Archive for November, 2012

Whether To Become a “Professional” or Not – Part I

Monday, November 26th, 2012

Intro: By all appearance, we have a magazine and publishing business, and we certainly strive to be as professional in our work as possible without sacrificing our aims or attitudes.  Still, we are poor business people considering we manage to re-invest or spread any profit around to others, and we are owed a lot of money by a person or two that we care so much about we are uncomfortable even pressing for its repayment.  And we will never submit to being vetted, certified, approved or registered by any group or agency, and our professionalism has more to do with quality and ethics than being accepted by the system.  Wolf wrote the following piece for the Winter issue of Plant Healer Magazine, and then reworked it so as to address all work and roles and not just herbalism, but teaching, counseling, and so many other fields.  We all have a choice to sign up for approval and legitimacy, or go our own way.  We present this piece to you in multiple parts, and hope it proves of benefit. -Kiva

Whether To Become a Professional or Not
Choosing Our Path – Part I

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

excerpted from a longer article in the upcoming Winter issue of Plant Healer Magazine
www.PlantHealerMagazine.com

We each have an ultimate personal role to fulfill, one that by its very nature maximizes our abilities and imparts maximum meaning to our daily acts.  While it may look something like the roles we see others assuming, it will in certain ways be significantly different from what everyone else does, a position, purpose and way for which we alone are ideally suited.  We’ll need to choose again and again between options and paths as we progress in that fulfillment, basing each choice on our sense of what that evolving role might look like.

One’s personal path  forks early on, providing an initial and fundamental choice between two distinct – and distinctly valuable – courses we could take.  There will be many other forks and branches as we go along, but one of the very first choices we need to make is between doing what it takes to be a professional, be it practitioner, researcher, professor, or product developer… or going our own way, independently and informally studying and practicing.

pro•fes•sion: 1. a paid occupation, esp. one that involves formal training and qualification.

Anyone considering their role, purpose, means or place  today, would do well to begin by asking:

To Be, Or Not To Be?

That is the question.  Or at least, it’s one of the first of many important questions.

If you choose the costs and benefits of becoming a professional, then you need to promptly commit your time and funds to the required formal education, and then apply for and submit to the judgements of both accrediting associations and regulating agencies… preferably without first giving too many years to being uncertain, unfocused, uninvested or directionless.  Likewise, if you end up choosing to forego the costs and benefits of going pro, there is no need to run up a huge bill for a university education.  You can look instead to unaccredited  schools, to apprenticeships and even self-education… and when and how you practice will be determined by you.

Before we continue, let me offer this disclosure: I am not, by any account, a professional.

While I impose upon myself some mighty high standards, I generally put style and results ahead of both professionalism and income.  I am but a an increasingly wise nonprofessional with satisfyingly no need or desire to be vetted, endorsed, approved or certified by any board, group or agency.  I do not consider my work on this planet to be my profession, even in those rare situations where it makes me money, no matter how many years I have dedicated to it or how much gratitude or acclaim it may have earned me.  My work – of teaching, writing, painting, organizing, activism, wilderness restoration, plant conservation and healing in all its forms – is far more my passion and art, my calling and purpose, my mission and thus my source of greatest satisfaction.

That said, I can step back and see not only problems and drawbacks to professionalism, but also a number of incontestable pluses making a profession of one’s work, investing the long years earning necessary degrees and then qualifying for the recognition and acceptance of honored peers.

Potential Benefits to Being a Professional

•Qualification
Being a professional means to be qualified, which means to have one’s recountable knowledge, skills and abilities tested by those vested with the authority to make such determinations.  Whether it is the government, a university or an established guild doing the testing or approving, the resulting accreditation, title or stamp of approval can result in greater public trust in the value (and safety) of what you have to teach, sell or otherwise offer to the world.
There may be roles you’re interested in that are easier to get with a professional degree from an upper tier college, including teaching at the university level.  Both college degrees and certification by peer groups and guilds can contribute to getting hired by professional clinics, certain schools, and businesses involved with the research and development of  products.
A standard of competency is a worthy aim, in this form or others.  One of the best measures of our knowledge and abilities comes from holding them up to a recognized standard.  Another is to be fairly challenged and tested, whether by circumstance or in the course of vetting and protocol.

