Dieting Borage

On July 8, 2017, Earth Advocate Presents will facilitate a one-day Initiation with Borage, called Exploring the Courageous Heart with Borage, in Guerneville, CA. Participants will:

🐝 Experience heart coherence techniques
🌱 Discover the basic tenets of Earth Advocacy
🐝 Make a ceremonially prepared borage elixir to drink throughout the day
🌱 Learn how to make offerings to borage
🐝 Gain basic plant communication techniques
🌱 Journey to meet the Spirit of Borage
🐝 Make borage medicine together to take home
🌱 Participate in a guided breathwork session called “Greenbreath”
🐝 Share our experiences and learn from others’ experiences

This daylong diet will give participants the opportunity to learn the basic framework of ceremonial plant dieting with common plants (a format developed by Carole Guyett) and initiate or strengthen an existing relationship with borage. Certified Earth Advocates spend an entire year dieting different common plants to learn directly from them, benefit from their healing powers and engage in sacred reciprocity (sharing energy and consciousness for mutual benefit from a place of heart-centered non-attachment).

Those of us who have been engaging in plant dieting have found that the experience is strengthened when we work as a group, and also when people in different geographic locations connect with a plant at the same time with similar intentions. This intention can create powerful personal and planetary healing and consciousness change. Plant consciousness evolves, just as human consciousness, and the plant realm has tremendous wisdom to share with us. Plants also benefit hugely from positive human connection.

For those who are unable to attend the class in person, here’s a simple format to follow to take part in the diet remotely. You may decide to set aside any length of time for your borage diet–even an hour can be beneficial. Before the day of, procure some borage flower essence and, if you are able, fresh or dried borage leaf and flower. You can make a simple borage infusion by pouring hot water over 2-3 tbsp fresh or dried herb/flower and letting it sit 2-3 hours before straining. If you know where to find a borage plant that’s growing or are able to purchase a borage start for your diet, this is great but not necessary.

Other supplies you’ll need: a simple altar with an item for each element/direction (a feather for East, candle for South, bowl of water for West, and stone or crystal for North will do), a glass bowl and wooden spoon for mixing the elixir, a cordial or wine glass, a smudge-stick to burn, a journal, colored pencils or crayons, a yoga mat or blanket, a comfortable place to sit or lie down. Read the instructions before you begin so you have a clear idea of what’s involved.


  1. Make sure you have a quiet, clean, distraction-free environment to set up in
  2. Build your alter in any way that you like as long as you have something to signify each direction and element.
  3. Gather your elixir components: your flower essence, strained infusion and fresh borage flowers if you have them, and your elixir bowl
  4. Begin smudging the space and then yourself
  5. Call upon and welcome the elements in each direction. You can face each direction, beginning in the East, and speak out-loud, saying a simple, heart-felt word of acknowledgement to each element. Call upon any other helping spirits or energy you desire.
  6. Sit down and visualize a protective bubble around the space you’re in in any color you’d like. Take a moment to feel yourself grounded, take a few deep breaths, feel your body, straighten your spine up tall, and rub your heart to consciously open it.
  7. Write down your intentions for the day (or however long you have) on a slip of paper and place it under the altar cloth.
  8. Now you will make your elixir. Add each component including 3 drops of flower essence to your glass bowl. Then, using your wooden spoon, close your eyes and begin to stir the bowl in a clockwise direction. Focus your energy on your intention and imagine you’re creating a vortex as you stir that welcomes in the energy of borage. Stir for as long as you feel called to.
  9. Pour some elixir into your glass. With intention and focus, drink a glass of the elixir, feeling how it feels going down your throat and into your body.
  10. If you have a borage plant on hand or can go to where one is growing, go and sit with it. Take an offering with you – either a bead, some tobacco, a piece of hair or your own saliva. Speaking out-loud, introduce yourself to the plant and share your offering with it. If you don’t have a plant, go outside and follow the same steps, giving your offering to the Earth. Borage will still hear you!
  11. Spend some time sitting with the plant and observing it and letting yourself “daydream.” Use your journal to record any observations. If you don’t have a borage plant, you can taste, smell and feel some of the fresh borage herb and record your observations.
  12. Go back inside and take another drink of elixir in your elixir glass.
  13. Prepare for a shamanic journey. You need a comfortable place to lie down. You can find a shamanic drumming track here on YouTube. It’s important to hold your intention very clearly in your mind. If you’ve done a shamanic journey before and have a spirit guide who can assist you, great. If you, just do your best – there is no “wrong” experience. To prepare, take some deep breaths, ground, and release any areas of tension in your body. Your intention is to go to meet the Spirit of Borage and receive its healing wisdom. When you begin the drumming track, you will close your eyes and imagine yourself, as vividly as possible, in a beautiful place in nature. You’ll imagine as many details as you can. You will then ask your spirit guide to take you to meet the Spirit of Borage, or just ask to be taken to where the spirit lives if you don’t have a guide. Allow yourself to feel sensations, see pictures or colors and be open to your experience. Again, there is no right way to do it.
  14. When the drumming track ends, come back to the place your journey started, then return to the present space and time, breathing deeply into your body and moving your fingers and toes before you open your eyes. Move very slowly, giving yourself time to come back.
  15. When you’re ready, you can record your experiences and impressions in your journal with words and or drawings.
  16. Take another drink of elixir
  17. You will partake in one more activity of your choice to connect with borage. You can make a physical borage preparation (borage flower honey is lovely), do some meditation or body movement while you imagine breathing the essence of borage into areas of your body, make borage flower crown, make a beaded offering or art project to give to borage, do some automatic writing where you ask borage specific questions, or any other creative activity of your choice. Again, intention is important.
  18. When you are finished, take your written intention out from the altar and see if it has been fulfilled. Offer any elixir that’s left back to the Earth.
  19. Close the directions by thanking each element and spirit for it’s presence and offering a final prayer of gratitude to the borage plant.
  20. Clean and clear your space.

If you do a borage diet on your own, please comment below and tell us how it went! For further reading about dieting common plants, see Carole Guyette’s book Sacred Plant Initiations.

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Birthing the Fifth World

We are living in extraordinary times, times of prophesy. According to the Hopi and some other First Nations, humanity is within the end of the Fourth World and the beginning of the Fifth World. To many of us, it feels like the world is ending, as the Fourth World is literally crumbling around us, as was prophesized. This is the death of the illusion of separation, the materialist paradigm, domination and control. As this World does its mighty death dance around us, we are simultaneously within the threshold of the emergence of a World characterized by the universal truths of love, peace and harmony. This is a time of great healing, even through the scariest traumas and tragedies—the tide cannot be held back, the healing is here and it’s available for all beings.

The Earth is already shifting into the vibratory frequency of the Fifth World, and each of us humans has the choice to align with her by choosing to walk the path of the heart, or remain within the illusion of fear and separation of the Fourth World as it crumbles. We find aspects of ourselves that are already ready, and aspects of ourselves that still cling to ancient wounding. The truth of love and beauty is available for all beings in all times, and the truth is more beautiful than we can even imagine.

As we are within this liminal threshold, those of us who straddle both worlds may also feel increasingly challenged on physical, emotional and spiritual levels. Those born after about 1970 may feel especially sensitive to this, as we are the ones who have come specifically to assist in the transition—our brains are hardwired for it. We experience the vibratory dissonance of the Fourth World as very painful, and many of us have been programmed through our sensitivity and empathy to internalize these frequencies. The key now is to know that our time has come and we no longer need to hold on to the collective pain caused by perceived separation. We no longer need to carry the burdens of others who are also stuck in this pain. We now only need to breathe into the truth of love and know that this is the moment we have been waiting for.

There’s no need for huge life changes at this time unless there is karmic balancing that needs to take place, in which case the external changes will come, always bringing renewed strength and clarity regardless of the depth of the level of challenge they present. All changes can be engaged at the internal level, and the external will follow. As our own hearts and minds learn to release programming to be in judgment and fear, we go back each moment to the path of love and connection, and the choices we make will become easier and easier as we practice actively engaging in this truth.

