. I’m not sure what keeps me from really experimenting. Fear, I suppose, is at the root of it. Of getting it wrong. Of it not working or not tasting good. I don’t have that fear in any other cooking but there it is, rearing it’s ugly head in herbal preparations.
One herbal preparation that has interested me for so long is bitters. I have used them for making, as my oldest would say, “adult beverages.” A friend of our family brought us back the biggest bottle of Angostura bitters from Trinidad that I have ever seen. The size of the bottle was amazing. How could one person or family use it all? I knew there had to be more to why bitters are so integral in other cultures.
Italians, for example, have Aperol and Campari, both of which I have loved for years as an aperitif. It wasn’t until I began learning more about bitters that I realized that Aperol and Campari begin as herbal bitters – with the base ingredient being Gentiana latea (gentian) root. The history of bitters goes all the way back to the master formula created more than two thousand years ago. Mithridates, king of Pontus, an ancient kingdom on the southern shores of the Black Sea, developed the first recorded bitters formula in the Western world. China has a much older, well-documented history of the use of bitters. In Central America bitters evolved from blending cacao with other additives.
Bitters supports digestion of food. They are touted with being able to soothe the walls of the GI, ease cramping in the intestine, relieve gas, relieve an upset stomach, They can have a calming effect on the nervous system. They can be created to support the cardiovascular system, skin, digestive system, and that is just the beginning. As I began to learn more and more about the cultural and wellness reasons bitters are so highly valued I began to be intrigued by how they are made.
I finally decided to take the leap. The making of bitters is one aspect of herbalism that I had never explored. But bitters kept speaking to me and peaking my interest so I decided it was time to listen to the messages and give it a go. After all, making bitters seems to be a great way to meld traditional knowledge with modern needs and the research and creativity available to us. I wonder if there is an ancestral memory that has had bitters calling to me. But that’s for another post. 🙂
As I mentioned in my 7 July 2019 post, I am having a love affair with cacao right now. I love the rich flavor and the thousands of years of history that comes with it. So when I came upon Guido Masé’s Cacao Bitters recipe that he shared in The Herbal Academy, I had to try it. Now I have a lovely after-dinner bitters that I can use in drinks or on its own with a little hot water and honey. I love the fact that it is not a quick-make. It takes intention. Patience. Time. First, I made the tinctures with each of the herbal ingredients. This required each of them to sit and rest for anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 weeks before they could be combined to form the bitters. In the end, the combination of cacao, damiana, cinnamon, vanilla, ginger, cayenne, and raw honey relaxes my mind and spirit and is lovely for closing out a meal.
I’m so glad I jumped into making bitters. I put fear to the side and decided to trust my herbal knowledge and techniques, and my intuition. The result is I am having so much fun exploring different combinations of herbs. I have lots of plans for experimenting with formulating my own blends, and can’t wait to see what I create.
I love the time from Michaelmas (9/29) to Candlemas (2/2). But it hasn’t always been that way. Daylight becomes shorter during this time, with darkness greeting us as we head to and from school each day. I use to dread this time of the year. I would wrestle with the inner turmoil of loving winter and detesting darkness. The darkness and the cold made me feel trapped, sluggish, and unmotivated. The only part I enjoyed was after swim practice I would walk outside and my hair would freeze. I would smile and laugh about it. Within minutes of being back inside my hair would return to the wet mess it was.
As our children arrived in our lives my perception of this time of the year began to change. It wasn’t just because our oldest was born during the darkest of winter. Rather, it was because I decided to love the darkness and celebrate it as a time of renewal and reflection. To accept that the darkness could actually snuggle me through the winter to the light of spring.
