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Full Circle

By Amy Nielsen

My business is based on the premise that wellness is really three systems of care: body, mind, and spirit. I work in a holistic practice that honors the intersection of western and indigenous philosophies. A large part of indigenous teachings involve plants. So I began a formal study of herbology.

I am a middle class, white girl from the ‘burbs. When I started this journey a few years ago, I could barely tell you what a dandelion was, let alone that you could eat it. If you told me it was one of the most useful plants we have in our basic herbal tool kit, I would have told you they are bitter, the sap gives my uncle hives, and the seed heads are fun; but the word useful might be pushing it. Somedays, even now, I feel very much like a fish out of water in large gatherings of my peers. They all seem to have grown up with this knowledge in their cells.

Herbs are becoming so prevalent in our day to day lives that I need to understand how they play a role in becoming us and how they interact with each other and everything else if I am going to serve the best interest of my clients.

I am not training to become a clinical herbalist. I know so many amazing clinical herbalists that I would rather support them than learn the whole shabang myself. But because so many people are turning to herbs, I need to be able to have a good working knowledge of the basics if for no other reason than so that my clients have a safe sounding board for their ideas.

I recently returned from an internationally attended herbal conference, held at a small liberal arts college on a stunning campus filled with beautiful botanical specimens. The organizers are all bigwigs on the international scene - founding members of large conservation organizations, principle formulators of well-known corporations, teachers from renowned schools.

However, it was an intimate conference of only about 500 participants. The schedule was jam packed with heavy duty science content classes, up to the minute, personal accounts of boots on the ground conservation efforts, and deeply moving community ceremony.

The herbal community is an interesting group of people. All are deeply passionate about, driven by, and focused on the plants. What path that takes can vary as wildly as an urban vertical hydroponic farmer, a licensed Appalachian forager, a naturopathic doctor working with cancer patients, a native elder recently back from Standing Rock, a shamanic healer from South America, and people like me. These, by the way, were my lunch companions yesterday. We talked about bad 80’s movies.

I found myself swimming with a somewhat regular group of other attendees following a similar tract through the classes. I made sure to get the contact information for those whose comments and questions I found pertinent to my interests and research lines.

As we rambled from class to class, two questions kept coming up for me as I watched the community of my elders, peers, and friends;

First, what do I have in common with these amazing souls? Learn to follow the leads of those compassionate joyful spirits as best you can.

And second, who let me in the club? Someone really didn’t check my creds well enough.

In one hardcore class, which I found particularly fascinating, I also felt like I should be looking to see when they were going to tell me I wasn’t allowed because I wasn’t advanced enough. It was my own little demon on my shoulder, no one in the class made me feel that way. I just couldn’t believe that lil’ ole me was given the opportunity to have an hour long, peer-to-peer conversation with some of my idol teachers about something I have been studying as an amateur for the last three years.

But that is the point of attending this type of event. My going to this was somewhat akin to a sophomore walking into a graduate level seminar, but I think I stood my ground and held my own well enough. Basically I was too scared stiff most of the time to open my mouth. I learned much more and I had less chance of stuffing my foot in there up to the knee.

The point is that I stretched myself. I took a leap, a somewhat flying leap, but I took it. That I actually landed on the other edge with only a little bit of pinwheel arms is only somewhat surprising. I knew this conference would be a stretch for my current knowledge base and level of community involvement for this leg of my practice stool.

I needed to push myself to step up to be what I say I want to be These experiences help me hone exactly what my practice looks like now and will look like in the future. But I also know that if I had attended last year I would have been totally overwhelmed.

So, while my going to this conference was driven partly by the content of the classes, it was almost more driven by the need to measure myself against the gold standards. To see where I feel comfortable sitting in the circle.

I know that I have a lot of work to do and a lot of knowledge to pursue, but I also know that where I am is a good place to begin working this for real. I have a solid platform of basics to work from. I have a working knowledge of the middle levels of this practice. I can begin to understand how the actions of those who are way out on the end of the spectrum might play a part. I know who to ask for specific systems now and I know the basic triage for them to have a solid foundation to build on.

Now it’s time to finish the final lessons and send them out so I can hold my head up high next time I see these teachers and we can all laugh about my other sophomoric mistake - sending the same cover letter to two different entities, then have them realize it while speaking to me over reishi and chocolate pudding.

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