Living Medicine

My wise,

musings, rambling records of thoughts,

reminders to self,

begin like this

on page 33

in a little leather journal:

It might take a lifetime,

to unlearn an idea, like:

being part of a people that come from nowhere,

and think we own everything.

But, plant seeds still

of hope

without expectation

with faith.


plant a lot of seeds

plant a lot of seeds.

See others as yourself, by

removing obstacles of negativity.

And in the process

of truly seeing,

welcome the medicine of each

that contribute to the community.

Make this life have meaning,

don’t be wasteful

of the gifts we have to offer to one another.

Practice humility,

and gratitude with abundance.

With joy for humanity,

all people,

people of this green world,

this natural world, where,

air is spun into wind like

speech from a creator

born from nothing.

Delicate breezes

that speak of peace

and provide clarity.

Thank you.

Powerful gales,

that shake the ego out

of self-inflating introspection

to loudly remind of the source.

That never leaves,

but that we walk away from.

I wrote these thoughts in my journal after attending a ‘World Peace and Prayer Day’ at a place called Howard Prairie Lake, outside of Ashland, Oregon. It was at the end of summer, in August, and just pleasant enough to sit outside and listen to elders, from close and faraway tribes, speak of the state of the peace of our planet. I’m not entirely sure how long I sat, but I was certainly enthralled.  The first voice I heard, powerfully resounding at the edge of the lake, was of an elder from a local Oregon Tribe. She was talking to the way in which we raise our young. Where we have failed, and where we could find the spaces for improvement. She spoke about how we each have a role—unique and necessary to the community. We each have a role, not only as individuals, but also as caretakers. It is a responsibility to find and attend to our own medicine, and offer it. But with equal importance, she called us to encourage and hold space for youth to navigate towards the discovery of their personal medicines.

There are many terms that could be interchanged with medicine—purpose and potential, dharma, gift. But, medicine resounds the most with me, and is what I choose to talk about, for a couple reasons. First, are the interpretations of the word, and how they differ from person to person but are the same at the core. Medicine implies something of the healing nature—something meant to feed, sustain, nurture and support life. It’s a unique word too, because of its broad applicability. When applied to people, I think of someone’s medicine as the support to the web of life that they offer, through the unique way that they see and move about the world.

When we are young, we attempt to conquer the fear of comparison amongst peers. Fear that we may fall short of expectation or face alienation. As we age, and our self-concept becomes less volatile, we face the fear of a more permanent type of isolation. The question becomes; is it possible to reach harmony in the world to feel entirely at home and supported? And, is it also possible to abandon the struggle of definition and feel understood at the core? These questions arise to battle with a notion of being made, and fading away, completely alone and without having found purpose. The only way to put the former questions to the test is to be unafraid of vulnerability. That is scary, because of the idea of something being lost—relationships, security, or confidence. But without fear, it is clearer that everything is energy. And energy is never created or destroyed, gained or lost, but shared, redistributed and flowing.

Conflicts can often arise when we pick battles with each other based on fear of non-understanding. In our individual journeys toward self-awareness and understanding, we sometimes forget that it is the contrast of those around us that makes such explorations possible. Everything lives in balance—like yin could not exist without yang. Calm couldn’t exist without having energetic as its opposite, or happy without sad, or shy without boisterous, or gentle without rough. Every emotion and personality has its place in the whole of humanity, and each is crucial to keeping the fabric of life in tact. It is important for each individual to work towards understanding what his or her medicine is, but it is also crucial not to judge or stifle that which is different. Here is a simple example: A community must be fed, and to eat there must be food. So, some are skilled at hunting, and can track and kill in a dance of precision and grace. They must think in animalistic ways, must be able to sit alone while waiting for a hunt to begin. Hunters are the contrast to the cooks. Cooks are artists of a different sort, who know how to craft a meal with love for the community, who thrive in the bustle of a busy kitchen. Where the hunters know the land and animals, the cooks know the village and the people. They take what the hunters provide and fill bellies, they use fire to make something nourishing, and in the process tend to the joy of experiencing flavor. Hunters and cooks need each other, and the community depends on both. But, you couldn’t force either each other’s role–they must exist together.

I think that this is a notion that Gandhi had, when he said in his autobiography, “It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow-beings” (Gandhi). An important distinction in this quote is the use of the word ‘beings’. It implies a state of equality by simply existing, by being. The word also recognizes that humans are not the only ones with the ability to be. Nonhuman medicine requires just as much respect, for the value that it has in the world. Personally, I have found the medicine of plants to be incredibly profound and deep. Through herbs, I’ve learned a subtle and gentle type of medicine, that takes a humble approach in order to understand.

I recall my most joyful learning experiences being when plants were the teachers. The first time I remember weaving myself with nature, with a velvety cord of connection from heart to land, was when I learned to identify yarrow. Its leaves are fuzzy and mint-green in color. To me they felt like a foxtail, soft, but deceivingly so for the pokey appearance. I don’t have a memory of where, or by whom, I was taught about this particular plant. In a class maybe, and from a teacher probably, or some other larger figure whose name and title have slipped away from recognition, but whose authority to impart knowledge I recall. There was a power in the ability to name the plants around me that I began to feel. I would stoop to touch and feel almost every yarrow plant I came upon. It felt as though I was grazing ancient braille, feeling out a message only interpretable by me. In its own way, yarrow helped me understand one of nature’s many paradoxes: that nothing is completely tame, nor entirely wild, but there are components of each that exist in everything. It also was my first pull into the world of herbal medicine, something that continues to excite and inspire as a form of medicine, for myself and as something to offer to the greater community.

Raising children, the next generation that will inherit the world, must be done in a way that encourages medicine to emerge and be celebrated by the entire community. In my own experience, school did not serve to nurture my self-exploration in the plant world. Standardized tests, and common core curriculums are ways that my school imposed consistency in learning. But for me, that managed to stifle, rather than support, my individual pursuits in learning. Also, making curriculum uniform meant that my doing well in school was more a measure of rule following than personal growth and fulfillment.  In school, it was clear what the mold I should be working towards fitting in was, but the fit wasn’t comfortable for me. I was frustrated often, because of the disconnect between what I was naturally drawn to and what I was being asked to invest all my time and energy in. Luckily, though, I grew up in a small mountain town where nature became an important classroom—or at least a place to seek out peace and solace. My most vivid education, and my path towards discovering my own medicine, did not take place in a classroom.

Nature inspired and taught me as I grew up and felt my way around the world. In the communications with the land I learned about stewardship and how to be quiet enough to be bequeathed with the peace of nature. There was a kind of calm associated with being humbled by wilderness, by feeling small. I still relish in the ability to go walk outside and be amongst my plant teachers, to get to know all of the herbal allies that surround me. For the rest of my life, I’m certain; I will be their student.

Gandhi, M. K. (1957). Gandhi: The story of my experiments with truth. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

© 2015 Elise Herron