Monday, February 15, 2010

roots of a rose petaled uprising

there came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. anais nin

I wanted an association of movement, when thinking of what to name this new undertaking, what we call a blog; as I hope it serves as a force to move me. But my endless search for a positive and inspiring definition of “uprising” eluded me. In my first round of searching I was discouraged by words like violent, futile and short lived. I want my personal uprising to continue raising me towards my highest self-- which I imagine to be a life long journey -- I want it to be empowering, bursting with life and beautiful enough to move one to tears. Upon further searching, I gleaned some inspiration from the definitions and adapted them to my movement.

uprising : organized opposition to authority; a conflict in which one faction tries to wrest control from another.

synonyms : rebellion, insurrection, revolt, rising.

This blog was partially enkindled by a late night of internet travel-- lost in the world of this so called web- I stumbled across an informative and gorgeous herbal blog by a fellow plant loving friend of mine. I was thoroughly impressed and totally inspired. I have never before followed a blog, nor much less had any interest in them; in fact I perceived them to be a little self-indulgent and narcissistic (though indulge, I will- it’s hard to hold back excitement for the things I both love and find important to share). But this one was different; to say that I was inspired is also to say it gave rise to something in me-- a connection was made. It seemed like a wonderful possibility for my own self-growth.


I am a budding herbalist, having dabbled in the study of plants more “informally” for many years and now suddenly finding myself in the midst of a formal clinical herbalist training program here in north-central vermont, my home for the next few years. I have found the first month of my program challenging and a bit of a change in reality. Let me explain. The classes themselves and the structure are certainly nowhere near rigorous- it’s just that there is so much to know. and I think there always will be- especially with what you love- the learning and trails and pathways of this type of exploration are endless. But it feels a bit overwhelming-- especially because one part of me is itching to just go ahead already, and be that superstar herbalist, or that amazing plant buff. I want to be able to answer all the complex and varied questions that get thrown my way as an extremely out of the closet plant lover-- like NOW! I want to understand how the body works, how the plants work, how people work and how they all synergize together. and another part of me strives to really enjoy the process. or so these are things I’d like to believe……

I’ve been uprooted for the past several years (if not much longer)- traveling the world so to speak, crossing the terrains & landscapes of life. These journeys have solidified what I truly consider to be our human needs- plants (who provide our food, shelter, oxygen, clothing, medicine), water, love and each other (all creatures of this earth). More recently in just the past two years having decidedly given up flying, I’ve crossed the country a mere thirteen times!!! (moment of pause)-- by means of train, car, thumb, bike and VW bus (I count these as any journey of 2000 plus miles with a significant amount of belongings in tow). You could certainly say I have been looking for something……many some-things. But in the process of searching I have also been in the process of unfolding my self. As much as I try not to- as much as I try and remain that intact body of substance- I’ve been coming to my core, my center- and to the end of this form that once resembled “me” but now looks more one long rolled out piece of thread spread in all directions or a million pieces of a complicated puzzle-- exposed in its nakedness and waiting to me made into something more complete and whole. or perhaps, on a rare glimpse, what shines through is purity and light: truth.

It’s a funny thing to travel from place to place and manage to keep some sense of identity intact. It can be challenging- and I’ve noticed this amazing pattern. I am on about a two to three week cycle here- I try not to stay anywhere for too long. At about the two-week marker on my visit to any given place- I start getting this itchy, uncomfortable feeling humming through my body. I start to have doubts and insecurities and feel myself losing steam-- and then, all of a sudden (read: week three) I am overwhelmed with the knowledge that all the shit I carry with me, that I’ve always carried with me- all the emotional baggage that lives with me under my skin-- can’t be left behind from one place to the next. It certainly seems like it can- just drop it all off and book it- full speed ahead-- but to my great surprise (even still after all these years) it comes trailing behind- often just a little delayed. I took the shorter route, and it got caught up in traffic-- but ultimately we end up in the same place, staring at each other with unblinking eyes.

