Thursday, February 14, 2013

Healing the Heart

Happy Valentine's Day! Today I offer you a special excerpt from one of my research papers about Stress Management. Since today is the day we acknowledge our hearts, I wanted to share this section that is dedicated not only to human hearts, but the the heart of nature that comes through in the plant kingdom.  

Please feel free to share this blog with others if it speaks to you, but all content on my website, including this original work, are subject to copyright laws. I love sharing, but please credit me as the original author - this was months worth of work. Thanks for honoring me by stopping by, and honoring the work with proper credit. Enjoy!

Opening the Heart
“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.”  
~Rachel Carson

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there are three treasures. Jing is the source of all life; Qi is energy flow -the sources and movement of Jing; and Shen is the “spirit”, the vitality behind the activation of the source: how we move Qi, use Jing, and how it comes together for who we are.1 When we are under stress, our Shen becomes disturbed, affecting our perception, sleep, and our ability to be present. We can become irritable, restless, frightened, and experience poor memory, loss of appetite, and night sweats.  Shen is housed in the heart.  

I’ve noticed a correlation between the concept of Shen and what Americans casually refer to as our “heart”.  Colloquially speaking, the “heart of the matter” is the center… the truth…the essence of an issue. When we talk about things coming from our heart, we’re speaking truthfully and openly. Our heart is our center - who we really are, our essence and our connection to everything else as we understand it. I believe that that use of the word “heart” could also be referred to as our spirit, whether or not we have religious beliefs associated with our place and purpose in life. Spirit/heart is really our center and our place of connection from which our lives flow. 

When things are out of balance in the center/heart/spirit, our life does not flow well. Things get clogged and stagnate, just like they can in our physical hearts and vessels. The spiritual equivalent to physical plaque is emotional baggage. The conflicts we have forged between our thoughts, feelings, and expectations versus what is actually occurring in our lives will collectively pool until we feel pain in our center and deal with it. We will be unhappy, and no material goods will compensate or move us to a place of peace and joy. We can’t run from our center/ heart /spirit. It’s a part of us and moves with us, even if we’re going in the wrong direction. 

We have to open our hearts. And nature steps in to help us, if we'll allow the experience. Nature has always been here for us, since human time began. It’s still here and willing to serve so that all may be in balance, waiting for us to remember her gifts. When humans are stressed and out of balance, so is nature and the planet as a whole. Nature offers these gifts to help us become whole as humans, and as a part of this world. As we heal ourselves, we heal the world. And we need only simply step outside to start the process of opening our heart. Nature has a way of helping us clear out all that is not us, helping us to connect to our center/heart/spirit. 

As a result of being outside frequently, I’ve steadily become aware of the persona of the flora and fauna around me. Every part of nature has a song to sing and share, and is most willing to do it. We’ll hear it if we pause, take a breath, and listen. Particularly, our green allies in the plant kingdom joyfully offer their wisdom. Nature offers us a return to the heart, back to our center, by opening hers through the plant world. If we can pause for just a moment, we can plug back into that song. It may just be at the edge of our hearing, or be a quiet beat off in the distance, but we can sense it. The longer we listen, the better we’ll hear. Then we can start moving in rhythm with it, in the place of our Heart.

And so, here is a gift from a few special plants that offer their medicine to soothe and nourish the nervous system, as well as help heal the heart on many levels. The following poems came to me as I researched each of these plants. I've named them Heartsongs, as they are a gift from the heart of the plants themselves - the songs of their medicine for a return to the heart. What follows is simply my understanding of how they "spoke" to me. I hope you'll find your own experience with them.

The flowers of this beautiful tree make a pleasant-tasting tea that lifts the spirits, gently lowers blood pressure, and can assist with mild depression, irritability, and anxiety. Linden helps us pause, and lifts us back up into ourselves when we've become lost in the daily grind...

 sweet is the medicine I have to offer
slow and delicate, light and fragrant
to bring pause to your day
all is not lost -
my branches are furrowed and full of living medicine
the sweetness of the earth,
of life itself,
drink upon this nectar
let it quench your thirst
and revive you
all is not lost -
Behold the forgotten joys within you,
around you, beside you
I tickle your memory...
Yours is the light to render this day anew!
look beyond the now to see the beauty of what is yet to be,
the possibility, the lightness of being
all is not lost -
golden are my gifts.