Awakening the Heart

This is a simple task, though not an easy one. As we choose to open our hearts, we may find that there are wells of hurt there so deep that it feels nearly impossible to confront them, especially when processing through energies such as generational trauma, abandonment, abuse and addiction. Following the threads of uncomfortable emotions is key, and when we proceed accompanied by extreme bravery and self-compassion, we can let them lead us right to the core of the original wounding. The Fourth World paradigm rewards ego over humbleness and logical mind over heart. Hopi prophecies speak of a time when people must choose to remain on the “two-hearted path” (ruled by imbalance of the mental mind), or choose to take the “one-hearted path” towards the recollection and experience of oneness.

The Earth is not a victim. She and all Beings in her service are on an evolutionary path and nothing can derail that. She has powers of cleansing, clearing and healing that are far beyond what we can even begin to imagine. At this time, there’s an unprecedented effort on the parts of plants, animals and MANY types of etheric beings to come together and create rainbow bridges between the worlds to transport stuck energy and entities to the other side. Every aspect of Creation that’s currently held within a vibrational pattern of fear is surrounded by loving allies, ready to assist in this healing and transition when that being is ready.

Every time the level of planetary fear rises, we must rise to meet it with the powerful forces of peace and love. Our commitment to a path of peace will be tested at every turn. The Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock is the epicenter of the stand for life, for water, for rights of sovereignty in the face of oppression from forces on a destructive path of greed. As Chase Iron Eyes (a lawyer, activist and member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe who is running for congress) says, “Peace requires that we stand tall.” Now is the time to choose love by standing up for what we believe in and seeing love in others as well, for all paths lead to the same place.

Together We Rise

We are also in the time of the gathering of the Nations. It’s time for all humans around the medicine wheel, the white, yellow, red and black, to humble ourselves, make heartfelt reconciliation, listen to each other with openness, and let go of the stories that we have allowed to sew separation between us. Every person carries a spark in their heart. Although some flames burn very low, each of us carries a vital piece of the puzzle. We must learn to relate to each other beyond the masks we wear. We need to be vulnerable with each other. When we meet here, we spark each others’ flames—we activate and nourish each other for the work of creating a new world that lies ahead.

The Earth Advocate Apprenticeship, a yearlong program in Spiritual Activism and Earth Healing that takes place in Northern California, was created to facilitate this good work. Our next year’s program begins in June of 2017 (we hope to launch a distance learning program in 2018 so join our mailing list if you live far away.) If you feel inspired to join us, click here to learn more. How do you feel about the state of the planet and what’s helping you to cultivate peace in your own heart? Please share in the comments below. Solidarity to all!


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Empowering the Empath

Dear Empath,

I wish to tell you a story about growing up as an Earthling in the 1980s. I’m sharing this with you because I think perhaps you can relate ;).

When I was studying at the Berkeley Psychic Institute, we had a catch-phrase: OCH, which stood for out-of-control healer. Pretty much everyone there was a recovering OCH! What I mean by that is we could see, feel, hear and sense the heavy energies that were interfering with people’s health and happiness, on a personal and societal level and we wanted to heal them with our energy whether they wanted it or not!! As a young person, I could feel other people’s energy so strongly that if someone walked by across the street and was nervous, my own stomach would flip.

Can you imagine walking around and feeling everything others are feeling as a child? Maybe you know exactly what this feels like. I didn’t understand why adults always felt one way and acted another or hid their pain. We’d watch the news and I didn’t understand why the news anchor was lying!

I don’t know when I started feeling responsible for other people’s pain. Maybe I came in that way or maybe I just thought that if people were holding their pain inside, I could carry some of it for them so it wouldn’t hurt them so bad!

By young adulthood my body wasn’t really a fun place to be with everyone’s ish stuffed in there so I used drugs to get me out of my body. Problem was when I was out of my body even more especially unsavory stuff came in… oops!

Berkeley Psychic Institute was a lifesaver for me in my young 20s, as was the beginning of my love affair with herbs. BPI helped me to be aware of where my focus was and that I could close my second chakra some so I didn’t “empath so hard,” and open higher chakras so I could focus more on seeing, hearing and knowing subtle energies. Meditating for so many hours each week, doing active visualizations and just sitting with the plants in nature helped me learn how to ground and begin releasing all that nonsense!!

I’m still an empath but now I mostly identify it as a strength, and I’m still, in my young 30s, unwinding deep stored pain and tension in my body, still learning not to leak my healing energy to others unconsciously.

This planet is a strange place. I know now that I did come here in a sense to absorb other people’s energies. Many, many, many of us came here to absorb and transmute. We came to assist in a massive quantum leap that effects the whole galaxy, the whole universe.

What I missed as a child growing up was my support system. Now I know how to call on the spirits to help me. I call upon plant and animal spirits, elementals, Gods and goddesses, ETs, ancestors and celestial bodies… those on the other side of the veil, to help me use this human body as a bridge between dimensions. To transmute human pain into remembrance of our innate divinity! I didn’t know how to do any of this stuff growing up but my spirit ached for it.

There are those who choose to walk on this human path as if blind, as if believing 3D reality is all there is. Some awaken gradually, some fast and hard. Nobody is in the wrong place, it’s not even possible. All paths lead to the same place: love.

But know this. If you choose to awaken, you are not alone! This path may feel lonely at times, desolate and cold, but even that illusion is falling away. For what we really awaken to is the only truth, the truth of love. As we awaken we find more and more and more allies and we begin to merge into the ecstasy of communion! This is our birthright! We remember the heavenly realms are real and this realm is the dream. We get to wake others just by being ourselves. We get to exist in “the between,” the ethers, the liminal space. How special is that?

Do you want to know how to do the rituals that create the real changes? It’s easy to do – we can all do it, but there are protocols to follow. We humans used to know how to do this, we just need some guidance and support to remember! I’m considering teaching an online six week series on creating powerful and effective rituals. Does this interest you? Tell me in the comments!

The tower is falling. The matrix is cracking. What are you experiencing right now? Where do you wish to position yourself? You are not alone! I stand with you, fellow empath, fellow healer, fellow alien. Our time is now!

In love and solidarity,


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Grief and Re-Membering: The Spirituality of Confronting Privilege, Entitlement and Cultural Appropriation

I live in a beautiful, affluent little town infused with the legacy of 60s-era hippie activism and a uniquely Northern Californian hodge-podge of spiritual traditions. While I can’t say what an entire town of people believe about themselves, the impression I have is that most of these kind, good-hearted people believe that they are living a life of integrity and spiritual rightness, and thus manifesting a world in accord with their beliefs and practices.

It is possible to cynically point out the contradictions—the cars with “no blood for oil” stickers on them, the whiteness of a place that so deeply and flagrantly believes in multiculturalism, the ex-San Franciscans that deplore the gentrification of their former city as they open up high-end restaurants and vacation rentals here. It is possible to go down this path of “calling-out.” But to do so would not be helpful and to do so would be to temp my own hypocrisy into the spotlight. I would self-righteously be denying my own contradictions as I sit in the newest high-end coffee shop writing this essay against privilege before I go shop at the local organic market that prices poor people out of access to healthy food. In other words, we are together in this suffering. We are all at once victims of larger systems, seemingly (though not) out of our control. There is a good case to be made for compassion when we all are participating, through the very act of living, in a world of so much inequality and forgetfulness.

So our job perhaps, is to remember, and to act in accord with our remembering. To remember the many origins of the situation in which we find ourselves. To take some account of the history that we all live out on a daily basis. And it is perhaps our job as well to temper our urge to be redeemed by the relative nature of oppression. Yes we are all suffering under larger systems, but it’s also true that suffering comes in degrees. Yes, we are all oppressors and we are all oppressed, however, this relativism is not pure and for many it is more heavily weighted on the side of the oppressed. Therefore, the degrees of suffering with which I must contend (as a white, cis-gendered, hetero, able-bodied man) are far fewer than the degrees to which those who have made my life possible may suffer.


There are so many origins to remember because our forgetting is not so much a series of acts, laced together like a pearl necklace—each act a type of theft, but rather, our forgetting is a lifestyle, deeply embedded inside of our culture. It is a dirty ocean in which we all swim. So let us begin with something small and seemingly benign.

