Falling in Love with Flowers: Redefining Healing Through Relationship
Whenever I meet a flower for the first time, I let the world around me disappear, let my vision and experience narrow to just this one incredible expression of life I’m confronted by. My focus tightens to the texture and temperature of leaf, the smell and color of the flower, the sound of the wind singing through it, and the feeling of just being near the plant. Next, I’ll re-broaden my sight so that I can also experience the context of the plant and get to know through its habitat and relationship to other plants and animals. Later will I page through my books or google its name on the internet. The information I learn through research are incredibly valuable but still secondary to my personal relationship to the plant. Aquainting myself with the plants in this manner allows me experience and understand the plant on many levels, from impression to intuition to bodily experience to the head knowledge of facts and figures.
Many of us have been taught herbalism (and just about everything else) through rote memorization, through long lists of diseases, body parts, plant names and constituents. The unfortunate result of this kind of learning is that it tends to stunt our capacity to truly listen, experience and adapt. Just as we cannot expect to play beautiful music simply because we have learned to read music or memorized the progression of notes that makes up a tune, neither should we expect to understand an herb just because we know their botanical name and “active ingredients”. Yes, knowing what plant family an herb belongs to is very useful, just as knowing what key a song is being played in, but it’s just one tool in the bigger picture of cultivating a relationship with a living plant or playing a personal expression of the song.
I’ve lost track of how often I’m asked how I manage to memorize all the herbs and problems, and how they match up, as if the secret to being an effective herbalist lies in having a computer-like brain. Truth is, beyond those pesky (but very useful) botanical plant names there’s very little I purposely memorize. Over time I have certainly committed certain things to mind through practice and hard learned experience, like not to put oil or salve on burns or to not sedate pain until I know what the pain is trying to communicate.
When it gets right down to it, everything in the healing process is about relationships – to the plants, the land, our food, our bodies and every other integral part of the living whole. Nothing is separate, and everything impacts everything else, just as every musical note exists in relationship with the other notes. It’s the contrast, harmony and resonance that makes it all work, that transforms abstract concepts into a complex and interdependant organism made up of each of us humans, as well as all the critters, bacteria, mushrooms, flowers and other living beings in the world.
For me, the work of getting intimate with the plants, of getting to know each one I work with as a unique expression of medicine, vitality and wholeness has been and continues to be the work of a lifetime. One reason why I choose to primarily work with local herbs, is because it seems difficult to me to really fall in love with one without knowing it as a living being in the context of the larger plant community and the dirt and water it grows from. I also find that experiencing a plant in its habitat teaches me more about its medicine, and often reveals subtleties I might have otherwise missed. I love the simple sweetness of incorporating an herbal ally into my life on every level: from greeting them by the river each day, to reveling in their taste as a food or tea to being amazed by the power of their healing effects. I’ve written extensively on this very subject in my Talking With Plants series over on the Medicine Woman’s Roots blog, with a special emphasis on recognizing the unique, non-human nature of the plant world.
This same principle applies to our relationship with our bodies, and to the bacteria, viruses and other creatures that live with and in us. The more we can understand and get to know the individual nature of each being and how it connects to the rest of life – the more whole, and therefore, the more healthy we will be. Animá and the Medicine Woman Tradition teaches all of life as an unending progression of concentric rings, linked into an eternal spiral that show us how our individual selves connect to each other and the whole planet that is our larger self. Our attempt to sterilize our environment by wiping out microorganisms with anti-bacterial soaps and more and more powerful antibiotics and the impact it has had on our health is a vivid illustration of the incredibly deep relationship that exists between us and even the minute members of the family of life.
In a culture of deconstruction and fragmentation, it can be hard to re-vision the world through eyes that are able to see the essential wholeness of life and the dance that each participant contributes to that whole. It can be difficult indeed to see what connects us in addition to what separates us. And yet, it is the infinitely satisfying purpose of each of one of us to recognize our innate kinship to our larger self and to nourish it, one intimate relationship at a time. The better we know the food we eat, the trees we rest beneath, the birds that sing to us and the land that sustains us the better we will know ourselves. Likewise, the more attention and nourishment we give our bodies and our whole, authentic selves, the deeper we will be able to know the world around us. The impact ripples in every direction, showing us how very important every decision and action really is, how every note and every pause between notes changes and fills the song. Proving once again, how we really do have the power to effect and change, to heal the whole wide world through every flower we fall in love with and each conscious step we take.