Archive for the ‘Relationship and Communication’ 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.

Disagreement quote 72dpi





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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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.

Wonder Woman 4

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.

Green Man 5 art poster by Jesse Wolf Hardin 72dpi

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.

Green Woman Disc 72dpi

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.

Wayside Minstrels 72dpi

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!

hedgewitch 72dpi

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 (


(Please do Re-Post and Share freely)

Offensive and Obscene: A Healthy Investigation

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Offensive and Obscene:

A Healthy Investigation

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

“Profanity, like herbs, has its place in healing.”
–Charles “Doc” Garcia, Cuarandero



We recently posted a Medicine Woman Roots blog excerpting from an interview I conducted with the much respected but bawdy curandero and street herbalist, Charles “Doc” Garcia.  We printed his earthy vernacular verbatim so as to capture rather than conceal his characteristically colorful and eloquently irreverent style.  If you ever walk the avenidas of a barrio, administer herbs to the homeless living on the streets of cities like Oakland, put time in the military, or even find yourself for whatever reason occupying a chair in a police department day room – as the Doc has – you will have heard enough cuss words not to take it personally.  The entire, lengthy, uncensored interview will appear in the pages of Plant Healer Magazine in 2013, in what Kiva and I consider to be a good demonstration of both the diversity in herbalism and the power of passion, a balance to the more temperate language and remarks of our other learned interviewees.  It may be, however, that not everyone will be happy about it.



One reader wrote that she would no longer recommend the Medicine Roots Blog if Kiva didn’t remove all profanity and negativity.  Another, called Doc’s responses “offensive” and said that he couldn’t be a real curandero if he talked like that.  I cannot suppress the resulting inspiration, as you might guess, to address this issue of acceptable and unacceptable wordage.

When I brought it up with Doc, he explained himself this way:  “I spent ten years as a cop and ten more years as a teacher of the deaf.  Believe me, both groups swear like… well, they cuss alot!  I keep my language clean at dinner, holiday dinners, sometimes funerals, with old people with the exception of ex Marines and sailors, and I keep my mouth shut when I’m in the mountains looking at a stream of water I hope is clean.  Otherwise I call a spade a spade…not a digging tool.  Legally, I can’t say someone is a fraud or an idiot… but I can say ‘Bullshit!’  And ‘fuck’ in all its variations, even in the written form, makes any point crystal clear, as in:  ‘Hey Doc, I heard the Governor wants to make herbal tinctures illegal without a Rx.’   Fuuuuuck!    Everybody would understand such a comment.  Profanity, like herbs, has its place in healing.”


A once clean shaven Doc first learns to express himself.

The word “offensive” derives from the Latin “offens”, meaning “struck against.”  To be offensive means to take the initiative to attack, whether verbally or physically, and the word only later came to be used to describe any word or gesture that caused someone to feel angry or hurt.  Just because we are discomforted by a word doesn’t make if offensive, only objectionable.  Someone cussing as they walk by us may be indelicate, insensitive and unpleasant but there is no offense.  Truly offensive language is that which is directed towards someone.  Whereas a racist calling someone a “filthy nigger” is clearly offensive, street kids saying “What’s up, nigger?” to each other is not.
It would have possibly been more accurate – if indeed more subjective – to have assailed Doc’s use of words for their “indecency”,  which the dictionary defines as “failing to conform with generally accepted standards of behavior, language and propriety.”  Both I, Kiva, and Plant Healer Magazine actually strive to avoid the limiting conformism of today’s contemporary standards, and challenge propriety whenever it takes precedence over authenticity, liberty, purpose, passion or personality.

In Plant Healer Magazine, we don’t want to offend anybody, any group, nor even any opinion or position.  We do not find any joy in upsetting those with a stronger allegiance to propriety than ourselves.  We will never, however, censor ours or an interviewee’s opinions or language out of fear of arousing someone’s moral indignation.


BP Oil: Green Sponsor of The Olympics


True obscenity is not the F-Word, but rather, the way that abusive husbands screw over their wives, the way both Democratic and Republican administrations align with corporations and screw us big time, how the handicapped, the poor and colored and hippie and punk and alternative and very old and very young have always been screwed up, screwed over, and screwed to the ground.  Obscene, if I may be allowed to say, is clear-cut forests with logging companies funding the elections of Senators, and oil-spilling BP being chosen as a “Green Sponsor” of the International Olympics.



Not only obscene but offensive, are children going homeless on the streets of America and beyond, and the child who is starving in Sudan.  Offensive is feeding kids crappy plastic food, dosing them with insecurity, filling them with fear and teaching them to diss’ someone over the way they dress or talk.  “Offensive” is once-open minded, unprejudiced, and probably occasionally cussing kids growing up to judge, stereotype, reject, hate and condemn themselves and others.


In the interest of reason as well as compassion, we might all do well to focus more on meaning than words, on folks’ good intent more than their unconventional style, on people’s loving hearts more than their sometimes bawdy mouths… on seeing and facing what we don’t like, without flinching, while focusing on what’s needed and what’s meant, what’s good and what’s right.


(Feel Free To RePost… and to always speak your mind)

Natural Education: Skills for Parents & Teachers

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

Introduction: I discovered the following writings of mine while sorting through my unfinished projects folder, along with dozens of incomplete essays, seeds of ideas, unpublished novels and outlines for projected books.  It’s bit sad to realize there are insufficient hours in a lifetime to bring these all to fruition, including this piece that I intended to expand into a book re-envisioning and re-orienting our entire approach to education.  While I can see much I’d like to add to or revise, the following brief work from 1988 perhaps remains in and of itself a useful wake up call to new/ancient ways of seeing, learning and passing on to others healthy earth-centered values and skills.  If you know any parents or teachers, please pass it on to them…

Natural Education:
Awareness & Reconnection Skills for Parents & Teachers

By Jesse Wolf Hardin

Anima School & Sanctuary

“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.”
—H.G. Wells

“Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”
—Henry David Thoreau

The time has come for what I call Natural Education, the
initiating of every age group into a new/ancient way of perceiving and
thereby acting on the world. With so many species banished into
extinction each and every day, with hundreds of state and federal laws
passed every month to further restrict the freedoms of a mostly urban
human population due to double again in less than forty years, what I am
calling for is no less than the complete re-creation of human values,
perception, and society, and the entire educational system that
partially creates and fully sustains it.  We must challenge every
institution and assumption perpetuating the suicidal lemming-march of
the status quo.

Given the momentum of our distracted consumer society, and the
commiserate, entrenched ideology of school as “job training”
(preparation for conformity, consumption, and production), the task
falls largely on a few progressive teachers, the directors of
alternative schools, the facilitators of bold new Earth-centered
programs, and the intrepid practitioners of home schooling. In every
case, much of the onus lies with the parents and other significant
adults in the students’ circle of trust.

If you want to evaluate any existing or proposed text, class, program,
or curriculum, ask yourselves the following: Does it contribute
substantially to the students’ understanding of their true selves, the
full actualization and flowering of their authentic beings? Does it help
them to be quiet or expressive, thoughtful or sensual, subjective or
empathetic? Does it instill and encourage values that affirm freedom
with responsibility, compassion along with the ability to firmly say
“no”? Does it focus on some narrow dimension of humanity, or draw
parallels and connections to the land, lifeforms, and the anima/lifeforce/spirit? Does it
contribute to serendipity and play? Does it evoke a sense of the
sanctity of life, of the magic and joy of miraculous existence? Does it
teach them to feel, both the agony and ecstasy of one’s participation in

Or, does it more likely, impress systems for memorization and
measurement, classification and definition, analysis and manipulation,
concepts without experience, the bloodless history of the victors,
material consumption and vicarious pleasures, sobriety and conformity?
Schools traditionally offer up a menu of facts with out personalizing
anecdotes, empirically explaining away the sources of wonder and awe,
replacing compassion and subjective identification with the “other” with
emotionless objectification, force feeding disconnected information in
ways that actually deadens the students’ inherent awareness of their
feelings, their immediate surroundings, and the still-wild world
existing outside the classroom, beneath the asphalt and concrete, and
the spreading city limits.

