It’s taken a while to realize I don’t know what healing is… really, at all. It’s a bit like sitting in yoga class and realizing I don’t know how to breathe, or what breath really is. How could something so basic escape my attention? Many of my attempts to “Know” healing have some virtue to them, but they also expose a kind of well-intentioned arrogance in me, and some heady naivete. But whenever my effort to know is met by an acceptance of my own ignorance, then a relationship begins to form and the wisdom that is ever present becomes clearer. If I know I don’t know, then the plants become my teachers.
People often talk of moving towards or away from healing, as if it might be a location, or a direction. There seems to be somewhere to go when many of us speak of healing. To that end, there are many guideposts pointing the way to healing, and so many of them seem like fine ideas. There is no doubt of the value of structure and theory, but the philosophies always overlap in my mind, cluster and spin, and ultimately collapse. Holding the idea of healing without injuring it is difficult, if not impossible, ironically. There is less active relationship inside intellectual understanding, however valuable it is in other ways, and relationship is essential to healing.
For this reason, like many others, I return to simple experience to find healing. For experience, there is nothing better than a walk in nature, as Kate describes so eloquently in Verdant Healing. The forest is unfathomably true. And truth, in all its evolving diversity, is the calibration point for us all. How could it be otherwise? And how could a plant be anything but true?
But I also want the truth of nature to be portable. To move around with me wherever I am. I wonder about and work at bringing the truth of nature into the city where I live. How do I do that? It can’t always be literal, as in a garden, and gardens do not capture wildness, do they, so what do I do? Like many herbal healers, I attempt to carry the wisdom of a plant in a bottle. It’s easy to pack, easy to pass on, and gives form to something exceptionally abstract. But what, exactly, does that bottle contain that makes it healing? The question is less naive than it sounds.
I entertain many answers, but I come back to one simple truth: I must form a relationship with plants for true healing. I need to form a real relationship, and feed it daily, then the bottles I fill, or whatever I do with the plants to heal, will have meaning. At it’s best, the prepared herb is more than alkaloids, certainly, more than an archive of memory, and more than a packaged intention (which is magic enough), what the medicine also provides is a focal point for a living relationship.
The relationship I speak of is not significantly different than forming a relationship with a person. It takes time, devotion, and patience. The plants already embody these traits, it is I who must learn them, and keep them with me, even as I move. I have compassion for how difficult this task of keeping relationship is as a person. All this moving and trying to remember. All this dreaming without losing the present. It’s not easy.
To form this relationship I devote time to meditation, alone and in groups, focusing on a particular plant until I can experience it in my body and mind. I keep pictures of the plants I spend time with, for surely their images are part of their healing power, and they evoke powerful memories in me. I keep memories of time spent with plants in the woods in my mind, and I call on them when I feel myself getting lost. I drink tea, and I carry and use tinctures, but these days the tinctures feel more like a locket worn around my neck than medicine. The power of the healing seems to lie in what the tincture helps me to remember, not in a series of constituents which act on my physiology, although surely both are happening. The unseen and seen worlds mirror each other, yes, but it is the unseen world we are likely to neglect.
So the plants give of their bodies and spirit, and I give of mine: relationship. They remain in truth always and when I drop some tincture on my tongue, or sip some tea, or burn them in fragrant bundles, I am enveloped in an experience with them again. I always have a choice: I could drink a cup of constituents that have some effect on my body, true enough, and no harm done, but the sacredness of healing is not in that act. When I choose instead to open my spirit and acquiesce to remember the plant, and let it be my experience one more time, then I am in relationship and I find healing. Healing surrounds me again and I know it has never gone anywhere, but it is I who have wandered, and I return, however briefly, back to everything.