Archive for the ‘Practicing Animá Lifeways’ Category

Binary Disease: Online Rancor, Election Madness, Kindness & Diversity Protocol

Monday, October 31st, 2016



Treating Polarization & Online Attacks With a Diversity & Kindness Protocol

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

I have lately felt besieged by both online pre-election stridence, and upset at the way some uncaringly attacking their associates.  I am also inspired by remarks on this very problem by the venerable Rosemary, pulled from the 21st Century Herbalists book interview with her I’ve been excerpting for the upcoming Winter issue of Plant Healer Magazine.  I hope you give this post some thought, share it on FaceBook, inspire reasoned discussion, and help counteract counteract binary thinking and polarization, a perceptual disease that could rip apart our alternative community if left untreated.

|ˈbīˌnerē, -nərē|


1 a grouping, system, or notion, broken down and divided into two parts

We exist within an ever more binary paradigm, brought about by what I call the Binary Disease.  It is a disease infecting our society as ourselves, spreading by contact and example through entertainment, news and social media, with little research going into its prevention or cure.  In fact, it has even infected the community of natural healers, health providers and caregivers, much as it has the rest of our politic and culture, making it harder for people like herbalists to do their vital work.  Left unchallenged and unchecked, it can and will disorient, divide, and weaken us.  It is, as we speak, working to alter our very natures, resetting our traditional proven methods for interacting, evaluating, negotiating, compromising, adjusting, evolving, bringing together, getting along, influencing, and thus contributing to the wellness of each other and our world.

Symptoms of Binary Disease include:

•Increased inability or willingness to hear

•Gradual to complete loss of objectivity

•Loss of one’s reasoning facilities, or a growing unwillingness to utilize one’s ability to reason

•Expressed or feigned certainty, adamance, and righteousness

•Increasing mistrust of differences – of opinion, appearance, etc.

•Delusions, such as imagining it is fair to disenfranchise right-wingers but not progressives 

•Manifest disdain for other herbalists’ conclusions, approaches, or techniques

•Visibly increasing intolerance for not only disagreement but nuance

•Tending to be more reactive than response-able, more victimized than proactive

•Avoidance of interaction with anyone imagined to hold different views than oneself 

•Keeping company only with those who share the same views and lifestyle

•Increasingly viewing everything as “either/or,” good or bad, and people as “us” and “them”


Through the course of this disease, polarization and factionalization become accepted as the new norm, once praised “free speech” gets recast as an offense of the privileged, diversity of perspectives is demonized even by some who champion racial diversity, and root causes remain unaddressed as we blame some “opposing team”…all while human reason, diversity and unity get sicker and die.  


Pernicious Polarization

polarize |ˈpōləˌrīz|


1 to divide or cause to divide into two sharply contrasting groups or sets of opinions or beliefs

What a waste of brilliant energy.”

                                                    –Rosemary Gladstar

The very notion of binary is largely unnatural.  There is not just life and death, but infinite degrees of consciousness and life.  There are unlimited shades of gender, not just the touted male and female.  There are never only two options in any situation, no matter what the hell we’re told.  There are limitless shades of colors, not even in the darkest of our collective nights is everything ever just black and white.  Nobody can be measured simply good or evil, no matter how clearly benevolent or harmful their acts may seem.  Every human is a complex mix of traits and actions which we assess as degrees of good and bad depending on the context, our vantage and perspective, past experiences and future hopes, needs, fears, and aims.  Nothing and no one is as simple or as separate as the Binary Disease would leave us to believe.

gender-binary-response-72dpi gender-binary-bites-72dpi

I am writing this piece in a national election year, a period when it proved impossible to tune into any media source or social media platform without being barraged with unreasoned attacks – not only on the deeply flawed candidates, but on each other’s associates and friends.  Discourse disappeared as reason suffered, and it was nearly impossible to criticize the anti-constitutional pro-elitist and anti-freedom tendencies of either without being loudly and unthinkingly attacked by online mobs.  Meanwhile, the greatest enemies of freedom, humankind, and all of natural life, are the same profiteering one-tenth of one percent who pull the strings regardless of which party holds office.  By focusing our attention on the trumpeted dramatic differences in tone or on a few hotbed issues, the destructive ruling elite elite effectively keeps us the electorate distracted from the greatest threat to liberty, justice, and the environment, that has ever existed: the rapid concentration of wealth and thus influence in the hands of an ever smaller percentage of the population, a concealed ruling class that is uncaring, unethical, and unjust.  Most of us will never even hear the names of these parasitical despots, so adept are their lawyers and media manipulators at fixing our gaze.  Like stage magicians, they manipulate our attention away from the obvious mechanics of their tricks.  But as in the classic book and film “The Wizard of Oz,” we have only to step out of their thrall and outside our group-thinking team or choir and pull back the veil: “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”  


There are only two choices in the election, we were told, and it wasn’t supposed to matter that both choices were in different ways dangerous and unhealthful.  So it is with the big news outlets, with the two most polar getting most of the audience.  They are not only an effect of this process, but also its purveyor, vectors transmitting the Binary virtual-virus from hate filled newsroom to their half of the viewers.  Whether it be the so called left leaning CNN or “ or self named “conservative” FOX network, biases are proudly championed rather than either avoided or denied.  In both cases, viewers are subjected to a comparable degree of closed-minded fundamentalism and party-line cliches.  Both networks appeal to our greatest fears, separate us into opposing and un-considering camps, stir our reservoirs of moral indignation, incite us to either circle the wagons and raise the walls, or else light the torches and silence or expel the “others.”


Social media such as FaceBook and Twitter also have an extremely polarizing effect on discussion, thought, and potentials for agreement.  The programs’ algorithms determine what traffic we see, and those we agree with most end up being the majority that we read, limiting our exposure to a diversity of new and contending ideas, and thereby accelerating the spread of Binary Disease.  The focus on approval and anxieties about being unaccepted and “unfriended” drives users into competing “Amen corners” where agreement is assured and nearly total, and where strident derision of those outside the group is easy and encouraged.  It becomes first easy, then the modus operandi, then de rigeuer, to disrespect.  This disrespect, whether raging or jaunty, is humiliating to the recipient, and disenfranchisement combined with humiliation is a perfect recipe for the creation of the very monsters we might wish to be relieved of.

3D render illustration of social media shaming button

Additionally, separation into polar factions means that most attacks come not from the people whose actions we fear most, but from the very people we share the largest number of priorities with, and from whom disapproval or betrayal is hardest to take.  The greatest damage to the fabric, cohesion, effectiveness and spirits of a community – including the loving community of care givers – may be the in-house shaming, internecine bloodletting  and fractious humiliation that Binary Disease enables.

Game of Thrones



Individuation & Separation

To be really healthy is to be both vital and whole.  This wholeness is an amalgam of dissimilar members with varying roles and approaches, interacting in individual ways which in concert contribute to the entire community.  It is a product of dynamic diversity, fed by creative individuation, and not of entrenchment, conformity, purity or “correctness” of any kind.

There is a huge difference between healthy individuation and septic separation.  Individuation in nature is variety and adaptation within the context, pattern and purpose of the whole.  One develops individual traits, abilities and propensities in relationship to one’s environment, including all other beings.  Individualization can usher in what will become beneficial adaptations among an entire population or even species, in relationship and response to its ecological community and habitat, and apart from it.

What contributes to polarization is not individuation but separativeness, and this separative momentum is abetted not by individuality but by polarization, factionalism, and class.  If we are ever tempted to see things in terms of opponents, there are no enemies more deserving of our defense than this disease of polarization, our self-segregation into binary blocs and head-nodding coterie.


This is not to say there is no need for rejection sometimes, the eschewing of the mean spirited, unjust, and harmful, with is crucial to ours and society’s healthful development.  Nor is confrontation always wrong, it can prove crucial in the face of  immense institutionalized inequity and terrific forces of destruction.  But putting everything on a polar scale of “good” and “evil,” and aligning with cloistered groups who think like us, is to misunderstand the nature of reality and contribute to the polarization that divides us, turns us into chanting team fans, makes us ignorant of all outside our teams, makes us ugly and unkind, and helps perpetuate the very conditions and injuries many teams scream about.

Oneness, not sameness, is a fact of the universe.  We are inevitably different, yet invariably related.  And we can rightfully oppose, but we can never be opposite.  Natural living beings do not seek to be or see themselves as the opposite of anything else, only to be wholly, effectively, satisfyingly themselves.  Life seeks to flourish (not survive!), to absorb new information and benefit from lessons (not to resist new ideas!), to evolve (not rigidify!), to celebrate and express (not whine or repress!), and to diversify (neither conform. nor toe the line!).

It is the shared values and customs of a community or tribe that preserves their group identity, but is it is diversity and change within its members that makes truth, understanding, improvements and healthy changes possible.  This is only possible when we truly listen to other perspectives and other peoples’ ideas, feelings, and criteria for decisions, and when we can integrate those differences into our patterns of knowing and acting.  We are made more effective, and therefore safer, through increased awareness of the source and often validity of other groups’ fears, needs, and intentions.  Silencing free expression and amicable debate reduces awareness and understanding.  Stifling the offensive makes serious offense more possible.  Shaming those who hold objectionable views makes it more likely they will act out in ways that hurt us and themselves as well as the living planet.  Misdirected anger not only damages our diverse community, it wastes our finite hours, our energy, and the vehemence that might be better aimed at the most harmful notions, presumptions, attitudes, habits, morays, dogmas, injustices, regulations, and institutions of our times.


Picking Our Targets: The Enemy is Us

“I think that we are our biggest threat.  Somehow, over time, we’ve developed very strong egos that want to make us ‘right’ and others ‘wrong’, our way the best and others not so good.  We let it get in the way of seeing the bigger picture, and end up fighting amongst ourselves.”


Clearly, we need to work harder to address issues, to confront and either evolve or rectify.  This is most effectively accomplished when we confront harmful concepts and acts, instead of humiliating any perpetrators.  We need to carefully pick the targets of our indignation and recriminations.  When we do identify and prioritize the people, businesses and institutions that perpetuate harms, our response needs to be one that makes betterment and healing more possible, not less.

After a lifetime of taking actions against the profiteers, manipulators, and agencies of injustice, classism, and destruction, I could fill hundreds of pages naming the most blatant progenitors and delivery systems of evil today.  From corporate giants in immoral enterprises from tar sands mining companies and nuclear weapons manufacturers, to rabid bigots and rogue, protestor-beating cops.  But given that we and our self-limiting biases are such an integral enabler of the disease cycle, we might want to stop thinking in terms of targeting and punishing altogether, keeping mending and bettering and healing our mission and forte instead.

Without a doubt, we need remain witness to the utterances and acts of our associates and friends, helping keep them honest and open… as well as stay on as questioners, fact checkers, assessors and evaluators of the deluge of supposed ‘facts’ being bandied about for various reasons.  It is only our responsibilities – our ability to respond – that function as a reasoned human counterforce to delusion and lies, to oppression and harm, to the current bifurcation of our healing movement into incompatible extremities.  We can, however, respond in ways that are more reasoned, open minded, receptive, purposeful, just, considered and considerate.  We need to care about not just the issues that matter to us, but about the people who do not share our ideas or values, and about the diversity and wholeness and vitality and future of this living Earth.


Diversity Treatment Protocol

“Diversity is where strength resides; all of us who love nature know this to be true. The more diversity within a community, the greater the strength of the community.”


In the case of any disease or ailment, one needs to:

•Make an accurate diagnosis

•Decide what the preferred or ideal outcome might be

•Determine the least harmful and likely most helpful treatment to facilitate that outcome

•Instigate or administer that treatment

•Monitor effects and results

•Modify and improve treatment as needed

When it comes to Binary Disease, a positive outcome might be the recognition that we are in the eyes of different groups the “others,” and that what we may see as “others” are in the most important ways “us.“. Communication that really communicates, which requires listening as well as speaking.  The speaking of truth and expression of understanding and concern.  Discussion that stimulates new ways of thinking.  Critical analysis rather than unthinking criticism.  The identification of common threats and shared problems, where and how they manifest.  And alliances for investigating, addressing and remedying them.  


