The path to deepen my understanding of holistic health and how to support people, organizations, and culture with healing navigation weaves alongside a lifelong journey working with plant medicine. Recently I completed Rosemary Gladstar’s Science and Art of Herbalism course, a multi-year study of how the physical, emotional, and spiritual body responds to medicinal plants. Through exploration and study, I also explored the multiple layers of communication taking place within our bodies and with the natural world, which we are inherently a part of as beings of Earth.
One of EmpowR’s core cultural values is recognizing the interconnectedness of the physical body, emotional and mental health, spirituality and belief systems, interpersonal relationships, and awakening consciousness as ALL interdependent to influence our well-being. The science and art of herbalism provides foundational knowledge and practice for integration of this interconnectedness.
In addition to learning about plant constituents, uses, and properties; studying anatomy and the bodies’ systems; and creating herbal formulas and remedies; the study of herbalism called for much reflection, practice, and writing. As someone who loves to write—words being how I make sense of the world— this was a surprising gift. It’s also part of why I haven’t published a blog post in six months, as much time has been in herbalism study, reflection, and writing.
The plant medicine journey also challenged me to make sense of the world beyond words, dropping me into a deeper layer of intuition without the comfort of words. I experienced the full expression of feeling and listening beyond linguistic language and into dialogue with the plants in their language, their connection to the universe, and then circling back to their communication with the physical manifestation of our humanness, as descendants from the stars.
Here I share a few short essays I wrote, in response to broader questions about healing in the course curriculum…
What does healing mean, what does being healed mean, what does being a healer mean?
Healing is a continuum, a practice, a commitment to wholeness. Healing is a journey, the journey of this lifetime for those who are on that path. Healing is a cycle that we move through if we are bringing consciousness to our physical bodies, emotional experiences, human intelligences, spirituality and belief systems, and relationships with ourselves, each other, and the Earth.
To me, healing is being present in this cycle, regardless of the outcome or my own expectations. Healing is awareness, release, nourishment, and truth. It involves healing of personal, institutional, intergenerational, and historical trauma and how all of those affect our physical bodies. Healing is taking personal responsibility for ourselves, our health, our behaviors, and our imbalances and how they affect the world within and around us. Healing is accountability. As someone with the privilege and resources to follow a healing path, my responsibility is not only for my own wellness, but to also explore how my path can support creating the conditions where the path of healing is accessible to more people.
Being healed implies there is a destination and so I do not resonate with the language of being healed. Healing is a process, a journey to navigate. Healing is wholeness and wholeness may involve a healthy, fully functioning body and all of its systems. Wholeness may also be acceptance of physical and cognitive limitations while continuously nourishing and supporting those conditions. Wholeness is the flow of our relationship to our health.
I believe referring to myself as a healer is too deeply attached to ego and releasing from the expectations of ego is something I am currently moving through. Healing is a practice, always learning, unlearning, and relearning. I feel into healing as being a practitioner of the healing arts. There is both humility and wisdom, curiosity and knowledge, empathy and boundaries, listening and sharing, offering and receiving—all happening at the same time, even with possible contradictions. Being a healing arts practitioner means embodying all of what I have shared here and doing so with integrity to my life purpose to be the change I want to see in the world. Being a healing arts practitioner means aligning with the vision of so many practitioners of healing and transformation share—to heal the heart of humanity.*
What does perfect health mean?
I let go of the expectation of feeling perfect health when I was diagnosed with cancer and a slew of interconnected health complications at age 41 in 2018. I am also working to remove the word “perfect” from my vocabulary (as I did with the word “should” a few years ago). Perfection is one of the toxic attributes of white dominant culture and I want to disassociate from the concept of perfect and instead focus on the feelings and perceptions that align with what joy, peace, and love mean to me (what might constitute perfect for me, yet perfect for someone else may mean something entirely different).
Therefore, for me, wellness and wholeness with my health happen when I feel free in my body and free to be who I am. The ability to be that person without taking on the energy of those who are triggered by the wholeness of who I am is a very healthy energy for me. I feel whole and healthy when I am at peace with my situation and can feel joy regardless of what else might be happening around me. I feel whole and healthy when I am able to presence myself in the moment and bring ease into my mind, body, and spirit with any combination of the healing gifts that live within me and the plants and foods that support me. I feel healthy when I am joyfully in the full expression of my energy and feel ease in my mind, body, and spirit.
What does an herbalist need to know? What education is important?
As with healing, I believe the practice of herbalism is a continuous one. I also feel it depends, based on what world a practitioner is trying to practice in/disrupt/assimilate to—given the constrictions of the conventional medical system** and the huge systemic shifts that are underway as movement pushes for transition away from industrial growth and patriarchal dominance.
