Apr 152013

A Daily Devotion:  Passion, Purpose, & Practice for the Herbalist

by Kiva Rose Hardin

“You too can be carved anew by the details of your devotion”
Mary Oliver

“It takes long practice, yes. You have to work. Did you think you could snap your fingers, and have it as a gift? What is worth having is worth working for.”
-Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials

Ni Sasih by Dullah

I have frequent discussions with my students in which they’re struggling to understand how they can fit into what they see as the role of an herbalist. Some may base it more on a clinician model, while others have been more influenced by a village wise woman archetype. Either, and anything in between, can work wonderfully if that’s the role that best suits the individual and their context. The trouble comes when someone realizes they don’t fit into any known role, even those they look up to the most. For some, this understanding can be enough for them to simply walk away from herbalism thinking that they don’t belong, and for others it can preface a long struggle of trying to force themselves into a mold they just don’t fit.

Not everyone is cut out to be an herbalist, and some of us realize on our journey that a different aspect of the green world works better for us. However, if we adore practicing herbalism, but struggle with feeling like we don’t fit the models of herbalists we see around us, then we need to find a new model that is unique to suited to us.

I’ve certainly experienced this myself, and have spent long hours in despair over my aversion working in an office like a proper clinician, or conversely, my inability to entirely abandon a scientific perspective when treating people. I have many role models in the herbal community, but I’ve still struggled to find where I fit, and what exactly I have to offer. I see expert clinicians with backgrounds in nutrition and biochemistry and can’t see any way to catch up to their knowledge, or the effortless grace of the wise woman who doesn’t seem to need to work at all in order to cultivate intimacy and trust with those she works with. These kinds of comparisons are not only useless, but often harmful to ourselves and those we’re comparing ourselves to as we foster an attitude of useless competition and potential resentment and envy of someone else’s gifts and skills.

A common fear is that everything we offer is already being done by someone else, and likely being done better. This kind of thinking can cause mental paralysis, shutting down our ability to write about plants, make medicines, or even practice. I don’t know many herbalists who haven’t dealt with this at some point, and it can be difficult to remember how much we each have to offer to each other, the folks we work with, and the community as a whole.

It helps me a great deal to remind myself that herbalism is not just a science or a trade, it’s also an art. And like art, we each have something unique to offer that can’t be replicated by others. When ten different herbalists write monographs about Rose there will certainly be notable overlaps, especially when it comes to general therapeutic applications, but I know from experience that there will also be an incredible number of differences and individual subtleties. These differences combine to create a greater body of knowledge, and a deeper legacy of wisdom and beauty for herbalists to come!

The Medicine & The Muse: Follow Your Interests

Remember that our interests will develop over time, adapt to our lives, and sometimes outright change. While it can certainly be a bad idea to radically alter our lives for every impulsive venture, too many of us are more likely to get stuck in stagnant practices that no longer serve our selves and our work.

In the last few years I found myself increasingly frustrated with strictly clinical work. To be honest, when I first started experiencing feelings of dread every time I even thought about seeing a client, I thought I might be done with herbalism altogether. After many tears and months rife with self-doubt, I’ve come to realize that it’s not possible or even good for me to try to stick myself in a single category of herbalism. I find myself much happier if I follow the meandering flow of my interests, and integrate them as I go along instead of trying to freeze myself into just being a clinician. These days you’re as likely to find me perfecting a new botanical perfume, grinding fragrant resins for incense, photographing a newly opened flower, or brewing up a medicinal mushroom based soup as studying neurophysiology or treating a client.

One of the things I have long loved about herbalism is its innately multifaceted nature that can incorporate everything from botany to cooking, sensory pleasures to clinical therapeutics, counseling to gardening. All of this, and much more, are important parts of the larger pictures of herbalism. Some of us serve in specific niche roles, such as growing and propagating at-risk medicinal plants, while others work as broad generalists to integrate many fields of study into one life of art and practice.

The important thing is not to get stuck in one spot and feel limited by what we’ve chosen, but instead, to constantly follow what we love and feel passionately interested in. Every day we have the choice to expand or contract, dig in or move on. In this ever evolving and growing field, we too are forever falling back into the dark to re-germinate before spiraling upward to the sun.