“A society that could heal the dismembered world would recognize the
inherent value of each person and of the plant, animal, and elemental
life that makes up tthe earth’s living body; it would offer real
protection, encourage free expression…. it’s underlying metaphor would
be mystery, the sense of wonder at all that is beyond us and around us,
at the forces that sustain our lives and the intricate complexity and
beauty of their dance.”


We can change our distracted and destructive culture by actively interacting with teachers in
our schools, by infecting and subverting existing curriculums,
coming together to form legal clan and community schools, and by
customizing officially required subjects of home-school programs to draw
the necessary connections to self, Nature, and the historical
context they were born to participate in.

Under the auspices of whatever course or program, Natural Teaching
remains dedicated to instilling the following essential qualities and skills:
1) Awareness, Listening and Focus
2) Wonder and Awe
3) Authenticity and Personal Expression
4) Reconnection to body, others, other species, and the living Earth
5) Sense of Place
6) Ways of Seeing
7) The Art of Listening
8) Empathy and Compassion
9) Freedom With Responsibility
10) Integrity and Devotion

The Natural teacher demonstrates reverence and enthusiasm, a
willingness to share their pain, and a penchant for celebration. They
invite student participation, provoke reaction, inspire contemplation,
and stress the importance of inquiry over answers. Their vocabulary has
no choice but to evolve to match the age and attitudes of the students,
making use of symbols drawn from the culture each group is most familiar
with. They can reach people of all ages, academics and rural
libertarians by speaking the language of each, and tapping the almost
universal yearning for a more vital, realized existence.
The values of the Natural were often the values of our various
tribal, primal ancestors— values common to the first hundred thousand
years or more of human existence that can serve our return to
right-living and balance today. Some of these follow, along with values
that could only be learned by first inheriting and then destroying
paradise, priorities developed through mistake and travail.
At this time in human existence, what subjects matter (mater, mother) ?
The only relevant course may be “Nature.” “The Nature of Geography”—  a
lesson in ecosystems, watersheds, the personalities of desert and
mountain, filled with subjective stories about sense of place, exposing
the unreality of shifting political borders with a look at the unbroken
continents of this planet as seen from space— the geography of home.
Science becomes the “Science of Nature,” a study in the molecular,
chemical, evolutionary, interconnectedness of all life and so-called
non-life. Spinning and weaving, preparing food, dancing, mask-making,
and reading for reconnection. Campfire stories. Music that brings them
closer to nature, in resonance with their own musical natures. and
Mathematics? Math becomes the Play of Numbers, demonstrating how
quantities interact, and an opportunity to bring up the importance of
qualitative as well as quantitative measurement.

Then there are the fundamentals of natural teaching: Avoid the
linear and hierarchical appearance of straight rows, and sit in circles,
where students can interact with each other as well as the teacher. Take
the lessons outside whenever possible. Focus attention, usually with a
deep sharing. Use and elicit personal, emotional, experiential
anecdotes, such as how something made you feel, instead of just relaying
facts or events. Always refer back to the current moment, drawing a
connection between any subject and the students’ reality here in present
time. Ask questions instead of imposing information. Encourage instinct
and intuition, knowing that all important learning is a re-membering
(recalling, and reconnecting the parts). Impress the response-ability
(ability to respond) inherent in every idea, in what one does as well as
doesn’t do. Treat each and every moment as a decisive one.  Work towards students sharing
responsibility for the direction of the studies. Allow the interests and
enthusiasm of the students determine what gets explored, being ready to
set aside even the most important lesson to capitalize on the attention
given to a bird landing on the windowsill, on a personal problem that
arises, or a news event of great import. Surrender the schedule, staying
on a subject until interest subsides or something important comes up.
Let them see, touch, experience the things discussed as often as
possible, and get them to do as well as think. Demonstrate the relevancy
of an idea or process, then encourage the students to act it out. Make
use of art and song and role playing as well as words to fully express
your subject. Avoid dogma, but don’t be afraid to encourage students to
define what sacred means to them. Remember that every person, plant,
animal and place is a set of messages, and that our primary assignment
is to listen, and to teach how to listen. Remember to be grateful, and
make opportunities for the sincere expression of thanks. Share your
emotions as well as observations. Remember that many of the most
important lessons are best imparted through play.

For the youngest of my students I’ve developed a game of “Gaia,” in
which each child identifies with an organ of the Earth body and explains
how essential it is to the health of the whole; a game of role-playing
endangered species, and speaking for them in council; a game of ecstatic
evolution, where the kids act out the slow transformation of life forms
from single cell beings to fish, birds and land animals; one where they
identify the sometimes subtle differences between the natural and the
artificial; a game where they identify and describe the intrinsic value
of every element of Nature, regardless of any aesthetic or practical
purpose we might find for it; one where they determine what is special
about each and every element of Nature; and one where they learn to
express and celebrate the beauty and originality found in even the
plainest rock held in the hand, or the most mundane vista.

The fate of humanity, and of most higher lifeforms, will one day rest
in the hands of the children of today, adults of the future, dependent
on us for the heightened awareness and Earth-centered values that will
see them there.

Earth-Centered Education for the 21st Century

“We must remember the chemical connections between our cells and the
stars, between the beginning and now. We must remember and reactivate
the primal consciousness of oneness between all living things. We must
return to that time, in our genetic memory, in our dreams, when we were
one species born to live together on earth as her magic children.”

—Barbara Mor

Every social and environmental calamity, the entire destructive course
of modern civilization can be traced to a single root condition.
Overpopulation, habitat destruction, clearcuts, oil-tanker spills,
classism, sexism, war—all are symptoms of humanity’s essential dis-ease:
people’s cognitive (imagined) separation from their own essential
natures, separation from the spirits and processes of the natural world.
Given this frighteningly simple fact, is there really anything important
to teach the unfolding generation than the skills and arts of
reconnection? When the obvious cure for societal and planetary malaise
is our reconnection to our physical animal bodies, rather than living
through our minds alone, when it is a matter of reconnecting to the deep
feelings and essence of family and clan, to other cultures and races,
other lifeforms, and finally to the entire continuous body of the living
planet we’re an integral part of?

When we consider that both what we choose to teach and fail to impart,
and the responsibility that places on us, as parents and teachers, it
really sinks home that the coming generations could be the last with any
chance of reversing the anti-Nature direction of destructive
civilization. Just like one tends to weigh more carefully how they spend
their mortal moments when they realize they could be their last, we’re
likely to be more selective about the materials and lessons we share,
and more passionate in their presentation, if we treat each generation
as potentially the last. Approached in this way, we’re more likely to
pass on the life-affirming values that will make the survival of future
generations possible, and the survival of the elements of Nature that we
depend on to sustain and inform us.

Children are born into profound communion and continuity with/in the
world around them, immersed in sight and sensation, awash in the
intensity of the present moment, free of the weight of the past and
fears for the future. A young child’s experience of self extends beyond
the envelope of skin and into the objects it holds, the foods in its
mouth, and the earth and grass it crawls across. The concept of “others”
is impressed on them later, the early sensation of an organic oneness
surviving into adulthood like a repressed memory, or as some dimly
recalled dream.

Exposure to adult models, and to T.V. and school, leads to a gradual,
consensual “forgetting.” Year after year the child becomes increasingly
disassociated, thoughts from feelings, sentiment from action. The
experience of “self” is narrowed until housed entirely in the mind,
imaged somewhere inside the brain. The very process of becoming a
“civilized” human involves perceptual divorce, an imagined separation
between “self” and body, self and others, self and Nature.
Children before a certain age, like all the rest of living creation,
operate according to their original nature. This is why I say every
animal is an avatar, every child born a Buddha. The best students are
often the youngest, the ones who have forgotten the least, those still
obsessed with sensation, trying to put the whole world in their mouths
and know it that way. So much more difficult to get the teen to sit on
the ground outside, the adult to set aside its programming to hug a
tree. A child still takes the world personally, as if everything that
happens in the universe relates to them— as indeed it does. They take
the celebration of diverse life very personally. They also take
personally any abridgment of that joy, or the destruction of those other
lifeforms. It may be that the terminally ill remember what they knew as
kids, the simple truth that raw, unmanipulated life is good— that
anything that dilutes, debases, or destroys life is bad. How simple, and
how fundamental.