I have taken a great interest, post public school and following a brief spell in college-- in what is referred to by many autodidacts or self-taught, as “unschooling”. I didn’t so much drop of out school, as they say, but rose up. I read “The Teenage Liberation Handbook” by Grace Llewellyn the week after making the choice to leave school- after leaving “what I was supposed to be doing at that age” and whatever security came with it, including a specific amount of emotional support from my elders-- and the words of encouragement and stories within opened up my world. It was like this amazing reassuring hug, a confirmation of life. Someone was telling me I was on the right path, when so many people where saying something quite different.

At first I was angry (well, this is one of the first steps in the grieving process right?) and then, even worried it was too late for me to be one of those highly motivated, ambitious, incredibly smart self-taught creatures that I so admired. But I am not much of an angry person, so I turned next to something I felt more familiar and safer-- tools I had been using for years “successfully” and really quite mastered…… guilt, lack of confidence and negative self-talk. I take much responsibility for this myself, but also I blame public schooling. School is one of the first places we are taught whether or not we measure up, whether or not we are enough… smart enough, capable enough, interesting enough-- and whether or not we have what it takes to be on top, to be admired and approved. Where we are shown the “effective” and “motivating” tools to help us become our highest selves- grades to measure our lack of worth, tests to see how much we “really” know or how good we are at knowing what they tell us to know and being what they want us to be. We are talked down to for bringing our true interests into our lives (reading a novel during science class, drawing artwork during math class), for not doing as we are told, for not really engaging in one topic as much as the ones that really grab us. Where we are taught to believe what there is to learn, lies in the power of authority and in the books of scholars and not in everyday life.

So, with the tools I learned in my domestication-- but with a new and more hopeful spin on the learning process itself- I started to call myself an unschooler- I started to really think about where my passions lay, where I found beauty and what I wanted to do with my time here- in this life I was given. But, it was a slow process-- and guilt crept in all around. I would spend whole days reading, “getting nothing done”- indulging in my new-found free time. It proved surprisingly hard to just do wanted I want to do- day after day.

And I felt guilty too- because I didn’t feel like I was really learning anything. I devoured books on health and healing. I read Dr. Christiane Northrup’s “Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom” and herbalist Rosemary Gladstar’s “Herbal Healing for Women” in a matter of days. I felt a notable kick of excitement about connecting with nature, learning from plants, and learning how to heal and how to prepare herbal medicine. I had had an interest in herbs for years, since my mom studied under Rosemary Gladstar herself and had introduced herbal medicine into our home, just a few years earlier. And I used herbs and truly believed in their healing powers, but there was an entire world of beauty and intricacy in the realm of plants and healing that was out there waiting be explored. I loved reading those books, but I treated it like school or how I engaged in school- I would finish a book and move on and not really do anything significant with that new found knowledge (minus the fact that I could now make some decent herbal tea) and could easily forget everything I read, except that it touched me, somewhere deep within, in a way other things didn't. But, I let the negative self- talk rule. I was losing hope and structure-- and felt unmotivated.

I had read that the kids who happily dropped out of high school often spent the first several months to full year, “doing nothing” - practicing complete freedom, while their parents sat on the sidelines either with great trust or fear, but that they eventually found their “way” again. They became motivated, engaged learners- especially when they really figured out how it is they actually learned or when they figured out that how they already chose to live their lives was filled with great lessons. I felt a lack of enthusiasm weighing me down and wondered if my time would come. Again I partially blame public schooling-- I did not know how to structure my own life, how to find the resources I needed to learn, how to actually engage in my learning and how to best find that for out myself. Sure I knew how to use a library, do research and find a certain amount of physical resources- but what next? and what about all the ways to know and to learn that public schooling hadn't already taught me? For over thirteen years, I had been told how, when and in what way to do everything. I’d spent most of my life- without my consent (without my enthusiastic YES!) inside, all day, interacting mostly with people in my own peer group, and not out in the real world- engaging like a functional, interactive, inspired human being with a variety of friends and companions and self-motivated interests.

So to make a long story a bit shorter, I set out on a quest to figure out how it is that I best learn. Well, in truth I didn’t know exactly that this was the path I was on- and in fact I’ll probably be on it for life- it is the path of life.

