building a beautiful and bountiful world in collaboration with nature

Archive for August, 2012

Brain Care for the Awakening Gardener

crop circle - echoes

crop circle – echoes (Photo credit: oddsock)

My latest summer reading is Freddy Silva’s newest book, Legacy of the Gods.  The title doesn’t begin to explain what this book is about.  I’m thoroughly enjoying it, and it is 100% relevant to gardening, but I want to finish reading it before I say more about it here.  So today I’m going to prepare you for future blogs on that subject by talking about what I learned from another book on my summer reading list: Awakening the Brain, by Dr. Charlotte Tomaino.  Because our nervous systems are what it’s all about.

Dr. Tomaino is a neuropsycholgist whose first vocation was – are you ready? – nun.  Her book is a perfect example of the many ways that science and spirituality are converging in this century, and her life is an embodiment of that process.

What I came away from Tomaino’s book better understanding is how the brain and mind interact and how much the choices we make in our minds influence our brain and its structures and biochemistry, which in turn influence the mind and our thoughts…. It’s a critical feedback loop, and taking care of these delicate and sensitive nervous systems is not something that is yet taught in most families or in school.  Tomaino’s book is like a mini-course in learning to recognize and respond to the signals that tell us when our nervous systems are getting stressed and about to head in a direction where the amygdala is about to take over and clear thinking and openness to opportunity is about to disappear.  All politicians could benefit from this kind of information.  Anyone who spends more than 60 seconds in a day listening to politicians could benefit from this information.

The basics are deceptively simple: keep hydrated and oxygenated (as in drink plenty of water and breathe deeply), get plenty of sleep, eat well for your body, and get good exercise.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  But try all of those things for just one day and let yourself start to notice the difference.  I know my garden and plants really appreciate it when I am the kind, patient person who has taken care of herself first.

The other element that Tomaino adds in is the concept of “neurochoice”.  Each decision we make is contributing to how our brains structure their networks, and once a neural path is established, the tendency is to keep using that path, making it wider and bigger.  Spouses, parents, and children are the people who know how to “push our buttons”, but really all they are doing is showing you a ‘neurochoice’ made long ago that has now fixed into a strong neural pathway.  It’s up to each of us to restructure our brains and make new choices about what pathways we’re going to let fire up.

My response to gophers in my garden is a good example.  I can see evidence of gopher damage and decide (or allow myself) to think nasty thoughts about gophers. This will begin the process that revs up the stress systems in my brain and body, sending cortisol and other stress hormones into my bloodstream, further firing up the parts of the brain that react instead of think.  The long-term result may be a few extra dead gophers, but it’s also going to be my chronic ill-health.

A different neurochoice is to slow myself down, breath deeply, notice all the plants that are still thriving and reach for the creation of a neural pathway that acknowledges the benefits of diversity.  This keeps my brain in a  mode that allows me to notice what responses will most benefit me and the garden as a whole.  Some trapping may be in order, but it won’t be a stress reaction, it will be a well-considered response.

Both my husband and I have read Awakening the Brain, and the biggest change we notice in ourselves is how much more compassion we have for other people.  Whether it’s the angry person in line at the gas station or the vitriolic outburst we witness somewhere, we tend now to turn to each other and nod our heads knowingly; that poor person has no idea how to take care of their nervous system or how to make healthy neurochoices,  and is clearly suffering the repercussions.

I’m sorry I couldn’t find a way to make this more lively, but I do hope you get the idea. Drink plenty of water, breath deeply, get plenty of sleep, eat the foods that leave you feeling calm and healthy, and exercise.  Take care of your nervous system first. Next time I will talk about how doing these simple things will help us to live the full potential of our ecological roles on this lovely, marvelous planet.

Plant Spirit Communication: Immunity Is Not Resistance

A young poison-oak plant (Toxicodendron divers...