•Legitimacy
Becoming professional is a process of legitimization in the eyes of our qualified peers, the vested authorities, and our students and clients.  It requires, assumes and advertises adherence to professional codes and obedience of regulations and laws.

•Authority
An accredited professional is also considered to be an authority and have a “legitimate opinion” that’s more deserving of being listened to.  Like it or not, professional status is what it usually takes to qualify as an authority figure in the larger society… hence we see that the officers giving the orders in the military are professional soldiers, that people spend billions of dollars seeking health care from what they trust are professional if sometimes unbelievably unhelpful doctors, and the public tends to grant even the most thuggish policeman the status of law enforcement professional.
If we want to be able to direct the activities of others, or if we simply want to be listened to and given credibility by the greatest number of or most influential of people, we should at least consider going the professional route.

•Connection                                                                                                                                                                              Being recognized as a professional, results in connections to “powers that be”, but also in being able to link up people, information and services in what can be effective ways.  As Bevin Clare (Vice President of the American Herbalist Guild) defines it, “the goal of professionalism is to be able to connect with people.”  And she uses her own experience as an example: “When I began practicing and reaching out to a more financially affluent community in Boston I realized quickly that some parts of my appearance were making my clients feel uncomfortable since they were considered, by them, to be unprofessional. My initial reaction was that I wasn’t going to change who I was to make them comfortable, but when I sat with it I realized these things weren’t my values, and my values dictated that I bring plants and their medicine to as many people as I could.”

•Income
Even the most non-materialist person has a need for a certain amount of financial income, not only to survive in this day and age, but also to fund those passions or causes that mean the most to us.  The sometimes greater incomes of professionals in any field, can fuel research, fund services for the under-served, or pay for the organizing and activism that may prove essential to the future of this craft.

•Published Codes of Ethics
Every profession is expected to have a code of ethics that its members subscribe to, a standard of behavior that reflects membership morality.  The most laudable of the old time Western outlaws heeded a code that prohibited cowardice, the striking of a woman, and ratting on one’s partner if captured… and the most heinous of villains are those politicos and corporados who, regardless of what they might say, truly have no ethics to anchor, temper or guide them.
A mission statement of general intent is not hardly enough.  Our particular codes of ethics should be spelled out, to ourselves and all others.  Studied and deeply considered.  Tested, and then either resisted if found faulty, or honored and adhered to at all costs if proved worthy.

•Crediting
Professionalism involves not only garnering credit, but also giving credit, beginning with the citing of sources, referencing of research, and the attribution of quotes.

•Infiltration & Integration
Recognized professionals may have additional credibility to help introduce alternative ideas to the system.
One way I enjoy thinking of it, is as infiltration – infiltrating a government approved and subsidized, corporate influenced, often unhealthful paradigm with the seeds of change… via those who are willing to make the sacrifices, jump through the hoops, speak the language, and conform to a degree necessary to initiate change and ensure improvement.

What we must weigh these benefits against, are the potential problems with professionalism as we often see today.  Only upon consideration of both its advantages and drawbacks, can we determine which of the two main paths to take to our personal goal.

Potential Drawbacks to Professionalism

The following are indicative of contemporary professionalism in general.  It remains for those so choosing, to avoid any dangerous pitfalls.

•Problems with Qualification & Inorganic Hierarchy
Hierarchy in itself is not only unavoidable but totally natural, one of the ways that species and individuals within each species sort themselves out according to purpose, role, ability and skill, penchant and character, energetic and action.  It is not always hierarchy involving dominance, as is the case in wolf packs for example, but always a planetary self-evaluation that arranges and assigns according to manifest – both shared and individual – gifts, weaknesses, uses and needs.
The problem with human created hierarchy is that it is often constructed of a very limited number of social classes (roles, and ways to belong), and that those classes are clearly disproportionate in both importance and reward.  In an organic hierarchy there are innumerable subtle variations and there is much overlapping, with a large and adaptive range of roles arrayed not only in order of importance or authority but in patterns of alliance and purpose, ecotones and transition zones.  Professional models usually split all aspirants into a few inflexible castes, beginning with those accepted, and those rejected.  A further breakdown may be between guest members and professional members, or between professional members and executive members.  But usually lacking, is a form that grants a degree of acceptance and support to all well intended and effort making people, with a role (a means to be focused, effective and free valued) that is in at least some ways unique to them, with acknowledgement that truly sees what they offer and do rather than merely grading them as qualified or unqualified, “pass” or “fail.”  An inorganic two or three tier system can result in folks viewing it as an exclusive club, an elite caste to which the common folk need not aspire, or as the only approved means to do the work we’re called to do.

