Here’s my secret:
There was no master plan.
I didn’t visualize herb shops in two states, a couple of books, and a vibrant online community (online??! says ten-years-ago me, that’s crazy-pants!).
The year destiny wrapped me ‘round her little finger and tugged my life into a new shape, I was happily renovating my 1870’s Sears and Roebuck kit house, spending evenings rocking on the wrap-around porch, and making gluten-free mulberry-peach pies with berries fresh from the trees in the back yard. I loved my house somethin’ fierce and swore they’d carry me out in a coffin.
I was 33. Thirty-three is three 11’s, the number of visionaries and dreamers, ideologues and spiritual seekers. Think about your own thirty-third year (and if you’re not yet there, pay attention when it comes!).
I hit my thirty-third birthday and life got officially weird.
My teacher in Ireland used to say:
Use the tools until you don’t need them anymore.
“The tools” are things like essential oils and flower essences, teas and tarot cards, crystals, malas and rosary beads. They are the candles you light to hone your focus, the breathing exercises that calm your mind, and the shells and stones on your altar which remind you what you are made of.
These spiritual tools help our physical selves connect with our inner-wisdom, our energy bodies, our souls.
This Jewish girl has owned rosary beads and Kwan Yin statues, citrine points and oracle decks…
… because they help me to connect with the deepest parts of me.
All right Empaths, I need you to repeat after me:
It is not my job to absorb the energies of the world.
Say it out loud, even if you don’t believe it:
It is not my job to absorb the energies of the world.
Why is this so very important?
Because when you are taking on other people’s grief and loneliness, when you are pulling in other people’s pain, you are attracting and attached to those feelings.
And you pulling those feelings toward you neither serves you nor anyone else.
Burn it off.
Sage it off.
your aura, your skin
will not be breached!
Otherwise you are swaying in the wind, pulled by the highs and lows of every creature on this planet.
It’s pretty tough to hear the small, still voice of your inner divinity while juggling a job, two kids, and a mortgage.
That’s why my first spiritual teacher— who insisted that I was a modern-day priestess— admonished me never to get married or have kids or dogs or even fish!
Okay, I’m exaggerating on the fish; I’m sure she thought some koi in the pond would be good for meditation. My point is she felt pretty strongly that I should avoid decisions which tempted the noise of everyday life to pull me off my center.
And let’s face it: even for the most grounded of us, the ups and downs of daily living exert their own gravitational force.
As modern-day wisdom-warriors, our primary fight is with our own wandering attention, keeping it focused so that our energy goes where we want it to and not to the gazillion other places that are happy to have an infusion of our light.
My herbal teacher started every class with a recitation of lineage:
My name is Gina McGarry. My teacher was Rosemary Gladstar, whose teacher was Juliette de Baïracli Levy, whose teachers were the Romani gypsies.
I carried this opening recitation into my own teaching, working backwards through the generations of people who had refined and nursed the knowledge that allowed me and—through me—my students to step into deep relationship with the medicine plants.
In over eighty hours of herbal training, it was this five-minute recitation which cracked open hearts and most prepared students to step into the work ahead. Knowing they were part of a lineage of Medicine Keepers created a profound sense of trust and belonging.
For many, at odds with their families and out-of-sync with religious codes, this was the first time they felt a part of something which stretched back through the ages, anchoring them to ancestral energy.
At my first herbal conference, I briefly met Juliette de Baïracli Levy. I was awestruck not because she was a world-renowned writer on herbs and veterinary practices but because she was the twice great-grandmother of the Medicine I carried in my heart. I would not be the woman I am today if Juliette, whom I never knew personally, hadn’t shared her wisdom.
Within the herbal community, a deep reverence is nurtured for lineage and the lessons only many years of living can distill. The wisdom keepers who carry and pass knowledge, teacher to student, generation to generation, are honored and cared for. The elders at that first herbal conference had trails of young people refreshing their tea, bringing them chairs, and running countless errands.
As I watch the influx of new healers and baby shamans on my Instagram and Facebook feeds, a large part of me rejoices. Knowing that this knowledge—seeded by so many hands over so many generations—is in full burgeoning bloom brings tears to my eyes.
…one which we’ve worked so hard to establish. When we don’t link ourselves into the chain of knowledge passed hand-to-hand we lack a sense of support, of groundedness, on our path.
We lose the awe and honor of being a trusted keeper of hard-won medicine passed generation to generation.
And perhaps most importantly, we lose the person who gently chides us to work harder, to learn deeper, and to explore the vast reaches of our consciousness and come into a better way of being.
It was late autumn in Ireland when I began seeing dead birds in the cow’s field. I was gathering hawthorn berries and noticed the small black bodies under the power line. I remember coming in the back door, shucking hat and boots and delivering a basket of berries to Gina.
There are dead birds under the power line, I reported. Maybe we should call the power company.
Gina looked up from where she was sorting the berries. You left them there? she asked.
Um, yes? I said wondering what the heck else I was supposed to do.
Take care of them, she instructed. It’s time you learned to deal with death.
Building a cairn for small broken bird bodies was as much a part of my studies as memorizing the Latin names of the members of the Rosaceae family.