The coffee in front of me: the beans come from the Indonesian island of Flores. Coffee production in this region was a direct result of a highly exploitative Dutch colonization. While there are no longer slave-like coffee plantations as we might think of them, there is still a great divide between traditional Indonesian cultures and the global market. Assuming that the Indonesian farmers want to participate in a global market (though history tells us this may not be a business decision as much as a decision for survival), efforts are being made to create a more ethical coffee trade. Nonetheless, as I sip this ridiculously delicious cup of coffee, I am left with an acrid aftertaste of grief, knowing that some of the coffee farmers (without whom the cup of coffee and the price I paid for it would not have been possible) have received very little for their work. This inequity is a direct result from a colonial history that I had nothing to do with but from which I, even now in 2016, benefit.

And that’s just the farmers. Not to mention the boxers (and the trees that made the boxes), the transporters (and the incredible resources extracted to make the vehicle, highways, the fuel…), the grocers, the resource-heavy roasting and processing equipment, the roasters themselves, and the baristas; all of which had some part in bringing me this little cup of coffee. And of course the coffee shop I sit in is made mostly of wood, concrete and metal, all of which were extracted most likely without any permission from, consideration of, or offerings to Nature herself.       I do not make this roll-call of origins to suggest that we shouldn’t go to coffee shops. Nor do I suggest that we should all begin growing our own coffee and killing our own meat. We can’t go back and just be “indigenous” (that very word deserves its own essay to unpack and understand) at least not without a huge amount of cultural baggage that would likely undermine the process anyway. I applaud anyone who does make efforts to be less reliant on harmful economic systems. But my intention in bringing all this up is to draw attention to the fact that our lives, even down to a cup of coffee, are constructed around a hierarchy of taking and the privilege of forgetting about all that from whom we have taken (mother earth being a part of that “whom”).

There is even more than just the inequity of the global market that makes my little excursion to the coffee shop so comfortable. Not only can I afford this cup of coffee but I find myself in a coffee shop where everyone looks like me, thinks generally the way I do, and where music of the dominant culture (of which I am a part) is playing. On my way to the coffee shop I had no encounters with police and if I would have it’s not likely that they would have resulted in jail or death, regardless of my guilt or innocence.

This is one example of how I benefit from oppression on a daily basis and the benefits accrued from this systemic oppression are what can be short-handedly referred to as privilege.


Many people understand that they are privileged but fall short when asked to describe their privilege. Others can describe it but get stuck in the guilt of what that means. And I should be clear that the guilt, while it can be crippling, is also a completely valid response to realizing how unfair our systems are for people with less privilege. Guilt can also be useful, but only if it is used as a launching point and not an endpoint. As one person told me at the White Privilege Conference (yes, there is a conference on white privilege!), “I don’t give a damn if you feel guilty about your privilege, but I care a lot about if you’re gonna do something about it.” So what is to be done about our privilege?

To truly answer this question would require another essay, if not an entire book. So let us start small, as we did with the coffee cup. Let us begin by remembering the origins of the situation in which we find ourselves.

Since people can fall in many places on the oppressor/oppressed continuum (and can, almost quantum physically, be at more than one place at any given moment depending on the context), I am reticent to describe how one should go about their own remembering. So instead, I will simply tell you about my re-membering.

I recently took two ten-day workshops with author and cultural steward Martín Prechtel. It was here that the importance of remembering origins deepened for me. Whereas before, I’d been vigilant in remembering that I have privilege and that it has consequences, I had yet to adequately consider the origins and consequences of this privilege. I had considered the relatively recent history of slavery and genocide on which the country in which I grew up had been founded. I had considered the many historical factors that had resulted in huge benefits for me: how my family had immigrated under favorable conditions (for example, unlike many Africans, my ancestors emigrated by choice), the benefits of the Homestead Act (free land for white settlers, land off of which Native Americans were pushed or killed), free labor from slavery, and housing laws that disqualified black people from buying houses and thus accruing equity and centralizing wealth with white people. I had considered how in my own life, my hard work was greatly augmented by class, race and gender privilege. Yes I went to college and yes I worked hard, but to get there I didn’t have to take out as many loans and I had a large base of community work and volunteerism to show the college application committees. Those jobs and that volunteerism was made possible by social connections that were isolated within the white middle-upper class communities and by the fact that I could drive, thanks to a car bought for me by my parents. Furthermore, in elementary and high school, my teachers assumed I was naturally capable of learning. And despite frequently disruptive and bad behavior, I was given opportunity after opportunity to continue my education. My fellow students of color did not get such allowances.

So I went to college and I got a good job. This allowed me to be able to afford the time-time off, travel expenses, workshop fees, and lodging to go and study with Martín.  Those workshops empowered my own sense of spirituality and deepened my worldview immensely. I began to see spirituality and life very differently. While I wholeheartedly believe that spirituality is not a commodity to be bought, I cannot escape the fact that many of my own opportunities for spiritual awakening were made possible by my privilege.


While studying with Martín I also began to notice how entitled I act. For example, one morning Martín had played us a series of songs. One in particular was very moving and I had to know what that song was and who sang it. At the break I made a bee-line to the young man who was acting as Martín’s DJ and asked, “What was that third song you played, it was amazing, what was that?” He looked at me, bright eyed and kind. He paused, took a breath and the said, “Good Morning!”

I felt a wave of shame come over me. He could sense my need to have the answer given to me in a quick, tidy package, as if I was ordering fast food. He could sense my need to know and consume the song, to objectify the song and to objectify him. I hadn’t even the courtesy to say hello or good morning. I just wanted to know the name of that damn song and I wanted it now. In that moment, he was just a vehicle to get me what I wanted. He was not a human being, and if I am completely honest, neither was I.

What does this have to do with privilege? This interaction was no different than twenty other interactions I have in a given day. I need, I want, I need. I can feel that same anxious entitlement gnawing at me in the car, at work, in the supermarket. It says, “I have a life to live, I deserve to have this thing or that, in fact, I need to have this because I have a life to live. Dammit! Don’t you understand?! Let’s go already!”

And so it goes. It’s an entitlement sprouted and nurtured by privilege itself. It is an entitlement that subtly and sometimes not so subtly says, “this world is made for me. It is my needs, desires, and dreams that are most important.” And in an individualistic culture my spirituality becomes truncated and warped. It becomes more about manifesting my individual life into some sort of spiritual achievement than about bringing something holy, sacred and healing to the community.

Coming from a more compassionate place, I realize that this is how I’ve been trained. This is how we have all been trained. We are all born in dirty water. How though, has this water become so adulterated? I mentioned the more recent history of our country but how was it that the Europeans as a people were capable of such atrocities? Martín helped me deepen this inquiry as well.

Origins: History and The Cost of Privilege

Without going into a long, anthropological history, it is important to spend some time considering that so-called “white people” were also once indigenous, as simplified as this examination may be. Just as they colonized the Americas, my ancestors were themselves colonized by Greece, Rome, the Christians, etc. That process continues to this day as we lose our souls to the new religions of science and capitalism, neither of which have much respect for indigenous ways of knowing and loving the earth. It was some of the colonized European ancestors who decided that only light skinned people were worthy enough to be considered citizens, to own land, etc. It was the more privileged of them who, in order to break up solidarity between white indentured servants and black slaves, decided that race was something to be considered as a value judgment. Before that, the social hierarchy was determined by geography, familial backgrounds, tribal ranks, and other cultural factors.  But over time those Europeans who were tribal became Christians, or serfs, or lords or kings and then eventually entrepreneurs, emigrants, and indentured servants. And in order to get out of their servitude and get a piece of the privilege in this new land, the servants became “white.”

Not dissimilarly, women leaders, seers and priestesses became witches, burned and buried, or they renounced their spiritual powers and survived as good Christians, housewives, or concubines. And with that, Mother Earth herself lost her most capable allies.

What we are talking about is the same thing that the local Pomo and other indigenous tribes across the country and worldwide have been talking about for hundreds of years: generation after generation of loss. And with each generation came a degeneration of what it meant to be a human being. The stories that came out of the earth, which our current culture short-changes as “mythology,” were replaced by stories of industry, progress, war and death.

As I considered all of this, my disconnection from this history and my own indigenous background came painfully into view. For years I have flirted with the grief of this but was often mollified by the demands of surviving modern life, or by my own desire to escape the grief through alcohol, computers, television, yoga, anger, and depression (or what Martín calls “the lack of grief”). So I began to see that, despite what my old therapist Francis Weller calls our “culture of ascension,” the only way out is in fact down. The answer to how to deal with one’s privilege must include the willingness to grieve the losses of what has been traded- materially, culturally and spiritually—in order to gain that privilege. Otherwise, I believe we are destined to not just perpetuate the inhumane inequity through non-action, but we will likely cause further harm by capitalizing on our privilege and/or trying to take even more from other people’s and cultures in order to fill the hole caused by our un-grieved losses.