•The Unmeasured
While length of study or practice can be measured, and stored knowledge tested, many valuable skills for both professional and non-professional can’t be or usually aren’t, including: real wisdom, dedication, genuine intuition, empathy, communication skills, connection making, and the ability to synthesize new ideas and methods out of existing information and models, determining new approaches or uses.

•Requirement for Permission
Being (or remaining!) professional requires acceptance and approval from one’s “superiors,” along with their direct or codified permission to do things.  This is true for employed nonprofessionals as well, though not with as much on the line to lose.

•Potential for Disempowerment
It can feel powerful to come together in a group with a common cause, reassuring to win admittance and approval, but it can also be disempowering when it leads us to imagine we were ineffective before being admitted, that we are only competent if others agree that we are, only somebody special if a panel of directors confirms, only “real” if we have our diplomas or certificates, only free to practice and help this world if and when the latest government regulators allow.  The more we are paid a professional wage, the more we likely need to be concerned about pleasing the market or not contradicting the politics or ethics of our employers.  The more we function as professionals, the more restraint is often expected of us, and the more subject we’re likely to be to external controls.

•Conformity
A need to meet qualifying standards or regulations can in itself contribute to conformity unless guarded against, and is the more problematic when qualification depends on the approval of either feared or admired individuals in power.  When we know not only what the directors, council members or agency directors want, but also what they seem to personally like, prefer or favor – what their politics are or what kinds of people and things they least admire – we tend to reign in those aspects, appearances or attitudes that we worry may be unappealing or offensive, as well as to exaggerate those traits, opinions or styles we consciously or subconsciously feel could win us acceptance.

•Feeding Into Self-Worth Issues
The drive to be admitted, accredited, certified or made legal, can be more of a desire for acceptance and approval than a strategic choice to be a professional.  The fact that a field is generally sidelined in this society, largely cast as fringe and outside the norm, increases hunger for acceptance… and acceptance is rooted in the very natural need to belong.
The problem is when self-worth becomes dependent on admittance and membership, or for that matter, on the approval of any person, entity or group outside of our selves.  No one knows our aims, weaknesses, strengths, compromises, failures or accomplishments better than us… when we are honest and paying attention.

•False Advertising
Being an accredited professional is formal assurance of knowledgeable, qualified, quality, competent, effective consultations, production, research and conclusions, writings and teachings.  Students, clients and readers expect a level or degree of product or service that is both immeasurable and uncertain.
Professional standards can be misleading, just as the grades a kid gets in school can sometimes lead to the wrong conclusions about his strengths, problems or potential.  A practitioner or teacher’s reputation is the best indication of their likely effectiveness, though even this is no guarantee.  And how good you actually are at your work, is in no way dependent on either professional status or official recognition.

•Commercialization
Professionalizing one’s work tends to mean commercializing.  At its most basic, this is simply assigning financial worth to our services, products and time, so that we can actually make a living from doing what’s needed and loved.  Plus we aren’t helping or affecting people if they don’t buy (aren’t exposed to) our products or services, just as my writings aren’t aiding or inspiring new people unless they’re exposed to (purchase) my books or Plant Healer magazine.
The problem is that once we begin to measure our work and apportion our finite hours according to the number of units sold or dollars made, we run the risk of increasingly providing a more profitable but less meaningful, deep, challenging, controversial or life changing product or service. Linking self-evaluation and self-worth to the amount of income produced, gives short shrift to the various cultural, political and aesthetic considerations.  A corporation is forced by design to make decisions based on the projection of maximum profits, even when those decisions might run counter to its own founding mission or other company aims.  Somewhat similarly, professionals are bound to protocols and priorities that make it hard to put beauty and purpose, effects on the community and planet, ahead of success and profit.
People need an income they can live on.  But what we provide can be invaluable, even (or especially!) when we do it for very little money.

