Herbal energetics can seem fairly complex and impenetrable at first glance and its certainly one of those topics you know you’ll be understanding at deeper and deeper levels for the rest of your life.
Herbal energetics are practiced mostly with a view to returning the body and mind to a state of balance or homeostasis. The energetic spectrum doesn’t consist of two extremes and a centre point however. Balance is not static but rather a flowing and continually shifting principle which requires adjusting through a process of deep observation as well as a good dose of common sense.
This is a process we engage in naturally, for example as the weather turns colder we tend to increase our intake of warming foods and spices. Energetics are part of our innate wisdom and, of course, the innate wisdom of nature. Spring brings us herbal cleansers to purify the body and mind of winter accumulations. Autumn brings us root vegetables and herbal root medicines, strengthening and earthing us for the harder months ahead. Striving for equilibrium is inherent in nature, the pendulum can never swing too far one way or the other before she seeks to readdress the balance.
Herbal energetics are about observing where body tissues or systems and mental or emotional patterns are out of balance and thinking about how we can either pacify or stimulate a corresponding action to return us to harmony. Mostly we look at the two extremes of the polarity to understand the spectrum we are observing such as hot and cold, dry or moist, dense or light etc. This can become quite complex when we apply it to individuals whose body’s display myriad different functions and tendencies.
Thats why its helpful to start with a basic understanding of the elements. All traditional energetic models that I am aware of such as those of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda and Western Herbalism begin by looking at the different elements that are manifest in all life. In the Western Tradition these are earth, air, fire and water.
The best way to start developing an understanding of the elements is to observe the world around us. Go outside, turn your attention to how the elements can be perceived around you.
Kneel down, touch the earth, what are its qualities? Heavy? Nutritive? Dense? What else?
Stand up and observe the qualities inherent in the air. Feel its potential to move quickly in any direction, to spin, to whirl. How does it seem to you? Light, free, ungrounded?
Find a stream or river and place your hands in it. Feel the flow of the water that never stops but rather moulds itself around objects in its path, soft yet relentless in its ceaseless progression towards the sea.
Turn your face to the sun, how do you perceive the element of fire? Think how the addition of fire enables the transformation of each of the other elements, solid to liquid to gas – earth to water to air. From warmth to blistering heat, fire transmutes but out of balance it can destroy.
Now think about what happens when any two of these elements are in combination. When fire and water meet what are the properties of the steam that results? When earth and water come together, what happens? A small amount of water will moisten and soften the earth but too much will result in sticky, clogging mud. How might we see these tendencies in the body?
Each of the elements is necessary for life to exist, they seem separate yet really they can only be in a state of interdependence, no one without the others.
When you feel you have a good grasp of the qualities represented by the different elements start thinking about people who might be archetypical of each one. Describe them or draw them as caricatures, what ailments would they be likely to suffer from?
Finally you can start to think of people you know and try to discern how the elements can express themselves through subtle ways in people. Which balance of elements might be present in someone’s condition? Are they full of phlegm or sticky mucus like the meeting of earth and water? Are they jittery, ungrounded and unable to sit still like the buffeting air? Try to see where elements may be in or out of balance in the people around you.
In this way we can start to work our way in towards a deeper observation of the body’s energetics before we progress to the study of herbal energetics and how they can aid us in restoring balance. We begin to weave strands of inspiration that will flow together to create a web of understanding of the exquisite complexities and ultimate simplicities of the world around us.