You know the classic movie scene where someone pulls the emergency break on a subway or a fast-moving train?
Smoke. Screeching metal. Wide-eyed shock as life does something that was not in the day’s playbook.
All that… and on Thanksgiving, with seven people expected for dinner and an 18-pound bird roasting in the oven.
My husband had been having odd symptoms for days. We were brushing them off, or perhaps I should say we weren’t putting it all together. It looked like allergies, and razor burn from a recent haircut, and some weird eye irritation that cleared up with Eyebright drops.
So when he woke up on Thanksgiving morning with lesions on his head and a new one forming between his eyes, we were baffled. It was painful to the touch and was multiplying quickly.
Luckily we have medical doctors, naturopaths, acupuncturists and assorted other helpers and healers in our circle. It’s good to have friends who will makes themselves available on Thanksgiving morning. (I am so intensely grateful for my friends and colleagues. They have been been all love and support these past few weeks. Mwah!).
It took less than a minute to diagnose the problem: shingles.
It was wild—we literally watched a new patch appear during the 15 minutes of Skyping with a friend, who was still in her pajamas and had her daughter on her lap. That’s medicine at its most comforting.
The latest studies show that pharmaceutical anti-virals only work at onset: the first 72 hours after the lesions appear. We were way beyond that window (although the doctor did end up prescribing an anti-viral in the hopes of cutting the duration), so we came up with a kitchen-sink of supplements, herbs and homeopathy to keep him comfortable:
Vitamins A, C, and D
Lemon Balm, St. John’s Wort, Licorice, Isatis, and Lomatium
Rhus tox homeopathic (when his eyes swelled near-shut, we added Apis and Mezereum)
Topical infused oils of Cayenne and St. John’s Wort
Ravinsara and Forhara topical essential oils
There were some scary moments. Like when his tear duct swelled up like a water balloon over the course of an hour. We actually headed to the E.R. for that one. The admission staff was kind and efficient. He went to triage, was tagged as “urgent,” and sent to wait in a hard-backed chair in a small room.
After an hour and 40 minutes there was still no doctor. Gotta say, the Kitchen Witch in me was flabbergasted: You have a dude with a serious virus and you have him sitting in an uncomfortable position with no fluids for an extended period of time? Um, what school of healing did you attend, Hospital People?
We actually ended up leaving. The tear duct ballon had stopped growing and we figured being home in bed was better for his health than continuing a vigil at the hospital.
Needless to say all of this was taking a toll on my nerves.
The next day I found myself cleaning the kitchen and watching some really negative thoughts dance through my brain. Thoughts that were tired and grumpy and put-upon.
So I began the simplest of mantras:
My life is good. My life is good. My life is good.
I hear you, nasty thoughts, but you don’t make me any happier.
My life is good. My life is good.
We don’t get to control the events in our lives. But we do get to decide how we are going to think about them.
This is a basic tenet for me. And since my brain is often a cacophony of snarky opinions, I spend a lot of time thought-wrangling!
A second life tenet is that there is magic in the world.
It’s subtle. It can look like coincidence if you haven’t wrangled the snarky thoughts (’cause the snarky thoughts separate you from the flow and keep you from seeing magic and happiness).
I must have done some impressive thought wrangling, ’cause the next morning in my inbox was a great post and video from Marie Forleo on just this. Give it a watch and let me know what you think in the comments below.
Meanwhile, Andrew’s doing a bit better. The ophthalmologist gave his eyes the “all clear”, which was a huge relief. My attitude is under control and the train is slowly getting back underway.
Thanks to all who sent kind thoughts this past week. And so much love to our gorgeous circle of friends, healers, and employees who have run errands, sent remedies, and generally held down the fort. You are gold.
“You said you thought it was all bunk and bullshit, back when you first got to Ireland,” she said. “But you changed your mind, didn’t you?”
She was referring to a comment I had made about the “magical” side of my Irish experience.
And she’s right: in the beginning, I did ritual like an anthropologist, drinking in the details but not really living the experience. Lunar astrology fascinated me but I really couldn’t see what it had to do with the “real” world. And tarot cards? They were… fun.
Even learning herbal medicine was a bit of a stretch. But at least there were scientific studies to back up the claims… even if the only scientists who bothered to study botanicals were in backwater countries like India and Pakistan.
Yup, I was that bad.