With teen and adult students, a pertinent education involves actively
suspending habit and disbelief, while with children we need only
encourage their native tendencies, their proclivity for wonder and awe,
and help direct their intense and naturally intimate reaching out to
connect.  We need to help the children with the skills and priorities
they’ll need to deal with the damaged world of their coming adulthood,
and then we need to teach the adults to experience the universe as
children again. When I first started doing this work I would engage kids
in role-playing endangered species, acting out the behavior of wolves
and wood ants, having them speak for the needs of eagles and trees. With
adults I’d explain the fine points of ecological ethics, give them the
facts on environmental destruction and the means for restoration and
redress. In time I figured out that the kids role play their empathy
with Nature with no help from us, and at a young age are interested in
hearing the whole story. Adults, particularly academics and bureaucrats
in uniforms, already have most of the facts, but don’t allow themselves
to empathize— which is why I usually get them to take off their ties,
get on the ground, and make like fish or squirming salmon! (C’mon, guys,
you can do it! Feel! Feel!)

Getting someone out to an ocean or forest is a start, but exposure to
the nature alone can’t guarantee any increased sensitivity. I’ve known
kids who have grown up in small towns adjacent to wilderness areas, who
grew up approaching Nature as a warehouse for them to loot, who see
animals as subservient and trees as commodities. Cowboys whose chosen
work has put them on horseback in the most beautiful country in the
West, will still toss their garbage on the ground when brought up to
honor only the works of “man.” Whether a young child’s innate reverence
lasts into adulthood or is replaced by cynicism and contempt for the
natural world will depend on how they’re taught to see. Not with the
eyes so much, as with the entire being, opening up to the spirit
animating all life from the heron in the wildlands marsh, to the
planter-bound flower. To the average preschooler with an inquisitive
mind and dancing, exploring hands, the world appears a magic place. From
the rainbow colors of a dew-jeweled spider web to the way that puppy
knows when you’re talking about him, they find everything simply
amazing, inexplicable, and primarily delightful. One of our tasks as
parents and teachers is to nourish their native way of “seeing,” to
direct their attention without diminishing their experience of the

Teaching How To Listen

“The teachers are everywhere. What is wanted is a learner.”
—Wendell Berry

It’s said that “a finger pointing at the moon is not the moon”. The
word “water” never quenched anyone’s thirst, and no description of light
and color could adequately convey the experience of sight to the
congenitally blind. At its worst, language results in a wash of constant
internal dialogue. thinking with words automatically places one outside
the moment, inevitably commenting in past tense on what just happened
and thereby missing the full contextual, sensual experience of the
present.  And worse yet, the sentences that fill up the center-stage of
our consciousness for most of our waking and dreaming hours project us
far into past events or future scenarios. All my adult years I’ve been
working on recovering from the split focus I developed watching T.V. as
I ate, barely tasting the food. The disassociation was exacerbated in
school, fed facts with no reference to my immediate life, with no
connections drawn between the different topics or the various courses of
study— millions of words, with little rhythm.

Ideally, the pointing finger of language draws attention to the deepest
experiencing/knowing of the moon, then withdraws to allow for the
profundity of silence. As music has demonstrated from angst-ridden
rappers back to African Griots and Celtic Bards, words are most powerful
when sequenced rhythmically. The students are easiest to reach when we
make the sentences and sentiments dance, varying the volume and tempo,
stressing the conclusions in a crescendo, then teasing the attention
back from the distracted with a refrain, a repeating phrase,— a play of

The rhythms of speech are partly the result of natural breathing
patterns, slower during reflection, speeded-up by building excitement,
and for each breathing-out of words, we need to inhale in silence. A
drawing without empty spaces would amount to a page of solid black, ink
or lead. The identity of any line on the paper is shaped by the white
space around it. In drumming circles, the power of the patterns depend
on the empty spaces between the beats. Without these intervals of
silence, all one would hear would be a solid wall of noise.
And just as students listen and absorb meaning better when the language
finds its rhythm, they can better ponder and absorb each full concept
with a comparable period of silence after. The youngest children tend to
mainly think in symbols rather than in sentences— and pictures are
always O.K. It’s the omnipresent dialogue, internal as well as audible,
that must be regularly set aside in favor of sensation and
contemplation, inhalation and inspiration. In favor of full-body

For short periods of time, one can create silence with an unexpected
noise or outburst, with a surprising observation, by setting up a
situation of unnerving uncertainty, or drawing their attention to strong
physical stimuli (a cold wind, something soft to touch). For “silence
work”, the younger the students, the smaller the group needs to be. Try
keeping them in the usual circle formation, but face them outwards. And
follow each quieting with an opportunity for its appropriate
punctuation: expression.

Responsibility Within The Web: Awareness Work

“It was the sort of idea that might easily decondition the more
unsettled minds among the higher casts—make them lose their faith in
happiness as the Sovereign Good and take to believing, instead, that the
goal was somewhere beyond, somewhere outside the present human sphere;
that the purpose of life was not the maintenance of well being, but some
intensification of consciousness.”

—-Aldous Huxley

Contemporary institutional education not only ignores but works against
awareness. I’m not talking about higher awareness of energy patterns or
being conscious of Spirit, but that elemental quality of awakeness, the
awareness of one’s immediate environment. Abstract texts have students
reading about insect classifications, and missing the flight of the
butterflies just outside the window. Schedules further reduce one’s
need, and thus ability to take in their situation and make independent
decisions, or make a sudden change in course. I’ve camped with
university graduates lacking all the skills and traits necessary for
survival in the natural world. More significant than their inability to
identify and gather wild foods, weave fibers, or even get a fire going
with a match— was their complete lack of awareness of their
surroundings. Residents of their minds, they neither saw or could react
to the presence of trees too close to their selected fire pit, had no
concept of fouling their own water source, and were likely to step on a
snake if there long enough.

Awareness training involves always bringing the subject, and in this
way the students’ attention, back to themselves, to the present, and to
the reality of the immediate situation. Draw from those things
physically around you as metaphors for whatever concepts you are trying
to impart, such as “…death cycling back into life, like this garden”
or “…like the sun, touching your faces right now.”  No matter how
distant or historic the lesson, it can always be made real for the
students by asking them to imagine and share with you how it may have
affected them and the world they live in. One of the most important
questions for any age student is, “How does that make you feel?”
Awareness can be tested by asking: How many different sounds can you
distinguish right now? How do you think what you said made that person
feel? I know you’re indoors, but who can point in the direction the sun
will go down? What color shirt did your last instructor wear?” I worry
about a spectrum of students adept at equations but oblivious to
everything around them. Whenever I leave this canyon to visit friends I
can’t sleep because every passing car seems to be coming to see me,
every siren means I should run, and I jump every time I hear the
refrigerator clang on. I worry about friends who no longer hear their
fridge going on and off, and wonder if they hear the wind moving through
the pruned and shaped trees of their yards. We are becoming a people who
experience our precious mortalities vicariously, living our lives wholly
in a conceptual world, an unreal world of our own making.
We’ve got to bring them back, at least the young, back to their selves,
back to the Earth, back home where they’re needed— where they can be

Sense Of Place

We know that the entire globe is an extension of us, but we are
centered on a certain continent, on a particular watershed, and at the
exact spot where our bodies touch the ground. I often begin a circle by
having everyone focus on the feelings of connectedness and energy
transfer that goes on between the feet and the ground, or sitting, how
it feels to be physically bound to the living planet. How that feels, is
what we really mean by “sense of place”, sensing our connection,
developing loyalty to the actual physical substance of that place, and
drawing our strength from there. Ever so slowly, we can take them from
there into larger concentric circles, into a larger sense of place.
Beginning with their yard, their favorite tree, their secret hideaway,
and then maybe a big enough “sense” to encompass a secluded trout stream
or a faraway vacation beach where strange creatures perform impossible
ballets. If possible, the progression should never be presented in a
single day, time taken for the most thorough and intimate familiarizing,
coming to know and be able to speak for the needs and design, the
personalities of one’s always unique, hopefully expanding identification
with place.

