Intro: The following is a chapter from our newest book The Enchanted Healer, by my partner Jesse Wolf Hardin. The Enchanted Healer is our only full-length book with all full-color pages, covering the topics like herbalism and shamanism, medicines of the enchanted forest, body/mind balance, the heightening of awareness and the senses, plant spirit and intelligence, vision quests, places of power, cabinets of wonder, and much more…. from a decidedly NON-NewAge, healer’s perspective and experience. “The Healing Arts” makes the case that what we do as herbalists and other kinds of healers is beautiful – and that beauty matters! If you already read parts of this piece in Plant Healer Magazine, I hope you will still take the time to re-post and share it. To order your own copy of The Enchanted Healer, please go to the Bookstore Page at: www.PlantHealer.org
The Healing Arts & The Art Of Healing
by Jesse Wolf Hardin
The Living, Healing Arts
1. the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, producing works appreciated for their high level of quality, particularly their beauty and emotional power
2. works produced by such skill and imagination
3. (the arts) the various branches of creative activity
4. a skill at doing a specific thing, improved through practice
The term “healing arts” can be used to refer to a collection of holistic, noninvasive fields, traditions and techniques, generally expected to include such things as herbalism, acupuncture, chiropractic, counseling, and massage therapy. These practices and any other forms of healing people and planet are “crafts” – carefully learned, practiced and applied – that then become “art” at the point where we:
1. We make our work a creative process and apply our own imaginations.
2. Strive to maximize our skills, and do the highest possible quality of work.
3. Seek to touch/affect people at the deepest emotional and spiritual as well as physical levels.
4. And try, as a matter of both course and principle, to do that work as beautifully as we possibly can.
These days a stark line is often drawn between conventional medical care and alternative or holistic therapies, between phytotherapy and folk herbalism, between hard science and folklore, between the necessary growing of food crops and the nonessential raising of ornamentals, as well as between the supposed florid Artist’s life and the sober existence and sensible priorities of the “normal” woman or man. Not so in many ancient and tribal societies, nor in the attractive land-informed cultures that we are together working to create. For them and us – from nourishment to remedy, from planting to harvest, birth to death – is an opportunity to meld ritual and necessity, substance and gesture, artfulness and practicality, working to make every act and result not only productive but evermore meaningful, beauteous and satisfying!
There is little doubt that a healthy psyche is an integral component in the healing of the body, and that any healing of the collective/cultural psyche is essential to any last remedy of the current ecological and psychological imbalances. As the pioneering psychotherapist Carl Jung wrote, “An Artist is a vehicle and moulder of the unconscious psychic life of mankind.” And I am not talking about the Artist as a rarified elite. My sense is that the Anima, the vital life force of this living planet seems calls upon us each to serve others, the planet and ourselves by consciously participating in the ours and human kind’s evolution, as the crafters of our society and artisans of our lives. It is what the sacred indivisible whole/holon wants and needs to seed, and what I in my own personal role am devoted to grow.
What we hope to sow and water in this modern un-landed culture is not only more artistic and meaningful form in our day to day existence, but also the sprouting art of life: the art of conscious, responsive, celebratory relationship and mission. Mine and my partner’s intent with Plant Healer Magazine and books not only to help preserve and nurture branches of the endangered traditional healing arts, but to reclaim and showcase the many graphic styles, potent symbols and aesthetics… not only to help inform and inspire effective Healers but also to encourage – with all our deeds and hearts – ever more artistic manifestations of the active art of healing.
Living Arts: Art that lives; and the act of making an art of our every act and moment.
Healing Arts: Art that heals; and making an art of our every healing act.
Examples of Artfulness
Just as there are different styles of art, there are different styles of teaching, of restoring the land, of practicing herbalism or the healthful laying-on of hands. It is the herbalist community that I have been most closely associating with over the past decade, however, and it is my fellow lovers of plants and their medicines that I can quickest site as examples of what I’m talking about. While no two herbalists are alike – exhibiting a very wide range of tastes in clothing and lifestyles – the vast majority I’ve known all demonstrate a very personal, individualized art of living and healing.
