I live in the Midwest, in Chicago’s Northwestern suburbs. Not many people here have ever heard of Plant Spirit Medicine healing, unless they have visited the Blue Deer Center, heard about Eliot Cowan’s work, or read his book. This year I made a concerted effort to begin networking, meeting like minded people and sharing my healing work with others in this area. One of the groups I encountered was founded by a remarkable woman, Atala Toy, who for many years was the President of ISIC, the Institute for Interdimensional Cooperation. Interdimensional in the sense of honoring , respecting and celebrating all the beings of diverse dimensions whose paths and destinies intersect with our own. Namely, plant beings, stone beings, weather beings, Nature beings …. every dimension on which we depend and who depends on us. What a beautiful notion, right? The name alone calls forth a vision of working together on behalf of our peoples and on behalf of our planet.
As a result of my participation in the group, I was invited to write a blog post on Plant Spirit Medicine, discussing questions people ask me about my healing modality. The blog post was published today on the Crystal Life Technology website. In writing the blog post, my dear teacher, Eliot Cowan’s words were front and center. I could almost hear him saying, “It is not a thing of the mind. People have to experience the medicine, feel it, really have a sense of the work of the plant spirits. Once that happens, people realize their spirits have been touched. It is a true, real, fully authentic, fully generous exchange.”
But I wrote the post anyway. And here’s why I did it. Over the years when I have been practicing Plant Spirit Medicine healing in Illinois, I have witnessed such beautiful, rich, sweet, powerful transformations. Some of them have happened in people who had many questions in the beginning, whose minds needed to be set at ease. Not that in answering questions I engaged with their minds instead of their hearts … but they had questions and I did my best to provide answers, with my ears (and most importantly my heart) open. And those answers provided a certain foundation so that the clients could say “yes” to the medicine, to the fullness, generosity and powerful medicine of the plant spirits. And the rest … as they say … is history. And it was worth answering the questions because they allowed the person to receive the gifts of healing that the plant spirits had to offer.
So I wrote the blog post, while I heeded Don Eliot’s warnings, and I hoped and still do hope for the best. I hope that in providing answers to some frequently asked questions I am helping open a doorway, offer an alternative, invite further exchange … and ultimately honor this powerful medicine … as well as the people who can so immensely benefit from its gifts.
It is absolutely true that anything worthwhile requires a certain depth of commitment, a certain ability to go beyond the obvious, beyond the mundane, beyond appearances.
Healing the roots
When I lived in Portland at the ashram, I remember how hugely careful we were to care for the roots whenever we would garden, or dig up a tree to transplant it. We would send love to the roots and be very mindful and centered when we dug things up. Plant Spirit Medicine is like that.
How we dig and care for our people as spiritual healers
Because it is medicine for the spirit of a person, PSM healers are careful, aware, present and not afraid to go beyond, go beneath, listen from the depths of their awareness to the depth of their clients’ hearts. The more I work and network and meet other healers in the Chicago area, the more I realize that as a group, Plant Spirit Medicine practitioners have a very unique and beautiful bedside manner, for lack of a better word. We really go beyond asking the questions, doing an intake, and connecting with a client. We truly listen. We dig deep. We truly observe, we truly honor the spirit of our clients. This way we can really listen to what is happening in the body, mind and most importantly, the spirit of our clients … and we can then call on our plant allies to help them in the most profound way possible.
I remember quite vividly every single one of my meetings with Huichol shamans for the purpose of healing. Each session has been life changing and transformative. Each session has been different. And in fact, I’ve never gone to a shaman because I feel unwell physically. I go to them because they are experts at returning us to spiritual health and wellbeing. I am not a shaman. I am a Plant Spirit Medicine healer. My teacher, Don Eliot Cowan, refers to Plant Spirit Medicine as a kind of household shamanism. As I understand it, it is a basic kind of shamanism that we as PSM healers can practice safely through our deep relationships with plants.
What shamans do
Bona fide shamans can cover, let’s say, a lot more territory when it comes to our spirits, our relationship with Divine, and our sacred purpose. Sometimes, after a client has been receiving PSM, they become ready to let go of deeper patterns, deeper attachments and different conditions of the body, mind and spirit. The visit to the shaman is then an amazing journey in itself.