There are two complimentary approaches. In one, we keep calling the
students’ attention back to the actual place where we’re teaching them,
and in the other, we call on them to develop irrevocable bonds with one
or more ”special places” they’ve come to love and learn from. One of
these special places could be adopted by the group or class, with them
learning the requirements of the land and its lifeforms. The place can
be undeveloped wildness in need of sponsorship and defense, a ravaged
area requiring restoration, or an overgrown urban oasis re-wilding on
its own accord. determined to supply the setting for our exploration of

Initial Reconnection

“If you want the kernel you must break the shell. And therefore if you
want to discover nature’s nakedness you must destroy its symbols, and
the farther you get in the nearer you come to its essence. When you come
to the One that gathers all things up into itself, there you must stay.”

—Meister Eckhart

The older the students, the more crucial the reconnection phase,
beginning with the body. Our work for the Earth or for others is at its
best when we exist fully within our bodies, healing them as necessary.
For adults with racing minds, I suggest swims, mantras that derail
dialogue, arduous hikes that exhaust the part of the self that thinks,
swimming, bathing, singing or drumming, and overcoming their resistance
to touching themselves, rubbing their own sore necks, stroking their own
hair just because it feels good. And for students of any age, I help
them feel the world through their bodies. Beginning…with the sensation
of their own heart beating.

Like we block out the sounds of screeching tires in the night and other
audible reminders of our mortality, many of us learn not to hear the
pounding in our ears, the vital rushing of blood through our veins. But
there it s, whenever we quiet our distracted minds enough to listen, the
rhythmic evidence of life, in synch with the pulse of the living Earth.
Next, I might draw the students’ attention to their breathing, the feel
of muscles that must continually pump fresh air in and exhausted air
back out, the sensation of the wind rushing in and out through our
welcoming nostrils. I may have them close their eyes, shutting down the
main process through which people gather most of their sensory
information. Taking in deep, slow breaths together, the individual’s
consciousness opens up to encompass everything around it, primed for
subtle input.

With children, I might isolate each of their senses in turn, letting
them explore a meadow and some purposefully planted objects with nothing
but their sense of smell, or coming to know them through touch alone. I
think about Helen Keller, and how the curtailment of audio and visual
input resulted in a heightening of every other faculty, as the students
smell aromas like never before, and trace the hills and valleys of a
rock with eager, informed fingers. When the moment is just right, they
may access their untapped instincts as well, as those means of
body-seeing we sometimes call “extrasensory perception”. Fully in-body,
with all the physical senses engaged, one exists at their optimal state,
more receptive than ever, and better prepared to act.
It’s through our resulting acts that we experience and develop our
connection to others, extend the borders around our “self” to include
not only our parents and siblings, but friends, and then the nice old
woman who tells stories as she sweeps the sidewalk, then the unnamed
victims of distant tragedies, and potentially the overpopulating masses
of every race. Once connecting to other people, ready to experience
their deep ecological and psycho-spiritual relationship to other species
as well.

Connecting to Other Lifeforms

“A world in which every place is wilderness — this ecotopian vision
seems remote from the environmental politics of our day, mystical,
atavistic, even threatening. And yet the human race was born into such a
world. It was our home for uncounted millennia. It is still the world of
dwindling primal people. It is where we learned the values of community,
art, creativity, curiosity. That we should be more comfortable now with
the artificial industrial landscape of modern times, with its
imperatives of competition, exploitation, and selfish consumption,
suggests how successful civilization has been in demonizing Nature.”

—Christoph Manes

The natural world is our original context. We evolved in a physical and
then conscious interdependency with the rest of life. Our intuition was
honed in the primeval jungles, and our dreams are still made up of the
images and symbols we brought with us when we first stepped out into the
open. There really is such a thing as a “natural self”, formed over the
course of hundreds of thousands of years in close association with the
expressions and processes of Nature, with the diverse nation of plants,
the “birds and the beasts”. The entire living world is a set of
messages, instructions, and examples. All of life is trying its best to
communicate with us. Children are quick to notice the signals, but can
benefit from interpretation. Teens and adults tend to need help with
both recognition and significance.  All can be
helped to recognize the traits they share with other lifeforms, and the
way animal spirits or “totems” influence or symbolize influences on how
they respond to the world.

Reconnecting With Gaia

We can visualize our broadening sense of identification as a set of
spreading concentric rings like those made in water when we toss a
pebble in. In this way, the outermost circle of our being stretches to
take in the whole of the planet, the entirety of our greater Earth-body.
Oddly enough, we do this by moving slower, not faster; looking closer,
not further. Moving slow enough to see the “miracle in a grain of sand”.
To show students the “bigger picture”, start them on the giving ground,
their faces pressed down to the grass for the bugs’ eye view. Once
they’re more familiar with the magic of the microcosm, they can better
access the streams and meadows, better take in the grand vistas.
“Gaia” was the Greek name for the Earth as living being, daughter of
Chaos. The scientists Lynn Marguellis
and James Lovelock seized on the metaphor to illustrate their premise
that the Earth functions as a living entity, a body of self-regulating
systems dependent on the balanced interaction of all its constituent
parts, the atmosphere its breath, the cleansing forests its lungs. They
called this notion the “Gaia Hypothesis,” as if the truths honored by
virtually every primal culture, by our ancestors of nearly every race,
and by all children before the age of their disenchantment— as if the
truth of an inspirited planet, sacred, indivisible and directed were
merely theory, the invention or conclusion of modern minds! Before the
advent of technology, before toxic agribusiness and skyscrapers, these
were the truths we held “self-evident”:


We are not secular pilots of a dead Spaceship-Earth, nor have we been
sentenced by God to a trial period on a disrupted Eden. We are blessed
participants in the dance of embodied spirit. Singers. Dreamers. Praise
givers.  Natural Education inspires and invokes awareness,
reconnection and response. It offers everyone, the teachers and
parents as much as the kids, an opportunity for a Rite-of-Passage.

In Natural Education, we plant our seeds in earth and heart,
regardless of the chances of fruit. The immediate result, as I’ve
witnessed again and again, is the glad unfolding of the miraculous.
Nature-informed Education is, above all, life-affirming. It explores diversity
rather than imposing conformity. It offers the tools for global healing and the
individual skills to survive.  Natural Education is called upon to
affirm, at the deepest levels, the singular joy of being alive, while imparting the information and tools to live our lives and purpose fully and effectively.

(RePost and Share Freely)

Critical Thinking

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

It is understandable to want to think “it’s all good”, that all things are true in some way, and that criticizing or opposing anything is unnecessary and only adds to the negativity in the world.  We are at a disadvantage, however, and less effective no matter what our aims, if we are so busy accepting, tolerating and rationalizing that we forget to discern and distinguish, to think critically and respond wholly.  We are born conscious creatures with a need and responsibility to make choices… and to respond with intent.  It is not through an uncritical welcoming of all ideas and acts that we co-create our reality and our world, but through this choosing and doing.

excerpted from
Discernment, Critical Thinking & Response:
Assuming Editorial Responsibility For Our Practices, Our Lives, & The CoCreation Of Our World

The complete, full length article will be available March 1st in the Spring 2012 Issue of
Plant Healer Magazine


Daughter Rhiannon ponders how to develop essential critical thinking without becoming a critical person. Art by Jesse Wolf Hardin from the kid’s book “I’m A Medicine Woman Too!”


It’s important to understand the two main definitions of the word “criticism,” the first being “an expression of disapproval of something or someone” based on their or its perceived faults or mistakes.  It is the second definition that we find the kind of criticism essential to our effectiveness as herbalists and paradigm changers: vital “analysis and judgment” of an option’s relevance and consequence, or of someone or something’s evident flaws and merits.