Or I should say, I was that indoctrinated.
As much as I had always been considered a rebel amongst my family and friends, on a deeper level I was very much product of private schools, suburbia, and a culture saturated in logical positivism.
There I was on the Emerald Isle, in the tiny town of Mullingar, County Westmeath.
I had sold my house based on a feeling, a sense that it was time for that life to unravel. I had decided to go to Ireland based on a dream. Not an “I have a dream” kind of dream, but the go-to-sleep-at-night and get directions from the Universe kind of dream.
Something in me had gently insisted that I was changing, evolving.
But, somehow, I managed to change my whole life without actually changing my mind.
That came more slowly. It took years of having my intuition confirmed by my intellect—which is really easy with plant medicine; my intuition would choose, my intellect would confirm—for me to get comfortable relying on a hunch, a gut feeling, or a tug at my heart.
There’s a sweet spot, where intuition is structured by intellect, that can be taught through plant medicine. Over the years I’ve figured out how to help my students step into this space… and I’ve watched their lives turn toward everyday magic, synchronicity, and joy.
So when I got a call from Max Simon, who has worked with Deepak Chopra on a number of projects, asking me to write a short course on intuition, I was intrigued… and a bit terrified. I have never tried to teach intuition directly, even though I know it is a side effect of Witch Camp and Sage School.
But I figured I should evolve and grow… I don’t like to ask anything of my students that I don’t ask of myself. 🙂
I was just listening to a lecture by Alberto Villoldo, who was talking about our disconnect not only from nature, but from our own nature. A disconnect both without and within.
Over the years, as I have worked on my disconnect within, I’ve discovered an amazing thing:
Turning in has taught me to tune in.
What I mean by this is that as I healed my own disconnect from my body, I began to be able to read the world around me with greater clarity and accuracy. Whether you want to call it intuition or clairvoyance or my favorite, witchiness, I found I had it in spades and that my connection to these “powers” lived in my body and not my brain.
I spent a lot of my teenage years trying to make my brain affect the world around me: I would try to move paper with my mind or make a candle flame flicker.
I lived most of my life in the space between my ears.
It’s not surprising, really—I was an overweight and klutzy kid with little confidence, not only in how my body looked, but how it behaved. I had a trick ankle that would collapse at the slightest provocation and a partially paralyzed eye that was sometimes creepily out-of-sync with its neighbor.
So I moved upstairs, into my head space, and I stayed there through my mid-twenties.
During college I became more and more ungrounded (not surprising, right?). I lived only partially on this plane and sometimes would lose time—whole days that I couldn’t recall and would reconstruct from Starbuck’s receipts and the due dates stamped in the library books that I had checked out while I was checked out.
I can clearly remember times when I felt like sanity was a choice… and I was tempted to stop choosing it.
And then I got sick… and illness had me crashing back home into the uncomfortable thing that was my body. Suddenly my body—the material stuff of my being—became a part of me that I could no longer ignore if I wanted my mind to continue to function.
If you had told me then that learning to be embodied would become a spiritual path for me, I wouldn’t have bought it. My body was a tether and my soul yearned to be free.
Corny, but true.
But as I started to learn to care for and listen to my body, I discovered this amazing thing: my body (and yours!) knows all sorts of stuff. When I tuned in to the subtle sensory impulses that I had been feeling but filtering out, my intuition began to sharpen.
I began to be able to read myself and the world around me.
I became kind of witchy.
Talk to me:
How do you feel about your body?
Have you been living all up in your head?
Close your eyes.
Feel your heart.
Put your hand on it so you can feel the beating.
Now begin to imagine love coming at you. Pull the love in, feel your heart pulling tighter and tighter ’til it aches. Til you know that you have a heart, both energetic and physical.
Then release it, like a spring, so your heart opens wide and all that love shines forth.
You are both: body and soul.
Need a reminder? Put a little rose essential oil in your hair. Every time you move your head, the scent will waft over you. Use it as a reminder to center, ground, and connect with the beating of your heart.
I begin every class by announcing, “Don’t put me on a pedestal. I will fall off and we will both get hurt.”
It never occurred to me to announce this to clients as well (further evidence that only the Gods are perfect!) until I watched a client go into angry melt-down when she discovered my essential humanity.
Our shared humanity is the essence of the healing relationship. The place where we are stronger together, where shift can happen, comes from exponentially magnifying our human-ness.