We may thus identify an insidious trend towards following the “party line” of our chosen affinity groups.  We can observe symptoms, such as the fact that dogmatic rancor is getting worse, as exchanges are filled with unkind criticisms devoid of any real critical thinking.  We might determine that the natural immune system has been compromised by the Binary Disease, and is in need of herbs that help stimulate its immune functions, making us less thin-skinned and less likely to react, making it easier for already existing open wounds to bind and heal.  Rather than treating symptoms, we get better results by addressing and affecting the condition’s underlying causes.  If someone demonstrates displeasure, agitation and anger, we might realize it grows out of insecurity and pain, and therefore offer an infusion of recognition, understanding, acceptance or assistance.  A potential harm may need to be brought to light in order to be  halted or prevented, but we may choose to do that respectfully and reasonably.  We hopefully watch closely for effects and results, and then adjust our treatments accordingly.

In the case of social media, the gentle folk – the balanced reasoners and peace makers, the still sensitive souls whom are as yet neither calloused nor inured – regrettably tend to go silent online after being rat-packed for their attempts to understand or accommodate, assailed or dismissed because of their public statements of accommodation and hope.  And yet, it is the their voices – your voices – that are most essential if there is to be any return to productive reason, to compassion, pluralism and balance, both online and in society writ large.  As with a “stagnating liver,” a stimulating herb may be called for, in the form of a wide variety of voices, diverse thought, expression, creation, and solution.  An “angry inflamed liver” can be treated with calming herbs and anti-inflammatories, suggesting a strategy in which conditions are calmed and inflamed feelings cooled.  Even in rare but dangerous situations requiring immediate intervention, every effort must be made to neither inflame, exacerbate, or over-medicate.  We don’t want to try to enforce our own regimen, our group’s standards for health and behavior on others, as that would only encourage them trying to impose their ideas and traits on us.

While it is the shared values and customs of a community or tribe that preserves their group identity, it is diversity of and within, its members that enables truth, understanding, improvements, innovations, and healthy changes.  We need to deeply listen to a diverse range of perspectives and other peoples’ ideas, feelings, and criteria for decisions, and integrate those differences into our patterns of knowing and acting.  We are enriched, informed, stirred and stretched by diversity.  We’re made more effective, and therefore safer, through increased awareness of the source and often validity of other groups’ fears, needs, and intentions.  Even those forms of diversity and divergence that we find most challenging or discomforting, together contribute to ours and herbalism’s health.  Silencing debate reduces awareness and understanding.  Stifling the offensive makes serious offense more possible.  And shaming those who hold objectionable views makes it more likely they will act out in ways that hurt us and themselves as well as the ecology and integrity of the planet.

This is not to say there is no need for determined rejection, for the eschewing of the mean spirited, unjust, and harmful, something which I consider important to our’s and society’s healthful development.  Nor is confrontation always a bad thing, it can prove crucial in the face of immense institutionalized inequity and terrific forces of destruction.  The culture of shaming must also be challenged wherever it permeates, which can only be done by speaking out on behalf of the shamed.  But being judgmental without nuance, critical without consideration, and confrontational without weighing effects, harm, and the many possible consequences, damages us as well as other people and even our own aims.  Putting everything at one or the other end of an extreme polar scale of “good” and “evil,” and then aligning  ourselves with cloistered groups who think like us, is to abet and spread the Binary Disease, contributing to the polarization dividing us.  It can turn us into chanting team fans, and contribute to our ignorance of everything outside the perspective and precepts of our rah-rah groups, in the end making us ugly and unkind, and helping perpetuate the very conditions and injuries we oppose.


A Dose of Kindness

I believe in part we’ve forgotten the healing power of kindness.  If there’s one thing I think we’re missing not so much among herbalists, perhaps, but with humanity in general, it’s the ability to be kind to one another, and to listen deeply.  Then we might be able to move forward in a better way.”


Binary disease can be greatly reduced among herbalists, even if never expunged from the whole of society.  The rates of infection can be dramatically reduced, and those who already suffer from its effects can experience a lessening of symptom severity.  While decoctions of diversity can jump start the healing response, it may be best to follow up with restorative tonics suck as a dose of old-fashioned kindness.  A kind observation goes well with unpalatable revelations, making them easier to swallow.  You need not “turn a blind eye,” only a kind phrase.  Genuine concern can make discomforting suggestions feel like strong medicine rather than infliction or attack.  People hear best, whenever we know we are heard.  We do less damage to others, when we feel related to them, accepted by them, a part of them on at least the bio-organism or species level, on a spiritual level or the level of shared loves and and allied purpose.


Fellow Members, Shared Purpose

In our community, the center or the ‘whole’ is our love of the plants.  

Knowing this, how come herbalists can’t honor our differences, embrace our diversity, recognize its importance, 

and gather around the center – that unifying love of the plants?”


Even if we imagine that not everything living deserves to be treated with respect, surely we can be respectful, reasonable and kind with those who feel the same love we do for plants, they who get a tear in their eye when digging up and harvesting roots, who dance a jig and squeak with joy at the first appearance of herbal sprouts, who like us choose a poorly paying career trying help people or nature, and who suffer the same repression by this society and defamation by the many corporate, governmental, and elite nemeses of herbalism and herbalists.  Surely we can be careful with our treatment of fellow care givers, be kind to those who kindly give of themselves to the plants who bless us and the people in need.  Whatever issues or attitudes, loyalties or fears led to our enlistment by polar factions, we are still fellow members of a wondrous and honorable coalition of the relatively few, with a common if sometimes taken for granted purpose, an essential plant-hearted mission even if we sometimes forget that.

We need in some ways to be more impassioned, responsive, adamant, forceful and insistent, without losing sight of the fact our work is to heal not wound.  The pertinent problem is not so much the imagined flaws and transgressions of some other group, but the Binary Disease that leads us to view them as “other” in the first place.  History shows us what terrible acts can be committed against “other” races, nationalities, and religions, and then handily justified.


Everyone we know belongs to the same tribe, a gang of well meaning misfits, idea explorers, and society changers, forming what underneath all the conflict is a single coalition of caring, as wildly divergent as we are, and as wholly diverse as we must be.

The honorable way – the way that honors those we raise issues with, and brings honor to ourselves – is to act accordingly.


(Please do spread and repost this piece, thank you!)


Autumnal Tears & The Glad Dance

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016


Autumnal Tears & The Glad Dance

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Fall is without doubt my favorite season in this wild river canyon, with its heady intoxicating mix of brilliant colors, the smells of carnally craving late season bloomings, the sparkling liquid tumult that sounds somehow crisper than it did just a few months ago in the long days of Summer.  And the light – oh the light! – with yellow shifting to deep and darker golds, the greens dense and forthright or transitioning into browns and bloody reds at the precipice of first freeze, the purples of the river cliffs glowing at dusk like 3D black-light posters.  And the blues unbearably blue, as blue as the music of the sweatiest jukes of the South, as blue as the tears in your most bittersweet of dreams.


Fall is when they talk about an opening between the worlds, a passageway between past and future,between life and death and then life again.  It is most obviously the mystical season, in a world that offers abundant examples of mystery and awesomeness in every month of the year.  It is when thing are most determinedly enlivened, the senses hungering and then inundated, creation and procreation in high gear out of an ancient response to the inevitability of balancing limits and inactivity, deterioration and deconstruction. 


The wildest flowering directly precedes the dagger cold of fatal Winter.  Autumn is the bucket list season, the season when annual grasses froth with an abundance of seed to help ensure their kind’s survival, when horned and horny animals bugle and trumpet and roar in the urge to deposit seed themselves.  In sight of impending struggle or demise, some species will rush to prepare to survive the months ahead, while others dance and fiddle in a final glad party.


Anyone who is truly awake and present cannot look into the face of nature, without confronting a reflection of their self.  I thus see my own hurried attempts to accomplish my goals in the high speed gathering of nuts by squirrels sensing the immanence of bare branches and frigid winds, and in the bears’ stuffing of themselves before hibernation I recognize myself reaching out for and pulling into myself all the knowledge and beauty and meaning and patterning of life into me before whatever spate of rest ever awaits me. 


It is the season when I feel the absence of those I have cared about and the loss of children I loved, with a sensation like I imagine an Alder might experience when an unavoidable wind tugs at their leaves and then one by one rips them from its limbs.  And it is the season of sensing my Alder-laced roots, toes spread beneath the ground I have long pledged to, served, loved, guarded, and celebrated, the season of fervent readying for what can always be counted on to be an unstoppable Spring.

Unable to look at things from a single perspective, in polar terms of abundance or longing, I find it is my season to cry, but also to laugh.  To accept there are limits to everything including giving, helping, and healing… while reveling in every caring effort, and celebrating every act of good.  That nature is being killed by the instruments and fact of the very civilization we are a part of, but that nature will outlive and re-form after even the worst of what a scared and distracted human kind might do to it.  That love is forever, but that things change, kids age, those we care about move on or succumb.  I do not pretend there are no hard times coming, no unpaid bills or frost covered outhouse seats, and I do not pretend enlightenment always prevails over an ignorant darkness or that life in its uncountable forms does not each reach a conclusion that is death. Therefore I gather and store food ahead of Winter’s relative scarcity, store solar power for illumination in what will soon be shorter days and longer nights.  And in keeping my balance, I find I also must notice all that is precious or caring or mysterious or lovely or true, must look to that which lasts, and must celebrate that which is temporal and passing or transforming and perhaps in time becoming unrecognizable.  After all, I can see the dawn through the thickest blackness before first light makes its announcement.  I won’t be sparing the earth my love’s Autumnal tears.  Nor should we wait until some final party, to saw a happy fiddle, or to dance our  thankful dance.


So get to dancin’!


(Freely RePost & Share)

Diverse: In Praise of Cognitive Diversity & NeuroDiversity

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016


The Value of Cognitive Diversity, NeuroDiversity, & a Diversity of Approaches 

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Violent attacks by anti-gay and political extremists are indicative of the fear of social diversity, just as fear of neurodiversity and differences in perspective/response manifests as intolerance for anything but the accepted “normal.”

The following defense and celebration of diversity is an advance excerpt from a new Plant Healer Magazine article, by Wolf Hardin… feel free to share it with others and thereby advance this important discussion in these troubling times.


Diverse |diˈvərs, dī-| adjective
1. very different; demonstrating a great deal of variety
Origin: From the Latin ‘divursus’: meaning to ‘turn in individual ways’

We might find differences interesting and the exceptional may excite us, but it is sameness and normalcy that are most often sought. When entering a crowded party, we may gravitate to those most like us. Parents are known to brag about how their child is “just your average, typical kid,” apparently relieved if they grow up neither smarter nor less intelligent than those around them, fitting in by looking at and acting within this ol’ world in the same ways that the majority do. In fact, when most parents are handed their newborn child in the hospital, the first thing they do is to count the number of her fingers and toes, giddily announcing that everything’s alright: “She’s normal!” Never mind that a sixth digit could prove immensely useful, or that it is the child’s unique personality, particular differences and peculiarities that will make her most precious and memorable.

Diversity – a multiplicity of differences – is typically shunned in the larger society. It is not just perceived racial and gender diversity that’s often found threatening, nor the diversity of political beliefs and contending religions, but also the biodiversity that impedes or contends with the monocultures of agribusiness, the old or innovative architectural diversity that detracts from a city’s chosen modern theme, the diversity of thought that can make the job of controlling human behavior more difficult for the managerial systems of the elite minority. Variety – generally superficial variations of the same accepted things – is both acceptable and profitable. Diversity, on the other hand, is by its very nature complex, unpredictable, and to some degree resurgent and unmanageable.

My teaching, publishing and organizing work happens not in society writ large, but within a special herbal community that is characteristically nontypical, and that with few exceptions vocally supports ethnic, biological, and some other forms of diversity. And yet, even here, there is often a reluctance to value differences in opinions and perspectives… and there’s a percentage of herbalists who hold that divergence – including neurological diversity – is a malady needing to be addressed or cured. If none of us shared a common neurology, and the ways of seeing and interpreting the world which follows, it would be hard to imagine us coalescing and functioning smoothly as families, clans, neighborhoods or nations… and yet it is differences in perception as well as form and function that open new doors for personal, cultural and biological evolution. And the health of earth and life, as well as of our own personal life experience, is contingent on the interrelationships between wildly diverse things, beings, and ways.