I decided to bring light – the stars and the sun – inside. Twinkle lights. Candles. Fires in the fireplace. I began to see light all around me, and I began to understand that I may choose to bring and be light as well. Now, as a family we journey towards the deepest darkest days of the year and have steps along the way which help us to know that the light will once again return and to know that we can be and bring light as well. Our family will mark this time of the year with:
Dia De Los Muertos
St. Nicholas Day
Santa Lucia Day
The 12 days of Christmas
New Year’s Day
Today is Martinmas, the middle point between Michaelmas and Christmas Day. We will reflect on the story of St. Martin, celebrate with our lanterns, and enjoy a Martinmas Spice Cake. As the legend goes, while serving in the army at Amiens, Martin met a poor man at the city gate. The man was half-naked and cold. Martin drew his sword, cut his warm coat in two, and gave one-half to the man. The following night, Christ appeared to Martin, dressed in the piece of coat that Martin had given away. Martin recognized the divine light in the poor man of Amiens and gave it the protection of his coat. Our lanterns give protection to our own little “flame” that began to shine at Michaelmas, so that we may carry it safely through the darkness. It may only be a small and fragile light – but every light brings relief to darkness. (pages 163-164, All Year Round by Ann Druitt).
Light is infused into each of the celebrations we honor at this time of the year. Whether its as candles or lanterns or rings all are designed to help us see our own inner light and how it is powerful enough to drive away darkness. We are reminded that light brings love and the more the world is flooded with light and love the more we are able to conquer darkness where ever we find it. Just imagine the impact if we bring all of our little lights together and shine bright as one.
I strive to learn
To learn to give
To give my heart
To all I see.
I see that I
With heart aflame,
Aflame with Love,
Can light the world!
-verse for ending main lesson written by Rudolf Copple (waldorfpublications.org, blog 14 Dec 2015)
How do you bring light into this time of darkness?
Today is World Chocolate Day. I usually don’t post on Sunday but I couldn’t bring myself to miss World Chocolate Day – I ❤ cacao! Raw, organic, non-gmo, sustainably sourced, fairly traded cacao is my favorite!
My love of herbs extends beyond what grows wild or in gardens where I live. I am intellectually curious about cacao and herbs such as maca, mucuna, ashwagandha, shatavari. These have been cultivated for thousands of years for medicinal, therapeutic, and wellness purposes. I am fascinated about the wisdom surrounding their use.
The benefits of cacao I repeatedly see mentioned are:
many times more antioxidants than berries
highest plant based source of iron
helps improve neurotransmitter function
one of the highest sources of magnesium
lots of calcium
enhances good vibes
Along the way, I came upon Gabrielle Brick. Gabrielle is a holistic nutrition specialist and life coach who is deeply committed to helping people “discover how to create powerful elixirs that will do everything from balance hormones, boost your immune system and create sustainable energy.” Her recipes use cacao and the herbs listed above among others. I tried her Cacao Elixir and now play with a base recipe depending on what my body needs each day.
For today, World Chocolate Day, it seemed appropriate to go straight up chocolate – no bananas, berries, spinach, or spirulina; no greens powder; just a double dose of cacao:
I love how I feel after drinking my cacao each day.
How are you celebrating World Chocolate Day?
For more information on Gabrielle Brick, she can be found:
As an educator I knew from the moment that my girls arrived in this world that they would need daily rhythms. We built daily rhythms into each day for them. When they went to pre-school they attended our local Waldorf school where rhythm was purposefully built into the structure of the day. Time to breathe in. Time to breathe out. Time for connection. Time for expansion.
What I discovered along the way is how important those rhythms are to my daily life. I need them. Too little sleep. Too much stress. Too little energy. Too little patience. This primed me for being snappy and short with those I love more than everything. The result was little resilience for each day’s happenings.
I needed to build quiet into my day. I needed to build calm into my mornings. Once I realized this need, I began to create a rhythm for my day that now provides me with the opportunity to breathe in and breathe out. To contract and to expand. To bookend my day with light.
Here is my morning routine:
Walk with the dog
Hot water with lemon and cayenne pepper
Do all of the things to get the day ready……….
Then breakfast: Matcha tea and Chia Pudding Bowl
Chia pudding is one of the secrets to making this daily rhythm work for me. Sunday night I whip up 1/2 cup of chia seeds and 2 cups coconut milk. It makes enough for the work week. Each morning I just scoop out some chia pudding and add in whatever I am in the mood for that day. In the picture above it was peanut butter, homemade strawberry jam, blueberries, walnuts, hemp seeds, and coconut. Other add-ins can be homemade granola, banana, kiwi, apple, raspberries, chocolate chips, pecans, almond butter, honestly, the list is endless.
