When Simply Alive Isn't Enough
Having a passion for plant medicine and becoming an herbal wellness coach was a personal choice, but it’s also somehow an obvious one. Of course this is the right choice for me!
But choosing to seek herbal help, venturing into that oft-maligned universe of “alternative medicine”, and in doing so finding yourself accepting responsibility for your health-related choices, can be a daunting and downright terrifying step for most Americans familiar with our modern medical culture. Beyond “What do you mean, you don’t take insurance? Pay out of pocket??”, it can be unnerving and bewildering to learn that we not only don’t use familiar medical labels like “bronchitis” or “depression” (for one thing, we can be prosecuted for impersonating a medical professional; for another, those names just don’t give us very much information), but we also treat things like reflux and high blood pressures at symptoms, not as diseases in themselves.
Working with a practitioner of these alternative arts is not at all a simple substitute for a visit to your GP. Because of this, I’ve had the question posed to me many times- “Why would someone go to someone like you?” In this question, I hear another: “Why should I bother with what you do?”
There are many reasons people, ordinary people, turn to things like herbal medicine. I’m going to elaborate on a few of them, to give you some idea.
Tonight, as I listen to the rain coming down in buckets outside, I’m particularly grateful for my favorite side gig. I house-sit for a couple families when they go away, taking care of their dogs and keeping an eye on their house. Tonight especially I’m thankful because this house, unlike my own, has a garage! I pulled my little car into their empty bay just a few minutes before the skies opened up (we’re in a flash flood watch until tomorrow, that crazy alert on my phone just scared me half to death.)
This garage I get to use tonight is a nice side bonus to my staying here, and it offers my car some more protection than it usually has, during a storm that seems more severe than we usually get. This is similar to a reason people seek options outside of their doctor’s office, as well. Sometimes they want or need something more, maybe because they found limits to the help they could get inside those offices, or maybe because they have something going on that modern medicine just isn’t fully encompassing.
An alternative practitioner, whether it’s me or an acupuncturist or a naturopath or whoever, is going to see you as a whole being, not as a set of symptoms to identify and remove. For example, when I’m particularly stressed I sleep poorly, and often wake up with crazy tension between my shoulder blades. I can see a chiropractor or the best massage therapist ever or my acupuncturist and get relief from the discomfort, but I know that to truly heal this issue I have to practice my stress management techniques and my good sleep hygiene techniques, both of which tend to slip at the first sign of overwhelm.
My teachers have helped me learn the signs that indicate I need to take extra care with things like my nutrition, my down time, delegating stressful tasks, using herbal support for my nervous system and connective tissues, getting extra sleep, and reducing my electronics time in the evening. From your health care providers you should be learning ways that both you and they can care for you. You should be learning how to strengthen those areas that are usually the target of an illness like your lungs or ears or intestines, to be more resilient to the factors that cause your dis-ease, as well as how to get well again when sickness does strike.
Seeking something more when it comes to your care is a frequent reason people seek alternatives, although it’s a hard reason to express. “I don’t know why I’m not better yet,” “I just keep getting sick,” “My doctor wants to keep doing the same thing and it doesn’t work anymore,” are some of the feelings that cause people to look outside their familiar box.
Even when modern medicine does its best work, we often feel so disconnected to the process that coming out safe and whole on the other side of a procedure only seems like a partial victory.
NPR published an article about a man who had a heart attack, and the differences between his and his wife’s experience, and the experience of the hospital staff. I thought the article served to highlight this disconnect. Not all of the 273 comments (at my posting time) agree, as evidenced by the follow up article about the resulting uproar, but many do. Many people don’t equate being alive with being well or healthy, and they want the full experience. ‘Vertical and ventilating’ isn’t good enough for them.
Alternative health care is a different experience. It’s a fuller and more complete experience, because you are an integral part of it. You are your own garage, and your health is your car. Bring them together and discover how powerful your own protection can be.
That metaphor doesn't work for you? Think about it this way. If you feel dissatisfied, disheartened, unconvinced, or removed from your current state of wellness, what have you got to lose by trying something different? Have an open mind because who knows what will work for you (light beams to do internal surgery, anyone??)
What does it mean to be authentic? Well… that’s a tough one. Mostly, I think, it’s being who you’re really supposed to be.
But this is tough because it seems like people who are searching for authenticity don’t quite know what they’re looking for, people who have found it are just so settled there they don’t question it, and many people don’t even know that they could or even should be looking in the first place!
I used to be one of those last people. I thought that life would just unfold, things would just happen, that I would just find myself where and how I should be. As you may imagine, that thinking left me treading water for quite some time, wondering when I’d get to that place I knew was out there, waiting for me.
Over the past several years I’ve been learning tools to move myself along. This by NO means implies that I’ve “made it” or that I consider myself “authentic” yet! However, I have recognized myself making choices and taking part in opportunities that probably wouldn’t have existed before I started this self-development work. That’s pretty exciting.
If you want to move yourself along a path towards authenticity, there’s lots of ways to do that. I started by taking classes with an herbalist, Maia Toll, who wrapped self-work into her teaching. She eventually realized the work she did was as much "coaching" as it was "herbalism", which changed her teaching and led her to create Sage School, so you can learn from her too. You can also work someone like her, her students (like me!) or another form of coach (think Life Coach) to get direct input and interaction, guidance and perspective, with that personal touch. There’s also coaching-from-afar, by reading books many wise people have put out to help people just like you, and me. For example, we used Martha Beck’s Steering By Starlight in Sage School, I’m a big fan of Daring Greatly by Brene Brown and Quiet by Susan Cain, and there are countless others.