Notice how folk herbalists of any culture find hidden patches of desired wild plants largely by their form and color, as in tune with the patterns and hues composing the land as is a painter with her visions of forms and palette of endless chromatic possibilities. We can see surely the art in their purposeful ascertaining of patterns and composing of response, in their deeply partnered dance of natural healing and allied plants… and in what they collect on their shelves, hang on the wall and wear on their bodies. Each of these herbalist’s clothes express their particular persona, the decorating of home and clinic to reflect their particular values and beliefs, preferences and desires, hungers and callings.
On their desk may be a collage of the tools of inquiry, alongside the frivolity of plant deco. We may note the curving lines and brass sheen of a vintage druggist’s scale, a hand-me-down magnifying glass, a surreal earth goddess or primitive carved crucifix, the predictable vase or Mason jar with flowers long ago having died and dried into twisted shapes too amazing to throw outside. On the window sill, colored glass of some sort that’s sure to refract into the room its enchanting morning lights, Arkansas crystals and sun hungry potted sage. And on their persons, dress and accoutrements that communicate something about the kind of people and practitioners that they are, their character and interests evident in a display of threads… whether modest but attractive skirts singing out their roots in the rural South, or loose fitting clothes from Thai pants and Guatemalan wapil blouses suggesting globally acquired wisdom and a relaxed demeanor, or sculpted shirts and ties that function as statements of health care professionalism.
Framed and hung are photos of not just kids or grandkids or aged sepia portraits of unsmiling great-grandparents, but images of treasured places as well, from topographic maps marked with one’s favorite spots for gathering wild herbs, to snapshots of significant spots on an oft visited wilderness trail. Paintings of flowers, or goddesses, or faeries, or vine covered cottages that invite us to world of veritable magic. Historic drawings of Yerba Mansa or flowering Mullein, or voluptuous Victorian era mushroom porn. The deep greens of Mormon Lake’s forests may draw the eye to the words centered on an HerbFolk Gathering flyer, wreathed in images of medicinal plants and some of the teachers that champion them. Competing with glowing gallon containers of precious tinctures, are likely books chosen for not only the valuable information they contain, but for their illustrations as well.
Art can be seen not only in the objects they surround themselves with, but also in their gestures, acts and tasks. Just watch how they customarily acknowledge, empathize with, speak to, ask for the collusion of, and somehow express their profound gratitude to those medicinal plants that they kneel before in acts of humble connection or unplanned ceremony. See, also, the deft movements of hands and blades as leaves are separated from flowers and roots, not unlike the sculptor removing elements of stone or wood to reveal a focused and refined purpose within. Their creation of formulas can be in some ways like the art of cooking, with brilliance, intuition and adaptation augmenting tradition, evaluations made with alert taste buds and noses that know. The rhythms of their interchanges with clients and patients can be like practiced choreographies with room left for on-the-spot improvisation – in what I think of as the herbalist’s song and dance. Inspired and fueled by not only necessity and compassion but impassioned aesthetics and taste, theirs is a practical trade made into something complexly personal, focused on a vision and purpose, intent on increased excellence and effectiveness – a point of service and connection that is art at its most relevant. Important. Magical. Sacred, even.
The work of the Artist-Healer could well be considered sacred work, in that style and symbol can not only decorate and communicate but also educate and consecrate, helping us to perceive the connections between all forms living and non, the relations between all elements and beings, and the inner heart, soul, spirit of each and every thing. And as with any sacred endeavor, their work is most numinous and powerful when the Artists are themselves transformed in the process of its inception and creation. This ceaseless falling apart and being remade is characteristic of the Artist as it is of the Seeker, the Shaman, the spiritual Adept.
Whenever we artfully work, employing symbols and energies, inspiration and intuition, there is an energetic threading between us and those who participate in the experience, between the viewer and the viewed, and the viewer and the Artist, between the Healer and the client or society or place. Through the art we make and experience, we’re each transformed into an agent and component of creation, our sense of mission fueled, our senses and dreams heightened, our emotions stirred, pierced by an overwhelming sense of the inseparable unity of all things and the timeliness and importance of our healing, helping, beautifying efforts.