The loss of our own ancestral wisdom and the loss of our indigenous connection to the earth is huge, but it is not the totality of the loss. For myself, I also count the rigid economic systems that objectify and dehumanize us into mere workers whilst separating families and communities in the name of capital and accumulation. I count the false sense of safety I have knowing my local police department is seeing more danger in the black man who is my neighbor than in the white man who might be planning to shoot up another campus or grocery store or theater and who may also be my neighbor. I count the fear and apprehension on each side of some of my relationships with people of color. I count the alienating suburban sprawl that allowed my parents and myself, in our white flight, to live quite separate lives from those suffering the systems that were benefiting us. I count the many elitist art scenes, poisoned by capitalism and Eurocentrism, and that get passed off as community. I count the loss of true community, based not in similarity of dress or thought, but in love and struggle of how hard it is to be human; a community that would gather for survival and ritual, but always feed the life from which they constantly take so that they can be alive in this world. Lastly, I count the loss of my own humanity that becomes gravely compromised by the ways I consciously or unconsciously perpetuate privilege and oppression.

It is important to note that acknowledging the loss privilege engenders does not in anyway negate the benefits afforded to us by our privilege. It is simply a deepening of understanding how our privilege hurts not just others, but ourselves as well. This understanding is not an endgame. To the contrary, this understanding is a call to further action. The work of challenging the effects of privilege and the dismantling of the systems that create it must be done. However, how we go about that work will be enriched by our grief, because it will be informed by a sense of loss and our own truest desires for a better world, a tighter community, a more complete understanding of our history and more possibilities of how to be a human being and how to organize our communities in the future. Our grief takes us beyond superficial multiculturalism and into working for a collective liberation.

Grief , Disconnection, and Cultural Appropriation

Francis and Martín, my sweet and fierce teachers, also advocate the act of courting. Courting is an act of courteously and respectfully inviting someone or something into connection. Courting is in opposition to seduction, which is putting on a false pretense in order to take or otherwise dominate someone or something. Courting is offering fertile soil for a seed to arise on it’s own terms, while seduction is modifying that seed to meet your own needs. To court means not just making space and time in your life for grief but to actually invite it through acts of prayer, offering, journaling, meditation, or other communal and cultural practices. Among our many losses and forgettings, we no longer know how to adequately grieve, except maybe individually, alone in the late hours of night, which often only serves to perpetuate our isolation. In fact, as I write this I can say that I still have not fully experienced the grief of all of this.  But I can see what I do with that grief, or rather, what it does with me when it is not embodied and processed.

Aside from the aforementioned addictive behaviors, there is another side effect of grief avoidance. It’s a longing, sometimes innocent, and sometimes intrusive. It is the inexplicable ache I felt when seeing the bucolic scenes of the Shire in The Lord of the Rings movies. It’s my attraction to the now fashionable aesthetic of so-called “tribal” tattoos, piercings, hairstyles and clothing. It’s in the huge amount of time I’ve spent trying to uncover the so-called Indian part of my ancestry, and it’s conversely in the lack of time I have spent in trying to uncover the more prominent European sides of my ancestry. It is in my disgust of whiteness and thus at times myself. The result is a denial of not just what I have lost but a denial of who I am, of who history has made me. This longing is my grief displaced. It’s me trying to fill that cultural void with the shards of what were once more intact cultures around me, my unconscious volition towards enacting cultural practices and customs that I don’t really understand or even if I do, practices and customs that I have not been given permission to enact. This is also known as cultural appropriation.  I should be clear about what I mean by cultural appropriation.  It’s not just the enacting of cultural practices that one has not been given permission to enact, it is when this is done to the benefit of the appropriator and to the detriment of the culture from which it is taken.

One hallmark of cultural appropriation is when those that created a particular cultural practice are not involved in its propagation. For example, Native American Art galleries in which very little, if any, of the art is done by Native peoples or even if it is, they are paid little for their contributions.  Another local example is yoga. Yoga has become a staple of spiritual and non-spiritual communities across the country. While some studios maintain a fidelity to the spiritual traditions and even specific lineages of the teachings, most do not and millions of dollars have been made from this reworking, to put it nicely, of another cultures practices. Just looking at the average yoga advertisement will tell you that this 5000 year-old austere spiritual practice from India is now a fitness fad for the middle class, mostly white, able-bodied, (and according to the ads which adhere to current standards of beauty: thin) North American women.  Has this harmed the Indus-Sarasvati people from which this tradition was taken? Arguably yes. One person who has considered this deeply is Yogi Nisha Ahuja who gets deep into the problematic nature of yoga in the West. Her work can be found here.

Many argue against this reality by stating that every culture is influenced by another culture and the history of humans is but a million mergings of peoples and their customs. True as that may be, this argument is a just a few short steps away from saying that violence and colonization is human nature, which an honest and detailed examination of history would not support. It also suggests that we should accept the power differentials that exist in society because that’s just how it’s always been. What is also true is that in every act of brutal oppression or quiet colonization, there were resisters. People who were pathologized as “traditionalists,” “savages,” “rebels,” or “terrorists” who fought against the violence of the privileged in order to preserve their way of life. Another wonderful piece about cultural appropriation and what ethical and fair cultural collaboration can look like can be found here.

Not only does cultural appropriation serve to anger people from whose cultures from which we take (and making them feel again violated, colonized and exploited) but it also robs us of an opportunity to grieve and heal and in doing so realize that our privilege has both helped and harmed us.

I would contend that no spirituality in today’s United States can escape or transcend issues of power and privilege and to try to do so will only diminish one’s spirit. If one function of spirituality is to navigate what it means to be human, then no functional spirituality can lack a practice of grief. And if one function of spirituality is to enable a community to care for itself, then no functional spirituality can avoid the grief created by oppression and violence, however subtle that violence may be. In other words, if we truly believe in love, compassion, and healing, then it is simply not enough to meditate. To be in accord with our own sense of humanity and spirit, we must actively resist practices of colonization by, among other things, dealing with privilege, entitlement, and appropriation

The Fruits of our Grief: Re-membering

We often hear the maxim: “To change the world, we must first change ourselves.” It’s usually attributed to Eastern religions like Taoism or Buddhism. What’s not considered is how those cultures and our own culture may interpret that idea differently. In our highly individualistic culture this is often a reasoning against community involvement and social activism, as if one day, after much meditation and yoga and eating right, we will arrive at this perfect place in which we can then begin to change the world. What is never considered is how engaging with the pain and injustice around us (read: trying to change the world!) may actually change us as individuals- for the better! In other words, changing ourselves and changing the world are not, and should never be, mutually exclusive. In going beyond Euro-centric “either/or” thinking, we are invited to think more holistically using “both/and” thinking. We can change ourselves and change the world and both efforts will accentuate one another.

Re-membering practices are multifaceted. They include re-membering ourselves as a member of a human family with huge power differentials that have at times had grave consequences. It is re-membering ourselves as members of a spiritual community that is trying to deal with the disaster of history that has put us at such odds with others in our own human family. But remembering takes time and effort. It takes courting. We must seek out alternative stories to the ones we’ve been told—find those buried and bludgeoned histories that were banished from light. We must start to understand our own familial and cultural histories and invite both celebration and mourning for all the beauty and loss we may find. We must court grief and make a place for it in our lives. Grief is powerful and can liberate us from guilt and shame. Grief teaches us that other people’s lives and liberation is tied up in our own. We must sooth our guilt with our tears and our resolve. And we must do better. Liberated from guilt and shame, we are free to move into action.

While I would not want to mandate the process by which all of this grief and re-membering should occur, I will offer up seven things that have been useful on my own path. These things may also be very useful in courting grief and as well as giving us a way to process it.