•Formalism
Professionalism is rife with formalism: excessive adherence to prescribed approaches, forms and methods.  This includes the emphasizing of “formal training” and university degrees while de-emphasizing informal training, apprenticing, and the value of individual experience.  At its worst, formalism obstructs change, dampens spontaneity and makes adventure and debate less likely, constricting natural interaction and relationship similar to the way a professional’s business suit constricts movement, stereotypes them as stuffy and unexpressive, and makes fun food fights less likely.

•Hypocrisy
While most professions and professional organizations have codes of ethics, the pressure to appear to fit in, meet standards and retain support, approval or legitimacy can lead to much fudging and pretense.  One needs only to think of the hypocrisy of physicians sworn to the Hippocratic Oath.  Bringing “no harm” is an impossible goal in the natural world, especially when asked of those risking dangerous measures to potentially save a life… but claims of ethical intentions and standards by the wholesale purveyors of so often harmful pharmaceuticals is disingenuous at best, and often criminal in truth.

•The Religion of Professionalism
All too often professional groups give off the vibe of being exclusive, privileged, superior, elevated, its members ensconced behind a wall of certification like wealthy families sheltering inside the walls of a gated community, cleanly removed from the uncomprehending or even resentful residents of the surrounding ghetto or barrio.

•The Relegation of Professionalism/Amateurism
It is extremely difficult to have a vetted, officially qualified, professional class/caste without the implication that Nonprofessionals/Amateurs are by means of process inferior: less knowledgeable, effective, safe and trustworthy.  This remains an inherent problem of perception, even though many professionals may personally hold certain amateurs, adepts, self-taught practitioners and teachers in high regard.

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In Part II, we will look at reclaiming positive “Amateurism,” and the advantages and disadvantages of being a non-professional “Adept.”  To read the entire article, subscribe at www.PlantHealerMagazine.com

To read more of Jesse Wolf Hardin’s articles go to: www.AnimaCenter.org

(Repost and Share freely, credited and linked please)

Plant Totems: Identifying Our Most Personal Herbal Ally

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

The following is excerpted from a much longer piece featured in the current issue of Plant Healer Magazine, and that will be included in Wolf’s next book, “Finding Our Medicine”.  As far as I know it is the most extensive and inspirational work ever done on the seldom explored subject of personal, practical plant totems.  Thank you for reposting and sharing this! -Kiva Rose

PLANT TOTEMS
Identifying & Learning From Our Most Personal Plant Ally

By Jesse Wolf Hardin

The Ojibway word “totem” originally refers to a plant or animal symbol for a specific family or clan, not unlike the creature emblems on ancient European Coat of Arms.  Thus we talk about “totem poles” when referring to trees carved into vertically stacked animals, each signifying a different clan of the Haida and other coastal Alaskan natives.

In the last century, however, “totem” has increasingly come to refer to an individual’s particular spirit helpers or signifiers.  This is more in keeping with the ancient shamanic sense of plant and animal spirits, teachers and guides, though the word itself wasn’t previously used in this context.  Most often, and in many different languages, the word used was “helper”… and help is something a personal totem can amply provide, thanks to its individual resonance, familiarity and similarity.

A totem is not “other-worldly,” no mater how mysterious or magical it might appear.  It is of, native to, and a component of this earth.

It is not just for Indians, for shamans, or for hippies.

Your totem is not your savior.  Not an authority that will tell you what to do.

It is not an English-speaker, and you will need to learn from it with more than your ears.

Your true totem is also not likely to be (as the website for one plant medium asserts) the “first plant that comes into your mind when you close your eyes and meditate.”

Your totem is not a visitation, nor a product of your imagination.  Not a foolishness or indulgence.  It’s probably not a broadly popular, charismatic or cliché species.  And it is not necessarily even your favorite!

It is real and measurable, and simply your single most revealing, single most helpful botanical ally and aide.

