Archive for March, 2015

A Healthy Look At Anger

Sunday, March 15th, 2015

angry tweet bird art by john aslerona-72dpi

A Healthy Look at Anger

Hospital-Caused Deaths, Twitter Indicators, Heart Attack & Prevention

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Plant Healer Magazine

The second greatest cause of deaths in this country are factors associated with conventional hospital care, from misdiagnosis to resistant infection and drug side effects, as my partner Kiva and I regularly lament.  Recently our esteemed herbalist friend Paul Bergner alerted us to a report in a 2013 edition of The Journal of Patient Safety, discussing extensive research indicating there are an estimated 400,000 deaths per year directly related to drug-based modern medicine and hospital care.  These statistics, you must admit, are downright alarming.  More than that, they flat-out piss me off… as they likely anger a good number of our Plant Healer readers as well!

But be careful how angry you get when you stop to think about this regrettable fact, with anger looking more and more like a primary preventable trigger of the numero uno cause of death: the approximately 600,000 women and men succumbing each year to a fatal heart attack.  That anger triggers HCV symptoms and gall bladder pain, I can personally attest.  But some curious researching of twitter messaging habits makes me think about the ol’ ticker as well.

protesting-twitter-bird-72dpiSocial Media data is increasingly being analyzed by healthcare researchers for a better understanding of disease patterns and causes.  According to a January 14th, 2015 science report on National Public twitter-bird-angry-72dpiRadio, the internet platform Twitter has provided some very telling statistics.  Of particular interest to this discussion, it was found that those places where the greatest number of angry “tweets” issue from, strongly correlated with those areas reporting the greatest number of deaths from heart attack.  As NPR science reporter Shankar Vedantam explained:

“There’s new work now that connects Twitter with heart disease, because it turns out that you can trace many tweets to the location from which they were sent. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and other schools traced these tweets and then they analyzed the language in the tweets to see if they were expressing anger, or love, or boredom. And they find, in an analysis of more than 1,300 counties, that the amount of anger expressed on Twitter is a very powerful predictor of heart disease in those counties. And in fact, anger, hostility and aggression on Twitter is better able to predict patterns of heart disease than 10 other leading health indicators, including smoking, obesity and hypertension.

Bergner points reminds us that correlation is at best indication, and does not equal causation: “Sometimes two things that seem causally correlated are both caused by something else. What if living in a high crime expensive polluted city causes heart attacks, and also causes people to be angry?  With obesity and heart attacks, the correlation disappears when you remove insulin resistance, the insulin resistance causes the obesity and it causes the heart attacks.”

Yet, even if a direct causative relationship between anger and heart attacks remains unproven, it would seem to be their mutual causes that need to be determinedly addressed.  


There is much to be upset about, and crucial for a healer of any kind – herbalist, nurse, nurturer, culture-shifter – empathize with, hurt over, take exception to, and try to address, confront, transform, or otherwise heal.  Dwelling in our pain and anger, however, is likely to do more damage to our health than bring justice to the world.  Instead, acting on our feelings can vent dangerous pent-up frustration, releasing tension through direct action and purposeful effort regardless of how successful such efforts and acts are.  I am angry over the persecution of herbalists and marginalizing of herbalism, and the threat posed by pharmaceuticals.  I’m ticked-off about the lying and manipulative politicians of both parties who continue destroying the environment and supporting corporatism and war, riled at the disappearance of wild habitat for plants and animals and free spirited people, upset with onerous regulation and oppressive laws, disgusted with bioengineered foods and proprietary seeds.  And thus, my preventative treatments for possible future heart attacks include helping to gather, store and promote wild seed varieties, protesting against or working to change unjust laws, purchasing and restoring a riparian ecosystem and encouraging its plant and wildlife, refusing to vote for what we imagine to be the “lesser of two evils”… and supporting the herbal resurgence against all odds, in every ways possible.  With every strenuous effort I make, I can feel the anger resolve into calm deliberate purpose, feel the tension dissolving in my weight bearing shoulders, my busy head, and my still beating chest.

Most official and unofficial websites discussing heart failure give us the same, not always correct recommendations.  According to the MNT Knowledge Center, for example, the steps to preventing heart attack are:

1. Follow instructions on medications usage (!)

2. Make sure diet is low in salt, fat, and cholesterol (even though nutritional cholesterol has been proven to have no significant effect on the levels of harmful cholesterol in the blood!)

3.  Exercise in the form of a 10-minute walk…

4. Quit smoking, and

5. Avoid drinking alcohol.

Hell’s-bells, as my Papa used to say!  No mention of herbs, of course.  Not a single word about not bottling-up our emotions, or making changes in where and how we live.  Maybe we should add a fifth recommendation:


5. Don’t get angry, get even! (in other words, take charge of our own health, and work to change the dominant system!)

With that calmly considered amendment, I think I’ll ask our partner Kiva – the blender of genuinely remarkable Margaritas – if she’ll kindly fix me a drink.


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THE MEDICINE BUNDLE: Magic, Commitment, & Song

Friday, March 13th, 2015

Scareb & Pottery sherds still life-sm


Magic, Commitment, & Song

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


Spring Equinox Blessings to you all….

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