  1. Journaling: make an effort to notice moments when you feel privileged, guilty, scared, or frustrated in relation to your social positioning (your gender, your race, etc…). Write about it. Ask yourself: What does this say about me? What does it say about my community? Why does this make me so uncomfortable?
  1. Privilege Inventory: Simply make a list of all the privileges you have and/or a list of all the ways your privilege affects your life. You can also make an inventory of all the difficult or uncomfortable racial or gender or class interactions you have had and ask yourself how your privilege was operating in those moments and what you could have done differently. This is not supposed to be an exercise in shame, but rather an exercise in accountability.
  1. Ethnoautobiography: The internet has a lot that can be useful in writing your own ethnoautobiography. This entails doing your own familial and cultural background research that may include genetics, family stories, country of origin research, and trying to get a solid grasp of your cultural heritage. This may also include imaginal intuition such as dreams or art. The point is to begin to understand ourselves as cultural beings (not just some white norm or non-white, non-norm). We all have long and complicated histories about how we became who we are and how we ended up where we are geographically, politically, culturally and spiritually. An ethnoautobiography is an opportunity to explore this! It is possible that you may also learn about long-lost cultural traditions from your ancestors which may then find a home in your life, thus replacing practices you have borrowed from other cultures (even with the best of intentions).
  1. Vigilant Mindfulness: Where ever you are throughout the day, ask yourself: Do I have privilege in this situation? Will my words or actions in this moment be interpreted differently because of my social positioning (race, gender, class, etc.)? Will I interpret what others are saying or doing differently because of my own cultural background? Am I feeling entitled to what I hope for or want, and how might that sense of entitlement affect others?
  1. Find Allies: This is not a path that should be tread in isolation. Where I live, in Sonoma County, California, there’s a group called Racial Justice Allies that holds monthly dialogues, movies, and events about whiteness, privilege, and anti-racism skill building. The Heru Network is a local group holding monthly events and dialogues about black culture and history. Ask around for groups local to your area. Even if you don’t want to be involved in a social justice group, it’s important to have support. By that I don’t mean just your best friend or your partner, but people who are currently on a path of examining and dealing with racial or gender dynamics in their community or who have done this kind of work before. More specifically, I mean people who can hold you accountable but also remind you of your own goodness. I have been lucky to have several of these people in my life.
  1. Do the homework: It’s good to find allies, but it’s also important that we not expect people from marginalized groups to be our teachers about oppression. There are ample articles, books, movies, poems, and podcasts from which we can learn and deepen our understanding.

Find a way to confront privilege and oppression in the community

    This could be working with a social justice group or starting your own project. But remember that it doesn’t have to be difficult or overwhelming. The horrible thing about oppression and privilege is that it operates in every aspect of our lives. However, this means there is ample opportunity to address these issues right where you are at: in your family, in your job, in your class, in your spiritual community. Many organizations and spiritual groups have diversity committees, bring in trainers around undoing racism, or have other creative ways of addressing these issues in the moment.

We are tasked with fixing the human quilt by tenderly sewing together the historical rips made by violence, patriarchy and white supremacy.  So if we have developed a vigilant practice of noticing our social positioning, particularly the place in which we find ourselves privileged, and we have begun to study the origins of this privilege, and we have begun to see not only how we benefit but also how we lose, then we can begin to deal with this emotionally. We can offer ourselves kindness, forgiveness and a commitment to do better. This, in turn will inform how we can deal with these matters strategically, together and accountable to our friends, our loved ones, and our adversaries (who also are sometimes our friends and loved ones). We can re-member ourselves as members of a vibrant community, with many different kinds of hearts beating, beating, beating.


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Minding the Heart

Ask someone what comes to mind when thinking of the heart and different ideas emerge like love, the heart symbol shape, the area of chest where it’s located and the color red or pink. But how often do we think about the electricity, the pumping, the blood, the arteries and chambers, and the heart organ itself? It is noteworthy that most other organs, systems, and parts of the body tend to be linked to literal interpretations—in contrast with the mystery, romance, and other far reaching interpretations associated with heart.


Historically, Anahata, the heart chakra, is interpreted from Sanskrit as “unstruck, unhurt, and unbeaten.” It is here where the unstruck sound of the cosmos can come into fruition: The wishing tree, the lotus flower, a branching system that reaches out to the rest of the body and simultaneously to the mysterious divine. The heart creates the ability to transcend karma through playing out heartfelt connection without attachment. The chakra is associated with the thymus gland and immunity—weaving the interplays of the heart system with other vital functions of the body. This is reflected in Ayurvedic Medicine where all three doshas (vatha, pitta and kapha) hold some space in the heart. Also, the respiratory channel, mind channel, and lymph channel are housed in the heart. Imbalances in heart health can often be linked to the mind and treatment can include an initial focus on detoxification and digestive strengthening with ayurvedic herbs, dietary suggestions, light physical activity and bodywork.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the shen, or spirit, resides in the heart. Disease involving the heart can come from external or internal sources and lifestyle. The liver is often approached when there is a blood related issue, but the supreme source of the blood is the heart.  So, the heart is a point of focus when the blood carried through the vessels is too much, to thick, not enough, too hot, etc. The heart is tied into the 5-element theory as being associated with fire. Fire sparks joy and is embodied in the season of summer. The organ clock in TCM puts the heart hours from 11am to 1pm. It can be helpful to note how one feels at this time each day and what is being eaten at this time if it is suspected that there is an imbalance in heart health. The imbalanced heart can lead to disturbed shen, which may manifest as insomnia or mental imbalances. Often, treating the heart will thus improve sleep and mental wellness. Acupuncture is often used to balance the flow of meridians in the body, and can positively impact both emotional and physical heart health.

In Medical Astrology, the sun is the ruler of the heart and the heart can be reflected in the 5th house of the natal chart. To enhance the sun in a chart, for instance if it’s in a difficult aspect with another planet or if the fire element needs some ignition, cardio-tonics and plants with morphology that have sun-like characteristics (like bright yellow flowers that open with the sun), warming herbs that are detoxifying, and vision clearing/enhancing herbs can be therapeutic. Dietary suggestions and flower essences can provide additional healing. In ancient astrological traditions, including ancient Chinese, Mars was considered to rule the heart. This is interesting because Mars is linked to the blood, which is ruled by the heart in TCM. Many herbs that are helpful for healthy blood flow and heart function can be therapeutic to enhancing the planet Mars in the chart. Medical Astrology can provide unique insight into healing the heart and has been used in many civilizations for thousands of years.

A heart beats about 72 times per minute, 100,000 times a day, and 35 million times each year. Our hearts don’t get a break, so why not take some cardio-tonic herbs?

Three herbs for healing the heart:

Hawthorn is one of the best cardio-tonics. Most people can benefit from this thorny tree’s berries (sometimes other aerial parts are used too) that have a long lineage of use in Europe and TCM for heart conditions. Hawthorn has been shown in studies to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It’s also relaxing to the nervous system and great for balancing the effects that too much caffeine can have on the body and other over-stimulation or stress. Hawthorn berries can be added to broths, made into a tea (it’s more medicinal if simmered for a period of time as in an infusion), ground into a powder to sprinkle in food, and taken as a solid extract, capsules or liquid extracts. Hawthorn also helps to digest lipids and can help reduce strain on the body while maximizing absorption of nutrients from fatty meats and other rich food. Hawthorn does pose some risk of increasing the effects of blood pressure medication, so it’s best to monitor closely if the herb is being taken in tandem. Another possibility is tapering off pharmaceuticals with a doctor’s permission, and replacing the drugs with hawthorn or a hawthorn containing herbal formula.

Reishi is a medicinal mushroom that has been used to support longevity for thousands of years. It’s a very hard and fibrous mushroom, so the fruiting body cannot be cooked and eaten like some edible mushrooms. Reishi helps modulate the immune system and builds deep foundational support and strength. The catch to this miraculous tonic is that it generally needs to be consumed on a daily basis for at least a month to have any noticeable effect. Reishi can lower blood pressure and have other positive effects on the heart. In TCM, it helps to keep a healthy residence of shen, which lives in the heart.

Motherwort can help the inner-mother and has an affinity for the heart chakra area of the body. While TCM views motherwort as warming, Western Herbalism will describe the herb as cooling. Motherwort has a bitter flavor and will generally have a calming effect on the thyroid. The herb is taken for nervousness and anxiety and the effect on the heart is generally that of relieving pressure and agitation. Although generally safe, as with any herb, dosage should be taken into consideration, as high doses may be sedating or in some cases have the opposite effect. Since motherwort can calm thyroid function, it’s generally not advisable to use the herb where hypothyroid conditions are present.