These universal metaphors and symbols are powerful stuff. They awaken ancient knowings within us by mere exposure. Your teacher needn’t have decades of knowledge: if she shares with you a bit about the patterns of nature, your own inner-knowing will spark and you’ll find your way to deeper relationship.
This allows for democratization of wisdom: those who are but a step further on the path can turn back and help the next person in turn.
It is beautiful and a bit miraculous: the symbols are the keys and anyone can pass you a set.
When I look at gorgeous photos of herbal mandalas on Instagram or hear a friend’s excitement about learning essential oils from the Sales Team Leader at Big Name Essential Oil Company, I can’t help but wonder:
Who will insist she bury the birds to learn the lessons of life and death?
Who will call her to task when she steps out of integrity with herself?
Which ancestors will whisper secrets as she moves into the dark forests of her calling?
How do we assure connection to the lines of lineage and pass on the tradition of honoring the elders of our sacred tribe?
My sister did her Master’s degree in Haifa, where she fell in love with an Israeli man. Their courtship was conducted in running shoes—first jogging on the beaches of the Mediterranean and later in airports running to catch Trans-Atlantic flights.
Now she and her family live in Israel. Summers are when we gather here in the States to catch up, hang out and try to find meals that everyone—the gluten intolerant, the meat loving, the vegetarians and the vegans—will eat.
One afternoon my sixteen-year-old nephew and I were chatting on the deck. I’ve lost the entirety of the conversation but this bit stood out starkly against the blue-gray backdrop of the bay:
Jewish Holidays are all the same. They go like this:
They hate us.
They tried to kill us.
…It gets boring after a while.
My nephew was jocular as he made this pronouncement but a sliver of horror edged toward my heart.
And then images from Charlottesville: chanting zealots bring “they hate us” from past tense to present.
Oppression gets into your DNA. How many bloodlines carry this double helix of fear and anger?
Years ago I did a semester abroad in Rome. My closest friends were a group of German students also studying in Italy. Generations after World War II, my German friends still felt deep shame for the Holocaust…and me? I didn’t mention my German friends to my Jewish family because I wasn’t sure it was okay to have German friends.
Hate and oppression become a Pandora’s box that future generations have to unpack.
How do we transmute our feelings of helplessness into healing? Rose petal elixir and hawthorn tea aren’t going to do the trick.
Hate and anger seem monolithic and unapproachable.
Shifting our focus from the macro to the micro, from the greater vision to actionable steps, lets us move from idealism into empathic action.
I grew a business at the juncture of healing and nature because I wanted to save the world. Yet every action I took as a person, or we took as a business, felt inconsequential, one grain of sand in the vast Saharan desert.
When we started to work with a branding person on the business, we were asked to think about our raison d’être a little differently than we had in the past. We defined our top-tier vision for the world, our ideal (this is all the Wonder Woman stuff, like keeping plants and animals and even humans from going extinct). This top-tier vision is our greatest prayer, our utopian vision, our driving force.
Next thing we had to think about was supporting that ideal vision. What actions could we promise to take (a promise we will always fulfill) toward making the ideal a reality. And so we made a brand promise to nurture the people who nurture the planet.
And something amazing happened: clearly defining the vision as separate from the action that supports it helped me understand how I could actually make a difference in the world.
While I don’t know how to keep the plants on the list of endangered species from becoming extinct, I do know how to nurture people. I’m pretty good at it. It’s doable and at the end of the day I can assess how well I did at nurturing.
So I’ve been applying this thinking to the frisson of hate rippling through our world. What’s my ideal? A world where people cherish diversity and can disagree without violence.
What’s the promise I can make toward this vision? The action steps I will take over and over again?
I came up with two (and maybe these will inspire you to find yours):
1. I will use my voice…
…because each of us who raises our voice or our pen gives someone else the courage to say “this is not okay.” I can use my voice to plant seeds of courage so someone can say to their father or neighbor or childhood friend “Let’s talk about this hate that’s happening in our country.” It’s these small conversations which can actually be heard and create change: I know my blog is preaching to the choir; my goal is to make sure the choir knows they are not alone.
2. I will blow up the myth of homogenization.
Hate wants to think in terms of stereotypes. Jews, Lesbians, Blacks…
But we’re all unique beings, no two the same. We are singular and a part of this larger thing called humanity.
Always keep 2 pieces of paper in your pockets. One says, “I am a speck of dust;” the other, “The world was created for me.” (Rabbi Bunim)
It’s time for each of us to shine his or her own unique light. We’re not stereotypes, we’re individuals with unique gifts to share.
But we have to do more than simply step into the power of being our true selves—we’ve gotta take that shiny self out in the world and be kind. Look people in the eye. Listen to them. Extend your empathy in all directions.
It’s easy to hate a stereotype, it’s harder to hate a person who’s standing in front of you offering a smile or a kind word or a cookie.
Small action steps toward a larger vision.
Need more inspiration? Listen to the mother of Heather Heyer, the woman who was killed in Charlottesville, talk about what we all can do to honor Heather’s death.
Tell me, what’s your vision for the world? And what’s your promise to the world and yourself?