And damn, it all sounds so good and lovely- following your dreams, following that path, but it’s not so easy-- there’s a lot of undoing, unwinding and breaking down to be done. Positive role models seemed few and far between-- and I was so set on doing it unconventionally. But in truth, I continued in a relatively conventional way for a some time; I belittled and scolded myself in the ways I learned in the public school system, feeling I was never smart enough. I participated in so many meaningful activities, but since my realization that the way I was living and expected to be living, wasn’t how I wanted to be, it took me a great while to rouse from the deep slumber I had been in since childhood- and it’s taken much longer to truly begin to engage in my education. To really get in there and take risks. And I’m not even close yet- the potentials are limitless.

So, I’ll tell you perhaps the most important thing I learned over the years and am still learning everyday…… to be kind and gentle with myself, to treat myself the way I would want any positive force in my life to treat me, to treat myself the way I would treat any friend if they felt discouraged or disheartened-- that is, with the deepest love, great belief, trust and faith in their amazing abilities. I would hold them in my arms and tell them, they were beautiful and I would really believe that. I mean if we really listen to ourselves, and the ways we can beat ourselves up- I think very few of us would treat someone else, especially a dear friend, in the same harsh way. It would be abuse.

and dammit! its taken me sooo long to see that above all, this, the one of the least effective tools I can think of- this self-abuse that passes as so completely normal- if I really want to help myself fully become the highest most beautiful version of myself.


and damn, I’d better well make good friends with myself- because we are constant companions- we go everywhere together. Sometimes we are all we have.

Then one day, I just got it (well, conceptually anyway). I had been in an abusive relationship with someone for several years, and I’ll say now that for me to be in an abusive relationship with someone else, was to be in one with myself-- because I didn’t take my own value and worth seriously. On some subtle level this relationship outwardly mirrored the ugly ways in which I thought about myself; it confirmed the ways in which I saw myself as incapable. In the recovery period, I felt this incredible freedom and really began to act on for the first time in years, what I wanted to be doing. What came to me was…. I want have real to life experience with what I love. I want to travel…..far away….and I want to farm.... and I want to work with plants. I want to feel free and silent, but I also want to continue learning skills that keep me on the path towards service and self-sufficiency and interdependency.

So before I packed up my life and jumped a plane across the seas- I was accepted, at the very last minute into a short term "apprenticeship" with Rosemary Gladstar, a very full week (aka herbal bootcamp) of herbal studies and exploration in Vermont. This was something I had thought doing for years, but hadn't really owned it. I met plants, I met people, I got a feel for what more hands-on learning looked like and generally saw real excitement pulsing through the veins of all of us- learners and teachers, one in the same. We were hooked on plants and where our excitement led us, was real learning. And I feel in love with Vermont-- I had this strange feeling, like I was "home."

Then I crossed the sea to Italy where I harvested olives for oil, for three beautiful enchanting weeks- and loved every sweet, luxurious minute of it. I love olive oil and I use it all the time, as food and medicine. There was not much more of a reason for wanting to have this experience- strictly because I want to really know and connect to the processes of life, especially that which I love. Also, I can not understate the importance of connecting to what we put in our bodies and on our plates and what comes from the earth. At the end of the season there, I decided to head to Portugal- where the weather was still warm and there was more farm work to be done. It felt like a mistake immediately, and when I arrived I got an unanticipated bad feeling about my host. On a very subtle level, I didn’t trust him; I didn’t know why, I couldn’t place it- but he didn’t feel completely safe. We started work the following morning and enjoyed each others company reasonably- as we started to work side by side, day after day, in the garden, on the land and eventually moving on to some building projects. I wasn’t completely happy- certainly not enchanted- but keep thinking, and knowing there was something to be learned there despite really wanting to just up and go. But I held strong and started to learn a lot of new skills; I used a lot of tools- most new to me and really let myself be vulnerable in my learning process.

As a female-socialized being, I have come up against a lot of gender assumptions in regards to learning and who-does-what in my culture, and perhaps I’ve felt this even more strongly in the counterculture of the west coast- where I’d been living for most of my adult life. There’s nothing worse, than a seemingly helpful male bodied person overly engaged and set on being instrumental in my empowerment as a woman, via using tools or learning new skills that have been typically relegated to biological males. Its so unattractive- it doesn’t feel safe to me- and it has yet to be a useful way for me to overcome sexism- in fact, it seems to just reinforce the externalized sexism present in our culture and really my own internalized sexism and oppression.