A shamanic healing story
During one such visit, the shaman asked me about my dad, from whom I had been estranged for many years. He said, “Don’t be surprised if that changes this year and you hear from him.” Within 3-4 months I happily had heard from my dad again and we have been in touch ever since. This re-connection with dad brought back a deep sense of peace and confidence. I did not know it, but that re-connection was essential (some would say critical) to my overall wellbeing.
Plant Spirit Medicine and Shamanism
Some clients have asked me recently why Plant Spirit Medicine Healers at times refer their clients to Huichol shamans.
The best way I can explain it is that Plant Spirit Medicine and Huichol shamanic treatments just work beautifully together. It may be that the root or inspiration and fountain of wealth for both is the same, the ancestral spring of wellbeing that is the Huichol culture.
I have often described the healing process and my work with my Plant Spirit Medicine clients as akin to the peeling of an onion … it takes us many years to become as disconnected, stressed and imbalanced as we often are. So it takes time to return to a state of balance. As the layers get shed and we move closer and closer to optimal health of body mind and spirit … different issues or conditions may begin to make their presence felt, sort of to let us know they are “ready to go.” It just occurs to me that the plant spirits help get us ready to shift these more profound patterns, and when these patterns or conditions are ready to “go,” the shaman helps them along their way in the best, most effective, safest and powerful way possible … and I must add, in the case of the Huichol shamans I’ve had the privilege to know … they do this with gorgeous (there is no other word) integrity.
Our beautiful, amazing country and the need for healing
I’ve been wondering for a few weeks if our life in the USA does not at times interfere with our ability to ask for what we need and with our ability to receive healing. Those same traits so helpful to our beautiful country’s founding fathers may in fact get in our way when we need help. In the US we are encouraged to be independent, to be trailblazers, to go at it on our own, to persevere in spite of the odds. In some ways, we are encouraged to not ask for what we need or want … to not ask for help, else it may appear a sign of weakness.
In other countries, seeing a healer is par for the course
It is my experience that in many other cultures people customarily visit a healer or a shaman for help just to be able to take care of the “soot” we accumulate as a result of living our modern lives. It seems to me that in the U.S. most people feel they have to explain or hide it if they see a shaman or a healer or a Reiki practitioner or even an acupuncturist. And frankly, this gets in the way of our health and wellbeing. It puts us at a disadvantage. There is a reason why many of these systems of support and healing have been around since the beginning of time. They are a huge support to humans in the business of living, changing, transforming, aging and dealing with stress. The plants, the animals, the natural world have always been our great allies in this business of living. In Plant Spirit Medicine Healing I experience that the plants are immensely generous, powerful and in tune with exactly what it is we need to be well, to be in balance, to live and grow and thrive and to adapt to our environment optimally … just like they do!
I am not sure if it is because our country is, well, young … or if it is because as a people we are too independent for our own good.
While one can benefit hugely from Plant Spirit Medicine healing at any time, once we are already seriously ill it takes longer for the peeling of the onion of stress, strain, illness and imbalance. The plants are ready and happy to share their magnificent healing with us. All we have to do is ask. Why do some of us find it so difficult to ask, to receive? Could it be because in our country strength and independence are prized above all else?
Are you a healer? I would love to hear from you!
I truly have been giving some attention to this matter and I would love to hear from other Plant Spirit Medicine Healers and other alternative healing practitioners. Please share your opinion with me. Is it harder for us in this country to ask for help? To receive healing? To embrace preventive healing options?
In each lifetime, our work is simply to do our best. We come into the world with a vision, with an energy, an impetus for greatness. We come into the world as babes, still celebrating the triumph of having acquired the opportunity of a body. We arrive filled with exuberance for that privilege. Our life unfolds. We grow. We stumble and at times we fall. We become conditioned. We learn. We assimilate. We forget.