Not only is chia pudding super easy and yummy but it is also packed with goodness. Chia seeds are packed with:
Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron
Essential Fatty Acids
Vitamin A, B, D, E
My chia pudding bowl and matcha tea prepare me for the day. I have the energy to tackle whatever comes my way. With my daily routine, my mind and heart are prepared for anything and everything.
Ever since @herbsandloreapothecary posted last week about herbal self-study I have been reflecting on how I came to love and use herbs. When I was little our neighbor, Mrs. H, had an amazing perennial garden centered around a bicentennial tree. I developed a love for forget-me-nots, Virginia bluebells, and hosta from her. From my parents came a love of honeysuckles, pussy willows, hydrangeas, azaleas, and tomatoes. Developing a garden for birds, squirrels, rabbits, bees, hummingbirds, and other animal friends was always central to a garden’s magic.
But herbs came to me on their own. My entry herb was rosemary. I was enticed by the smell, the essential oil, all its uses, and the lore. My wedding bouquet was even red roses and rosemary. Once I discovered books about herbs, the love was sealed.
First, I found The Potted Herb by Abbie Zabar. The second was a Christmas 1994 present from my parents – The Encyclopedia of Herbs, Spices, and Flavorings: A Cook’s Compendium by Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz. And, that was all it took.
I discovered ways to use rosemary in cooking, cleaning, body lotions, and so much more. Over the years new herbs have entered my life. And, so have new books such as Make Your Place by Raleigh Briggs. With each new herb I began to understand it and how to integrate it into my life.
What I have realized is that I only know one side of herbs, their energetic side. I’ve never really taken the time to stop and truly study them. To get to know them in a deep and rich way. To look closely at their structure – their petals, leaves, stems, roots, seeds, etc. To see their parts individually as well as part of a collective. To be able to distinguish them at a family level. To look with intention to understand.
I also believe it is important to continuously learn. Primarily because it is fun but also to keep my brain strong and young. Harvard Medical School, 12 ways to keep your brain young, (16 January 2018) suggests that challenging your brain with mental exercise stimulates new connections between nerve cells and builds up your brain.
Just like I exercise to keep my body healthy, strong, and fit, now it’s time to focus on exercising my brain. I am embarking on an herbal self-study and making it a priority just like physical fitness. Daily focus every day. My intention is to learn more about these herbs that I love. To learn all of their sides and develop a deep and rich understanding of them.
You can follow along on my Instagram feed or Herbs and Lore’s Instagram feed.
I have been quiet in this space lately because I have been thinking about digital media, specifically my email, social media, texting and how my interactions with all of it have changed over the past three decades. It’s been on my mind since September but with the transition to Spring it has taken the forefront.
I remember my first email account. It was 1988 and I was provided with a college account as the Sports Information Director for a small liberal arts college. The email could only be used for internal communications across campus. It was helpful, the flow and speed of information amongst the college community felt effortless.
Fast forward to 1995 when I received an educators email through a local university. It opened up a world of communication. I could communicate with colleagues in other states and time zones. It let us tap into each other’s wisdom, insights, and ideas whenever it was convenient for each of us, regardless of time of day. Within several years our school system provided email accounts to all of the employees. By 2000 email was a part of every day life and routine. My daily world had changed. And, I liked it.
It was exciting. I like feeling connected to people far away. Being able to have the New York Times and BBC News at my fingertips makes keeping up with world events easier. I have access to libraries and museums around the world. And, so much music is available. Inspiration comes in the form of online essays, posts, pictures……..
When I reflect now, email was just the beginning. Email laid the path for the acceptance of all of the digital changes to come. Over time engaging with the internet and social media became regularized. As it all became more a part of my every day life it changed for me. It was emerging as an obligation. No longer a tool to enhance communication but rather a tether to expectations.
