Earth Medicine: A Gift from my Ancestors

The young man making sure I'm safe on this pony was my Tio Victor.  He was one of my greatest loves. He died a violent death in 2003 and after witnessing firsthand the bloody aftermath, I've never been the same.  But he visits me in dreams and guides me in ways that confirm to me the spirit world is real.

The young man making sure I'm safe on this pony was my Tio Victor.  He was one of my greatest loves. He died a violent death in 2003 and after witnessing firsthand the bloody aftermath, I've never been the same.  But he visits me in dreams and guides me in ways that confirm to me the spirit world is real.

Life is such a wild ride.  One moment I make a miraculous breakthrough in my health using natural medicine and the next, I am in an emergency room with a cervical fibroid the size of a baby’s head.  One moment I am told I am on the verge of a stroke, the next, I am breastfeeding a newborn child at age 37.  And through it all, my faith in herbal medicine is unwavering. 

My grandmother, who all twenty something of her grandchildren affectionately refer to as “Gramis,” is my first teacher and greatest inspiration.  For whatever may ail us, she has an herb or root or “menjurje”[1] to cure it. And she certainly always did.  Once, I had swollen lymph glands under my jawline and before you knew it, she grilled tomatoes on an open flame and placed them on my lymph nodes, wrapped me in an ace bandage like a burn victim and sent me on my way.  I woke up completely healed. And all of us have experienced the comfort of her “gordolobo” (mullein flowers) tea on a sore throat.  Herbs and concoctions unfamiliar to many were and continue to be commonplace in our family. 

My Gramis has been an uncertified herbalist with a certifiably impressive track list of healing my entire life.  And I am completely invested in learning about and utilizing herbs thanks to her.  Our phone conversations are three parts talking shop, one part talking chisme

This love for herbs and earth medicine runs through my DNA and is a natural preference over allopathic medicine for me.  My grandmother talks about her own mother, Francisca, who was an incredibly skilled and resourceful culinary goddess that would even make and fire her own clay pots for cooking.  She knew the medicinal properties of different tree barks and regional herbs and used them to heal her children. Her husband – my great grandfather – planted and cultivated everything they ate.  Francisca would coil slivered, freshly harvested squash around a clothesline to be dried by the sun to be preserved or candied. They collected shrimp and fished for their dinner at the river near the village they lived in just outside of Culiacan, Sinaloa. They truly “lived off the land” and are only three generations removed from the industrialized food system I have become hyper aware of and try to limit my participation in.  She was a Libra like me, and sometimes I feel so connected to her when I create culinary deliciousness or when I create a functional piece of art.

I typically paint faces for Day of the Dead.  Here I am at work a couple of years ago.

I typically paint faces for Day of the Dead.  Here I am at work a couple of years ago.

Today is Dia de los Muertos, a day to reflect upon the stories of ancestors that swirl around me and through my veins in the form of preferences and proclivities, whether or not I ever knew them in the flesh.  Besides this beautiful great grandmother I never had the pleasure of knowing, I have two loved ones I did know very well whom I honor today.  Interestingly, both lived in my childhood home for brief seasons, both were gay doctors, and both were the source of some of the most painfully hilarious belly laughs of my youth.  They are my uncles Victor and Arturo and I remember their smell, their voice, their humor. 

This is my Tio Arturo who you would never know from this serious face was a bonafide comedian. He was always laughing and making the world around him laugh along.  He was a physician and died of AIDS in 1991.  I think of him often, and especially today.  I can still hear his voice in my head.

This is my Tio Arturo who you would never know from this serious face was a bonafide comedian. He was always laughing and making the world around him laugh along.  He was a physician and died of AIDS in 1991.  I think of him often, and especially today.  I can still hear his voice in my head.

 

I remember the traditional medicine they infused into their clinical practice in and out of the office.  As a teenager, my uncle Victor told me that if I ever got any type of vaginal itch or infection, I was to soak oatmeal in warm water, put it in cheesecloth, and gently pat the moistened cheesecloth on my vagina and it would clear.  It was a random, unsolicited tip, but I’ve passed that wisdom along to friends and will eventually share it with my little girl.  It is this wisdom of the earth conveyed through ancestors that I am lighting candles for on this special day of remembrance.  May I never forget the magic in simple herbs and so called 'weeds'.  May I never sacrifice tradition for convenience.  And may I never forget that love in any concoction is always the active ingredient. 

 

 

 

[1] Menjurje: the correct word is “menjunje,” but we hear our elders pronounce it as “menjurje.” Menjurjes are combinations of natural substances to ne drank or eaten for healing purposes.  It is a Spanish word for a medicinal “concoction.”

Break Habits, Create Rituals

Breaking habits is one of the most challenging undertakings a human being can ever confront.  We are creatures of habit and familiarity is how we keep ourselves safe, no matter how toxic that safety net may be.  Habits are repetitive modes of behavior where the participant is not fully engaged in the act he or she is participating in.  It is mindless and mundane.  Ritual, on the other hand, is a mindful undertaking where the participant immerses herself in the experience and infuses that experience with meaning and devotion.