Embarking on a quest to discover your authenticity is an admirable undertaking, and it is a lot of work. If you’re not quite ready, or you’re not quite sure, you can practice some simple beginner steps to get your feet in the water and see how it feels. I’ll let you in on a secret- I call these beginner steps because you have to begin somewhere! As you continue, you’ll find that there are endless layers of learning to be had, endless repetitions of these activities that can occur with endlessly different outcomes. These are simple, and profound, tools to change your life.
Notice that I suggested you practice these. “Practice” evokes frequent, concentrated effort, striving for more understanding, dedicated time spent. The more you give these practices, the more you’ll get from them, exponentially.
This is a practice that has been around for thousands of years, and there’s good reason for that. Do a search for ‘Meditation Benefits’ and you’ll get more results than you know what to do with. I just tried it, and got 21,600,000 results!
There are also oodles of meditation resources available to help you get started, and to help you deepen your practice. You can take classes, borrow CDs from your local library, watch and/or listen to YouTube media, read books, join a MeetUp, or any of a hundred other things.
I got my start meditating with Deepak Chopra’s free 21-Day Meditation experiences. Now he’s my go-to- I like his style, and I like his voice. I’ve tried listening to other guided meditations but I don’t enjoy them as much. I’ve written about my meditation on my blog. Basically I have a daily practice, 15 minutes in the morning before I get out of bed, focused on one of Deepak’s 7 Laws of Spiritual Success. No music, no frills, no excuses to avoid it. Occasionally I listen to a track from his Online Library, and I always join his 21-Day events when they come up several times a year.
Other people need certain steps in place, rituals or inspiration, like a candle or a certain environment or a reading. This is a personal practice. There is NO right way, only YOUR way. Think of this as Art.
Several times I’ve lost my practice for different amounts of time since I started about 2 and a half years ago. Earlier this year I didn’t meditate for several months, but thought about it frequently. I just couldn’t imagine how meditating would change or improve anything about my life right then. At some point, I picked it back up again and immediately things were different. Doh!
For me, meditating is 2-fold. On the one hand I start my day by setting my brain waves in a positive and affirmative pattern which really does make a difference subconsciously. On the other hand, I am beginning my day being conscious, mindful of how I’m feeling, how I’m breathing, what’s floating through my head. I try not to let my to-do list or any minutiae distract me, so I’m being conscious about a way I want to feel for the day, not how to achieve that or anything else. This has led to improved self-awareness in much of my life. Now when, say, something goes wrong, I’m more likely than not to take a breath, close my eyes, and say to myself, “My actions are free from attachment to outcome.” That means something to me because I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on it, and have had some practice applying it to situations I can’t control.
2. Stream of Consciousness Journaling
This is fun. Here’s what you do: get a notebook, open it up, start in the upper left corner of the margin, and start writing whatever’s in your head straight across both pages. Fill the whole page, top to bottom, left to right, paying no attention to lines or grammar or spelling or even spacing.
I do this for 15 minutes. Some people do this for 3 pages, but I write so small that would take me hours. Just get it all out of your head. When you stall and run out of things, write “What’s next what’s next” over and over until something comes to you. It always will.
You can journal with a specific purpose too. This is a great tool for expressing anger or frustration that you can’t say out loud to anyone. You can tear out the sheets and burn them after, which is especially cathartic.
It’s also great for delving deeper into yourself. Recently I was working on a Dream of My Life One Year From Now. I meditated on “I am a field of all possibilities” and then I journaled, trying to remember the times I’ve been somewhere or seen something I wanted so bad that it hurt my heart, like a beautiful view or a beautiful workspace or a beautiful garden. I wrote of them as they came up and I wrote about what they meant to me just as fast as my hand could move. Then, when I sat down with my blank Word document in front of me, all the things that make me happy, satisfied, joyful, and content just poured out of me. I could describe how I wanted to live, work, relax, and serve the world, and afterwards I realized that my favorite Pinterest boards and saved articles and walking routes past well-tended gardens in my town have been echoing these desires all along.
3. Trying new experiences
Maybe it seems obvious to you, but it took me a while to figure out the value of pushing the edges of my comfort zone.
We need extremes to find our center, and there’s a good chance your center isn’t where you thought it was. Now, this doesn’t mean I’m advocating for everyone to go swimming with sharks (no thank you!) or to take a workshop on Beginner Beekeeping (sign me up!) But doing something unfamiliar to you, that maybe you’re even only marginally interested in, can open new doors and provide new direction for finding your Authentic You.
Go to a museum, especially an off-the-beaten-track one; watch a film, especially one with subtitles. Sign up for something you’ve never heard of, volunteer with people you feel compassion for. Write, draw, paint or sculpt like that carefree third grader you used to be; take a class at the local community college. You might discover a hidden talent, or a hidden mentor.
Regardless of where you are in your journey, these 3 steps will continually be an inspiration for you. I invite you to put yourself out there and tell the Universe that you’re ready. I promise, you’ll be amazed what happens next.
Fun Fact: I'm an herbalist and a movement coach. Not a doctor, or a pharmacist, and not pretending to be one on TV.
This is a public space, so my writing reflects my experiences and I try to stay general enough so it might relate to you. This does not constitute medical advice, and I encourage you to discuss concerns with your doctor. Remember, however, that the final say in your wellness decisions are always yours- you have the power to choose, you are the boss of you.
And, some of my posts may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through them I'll earn a few cents. Thank you for supporting my work.
This website is provided for educational and informational purposes only and is not medical, mental health or healthcare advice. The information presented here is not intended to diagnose, treat, heal, cure or prevent any illness, medical condition or mental or emotional condition. Working with us is not a guarantee of any results. Paula Billig owns all copyrights to the materials presented here unless otherwise noted.