Other ways to pamper your heart

Flower essences are an often-underrated energetic medicines that are healing on subtle levels and shift energy that might otherwise go unnoticed. An excellent flower essence for heart healing is Dicentra Formosa, or as it’s common name suggests, bleeding heart. It’s a great choice for hypertension that’s linked to deeper emotional issues such as imbalanced relationships and unresolved grief (and let’s face it, who doesn’t have unresolved grief these days?). Many choices exist for flower essence healing around the heart.  A few other that are commonly used include traditional Bach remedies vervain, cherry plum and vine.

There are many different styles of meditation and it behooves us not to get so caught up in how to meditate that we don’t meditate at all! Meditation can be done on the floor, a chair, under a tree, or even in bed. It’s preferable to have a clear space both visually and energetically to promote easier access for one to slip into a meditative state. Chakra meditations are simple and give the mind something to visualize. This involves imagining the colors of the chakras and perhaps focusing on one in particular. Visualizing green (and sometimes pink) can help to bring concentrated healing energy to the heart chakra.  This can be further refined with the use of crystal therapy.


Gems that are green or pink can be helpful, such as jade and rose quartz. They can be placed on the heart or kept near the person for an energy balancing and replenishing effect.

The human heart may be just a vital organ in a complicated body system, but it’s the symbols, imagery, stories, and love that bring the heart to life and keep it pumping.

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A Story for the Long, Dark Night

A Story for the Long, Dark Night
by Sarah Bunting


“Myth has a way of of bringing what is unconscious to the surface and putting a face on what we cannot see.”
-Terry Tempest Williams

Stories allows us to cloak our lives in the golden garments of mythos so that we may recognize our journey for what it is – the journey of the hero into the unknown, undergoing rites of passage that transform us into our own becoming, allowing us to gather what only we can gather from the beyond and bring back the harvest as medicine for our people. Myth allows us to recognize our struggle as the human struggle, our doubt and fear and shame as slime-fanged monsters, our wounds as yet dormant seeds of strength, our restless yearnings the beckoning of the soul to a deeper, richer life. Stories set us at the center of our own epic and give us the keen sword of metaphor to cut through the dense jungles of confusion, so that we may see ourselves for what we are.

We find ourselves in this wider window of the Solstice, light continues to birth from darkness. In the long night of winter, when the memory of sun can feel so distant, story is a nourishing broth for the soul. Through myth we can travel into the dark and emerge into light again and again, each time bolstering courage, faith and perseverance that allows us to dive deeper, with greater steadiness, into those spaces that harbor many of our greatest gifts.

 What darkness have you been traveling these long winter nights? Into what light are you emerging?

Imagine that you are reading the story of your own life. See yourself, as the heroine, where she stands at this precious moment, poised between paths. She hesitates, uncertain where to place her footsteps and her faith to carry her into the future of her own creation. You, as the reader, cry out. You can see what she cannot. What do you urge her to do? To choose? What do you wish to tell her? To keep going? That the monsters that haunt her have big shadows and only tiny bodies? That she blazes with the light of the eternal sun? That the treasure she seeks is just there, she practically stands atop it? That her village awaits her to celebrate the treasure she harvests from the dark? Speak to yourself and hear your own words of wisdom. Be your own bringer of the dawn.

On this night, in this dark I offer you a story, one inspired by my work with the grey bearded lichen Usnea.

May this story tend the fire in your heart.
May this story embolden your spirit to say yes to the call that finds you in the night.
And may this story bring to your ear the song of remembrance,
so that you too may sing with the night singing bear.

“Faith is the bird that feels the light sings while the dawn is still dark.”
– Rabindranath Tagore

The Call of the Night Singing Bear
– a story from Usnea, as told by Sarah Bunting –

There was once a bear, a bear who loved honey and huckleberries. And spent her time as all bears do, gathering food, napping on the warm Earthand bathing in the cool mountain streams.

And like all bears, when the world began to whisper of the coming snows,
this bear would seek out a comfy cave, tucked into the folds of the mountain,
to spend the long night of winter.

But one autumn day, with the sound of wild geese in the cool crisp air, the ground painted with red and yellow leaves, there came a stirring.
It came with the wind, something familiar yet forgotten. It came from the mountains.
A song, a call, a quickening.

The hair of the bear’s coat was riffled in just such a way.
And in just such a way a stirring of wonder, arose in the mind of the bear.
What happens in the long winter night when we all lay sleeping?

And so, as the dusk of winter fell upon the earth, as the first snowflakes danced down from the sky, as all the other bears sought their place of long sleep, this bear, our bear, stayed awake, listening to the song upon the wind.

This first winter, the bear stayed awake only for the first hours of winter’s night, listening to the song carried by the wind, tracking paw prints upon the earth in the newly fallen snow.

For soon sleep claimed her and she was drawn into her cave and into deep sleep and into the dream world where the singing, the singing would continue.

But, in the early morning hours of winter’s night, the wandering wind found her, curling into her cave and pulling gently on her dreams, her eyelids, beckoning. And she rose, emerging into winter’s dawn, witnessing the faintest crack of summer upon the horizon, the softest hum of green life beneath snow white.

Each year, the bear would spend more and more of her time awake, waiting longer to sleep within the cave,
rising earlier to wander the quiet landscape between moon and snow.

As the years passed she began to notice that she wasn’t aging as the other bears. The snows of age dappling their coats while hers remained full and brown. Time seemed to pass differently for her. Eventually even her cubs passed her in age.

And one year she heard it, the clear call of the mountains.
‘Come,’ it sang, with a such beauty that tears ran from her eyes, freezing into her fur like stars. For this song was a remembering song, long forgotten.
It was this call she followed, deeper into the wild, into the land that gradually sloped upward.
She climbed and she climbed, far into the night she journeyed. Far up the mountainside she went.
Into the night and into the north.

She came then to a place where the wind said ‘here,’
a place where the stars hung down so low they gathered as snowflakes on the ground, where the curve of the moon touches the rise of the land. Here, were the singing beckoned her not onward, but drew her down to settle upon the earth.

She sat.
It was a high place she had found, overlooking the valleys drifted with snow, the mountains rising to meet the sky, the land draped in shadow and light.
The wind blew from the north, cold and crisp with clarity and truth, with wisdom and peace.

Closing her eyes she turned to face the wind and it’s cold clear fingers began to blow as though through her, blowing between skin and bone, coat and flesh.

Her own breath became this wind and the wind,
blowing from within and blowing from without, began gently, lovingly, to widen the space between, widening and loosening.

And slowly, ever so slowly, her coat of thick fur began to fall from her shoulders.

And slowly, ever so slowly, her muscles began to fall away from bone.

And slowly, ever so slowly, the wind began to blow through the very atoms of her being, widening and loosening.

And slowly the air began blowing between her very thoughts widening and loosening the gap between.

And slowly the wind began to blow between what she was and what she was not, between truth and untruth, allowing all that was untruth to fall away, carried down the mountain on the wind.

Until all that remained was Truth, Bear sitting on the mountain as her true self, Bear who wandered into the long winter night, who wondered beneath Moon and Star, Bear who followed the call of remembering that danced upon the wind.

And Bear, she still sits in truth and wisdom upon the mountain. And she now joins her voice with the voice of wind, singing the song of remembering.

At night, when the air is cold and the land is quiet beneath the snow you can still hear this song, the call of the Night Singing Bear. If this call finds you, allow yourself to be drawn by the journey of remembering. Receive the invitation to surrender to the winds of your own breath and the breath of the Great Spirit, so that all that is untrue may fall away, so that you may, like Bear, come to inhabit the Truth of your own being, so that you too may take up the song of remembering.

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Lactuca and Eschscholtzia: Herbal Allies for the Whole Family

This blog covers wild lettuce and California poppy, their constituents and uses, medicine making techniques, plant communication, sustainable wildcrafting techniques, and how to determine dosages for children.

*Note: If you are a busy, frazzled parent and must get your hands on some of this medicine now, you can purchase it online from Mountain Rose Herbs or go to your nearest health food store.