Let’s take a diverse look, if you will, at how these themes influence, impact, impede or propel.

Diversity sign

Tradition & Diversity

Tradition – the best as well as worst of traditions – depend on our doing some things in a closely similar way to our peers, elders and ancestors. A diversity of ways can feel threatening as well as confusing. Throughout history, we have understandably valued sameness for its familiarity and the relative security it provides. Change has often been tragic, and differences often proven dangerous. People who looked, dressed, and acted like us, were more likely to be related and less likely to be invaders from another place. Eating the same culturally prescribed meals prepared in the same ways, might logically reduce the chances of being poisoned by unfamiliar toxic species or improperly handled foods. H

Traditions require a degree of uniformity and continuity to retain their usefulness, meaning, distinctive character and flavor. At the same time, they cannot further develop, deepen, improve, or repurpose without a separate or even counter current within them that challenges and tests their assumptions, advances new perspectives and possibilities, and suggests divergent ways and forms of manifesting. Diversity is the milieu for cross pollination and exponential variation, increasing ideas and options, mixing new colors from out of the enlarged palette, and enriching and informing any participants.

The ideas and principles that we treasure most, often sounded bizarre, absurd, or heretical when first uttered by impassioned outliers and oddballs. They were often dismissed at first, if not outright condemned. People who look and sound nothing like the norm have often inspired or instigated revolutions in thinking, in science, in culture and our social relations.

Certain societies and traditions have found healthy ways of incorporating and utilizing the “medicine” of divergence, valuing those individuals that are different, the holy fools who act as a counterforce to the pretentiousness of religious leaders and arrogance of rulers. Those beset with visions might in some cases be assigned the role of shaman or soothsayer. They who seem to exist in their own separate reality, could be tapped for ways of seeing outside the self-limiting box of “knowns.” While homosexuality was punishable among some Native American nations, there were also examples of incorporation such as the accepted transgendered “Contraries” of the Plains tribes, riding into camp backwards, speaking in virtual koans that disrupted normal perception. In historic Europe, being just a little different could get you ostracized, whereas being extremely, flamboyantly different could result in appointment as a jester, an emissary, or an advisor. These days, it’s not uncommon for teams of product designers and software developers to include one “free thinker,” tasked to add novel perspectives and make wildly unexpected suggestions to a working group otherwise made up of the practically conventional and cautious. A health community is marked by a diversity of characters, philosophies, approaches, traditions, constitutional models, skills, treatments, and plant medicines… and the overall field benefits by any political, lifestyle, ethnic and gender diversity that we’re able to encourage and facilitate.

Plant Healer Diversity Poster-72dpi

NeuroDiversity & Autism

What is called “Autism,” like any other condition, exists as a spectrum of characteristics with a wide range of degrees. At one end of this spectrum, these characteristics can be so extreme as to make functioning in “normal” society nearly impossible without assistance, with every sight and sound seeming to assault the person’s senses, and all human expressions and gestures menacingly indecipherable. At the other end, someone with Asperger’s may not only have learned to adapt and function, but also to conceal their condition from casual observers.


The way that an autistic person might perceive and communicate is not objectively wrong, it is simply different… and one question, as always, should be “what is the message, lesson or benefit to evident differences?” Having a partner on the spectrum, I have witnessed the ways she is handicapped, but have also been witness and beneficiary of ways in which she is blessed and equipped. Because she thinks visually, my art and writing is perpetually fed new and improbable imagery, her proclivity for patterns brings new factors to light, her absence of filters means she expresses herself literally, and her inability to strategize means I can trust the in-the-moment sincerity of any purrings or outbursts. Not automatically knowing what “normal” people would do or say in a given situation, means she provides fresh if not always gentle input and response. She is a constant compulsive creator, and her obsessions have resulted in the development of helpful new herbal uses, the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference and Plant Healer Magazine. Her built-in intolerance for the clamorous and the pressing, the hurtful and the illogical, for great mistakes and common untruths, is – regardless of its neurological or psychological causes – both helpful, and commendable.


Looking to that percentage of autistic people who struggle to interact in society without anxiety and panic, it is natural for an herbalist or other health care specialist to want to address the distress and ease the unease. It becomes even harder not to label autism a disease, when the internet is full of organizations devoted to “stamping it out,” and scary stories attributing its cause to vaccinations, or a government conspiracy against the lower classes. In balance, we might look to contemporary literature and research linking Autism Spectrum “disorder” in some cases to creative genius, discovery and innovation.

Evolution is adaptation under stress, a process of bold experimentation with many forgettable dead ends and some truly significant new avenues of being and becoming. Social and cultural evolution has almost always been seeded, fomented and furthered by an odd and impassioned few, not by the norm nor the masses. Intellectual and societal breakthroughs have been spearheaded by rather abnormal thinkers and doers, crazed generals and mad scientists, mystics and marvels… and some of these exhibited what have been identified as autistic traits: Issac Newton challenged the religious and scientific establishment. America’s revolt against the English monarchy and the principles of its Bill of Rights owe much to the very Aspergy Thomas Jefferson. Alternating current (AC electricity) resulted from the unusual mind of the inventor Nicola Tesla, the very untypical Herman Hesse gave us ground breaking spiritual/philosophic books like Steppenwolf and Magister Ludi. George Orwell proved with his book 1984 that, contrary to popular citation, he could see that “the emperor wore no clothes.” Albert Einstein postulated theories of space and time that radically changed how we look at the physics of the universe. It took someone like Joy Adamson to personalize lions for the public in her book and then movie Born Free, and more normal people seem less likely to raise the priorities of animal conservation up to the level of those regarding human welfare. Pop music benefitted from the introspection of Nico, John Hartford, Ladyhawke and Mozart. Bisexual novelist Patricia Highsmith allegedly felt more comfortable with animals than most humans, and took lesbian lit to places it had never gone before. Alfred Kinsey wrote about human sexuality in radical new ways. There would one less Wonderland in our collective consciousness without the bizarre imagination of socially-handicapped Lewis Carroll, and Pink Floyd would have been a much more ordinary rock band without the psychedelic ministrations of Syd Barrett’s Autistic brain.*

celebrate neurodiversity

To the degree that we accept the value of ethnic and other forms of diversity, we must reasonably also accept the value of NeuroDiversity, the diversity of alternate mental, emotional, and perceptual states. Clearly, when herbalists and others work with clients with autistic spectrum or other supposed psychological or neurological “disorders” attention should be given not to cause movement towards some baseline or version of normality, but towards maximizing their positive experience, and assisting their healthful manifestations of their particular differences and individual gifts.

diversity kids no background

Cognitive Diversity & a Weirder Norm

However science eventually categorizes, describes or measures autism, and whether it is mapped chemically or electrically, it will likely always be helpful to explain it through the use of visual models and metaphors, such as referring to a persons cognitive “wiring.” An autistic person is thus said to be wired differently than average, resulting in different patterns of recognition, interpretation, and response. And this atypical wiring can result in atypical ways of experiencing, understanding, and altering or solving otherwise imperceptible, inexplicable, or intractable situations.

We live in a society rife with injustices, inequities and evils, in a time when keeping things the same would amount to perpetuating harm. Against a vast backdrop of normal and even institutionalized wrongs, from corporate hegemony to hateful dogma, exploitation, the destruction of nature and endless wars, any difference or change has at least a decent statistical chance of being an improvement, and it is only diversity of thinking that prevents the complete solidification and codification of the unhealthful condition of sameness.

It is perhaps sameness that we need to create a movement against, instead of against autism or deviance, divergence or diversity. Something like Societies For The Eradication of Sameness, for the sake of the world we hope to leave in one piece for our descendants. Websites raising funds to prevent the spread of unquestioning obedience and dangerous assumption. NGOs chartered to find a cure for the plague of clueless acquiescent normalcy. And I would add, with less tongue-and-cheek: a growing cadre of enthusiastic volunteers dedicated to the diversification of thought and approach, the diversification of monocultures and the monotheistic, of the monotoned, the monopolistic and monocratic.

At no point do I mean to say that autistics or other neurodivergents have an exclusive lock on originality and innovation, or even strangeness, nor that they are born to be the sole translators, arbiters or interlocutors between the worlds of the magical and the muggles, the normal and the wondrous, the mundane and the surprising. That mission belongs to all of us, the well-adjusted as well as the maladjusted. The relatively normal as well as we classifiable freaks. Cognitive diversity is no less important to our personal and societal health than biological diversity is to ecological balance and well-being of ecosystems. It is for us to develop and pass on to others an understanding of health and living that is conscious of differences and encouraging of diversity and divergence.

Face it, what we know of as the norm is going to get weirder as we learn more. If we look closely enough, we might see that “healthy” looks different depending on the person. And if scientists ever can locate, describe and map out cognitive variances including autism, I expect that we will find all people are “wired” at least a little bit differently from each other, that none of us are fully normal, that we all harbor and can express traits that are unusual, differences that distinguish as well as personalize us, and a diverse cognitive ecosystem by which grace we shine.

diversity hands in air

*For lists of more famous folks with apparent autistic traits, see:

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Open to Debate: Healthy Disagreement

Tuesday, January 26th, 2016

Debate & Oratory old poster 72dpi


–––––––OPEN TO DEBATE––––––

Vital Disputation & Healthy Disagreement

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Plant Healer Magazine & Events –

A recent article in Plant Healer Magazine opened up discussion on the topics of political correctness and cultural appropriation as relates to the practice of herbalism.  There was at least one person we will not name, who admitted never having read the magazine, and yet used social media to call the opinionated, adept and earth-loving author Sam Coffman a “Donald Trump.” 

Trump of Herbalism 72dpi

This same otherwise caring person also accused the publishers of the magazine of being bigoted for printing the piece.  This of course hurt the feelings of my co-editor, who grew up a runaway in a black ghetto, and who supports the emphasis we put on herbal access, justice and empowerment in spite of the heat that puts on us.  You might think this would result in our deciding to avoid running any controversial material or addressing any sensitive issues… but instead it increases our desire to raise important but difficult topics that impact our work and relationships, and to encourage healthy and respectful dialogue among the wonderful folks who often try to avoid debate.

Nullified 72dpi

Our herbal community places a high value on kindness and cooperation, with most being highly sensitive to the feelings and sufferings of others.  As healers, most of us would prefer to mend and confer than confront, even when dealing with a harmful untruth or unjust situation.  And there is also a tendency among some of us to treat conflicting ideas as both are simultaneously and equally true and applicable.  This well meaning effort to make all things compatible has the unfortunate effect of damping dialogue and debate, limiting the natural systems of testing and reassessing, and reducing the value of what is most real and effective.

Calvin disagreement 72dpiThis doesn’t mean we would be better off arguing all the time over some principal or “fact,” and we certainly suffer as a community anytime there is a personal attack, acidic gossip, online bullying, guilt-tripping sermonizing or self righteous shaming.  Internecine conflict among subgroups is divisive, and is one of the ways in which the dominant paradigm maintains its insidious control.  and yet it would be stifling if everyone thought alike, and debate – even heated debate – has the potential to lead to a clarification of our own understandings, as well as to the discovery of areas of agreement, shared values, and common aims.  Besides, our tribe is made stronger through a diversity of dissimilar opinions, opinions that change and adapt with each new bit of input and information, with each intellectual and moral challenge.

Do we require an apology from the facebook attacker? Not at all, I for one am pleased people care enough to raise hell.

That said, there is for almost everyone reason and opportunity to make amends.

It would be great if our movement were free of moralizing, bickering, and infighting, granted… but at the same time, we could also use just a mite more productive disagreement.  




1. lack of consensus or approval


Lack of approval and consensus can be a good thing.  Let me explain.

Consensus – getting every relevant person to agree – is in some ways optimal for groups involved in things that greatly matter, including activists making decisions that could jeopardize their cause or their lives, and healers of any kind on whom the health and well being of a person even partly depends.  On the other hand, expecting or holding out for consensus has again and again derailed what could have been meaningful action on the part of environmental and social activists from Earth First! to the Occupy movement, and the tendency of herbalists to adhere to “common wisdom” and “accepted truths” has at times reduced critical analysis and experimentation, hampered new discoveries and slowed the development of new perspectives.  Consensus can also lead to inflexible and potentially inaccurate dogma, with a diversity of thinking being replaced by unquestioning conformity and group-think assumptions.  Without variance, discussion and debate, herbalism is in danger of becoming increasingly dogmatic and inflexible.  We surely do not want to become like a posse of church ladies, tsk-tsk’ing the unenlightened, nodding in unison at each other’s righteous umbrage.

