Yoga, Plants, Spirit, Activism: Working with Open Eyes

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The past month has been a whirlwind. A blessed, bellowing, autumnal whirlwind. I completed my prenatal yoga teacher training with two of my incredible teachers, helped out at Yoga Journal’s Game Changers event, and the scooted my sweet self down to Costa Rica to hang out with my curandera/mentor Rachel, under whose tutelage I completed my level one professional training in Traditional Latino Medicine.

I came back two days ago, and am only now ready to respond to emails and beginning to process what has been stirred up.

Mostly, my heart is completely broken. The program in Costa Rica inadvertently opened my eyes to how colonization decimated indigenous culture, taking away language and oral tradition from native people. We visited two Bribri territories near Puerto Viejo in Talamanca. In Cacharbri, we sat in ceremony with an awa (a Bribri shaman) and spoke with his wife, a partera. In Kekoldi, we saw a community theater performance about Pablo Presbere, a Bribri leader who commandeered a rebellion against the Spanish in the early 1700s. We talked about bush medicine and the afro-caribbean uses of plants with Willy Cornwall, a brilliant, magical rasta chef-medicine man.

Medicine labyrinth at Cachabri.
Medicine labyrinth at Cachabri.

One thing these cultures had in common: the knowledge of plant medicine has gone completely underground. You have to seek elders out, gain their trust, and even then, they won’t answer all your questions.

Healing modalities have been the cornerstone of culture and society in many indigenous cultures. And they were the first things to go when the Americas were invaded. Plant medicine and its close ties with spirituality were condemned as savage at best, and devil worship at worst, resulting in torture, rape and genocide.

Kekoldi Community performance about Pablu Serke
Kekoldi Community performance about Pablu Serke

Fuck, man. And I totally thought I’d be working on my tan between classes.

It’s heavy stuff, and when you study herbalism, you cannot study the plants without acknowledging the historical and cultural context of the medicine. The wounds bubble to the surface: the persecution of the tradition you study, and your own ancestral wounds.

My classmates and I felt it deeply: for a few days, I was lethargic, bummed out, and really sensitive. Rachel suggested a good smudging. Of course! The grief and tears were partly our own, but largely weren’t ours. The thing about hanging out in powerful places is that things stick to you when you’re open, the ecstatic and the despairing. Maintaining spiritual health is just as important as physical and mental.

Secret hint: the very plants you love will heal you spiritually as you walk this path. Copal, white sage and palo santo release you from the unhelpful and put your mind at ease. Tilo, dormilona and chamomile will soothe your nerves at the end of the day. Rue at your door protects you. The plants are loving you, holding you, supporting you as you unearth the knowledge.

Dried roots and plants at the Feria.
Dried roots and plants at the Feria.

It’s so easy to get swallowed by despair, to be completely paralyzed by the deep pain. I experienced this during the Game Changers event too: once we realize the depth of the issue–colonialism, racism, environmentalism, etc.–and how we have contributed to it, the guilt, shame and sheer magnitude of the problem can stop us in our tracks.

But we cannot stop. We cannot only see the darkness. We feel the depth of the grief and know that we can heal and experience joy to that same, outrageous depth.

This awakening is not meant to stifle our power. It is the ancient rage that fires us up, that ignites us to continue the work. Now that we know, we cannot un-know. It has become our responsibility to heal: ourselves, the old story, the old wounds.

It becomes our responsibility to share, to keep learning, to continue digging and unearthing.

It becomes our responsibility to resurrect what we had been forced to abandon.

How do you keep moving when it feels like the weight of the world is on your chest? What reminds you of the light in the darkest of nights? What comes to your aid when you feel a part of yourself (an outdated, irrelevant, no longer useful part) is dying?

This Marianne Williamson quote usually gets my battery jumped:

Imagine a house on fire. The blaze is destroying everything and many neighbors have come with buckets and pails to put an end to the destruction. Someone shows up with a bucket and stammers, ‘Buut I’m not sure if my bucket is good enough…’ Everyone looks at this person in disbelief. Of course your bucket is fucking good enough: USE IT!

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