Working along side this man, mixing cement, plastering, creating, measuring, building, it came as the greatest surprise-- that my own attitudes and actions and feelings contributed to this great force: sexism and oppression, and the pain and suffering associated with them. I had really learned quite well to check out, when being shown more “male” oriented tasks-- perhaps not believing I was smart enough to get it (and getting that vibe from my culture too) and I had really learned to keep myself safely on the outskirts of my interests-- instead of taking a risk, getting involved and failing, or worse, looking stupid. Then one day we were mixing up some earthen plaster and applying it to a garden door frame we’d been working on- and I was really enthralled in the activity, excited by my new undertaking- the textures and feel- and paid a complement to my teacher on his teaching skills. I really felt he treated me like an equal and was just happy to pass on skills to me, without letting any concepts of gender "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts" stand in the way. What I had been feeling was my own internalized sexism rearing it's ugly head. But, I was having such a good time learning with him and feeling so safe in that environment- of one-on-one, hands-on training. Without a moment’s hesitation he said to me “Well, you are really easy to teach. You get things fast; you’re a natural.”

Now I don’t know if anyone had ever said this to me, or if my own disbelief, deeply engrained in my being, shouted more loudly than any compliment I’ve been given, but I believed him....and it felt good. Or at least I considered believing him. Imagine that, I thought, he thinks I am a fast learner- that I really get things. Damn, fooled him. But I did feel more confident in myself and the work we were doing. That night, alone in my cabin- over the evening ritual of tea and warmed by the woodstove-- I thought, what if I told myself that? Everyday? What if I talked to myself like that? What if I said, Laurel, you are such a good learner. You learn well, and you really get things. You are so capable. I don’t think I had ever said that to myself-- even if I had, those statements probably would have been significantly outnumbered by the number of times I told myself exactly the opposite. How would my life be different if I gave myself this possibility? How would I interact with the world? how would it change me? and how would it alter the reality of my capabilities? Now, I wasn’t planning on going around thinking I was the shznit, all the time, and I don’t mean to say either that I walked around my whole life shit-talking myself,- but damn, wouldn’t it be so much easier to be a good learner if I really believed I was a good learner?!!


But it's one thing to recognize what looks good for you, and another to really integrate it-- and especially to really overcome a lifetime of bad habits. I went back to the states, my last plane ride ever(?)- I kept up the exploration of self. I fell in love, with people, with plants, with service to others, with herbal medicine and healing-- but I isolated myself, I lost confidence in my abilities, got lost in the troubles I find when I spend too much time doing my own thing- when I spend too much time in fear, unwilling to engage. Which is to say, I am still not all that skilled at just doing my own thing- I am still not highly motivated on my own. I used to be hard on myself for that-- but then I realized I really need people in my life- to inspire me, to engage with, to bring spice and connection to my life and stoke that fire within. and fuck society! for keeping that from me- for making me believe the ultimate goal is total independence! fuck society, for allowing romantic relationships to be the most acceptable source of deep connection, bonding and feeding. I want that from all around!! I want that from all things!

In the midst of these dark days, weeks, months- the darkest I have ever had- I lost real connection to myself, to land, to spirit and to purpose. the days were a blur and I was lost in this weighted darkness, forcing myself to do the minimal every day- just get up and move in my body. In the middle of all this, I took a walk one day, to the end of a my driveway, retrieved a letter from a dear friend, and walked a little ways further reading his loving words. At the very moment I finished reading the letter, I stopped walking, stood still, and my eyes were drawn to a bright flower I had never before seen on the Wisconsin roadside. One single slightly damaged, radiant pink, wild rose lay nestled amongst dull shrubs and grass, vibrating with life. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I felt a surge in my heart and shed tears of both joy and grief. I knew that flower was there for me- it appeared right there, right at that moment, just to tell me something. I felt like I had just seen a long lost friend, one I didn’t even know I had. I bent over, kissed this steady flower- and with a little light in my step- returned home to look it up in a flower essence book.