What I recommend is something between: seeking agreement and an alliance of values and approaches without constraining analysis and creativity, or dissing variance. 

Gandhi Honest Disagreement 72dpiWe don’t need to approve of something for it to have at least subjective credence and value.  We likewise do not need any other herbalist’s, herbal organization’s, or government agency’s agreement and approval to be correct in our opinions or methods, or valid when it comes to the roles we fill.  Not the conservative medical establishment’s approval, nor the approval of the meanly ridiculed politically-correct “PC Police.” 

And no matter how rationally or objectively “right” we are about anything, we undermine its truth and power when we try to insulate it from either the appraisal that tests it or the disagreement that contrasts, challenges, and thus enlightens and vitalizes it.





1. a disagreement or debate

It is the nature of a majority of caregivers to shy away from impassioned opinion, disagreement and controversy.  Many of us tend to avoid contention and blogs for disagreement 72dpithe “negative” even when it involves important issues of government regulation and certification, the intersection of social justice and herbal practice, of access and affordability, the healing of both the social body and our physical bodies – while those who are most predisposed to debate tend to be focused almost exclusively on social issues, and are often moral absolutists certain of the righteousness of their stance.  They may come across as loud and indignant, or alternately claim they are above the fray and only concerned with staying positive… in either case communicating possession of an elevated understanding and moral superiority even when addressing topics like elitism, racism, and hierarchy. 

This is not, however, a good argument against airing our differences and disputes.  Social issues cannot be separated from healthcare issues, and I think it would be great to see more disputation over the specifics of an effective herbal practice, an airing of strong differences of opinion about herb actions and uses, dosages and combinations.  Disputes over terminology and definitions, over invasive species and the impacts of human sprawl on plant and animal habitat, over how we present and represent ourselves to the rest of our contemporary society.  Disputes about the best soil to grow a certain herb in, which parts of the plant to use, and whether it is plentiful enough for us to ethically harvest. 

The effects on the community of a “shaming culture” that pillories individuals for their opinions are more caustic than any wrong-headedness.  And reasoned, compassionate disputes are so much less harmful to our community than social media attacks, backroom nastiness, hidden agendas, ignored injustices, or undisputed untruths.  Disputes are downright healthy whenever they inspire applied critical thinking, leading to an open-minded and reasoning analysis of our own cherished ideas as well as those of others.

Agreement handshake 72dpi“Dispute” is a Middle English word with origins in the Latin disputare meaning ‘to estimate.’  Its origins can be found in dis – meaning separate or apart – and putare meaning to “reckon.” To dispute is t0 risk the consequences of disagreement in making and announcing your thoughtful estimation.  This estimation requires separating out factors and features in order to better reckon their truths, relevance, and effects.  And we’d best apply it to every aspect of every thing.  Nothing is, as the saying goes, “beyond dispute.”  There is nothing that shouldn’t be explored and estimated, and then re-explored and estimated again!  No topic is too sensitive to be considered off-limits, and no examination should ever be dissed as heretical.  Look at things from one direction, then another, and then another, seeking not only the most comprehensive understanding but also the most healthful application or response.

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1. a discussion on a particular topic in a public forum, in which opposing arguments are put forward

For the past five years we have found it nearly impossible for us editors to get reader reactions to specific content, receiving instead simply general compliments on the overall mix of skills, information and ideas, perspectives and approaches in each nearly 300 pages-long issue of Plant Healer Magazine.  We have run anarchist urban wildcrafters next to conservative herbal gardeners, articles by Christian home-schoolers along with with pieces about traditional indigenous healers and by Goddess worshipping Wise-Women, the work of evocative folklorists beside that of exacting academics and scientists, and this diversity of experience and thinking has seemed to feed the consistent growth of the magazine as well as what Paul Bergner coined “a new herbal resurgence.”

It is, however, extra satisfying to me whenever any of our content has stirred passions to the point of online discussion, discourse and debate.  Heated conversations have at least the potential to add some light!  The expression “open to debate” makes sense, given that you have to have an open mind to be a fair and effective debater.

I greatly value those of our writers and teachers willing to voice strong opinions, while being open to the possibility of being mistaken… including Sean Donahue, Renee Davis, Charles Garcia, as well as Dave Meesters and Sam Coffman who continue the dialogue in the upcoming Spring issue of Plant Healer Magazine. It is the mission of this periodical and journalism itself not to push any agenda, promote any single tradition or approach, foster dogma or enforce any “party line,” but rather, to instigate estimation and critical thinking, to challenge every entrenched “status quo,” to encourage creativity, to showcase diversity of thinking as well as further those ways of living that contribute to human dignity and planetary well being.  It is our work – the good work – not only to spread empowering herbal information but also to seed and feed deep investigation of our themes and feelings, of our analysis, public discourse and debate… affecting and aiding others as we are able while making clear for ourselves what is real or not, from the stories we tell ourselves to the medicines we ingest and recommend. 

Debate illustration 72dpi

This doesn’t mean I want to sidestep issues of right and wrong.  It is wrong to call a writer a bigot because they dare address issues like cultural appropriation which have been troubling and sometimes capturing most of the attention of herbalists of late.  And I dare say it is right to speak out about how ideas of race, gender, class and privilege impact individuals, herbalism, and our usually shared aims of making this a healthier and lovelier world.  If you have to pin me down, I would say it is wrong to stuff our feelings, wrong to vent without listening, wrong to be personally hurtful.  And it is right – if anything at all is right – to notice, to feel, to care, to freely express and share… and to act on the urge to help that so often follows among all you deep feelers, culture shifters, and plant healers.

On the subject of healing and caring I reckon you agree with me.  But I thank you, anytime you don’t.

–Jesse Wolf Hardin

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Getting Back in Touch: Reawakening the Senses

Thursday, August 27th, 2015


Reawakening the Senses

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

“The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.” 

-Henry Miller

The first step in expanding and deepening our awareness is not developing the power to see far but to feel close, the necessary reinhabitation of our resensitized bodily selves in the present lived moment.  Whatever our individual variations on torpor, escape or turning away, our healing, growth and satisfaction hinge on our re-embodiment.

Come To Our Senses by Jesse Wolf Hardin

To be fully alive on this planet we must first “come to our senses.”  We experience the world and our place within it through not just our minds or even our emotional “hearts,” but through a unity of our entire being including our sensate creature bodies.  Oneness with the world begins as neither concept nor sentiment… but at the exact physical point where our bodies make contact with the living world we’re an integral part of, where our sensitive fingertips graze the velvety surface of lover’s skin or a particularly attractive leaf, where tasty meals and attentive tongues meet, where our bodies press into the giving ground that is both our mortal destination and terrestrial origin.  

Bodies evolved not simply as containers and vehicles for spirit and will but as receptors for the receiving of sensory information, as well as transducers (from the Latin transducere: “to lead across”) passing this information on to our immediate others, our community and culture.  In addition, it’s important to realize the planet as a living whole feels and experiences through its sentient constituent parts, responding and making adjustments according to the sensations and signals bodily, emotionally and energetically transmitted.  As the potentially most sensitized species on earth to date, our inherent purpose would seem to be to honestly and unreservedly experience, to awaken every sense and be maximally conscious and aware, to empathize with other beings to the utmost degree and then act to help further, heal and make better.

Some texts speak of how the senses “report” to the decision making mind where all input is processed, prioritized and stored.  But while they posit the brain as the exclusive housing of whatever constitutes human consciousness, in truth our awareness courses throughout the entire body in a shifting, informed chain of cell and hormone, communicative enzyme and electrical impulse.  We feel through the complex symbiosis of emotion and instinct that we sometimes call the heart, through the five physical senses of touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight, and those unmeasured faculties like intuition and precognition that scientists have lumped together as the “sixth sense.”  Those capacities labeled “extrasensory” are in actuality intrasensory and ultrasensory.  And when we are fully enlivened – fully residing within our awakened bodies – the result is nothing less than revelatory: a great revealing of hidden pattern and process.

Backlit Darner

Even the most extraordinary of sensory perception begins with and is predicated on our being – quite literally – in touch.  Touch is a primary aid to reconnection, a tool for the mending of the tether, a reminder of what is most palpably real.  It’s a fundamental way that we read the details of the world we’re immersed in, reinforcing our connection to all that is and thereby reinforcing our sense of place and belonging.  It’s also a way in which we express to those things we touch that we acknowledge each as a distinct and valuable part, and that we appreciate them as well.  Flesh to rock and fur, being to being.  Its importance is indicated by our very language.  When something affects us at a deep level, we call the occurrence a “touching” one.  When we start to feel detached from someone, we might say that we’re “losing touch” with them.  Someone suffering from a disorienting mental breakdown is said to have “lost touch with reality.”   Touching is the way we verify the sometimes contradictory messages we pick up through the eyes, testing any potential mirage with our inquisitive probing hands.  

Our skin is the flexible, permeable membrane that sheaths our organs.  It defines us as a form discernible from the interlocking forms that surround us, at the same time that it connects us to the world through the receptors in every inch of its sensitive surface.  This tactile sensitivity includes specific receptors for pain, temperature, and tactile stimulation from firm pressure to the stroke of a feather on a normally clothed stretch of skin.  Chemoreceptors, thermoreceptors and mechanoreceptors transmit information through sensory nerves leading up through the spinal cord and into the brain, where they are primary processed in the parietal lobe of the cerebral cortex.  Together they help the mind create a touch map, an image telling us where our immediate bodies end and the larger earthen body of which we are a part begins, sensing gravity and ground and thereby determining posture.  These amazing modalities make it possible for us to experience the air against our face as gentle pressure, temperature, wind in motion, or even pain if it blows hard enough.

Caring hands

The word “touch” originally meant contacting by “striking,” but in the evolved sense it implies an entirely different kind of contact, gentler, slower so as to pick up and transmit a greater depth of information and meaning.  We are linked to that which we touch, held by that which surrounds us.  We come to know the world through this touching, and the world comes to know us in the same way.  Touching is the act of contact and acknowledgment.  We touch with our eyes and are touched in return.  We touch the rest of the world we’re a contiguous part of with our ears and tongues and nasal passages as well as the surface of our skin.  “Contiguous” means touching… continuously!  Our inquiring minds might conclude that all things are interconnected, but it is only through our heightened senses that we can experience all things touching at once.  We can open to this by paying attention to the feel of air molecules as we stand in a subtle breeze, envisioning the great body of air simultaneously touching us and the birds above, touching at once everything that exists on and within the planet, touching the soil that in turn touches its ground dwellers, eventually coming to touch the earth’s molten heart.  

In the case of our eager and delicate mouths, they easily sense the touch of the spoon and swish of the tongue, distinguish the pleasant crispness of an apple or waffle from the luxurious smoothness of whipped potatoes or gentle waves of soup, the lovely Winter chill of ice cream and fresh pepper’s Summer heat, the curious coolness of mint and the pleasant burn of chili.  In addition, they can taste!  It’s generally accepted in the West that chemoreceptors – in the soft palate, pharynx and epiglottis as well as the tongue’s myriad tiny buds – are able to discern at least four distinct taste categories: sweet, sour, bitter, salty.  To this, Asian healers have traditionally added a fifth, umami or savory (think msg), and herbalists including Kiva Rose sometimes cite fattiness and pungency as others.  Neuroscientists and psychophysicists have additionally suggested metallic and water, combining with the rest of the core categories to create every known and possible flavor. 

It’s been found that South Americans, Asians and Africans are among those races with a generally heightened sense of taste, while 75% of Europeans and EuroAmericans have decreased sensitivity, and that women often have greater inherent capacity than do men.  This is in part due to a higher number of fungiform papillae, raised mushroom shaped bumps whose top surfaces are packed with taste buds.  It may also be due to a culturally reinforced degree of attention and focus that is more intense in the case of certain cultures… and a somewhat more sensitized gender.  These so-called “super-tasters” are an inspiration for all of us to greater tune into, stimulate, develop and test the capacity we’re born with.