“…if we’re only listening for words – for language in human terms – then we’re barely listening at all!  The world speaks to us in the ancient tongue of touch and color, texture and fragrance, through taste and breath and every part of our senses.  Listening through our whole body teaches to be open to the world and each other in a whole new way and with a depth and subtlety that even the best words cannot begin to approach.”
–Kiva Rose

All of life speaks to us, though certainly not in a language most are used to hearing.  And no creatures or persons communicate more personally, bodily, relevantly or poignantly than one’s totems.

When practiced with intense awareness and uncompromised honesty, the plant totem quest and realization can be a functional method and means for increased self knowledge and self actualization, interspecies alliance, enablement and growth, a system or partnership which can result in a more effective herbal practice, improved learning and teaching, and a new or heightened commitment to a purpose beyond the narrow, predictable, conformist, mundane and unsatisfying.

We use a comparison chart of botanical designs and attributes to positively identify a new plant we discover.  A totem is a way to “key-out” our authentic personalities and personas, to help distinguish the pretend from the genuine, projection and spin from understanding and wisdom.  It can provide us with another way to see ourselves, and to honor our selves as we would honor the most powerful and significant of all the plant species to ever come into our lives.

Every plant, every creature, lives to serve itself and contribute to its ecosystem, with an intrinsic value and evolved roles irrespective of any service it ever provides to you or your kind, your culture or the herbal practice and field.  That said, a totem can serve to personify, inform, mirror, model, connect, inspire and initiate.

Seeking out one’s totem is a deliberate and sometimes lengthy process, not like giving job interviews to strangers, but more like rediscovering something that had all along been integral to their selves and lives.   I’ve heard people say they didn’t feel like they had vetted and selected their beloved spouse so much as fortuitously or even magically “reunited” with their “soul mate,” that after years of searching for a partner they’d finally “gotten out of the way” of whatever destiny or process that then brought them together.  They may feel they have found or been given the one person who could be their ideal partner in struggle and growth, bliss and purpose.  Similarly, we can methodically search from among our encyclopedia of plants, in yard and wilderness for years without luck, or – through a combination of our heightened awareness and kind synchronicity – feel we’ve been led to or visited by the one species that best serves as our totem.

For this quest to be successful, we first need to get past all assumptions, preconceptions, clichés, anthropomorphic diversions and narrow categorizations to gain a sense of the various possible totem plants’ core nature, attained through direct physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual interaction.  This is easiest done through a series of specific steps that Kiva Rose lists as “observation, sensory experience, emotional response, cognition, integration and application.”

We can then appraise and test any candidate species we feel profoundly connected to, whether seemingly revealed through method or magic, with a series of questions such as:
•Does it feel especially familiar, allied, relevant, related?
•Or significant, communicative, essential, momentous?
•Is there anything about its form, shape, color etc. that reminds you of yourself?
•Do you act on the world – or contribute to it – in any ways similar to how the observed plant does?
•Or do you respond similarly to stimuli, threat, reward, isolation, exposure, stress, nourishment or care?
•Has it been in your life for a long time, appearing again and again like someone seeking your attention?
•Or has it only fairly recently become significant in your life, but in a very dramatic, vital, extreme or timely way?
•Has it proven to be particularly potent medicine for a chronic ailment or imbalance of yours?
•Or has it been medicine for your emotional balance, helping you deal with especially difficult traumas or situations, to calm you enough to function or arouse you sufficiently to accomplish what needs to be accomplished?
•Do you find yourself thinking about it for no obvious or urgent reason?
•Or did it come to you in a vision, or appear to you in dreams?
•Does it feel like you have somehow dishonored or trivialized it, when you speak of it loosely, to those who may not care?
•When you have avoided it or ignored the thought of it for awhile, do you feel out of sorts, neglectful, unassisted or unmoored?
•Do you feel unreasonably relieved when reunited after a physical absence, or after a long period of not giving it any mind?

•Does it seem to ask anything of you, require response, point to a mission or calling, excite significant acts?

