There’s one critical key to truly understanding healing & herbalism that has nothing to do with what you’ll read in a book. This foundational element will deepen your connection to herbs and your understanding of how they work, which overall will make you a better herbalist (which is what you want, right?!)
But before I dive into that, I have a question for you: When was the last time you completely unplugged from technology? Can you remember a day or even a week where you didn’t look at a screen once??
10 years ago this question would’ve been easier to answer, but today our lives are so wrapped up with phones, social media, emails, tv, computers and all sorts of technology in ways humans have never experienced before.
You’re probably wondering what this has to do with becoming a better herbalist. Everything.
To truly understand herbalism by heart - not just by filling your mind with things you've read in books or watched online - you have to directly experience the plants. You have to immerse yourself in nature.
You may have some friends you've met online and have created a wonderful relationship through this connection. But when you actually meet them in person, you finally feel like you get to know them in a real way. It's the same thing with the botanical allies we work with. It's one thing to read about an herb and study it, but when you meet it in the fields or forests where it grows you actually begin to understand it and get to know it in an intimate way.
To reach these deeper levels of connections with plants, we have to drop into our hearts and tap into an ancient form of learning, which is more intuitive and non-linear. We have to shed the stacks of information we've stored in our minds on what we've studied about that plant so we can humbly sit before it and ask it to teach us. Don't get me wrong - reading about and studying herbs is great and is incredibly important for any herbalist!! But there's so much more to plants than we can begin to grasp in a book.
In my herbal practice, the plants I turn to the most are the ones I've spent the most time with personally developing a relationship with over the years. They've revealed ways that they heal which I haven't read about in books. They've become allies who can access greater depths of healing through the connection & relationship we've built which acts as a bridge to reach the person in need. Many herbalists will say the same thing - they have a handful of herbs they know really well which they work with more than any others because of the special relationships they've built with those plants.
Beyond developing this personal connection with individual plants, we can learn about healing in a deeper way through directly perceiving nature. All traditional systems of healing & herbalism originally came from direct perception & experience of nature.
So if you really want to understand Ayurveda, for example, start paying attention to the way nature moves. Something as simple as waking up with the sunrise will start to reveal so much about the natural systems Ayurveda is founded upon. You'll actually feel how the doshas peak at different times of the day and you'll feel your own body & mind respond to the subtle shifts in the daily rhythm of the sun.
If you want to understand Alchemy, spend time with the water. Pay attention to the process of distillation and condensation that's happening around us all the time within the life cycle that water goes through.
If you want to really know an herb, see where it grows in its natural habitat and pay attention to what other herbs it grows around. Does it like to be near the water? Do you only see that herb growing in disturbed or dry areas? The ecological terrain where each herb grows will teach you so much about its medicine. When you see these patterns, a lightbulb turns on and all of a sudden everything you read & understood about that herb now makes so much sense because it has context to ground into.
There's so much that's always happening around us- it's just that we don't often pay attention to the magic of these foundational elements that create life every day. When you pull away from technology, you give your eyes a fresh perspective to see all of the ways life is created. You begin to see how we are mirrors of everything that is happening in nature and you understand that all of the processes in our bodies are really a reflection of what nature is doing all of the time. These are the foundational ways that paying attention to nature will deepen your understanding of the herbal traditions you may already be studying.
Because of this unique time we're in where we're saturated with more screens that ever before, it takes a lot of extra effort for us to slow down to see and feel these larger elements & patterns within life. By consciously taking time away from screens on a consistent basis, you're giving yourself time to purify your senses so that you can perceive the subtle ways nature is always moving within us and all around us.
This is super important for many reasons, including your health! But beyond the benefits on a personal level, let's also look at how critical this is for the future of herbal medicine.
As I mentioned earlier, all of our traditional systems of herbalism originally derived from this direct perception & connection with nature. If today we're only reading about & studying these systems of medicine without actually experiencing the natural world that these systems were created from, our foundation of healing is going to be weak. If it's only intellectual in our understanding, then we're lacking the necessary force of the heart and of personal experience to give our practice of herbalism real strength. If we want to pass along a strong foundation of healing traditions to the future generations, we need to cultivate that strong foundation ourselves for the wisdom to remain resilient.
One of the essential elements for building a strong, resilient, and deeply meaningful practice of herbalism is to root ourselves back into the natural world and cultivate our connection with the Earth and her healing medicines we work with. But to do that, you've got to give yourself some time to unplug. So, now that you've read this and have hopefully watched the video above as well, head on outside and enjoy your day!
But first - I'm going to issue you a challenge. Post in the comments below how much time you're going to go for a screen fast. Can you try unplugging for a weekend? If your job doesn't rely on the computer, can you give yourself a full week?? Or more?! Let me know in the comments below!
And then when you've completed your screen fast, jump back on here and tell me how it went! Did you notice anything different after going a few days without looking at a screen? Did you see anything special you hadn't noticed before in your yard or on a walk in your neighborhood? Tell me all about it below!