Like a mother who has earned her knowledge through great experience, Motherwort offers an elegant reminder to take things one at a time and enjoy the journey. I feel like I am in a supportive embrace in this plant's presence. She can help ease anxiety, heart palpitations from stress, PMS, and hyperthyroidism, and is a mild cardiac tonic.

One step at a time,
there are always challenges along the way,
but there is beauty in the journey.
What cannot be seen is sometimes the most valuable of all.
A loving presence is a priceless gift,
and what I offer if you'll partake.
A bright and countering spirit am I.

Sip of my nectar,
let the juices flow through you
and feel my solid strength supporting you.
Sit and rest awhile on my leaves
before you continue your journey.
I am here as you need,
reminding you to be present,
take one step at a time.
There are priceless treasures along the way -
one step at a time.

The berry of this tree is known as "food for the heart" and is anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, calming to the nervous system, and a mild vasodilator. This tree has an ancient and universal energy...

I bear no ill will toward any-
though my inner fruit is precious,
I am willing to share.
there is balance in my boughs
and that which is ultimately self
is ultimately worth seeking.
I am the dream of dreamers,
precious cargo contained within the cells of life
I possess the stuff of stars -
connection, the whole
where sky, spirit, and earth are joined
I am there
in the midst
holding space for you within my protected boughs
so that you no longer feel alone.
I span sky and soil,
protecting, connecting
straddling the parts of the whole
remembering, rejoining,
flow returning to flow...

~Passion Flower~
The leaves and vine can help calm an irritable and spasmodic mind, alleviating stress-induced conditions like tension headaches and insomnia. This mild anti-spasmodic is also useful for restless leg syndrome and back spasms. Passion flower helps us release the thoughts and worries we can't shake, allowing us to come back to our center. 

I open my heart to you
so that you may know
there is more than what you can see right now
I've unfurled my leaves
my petals spiral gently down
to free you
unbind you
loosening all that befalls you
release your worries unto me
let me drop them to the earth below
so they may be cleansed
and you are bothered no more -
there is more than you can see right now.
In the morning's light
when the day is fresh
you'll start anew
with whole-er thoughts
freed from the weight of all you did not see.
I open my heart to you
so that you may know
you are light.  

And Light we are indeed! May your hearts be open to all the brilliant joys in life, and may you discover any healing you need. If any of the above plants touched your heart, I encourage you to do more research about them, and honor your body by consulting a health practitioner before their use for your own safety and well-being.   

Love & Light,
The statements on this website and/or through any consultation have not been approved by the FDA. Any information given on this website is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any disease. You are responsible for your own health. Please consult a physician or an appropriate healthcare provider if you have any serious health condition. 

1 DiPasquale, R., Calming the Spirit, 2001 American Herbalists Guild Symposium, Accessed 5/19/11.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Hidden Gifts

Life has a way of showering us with little gifts and blessings. Sometimes those gifts come hidden in a torrent storm that is scary, chaotic, and unpredictable, and can be hard to find at first.

The past few weeks have been a bit rough in our house. My husband's new job has had him out of town quite a bit over the past month, with one of those weeks being while my daughter had the flu. This week, my teenage son became quite ill with what we thought initially was Strep throat, but turns out that he most likely has mononucleosis. Just when I thought I could take a breather from the intensity of my daughter's illness, the battle against the pathogens has gone one step further. Generally speaking, we're a pretty healthy bunch and not usually ill like this. But this has been a particularly strong year for viruses, and I guess it was our time.

My hands are raw from washing so frequently, my sink is constantly filled with used tea cups and strainers that held healing herbs, and I am drained from hearing the constant drone of the television near my desk space. I'm sure I owe someone a phone call or email response, but frankly, I can't remember who at this point.

As I sit here with yet another episode of Dr. Who playing in the background, I glance over at my children, with whom I've gotten to spend extra time over the past few weeks, and I can't help smiling to myself over the recent events. 