Creatively giving shape and form to the underlying energies which animate our species in a “container” that can hold the experience allows for a shamanic, holy, and whole-making ritual to be made real in time. The act of participating in the creation of art is a magical, ceremonial rite, a sacred liturgy, a higher-dimensional form of communion, a kind of “performance art,” which simultaneously transfigures the unconscious energies in both the Artist and the surrounding field. The act of art-making partakes of the nature of the divine, in that the entire universe, which is itself a living work of continually-unfolding art, becomes infused with endless-inspiration as we consciously realize our relationship with our ever-evolving and never-expiring, creative spirit.
There can be no doubt that modern industrialized medicine can help mend serious wounds and successfully treat some conditions. It is generally not, however, a craft since it there is little hand work and most diagnosis is based on a computer generated template/model of symptoms and prescriptions. It is hardly ever an art, since it is a relatively rare M.D. these days who has gone beyond the trade’s impersonal practices to a place of passionate dedication, or who sees and treats a whole person rather than symptoms and organs. They avoid getting to really know their patients, avoiding getting too close, eschewing “messy” emotions. Their offices and hospitals are institutional and uninspired, usually only slightly less ugly and conformist than a prison. While sometimes proficient within a limited model, they are often lacking in the earmark of artisanship: creativity! To the contrary, alternative Healers of all kinds tend to be more creative and adaptive, looking beyond the assumptions and conventions, acting out of a passionate sense of mission, and doing their work in a deeply personal, empathic and artist way. With personal aesthetics. Honed sensitivity. Engaged emotions. The involvement of their spirits as well as minds. Intentional style. A strong sense of calling. And practiced flair.
Healers outside of institutions and norms tend to be mistrusted, undervalued, discounted, even legally harassed precisely because of their Artist’s ways, because they serve a calling and fulfill it authentically and stylistically, daring to bypass conventional dead ends, and to be creative in the ways that they instigate and support healing. We unconventional artisans are denied official accreditation, and when we do seek professional status it comes only from groups themselves outside the “credible” norm. The Artist-Healer, however, will not be satisfied walking the beaten path, needing to follow the inner creative urge instead, being self-empowered to make choices and make turns based on insights and experience. And they work not only to heal a person or community, but to be a container and conduit for the expression of the creative thrust, intent and direction of the Anima, of the life force, the dynamic natural whole.
Christian, Moslem, Buddhist, Pagan, Pantheist, Agnostic or whatever… the work of the Artist-Healer is to serve something larger than themselves or a client. It is to serve a larger purpose and aim, to serve something akin to “spirit” no matter what we choose to call it. And to do it in the most loving and lovely ways.
1. an activity involving skill in making things, usually by hand
2. demonstrating a high level of skill in carrying out one’s work
We’re each connected to one another, to self and home through blood and bone, magic, history, need, service, touch, caring and love — manifest through the moving force of our crafts. Craft is one way in which we express our inner spirits, serve our planet and our purpose, and make both real and physical our seemingly magical co-creation of our world. Craft is our deliberate and potentially artistic manifestation and effect, as opposed to that which we unconsciously cause or create. At one level it is our practices, our applied skills, our trade. At a deeper level it is every conscious way that we make our visions visible, respond to the needs of the people, culture and land around us, and otherwise share our dear gifts.
All things, all beings are at once both creator and the created, the influenced and the influence, the actor and acted upon. It is the option of the Healer – and the Seeker, the Activist, Teacher, Shaman, or Shifter – to be fully, vividly aware of the effects we have on the world… to make every act as intentional, and as beautiful, as we’re able.
In the present dominant paradigm, craft is often thought of as something one purchases or is an audience to, instead of inhabits and embodies. But it was not always so. Not so for the pale villagers of ancient Europe who left us the sculpted body of the archetypal Earth Mother, the bearer of all of life. And not for the first hominid inhabitants of this state called New Mexico either. The ancient pueblo people left behind shards of painted pottery that continue to evoke the Great Mystery, fired clay fragments of a life of honoring, picture-puzzle pieces still vibrating with the energy of years of reverent touch. They spoke their fealty for the land in rock art carved out of their collective and individual souls, lightning bolts and the seed-carrier Kokopelli painted on the sides of caves. Here too are the forms of the crafters’ fingers and palms, their signatures, the marks of their self-aware beings, in painted hands reaching out to descendants and heirs alike across the chasm of time. They gifted enduring images of their priorities and loves, deities and dreams. They left behind for others their holiest expressions of wonder and communion, the evidence of a marriage with place and spirit consecrated through timeless craft.