Plant Spirit Portrait of Wolf by Marloe

Please note that your totem is not always the plant you’d most like to resemble or emulate.  A giant redwood sounds like a strong and noble totem, many would like to think of themselves as being sweet as Honeysuckle, and I can’t tell you how many people I know that for good reason call themselves Rose!  It may even be a plant that’s not very popular with people, yet it may still be your totem, instructor, and significator… if a number of the following conditions are met.

Regional:
One’s totem plant will often be associated with a particular bioregion, so that when you say its name – Ginseng for example – people immediately think “Southern Appalachians.”  It is usually one that grows locally, native to or often associated with the region where you live.  But if not, it will likely inhabit the area you grew up in, or else where you entire being feels most at home.  Even if your totem proves to be a known world traveler, green gypsy, botanical opportunist or incessant vagabond – such as Russian Thistle (Sola tragus) – it will still be strongly associated with the place where you either are, used to be, or are drawn to and will probably end up one day.  It will thus be place-based, and inevitably recognizable, au fait, au courant.

Significant:
Your totem will seem imbued with significance, with the plant bearing, imparting or signifying meaning well beyond what any casual observer might glean.  For whatever personal reasons, you will experience it as personally and particularly notable, noteworthy, weighty and important.  You will find your plant to be signal, apparently calling for you attention, and expressive of a presence, quality, characteristic, form or way of being or doing that has uncommon relevance for you.

Familiar:
It will be a species that you feel highly familiar with, conversant with, specially informed by or about, no stranger to, at home with.  It could be a pervasive weed, a rare herb that you find special, or else a threatened or disappearing plant… but in any case, it will be one that when you see it, feels like “Aww, there you are!” as though an appearance by an old friend you can never predict the arrival of but who could always be counted on to drop by unexpectedly, at the most mysterious or fortuitous times.  No matter how rare the species might be, or how uncommon or bizarre its form or function, it can never be called exotic because it is too well known by you… and too close.

Intimate:
You will feel a very close connection, even when physically apart.  You will know details about it gleaned through personal interaction, facts and nuances that other people would not necessarily find interesting.  You may feel that the plant somehow recognizes you, resonates with you, knows you, that there is nothing you either can or need to hide from it.  If words passed between you, it would be as with folks who have been married for twenty years, with each of you finishing the sentences that the other starts.  It will also be like the newly in love, “in their own world” with an impassioned oneness that no few can see and none participate in, in the exact same way.

Discrete:
Being in its presence will seem in some ways like a shared secret.  You may automatically feel a need for discretion, to conceal or guard from the public that which your totem plant communicates or reveals, protecting it from misappropriation, trivialization and ridicule.  Even when there will seem to be no harm in telling people about the depth of your relationship, you will probably feel that it somehow dilutes, distracts or disrespects, to expose that relationship to the uninvited or unconcerned, uninitiated and uninvolved.  When you do share its story, you will wish it to be to people most attuned to hearing you.  And at those rare times when you lead others to your totem’s refuge – and into its presence – it will be those you most trust, who are most sensitive, respectful, and likely to learn from, benefit from such confidence.

Correspondent:
You and your totem plant will feature close, recognizable similarities in character (personality, style, energy, impression), form (aspects of actual appearance, shape, color, growth patterns) or function (you and your plant’s roles within the respective human and biological communities).  A redhead is more likely to have a red blossomed plant, an Oak woman likely to be broad shouldered and strong and a Willow man thin and flexible, a slow starting but perseverant and evocative person associated with Mandrake, an herbalist with a potent medicinal plant… though not necessarily so.  These may be analogous (performing a similar function but having a different evolutionary origin) characteristics, attributes, features, properties, essential qualities or peculiarities, and herbs actions and your own affects on people.  You might find patience exemplified by the ephemeral Desert Anemone (Anemone tuberosa) which can wait years for the right conditions to sprout from hidden tubers.  You may share insistence and movement with something like Wisteria or Bamboo, and share a preoccupation with the cracks between the worlds with the sacred night-flowering Datura.