Envisioning: Periodically Reassessing Goals & Dreams

In the midst of harvesting, medicine making, seeing clients, teaching, writing, studying, and the multitude other tasks that accompany this work, it’s easy to become so overwhelmed with attempting to stay caught up that we don’t notice we may have lost our love for the daily devotions of herbalism. In my own practice, I’ve found it extremely helpful to take periodic looks at what I’m doing, how I’m doing, and how I feel about it.  Running on auto-pilot is bound to happen at times, but when we notice that we no longer have our heart in what we’re doing, it’s time to reassess.

Ideally, we have a planned time for the assessment each year, most likely in the Winter when work is often a bit slower, and it feels most natural to dive inwards. Life doesn’t always follow our version of what should happen though, so we may sometimes need to take an unplanned time out. If we’ve previously written down our goals, needs, and dreams, then it’s fairly simple – although not always easy – to compare our current ideas and ideals with the past and see what aligns, what needs to change, and plot a course in that direction. If we’ve never taken the time to really think this through, it may be a much bigger project to honestly examine our desires and abilities.

For many of us, this whole process is made much easier by stepping away from our normal routine, environment and work while we reassess. Retreating to the woods for a weekend or heading to a location in nature that especially connects us to our purpose and passion can be perfect, but even simply taking a day away from normal surroundings can be enough to give us a much better idea of where we are and where we want to be. Sometimes, we just need that break and breathing room to realize we absolutely love all that we’re doing, and simply need a little more downtime and self nourishment. Other times, we’ll find that it’s time to make a significant shift that may entail entirely restructuring our lives to find fulfillment and satisfaction.

Devotee of the Green World: The Plant Healer’s Work

It’s taken nearly a decade of relentless obsession, intermittent exhaustion, constant studying, hands on experience, and daily wonderment at the magic of plant medicine – for me to finally realize that the key to being fulfilled in my work lies in my daily rededication to it. It’s as simple as that, the understanding that all the work I do is an act of devotion to the land, the plants, and the people. It’s not a race, it’s not compensation for guilt, it’s not even about being a good person.

It’s this simple act of fragrant flowers petals falling into waiting water, of holding someone’s hand while they breathe through their pain, of kissing the leaves of the Alder tree in gratitude for this medicine. This practice, this devotion, this prayer.

  25 Responses to “A Daily Devotion: Passion, Purpose, and Practice for the Herbalist”

  1. Thank you Kiva for helping me understand my path. You are so gifted at bringing words to matters of the plant heart in me 🙂

  2. “A common fear is that everything we offer is already being done by someone else, and likely being done better.”

    Thank you Kiva 🙂
    A deep breath…
    Needed this one today 🙂 *

    • Drew, this is the exact phrase that stood out to me also from this entire article. And Kiva is absolutely correct in her summation. This “fear” though unfounded is very real in many people. It holds us back from even trying things which we might be quite proficient in doing if only we took that leap of faith and followed the desires of our heart or that subtle realization of “hey, I could do that!’ Indeed…Yes you can!

  3. Kiva Rose… this is just the message I needed to read today and will re-read again. Thank you dearly for sharing it with such grace and compassion.

  4. Than you for posting this.

  5. Wonderful advice – for working with plants and for living my LIFE. Thank you, Kiva!

  6. Just what I needed today, Thank You….

  7. How lovely and well-written. As with most of your writing, this is unvarnished truth and has applications far beyond the field of herbalism. Brava!

  8. Thank you It is so important to remember to connect. I have a tendency to float around things in life and need to remember to engage with all that is around me and express gratitude for the abundance that surrounds us all

  9. LOVELY!!!!!! thank you for such a beautiful article….

  10. These messages are so important coming from someone well known in the herbal world. I know that I have drawn comparisons in the past and it did nothing but slow my personal progress and distract from what I love about herbalism… plants and people. To hear you say the same sorts of things I’ve thought really puts it into perspective for me that we are all human beings with our ideals and perceptions and we just happen to be passionate about the same subjects. Thanks for being one of the many lights in the herbal community for the many of us who question our place in the vast world of healing with the earth.