We love, we nurture, we leave some kind of mark on everyone we encounter on our journey: on jobs held, people loved or not loved. We leave our mark and build our empires or our humble abodes. And, if we are lucky, we are aware. And we begin to pay attention and slow down. And perhaps we begin to remember … the exuberance with which we arrived on this world 50 or 60 or 70 years before. And if we are still fortunate in this remembering, we can delight in it and see the baby we once were, the child we once were, the adolescent and adult we once were. And if we are even more blessed with awareness we observe that in fact we have done our work – the work of this lifetime. And our work is nobody else’s work. No one else could have done it but us. It has been only ours to do and we have done it, as best we have been able.
No matter if we’ve felt at times we wanted to have done more or gained more wealth or notoriety or visibility. We cannot all be the first to step foot on the moon. We cannot all discover the cure to a major illness. We cannot all be the inspiring leaders, the great orators, the great saints. But in living our life, our very own life to live … in doing our work we make it possible for all others in this colorful dazzling tapestry that is Life … to do their work, reach their possibilities, shine their light.
So when those who our culture perceives as great, those who our societies celebrate as heroes walk by or are paid well, or take a bow … it is rightful for us all to feel their triumph in our hearts as our own. It is right and just for us all to enjoy their accomplishments as our own. For we have helped make it possible. In living our life and in doing our very own work we have made it possible for everyone else to leave their mark, dream their dreams; accomplish their greatness, or their simplicity, or their humility.
No one else could have lived this year of our life, and WE have done so. No one else could have done our work, for it was ours to do. This year we saw the passing of a great leader who triumphed against the odds. We cannot all be a Nelson Mandela. But together, each doing our work, each living our life, we wove the tapestry of a world in which he, Nelson Mandela, was able to flourish and live and inspire. We have done so. And in witnessing this living of our own life story, as best we can, the Earth and Sky and all of Divine rejoices. And together, we remember. We remember what it is that we can do, together. We remember who we truly are.
I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time now, but was able to put it into words right after this year’s Plant Spirit Medicine Conference. We are in fact on a mission as Plant Spirit Medicine healers. Our mission, should we choose to accept it … goes beyond the precious and beautiful stewardship of our people, beyond our stewardship of the plants, beyond our stewardship of this amazing spiritual medicine. Our mission involves not only helping our clients to move into balance and harmony as they receive healing … our mission is deeper.
It is to witness our clients as they peel the layers of stress, trauma, illness, perception, disconnection …. and they come to touch, even if for just a moment … that place of heart and vision that tells them (or reminds them) in a resonant unforgettable way … who they truly are and what they are truly here to do.
A peak experience in the life of a PSM healer
I have experienced this awakening, this remembering, this “coming home” in many people with whom I have shared Plant Spirit Medicine. It is a moment not unlike the birth of a child or the death of a loved one. A sacred moment, when the veil between the worlds is thin and translucent. A moment worth lifetimes. A moment where something is activated – a memory, an image, an imprint. And just like that, a life is changed and transformed forever. A new person is born.
The beautiful mystery of Plant Spirit Medicine healing
As we work with our clients sharing the medicine of the plant spirits, we hold so much, we stand together with them … and we witness those moments when Divine steps in through the generosity of the plant spirits and says, “Hello, dear one, remember who you are. Remember why you came to this beloved earth, this time around.”
As Plant Spirit Medicine Healers, we stand at that threshold, we hold that space, we witness our clients heal, come into balance, and most importantly: we witness them as they experience the true joy of remembering.
Several months ago I decided to take a one-day workshop in Botanical illustration at the Morton Arboretum. My intention in taking the class was to take advantage of some of the many opportunities the Arboretum offers, meet new people and do something different. Little did I know it was going to be a day full of Plant Spirit Medicine lessons. I went into the class and the teacher had a bucket of flowers in water. She told each of us to take one and begin drawing. We were all newbies, all learning how to draw, how to see, how to capture a flower in a drawing. The flower I chose was closed but you could still observe so much color and nuance. Or … so I thought. Then, it was time to really begin to “see.”
Once I began to work with the colored pencils to replicate the flower in front of me I soon realized that what my mind thought it saw was not actually what was really there. For example, looking at the stem of the flower, my mind said “Green” and I reached for the green pencil. But the green pencil didn’t “do it” for me. Once I focused and was present with the stem I discovered it wasn’t really Green but yellowish, whitish, even pinkish … Green? There was so much more to the green of the stem than to the “green” in the box of colored pencils.