Perhaps the most intimate of all ways of connecting, we taste by taking into ourselves the flesh of plant and creature, fruit and seed.  We are rewarded for the degree that we attend and focus, by the melt of soluble dairy fat and the tang of citric acid, the earthy depths of gravy and sweetness of the garden yam.  And yet, taste is an ability animals and humans alike developed not just to provide pleasure but to help us discern what is or isn’t wise for us to eat, to select what tastes like it will provide us with the nutritional elements our bodies request and require, and at times to instinctively recognize those flavors indicating ingredients which could either kill us or make us ill.  No wonder then, that someone is considered “tasteless” who doesn’t know clever from offensive, and we say they have “no taste” if they fail to notice when their clothes’ colors clash.  And we are likely to exclaim “it stinks” when either a movie or a dish of food is too objectionable to take in.

The nose makes contact with the larger world in ways only slightly more removed.  The scents it pulls in and takes the measure of are not abstract symbols, representations or stand-ins like the written word or computer code, but rather, actual elements of the bodies of loved ones and strangers alike, the unpleasant flotsam bubbled forth by fermenting compost, the miniscule airborne appetizers reeled out by whatever steaming cuisine trolls for our attention and enthusiasm.  Through the damp nasal passages and across our over 12 million olfactory receptors pass telltale molecules shed by the bodies of friends and flowers, or more accurately launched like agents of each thing’s being and expression, announcing its presence, and often if not always offering to communicate something to us.  We each draw in hormone laden perspiration containing useful information like sexual excitement or receptivity, anger or fear, whether or not we are awake and embodied enough to discern a message and its implications.  At the very least, the ability to smell has evolved in order to help us discern, meaning not only what to move towards but also what to move away from.

It’s said that for an animal like a dog, the world is a complex web of smells more vivid than the information gathered by the eyes, and that we can only distinguish a small fraction of as many scents as they do.  Even so, researchers have found that the average human can recognize up to 10,000 different scents, and even a mother with her senses permanently dulled by tobacco smoke can often distinguish her newborn from others by its smell alone.  Except in rare cases of hyposmia (inability to smell, usually caused by physical trauma), our inability to process these messages are a result of suppression and neglect more than physiological shortcomings.  Anyone who has ever suffered the congestion of a common cold, however, can attest to how bland meals can taste without the additional sensory input of the nose.  For a reason to credit the human nose, we can consider the example of a perfume maker whose focus and passion has led to better smelling, which in turn has deepened and broadened their perception.  And people born blind have often developed their other senses including smell to a degree the sighted folks may never know.  Researchers, seekers and shamans who have ingested psychedelic mushrooms or peyote have on occasions reported a stunning increase in discernible odors, an attention-wresting vividness described as almost overwhelming in the moment and sad to leave behind.  Each of these cases would indicate a natural human capacity for intense sensing that we can potentially arouse, exercise and thus maximize.  Plant Healer Girl

And there are more reasons for this deliberate development as well.  Think about how a particular floral scent can summon the visage of a past lover whether welcomed or not, or the way the smell of leather can so readily trigger reminisces of childhood rides on oiled saddles.  More so than any other sense, smell is closely interlinked with the limbic system, those parts of the brain like the amygdala and hippocampus that process emotion and associative learning.  The olfactory bulb that sorts sensation into perception is an essential organ of memory, mood and behavior, and any awakening and growing of this sensory capacity could deepen associative recall, tightening the weave of information and reflection, intensifying feelings to the point that they become hard to ignore and not tend, overall increasing our vital experiencing of life and this world.

So it is with the sense of hearing, so often taken for granted.  How often do even the most aware of us begin to ignore the music in the background, until the wondrous vocals and quaking strings seem to fade out into unnoticed and unremembered background noise?  Learn to block out the roar of jets over our heads, and in that way miss out on the conversations between wind and trees?  Or ignore the telling tones of the highway rushing past until the sound of screeching brakes causes us to stop in our tracks?  

Admittedly, not all sounds are even available to us, depending on how quiet they are or what pitch.  Higher ultrasonic and extremely infrasonic frequencies are out of our reach, making us naturally oblivious to the echolocation calls of bats as well as the deeper rumblings of signaling elephants.  There is, however, a wide range of audio frequencies that we can hear, from 15Hz and 20,000Hz, through which means anyone without hearing damage can powerfully discern, learn from, respond to, and thoroughly enjoy the world.  Sounds not only warn us of dangers before they get too close for us to react, and allow for complex communication between us that would be impossible without words, but they also describe the ever changing environment we live in and pass through, and afford us the pleasure of a planet’s native music, the rhythm of a drumming rain on a tin porch roof, the singing insects, the “shush, shush” that tall wild grasses make as they brush against each other to get our attention.  The laughter of children and the sweet sobbing of a woman who has loved and lost.  All sound is but a vibration in air or water that in turns vibrates the tiny bones in our ears and sends signals – like our other senses – to our lapping brains.… and then vibrates our feeling beings and spirits.  We can tune-in with our ears to the aural magic of all that surrounds us, practice hearing all the layers at once even when someone is talking to us, and quiet our own talking minds at times to fully give way to the tides of a favorite melody coming through the stereo speakers.

It is sight that I mention last, exactly because it is the sense we tend to use most when “looking” at the world, to the neglect of the rest.  And because it’s the way of perceiving that we can do from the greatest distance, while what we need is to literally come closer.  We say “I see” when we understand something, as if “seeing were believing.”  Visual perception, like all perception, is subjective.  What we perceive depends on not only the strength of our eyes and ability to notice, but also the subjectively developed perceptual patterns that we fit information into, and the belief systems or preconceptions that we harbor.  It’s not just culturally impressed standards but also subjective temporal attitude that determines whether we find a boyfriend or girlfriend beautiful or not.  A person in love may see only beauty in their partner, but once there are hard feelings between them, the same face may seem to hold no attractive features.  We’re not just talking about interpretation here, but the facts of what we consider we’ve perceived, just as ten witnesses to a crime may tell ten different versions of what happened even if they didn’t know the victims and had no preexisting bias.  Any stage magician can tell you that what the audience sees is what the entertainer suggests they see, directing focus, utilizing distraction, making hay of their existing assumptions and raising expectations.

Psychedelic Eye

Our visual system responds not to vibrations but to photons of light, the graduations of light and dark that created forms are perceived by photoreceptive cells on the retinal membrane.  The resulting neural impulses are processed hierarchically in the cerebral cortex, assigning prominence as well as meaning, deciding what is to be further assessed and what can be safely ignored.  It is that aspect of visual perception that we can best and most beneficially develop, making more and more of those decisions conscious, consciously choosing in the moment what should be focused on, remembered or acted on… with less and less visual information being discounted.  And increasing what we actually see is fundamental to the development of related visualization, realistic projection and foresight. One’s personal revelatory “vision” of the world, of their true self and their calling, is for whatever reasons only as vivid and accurate as the signals they perceive from the existing communicative world.  For that, we must remove the blinders of denial and dogma, illusion and denial, wholly seeing and feeling and living again!

removing the blindfold-72dpi

Before we try to reconfigure reality, we must first learn to wholly notice, clearly perceive and discern what is, undistracted by any delusion or projection.  It is up to us to come back to our senses, and in that way come back to the interactive world we are meant to be response-able, proactive, and joyous participants in. 

Woman Shimmer Sunset 72dpi

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The Shimmer

Sunday, June 21st, 2015


Following The Light of Our Interests, Passions, Obsessions, & Beckoning Opportunities

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

I have been thinking lately about a certain quality– that whenever absent, proves a major factor in our disinterest, dissatisfaction, loss of motivation or lack of progress. And a quality that, when blessedly present, can catch our drifting attention and stir our curiosity, awaken us to deep significance and previously unrecognized beauty. It can affirm our focus and course, or even our most individual purpose or special role. It can alert us to all those small and great things best able to excite and engage us, lifting themselves and us above the deadening norm and into an experience of wonder and revelation. The excitement, reconsideration and insight it brings can lead to action and movement, adventure and growth, the means for our greatest satisfaction. It is what I call the “shimmer,” since it seems to light up and animate only those things certain to have the most meaning in our particular, personal lives. Things which shimmer, are those which seem to us to glisten against a dull background, those imbued with an intensity of color making them stand out from a seemingly monochromatic field and context. They seem to have an almost otherworldly clarity about them, a translucence in balance with remarkable form and palpable substance. When we are children, before a certain age, nearly all things may shimmer for us, each apparently calling for our attention, communicating something we know could be important to our development and well-being. Which things shimmer is different for each person, and this is how you can recognize when a signal, a light, an insight, is for you.


Woman Shimmer Sunset 72dpi


There is something in faery mythology called “glamour,” a spell of illusion casting an aura of preciousness on the ordinary, a gilding that can make a plain rock glint like gold, and make that which we’d find worthless appear valuable and desirable. The shimmer is just the opposite. Rather than being an illusion that beguiles, that which shimmers for us is a truth and treasure revealed. The relationships that serve our spirits, hearts and purposes best, will not be those which are most normal, expected or predetermined, but instead, it is those relatively few relationships that shimmer and refract for us, complex, enlivened, opalescent, and utterly incomparable. Your true mate or “significant others” will shimmer. The friends which will fan your flames and ally with your missions will be those that even next to the nicest of other people will be shimmering in ways impossible for you to discount or ignore.


Water Shimmer 72dpi


Likewise, you might “like” where you live, and you may even have a practiced script describing all the entirely practical reasons you have for making what you call a “workable compromise”… but deep down you likely either remember or else can imagine a place, a village, a community, a mountain or valley or oceanside landscape that shimmers like nowhere else for you. This is what brings about the level of personalized bonding that we call “sense of place,” a blissful commitment to community and loyalty to land, a physical reality most conducive to our manifestations and growth.


PlantShimmer 72dpi


Not all of us can be sure of earning an income from doing the things we love most. Nevertheless, it would be unhelpful and unhealthful to resign ourselves to a lifetime of working at a job that has no meaning for us, that serves no satisfying purpose beyond a paycheck, that we find uninteresting and that brings us no great enjoyment. Life is too short, I believe, to get stuck in a shimmerless career. Many folks, including artists, musicians, and herbalists, give themselves wholly only to that which they have the greatest love and passion for, and in such cases what shimmers is not what we have so much as what we do.


HeartShimmer 72dpi


I am so grateful to have found shimmering love, against a historic backdrop of my failed or unremarkable pairings. So happy that this river canyon sanctuary still shimmers like magic even after years of intimate familiarity. So thankful that a cause and purpose shimmers for me, the awakening, healing, and bettering of the world I feel so integrally and ecstatically bound to. So glad to be able walk my path even at its darkest, proceeding from one beckoning shimmer to the next.


ShimmerMushrooms 72dpi


Indeed, much like our own private North Star, that which shimmers for us provides a beacon to follow if we choose, the light of our interests, propensities, and perhaps destinies, showing us a way to turn at the important forks on our personal life-trails. We never need worry about which way is best for us to go, if we are always as much as possible moving away from that which disinterests, disempowers or dispirits us, and towards what most piques, excites, catalyzes, uplifts, enlightens, thrills, fuels, and propels us personally. Don’t feel judgmental for discerning, distinguishing, and choosing between things – you are not putting other things down when you look past them to what shimmers for you individually… remember that they may glow for someone else. Consider this metaphor: Many if not all plants have some kind of medicinal action when consumed, but the exact species that can help a particular person with a certain condition is often one that surprises them in its unveiling and effects, shimmering most for those who most need its healing powers. We do not simply pick out what shimmers, what shimmers equally selects us.


Shimmer Flowers 72dpi


Pursuing gloss and glamour, wealth or recognition, can only lead to distraction and dissatisfaction, far from your spirit and heart, far from what the world really needs from you, and far from your heart’s desires. Or optionally, follow the shimmers, and you are following your heart. If what you do is truly a “calling,” it will shimmer for you, and if ever it stops shimmering it will be a sign for you to look beyond and move on. Find and give yourself to that special place and tribe that shimmers, regardless of how hard the search. Give your greatest love to the lover that shimmers, no matter how difficult, no matter who does or doesn’t approve. Give your greatest attention to your shimmering hopes, your shimmering needs and desires, your purpose or mission, your increasingly shimmering life.