These herbs are of inestimable use for families with young children. Although they’ve both been primary members of my medicine cabinet for many years, they have become doubly (no pun intended) important with young twins, because they can used to relieve nighttime teething symptoms for the whole family. When mom and dad have frayed nerves and are hyper-aware at night after having been repeatedly roused, a little wild lettuce and poppy go a long way. Similarly, toddlers’ nerves will start to become frayed around the edges and their mouths will particularly benefit from these herbs’ analgesic and sedative properties.

Although wild lettuce (lactuca spp.) and California poppy (Eschscholtzia spp.) are not related, they are both in the class of calming, analgesic herbs that relieve physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety, and they both exude that sticky, bitter, milky latex upon being bruised or broken.

I prefer to use common folk names for Eschscholtzia—California poppy or copa de oro, because its Latin name (in addition to being a mouthful) came from the Russian surgeon and naturalist Eschscholtz, who landed on California’s shores in 1820. He was probably a good person, but I do question the mindset those who, upon landing in a place with its own complex ecosystem, history and society, name fauna that they have no personal relationship to after themselves. In the grand scheme though, names come and go, and the enduring healing powers of the plants remain. What we have control over is how we form relationships with these plants, and how we treat them.

I’ll get more into medicinal uses and medicine making instructions a little later, but this is a perfect segue to talk about sustainable wildcrafting. If your goal is to make physical medicine from a plant, it may be helpful to take a few steps back, and start with the goal of forming a relationship with that plant. Both of you will benefit in the long run. If the plant were a person, somebody who possessed amazing knowledge and healing power, you would likely approach them with respect and a genuine desire to get to know them in hopes that you may become a beneficiary of their wisdom. So while the physical healing properties of a plant will be passed on through its medicine regardless, the power of the medicine will be greatly enhanced when there’s a real energy exchange and mutual respect.

How to Connect with Plants, in Brief

Some people are at a loss at how to make a connection when plants and humans are such different creatures. This is where we really benefit from a shared evolutionary history. Although our mechanisms of physical operation are quite different, they are, at a more basic, essential level, similar. We are physical organisms who breathe, extrete waste, reproduce, have a desire to further life, have feelings and complex means of communication. Indeed, from an evolutionary perspective, plants are our elders. They created an atmosphere that was friendly to other organisms millions of years before humans showed up, paving the way for all animal life. Our relationship is symbiotic—in simple terms, we inhale the chemicals they exhale, and visa versa.

Long before plants’ chemical constituents were extracted and their behavior observed under a microscope, humans learned, in an intimate, experiential way, how to heal with them.

So approaching a plant with the attitude that there are more similarities than differences gives you a leg up. Communicating with plants doesn’t have to be a long, painful drawn out process, either. Start by sitting down and saying hello. Speak out loud—introduce yourself. Tell the plant a bit about who you are and where you come from. Touch it (if it’s safe). Smell it. Observe its environment. Are there many of its kind growing here, or few? After you introduce yourself, it’s nice to leave a little gift. Tell the plant about the gift. My favorites are a piece of hair plucked from my head (it carries your DNA signature), a bead or something made with human hands (plants think it’s a novel thing that we have opposable thumbs and are particularly titillated when we use them to engage in beauty-making pursuits), or a pinch of cornmeal and tobacco. Make an effort to open your heart to the plant. I mean sit there, breathe into your heart and really feel it opening.

This is how it begins. You don’t have to do anything more than this—just sit with the plant whenever you have a few minutes to spare. Touch it and say hello when you walk by. If you play a musical instrument, play to the plant or sing to it. Lie down next to it under a full moon at night. Kiss its leaves or take them into your own hand and feel the energy pulsing between you. Eventually, if you listen with your heart, you will begin to perceive the plant speaking to you. It may sound like your own voice in your head any you may question it, but keep listening. Once you are able to hear the plant speak to you, it may share specific instructions on how to use its medicine. Cultivating an attitude of patience, openness and suspended judgment and expectations (mostly of yourself) is beneficial. Purchasing, or making (instructions in another blog post) a flower essence and taking it regularly can also create further opening.

When you feel the time is right, you may proceed in harvesting the plant for medicine according to the permission it gives you. In general, be judicious about harvesting. Make sure you’re harvesting in an area where the soil isn’t contaminated and where the plant is plentiful, and only take what you need, or less.

California Poppy

California poppy is in the Papaver family, a relative of the opium poppy, so think sedative but with a far, far milder effect than opium. Indeed, it is safe for use with children, and although written records of this go back to first European contact, people living in poppy’s habitat have likely been using it with children for thousands of years. The plant is best harvested in mid-summer when it’s beginning to go to seed. I sparingly harvest some of the flowers, leaves, stems and immature seedpods, where the content of isoquinoline alkaloids are highest. Mature seedpods dry out and are best left preserved to replenish next year’s stock. Sometimes I’ll go back and harvest the roots of a single plant a couple months later, in early fall, and combine it with the leaf-flower-seed tincture once they’re strained for a stronger kick.


California poppy is appropriate for infants and children in cases of over-stimulation and over-tiredness, when they are out of their routine and cranky. I bust out the poppy tincture when my toddlers have had poor sleep for more than a night or two in a row due to teething pain. It addresses the pain as well as the sleeplessness. It also has antispasmodic properties and can be used for a hot, dry cough, although I prefer lactuca for this use. Similarly, it’s a great adult remedy for insomnia brought on by over-stimulation and over-exhaustion/exhaustion.

In higher doses, it induces a pleasant, warm feeling of relaxation and letting go—the proverbial “chill pill,” which makes it great for winding down in the evening after situational stress, or in a state of anxiety, or with premenstrual tension accompanied by general muscular skeletal tension, headaches and uterine cramps.

California poppy is contraindicated for glaucoma and should be used with extreme caution or replaced with skullcap for pregnant women.

Wild Lettuce

I absolutely love this plant (my stepdaughter would say, You say that about all plants, Bethy). Well, what I love in particular is its appearance, somewhere between dull, foreboding and primitive. It has a single line of spikes lacing the back of its stem and smaller spikes on the backs of the leaves, and looks positively weed-like—a weed of the ugliest and most sinister variety. If you break a leaf, the milky latex drips and oozes out abundantly, and can be applied directly to burns. Its nicknames include acrid lettuce, prickly lettuce and little opium. One of its primary constituents is lactucone, and it also contains a small amount of hyoscamine. Like California poppy, extracts of lactuca are completely safe and non-addictive.


Lactuca is a bitter, cooling herb that acts very similarly to California poppy, as an analgesic and sedative. It’s perfect to address the muscle tension and anxious mind that build up due to acute stress and sleep loss. It’s my very favorite cough remedy for hot, dry, clingy coughing fits that won’t let go and act up particularly at night. A good dose of lactuca will bring deep sleep and relief to the bronchial region. It is also safe for children, although poppy is always my go-to, perhaps just because its personality seems to resonate so well with kids.

Wild lettuce fun fact: All cultivated garden variety lettuces will eventually turn back into their wild form if left alone for long enough. She cannot be tamed, this one.

Wild lettuce is best harvested around the same time of year as California poppy, right before it goes into bloom or during bloom.

Making Tinctures

The best menstruum for both poppy and lactuca is alcohol. When I make herbal extracts, I follow the folk method. Since whole plants are a beautiful symphony of chemical constituents, they cannot be patented and used to make a profit. Therefor, by its very nature, plant medicine is of the domain of the people—it belongs to everyone. So plant medicine should be accessible to everyone. To make a simple poppy tincture, fill the appropriate sized mason jar ¾ of the way with plant matter (semi-loosely packed), then fill the jar to the top with vodka. My old standby is Shmirnoff Blue Label, which is an appropriate strength (50% alcohol), but lately I’ve favored artisanal, locally produced, organic vodkas, which are a slightly lower strength (40% alcohol). Make sure your tincture is labeled, give it a good shake, make sure no plant matter rests above the liquid level and place in a cool, dark place for 4-6 weeks. You can check on it and shake it up periodically for good measure, or charge it outside under the full or new moon and if you wanna get witchy with it.


After the appropriate time has passed, strain the tincture through a mesh sieve lined with cotton muslin. When the liquid has passed through, gather the muslin around the plant matter and give it a gentle squeeze, then discard the plant matter in the compost and wash and re-use the muslin.

Store your tincture in a dark glass jar in a cool, dark place. It will keep for several years in these conditions.