The class was fun, beautiful, expertly taught, and in fact a huge reminder of many of the lessons in my own healing practice of Plant Spirit Medicine.
The healing focus of Plant Spirit Medicine
The flower demanded my close observation and focus and required me to be fully present with it in order to allow me to see its beauty and essence, and (possibly) be able to capture some of it on paper. In a similar way, the plant spirits call us healers to build relationship with them through full intention, full awareness and close observation. Without this full commitment and attention to the plants and our relationships with them … we can miss so much. This in turn also applies to our work in the healing treatment room. The same kind of attention, presence, awareness and focus is what allows us as healers to really listen, really see, really connect with our clients and what they need … then go to the spirits of the plants to ask for the medicine for that person.
It makes perfect sense. Botanical Art, Plant Spirit Medicine, and people are all about Nature: cycles, exchange, balance, breath, growth, nourishment … in short, true and dazzling … Beauty!
I used to live in Portland, Oregon, where a 26-mile long park traverses the entire City. You can park pretty much anywhere in NW Portland and gain access to gorgeous hiking, cycling and nature trails. Trees here are huge, healing, purifying presences.
Plant Spirit Medicine homework
While studying to become a Plant Spirit Medicine healer, I would go into this park to do some of my PSM class assignments, which were many, quite varied and some would say “unusual.” On this particular day, I was by myself and I remember getting out of my car and walking, feeling not good, not on purpose, but rather sad and lonely. I just knew I had to be out in Nature, and so it was a good time to also do some PSM class homework.
I began to walk paying close attention to the sights, sounds, smells and the Life all around me. As soon as I started to see the big pine trees, my eyes moved up to one of them, then another, then another. My eyes my heart were drawn up,up to the height of the trees and my perspective changed completely. I was so small, almost insignificant. They were so huge, strong. The trees told me, “Look at it [the situation] from where we are; you will see it differently. We have been here a really long time. We are all with you. You are not alone.” And just like that, everything shifted. Not just because of their words but because of their healing presence.
Do all trees talk with Plant Spirit Medicine healers?
I have heard many accounts of memories, encounters and powerful experiences with trees from my PSM colleagues. Some actually feel that it is difficult to engage in contact with some trees, because trees have been around for such a long time, they are such huge presences and their perspective is just different. They truly embody patience and long-term vision. But trees are amazing, generous, wise healers.
Just yesterday I went for a walk and met some “new” trees. At some point during my walk my state shifted and I began to see trees differently; to really observe their moods and their faces and their markings, and to even see the energy field between connecting branches — a certain luminosity that can indicate a portal of energy. And it was dazzling and precious.
Trees are our Nature shamans; our allies
And finally it occurred to me that trees are like people and people are like trees. We all want balance. We all have jobs to do. We all want to grow. We all have scars and stories. We live in one same environment and we are either nourished or destroyed by it. Trees know us intimately. They are our partners, our friends. This is why we live near one another, this is why we care for one another. This is why Trees can be such inspiring purifiers and sentinels for our homes and cities and towns and for our Earth. Not by coincidence but by Divine plan and by sacred agreement.
” In all spiritual work, it is necessary to ignore what is being taken away and to watch what is being received.” –- Swami Rudrananda
“Toto, I’ve a feeling I’m not in Chicago anymore”
Just the drive from Albany Airport to the Blue Deer Center was spectacular. I could feel stress melting away as I drove through country roads, next to rivers, trees, among hills, among awesome natural Beauty. Reaching the bend in the road, I approached the Center’s entrance and offered a prayer of gratitude. Seeing my teachers Eliot Cowan and Alison Gayek and my colleagues was, as always, a celebration. And that was just the start!
What happens at a Plant Spirit Medicine conference?
I love gathering with PSM healers from all over the country to explore new areas of growth in our healing practices, catch up on our personal and professional lives, learn, sit by the fire and listen. Talks, panel discussions and workshops happen around a beautiful fire. We open our hearts to each other, our medicine, the sacred gifts of the Land at the Blue Deer Center, our teachers and the world. We learn, we share, we explore, we squirm in our seats, we ask, we debate, we honor one another, we hold our people and our medicine and our prayers for all of the above and we march on home afterwards renewed, inspired, re-invigorated and filled with joy to take to our healing practices, our families, our communities, our people.