Habits disconnect us from the present and offer opportunities for escapism, whilst rituals weave our souls into a continuum of creation - extending our reach into the palms of our ancestors in ways escapism never can.  Rituals are spiritual reminders of who we are, where we are going, and why we must go there.  Rituals connect us to our culture (whether inherited or consciously created) and are our portals to healing.

So how do you transform a hard to break habit into a ritual?  Let's use coffee drinking as an example.  A ritual would be that every morning, you wake up and do a few minutes of yoga, stretching or meditation.  You then brew the most deliciously fragrant grounds and breathe deeply in gratitude as the aroma permeates your entire environment.  You sweeten it perfectly.  It has just the right amount of milk.  Or, if you prefer, it is perfectly, robustly black.  However you most enjoy it, you find that one place available to you where you can sit and fully experience the bitter bliss that drips down your throat.  The warmth of your favorite cup in your hands, the heavenly scent wafting up into your nostrils causing you to sigh with delight, the breeze, the sight of your dog wondering why he can't have a sip.  Every sense is entertained.  Your presence in the present is what turns an ordinary, thoughtless moment into a ritual.

Now the habit of drinking coffee looks much different:  You wake up groggy and aimless.  There is no thought or intention on what disposition you would like to try on for the day.  Your only intention is to make your eyes grow a little bigger and shake off the sleep entangled in your lashes.  You turn the coffee pot on, briefly take in the familiar smell before you rush off to get the rest of yourself together.  You drink your first cup while you iron your pants and text your girlfriend.  You pour a second cup into a to-go mug so that you can "enjoy" it on your drive to work since you totally missed experiencing the first cup.  And chances are, you will have another once you get to work just because that's how you settle in; that's how you do it every day.  You don't know any other way.  You don't even consider any other way because you don't believe you have the capacity to change how you experience your life.  There is no thought, no true reverence for the earth from whence those coffee beans came.  Or for the people who grew them.  Or for the pleasure a simple cup can bring if only we show up undistracted and aware.  All of that mindless ingesting of coffee becomes a poison to the body.  Habits kill us.  Rituals save us.  It is not about giving up the "bad habit" of coffee, but instead about enjoying your perfect cup down to the last drop with fully embodied mindfulness.  Then and only then can you experience the medicinal properties of coffee.  Then and only then will you  be able to dismantle addictions and see that what addictions really are are mindless and repetitive habits.  Mindfulness is what will free you.  Mindfulness is what will turn a bad habit into a sacred ritual if only you allow yourself to show up for your own life and experience it with all of your senses.  The magic, the healing, the freedom is in imbuing habits with meaning, thereby creating rituals.  Try this with one habit you find difficult to break and let me know how it goes...

 

The Willingness to Forgive

When the valley becomes darker and the peak seems so far away. When the sadness of betrayal sets in and all that you’ve worked so hard to “become” is challenged.  When you just don’t want to forgive because you are too angry or too trespassed or too humiliated, this is your moment to breathe more deeply.  This is the moment to let ancestral tears run their course through your veins.  This is the moment to not berate yourself for not being who you think you should be.

 

The brighter your Light, the darker the energy you magnetize.  That is the nature of balance.  Your power lies in your ability to observe and not react.  Your power is in the breath you take so deep it burns and causes tears to spill innocence out of your jaded eyes.  Your power is in your willingness to feel it all and become still so that when you do move, it is a movement full of grace.

 

When the teachings disguised as torrents swirl through your peaceful life – because they will – don’t rush to remain serene or to forgive if it isn’t a natural response.  It is inauthentic to your process as a human being. Feel it all.  And remember that you are not defined by your thoughts or your emotions.  Your actions are what determine the quality of your character.  Allow yourself to grieve and repeat these affirmations to carry you through to who you really are:

 

I am willing to forgive

I am willing to heal

I am willing to see this situation through the eyes of the Divine

Your willingness will set you free…..   

 

Courage and Fear: A Beautiful Dance

This world can undoubtedly be a very scary place.  With all of its polarities, it’s darkness, it’s wounds, it can make “courage” seem like an unattainable goal. How can one feel safe when nothing is for certain? Where do prayers land while they remain unanswered?  Dizzying questions inundate our minds, yet still we strive to be at peace.  Still we reach for courage to save us from self-pity and stagnation.

But what exactly is courage?  Is it fearlessness?  Is it a discipline?  Is it learned or innate behavior? It is innate within our species to seek harmony in spite of the lack of guaranteed safety.  To be courageous is a primordial human ambition.

Osho says that: “In the beginning there is not much difference between the coward and the courageous person.  The only difference is, the coward listens to his fears and follows them, and the courageous person puts them aside and goes ahead.  The courageous person goes into the unknown in spite of all the fears.”

Courage does not preclude fear.   In fact, it can only exist where fear exists.  Courage is the medicine that turns fear into a spiritual elixir; into an alchemizing force meant to liberate you.  Courage is what it takes to ground you deep into the earth and make you an intrinsic part of its evolution.

So to be courageous, one must be willing to stay awake.  One must be willing to witness fear even as it takes over one’s senses.  And once the heart muscles expand and the exhale is slow and steady, then one has passed through the fear and is ready for creation…what will YOU create?