  11. Kiva, your writing always touches me deeply. This, however, goes far beyond and truly is medicine. Blessings, blessings.

  12. My experience is that my work and play with flowers and leaves was the spark that awakened deep consciousness. After taking a long dark silence, I think I understand what herbalism means to me. It is my companion. It is my refuge. My teacher. My past time. My healer. My truth-teller. My secret. My link back to clarity and myself, continuous, changing. Its not something that I can work at – the magic is completely diminished if I try to force it. Its something that I have to simply allow to have mastery over me rather than me over it, and right now, it just wants to play. The spark granted by the leaves and flowers marks the beginning of my journey, not necessarily as an herbalist, but as an awakened human being. It fills me with one yearning and one yearning alone, to keep listening…

  13. Thank you, Kiva. Your article was an answer to a prayer. Oh, how we tend to compare and judge ourselves. I can truly relate to feeling like I don’t quite fit in, or feel that I am not as educated or knowledgeable as others. It is freeing to know that we can all express our healing methods and gifts differently and that’s OK! Education comes in a variety of forms, no need to compare. I will remind myself of your healing words often.
    Spring blessings,

  14. I really appreciate your article, Kiva. Plant medicine is also an art, indeed! I became very disheartened with the clinical model. It limits my freedom of expression and ability to grow and feels a little bit ‘dry’. Since letting go of the label, plant medicine, healing, naturopathy has becomes more fulfilling and FUN by combining it with creativity- a must in all callings. Write, create, feel, learn, heal! Thank you 🙂

  15. this is a wonderful thoughtful article. and for me, quite timely .. also, very beautiful sentiments at the end of thi .. the roots of the article. thank you kiva

  16. Timely and much needed, thanks!

  17. Thank you Kiva. This post touched my heart. I’ve been stuck for a while now in my herbal studies. I think book learning was getting to me, and learning about all these plants I don’t even know, and that don’t grow near me. I just want to be in nature and connect with the herbs, though I need books to learn what I can eat etc. I’ve felt a little lost.

  18. I don’t know how you know what we all need to hear, but I sure am appreciative.

    I put my herb business on hold for this month because of exactly what you were talking about. I needed to slow down, experiment and have fun with the herbs on my own time, without pressure. I don’t know what it is going to look like on the other side, but I know it will be more in alignment with my true nature (whatever that is:)

  19. Thank you for this post. I would imagine it’s very timely in many lives right now… and it speaks to what is going on with me as a herbalist and a soul. I’ve considered giving up this part of my life to do something else… and now, it’s coming back full-throttle with lots of energy to back me up. I’ve studied for 30 years, been certified by Matthew Wood, had my own business of herbal products… and, taking time to look at myself these recent weeks, I feel as though my herbalist self is just now coming into a whole new place. You address so many things that come up, stand in the way, stop us…and keep us inspired to what’s Now. Thank you for putting eloquent, heartfelt words to so much of what has gone on inside me.

  20. Thank you, Kiva, for your honesty, integrity and for calling it how you see it. I appreciate your genuine and heart felt words.

  21. Thanks for sharing. Peace, Love & Be Well! \ from another Herbalist , in training. 😉

  22. Tears welling up and pushing through my eyelids as I’m reading. Such a poignant discussion of being-ness. Thank you, Kiva, for the timely and eloquent delivery of this revelation, and may we all discard fear and judgement as our paths, our words, our medicine, and our passions are revealed!
    “Some of us serve in specific niche roles, such as growing and propagating at-risk medicinal plants, while others work as broad generalists to integrate many fields of study into one life of art and practice.” & you have captivated us all through your lovely lens through which flows the prose that awakens dreams and stirs our collective love and dedication- blessings through our daily re-dedications, blessings to the spirit seed dancing in our bellies, through our interactions, and through Spirit in our meditations. you have stirred the cauldron, and it is deeply felt.

  23. Simply beautiful!
    And it sounds great! Part of what I love about the journey of herbalism is that I know I can continue to learn, grow and blossom along with it. And if I do not, then it is time to reassess myself and find another way back to the passion.
    It’s fantastic to read such a well written post and to be reassured that the path that I am on is so perfect for me! It feels wonderful!
    Thank You! Much Love to You!

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