The Flower Essence Repetory by Patricia Kaminsky and Richard Katz reads:

“Physical incarnation in a body is a experience fraught with difficulty and struggle, and for the Wild Rose flower essence personality the effort hardly seems worth making. Such apathy suppresses the soul’s interest in life, and cuts off the individual from his or her inner source of healing. This flower essence is very helpful for those who linger in long, drawn-out illness, and who seem to recover only fitfully and slowly. Wild Rose restores the vital forces of the soul, particularly its connection to the physical body and to the physical world, helping the individual regain an interest in earthly life.

This flower essence teaches that life is a sacred and precious opportunity which the soul must make every effort to embrace, if it is to find the true meaning of love and physical incarnation.”

I was completely struck-- something really deep inside me started to move. I thought about my purpose in life-- and what I had to give to the world. At the very core, I knew my deepest purpose was to be a service to people and to the plants-- and bring them together to heal each other. I had been so very lost from this in my own grief and depression. I had this visible reminder now-- and roses consumed my world. They helped soften the grief, they brought color, vibrancy and gentleness to my life, they brought the sweetest love and purpose. Well, okay, it didn’t all happen that quickly-- but it started to. I became fixated on roses. My friend later told me she had been at a workshop where a Plant Spirit healer had said, that we all have an empty space in our chest; perhaps we can’t even feel it-- and when we find the right plant, it fits right there in that space and completes us. Apparently I had been walking around with a wild rose shape hole in my chest all my life and not even known it. But I feel it there now, pulsing through me. Sweet whisperings of encouragement.

I moved on, I started gardens, I wildcrafted plants, I made medicine, I made love, I traveled, I cried, I really felt my body, I joined a free herbal clinic, I taught classes and spent a season working on a medicinal herb farm-- and above all, I healed, I stay connected to my purpose-- and I really loved myself. I rose up! oh, and I made it back "home" to Vermont (some odd thirteen trips later)! I continued to really learn-- to learn. I’ve discovered that I experience the greatest learning in touch, in sensation, in tactile experience- full bodied experience. To really learn something I have to know it with my body. Also, I have to share it- let it be known what I love- to let it touch other people, to propel that love and enthusiasm and tremendousness on and out into the hands of others.


These pages and these sharings to come are one way for me to do this. So, I am once again “back in school”-- doing the formal training thing. It was a surprisingly easy choice to come to. I realized I needed a few things -- I need a supportive learning community of other herb enthusiasts and I needed other people to hold me accountable to that learning or I would continue to get lost in the darkness all alone. I realized this was a very specific and commited way for me to help more and more people- and truly be a force in their healing. I realized, to my counterculture surprise, that I wanted to work somewhat within a model of medicine that already exists in this culture. I want to understand the common language we already use in regards to our health and healing-- and above all I want to be apart of what will change all that, the uprising. I want to help make medicine available to ALL people; I want to make connection to the land and to plants, available to ALL people despite the constructs and barriers that now stand in the way. I want people to really know that plants heal. And people heal. This is the outward uprising- where we wrest control from the larger forces that be, and put it back into the hands of the people where it belongs.

It feels like a good choice to be in school, but I struggle with it too. I feel myself reverting to old patterns, to looking around my class and thinking everyone is smarter than me, more ambitious than me, more motivated than me. I find myself not knowing how to integrate my lessons- the lectures- all the hand- off stuff. But this is something that I really want to know, and feel-- and I don't want to sit back on the sidelines and expect that my learning will happen for me. I wanna be it! I take responsibility for all this--- and I'm dreaming and scheming up how to really embody all this learning and all this power. I am capable of so much. I have so much to offer.

So, this is also the inward uprising where I continue to work toward really knowing and loving myself, and where the most beautiful, highest version of myself wrests to gain control and power over the version of myself that says that I am not good enough. I picture this to happen "petaled" or powered by the deepest love and compassion-- and may the path be softened by the sweetness and gentleness that I have found in that rose, deep in my heart, as I remain connected to my purpose. My rose petaled uprising. This budding herbalist is ready to burst open in bloom.

I will exit with a final quote by Marianne Williamson.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

1 comment:

  1. Laurel, thank you so much for sharing! You are amazing. And you began and ending with two of my absolute favorite quotes. Thank you for reminding me of them! Yay herbal blogging, herbal learning and loving, and learning to be genuinely and generously kind to ourselves.