Mini Missive ~
~ Caring for Grief through Rough Seas ~
Hello dear friends,
We are wading through some deep, scary waters right now. Whatever your daily experience is during this time, it’s likely that the multi-dimensional, nuanced energies of Grief have been making themselves intimately known to you.
Our experience of loss during this COVID-19 pandemic is multifaceted: whether through a loved one who is dangerously ill and close to death, or someone close to us who has a serious illness and cannot receive the care they need, or through the shocking reality of sudden loss of income and looming financial uncertainties.
It could be that none of these experiences have touched us personally, but we are tuning into this dense global, collective grief. We are all united in this confrontation with utter confusion about the future, and a deep knowing that life is not going back to the ‘normal’ we once knew it to be. We collectively feel the grief of the rug being pulled out from under us with no warning, while we are caught in this slow-motion state of terrifying, suspended animation.
However grief may be manifesting in our lives at this time, it is crucial that we allow ourselves to recognize it, to feel it, to allow it to move through us. It is so important to witness it with presence and deep compassion for ourselves and for the richness of our tender experience. To hold it back and avoid this overwhelming emotion by using numbing strategies only pushes it deeper down into our cells, causing actual physical states of imbalance.
But when we do reach for numbing behaviors, let’s make the commitment to recognize the self-medicating behavior, instead of finding ourselves engaged in mindless, or unconscious acts. Let’s make the commitment to gently, and without judgmentbecome mindful of it. A simple way of doing this is just to name the action when it happens - that we are using ‘numbing’ or ‘avoiding’ techniques, or however we perceive it. The more we recognize our avoidance behaviors, the easier it becomes to empower ourselves to take different actions.
But just as important, let’s allow ourselves to be fallible, to be ‘weak’, to sometimes just permit ourselves to sit on the couch and nap in front of a television show when there is work to be done or dinner to be made. Let’s give ourselves a break. This is an unprecedented time, and it is a heavy one. Whether we personally know folks who have died or we are terrified for the elders in our lives, none of us are unaware of the global crisis we are living through. And if you are like myself and most everyone I know, you are an empath: you feel the grief and fear all over Earth.
So, if one afternoon you choose to knit or watch some Netflix instead of cleaning out another room of the house, if you choose to forget for a couple of hours that the world is in crisis, be easy on yourself. We owe it to ourselves and each other to have compassion.
But then, let’s get up and sit in stillness and allow ourselves to feel the grief that may be circling our insides. Let’s recognize it and accept it and hold it. Not just for ourselves, but for all the millions of people who do not have a couch or Netflix or the privilege of quarantine.
The powerful thing about making our escape strategies conscious is that it invokes a pause. The more we experience that pause, the more potent it becomes. Even if we do reach for the next distraction, we do it consciously. It’s a pattern interrupt that can help us navigate through this time of fear and uncertainty.
As the wonderful, wise Pema Chödrön writes in ‘Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habit & Fears’: “Make a commitment to pausing throughout the day, and do that whenever you can. Allow time for your perception to shift. Allow time to experience the natural energy of life as it is manifesting right now. This can bring dramatic changes in your personal life, and if you are worried about the state of the world, this is a way that you can use every moment to help you shift the global climate of aggression toward peace.”
Ever since this pandemic has descended, I’ve been practicing this art of the pause regularly, everyday. I set the timer on my phone to go off at the end of each hour, and no matter what I’m doing, I go outside and sit in nature for some precious moments, even just five minutes -without my phone- and be with myself and whatever is moving through me at the moment. It’s not easy to constantly stop work to take this time, but it’s deeply worth it. In particular, I’ve been visualizing clearing the weeds of my mind, the many whirring thoughts, making space for new, nourishing growth.
The practice of being present, and allowing heavy emotions to move through us, doesn’t have to be huge and intimidating. We can take baby steps and remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. I’ve been finding this practice, this commitment to pause, creates a clarity and stillness in me, and I find my own magic in my presence. It is also a gentle cradling of the hurting parts of myself. And ultimately, this allows me to be more present for my family, my community and my work.