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Anima The Vital Force by Guido Masé

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

Spiral Stone Tibradden


New Science, Vitalism, & Healing

by Guido Masé

Guido Masé is a clinical herbalist, herbal educator, garden steward specializing in holistic Western herbalism, valued columnist for Plant Healer Magazine, and esteemed teacher at the upcoming Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference atop New Mexico’s Sky Island (click on:  Guido’s teaching style is a good fit for Plant Healer publications and events, focusing as it does on conveying the interconnections within the human organism and between the organism and its surrounding ecology, with a constant eye to the amazing beauty such study reveals: at any level, and in many different “languages”, herbs mirror people, the plant and animal kingdoms grew up together as complements. Such a relational awareness provides meaning and context, critical elements to understanding and also to healing. Learn more about his work and the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism school programs at:

The following essay is excerpted from the Summer issue of Plant Healer Magazine, available by subscription.  To read an excerpt of an in-depth interview with Guido in an upcoming issue of Herbaria Newsletter, subscribe for free by entering your name and email at:


When I get to the top of a hill, or to a rocky outcrop in the forest, I like to take a moment and put my hands on the raw stone. It can feel hot, if it is exposed in the middle of a summer day; or cool, if it is deep in the shade of the forest. From here, if I slow down a bit, I can get a sense of the roots of the mountain, deep and rocky, cracked and trickling with water, deeper and deeper until it almost feels like I am in touch with a kind of consciousness. But are rocks conscious? Are they alive? Perhaps not in the traditional sense. Although without these rocky bones, the water would not flow the way it does. Streams and swamps would be different, soil would build up in different places. Different trees would grow, different birds would alight on different branches, we would walk different trails and build our homes in different ways. In short, without these rocks, everything would be different. Scoured by glaciers long ago, these stones are a vibrant, essential part of this valley. If the valley is alive, then the rocks must share a piece of its consciousness. Stones, plants, fungi and beasts co-evolved.

pebble stone spiralWhat does this mean? Can life forms be really simple – as simple as a pebble in the streambed? Can all the pieces of an ecosystem hold a kind of consciousness, maybe not exactly like ours, but still alive and perceptive? If you speak with healers from many different traditions, your answer will most often be affirmative. There is a vitality that courses through all of the world, from the waters of the ocean to the rocks of the highest mountains. There is vital force – and it may actually predate matter. It is pattern-organizing, it possesses understandable features, it is self-similar at many levels. Or so the story goes.

But this vital force, the élan vital, has been a discredited concept for over two hundred years in the Western system of thought. Those of us who talk about vitalism, about dissipation-adaptationnourishing this power in our gardens, our forests, our bodies and spirits, are ostensibly barking up the wrong tree: a tree that withered and died long ago. So it becomes very difficult, in academic circles, in writing, or even at family gatherings, to have conversations about vitalism, energetics, or other models that speak of qi, unseen forces, humors and balance in our physiologies. Energy systems are an archaic way of thinking. If there is an “energy” coursing through the universe, it is the dissipative force: everything is fading into a slow, homogenous dust. Entropy rules. Vitalism is dead.

Or is it? The Taoist masters talk about a “way” that generates all things, but also grinds them into dust. All around us, we see life increasing in richness. How can we reconcile the homogenizing force of entropy with the “clumping” and complexity everywhere? Many argue that this “clumping” is a rarity – and that may be the case – but it seems that, out of an initial clumpy distribution of energy in the universe, matter and life have exploded into greater and greater diversity in those rare places of high energy concentration. Why is this? Why did the dust surrounding our proto-star clump into planets? Why did the crust of our planet become so complex, when it was once mostly molten silicates? It all makes little sense, because concentrating matter into planets is the exact opposite of diffusion (and diffusion is a clear outcome of the entropic drive).

It turns out that built right in to the concept of entropy is a tendency to generate more and more complex structures. Jeremy England, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, spends his days analyzing dissipative structures: systems that take in energy and efficiently distribute it over a wide area. The systems in question are exposed to an energy source and are suspended in a bath of some kind: water, air, plasma. A matrix. What the England lab has discovered is that a system of atoms or particles, when caught between an energy source and a matrix, will continually rearrange itself, increasing in complexity and reproducing its structure.

In so doing it dissipates energy into the matrix more and more efficiently. In other words, life arises to better fulfill the goals of entropy. Birth and death are the same thing. Yang flows into yin, harnesses substance, and generates the ten thousand things.

While this may help explain how life and a drive to complexity may exist hand-in-glove with the entropic drive of the second law of thermodynamics, it still doesn’t explain why people use concepts like the four elements, five phases, humors, ama and agni, or any other energetic descriptions. An animating, vital tendency may exist in all matter as it attempts to dissipate the energy of the universe, but why describe it in such broad, metaphorical strokes? Isn’t this outdated language?

scientistOne of recent history’s most prolific mathematical geniuses, Stephen Wolfram has spent years developing more and more sophisticated models of computation. He uses computers to simulate reality – and provide answers for engineers, weather forecasters, and scientists in a wide range of disciplines. But what makes his work unique is his approach to creating models. Take, for example, the problem of determining how a block of concrete will break under stress. What does the crack look like? Where does it go? This a very difficult process to predict accurately. Historically, it involved massive tangles of equations. Inputs including vector forces, the structure and density of the materials, temperature, pressure, and many, many more fed into these equations and a computer attempted to give a “best guess” as to the outcome. This approach attempts to predict outcomes by reducing the system to its components and their relationships.  Wolfram’s approach is different: instead of trying to identify and catalog all of the complexity of a living system, he looks for a simple system that behaves just like the complex one. He has hit on a just such a simple mathematical tool that generates endless complexity: the cellular automaton(.

cellular automatonThrough these constructs, he has created models that predict concrete shear much more accurately than any reductionist system ever has. So much so, in fact, that engineers now use a cellular-automaton-based system much more often: not just for concrete fracturing(4), but for urban flood planning, evacuation protocols(6), even the stock market – among many others. Two interesting insights follow from this development: first, many processes in the universe seem to follow this simple model, from seashell patterning, to concrete shear, to wood snapping, to spirals forming, to fractals nesting.  Second – and this is crucial – it is impossible to actually predict what the next step, the outcome of the system, will be without actually watching it move. That is to say, we can’t predict the future by taking a snapshot of the present, even if we know all the relationships and laws of the universe. This had been the dream of the Newtonian “clockwork” universe: the idea that we would
discover a master equation to predict all outcomes from a given set of conditions. Wolfram has proved that this is impossible for cellular automata, and calls it “the principle of computational irreducibility”. In the common tongue, it means we can’t get to understanding through reductionism. We have to watch the process flow. Ecologists are beginning to understand this inescapable fact.


Taking these two insights into the discipline of medicine, we can make some interesting observations. Prognosis – the art of understanding how a disease will progress, and also how a medicine or treatment will affect the progression – is very tricky business. There are many variables involved. We have attempted biomedical models, based on receptor structure, genetic expression, and so much more. These predictive models work fairly well, but there is still a lot of uncertainty, especially in the more subtle and complex situations. Take, for example, the use of antidepressants. Many physicians like to use SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), but often cycle through many different ones, starting with Prozac, then maybe trying Paxil, and finally settling on Celexa (for example). They are all SSRIs, but some work in certain people, while others don’t. I have even heard physician speak in strange ways about them. “I’ve found Paxil is better for a skinnier, anxious person,” they say. Huh?


So perhaps we can inform prognosis, and perhaps diagnosis too, by applying the idea that a given set of conditions (patient, disease and intervention) can’t really ever give a consistently accurate prediction through an equation or algorithm. Even our most detailed understanding of the body, even a complete map of the whole genome, the whole proteome, microbiome and interactome, cannot yield the predictive power we are looking for. Computational irreducibility proves this. So what are we left with? Useful approximations, for one – and medicine has been relying on these for the last century. But more importantly, faced with the fact that reductionist approaches will always be approximate, to deepen our practice and improve our results we would do well to follow Wolfram’s lead: if we don’t want to watch the disease process unfold in order to see what the future holds (because the future could include death!), perhaps we should watch a simpler model. After all, simple models are able to predict a range of different phenomena incredibly accurately, much better than reductionist approximations. Can this apply to medicine?

Guido Masé teaching at Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference - The Herbal Resurgence

Guido Masé teaching at Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference – The Herbal Resurgence

The cellular automaton models seem to apply at many levels of reality – from weather patterns to chemical reactions. The patterns they weave hold within them spirals, self-similar cracks, repeaters, reproducing sequences. This presents powerful mathematical evidence, beyond such well-known constants such as φ (phi), that broad self-similarity exists at all levels of reality, and that the same models are equally applicable at all levels. What if the processes we observe in medicine (disease, pharmacodynamics, healing) draw on these models, too? If this were the case, then by observing processes at one level, we could gain relevant insight into medicine and healing. Perhaps the way the weather moves, the way ice cracks and flows into water, the way summer clouds gather into storms on the updrafts of July, all can tell us something about the human body. Perhaps the way fire warms your soup, or wind dries your skin, can give insight into medicine and healing. The current cutting edge of science is telling us that an animating drive towards complexity, adaptation, and reproduction exists at the most basic levels of matter. It affirms that it is impossible to predict outcomes by reducing the current situation to components and running those components through an equation. And it encourages us to seek out patterns we can observe to understand how health and disease work, because reality, though complex, is based on simple patterns and is largely self-similar, with simple models underlying all behavior.  Does this sound familiar?

shell colored

What remains to be seen is whether these energetic, vitalist ideas actually have any bearing in medicine and applied pharmacology. While we have not yet fully built this bridge, the basic infrastructure does exist: network pharmacology, which uses concepts from systems and network graph theories, attempts to understand how medicine works by focusing on structures that are echoed at many levels of reality. Concepts like “hubs” and connectors, which are absent from “random” networks, are found easily in everything from ecologies to the interaction of molecules with the protein networks in human physiology. They can be used to predict how drugs will work in a living system, and how a disease will progress. Since we understand how networks work (by observing them at many different levels of reality), academic researchers are starting to apply these ideas to how medicinal plants help with disease, and how different people with the same  “condition” might respond differently to the same herb. This is powerful stuff, and it won’t be long now before traditional concepts of energetics will become a source of wisdom to understand how medicine works. Herbalists will be ready.

stone design

So next time you feel the cool stone beneath your fingers, deep in an old-growth grove, your harvest basket full of summer’s wild harvest, think about the vital force that brought this all into being. Remember how it courses through all things, invisible but understandable, with clear patterns that are both simple and incredibly powerful. Patterns that are encoded into energetic concepts. Energies that are brought to bear in healing human suffering. Vitalism is alive and well – you just need a new language if you want to talk about it with physicists and physicians. I prefer the poetry of weather, the whispers of spirits. But physics and math weave amazing stories, too. And herbalists have always been equal-opportunity storytellers.

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Jesse Wolf Hardin & Guido Mase at Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference -

Jesse Wolf Hardin & Guido Mase at Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference –

THE MEDICINE BUNDLE: Magic, Commitment, & Song

Friday, March 13th, 2015

Scareb & Pottery sherds still life-sm


Magic, Commitment, & Song

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

I was in my seeking twenties when some of the most magical, incredible events of my life transpired, casting light on my purpose and some of what that purpose entails.  

Truly, all the world is nothing less than amazing, and we all experience many instances of bizarre timing inexplicable coincidences and unexpected fortunes… and yet, apart from spiritual visions or hallucinatory trips on sacred mushrooms or peyote, extreme occurrences outside the realm of reason are rare.  We have reason to pay attention, and to try to comprehend their significance.  And all the more so, when they also come with an intimation or proclamation, a message or directive.  It is problematic if we read something into an event that doesn’t really exist, project on it our own fantasies or fears, but it is all the more worrisome if we fail to heed the revelatory patterns unfolding around us and for us, patterns that – like speech – have the potential to communicate something to us.  

