A Brief Intro into Herbal Energetics
I have recently been subjecting myself to learning about herbcraft through the insightful and humorous teachings of Jim McDonald. Spending 6 hour days in his narcotically comfortable, sunlit living room while he passes around bits of botanical experience and charm has been a blessing, and a sliver of a dream come true.
Jim begins his sharing of the art and science of herbwifery with an overview of what he calls foundational herbcraft. He stresses the importance of understanding “the foundational nature by which herbs function”. It is his opinion that what sets a good herbalist apart from a mediocre one is the use of this foundational herbcraft…understanding on a visceral level, through primal energetics, why a plant is helpful in a certain situation rather than being able to intellectually retain a long list of secondary actions and maybe even chemical constituents. This is often referred to as herbal energetics. The manner in which he lays out this information is so nonchalant , so logically expressed, that if I weren’t so overwhelmed with awe at having finally grasped the concept of energetics, I might feel stupid for not having figured it out myself. Jim nonetheless has a way of explaining complex systems and ideas in a totally comprehensive fashion; one that we students can easily process. The way Jim teaches this previously mind boggling system of energetics seems so simple because he recognizes and reminds us that we HAVE already “figured it out for ourselves”…
As a child growing up in Michigan the great outdoors never ceased to amaze me. Even in the dead of winter I wanted to roll around with the cold wet earth and experience all its glory. After spending a few hours building forts, throwing ice, and just laying in an angel gazing up at the sky, my body was more than pleased to come inside to a warm cup of hot chocolate; it never-ever crossed my mind to come in and eat a bowl of ice cream. In the summer months, however, riding packed in the backseat of a car with 3 other kids, the sun following us intently, every atom in my body wanted to cry out in deep yearning as we passed by the ice-cream shop. When our hands are dry we use lotion or oil to restore them to their natural state of balance, when our lungs are damp with excess mucous we drink a hot cup of tea; or at least we should. We consume cooling salads, fruits and lemonade in the summer, hot soups, heavy meats, and fats in the winter. These are a few common examples of how we all understand energetics. It seems fair to say that we are naturally drawn to contrasting energies whenever we find ourselves lingering in an extreme.
The bedrock of all being can be reduced to four primal substances, or energies: hot, cold, dry, and damp. Hot is dispersive in nature, stimulating an outward flow of energy with the intention of purifying, where as cold is innately condensing bringing energy inward and binding things together no matter what their relationship to one another. Dry can be understood as a hardening, bringing in, and protecting of its own energy. Damp energy spreads itself in all directions until it meets a boundary. If we start to feed our awareness of this tendency toward balance that is in us all, we can gain confidence in both our use of herbs for health and healing and our individual intuition. We can rely on our own bodies to teach us how to use plant medicine, instead of looking to an outside source to tell us what is right from wrong.
When using this approach we are essentially nurturing the inherent abilities we all hold, as human animals, to communicate with the plant world. As Jim makes mention, we first need to break down the assumption that communication between an animal and a plant would be congruent to the exchange that takes place between two animals. The communication you partake in amongst the varying human beings you know is itself very individual, and you don’t convey your thoughts and feelings with other non human animals in the same manner as you do humans…(at least not most of the time..although I must admit I have slipped up and patted my knee at my son a few times to try and get him to come.) When I think about this, it seems silly to consider the prospect of interacting with a plant in a strictly human manner..the idea that we are going to hear a plants voice in our heads, or be witness to an apparition of its spirit is likewise a misconception of what the words communing with nature, talking to the plants and other common phrases are actually referring to. Again, while this is not typical, I am not saying it cannot or does not ever happen..simply that it is not the usual means of expression when dealing with botanical beings. Plants live and work on a very different plane of existence than animals; this is very apparent when considering anatomy and physiology (which I think is worth noting when we think of communication and the way it is manifested through our physical bodies). Plants are constantly expressing themselves to us through the most primitive, and consequently most widely accessible and understood manner possible…through stimulation of our sacred senses. Through use of primal energetics. Plants transcend the nuisance of human barriers when it comes to communication. The plant speaks through sensation. No matter what language you speak or don’t, no matter what sex, race, or religious affiliation you tend towards, the plant speaks a language that is universally understood to a depth no word can touch…That is of course, as long as you have ready access to a few of your other four senses; through taste, touch, smell and sight we are fully equipped to interact with the entire plant kingdom.
Unfortunately, a very common and chronic issue that will be had is that of sensory oblivion. Sure, you can taste, you can smell, you can see, and you can feel…but to what degree? Do you understand what all you are perceiving means? Are you consistently aware, accepting and actively participating in the processes your body experiences? Or are you constantly overstimulating, numbing out, or down right ignoring what your body is telling you? Yes, plants speak to us by acting on our senses, by initiating certain sensation, and those sensations are our bodies communicating with our consciousness. If we are unable or unwilling to take the time and energy needed to create healthy communication with our bodies, then communing with something as divine and highly intelligent as the terrestrial protrusions of Mother Earth seems futile.
Strengthening the relationship with yourself is an interesting, intricate, and intensely involved journey to delve into. Although I would love to explore and express what I know of this process , elaborating on its details is not what this set of words was intended for. I too am learning everyday how to strengthen this relationship with myself, and am by no means a guru of bodily awareness. Kiva Rose, a Medicine Woman spreading love and wisdom to the world from a canyon tucked deep in the Gila Wildlands, is co-founder of a Lifeways School that builds its teaching on the foundation of nurturing awareness. I highly recommend anyone interested in strengthening the love for themselves and the world, breaking down comforting illusions and learning to bring their mind, body and soul together in harmony look further into her work. I truly feel that Kiva’s words and experience are more valuable than what I can share on this subject and think it important that before we go any further with primal energetics, you first read Kiva’s “3 Steps to ReLearning Original Language” In this article she suggests we 1)Surrender to our senses 2)Inhabit our bodies and 3) Engage the present.