A young poison-oak plant (Toxicodendron diversilobum) in Purisima Creek Open Space Preserve in northern California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I attended a workshop back in early July on Plant Spirit Communication taught by Heather Luna Keasby, owner of the Nevada City Herb and Tea Company.  It was a wonderful adventure because of Heather’s firm grounding in both clinical herbalism and shamanic plant traditions.  The blending of science and spirit helped me to return home more certain than ever that I am not making this stuff up – or if I am, it’s just because that’s the nature and process of reality in a quantum universe.

During the workshop, everyone spent some individual time connecting with the same plant species.  We would then gather and compare notes.  While no two people had the same experience, it was fun to see the themes that would start to emerge.  With Self-Heal, for example, words such as “beehive”, “community”, and “balance” were often used as different participants described their experience with the plant.  During my time with Self-Heal, I had a very strong sensation of energy buzzing back and forth, balancing the right and left hemispheres as well as the cortex and limbic regions of my brain.  I have a number of herb books, but none of them mention Self-Heal in connection with the nervous system, whether used as a tea, tincture, or flower essence.  My experience was so strong that such confirmation wasn’t necessary, nonetheless it was still nice to hear Heather mention that Self-Heal is used for the nervous system in clinical herbal applications.

Since the workshop, I have been taking time to sit with some of the plants on our property, including wild rose and poison oak.  Often these conversations feel very personal and specific to me and to this place.  Sometimes interesting ideas pop into my mind. (I seem to be prone to this phenomena – as mentioned in an earlier blog.)  However, these are thoughts that I’m sure I didn’t come up with alone.  While sitting with poison oak, I heard quite clearly, “Immunity is not resistance.”  The sentence repeated itself several times.  To put words to the gestalt image I had with this: Our immune systems do not go to war nor to battle.  Rather they bring an energy of “fruitfulness” to each situation and transform the imbalance into harmony.  Not understanding transformation, we interpret a battle scene, yet to operate optimally, immune systems require a strong flow of love and joy.

Being a consistently healthy person who developed immunity to poison oak long ago, this thought, “immunity is not resistance”, didn’t seem relevant to me.  But the plant was insistent that I receive this information.  Thinking about it later, I realized it made a lot of sense.  I know that when we experience anger, fear, or even frustration, our bodies respond by suppressing the immune system functions.  If immunity was resistance, if it was a war zone or a battlefield, the opposite should be true.  Those upset emotions should amp up our immune system responses, not depress them.  Happy people have the strongest immune systems.  An abundance of joy in a body provides plenty of energy for the immune system cells to carry out their transformative processes.  Which has interesting implications for responding to dis-eases in a garden, but I will leave that for another blog.

If you would like to experience what the plants say to you, this is a distillation of Heather’s basic formula:

  • Spend some time singing, chanting, breathing, meditating – whatever gets you to that alpha/theta brainwave state.
  • Ground your body.
  • Plan to give a minimum of half an hour to the plant you have chosen.  Good relationships take time.
  • Approach the plant, get comfortable, and introduce yourself – as you would to someone at a party.
  • State your intentions.  Three highly recommended intentions are:
  1. To let go of all preconceptions you may have about the plant.
  2. To have a clear exchange of the most mutually beneficial nature.  You can use whatever terms resonate with you here -“highest good”, etc.
  3. To receive information about this plant’s medicine.  (Or state whatever information you are interested in.)
  • Give the plant a gift or offering.  Heather uses a mix of dried herbs and rose petals that she has specially blessed.  Use something pretty.  My experience is that food is also welcome – slices of fruit, bread, goat’s milk, etc.  Give from your heart.
  • Spend the first 3 to 10 minutes just appreciating the plant.  Look at it closely, breathe on it (plants love CO2), admire it.  If you feel a strong urge to taste or eat a part of the plant, listen to your inner guidance on this one.  Plants are very giving in nature, but some are poisonous, so use common sense.
  • Notice your body.  Notice your thoughts.  How do you feel?  Where do you feel it? Notice whatever comes up.  Relax and breathe and notice.  And trust.

Have fun with this and please, please let me know if you have any interesting or wonderful experiences.