Magical:
Your relationship with your totem plant could very well feel extrasensory, requiring and inspiring connection and communication at a level beyond the physical senses, unencumbered by conjecture and prejudice.  Your encounters with it may appear preternatural or ultra-natural, extraordinary or inexplicable, unaccountable, fantastic or even phenomenal, and the timing of its appearances or instrumental usage appearing incredibly significant and synchronistic.  If you come upon it with other people, it may seem an ordinary discovery to them and a momentous one to you.  You may have first become familiar with it at a time of bodily illness or emotional challenge and transition, or you may notice that it always seems to show up just when you need unburdening and cheering.  It may follow you from the field or garden into the house, as a picture or thought that won’t let us leave it behind, as the predominant inspiration for your art or recurrent feature of your poetry or story, or in dreams the come to you again and again.  It can serve as the flower that illuminates your quests or fuels your migrations, or as the heartful medicine leading you in the broadest and deepest sense to health and home.

Allied:
Perhaps not consciously, but certainly by its very nature, a totem is a plant in alliance with you and your greater intentions, mission or purpose.  It is your ally, confidante, guide, supportive reminder, co-traveler, and somehow even partner in your complimentary and overlapping roles.  More than reflecting or clarifying who you really are,  “resonating” with you or providing example and consort, it will seem to empower and motivate, instigate and percolate, to enable a connection, ability, vision, or your proactive efforts on behalf of some valued goal.  It can help you to not only treat ailments, but to also understand a condition or situation, find the resources you need, or recall your native talents and reservoir of strength and determination.  Your totem will serve, fuel and support not only your process of becoming ever more self aware, but also your most insistent calling and purposeful acts.

Initiatory:
A totem plant will never imply or tell you what to do, or what you should do.  “Should” is not even in the language of the natural and inspirited world.  What it will do is to help point you to or remind you of your own desires, needs, gifts and missions… and to help initiate your acting on them.  It can inspire you to realize your calling and actualize your dreams, to play your individual part in the conscious co-creation of a personal reality and larger world.  If your totem were a childhood friend instead of a plant, it would be the kid your parents don’t want you to play with because it has such a profound influence on you… worried in their motherly and fatherly way that it could be leading you to walk a wilder, unconventional path, inciting/exciting you to follow your heart rather than follow the rules.  Your totem brings to you not a sealed assignment or set of exacting instructions, but a mischievous dare to rally and risk, to move and progress.  If and when you identify your totem, look ever so closely.  Along with whatever other hints or gifts it may convey to you, is a most personal imperative.

“We need to treat plants, their spirits, our totems with more regard and reverence than we have. We need to stop only approaching them with the mindset of usefulness and consumption, and confront our biases and human chauvinism. We need fewer herbal[ist]s that treat plants and fungi as our personal medicine cabinet, and more thought toward dried herbs as sacred remains.”
–Lupa, Therioshamanism Website

You’ve noticed that when folks identify with an animal totem, they often create an altar-like space to honor it, gather historic and mythopoetic images of it, purchase an old ceremonial mask with its countenance, get a picture of it tattooed somewhere on their body, and carry or wear actual pieces of the animal such as a tooth necklace, bits of fur and bone in a medicine bag, or a fur vest rescued from a dusty secondhand store bin.  This is not macabre aesthetics, but a ritual honoring.  When they interface with any actual animal parts, they often treat them as not just representative of the animal but as spirited artifacts, venerable extensions of the once living creature that link us to them and the inspirited, informative natural world in powerful ways.  Yet when they collect dried plant parts, travel with an herbal sachet, or sleep with dream-stimulating Artemesia beneath their pillow, they may be thinking more often about what these plants can do to or for us, rather than feeling how they connect us back to the living plants themselves, to their species, communities and ecosystems.

With a real and awakened sense of what it means to find and ally with a plant totem, we become inspired to treat every bag of dried herbs as special and sacred, to arrange and appreciate old branches as much as fresh cut flowers, to heed the hints and proddings, to savor every blessing and utilize every lesson that totems or any other plant ever teach us… switching from asking what a plant can do for us, to what we can do together in partnership.

Our plant totems first contribute to our being and self knowing, and then – necessarily, essentially, wondrously – to our purpose and practice, to ever more effective ways of sharing our knowledge, contributing to the great healing, manifesting our love.

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(You can read more of Wolf’s writings in Plant Healer Magazine, in the archives of this Anima blog, and in the free Writings section of the Anima website.  Share freely)