This month, I decided to join in the Herbwifery forum’s monthly blog party, hosted by Shamana Flora, the topic of which is ‘Adventures in Herbalism: or What wouldn’t we do for herbs.’
The idea is to write about any interesting, entertaining or downright outrageous stories from our work with the herbs and wild plants of our craft. We were invited to “share… a story of an adventure you’ve had collecting/wildcrafting herbs…i.e. collecting hops naked in the rain? hanging off a mountainside for elderberry collecting? eluding curious bystanders? etc etc.”
I thought this sounded like a great idea for a blog party but, when I came to consider it, I couldn’t really think of anything that adventurous I’ve done while collecting my plants. Of course there’s the inevitable trespassing, sneaking round under cover of darkness, wading through nettles in shorts, hanging over rivers and crawling around the undergrowth that is part of any wild herbalist’s work, but nothing that would really make a particularly enthralling story.
As I mulled it over however, it occurred to me that my whole interaction with plants and nature is an adventure, one that has transformed my world, my thinking, my feeling and my understanding. I’ve come to think that the true adventures in herbalism are inner adventures, the ones that alter our perceptions so radically that we come out of them utterly changed. Altered and awed.
I can remember very clearly the lightbulb moment when I realised that struggling and straining to learn how to communicate subtly with my plant companions was ridiculous. We are so conditioned into believing that we need to learn new skills through a process of practice and great effort that it never occurred to me that these kinds of interactions are part of our very being, easy as laughing, easy as breathing. Generally, when we think about breathing it becomes a complicated process, but in openness and letting go, the body’s own wisdom knows exactly what to do. The same is true with learning to share experiential understandings with plants. Just as animals interact so easily with their environments, we too are designed to fit into and be a part of a natural world which, in our culture, we are so used to separating ourselves from.
When we spend time in nature, observing with an open mind and heart, subtle shifts begin to creep up on us, everything seems brighter, more shining, more special. We can no longer pass by unaware and unseeing as we start to delight in every little thing around us. Even in the city I find myself stopping, enthralled by a tiny plant growing out of a wall, gazing at the trees in wonder and in gratitude. Something sleepy and wild begins to stir in the blood and we realise that we’ll never be quite ‘normal’ again.
So my greatest adventure in herbalism is the quiet, simple, day to day adventure of appreciation for all the gifts that plants give us, from shelter, food and medicine, to subtle understandings, realisations and the ability to extend our love beyond the the limited boundaries of friends and family, to begin to embrace the whole world, in all its myriad expressions.
We always assume it is pain and suffering that will break us, if we let them. So we avoid pain and with it we avoid much of our true experience, as shutting down will inevitably close us to all our sensations and potential for feeling. If we are lucky and some blessing or miracle happens upon us, then we come to see that it’s not pain that will be our undoing but wonder, and what an undoing it is. Imagine it, imagine a breaking that doesn’t reduce you but rather offers you the whole universe, yielding and divine. That is what the natural world offers us, the possibility of wonder, of surrender, of bewilderment and bliss.
In some ways the plants have already asked a lot of of me, but they have given so much more in return. So in answer to the alternative title for this blog party “what wouldn’t we do for herbs?” I must reply, ‘there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them.’ My teachers, my guardians, my friends.