In the here and now, practicing as a community herbalist, I believe the information, tools, and resources provided in Rosemary Gladstar’s herbalism course to be very aligned with the knowledge I was seeking to fill in the gaps of my self-taught herbalism path—and many gaps were filled in indeed! Plant identification and awareness, medicinal constituents and spiritual attributes, and our interdependent relationships with the plants is essential to learn. Understanding and practicing the different types of ways to work with herbs and all of the details of different formulas, options, concoctions, and preparations has been really important for my educational process. Understanding the body systems and how both the herbs and systems relate and interact has been so helpful and I think is really important to understanding herbalism and holistic health. I entered the course with some solid herbal knowledge and the knowledge more than doubled and am so grateful for the experience!
Yet I am still only comfortable practicing herbalism on myself, my partner, animals, and a few friends. The broader context of navigating holistic health is one of the gifts that I offer and this study has provided so much more context to that work. However, with anyone outside of my immediate care circle, I am only bringing in plant medicine as a conversation and path to explore for consideration. I feel there is MUCH more practice for me to engage in before I see how else I may work with the plants in a broader context.
I feel herbalists teaching herbalists in a variety of creative educational programs is the essence of the culture behind plant medicine. There are many options for study offered by herbalists and this is such important education. I feel transferring community-based education to the formal education of the capitalism-serving workforce are a part of what makes so many practices inaccessible to people. I also feel potentially systemized education further undercuts the indigenous ways of medicine making and the cultural traditions of plant medicine, which deserve to be considerably enhanced. Community building and herbal practice in relationship with people for many types of learning, led by herbalists of many cultures, is important far beyond allopathic medicine claiming herbalist education for profit and “evidence-based” control. I feel there is much opportunity for cultivating the culture we want to see in the herbalism community and I would really like to be a voice in the conversation of the direction forward.
What does immunity mean to you?
Our immunity is so compromised with the lack of nutrients in our food, coming from depleted soil; the plethora of mitochondrial DNA disrupters from food additives, hormones, plastics, pollution, GMOs, etc.; and our stress levels are out of control from the toxicity of modern, capitalistic, and now pandemic life. I suffered my first autoimmune dis-ease ten years ago and it was a catalyst for throwing my health off course which caught up to me again in the full blown health crisis I experienced when I was diagnosed with cancer and several interconnected dis-eases.
Immune function was one of many root causes I spent several years navigating to support and reset once the surgeries removed the cancer. After I went through toxicology testing with a breast cancer naturopath and geneticist, I mapped out a full root cause analysis of all of the dis-eases I was diagnosed with and their root causes in my body. I developed a treatment plan that addressed the root causes with support of a team of holistic health practitioners. One of the most interesting aspects of this analysis for my situation was that everything linked back to industrial/corporate America and the trauma inducing pace for attempting to reach the more and more unattainable “American dream”.
There is so much public interest in finding immunity because our entire culture is making us sick, and deep down we know it. And we are so close to realizing it, we are now being censored from talking about it—because the power of public opinion can close in on the elite power structures if more of us come together in our shared desires for health, through coalition, movement, and community. I know this wasn’t really what was being asked, but it is how I think when it comes to questions about immunity. Take the IMM (I’m) out of it and its UNITY. Replace with COMM (the root of communication) and its COMMUNITY.
Gratitude, Footnotes & Resources
Offering so much gratitude and appreciation to Rosemary and all of the teachers who created the insightful and educational Science and Art of Herbalism course. I’m so appreciative of weaving together the intuitive and analytical mind for in depth study of herbalism. The science and art lives within my own ancestry, long before its cultural trauma was wiped from the history books. Read more about that history in How the Burning Times of Witches Influences White Women Culture Today.
*Healing the Heart of Humanity” is a shared vision. This language is also communicated as EmpowR’s vision. There is no ownership or “brand” for this vision. Its meaning and the language belongs to us all. EmpowR moves towards co-creating a culture of empathy, healing, community, and accountability, as it is our mission to be one of many doing the shared work healing our collective wounds and how they draw from AND inform our personal wounds.
**I want to make it very clear that I am not against allopathic medicine. I see the options of allopathic/conventional/Western medicine and holistic medicine (encompassing plant medicine and anything that addresses root causes with a mind, body, spirit approach including medicines from indigenous cultures across the world) as a BOTH/AND. There is great value in allopathic medicine, especially for treating acute health issues. However, conventional Western medicine is not the only approach to medicine, even if the dominant systems make it seem like there is with the controlling caveat of “evidence based therapies”. People are realizing evidence comes from personal experience as more of us explore options for our health that resonate with our unique bodies and energies. As more people engage in individual healing paths, the ripples are and will transform systems away from oppression and injustice. A BOTH/AND approach to healing that is inclusive of all different types of medicines is needed. AND, the options must be accessible for all people.
Rae Carter is the founder of EmpowR and offers healing sessions to support people on their paths of wholeness. EmpowR also offers facilitation and consulting services as well as programs and events to support healing and transformative justice.
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