For lack of critical thought, we’re in danger of either blindly accepting the findings and proclamations of vested authorities and agencies, or of going the other extreme and dismissing all rational analysis in favor of a comforting method or preferred notion.  In both cases, we would do well to avoid the “true believer” syndrome, whereby we invite and celebrate any evidence supporting our desired means or outcome, and ignore or denigrate any information that might contradict our chosen reality or desired outcome.  Even empirical experimentation and analysis, arising from processes of discernment and critical thinking, does itself require a constantly discerning eye and ongoing critique.  And the veracity of our dear intuition, too, must be reasonably measured against reality and result.

What is needed is aware discernment and critical thinking from all perspectives, reference points and angles, since it is not just analysis and evaluation of ideas or systems but also an ongoing monitoring and analysis of our thinking process and methodology itself.  To be a critical thinker, we examine our inner premises and means at the same time as we explore and parse the truth and significance of the external world we act on and within.  Whether we’re talking about herbalism or history, politics or spirituality, we’re better off not leaving it to strangers with letters after their names – and corporate or government paychecks – to tell us what to believe or doubt, accept or reject.  Nor it helpful to simply “believe what we want to believe” as I’ve heard some people say, contrary to reported and testable evidence, unsubstantiated by our own repeated experience.  The key is a balance and partnership of both intuition and critical thinking, or what Paul Bergner has named “critical intuition”.

“The essence of critical intuition is to develop an identical process about our intuitive insights. ‘Is this impression really true?’” (Bergner)

“Each of us can benefit from a concerted effort to improve our critical thinking skills as a community. We need to consider scientific research, traditional uses for herbs, conventional wisdom, intuitive hunches and other sources of information, seldom wholly accepting or completely dismissing anything, but instead utilizing whatever elements are real and relevant, helpful and applicable. The key isn’t random eclecticism but careful and responsible choice…” –Kiva Rose

It was over 2,500 years ago that the Greek philosopher Socrates made the radical assertion that a person should depend on neither our learned assumptions nor the pronouncements of authorities and their licensed “experts.”   He set up situations and conversations with his students intended to prove how faulty “obvious truths”, “common knowledge”, dogma and tradition could be, while at the same time demonstrating that those with power and position are no less likely to be misinformed, irrational and downright wrong.  He taught that before the acceptance and implementation of an idea, they should first have their character and reality tested by means of a series of deeply probing questions.  He stressed the importance of evidence over here-say, the exacting examination of assumptions and reasoning, and the tracing out of all implications and consequences.   What became known as “Socratic Questioning” still serves as a tool of clarity and critique, discernment and choice, making effective response possible.

Tools For Critical Thinking:

To be critical, thinking must not be an accepting of “facts” or values at face value.  All must be analyzed and assessed for their accuracy, relevance, breadth and depth, logic and effects.  All perception and reasoning occurs within the constraints of perspective, frames of reference, points of view.  It has an informational history, base and bias, purpose and aims.  All concepts and data are interpretable, all interpretations tend to lead to assumptions, and every inference as well as idea has implications.  In all cases, you may want to look for, and deeply into an idea, concept or choice for:

• The exact wording and toning of questions, as well as their context or lack thereof

• The perspective from which, and frame of reference within which the reasoning takes place

• Likely underlying assumptions

• The actual sources of facts, information and anecdotes

• The quality and methods of collecting information

• The mode and parameters of the reasoning used

• Concepts that make their reasoning possible

• Implications following the use of this line of reasoning

• The possible objectives, aims and agenda

• Potential consequence and unintended results


It’s only when we can discern clearly and think critically, that we can most effectively respond, act, help and heal.


(Freely RePost and Forward)

The Power Of Story: Tips For Writing Our Lives

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Each of us has a story that is our own, and it can define how we see ourselves, how we are seen, and how we act upon the world.  The following article by Jesse Wolf Hardin has been revised for a general audience, from a longer version written for herbalists and appearing in the Winter issue of the journal of folk herbalism practice and culture.  Subscriptions and the 700 page long Annual book can still be had in time for Christmas, by clicking on the: Plant Healer Magazine Website

Tips For Writing Our Lives

by Jesse Wolf Hardin
Anima Lifeways and Herbal School –

Part I: The Vital Narrative

“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” –Muriel Rukeyser

“Storytelling is our way of making sense of our world, making order out of [imagined] chaos.  When you tell someone something as simple as what you did today, you are recounting your part of a narrative that began with the dawn of humanity.” –Doug Elliott

We tell our stories, so that we don’t forget.

We tell stories, so that those we tell will remember, but so that we remember as well.  Remember who we are, and the why’s of what we do.  What we intend, as well as what we have gone through.  Remember the natural urgings of our hearts and not just the rote recitations of the mind.  Remember what frightens and threatens, and remember to act to protect ourselves and what we love.  It is our stories that keep us from forgetting our hopes and dreams, and that help us remember to realize them, to manifest, to make real and possible.  To remember the plaintive voice of our calling, and remember that we are both worthy and able to respond.  To recount our mistakes, and thereby drive home each one’s poignant lessons.  To remember all that we have accomplished, wonderfully if imperfectly, and remember to feel satisfaction.  Remember what needs still need to be addressed, and what deeds remain to be done.

There will never be any shortage of stories in the latest “modern” age, but increasingly they’re more like vicarious stand-ins for actual experience, sensation, involvement and risk.  We mustn’t forget that story has at its best always set examples, informed, and inspired action on the part of the listener, reader or viewer.  It does not substitute for our necessary real-world quests, but incites us to ourselves live the sort of life that makes for a good, honorable and possibly exciting tale.  Instead, the trend is towards ever greater degrees of vicariousness through the medium of TV “reality shows”, and escapist literary and film tales of superhumans and comic book superheroes, stories that are less likely to empower us than to make us feel small and insubstantial, in need of the direction, control and protection of superior beings or agencies.  We’re treated to theater or television screen characters that do things we assume we could never do, go places we imagine we could never go, face and overcome or resolve challenges we figure we’d never be able to deal with.  Even great and ancient tales meant to stir a well of courage and a lust for adventure in all who hear them, tend to be reduced to externalized entertainment rather than held up as irresistible inspiration and laudable example, partially due to our failure to notice our place, and our responsibility, in the greater story of contemporary existence.

Storyteller Gemmah Hannah

“I will tell you something about stories… They aren’t just entertainment.  Don’t be fooled.  They are all we have, you see, all we have to fight off illness and death.”
–Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony

We need to recognize, develop and exercise our stories, for without a strong sense of our own narrative and how it keys into the the bigger picture, we may well forget.  We may forget that extreme or heroic acts on behalf of others, the land or a cause, are for us to accomplish in our own time, and are not simply the province of historic figures and storybook characters.  That gardens and enchanted forests, instructive creatures and medicinal plants are not just things of the past.  That the age of miracles is now, with a individualized role for each and every one of us in nature’s miraculous healing covenant.  That the world truly is fantastic, every bit as much as any fantasy movie or novel.  And you need not concern yourself with toning down your story.  Truth is like a fish in a tank, that grows as its vessel is enlarged.  An absence of drama is not only un-compelling, but a sure sign that one’s tale about themselves is pure fiction.

“No storyteller has ever been able to dream up anything as fantastically unlikely as what really does happen in this mad Universe.”   –Robert A. Heinlein, Lazarus Long

“Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.”     –C.S. Lewis

The problem is, that without a story to call our own, we may forget to remember.

Moreover, if we do not take responsibility for the content and telling of our individual and collective story, it will surely and ingloriously be shaped for us.  Events will mold us and the tale of our lives, without either prediction or preparation.  Authorities outside ourselves will decide our value, convention will decide our styles, and circumstances decide our roles.  If we do not actively help write and then communicate, we can easily fall into the template set out like a trap for us, a template of fear and self doubt, boring conformity and contrived normalcy, acquiescence and obedience, moderation and mediocrity.

It is for us, whoever we are, to author, embody, grow and tell our story.

Then whenever anybody tries to write you off, you just grab their attention (by the collar if necessary) and tell ‘em, “Hey, give me that pen!”