How to Determine Dosages for Children

This information comes from Rosemary Gladstar. There are two methods to determining dosages for kids.

  1. Young’s Rule: Children’s age divided by 12 plus the age. Dosage for a 4 year old would be 4/12 + 4, or 4/16ths, or ¼ of the adult dosage.
  1. Cowling’s Rule: The year number of the next birthday is divided by 24. If the child is 3, turning 4, 4/24 is 1/6 of the adult dosage.

The important thing to remember with herbs is that the more sensitive, or open the nervous system is, the more powerful the medicine will be, which is why kids do great with homeopathics. Think: less is more. Western culture is used to strong allopathic medicine in large doses—sometime we assault our systems with too much medicine. Herbs should be used with knowledge and caution with children. I have seen rampant over-usage of essential uses with infants and young children that can have negative long-term effects. So if you’re questioning the dosage, go with the smaller dose.

For my twins, who weigh about 22lbs, I give 7-12 drops of poppy in a warm bottle, and only at night as it can make them drowsy. I usually also add an ounce of strong chamomile catnip tea. My eight year-old weighs around 50lbs and she gets about a dropper full of poppy. I am sensitive and, I take about 2 tbsp poppy or lactuca to knock me out, and give a full shot to my husband.

I’d love to hear about your experience and adventures with these herbs! Post comments and questions below.

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Of Nicotiana, Datura, Belladonna and the Solanaceae Allies: Part I

Solanaceae, or nightshade, is an illustrious family of plants with a complex and colorful history, that populates the whole planet. Research has shown that chemical constituents in these plants cause apoptosis (cell death) in cancer cells and may also create lasting immunity to cancer.

Certain members of this family contain compounds (hyoscyamine, atropine, scopolamine and others) that cross the blood-brain barrier and trigger a psychoactive response. For this reason, they are both dangerous and extremely powerful, and earn their revered positions by those who use them medicinally and ceremonially as Teacher Plants.

In broad terms, Teacher Plants are used by adept practitioners to access information and experiences that lie outside the boundaries of default physical reality. There are many reasons a person, or group of people may consult with these allies, but their medicine is strong, swift, often results in ego death, and if they are not treated with the utmost reverence and respect, can result in insanity or actual death.

Datura stramonium earned its nickname as Jimson weed, or Jamestown Weed, when British soldiers were sent to quell the Bacon Rebellion in 1676. In their ignorance and disconnection from nature, they collected its leaves (which look and smell foul and give off a distinct aura of poison) and tripped balls for 11 days. Some of them likely never fully recovered.

Countless other tales of folly, danger, spirit walking, spell working, disease-curing, death, transmutation and beauty exist within the leaves, seeds and fragrant, heavenly blossoms of these plants, woven within a complex tapestry of plant-human relationships that stretch back millennia. However, there are many ways to receive their medicine safely without the risk incurred in physically ingesting them. More on that later.

Datura was the first member of the family I formed a personal relationship with. The first time I sat with the plant was on a chilly November day in a secluded, rocky beach on the Russian River. The giant, dried brown seed pods with elongated spikes were just beginning to crack open, revealing themselves as tiny bowls turned up towards me to display dozens round black seeds, as if taunting me to eat them. After clearing my energy, casting my circle and sitting with the plant for some time, I closed my eyes and began to drum. The spirit of the plant appeared as a woman dressed in white with a white skull outlined on her face against a black background.

IMG_4196She danced around the beach—a haunting, provocative dance—and stared deep into my soul. Then she beckoned me to come to her and an elevator appeared around us. Even as I stepped in, the elevator seemed to drop thousands of feet. Seconds later, we reached our destination: a hell dimension. As I stood by her side, I saw thousands of grey, silty shadows with faces buried in their twisted hands, lost in a madness of their own making. They walked right through each other, too lost in their pain to even notice each other. She must have heard me silently asking to leave this place because we were immediately back in the elevator and now blasting upwards towards the sky. At our destination, she stepped out to face me and she had transformed into angelic figure so bright I could barely see her. I could hear a pleasant, high-pitched resonance and I felt such a resplendent, warm, full feeling in my heart that I almost burst into tears of joy. And then, after just a moment that felt like its own eternity, we were back again, me and the skull-faced woman, and she was dancing again on the rocky beach.

This first teaching showed me something that has been reinforced countless times over the years: the teacher plants can lead you to heaven or hell—they are great amplifiers of human emotions. If there are unpleasant and painful fears lurking beneath the surface of our being, the teacher plants will show us. They will illuminate the pain and open a doorway to the other side. Sometimes walking through the pain feels like death itself, and dismemberment journeys (experiencing death through various kinds of dismemberment in a trance state) are quite common.

datura1They are also gatekeepers to the heavenly dimensions, as their essence exists in a state of consciousness of pure love and creativity. They can teach us to live like they do—our consciousness dwelling in love and creativity while our physical body inhabits 3D reality. In this way, the Teachers help us to remember the spiritual law as above, so below, as we begin to transform physical reality into a more loving, forgiving place through the alchemical process of transmutation. As we weave these realities, or states of consciousness, back together, we confront, befriend and shed many deep, rich layers of pain and grief, and slowly begin remembering to trust in the absolute power of love.

It’s not just the teacher plants that have the ability to guide humans in our journey back to harmony, its all plants. The teacher plants just speak the loudest—they have the strongest personalities. Working with them requires the utmost respect and humbleness—something we are not used to practicing in Western culture. I spent many years learning to communicate with common weeds, medicinal herbs, flowers and trees before opening communication with the Teachers.

Datura, tobacco and belladonna have become a triumvirate of allies for me, assisting in the re-alignment of divine masculine and feminine essences in the body, and their balanced expression through the heart.

The teachings of these plants and ways to safely work with them will be discussed in more depth in Part II.

Do you have questions, or would you like to share your own experience? Please add a comment below.

As it is in the as above, may it be in the so below, that love is all there is.

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Prayer for My People

I come before you today
humbly, to ask your forgiveness

You see, my people are lost

My People! Those whom I love most dearly
have lost the way to love

My People! Great Seers and Visionaries
once found themselves in a time of growing struggle and strife

As the pain grew, they began to fear

In the darkness of their minds, they began to believe
they had done wrong

And in their wrongdoing, deserved judgement. They began to believe
they were not enough

This fear obscured their hearts’ truth, and, looking within, saw only darkness
and turning without, saw only the same reflected

And thus, they embarked on a path of great destruction, turning to every corner of
Earth and Sky
and lashing out in anger at that which reminded them of their own pain

Oh My People! My people! In your pain, you attempted to
stamp out cut down cut off burn down maim mangle rape kill and bury

That which gives and feeds life
wishing, blindly hoping this would ease your pain!

My People, having long since forgotten
the Ecstasy of Communion

In their isolation, began to feed on fear

know the story.

This is why I come before you today
humbly, with prayers for forgiveness in my heart

And with a message:

I am my people

Every seed of fear, misuse of power, act of hubris
exists within the fertile ground of this human body

And because of you, I am learning to love this body

Because the openness of your gentle heart has stirred a remembrance within me,

I come before you with a great request

Please, see me as you

See me as you and all our people as Sacred People
that we may face this sickness together, and that together, we may nurse this
sickness back to health

Because the people are worthy

we are worthy of an invitation back into the Holy Circle

We are worthy
of a return to greatness.

Oh, my people! You are loved! You are worthy of love! You are worthy of great beauty!

Come! Come and hear the sweet drumbeat and dance together!

Come and play and be among your relatives, in safety!

Come and draw near to the heart of the fire
with all your ancestors and children

My People, with proud and shining faces, I see you for your beauty and strength!
for your soft heart that beats the same color blood as mine
blue like an eternal, circular river

We are all stirred by the same emotions, so embrace me, dear ones

And in this embrace, remember that love has never really left us

Remember that love
is all there is.

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Message for 9/15/15

“Take council in your heart and build a flame of love there-kindle it through all types of weather. You have worn judgement like a coat to protect your heart, but as you kindle the fire of your heart, you will find the protection is no longer needed. Within the council of your heart, you will find connection and understanding with all things. Those who you now believe to be the most evil have simply forgotten not to become the coat they are wearing! When all beings understand each other enough to put down their armor, all will return to peace and oneness.”

– Satya

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