I’d lived in the wilderness river canyon we now call Anima Sanctuary for less than five years at the point of my discovery, having given up an art gallery in Taos and sold everything including my vehicles for a down payment on this inspirited wilderness inholding.  I was still, having a very hard time making the semi-annual land payments, and being a writer/artist with no marketable skills, I was always in danger of losing it back to the seller.  Trips away to make money were heartbreaking, always missing my home when gone, and often suffering the pain of environmental destruction that my work was devoted to opposing.  I could not understand how my calling to pledge myself to this wildlands sanctuary, could possibly fit with a calling to help effect and heal the larger world and errant human society.  Much had happened to demonstrate the limits to even my most determined efforts.  I was closer than ever to dropping my Quixotic quest, ceasing my trips and activism, cloistering in the canyon and laboring locally only enough to make the payments and fill my belly.  And it was exactly in this moment of reassessment and self doubt that it started happening.

Climbing a section of the mountain here that I had climbed many times before, I first laid eyes on a fiber sandal sole, protected from the rain, rot, and the harsh New Mexico sun by the an overhanging boulder.  Tears flowed as I though about what it meant to “fill the shoes” of those who came before, especially those who up until a thousand years ago were the guardians of this land and its animate spirits.  Holding it up to my own bare foot, the sole seemed a perfect fit, and I was overcome with the feeling of needing to continue – however clumsily – walking the path of committed caretakership.  From the site of the sandal, I followed an ancient trail leading upwards to a narrow cave penetrating the mountain heart.  I held tightly as I dared to the crumbling cliff side, since a single slip could mean a terrible fall, and eased my way out of the sun glint and into the dark.  Once my eyes began to adjust, strange objects began to take shape before me: A design painted in red ochre on the wall, of what appeared to be a red wolf mother with teats.  Pieces of pottery painted with geometric designs.  And most portentous of all, a medicine bundle that to this day I don’t feel privileged to describe.  


Upon its discovery, I began making inquiries of the medicine elders I knew in the various New Mexico pueblos, along with my spiritually-connected friend David Hopper (actor Dennis Hopper’s brother) in Taos.  Keep the bundle where it is, I was told, do not sell it or put it at risk for any reason.  It was one of four bundles secreted by the elders before the last migration, and the fate of human kind could in part rest on the dutiful protection and consecration of such bundles.  

I have treasured the role and duty, however unqualified and unprepared I might be.  Every Spring Equinox, I did as instructed, holding the bundle out to each of the four directions as the morning sun first falls on the cave face.  Rawn, a witness to some of the magic, has faithfully attended over fifteen years in a row, as Elka stands close to the river and sings her special wordless song. 


Does it really matter if anyone watches or anyone hears the song, or if any conscious spirit or God values the ceremony of connection and promise?  Would the world really be in danger, or even noticeably different, if the bundle were left hidden in its earthen safe, or sold to a museum, or somehow damaged?  Is its significance as large as the planet, or only as big as I, David, Rawn, and the tribal elders make it out to be?

These days, I continue to give thought to what my most effective role is, and what the most effective mediums (art? music? nonfiction books? graphic novels? activism?) might be.  I have a million projects I’d like to do, all to help better the world and none meant simply to provide an income.  But which, for which communities, and when?  What besides guarding this canyon legacy and helping restore this ecosystem is a worthy expenditure of my finite mortal time?  How can I do my very best, and give the very most?

The only clear answer I get, is to keep doing all that I can.  I have to figure out the specifics, of course, but the general answer is the same whether the perfect fit of the sandal prophetically means “the shoe/role fits, so wear it!,” or if it is simply a sign that I and a certain prehistoric inhabitant of this canyon share a common foot size.  Dance your dance.  Fulfill your commitments, whether there are witnesses or not.  Keep on honoring what is honorable, in whatever ceremonies feel right to you.  Acknowledge and put to use the real magic that exists, in contrast to society’s brilliant illusions and slight-of-hand tricks.  Do whatever ceremonies give power to your purpose and meaning to your life.  Sing your own special song, even if no one hears.  


Spring Equinox Blessings to you all….

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Too Big For Your Britches?

Saturday, November 29th, 2014

Getting Too Big For Our Britches

by Jesse Wolf Hardin


There are a number of expressions people use to let a young boy or girl know they are out of line, and need to cut back on their shine.  It may be that they are getting so confident as to be careless, seemingly endangering themselves and others, or else so sure of themselves that it begins to sound cocky and grate on the folks around them.  Other times, all that’s required is for the kid or teen to express an opinion in the midst of a conversation by adults…. adults who imagine their age means that they always know better.   They say things like “you’re too full of yourself,” as if it would somehow be healthier to be filled by a sense or notion outside of our selves.  And “You’re getting too big for your britches,” meaning that one’s abilities haven’t caught up with their growing sense of prowess.

Too big for Britches

It’s an expression I heard a lot when I was growing up, even though by the 1960s almost no one  in the cities used the word “britches” anymore when they referred to a pair of pants.  And even though, in reality, any “britches” I owned were nearly always at least two sizes too large for my bod.  This somewhat problematic fact had to do with the fact that my mother was the one to purchase my clothes when I was a child, and continued to help keep me in threads long after I became a runaway living in “crash pads” and enjoying a raggedy outlaw look out on the streets.  Many is the time I opened up a Christmas present of denim bluejeans in my desired color black, or slid a pair of six-pocket khaki shorts out of a proffered shopping bag, only to hold them up and find they were some four inches too long, of sufficient girth to hold more than one of me in its roomy hold.  The length was easily remedied by rolling about 3 to 4″ of the legs, not like the goofy cuffs on fictional Tom Sawyer’s trademark Levis, but rolled under and inside the legs like my Mama showed me, so as not to show.  A greater challenge was the substantial waist, and a seat that encompassed far more than my admittedly insubstantial little ass.   I loved my collection of leather belts, but cinching one up would cause the waists to fold and pleat, and the rest to blouse out like clown pants or the chinos on a homeboy.

Britches too big for me

This went on for a number of years before I, at around age 20, finally asked her the reason.  Was she being thrifty, thinking it more economical for me to grown into them instead of quickly growing out of them?  “No,” she told me, she simply misjudged my actual size, repeatedly, in spite of all evidence that she was leaning a little on the “my largo” side when making her selections each time.  “It just always seems like you are bigger than you are.  As soon as I get out of sight, I picture a son that’s apparently larger than you really are.”  And why would that be, I asked.  “Maybe it’s your stage presence,” she replied.  From the time I was a pushy and precocious toddler, she was evidently dressing a larger than life persona.  “You were just so full of yourself,” she, too, told me.  And I avoided asking what else I would be better filled with, not wishing to perplex her any further.

One trait that marked my mom, was that unlike other elders in my life, she made no appeal for me to reduce my presence or be an less intensely myself, to keep my opinions quiet, shrink away, or even to really behave.  She did all she could to reinforce my self confidence, and usually found my teenage cockiness more notable and entertaining than aggravating.  She acted as if anything I ever might want to do or be, was a role I could be sure to grow into.

Other adults were less accepting and encouraging, continually pissing me off by laughing at or trivializing my ideas, dismissing the thoughts and feelings of their own children, talking about putting the “willful young” in their “place,” showing them who is smartest.  But c’mon!  If kids were so much smarter than the young, we wouldn’t make fun of magic and obey unjust rules.  We wouldn’t be voting for Democratic and Republican candidates who are indistinguishable in their drive to control our every act and thought, imagining a “liberal” half black president would really protect our individual rights, or that the past few right wing presidents were truly free-market thinkers.  We would be tending the planet and standing up for human rights instead of letting our desire for money and security destroy our ecosystems and our freedoms.  We wouldn’t be working jobs where we have to wear poly suits and too tight of ties, or put working a boring job ahead of adventure or play time.  We’d be less obedient and more critically thinking.  We’d minimize our unhealthy habits and maximize our enjoyment.  We’d risk everything to live our dreams, and “play hooky” whenever necessary to avoid meaningless activities and a boring existence.

Instead of acting like the young have no idea what they are talking about, it might be better to listen to their concerns, address their fears and hopes, and learn from their examples when they question dogma and authority, challenge the status quo, and turn the bass beat music up loud enough to rock the proverbial boat.  They – and we – are not too big for our britches, sometimes we just need to upsize.

We should take a a hint from my bodacious, pants-buying Mama, and get past any self-doubting bullshit… because no matter how large a vessel or need might be in our future, we can still grow into it.


Author Jesse Wolf Hardin empowers the downtrodden and confounds the paradigm, writing from his wilderness sanctuary about values, politics, rural attitudes, homestead skills, antique firearms and western history (see: as well as about herbalism, natural healing, rewilding, and sense of place (see:

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The Balance: ReVisioning Gender

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

Everyone here at Anima Sanctuary is themselves a writer, with Rhiannon, Elka, Kiva and I all dedicated to putting into words the experiences, insights, lessons and tales that might help enliven and inspire others.  Our Plant Healer Magazine and many of our books consist of essays written by each of us, gathered into a purposeful collection.  It is rare, however, that we try to co-write anything besides website text and announcements.  The following comprises the only exception, an exercise by Kiva and myself, resulting in an article on a topic that can very much benefit from the perspectives of both a man and a woman: gender.  It’s been a decade since this was first printed in a regional periodical, we hope you”ll still find it a valuable contribution to this ongoing and important conversation.  –Wolf


Re-Visioning Gender

by Jesse Wolf Hardin & Kiva Rose


 Wolf & Kiva photo by Elka-72dpi

While exclusively neither male nor female, the living planet – the natural world – embodies, contains, expresses, agitates and unleashes the qualities and characteristics of both. We’re each integral, inseparable components of that living whole. As such, we too are a collection of traits, abilities, tendencies and potentials that in consort, constitute our authentic selves. These neither define, nor are defined by gender. Unlike some of the other life-forms, we humans can assume roles according to our individual desires, characteristics and callings. And unlike most of our fellow creatures, we have the option of creating or co-creating our roles in life, not just suffering, accepting or acquiring them. Together we explore a shared path to balance, personal, sexual and global… in the still distinctive voices of woman and man.

Wolf: There’s a certain igneous cliff face near our home, with instructive rock art thousands of years old. The tribe of Mogollon Indians who lived here, the Sweet Medicine People, moved out of their underground houses and down into the valley below over 900 years before my arrival. The cliffs were made not by some gentle erosion or the overlapping of tectonic plates, but rather by the force of liquid earth erupting in a display of shifting color and uncompromised heat.  Near the top of one, sheltered by a sloping overhang, is the sacred spiral painted next to phallic rhyolite spires and vaginal sandstone clefts. We often climb them, proceeding at a pace that is deliberately and meticulously slow. We’ll finger every sinuous earthen contour, press our bodies into magenta folds, pull ourselves up by the distinctively phallic projections.

In nature, male and female principals intersect and interact, without absorbing or overpowering each other, just as the brilliant colors of the cliffs mingle and vibrate against one another rather than dissolving into a common indifferentiable grey. Nature is a balance of diverse expressions — rock, tree, hawk, man, woman — that touch, mingle, and exchange with one another without sacrificing either the aesthetic value of contrast or the kinesis fueled by their dissimilarities.

Kiva: When I was a child, my well-meaning grandmother routinely tried to stuff me into frilly pink dresses, all of which were unceremoniously removed as soon as I was out of her sight. Back in the woods, I would slip happily into my favorite pair of blue jeans, the ones with both the knees worn through from all my tree climbing and underbrush adventures. It wasn’t that I thought the dresses ugly, and in fact I kept most all of them in order to admire the pretty colors and lacy fabrics. Nor did it have anything to do with not liking them, as much as that they didn’t suit my propensity to crawl through muddy swampland or collect wildflowers from spiny thickets. They simply weren’t an accurate expression of who I was. My family kept telling me, and each other, that I’d soon grow out of my “tomboy” phase. Yet at 15 I was still requesting Swiss army pocketknives for Christmas, and still receiving sewing kits instead.

As my teen years progressed, my grandparents suggested I think about becoming a stewardess. My mother, being slightly more liberal, thought I’d be better off becoming a teacher than the architect or artist that I intended to be. Just like the dress, both suggestions were rejected immediately and adamantly. I wanted no part in what I saw as boring and potentially oppressive roles simply because I happened to be born female.