The Story of Story

“The destiny of the world is determined less by the battles that are lost and won than by the stories it loves and believes in.” —Harold Goddard

“If you don’t know the trees you may be lost in the forest, but if you don’t know the stories you may be lost in life.” —Siberian Elder

Story is at the very heart of human existence, defining, communicating and preserving cumulative experience, meaning and lesson.  Stories are, near as I can tell, the most effective way that we people have ever made sense of ourselves and our world.

The human mind has evolved to be naturally receptive to narratives, and to learn information best through illustrative stories.  In the spontaneous stories that children act out in their play, we witness them naturally expressing aspects of who they believe themselves to be and what they hope to become, and often within the context of a behavioral code, personalized morality, or even code of honor.  This is because story provides us a framework not only for identity but for motivation, direction and manifestation as well.

Without an interconnective storyline, life can seem like only a sequence of dimly related events and dynamics, offering the psyche no place to tether, root and grow from.  But with the development of an overall story that we’re an integral and irreplaceable part of, events past and present meld in the moment into a whole and active gestalt, a cognitive leap and unified understanding that affords clarity and stability/balance within a whirlwind of both pleasant and unpleasant experience.  In a society that feeds separativeness and disconnection – that paints us a world where all things seem isolated, temporal and amenable, discontinuous and subject to redefinition or reconfiguration – story is a way of firmly planting ourselves not only in the security of a specific physical and geographic location, but also in a bed of meaning and mission, and in sequence of events leading from and to somewhere, to one condition or outcome after another: what we could call our personal “story arc”.
Telling stories is as elemental as breathing and even more definitively human, for while breathing keeps us alive, it is the richness and significance of our story that can make our finite mortal years feel truly worth living.

And, we must add, worth sharing.

Aristotle says in “Poetics” that storytelling is what gives us a shareable world, connecting and identifying with others through an exchange of subjective tellings.  When entering a new relationship, we describe our selves and our current conditions in the light of future anticipations and valued memories, of an ontological mythos and sense of association, purpose or mission.
In many once land-based cultures, in fact, it is still not uncommon to hear someone ask “What’s your story?” upon meeting for the first time.  Questions such as “How are you?” or “What’s going on?” are naturally preceded by one’s first finding out who and what this other person is that they’ve encountered.  “What’s your name?” isn’t considered nearly as important as “What’s your game?”  The respondent’s introductory story may be long or short depending on the teller and time, but it will in most cases include the place where one calls home, what group or association they belong to or represent, and what they do.  This doing may mean their trade, such as being a woodworker or teacher, or the mission to which they’ve give themselves most passionately or immediately: “I doctor the village” or “I seek the healing yellow root”.

Everyone, from childhood on, is expected to be aware of and able to speak of their story.  It must include, like a fable in a book, an evocation of place and situation (which writers call “setting”), of self (“character”), purpose and challenge or conflict (“plot”), and projected result or resolution (“denouement”) of what’s has happened in their lives and what they are intent on doing.  Their stories describe not only where they come from but where they are going, in other words, their current position within a personal timeline of past and future, on the story arc of an already meaningful and eventful existence.

“Storytellers have as profound a purpose as any who are charged to guide and transform human lives.  I knew it as an ancient discipline and vocation to which everyone is called.”
–Nancy Mellon, The Art of Storytelling

One who proves particularly adept at telling not only her own personal tale, but also the tales of her association or tribe, are featured and feted as honored “storytellers,” the acknowledged keepers of oral history and communicators of the group’s core characteristics, values and priorities.  They are the unofficial teachers, informally appointed through popular acclamation because of the skill and wisdom they evince, and because of this, the most influential sources.  The best instructors and leaders, motivators and singer/songwriters, care givers and herbalists are often also the most effective storytellers… and are nearly always at least aware of – and fully inhabiting – their own powerful story-lines.  What’s more, they are often familiar with the stories of the people in their audience, speaking to their known individual experiences as well as collective sensibilities.  It is storytelling’s subjective and highly personalized dimension that prevents movies and books from effectively taking its place.  Folklorist and wildcrafter Doug Elliott reminds us of an anecdote, wherein someone decides to donate a TV to a so-called undeveloped African village.  For a while, the entire village gathered around the TV, but after a while their interest waned and they went back to hanging out with the village storyteller in the evenings.  One of them was asked, ‘Why did you go back to listening to the storyteller; doesn’t the TV know more stories than the storyteller?’ The reply was ‘Yes, the TV knows more stories, but the storyteller knows us.’

Those stories which retain their significance from person to person, situation to situation, generation to generation, that meet the test of time by continuing to be found both subjectively verifiable and practically employable – are what we call “folklore.”

Part II:


“The story was the bushman’s most sacred possession.  These people knew what we do not; that without a story you have not got a nation, or culture, or civilization.  Without a story of your own, you haven’t got a life of your own.” —Laurens Van der Post

It is stories that shape our existence as much as any actual condition or happening, the subjective, honest or dishonest, contextual telling and retelling that colors the perception and programs the responses of us and those we interact with or are subject to.  These tales include especially the stories told about us, those we tell to and about our selves, and those we truly represent, wholly inhabit, live and express.

The Stories Told About Us

“Stories are the single most powerful weapon in an arsenal.” —Howard Gardner, Harvard University

“People take on the shapes of the songs and the stories that surround them, especially if they don’t have their own song.”
-Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys

To the direct degree that we fail to develop, brand and communicate our story and the story of our group, it will by default end up framed and determined by commentators or authorities from outside.  Being less informed about us, our motivations, intent and methods, their tales will consist almost entirely of their impressions of our appearance and assessments of any readily visible results.  Even these proclamations will be distorted by their existing stereotypes, prejudices and presumptions.  And the less intimate and involved they are with us or our group, the greater and possibly more harmful their spin on things will be.  This is what the call “hanging a jacket” on someone, on the streets.  Women were considered and treated as inferior and ill equipped, before redefining themselves and publicly pushing forth a new narrative highlighting their strengths and abilities.

“The answer is always in the entire story, not a piece of it.” —Jim Harrison

Other’s stories about us personally can be dismissive, literally “writing us off”, unrealistically praiseful or unfairly critical, but in almost all cases will be an unbalanced telling.  Even if the appraisals are not mean spirited, they do us a disservice by being so awfully incomplete, poorly focused and un-nuanced.  You are never just what is thought and said about you.  You have gifts and skills, intentions and dreams that few may recognize if you haven’t wholly and audibly expressed your self and your story.  No description of a scientist or medical doctor is accurate without mention of her feelings and concerns, insights and sensibilities, and a portrayal of even the most informal or alternative herbalist will often need to include a reference to their careful keying out of new plant discoveries, and studious attention to clinical research and its continually revised conclusions.

Government authorities, belittling fathers, bitter grade school teachers, advertising executives out to get our money, and fear mongering Fox News commentators are all examples of external voices who are very, very good at framing, spinning and delivering a convincing narrative.  It is up to you, and to us, to get out the rest of the story…
…the whole story.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

“Those times of depression tell you that it’s either time to get out of the story you’re in and move into a new story, or that you’re in the right story but there’s some piece of it you are not living out.” — Carol S. Pearson

The stories others tell about us, can yoke us to an unjust or at least rigid characterization that affects how people view us upon first meeting.  Similarly, narrow or unjust characterizations of a group can result in reduced participation in its work and events, can make accomplishing its goals more difficult, and can even be the narrative that paves the way for the restricting or outlawing of a group or its practices.

Even more dangerous, however, are those untruths or unbalanced tellings that we spin for ourselves.

This is so whether the story is about us specifically, or about some element of our lives.  And whether we craft the tale, or merely repeat the untruths impressed upon us by our parents or peers.  In the former case, we may be unconsciously misshaping reality as part of our denial of or retreat from a traumatic experience, or we may be consciously protecting ourselves by telling a tough story when we really feel vulnerable.  In the latter, we have adopted a story refrain that was impressed or even pounded into us.  This can be as simple as a dishonest tale about a family’s race or origins, or as complex as a set of values and preconditions for relating to anyone or anything.  Or as insidious as a parent impressing with their shows of disappointment just how worthless their kid is.  Or as terrible as a sexually abusive parent, teacher or priest who instills in their victim the lifelong narrative that it was really theirs – the abused’s – fault for what happened.

