January, a month of rest? Lessons in herbalism, rest + perspective.
Updated: Nov 29, 2020
2020 started without me. I was there, at my churches new year’s eve crossover service, declaring, rejoicing and praising god for the year that was 2019 and giving thanks for all the greatness that would happen in 2020. In the last two weeks of December I suddenly got the job i had been praying all year for, i got a car, finished building my website and got the ‘go ahead’ on different creative projects – it felt like life had sped up and I was ready to continue at that speed and blast my way through the year. December felt like laying down the bricks of the home i had been building in 2019 and i thought January would be the month i opened the doors to invite people in. I was excited for it. I was excited to share it.
I had decided that with the launch of my website I would also publish an online journal inviting people to journey with me through the lessons and experiences of the year. Working in psychology you are usually the person that people come to for the space to share their hearts and it's easy for yourself and other's to forget that you are moving through life too. I wanted to invite people on this journey of straddling the line of being person and psychologist as an exercise in transparency and to share the lessons i personally live with you in hope that they help you outside of therapy rooms.
What i didn’t think i would be writing about for my first post, was the flu.
Instead of being busy bringing all my new year’s ideas into manifestation as I had hoped, I spent most of January 2020 coughing. just coughing. Coughing my way into headaches, into chest pains, into burst blood vessels, into sleep, into tears and frustration because i was adamant that this was not how the year was supposed to start. Some days i would try to get up and remember the reason i was lying down was because my head was too heavy to carry. I was not able to attend work these days and I was so angry with myself because I wasn’t being ‘productive’ in the way i wanted to be. It felt like the world was making powerful moves and posting them onto instagram and I did not even have the physical or mental energy to send emails – which at the time was the least i was expecting from myself. If i'm in bed the least i can do is reply to an email right?
It took a lot of reminding myself from my friends and the kind voice in my head that taking time to rest both physically and mentally is productive because it is rest that restores the capacity to give. to give time, energy, encouragement, productivity. I had to remember that there are some times in life where all you can offer is simple being and that’s okay. I could not offer my full self to life because i was not my full self. God was asking me to stop and let healing offer itself to me. once I shed the guilt of not being my best, whole, full, healthy, evolved and most conscious self, I was able to lean into the rest and lie in bed watching Stormzy vs Wiley reaction videos without guilt. I was able to be still enough to let my cup be filled rather than trying to pour steam - it also meant i was able to focus on getting well and explore an area i have had a peripheral interest in for a long time.
I had been saying to my close friends that in 2020 I would like to explore herbalism and learn more about the healing potential of plants. working in psychology i spend a lot of time studying the soul, but I do believe I must also learn about the body the soul lives in too. We are aware in psychology of the impact that different medications can have on the mind and body to support healing or otherwise and I am interested in natural alternatives to support that healing. It doesn't mean i am trying to practise the 'dark arts' as some of my friends thought.
This desire to learn about herbs travelled from the back of my consciousness to the forefront and shifted my perspective from seeing being ill as an inconvenience towards seeing it as an invitation from God to learn about wellness with myself as subject. I gathered the plant books gathering dust on my bookshelves and got to reading in preparation for experimentation. below are the main 4 things i learnt:
Decoctions are a practice in failure and persistence Decocting is the process of boiling the roots or barks of plants to extract different chemicals from the plant material. It is usually done with roots and barks as unlike with leaves or flowers, it is not enough just to steep them in water to draw the chemicals out. after boiling for 30mins – 1 hour you want to pour the water into a glass jar and let it sit for at least 24 hours before drinking so that the properties of the plant can really be drawn out and you can get the full benefit of it. The first decoction i made was with burdock root and somehow, I ended up evaporating the mixture and burning the pot. The fifth decoction i made was with nettle leaves and i managed to maintain water content and not burn anything but as soon as i put it into the glass jar a loud crack cut through the room and in the next moment the decoction was all over the surfaces and i spent the next 20 minutes cleaning nettle juice from the inside of my cupboards. here is an explanation of why and tips to avoid this if you feel led to try decoctions too. By the seventh decoction i was boiling up deep decoctions as if i had always been doing it – albeit waiting each time for the crack - it didn't come. We thank God for growth.
Fresh ginger is your best friend My grandmother once told me that if i put a piece of ginger in my ear it would heal my earache. it didn’t. It just made my ear wet. Ever since that time i have been sceptical about the healing properties of ginger but after this month never again will i doubt it. I tried a lot of different herbs/spices but ginger was my main go-to alongside your usual lemon and honey mixes. Echinacea and nettle were also good friends to me but it was the ginger that felt really cleansing and soothing for the inflammation of my throat.
Burdock root is not nice. Herbalist people online will tell you it is. Don’t believe them
You cannot live by herbs alone. As many herbs and medicines and ‘get well quick’ tricks you may try to use to bring health to your physical body, they are not complete without also taking care of every part of you. You need laughter to keep the spirit light. you need good wholesome fresh and love-cooked food. You need prayer to keep your spirit strong and hopeful. You need reflection to maintain a healthy perspective. You need opportunities to move your body to keep your blood flowing and your muscles loose – dance, stretch, yoga, any slow and intentional movements will to help you move towards greater wellness.
Shifting my perspective and not remaining frustrated really helped me move through this sickness and it also meant a speedy recovery when the doctors had said i should expect to be unwell for a least 6 weeks.
I am now grateful to have entered the year in this way as although at times it felt like i was not moving, the truth is that i was. just not in the ways it seemed like people around me were. the period of resting was really a reminder that the pace of my life is my own. I need to be able to discern when it is time to run in my race, when it is time to speed up, when it is time to slow down. I need to be in tune with my own seasons, not what other people tell me the season is. I need to be in tune with what’s happening in my own body, mind and spirit-soul and find peace in that. I need to trust that as i am living integrally, where i am in each moment is the only place i can and should be.
Starting the year this way also reminded me that in our humanness we build a lot of expectations up in our minds of what life should look like that is contrary to the realities of life that we live. This not a bad thing, but the truth is that anything can happen in life and much will happen that will be unexpected – this we’ve seen a lot this month with the passing of kobe bryant. We have some degree of control over what happens to us as we have control over what we allow into our lives and what we agree with – however much of life we have no control over. What we do have the ultimate control over is how we interpret life and how we will move through the difficult times. We can choose how we will respond. We can choose to meet the unexpected and inconvenient that shows up for us this year with resistance and disbelief, or we can greet them as learning opportunities and move through them with gratitude and curiosity.