This year at the Plant Spirit Medicine conference: healing, inspiration, nourishment
It is so beautiful that as we come together as PSM healers we in fact help to nourish and heal ourselves in the beautiful land, among Nature, as colleagues, exploring our challenges, our gifts, learning together. “Exploring the Mystery of Nature” was the conference theme this year. A number of presentations, exercises and panels helped us to connect deeply to overcome challenges and discover our strengths and our amazing potential as stewards of this medicine. Tsaurirrikame David Wiley shared his expertise and heart with us as he coached and challenged us with his presentation of “Practice Building for the Spiritual Healer.” Maggie Freier gifted us with a thought-provoking presentation titled “Confidentiality and Crisis Management – The Tarasoff Decision and Beyond.” Mai Duong and Kateri McCue encouraged us to support each other with their talk on “The Power of Partnership.” Alison Gayek inspired us with her presentation “Nature as Oracle: Letting the Divine Natural World Support Your Healing Work.” Susan Skinner, Robin Lockwood and Clare Pearson shared insights on their healing practices in a panel discussion “How Connecting to Nature and the Mystery Helped your Practice and your Clients.” Our dear teacher Eliot Cowan read beautiful excerpts from his new Plant Spirit Medicine book due out in April 2014. Our Plant Spirit Medicine Association Board (Annie Smith, Julie Ellerbeck and Dena Sparks) facilitated a wonderful Town Hall Meeting where we learned of recent developments, new initiatives, and opportunities to participate and make a difference in our Association.
A feast of Plant Spirit Medicine healing
As we closed the conference, Julie Ellerbeck presented us with beautiful artwork by her client Kate, who inspired by PSM created a lovely painting honoring our medicine. I experienced all of the above as a great big banquet which left me filled with joy, inspiration and gratitude for the beauty and power of this medicine, the opportunity of serve our world as a Lay Spiritual Healer, and for the amazing people who I have the honor and the pleasure to call my colleagues. If you are a member of the Plant Spirit Medicine Association, please stay tuned to the PSMA newsletter for more coverage of this year’s beautiful conference. Thanks and appreciation to Robin Lockwood and Jane Wollack who put on a wonderful conference this year and to everyone who made it possible, including the great Staff of the Blue Deer Center.
This spring my husband and I were invited to the Art Institute for the opening of the Picasso exhibit. I felt like royalty to be able to see the exhibit before it opened to the general public. The special exhibit’s reception event was wonderful: blue lighting in honor of the artist’s Blue Period, delicious food, lovely cubist centerpieces of flowers and fruit, a great group of musicians setting the tone.
How we live; how we heal?
Some people milled about the reception comfortably, others were in a rush to walk through to the art exhibit and go home. A few ladies came and sat at our small table to eat a few bites then immediately and hurriedly left to see the exhibit. “How can that possibly be enjoyable?” I asked myself.
The healing stance in Plant Spirit Medicine wellness
Slowly but surely I began to pay attention to the people in the way I do when I really pay attention … from my center, with my softly-focused eyes, with my great horned owl ears perked up to really listen. And it occurred to me that the people were the real exhibit, not the art! Sure, I did see and enjoy the art – especially pieces I had never seen before. But the real exhibit was the people. How vulnerable we are. How hurried we have become. How detached we at times want to appear. How frightened we can be of true connection. How we work so hard at how we want to be seen. How we avoid vulnerability, which is, by the way, a very big key for our healing.
One of the many gifts of Plant Spirit Medicine Healing
Being present with people, truly present, has been one of the great gifts that my Plant Spirit Medicine training and practice have brought to my life. That immense fascination (not curiosity, mind you) but fascination with humans, with who we are, how we adapt, how we cope, how we all dream and fear and dare and suffer … how we all want to do good, be loved, feel vital. This deep stance of love and compassion is such a gift. It is how Divine and the plant spirits see us. It is such a wonderful point of departure to help me as a healer to be a channel for the loving and generous power of Nature. Such a gift to see and work with my brothers and sisters in this way. Such a privilege.