Regardless of our stories’ veracity, source or source material, there are almost always deep ramifications and both predictable and unforeseen consequences to the particular narratives we construct or adopt, identify with and often attach to.
This applies not only to our narratives about our selves, but also to those that are about the people and elements around us.  For example, if we were to tell ourselves that nature is dangerous, that fitting-in is primary and intrusive government a necessary evil, we will be more likely to contribute to a reality that is wholly manmade, conformist and controlled.  We will welcome restrictions on our liberties for the promise of security, and likely be afraid to leave the security of the “shire” to chance some great adventure or quest.  We will surely be hesitant to be and express our real and whole selves, out of concern that we might be seen as different and therefore excluded from the fold.  We will probably fail to find instruction and inspiration in the natural world, while supporting endless development of wildlands, spraying toxic herbicides on tightly crew-cutted lawns, and mistrusting herbal remedies. But if we were to tell a story of rebellious heroes that buck the norm, embark on adventures and attempt the seemingly impossible, we would surely come to take risks on behalf of our passion and purpose.  If we were to tell of a nature that is inspirited and instructive, filled with sentient green beings whose medicinal properties can aid us, then we would just as assuredly find ways to actively oppose infringements on the last wild and biodiverse places, let our lawns grow or even dedicate our yards to reintroducing native species, and look to the green ones as accomplices to and agents of our healing of ourselves, other people and this planet we are integral to.  In telling ourselves a story of liberty and response-ability, individuality and community, connection and healing, empowerment and action, we begin to fashion for ourselves and all things a differently conceived world.
If the story we tell ourselves is that we’re inadequate or inconsequential, it makes it less likely that we’ll attempt the difficult tasks and changes that might be needed.  If the character that we paint of ourselves is held to be unworthy for any either real or delusional reason, we probably won’t do the things we want because we won’t think we deserve the experience, and for the same reason, we will have a harder time believing or relishing any credit, compliments, accomplishments or rewards.  But when our story focuses on our real selves and intrinsic worth,  – on our genuine character, certain gifts, proven skills, honest needs, sure potential, heartful goals and most insistent calling – the we can move forward, and manifest… just as we express.

The Story We Inhabit, Fulfill & Express

“No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.” –Lewis Carrol, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

No one is truly on the sidelines.  None is invisible.  There’s no one who isn’t a participant and thus co-creator of this reality and world.  It is so important, then, that we present what we want seen, tell of our selves and what needs telling, notice our effects, and act to best effect.  That we accept we have the response-ability to consciously and purposefully contribute to that co-creation through the story we truly inhabit, fulfill through the living of it, and express to all who will hear.

Our awareness of, taking responsibility for, learning from and sharing of our story can do the following:

•Honestly describe and define ourselves, for our own self perception as well as that of others
Frame, illustrate, color, represent and help to determine the course and flavor of our lives
•Contribute to the full expression of our full selves, and the most honest as well as characteristic expression of our group
•Incessantly illuminate and explore relevant ramifications and consequence, quandaries and questions
Provide us a means for a consciously and purposefully “shareable world”
•Contribute to a cultural and political narrative/mythology, independent of – or even in opposition to – the  narrative of the dominant paradigm
•Contribute to a needed mythos of personal and planetary health, of personal and earthen mission, in which we can each play a significant, exemplary or even heroic role

“Once upon a time there was what there was, and if nothing had happened there would be nothing to tell.”
–Charles de Lint, Dreams Underfoot

Storyteller Clare Murphy

Our story can be communicated orally:
•In installments, beginning with the most definitive and salient parts first.
•In a single telling at special dedicated time, for the benefit of someone that clearly interested.
•Not just at first meeting someone, but at every timely opportunity as you build mutual understanding and affinity.

Oral Storytelling Tips:

•Tell what is important to you, and it will be what you most want to share.
•Don’t think you need to be a great orator to vocalize your story.
•A story is just a conversation, in which the telling is purposeful and the topics significant and relevant.
•Besides live storytelling, record your oral story on whatever medium, for your own reference as well as to share with others.
•People will hear you best, if you also demonstrate a sincere interest in their own personal stories.
•You don’t have to be the obvious subject of the story, if your approach to to the subjects that matter to you demonstrates your character, values, interests, temperament, experiences and effects, intentions or aims.
•Trust the power of your true story, rather than relying on embellishment.
•Speak conversationally in your normal voice and timbre.
•Don’t worry about dramatizing, as your voice will naturally reflect the feelings and degrees of excitement that each portion of the story bring out.
•Shorten your story and speak more concisely when those listening are in danger of distraction or disinterest.
•Extend and flesh out your tale when they are paying attention and appear to want more.
•The storyteller’s success is not a matter of how well folks are entertained, but how much they really heard and any effects it may have on them.

Our story can also be communicated through writing:

•In installments focused on various aspects, as related topics or question arise in conversation.
•In a single exposition.
In the form of:
•Detailed letters and emails.
•Letters to the editor.
•Blog posts about past or ongoing parts of your life, that readers will find them engaging and useful.
•Hand written memoirs with photographs such as you might want to hand down to your children.
•A full autobiography, regardless of any possible literary merits.

Tips for Written Storytelling:

•Work on your ability to write clearly and powerfully.
•Do not wait until you are happy with your writing ability, before starting to write your story.
•An essay or article is just a story recorded in ink, don’t let writing intimidate you.
•Relax.  Spoken words may not be able to be taken back, but until you send it out, your written story can be reexamined and fact checked, adjusted and improved, expanded or erased.
•As with an oral story, written storytelling only differs from relaxed conversation in terms of its relevance, significance, focus and depth.
•Again, you don’t have to be the obvious subject of the story.  You share the story of your self when you write personally (not objectively) about any of the things in life that most matter to you.

There are elements of every person’s story in yours, which is what makes it possible for someone you don’t know to relate to it, but it is in another way your story and yours alone, exactly like no one’s story before you.  Our individual stories are like fingerprints, in that they are specifically identified with us… and because no two are ever exactly alike.

The fundamental elements of all our stories, no matter how unique, are character, intention, action/conflict, experience and effect/result.
The central character of your story is certainly you, including your characteristics… such as personality, appearance, temperament, attitude, energetics and constitution, interests, beliefs and concerns, values and priorities, propensities and passions.  This authentic, self-aware you sets intentions and goals according to your character values.  Action to actualize your intent, resolve conflicts and move towards your goals, includes personal subjective experience from which you can learn and strengthen, precipitating both intended and unintended effects and results.  In literary terms, action and conflict is the buildup leading to conclusion.  To the contrary, in our real life stories, each incidence of resolution sets the stage for the further efforts and events of a successive chapter, and our deaths are always the closest thing that we have to a final scene.

“Death is the sanction of everything the story-teller can tell.  He has borrowed his authority from death.” –Walter Benjamin

Our work, then, is to recognize, develop, brand and communicate our authentic, purposeful story.  We first need to recognize what is real and definite in and about us and our narrative, and what is artifice or illusion.  We next need to develop our tale and our character, with study and application, through the clarifying of our intent and missions, and through the conflicts we face in actualizing our intentions and manifesting our successive aims and goals.  And we want to brand our story with our unique, indelible mark, with the ways we are different as well as connected and related, with the touch of our non-replicable fire and spirit.

•Don’t let others write or delimit your story,  it is for you to author… and to live.

•Don’t let others determine how your story is told to the world, preempt or counterbalance with your own
engaging exposition.

•Don’t get trapped in one mood, chapter or scene of your story.

•It is the challenges, obstacles and surprises that forge you, as the main character of your story.

•Avoid stereotypes, which are never wholly accurate and seldom compelling.

•Never let story and fiction or projection begin to take the place of actual experiencing and doing.