Grief is part of the spectrum of human emotion- and right now is a perfect moment to feel into it. We have this opportunity to recognize and feel our past losses and heartaches, so that they may move through us and be transformed into something new.
If meditation is not part of your daily practice, and seems too intimidating to start now, breathwork is a wonderful and equally effective way to witness this energy and allow it to move through you. One of my beloved Grateful Desert tribespeople has been using this simple, gentle and effective Yin yoga practice to remain in transformative communion with personal and collective grief.
Journaling too allows us to become aware and curious about our own unique process and perspective in the middle of all of this.
Doing these simple self-care practices whenever possible, gently without judgment and rigidity, creates some much needed inner space, where we can hold Grief not just for ourselves but also for the collective. Taking small steps to take care of ourselves - physically, emotionally, spiritually - has the ripple effect of taking care of our families and communities, which moves out into taking care of our country, and then out into taking care of Earth, our incredible, living Gaia, to whom we are inextricably connected. This grief is also Her grief, asking to made conscious and felt through us. As many of you may know, I went through extreme trauma, pain - and resulting grief - from my experience of losing actual, physical parts of myself some years ago. This experience taught me on a very profound level, that pain is just pain. Judging it, avoiding it and numbing it pathologizes it, and keeps it stuck in our bodies on cellular and energetic levels. The many plant allies I work with guided and supported me, held me, so I could do the challenging work of facing my pain, my grief and loss. So that I could move through my experience and hold others in theirs.
This is what we do, yes? Survive, and thrive, so that we can help others to do the same? In honor of that experience, and our current reality, I’ve created a new tincture formula using some of the herbs that I have experience with as supportive allies to move through grief.
I’ve called it Grief Care, as the herbs in it nourish and cradle us through this deeply tender experience.
It contains Holy Basil (or Tulsi, as it’s known in its native India), Rhodiola, Motherwort, Avena and Rose.
Briefly, here are some of the many properties of these herbs, in the context of this Grief Care formula:
This plant is held as deeply sacred in India, and is associated with the loving embrace of the Goddess Lakshmi- indeed many call her the Queen of herbs. Tulsi’s energy is potently yin or feminine, receptive, nourishing, invigorating - a supportive, compassionate cradling of the energies moving through our hearts. Tulsi has been a key player in Ayurvedic texts dating back to 5,000 BC. Since then, her use has spread widely across Asia and Europe.
Tulsi is a powerful adaptogen. In yogic philosophy and practice, she is used to balance and energize our energy centers or chakras. In science, this is classified as a bio-energetic field harmonizer.
Tulsi minimizes the over-production of stress circulating hormones, and brings the size of the adrenals into balance: our adrenals take a lot of strain when our nervous systems are depleted from stress, and this in turn puts huge amounts of pressure on our amazing kidneys.
In the context of our Grief Care formula, Tulsi is an incredible, non-pharmaceutical mood regulator. She’s unparalleled in the aiding of flowing movement of stuck energy. She promotes cerebral circulation, is a warming tonic for the nervous system and diminishes stress on the heart, both physically and energetically. Herbalists have had wonderful results with using it to treat depression, hypertension, chronic stress, ADD & ADHD.
As if all this wasn’t enough (and actually it isn’t, Tulsi has manifold more uses and benefits!), with her immuno-modulating properties, Tulsi has powerful resonance with the lungs and respiratory system, helping to support, nourish and balance them.
Motherwort, is a popular herb in the western tradition, and like Tulsi, is also a beautiful, strong channel of nourishing, gentle, supportive yin energy.
Motherwort is native to northern Europe, and likes to propagate under hedges and on banks. However, nowadays, she’s rarely found wild but is cultivated in country gardens. She is a tonic, and a nervine - used commonly to invoke a peaceful balance of the nervous system. In traditional European herbalism, Motherwort is frequently used to to bring about a courageous expansion of the heart, and to allay symptoms of extreme agitation caused by an over-taxed nervous system. This is turn has tremendous benefits for the immune system. It is also wonderful for reducing fevers, and the attendant nervous tension.