It is no less true in the case of contemporary arts and crafts, in the painting the fantasies and mythologies that enliven, share and extend our beliefs. In the making of jewelry that are talismans meant to empower or mend, the fashioning of clothing that not only covers and decorates but reveals something about us and celebrates what we love. Drumming that’s ever improved, enlisted to communicate with primal visionary self and the “Great Spirit” that informs us. Massage, that not just relaxes but helps to heal. Words, too, are craft when formed with care, delivered with rhythm and design, woven into ceremony, employed to inspire courage or heal a broken heart. Poetry that stops thought and inspires a more intense living of life. A novel that moves the reader to tears, to change, to action. Correspondence and diary entries, as honestly and lyrically and one can make them. Words that can evoke the smell of rain on the fur of a wild creature , the taste of lightning, the warmth of man or woman’s flesh and the feel of the ground where they lay in lust. Careful conversation with friends, with words invested with meaning and mission. Words not blurted out or spilled from lips, but formed like a stone canyon elegantly carved by a flowing river. A child reminded of her intrinsic worth. The ill consoled, informed and encouraged. An endearment whispered in a willing ear. Even our most mundane daily labors rise to the level of craft, art, even ritual, when done consciously with all our heart, awareness and skill, for more reasons than the simple making of an income. And even the most repetitive chores, whenever they’re executed with both intention and panache.
We are all potential crafters, of course, in that we are born with a chance to craft every aspect of our lives. Craft is by it’s very nature proactive. We craft medicines, craft a practice, craft a strategy for how we want to influence our world. We craft a home out of a mere house, craft family and community, craft our futures to the extent we can. The word “craft” is first and foremost a verb of great power, denoting direction, activity, process, effort and purpose. It is only secondarily a noun, referring to an association of activated individuals, or the creations, effects and outcomes of the active Healer.
Part of our purpose as sentient beings on/in this planet, is to make an articulate contribution to conscious, responsive, celebratory relationship, to true encompassing health which is wholeness. In our ecstatic revealing, bridging and healing, we have the opportunity for a further dissolving of any boundaries between us, the living land, the Anima, or spirit. Between the creator and the created. The Healer and the healed. The crafter and the craft.
The Artist-Healer’s Responsibility
Being responsible for the form and effects of our actions can be daunting, and staying on the sidelines, avoiding being a force, trying to remain unseen and out of the loop might be tempting… but it is simply not possible. Even if we were to try to avoid responding, initiating, confronting, creating, or in other ways taking any responsibility, we would still leave some imprint on the world. We therefore may as well make it a true reflection of our authentic selves, serving our caring purpose. At best, we can make that imprint evocative, inspiring, instigative, aesthetic, excellent and exciting. Every awake act, every motion or gesture of our hands can be the craft and art that communicates who we are, who we strive to be, and what we hope to give and achieve.
The pencil for the writing of our’s and world’s story – for the creation of our art – is in part in our hands, ready for us to make the changes that are needed. We have an entire chest of colors to choose from, with the now and future our unlimited canvas. We have the pharmacopea botanica for most of our bodily healing needs. All the necessary materials, it seems, are at hand for whatever project we might launch, awaiting only the actual sweep of the painter’s brush, the slice of the sculptor’s knife, the swirl of the kitchen ladle, the gathering and processing of the herbs, the pouring of the salve of tincture, the purposeful and ceaseless reaching out to help.
The result of such graceful deliberateness – I repeat – is our connection… including connecting with the proactive practice and craft now weaving us back into both the literal and magical material of our experience and existence. Together we co-create the living fabric of our reality as well as of our culture, assuming some response-ability for how it turns out… jointly painting on that billowing fabric the story of our missions, our struggles, our miracles, and our beautiful, beautiful hope.
You are at once a Healer and a person still actively engaged in your own healing. You are the subject and creator, witness and participant, viewer and doer. As such, this kinetic relational process that we call “art” involves – even requires – not just the illustrator’s pen or paint, writer’s keyboard or gardner and conservationist’s shovel and seed, not just the activist’s manifesto or massage therapist’s table, cotton bandages or healthful herbs… it needs you.
See what you can do.
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