My preteen daughter was sick first, and she stayed home for several days feeling achy, feverish, and pretty miserable. She is generally a loving and vivacious spirit, filled with a mature compassion for others that surpasses her physical age, and loves to laugh and make others smile as well. She excels at music and is extremely observant about everything (though not so handy when she was 4, ugh). She can always find something on a hike that everyone else overlooked - a tiny feather or camouflaged critter.

And when she is sick or angry or upset, she is not subtle about it...there's a lot of whining and her mood and edginess are clearly evident. She can become unreasonable and extremely stubborn. So we mixed up herbal teas to help calm her crankiness, clear her congestion, and soothe her aches. She was a good sport about them all, even the dreaded "sweat tea" made of elder flowers, yarrow, and spearmint. Almost like clockwork, about 15 minutes after she finished that tea, she would peel off the blankets as she started to sweat and exclaim how weird it was to be sweaty and chilly at the same time. But that tea worked like a charm, bringing down her fever and lightening her mood a bit.

It's been a while since I had my little girl all to myself for several days in a row. Illness wouldn't have been how I chose to spend that time, but we shared lots of giggles, had frank discussions about life and growing up as a girl, made fun of commercials, and watched the whole first season of "Once Upon a Time". There were truly some magical moments in there, and it was an unexpected gift to have that extended time alone with her.

My son is a different person. With him being the oldest child and a boy, it's been a much longer time since we've spent days alone together as mom and son. After being told he most likely had mono, we settled in for the long haul and made his quarantined spot on the couch. He selected history shows on the TV and dozed off between cups of herbal tea that he drank without complaint. My son goes inward when he's ill, becoming still and silent. In some ways that's a relief from the outward expression of my daughter's illness, but it can also be a bit of a danger zone, as he didn't tell us how truly awful he felt when his temperature rose to 104 suddenly. I had to emphatically state to him how important it is to let me know about any pain or new symptoms, due to complications that can occur with mono. He's almost like a cat who will instinctively hide when sick.

My young man is a junior in high school this year, and we have suddenly realized how little time we have left with him at home. I truly adore my son...he is witty, intelligent, kind-hearted, good-natured, compassionate, and musically talented. He's fun to be with and we laugh a lot when we're together, at ourselves and all the follies of life. That boy can drop a pun like nobody's business. He also drives me crazy at times when he's lazy, undermotivated, forgetful, and completely unaware of what's going on at times. But I love every bit of him with all my heart, and we are having golden moments of our own, engaging in philosophical discussions, playing off on each another's creativity, and dreaming of the future adventures he'll have. 

The unexpected challenges in life have a way of bringing our attention solely to the present moment, with everything else around us grinding to a halt and fading into the background. There is nothing quite like illness that makes you pause and consider what's going on in your life and what's really important. And yet with each and every one of life's challenges, there are gifts to be had if we know where to look. I've found that gratitude makes a great flashlight.

So it's back to the kitchen to prep more herbs for my son who is steadily recovering, and I look forward to the few more days I have to cherish with him at home. Whatever lesson this timeout in his life is about, I'll do my best to support him through it. And I'm grateful for the opportunity to do so. Hopefully the rest of his recovery will be smooth and this will be the last of our family illnesses for a while, 'cause I'm running low on soap, hand lotion, and disinfectant. Seriously. 

Apparently our cat has been feeling neglected though, as I've spent extra time caring for the kids instead of petting and worshipping her as is her due, and she made it known that she is having problems with fleas, which I thought we had thwarted. Just to make a point that no unwanted pest in my home is immune to being eradicated, I dunked her furry butt in the bathtub tonight. She was quite indignant about the whole thing, and I'm pretty sure she cussed at me in feline-ese as we showered the soap off her. She was definitely the worst patient of the bunch. (Really, Universe? We could have skipped this whole flea thing. Really. I'm trying to find the gratitude in here, but I'm struggling with this one.)

Here's hoping you all are staying healthy and happy and whole. If not, turn on the gratitude and find your gifts - I promise that they're hiding in there somewhere! And I'll keep looking for the reason to be thankful for fleas...I'm open to suggestions...

Love & Light,