•Realize that your path through your story is every bit as potentially magical and revealing as any piece of fiction, and that you are as able – as any realistically portrayed character – of significant feats, quests, discoveries, assisted healings and other meaningful acts of service.  And yes, of deep rewards.

“Life itself is the most wonderful fairytale of all.” —Hans Christian Andersen

Tell the story of your life, remembering that every story should be made worthwhile.  Tell your story as completely as you can, while remembering that no story is ever complete.  Plant your story in the soil of truth, in the very real world.  Feed and grow it, then spread its seeds of nourishment, meaning and healing.  Tell it any damn way you want… but keep moving as you recount.

Tell your story walkin’.

“This part is my part of the movie, now let’s hear yours.”
–Jack Kerouac, Tristessa

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The Balance: Gifting & Receiving Are Both Ways of Doing

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

The Balance:

Gifting & Receiving Are Both Ways of Doing

Canyon Updates & Ponderings

by Jesse Wolf Hardin – Anima School & Sanctuary

Wolf working hard on relaxing, or accomplishing in a relaxed manner?

“Thank you for all you offer to the world!.  Please do take time to tend to your own basic needs, to relax, to play, to enjoy the company of your loved ones, to create spontaneously, to listen quietly to the voice of life in this moment.” -Lauren S.

Today I would like to briefly address the uses of our mortal hours, the balance of giving and receiving, rest and effort, in the context of this Anima update.  It is certainly true that we have not found the time for relaxation that we had hoped for following a Summer of wildfire and a wonderful conference, as much as we agree with our caring friend Lauren’s hopes we can find the time.  Unslackened has been the stream of  projects much needed by the world as well as of so much satisfaction to me, and relentless both the joy and stress that accompany them.  The work of the upcoming 2012 event began immediately after getting home from the 2011 TWHC, as we strove to select the teacher’s and classes that would go best in this year’s magical recipe (preferably without hurting any feelings, though it seems it’s not always possible, no matter how hard we try).  It’s actually been quite an effort just to get back to and acknowledge important companeros and allies like Nick and Marcus, go over new student applications or respond to the up to 50 emails a day that come in to our various addresses.  With Loba tending the land, our bellies and Rhiannon’s home school, Kiva and I try to take care of all the rest, including the two blogs and rewriting, recreating, and just now uploading the latest revised 2012 TWHC Website.

Readers of Kiva’s Medicine Woman’s Roots Blog will see a a great new post by her, not just for herbalists.  And you will now see a new header and subtitle: “A Feral Approach To Midwidery, the Folk Herbalism Revolution and Living On The Land.”  Never one to mince words, Kiva has overcome the doldrums by redefining her mission and work closer to what she has always felt and enjoyed.  Expressing the wild joy and deep connection that she feels with plants, daring to broach controversial subjects that may make some uncomfortable, and unleashing her feral (rewilded) self in her posts and Plant Healer Magazine has rebooted and reframed her efforts, setting fire to her excitement again.  It still won’t be stillness or stress-less this way, but it can be satisfying.

Kiva's adjusted blog header, featuring an ambivalent and ever so mildly worded subtitle.

As any herbalist or healer knows, stress comes with pleasurable events as well as unpleasant, with doing certain things that feel great as well as those we might wish we could avoid.  For me, the greatest stress is always over what I cannot make happen, rather than even the most tragic or difficult of events.  But another that is hard on nearly everyone, is the stress of anxiety as something unseen or as-yet unarrived threatens us.  Thus the pain that came with watching the rapid approach of the Wallow fire’s undiscerning flames… and since October’s incursion by a bulldozer through the canyon, the underlying anxiety that comes with waiting for the “other shoe to drop” (as the saying goes, and just the expression come from, anyway?).  As many of you read earlier, our proud anti-federalist county chose the historic trail down this sensitive river canyon to challenge the government’s restricting of vehicle access in public forests.  Like the hero of the Milagro Beanfield War, they scraped at the river crossings and left tracks meant to demonstrate who the heck has sovereignty, the agencies of the United States or the residents of Catron County.  The government response is an ongoing investigation by more agencies than I can name, charged with protection of water quality, archaeological sites, wildlife and more, and on top of however many lawsuits and cease and desist requests they’ve inspired.  The first of November I raised in the local newspaper an issue that no one seemed to be talking about, which is the violation of private property that occurred during this anti-federal demonstration, including our Sanctuary here, and how private property rights are as American a principle as personal liberty.  Only a short while before, a county commissioner had publicly admonished people to do whatever the wanted in regards to the road issue here, likely leading to a local club offroad club pulling out a no trespass post and driving into the sanctuary.  And likely led also to someone having dragged logs into the trail to cause us difficulty.  While we teach our child the realities of history, lay out the magazine to be as beautiful as we can imagine, finally get around to straining our medicinal tinctures, and do all we can to make the world a more healthful and response-able place, we do with the added stress of watching for what we might face next.

Kiva recently unearthed Wolf's cossack ancestory... and indeed, this looks a man who might have a problem with a bulldozer in his yard, and prefer trade or plunder to money.

One of the more difficult aspects is income, as for all so called civilized peoples.  It is hard for everyone we know to get enough money coming in to survive, often in order to be giving time freely to a place, people or cause.  None can escape the requirement in this society for at least a certain amount of income, no matter how differently and more simply we live than the bankers and top 5% that get away with 80% of the wealth.  For us at Anima (first named “Duration Ranch” because of my love for Paladin type cowboy characters and the fact that I was staying for the duration of my life), the struggle is how difficult it can be to make enough to pay not for our personal needs so much as for all that we are trying to accomplish.  Yes, to survive this wild rural lifestyle,with expected dental and medical needs with no heath insurance, repairs and improvements to the sanctuary infrastructure, but most importantly to build the conference and courses, print the new books waiting, and thus have an impact on the course of the world… with our work offered at a sliding scale and only 2 consistent (and ever so appreciated) supporters able to send any monthly assistance to the project.

Part of what we need for our own balance is buying a little time, which can come in part from seeking (and accepting!) assistance.  Much of what we do requires us along, but there are other areas that require skilled efforts without our personal touch, and it is making a difference to have Resolute taking care of all that she does for Anima and TWHC on to of her own worries and work.  The outreach help of Katja and Sean, our conference extensions and reps.  Lauren and Asa taking on the job of proofing, which can make such a difference to writing’s clarity as well as appearance.  And it seems that at least one and maybe more helpers are still coming for the live-in position we advertised, which will make it possible for the Trail Boss to see our fire fighting and water cache system completed, an outdoor overhang kitchen for Loba, maintenance on the cabins.  With more assistance and alliance, aides or staff dedicated at least in part to sharing these tasks and goals, we may yet find time… not to fill with yet more exciting projects, but to take those nutritive and sense awakening walks on the river we tend and protect.

The immediate strategy, however, is more a matter of 1. Prioritization, daily determining what is most important, pertinent to our purpose, effective and especially timely. 2. Less email, facebook or other interfacing if possible, with more blogs and articles. 3. A fierceness of focus, following elements through to completion more than multi tasking.  And 4. Even with that degree of focus and determination, to always, all-ways, remain engaged with the physical world, noticing the songs of the birds outside the window as well as the possible crunch and hum of a vehicle’s approach, the dance of the leaves in the wind as well as (not just following) our attention to the dance of words on the page.  We are not relaxed, as Lauren hoped, but we are as you wished, indeed “playing, enjoying the company of loved ones, creating spontaneously, listening quietly to the voice of life in this moment.”

Our friend 7Song wondered how Kiva can accomplish so much and still notice the little things in life.  It comes not from a healthy making of time for wandering and paying attention, but from training ourselves to notice the richness of form and nuances of meaning, in spite of all the important tasks which those trying to help the world know must be done.  And not just taking satisfaction in moments of looking away from our work, but in finding ways to notice and savor even while meaningfully busy.  The balance between gifting and receiving can be achieved through alternating from one to the other, or by accomplishing and experiencing both concurrently.

As I wrote recently to our friend and aide Katja, even the efforts to relax and enjoy are a “doing”… hence, let us do well.

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