I know, I know: it’s easy to define humanity by our flaws and sins, by the reports on the nightly news and the lowest common denominator of our behavior.
But part of the joy of being human is being the skin-suit for a spark of the divine, for creative energy. When we harness the creatrix within, change happens; we begin to choose our emotional and mental lives, creating our perception consciously.
When I am working with a client, we connect with each other from this place of human essence… not because I am a stand-in for an absent mother, an abusive father, or an omnipresent God.
The “pedestal people,” those who hoist me up and expect me to live up to their expectations, are often stuck in a need for perfect. Their perfectionism creates both self- and outward criticism, topped off with a dash of righteousness.
It does to me — I’ve been there.
Here’s what I know helps:
Perfectionism often goes hand-in-hand with over-thinking, stress, rigidity, or “lack mentality.” The best medicine: train your brain. Negative thoughts release a hormone cascade that encourages more negative thoughts. Catch yourself and redirect your brain.
When I hear a negative thought zipping through my frontal lobe, I consciously say to myself Do you really want to think that? And then redirect the thought along a more positive route.
Until you get used to this, chasing your brain around all day can be exhausting, so reach for some herbal support:
If your mind is on a gerbil-wheel, try Passionflower tea.
If you have what I call “Bully Brain” (i.e., your very fearful amygdala is running the show), try Milky Oat tincture and Rose tea.
If your thoughts scatter six ways to Sunday and your perfectionism is an attempt to keep control (especially if you are ever tempted to try some kid’s Ritalin), try a bit of Gotu Kola tincture (and let me know how it works for you!).
For rigidity in the body, try Wood Betony tincture; if it’s in the soul, try Willow flower essence.
If nobody can do it as well as you, you need Oak flower essence. Like, now.
And beware of the pedestal. It’s a long drop… and somebody’s going to get hurt.
While incredibly useful and adaptive, they can also be single-minded (no pun intended!) bullies.
This morning, I was doing a little number crunching for the business. It was one of those potentially annoying jobs that nobody around here had enough time or desire to do. I had a bit of both, so I jumped into the breach.
The truth is, I love detail work. I find painting trim relaxing and the doodles in the margins of my notebooks would make a pointillist proud.
This was just more detail work, nothing particularly upsetting about it.
And yet, my brain was going to town. It kept up a screaming mantra about how upset I was that I had to do this mindless number crunching. It wanted to create all kinds of drama around the fact that no one else had bothered to do this work. It seemed to think that I was too important and too busy to help out with this particular task.
I checked in with my body; it was fine.
I looked at the calendar; nothing else needed doing.
I glanced back at my ranting brain; it was determined to think me into misery.
More dangerous than that, my brain was trying to goad me into a stress response to what was, essentially, a non-stressful situation.
Stress causes high blood sugar, high blood pressure, brain fog, memory loss… why the heck would my brain want to send me there?
Addiction, dear Watson.
Yup, like many of you I am a recovering cortisol junkie. Like many of you, I spent years mastering the fine art of thinking myself miserable.
In a recent tele-conference with Brene Brown (which you, my dear readers, get a special link to replay), Dr. Lissa Rankin points out that our brain’s amygdala is not particularly smart; it translates shame, anger, resentment, and even our “dress rehearsals for tragedy” (when you think all the way through the worst possible scenario you can dredge up for any situation), as full-on stress.
And each time we turn on our stress-response, we turn off our body’s self-healing mechanisms.
In the past few years, I have learned to leash my Bully Brain.
Most importantly, realize you are more than your brain.
Your Bully Brain is a lot like a child who wants attention. Just like with a child, you can notice the ranting without reacting.
Pull in a little extra support from the plant world to tame the raving beast:
Passion Flower to calm circular thinking (if your brain feels like a gerbil on a wheel, this one’s for you!).
Rhodiola to lower cortisol levels (yup, there is science on that).
Milky Oat to sooth the stressors of daily modern life.
Take an essential oil break:
Put a drop of your favorite essential oil on your palm. My choices: grapefruit, sea pine, or cistus (rock rose).
Rub your hands together and hold them over your nose. Inhale. Exhale. Ahhhhh.
Are you a pro at thinking yourself miserable? Hop to the comments section and make a public commitment to yourself to tame your Bully Brain.