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Wolf: I am a man. There is no way around it. I could shave off my ample facial hair, conceal my musculature in loose-fitting garments, temper my at times arrogant posturing, resist making proud eye contact, and still I am incontrovertibly male. I am engaged in my maleness. I rise up from the depths of my maleness as the first creatures rose from the primordial seas. I am buffeted and driven by uniquely male hormones, a mortal sail filled with the masculine instincts of countless generations.

Long before both man and woman codeveloped language and culture, long before patriarchal civilization overtook the minds of the populace, there existed male energy inseparable from the flesh and intent of Mother Earth. It fueled and colored the lives of our male ancestors, from the first “Y” chromosome through reptilian and primate paramours, from my early Celt and Norse predecessors to my known relatives. I am of the planet. I am animal. I am mammal. I am man. Together these aspects of my identity form the context of my being. These are the “givens,” the corpus animus, the terrestrial/contextual/experiential basis and body from which I must work. There is nothing I can do that cannot be done by a woman, but I do it with a man’s body, out of the needs and calling of a man’s heart. I can make no apologies for my being, only for inappropriate or unjust actions.

Some consider men in general to be inherently dictatorial, insensitive and war loving. To the contrary, I believe the problem is not with the nature of masculinity, but men’s disenfranchisement from our natural maleness — a maleness that is as compassionate and protective as competitive and aggressive. As with all social and environmental disease, the cure likely lies in the reclamation of our essential beings, instead of in the suppression of intrinsic instincts, tendencies and urges. The solution for both genders would seem to be becoming ever more ourselves, not less so.

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Kiva: Throughout my adolescence, I searched for a role model or an archetype to which I could relate. My search led me through the teen traps of anorexic pop divas and shallow cultural icons that left me with a feeling of lonely otherness. Just as my body refused to conform to artificial standards of size and shape, my personality resisted being reduced to a cliché — whether bad girl, romantic, sporty or city chic. Being a woman seemed to mean paring down or altering who I really was at the core.

The older I got, the more I realized how often we sell ourselves short by expressing only fragments of our authentic nature. This was especially evident in my mother, as she tried desperately to pretend she was only a mother and no longer the brilliant artist and musician. I saw her grow more bitter the longer she suppressed her passions and dreams, sure that being a mother somehow implied that she would be neglecting her womanly duty if she pursued her gifts while raising her children. I also watched my best friend turn off her heart and her feelings in order to further her career. She thought if she just worked a little harder, was promoted a few more times, she’d finally find the self-worth she’d been so urgently seeking — that she’d finally be equal to the men with whom she was competing tooth and nail. I remember her tearfully admitting to me that she deeply missed her husband, but that depending on a man was a form of weakness she could not allow herself. I promised myself that no single part or aspect of who I really am would ever overshadow or subsume the other.

What neither my mother nor my friend could see was that women are multifaceted whole beings, not one-dimensional paper dolls of mother, wife or career woman. I realized that I was not unfeminine in my adventurousness and tenacity, nor was I too feminine in my sentimentality and emotional nature — not unnatural but utterly natural, a unique expression of woman. I came to understand that all the roles and aspects I expressed were equally me, not disparate contending parts. Wearing a knife atop a lacy dress. Cuddling and playing with my infant daughter, while ready to fiercely defend myself and my loved ones. Nurturing delicate flowers from seed to blossom, yet capable of taking a life to provide our dinner. We are each strands and elements of the infinite expression of what it means to be woman and, at the same time, an alliance of many beautiful pieces coming together to make us who we really are, to make us most whole.

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Wolf: There is an alternative male archetype to the Marlboro man, the stoic provider, the commander in chief willing to sacrifice any number of “his boys” to do what he thinks is right. That alternate is the ancient Green Man, forever linking men back to the raw, connective, vegetative, regenerative processes of nature. The Green Man is connected at the root to the source itself, tapping the rich nocturnal loam of a fermentive earthen heart. This icon of the masculine draws power from the maternity and mortality of Mother Earth, in cyclic reciprocity and carnal interpenetration. Simultaneously born of and lover of the Goddess/Earth, his distinctive maleness works in consort with essentially feminine forces.

The Green Man romped through Paleolithic imaginations long before being adapted to the role as a minor god of agriculture, the innocuous carved corners of church architecture serving as a subtle reminder of our pre-Christian pantheism. He evolved to become Bacchus in ancient Rome, Osiris in Egypt, Shiva in India and Dionysus in classical Greece. Along with his duties as spreader of seeds and guarantor of crops, he was the god of divine rapture, charged with the promulgation and sanctification of human ecstasy. He not only inseminated the wafting rows of plants but turned the grapes into wine, encouraging revelry to counter the increasing reticence and restraint of expanding civilization. In Mayan and Aztecan cultures he was called “the prince of flowers,” Xochipilli, instrumental in their initiation into the realms of embodied spirit, the leafen, vine-entwined corridors leading to their own wild and glorious beings.
With the Green Man we find a seminal and assertive, prolific and playful maleness. A natural maleness in balance with, in contract with, in coitus with the fermentive feminine, the archetypal Mother Earth from which it arose, and to which all returns. A male empowerment that complements and contributes to the expression of female power.

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Kiva: In the haphazard sprawl of dandelion and the clinging beauty of ivy, I saw the face of the Green Woman. Just as the Green Man is the alternative to male cultural limitations and stereotypes, so the lesser-known Green Woman provides an empowering choice for women. As the feminine face of nature, she is best known as Sheela-Na-Gig, her delighted face and spread legs still adorning the stonework of many ancient churches in England and France. She can also be found crafted as a distinctly female body emerging from a tangle of vines and foliage. The image of the Green Woman and the history of the goddesses that embody her were my first glimpse at a powerful femaleness I could look to for inspiration in my quest for identity and place.

I found her everywhere I looked, not just in the wild places I hitched to and hiked in, but in the weeds erupting from sidewalk and roadside, in botanical gardens and city parks. I saw her when I gathered wild greens for my salad from abandoned ghetto lots and reveled in her beauty from under the oaks lining suburban streets. Part of the power of the Green Woman is in the way she adapts and thrives in even the most unlikely places, teaching us how to best remain our own essential selves, even when we feel out of place or oppressed by pressure to conform to what passes for “normalcy”.

The Green Woman is fecund creation, the inspirited source and conduit of life, but she is also the disruptive force of the hurricane. She is not just one aspect of destruction or creativity but many, sometimes embodying seeming contradictions in a single place and moment in the same way that dying, decaying plant matter is also new life in the form of vibrantly healthy soil.
The Green Woman’s complex and constantly evolving nature provides us with a positive and flexible way of seeing ourselves beyond the destructive or self-limiting perceptions we may have taken on over the years. Beyond the institutionalized virgin/whore syndrome, where every woman is either a devoted housewife and mother or else a home-wrecking rebel. Beyond even the more modern stereotypes of cold-blooded corporate-ladder climber or angry feminist. Past labels and into who we really are at our cores: the intrinsic magical beings that cannot be defined by personality quizzes, marital status or societal pigeonholes.

The Green Woman is as constantly changing as the seasons and as steady as the turning of the planet on its axis. She fosters delight and deep grief, fierce protection and unsurpassed tenderness. We, as women, embody all these aspects, in varying proportions through a myriad of expressions, as seen in classic goddess archetypes such as Artemis, an unclaimed woman and midwife; in the Norse hearth goddess Frigga’s deep devotion to home and children, with an unmatched wisdom that allowed her to guide family and followers; and in the Finnish bear goddess Mielikki, who roamed the far northern woodlands as a wild creature, fiercely loyal to both mate and home.

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Wolf: Especially in the face of prevailing political and cultural trends, it’s important that men nourish the qualities of creativity, sensitivity, emotionality, gentleness and intuition ascribed to the “feminine side.” However, the very fact that they exist as aspects of a male body means they are as much masculine as they are feminine. Crying over sad songs, nuzzling small animals, tending to the needs of children, writing poetry or learning to make love ever so sweetly and slowly, doesn’t mean a man is getting in touch with his “inner woman”. Nor is a woman tapping any latent reservoirs of male energy when she exhibits the strength, confidence, purposefulness or drive regularly attributed to men. We all contain both male and female energies, but none of these are elements of gender so much as of character.

A man can and should feel comfortable staying home and caring for his children while his wife works to pay the bills, if it serves and satisfies him as well as benefits his family. Or making a living designing and sewing clothes, if he has the talent. And women have long proved they can both enjoy and excel at every career or task ever considered to be “men’s work.”
What we need to do, however, isn’t just to escape restrictive stereotypical gender roles, but to consciously and purposefully assume or even design and then manifest our roles in life. Those roles that best express, fulfill and satisfy our authentic selves: our talents, desires, gifts, hopes and dreams. And those that best help us contribute to, serve, nourish, heal or make more beautiful the world of which we’re an integral and dynamic part.

A Tewa prayer seems to say it all:  Within and around the Earth, within and around the hills, within and around the mountain, your authority returns to you.

The authority to be yourself!

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Kiva: These days I share responsibility for both our Plant Healer publications and our Anima Wilderness Sanctuary, deep in New Mexico’s Gila. I serve as both teacher and healer, two roles often thought of as predominately feminine in our culture. I became a teacher, however, not because I succumbed to familial pressure or societal standards but because I discovered through experimentation and study that this was the path that best suits me, that I feel most whole in pursuing. Embracing femininity in any traditional sense took time for me to accept. I needed to separate myself from the dictates of society and the uniforms my family had thrust me into in order to know what it was to follow my heart.

We possess in our authentic selves the power to re-create our roles. We do this by creating new stories of self, weaving from the web of the world a new way of being and seeing — stretching past imagined limitations of self and gender into primal womanhood. This power is rooted not in disempowering or opposing men, but in our intrinsic uniqueness, the moon cycles of our body, and the dance of emotion and creation birthed from the first mother, our Earth. Gender is neither our cage nor husk. It can express the reality of who we choose to be, in whatever forms we choose, providing roles true to our genuine natures.

The first of the year is the time of quickly transitioning days, when the sap of the willows is drawn deep into their centers, ready to burst forth as new leaves in the spring. Here in the canyon where we live, it means quiet hours close to home, joining our other partner in preparing new lessons and curricula for the coming summer events at this sanctuary and teaching center. We find in the cycles of stillness and activity, assertiveness and vulnerability — in our loving relationship with each other and within our complex individual selves — an enlivening equipoise, a vital partnership and correspondence. The bloom, and the balance.

If I could tell you what it all means,
there would be no point in dancing it.
— Isadora Duncan

The following are some practical suggestions for re-envisioning our roles, then making our visions real in our lives:

• Be aware of when you are embodying your culture’s limited definition of masculinity or femininity, acting out old patterns or movie roles. There is nothing male about being unavailable, unemotional, domineering or violent. Nor is it specifically female to be sensitive, nurturing or obedient.
• Men can be more aware of when they’re suppressing their nature, strength or passion in order to appear less macho, and not be so afraid of being stereotyped that they become malleable when they need to be substantial and definitive, or submissive when the situation calls for assertiveness. Women can pay attention to when they are acting out societal preferences and fantasies, as well as when they are eschewing cooking or downplaying their femininity to avoid being negatively typecast as the helper or the helpless.
• Roles are relational commitments we make, needs we satisfy, purposes and missions we gladly fulfill, not uniforms we select and wear, obligations with which we’re saddled, or what we do at our jobs. Our “work” may be secretarial, our “role” cheering up the bored clerks or providing advice on personal matters.
• Redefine all your roles in terms of who you are and what your gift is, not which gender you happen to be. Wear the clothes, assignments, jobs that feel most like you. Then, to excel at your roles is to excel at being wholly, proactively yourself.
• You have only a finite number of waking hours in your mortal life. Reassess your priorities and chosen roles monthly, weekly or even daily.
• Pay attention to when something is a role and when it’s merely rote. One accomplishes something either way. The difference is our degree of awareness, our intention, how wholly we are utilized and stretched, how much meaning we invest, and the amount of satisfaction it brings us.
• If we are totally conscious and response-able, every moment will be a decisive moment for us, every act intentional and deliberate. And it is those deliberate acts that will then define our roles, instead of the other way around.

Whether female, male, or any of the infinite possible variations and combinations – be your genuine selves in life, filling your genuine purpose.  Nothing else is fully living.

–Wolf and Kiva (


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