Nicholas Culpeper lyrically wrote of Motherwort:
“Venus owns this herb and it is under Leo. There is no better herb to drive melancholy vapours from the heart, to strengthen it and make the mind cheerful, blithe and merry. It cleanseth the the chest of cold phlegm, oppressing it and killeth worms in the belly. It is of good use to warm and dry up the cold humours, to digest and disperse them that are settled in the veins, joints and sinews of the body and to help cramps and convulsions.”
In short, Motherwort generates a dynamic, nourishing movement of stagnant, heavy energy from the heart, and from our ‘humours’ - our specific constitutions that govern our moods and our energy.
So very much to say about the beautiful and powerful medicine of Rose - popularly used in all traditions around the world. In our Grief Care formula, her potent powers are harnessed in order to wrap the vulnerability of feeling grief in a protective and supportive embrace. The medicine of Rose with her thorns and her beauty, gives us the permission to create necessary emotional containers and boundaries in order to feel and release stuck, neglected grief. Rose is a potent and gentle energetic ally when we are opening up to the tender process of grieving. She creates a space in your heart where you can give yourself the permission to be as you are, while also allowing you to feel safe in doing so as you open into the vulnerable and expansive journey of feeling and releasing your grief with compassion. She is a much-needed companion, confidante and protective presence for our hearts during the inevitable rough seas we must face in life.
Also known as Roseroot, Rhodiola is another excellent and supportive adaptogen. Native also to northern Europe, Rhodiola is making a resurgence in her use in nootropic supplements, as well as an effective non-pharmaceutical treatment for stress and depression, and neuroprotection - that is, the degenerative effects that prolonged stress can have on our brains. In this regard, Rhodiola is also beneficial for cognitive enhancement, including memory.
Linnaeus, in his 1749 Materia Medica discussed Rhodiola at length. She helps to maintain a balance of cortisol (the stress hormone) levels, thus bringing relief and balance to the nervous system, the adrenals and our attendant immune response patterns during times of high anxiety.
In Grief Care, the inclusion of the wonderful, nourishing nervous system tonic that is Avena is like the energetic equivalent of milk and cookies and a huge loving hug from mom when things are just way too much to bear. Gentle yet powerful, this herb helps to restore and rebuild shot nerves, and dissolve nervous tension from an overly depleted system.
Avena is also nutritionally rich in essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium and silica - essential for well-functioning nervous and cognitive systems. She also helps with restoring healthy sleep patterns if you’re experiencing insomnia. In Grief Care, Avena works in beautiful, supportive tandem with the other herbs to help us feel supported and nourished as we journey through sorrow.As ever, the qualities and benefits listed above are by no means exhaustive. They are named and described in the context of our Grief Care formula. If any of these herbs have piqued your curiosity, if they are calling to you, please do research and look into them further. And of course, we are here to answer any of your questions.
One last thing I have wanted to mention is the work of reaching out to our loved ones. So many of us are quarantined with our families, our partners or friends. And yet so many others are alone. This isolation can be hard on solitary folks, alone with whirling fears and negative thoughts. I have had multiple elder friends connect to tell me they are alone and afraid. This breaks my heart. I have a list of loved ones in my lab that I check on frequently, at least once a week. Though my life is quite full as a Mama to a homeschooled teen, an herbalist trying to keep up with so many folks’ need for herbal protection, a Registered Nurse who is trying to finish her CEUs, and a wife who is taking care of a scared spouse who has to go into the world to work five days a week, I don’t want to forget those who are solitary, or elder and compromised and may not have a way to get food or medicine.
Remember, we are in this together, especially now. We are, all of us, feeling the intensity of this time together. Everything you do, even the smallest baby steps taken, to look after yourself has - now, more than ever before - powerful ripple effects out into our wider world. Our interconnectedness is making itself known. May we respond through caring for our health, and that of our families, our communities, and our countries.