THE SPIRIT OF HERBS
Tomorrow I am heading to Kimbercote Farm located in Heathcote Ontario for a six day intensive workshop called Advanced Spirit of Herbs, run by Living Earth School of Herbalism. As I packed my bags and crossed items off my to-do list, my mind inevitably wandered back to this time last year, when I was back at that farm for my very first Spirit of Herbs workshop. Although last year’s workshop is a required course for any students enrolled in the Traditional Herbalist Program at Living Earth School, it is also a general interest course. That means anyone who is interested in the course can take it, without having to attend other classes or complete prerequisites.
Science vs. Spirit
Many of the more recent discoveries in herbal medicine have been based in science. While those discoveries are truly invaluable and add an important aspect to any herbal practice, we must not forget that most modern day herbal traditions have roots based in intuitive knowledge and folklore. Due to our expanding scientific knowledge, many herbal schools have chosen to focus on a pharmacological perspective in their academic teachings. Learning about chemical constituents of plants is an important part of any herbal education, but it shouldn’t be a student’s sole focus. “To truly master the art and science of herbalism it is necessary to develop both its intellectual and intuitive elements and find a balance between the two so that each supports and enhances the other.” (Michael Vertolli – Living Earth School Director)
Although you could probably find a few books that profess to explain theories of intuitive healing in herbal medicine, one must experience it firsthand to truly understand it. The Spirit of Herbs workshops are designed in such a way that the people who attend them can experience intuitive healings and help to integrate them into their lives and herbal medicine practice.
Out of respect for my fellow students, other workshop attendees, my teacher and my own privacy, I will not be describing my experience at Spirit of Herbs in every detail. Each person who attends this workshop will come away with a deeply personal and truly unique experience. I cannot capture the essence of that experience in a single blog entry, but I will, however, do my best to share with you some of the feelings I had and lessons I learned.
One of my strongest memories from the workshop was that it wasn’t at all like I had expected it to be. I tried my very best to arrive at the farm with a truly open mind and with no preconceived notions. On paper, it sounds like an easy task, but in reality it proved to be far more difficult. Perhaps its part of human nature to generate ideas and theories about novel situations we are about to embark on. My teacher was uncharacteristically mysterious about the entire endeavour. “You’ll know what it’s all about when you get there,” he told us. Over a year later I’m still trying to figure out ‘what it’s all about.’
Each Spirit of Herbs workshop starts with an opening circle, where all the attendees introduce themselves and explain why they are there. My very first expectation, that it would be mostly students from school and other herbalists in attendance, was proven wrong within minutes of arriving. I was surprised to see many new faces at Kimbercote. People from all walks of life and all professions had signed up for this workshop. Some out of simple curiosity and others who wanted to develop a more spiritual relationship with nature and plants. In six short days, these people became a sort of family to me and I still find myself thinking of each and every one of them from time to time.
Although, like many other workshops, we had daily lectures to attend, it was the experiential part of the program that resonated with me most of all. We started with an introductory evening lecture that took place after dinner. We discussed topics such as energetic healing and animism (the concept that all things on this planet have a spirit). We were also told about our very first practical exercise. At 7:00 a.m. the next day we were all to get up and ‘walk the land.’ As it turns out this was the simplest of our experiential tasks, but the one that had the most the teach us.
Before describing this experience to you I must to point out something. There are no televisions at Kimbercote, no phones (unless there is an emergency), no Internet and no computers. For those people who feel naked without their cell phone, this can be a truly daunting concept. We were completely cut off from the modern day world, a necessity when you are learning the intuitive aspects of healing.
The sun was still coming up when I walked out the front door of the farmhouse I was staying in. Our only instructions were to ‘walk the land.’ We were to get to know the plants, the trees and animals that called this place their home. We weren’t told how to do this, which direction to go or how long this exercise should take. I emphasize should because I later learned, that the amount of time it takes to do anything is as unique as the individual doing it. There really was no right or wrong answer at Spirit of Herbs. This was a very hard concept for me to grasp. I went to university for business, where I learned that there is ALWAYS a right and a wrong answer.
I think I stood on that porch for ten minutes, debating which way to walk. In the end I went with a feeling, not a theory. I decided to walk west. I can’t tell you why I did this, but what I can tell you is that if I had thought about it any longer I’d probably still be on that porch. I was immediately struck by the silence. In a world of white noise, filled with cars honking, computers humming, people chattering and cell phones ringing constantly, few of us are used to true and pure silence. It was almost deafening. When you take away all of the gadgets and gizmos that run our lives, all you have left is perception.
I could see everything. The trees and herbs growing from the ground, the birds in the sky, the insects buzzing around me. I could smell everything. The air was crisp and clean, and I don’t mean 40 minutes outside Toronto clean, I mean actually clean. I could smell the dew on the flowers and musty earthen smell from the soil under my feet. I could feel everything. I could feel the dampness in the air, the breeze through my hair, the animals waking up to a new day. It was astonishing.
I walked back to the farmhouse completely in awe of my experience. Most of us were quiet at breakfast, either due to the early hour at which we had to rise or the intensity of perception. Strangely enough, the ability to perceive using all of our senses was the exact lesson we needed to learn that morning. It was the foundation on which everything else we learned that week was built. Without the ability to perceive, we are lost.
Most of what I learned in that week I already knew, but had forgotten. Sometimes the most important lessons in life are the most difficult ones. We all have the ability to grow and learn as a person. To develop areas of ourselves that were previously untapped. To push ourselves in directions we never thought possible. In the six days I stayed at Kimbercote farm, I did all of this. I had moments that seemed impossible to live through, that terrified me and that forced me to adapt and change. What I thought was going to be a week of meditating with plants turned out to be one of the most profound experiences of my life. Not everyone had the same experience as I did, but everyone left with the lessons that they were meant to learn.
For those who are interested, I have posted links to Living Earth School of Herbalism, the Spirit of Herbs workshop and Kimbercote farm.
Looking to the Future:
Tomorrow I embark on the next step in my herbal spirit journey. Will it be as profound as last year? Perhaps, but perhaps not. Only time will tell.
Until next week,