I have pondered and reflected on technology and digital media and the way I interact with it. I have learned that my tendency toward ritual and rhythm make it very easy for me to succumb to the pull of available technology. I realized I reach for my phone while waiting in lines, at red lights, on elevators, in carpool. All those little moments that occur throughout the day, where I could revel in the found time to think, breathe, notice, I fill with technology.
I know that when I am engaged with nature or creating I feel better. I sleep better. I learn better. I interact with people better. I think clearer. But my ritual, habit, dare I say addiction, to this technology interrupts my overall well-being.
I researched and read about technology’s impact on health and well-being. Just take sleep. We need 6-8 hours of deep, restful sleep, in order for our bodies to reset and recuperate from the day. While we sleep our bodies go to work repairing our cells, setting our circadian rhythm, balancing our hormones, making sure our systems are ready for the hard work of protecting our memory and immune system, and decreasing our risk of certain health conditions.
My work days are long – 6:30am – 4:30 pm and sometimes longer – and are often very stress-filled. When I feel over worked and over stressed my cortisol levels are high. When my cortisol levels are high while I sleep, my body can’t repair and actually sleep. “High evening cortisol makes you feel like you don’t need rest, at the time when you actually need it most. You can have trouble falling asleep or sleeping deeply. This depletes your adrenals, which heal at night. Depleting your adrenals can cause neurotransmitter levels to decline, including serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. The lack of sleep makes it harder to sleep because of stress and high cortisol, and it becomes an endless cycle” (https://www.saragottfriedmd.com/7-faqs-on-cortisol/).
Layer on top of that, the blue light of my devices. That light suppresses melatonin, the hormone that needs to rise for optimal sleep, and the light disrupts circadian cycles. So when I am checking my phone, “just one more time” before bed, I am making it even harder for my body to do its work.
And so, the Vernal Equinox and Supermoon emerged as an opportunity to reflect even deeper and to listen to my inner voice that has just been waiting to be heard. I am radically choosing my self and my family over the obligations of digital media. It’s time for me to adjust my interactions with digital media and to create new habits. Still in the digital world but not tethered to it. A digital detox. A digital cleanse. A digital sabbatical. A digital time-out. Whatever label fits.
Here are my goals:
1. Technology-free within an hour before bed time.
2. Technology-free within an hour of awakening in the morning.
3. Technology-free Sundays.
Time to relax. Play. Unwind. Notice. Be present. Interact. Be Bored. Create.
I was listening to Scarlet Begonias by the Grateful Dead this morning. I caught myself smiling. My pulse and breathing slowed. I was immediately transported to a road trip in 1982 when I first heard this song. Driving down Route 213 on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, car windows open, the warm summer breeze blowing through the car. Farm fields all around. Sun shining bright. I was reminded how something as simple as a song or a lyric can alter my entire mood and perspective. “Once in a while you get shown the light In the strangest of places if you look at it right.”
The Grateful Dead was speaking about the yogic path long before I ever learned about Bhakti yoga, asana, svadhyaya (self study), and mantras! February has always been a hard month for me. Dark. Slow. Emotional. Things that challenge my stability and balance seem to happen in this month. That might be an overstatement but it has always felt that way. I have always looked forward to the end of February and the beginning of March. This year was different. I found the light in all sorts of places. As I set an intention at the beginning of the month to relax into February, to accept myself and what happens as what is, I found light and lightness. When difficult things occurred, I named it, claimed it, and tried to set it free back out into the universe. I connected deeper to making to let my creativity have a means of expression. I opened my awareness to the daily practice of paying attention, morning meditation and chanting of mantras that speak to my mind and heart. And, each time I found light, I found myself finding it more often. February was a great month. I found it refreshing and invigorating. As February ends and March begins I take the following lessons with me:
Be. Here. Now. -Ram Das
It’s not about how much I do. It’s about showing up and paying attention.
Each moment, and my response to it, is a choice.
Bring it always back to the breath.
Relax into my heart and I will see the light.
Light is everywhere – even in the strangest of places.