The Way of the Sage

THE WAY OF THE SAGE

Sage is a wonderful plant that has been bringing me much joy and “good vibes” in the last few years. As I attempted to grow my first herb garden two years ago, a small clump of sage was one of my first plants and has proven to be one of the most prolific and hardy. This summer, I had several large clumps of sage that blossomed and grew leaves, and it seemed that the more I clipped them for teas and smudges, the more they grew.

The calendar is bringing us round to the dark time of the year, and now my sage stands blanketed in snow, with a few of its silvery grey leaves still poking out from under the initial white cover of late autumn.

Two days ago, I was just about to get a cold…I could feel it coming upon me. And so I ventured down to my basement, and brought up some of my dried sage – now stored in a large mason jar.

While the water was boiling, I placed some dried sage leaves along with a pinch of thyme and some dried yarrow (all from garden) into a pot. When the water was warm enough, I let it infuse the herbs for a while.

I chose my favorite tea cup – delicate and thin lipped. Not a more massive mug that seemed less sacred somehow to me at that precise moment. I poured the steaming liquid through a metal strainer and into the porcelain cup.

Sitting quietly and alone at my kitchen table, I looked out into my backyard that always inspires me with its beauty as slowly and very mindfully I sipped the medicinal liquid.

It seemed to taste more delicious than any tea I had imbibed for a long time; and it also tasted powerful and yet familiar. I wondered if this was because it had been harvested from my own garden, tended by my own hands. Perhaps this gave it special powers to help heal me when I need it.

For whatever reason, that cold never took hold. A few hours later, I felt mended and renewed.

I wrote this poem some time ago about sage, both the plant, which is a wise healer, and “sage” as a wise human mentor.

The way of the sage
Is the gentle extreme
Not tending to any direction
Not focusing on any goal
But rather committed
With whole-hearted honesty
And a mind that is crystal clear
To being of service to all those
Things that are near and dear.

So on this holy season
That bodes of changing cycles
And ways, I salute you
Today and call upon the power
Of the sage
To remind us all
Of our gentle soul
And the beauty of this earth
When we behold all of its treasures and lore.

So hold on tightly to your loved ones
And all that you hold dear
In this time of gentle beauty
And holy-day cheer.

About the author: Skye Stephenson, PhD, is an author, educator and LECORA crystal healer. She is also founder of The Jade Journeys Institute. Her recently published “Crystal Companion Cards: Messages from the Stones and a Star,” is a 52-card deck and accompanying booklet. If you would like to receive a weekly crystal message, please email her at crystalhealing.lecora@gmail.com. She is also available for individual crystal card and LECORA crystal healing sessions, and for sacred place healing. See http://www.jadejourneys.org.

Posted in cold cures, herbs, Plant healing, poetry, sage, Skye Stephenson | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Australian Bush Flower Essences

Australian Bush Flower Essences were developed by Ian White during the last twenty years. Currently there are 65 of them, all derived from plants native to Australia. In September, I attended an advanced workshop in Sydney, Australia to learn more about these unique flower essences, which have had some well documented success in treating illnesses of various types, including a wide range of physical and psychological ailments, as well as addressing other human frailties such as addiction, depression, disassociation, and more.

Flower essences are obtained by infusing water with the energy of a particular flower or plant, via sunlight. The use of flower essences by humans to promote healing and well-being extends back to the very first human healers – millennia ago. For instance, the Australian Aborigines obtained the beneficial effects of a flower essence by eating the whole flower, which would have dew upon it. They used many different types of flowers for resolving specific emotional imbalances. Many other cultures and peoples, including the Egyptians, used flower energies in this way.

European folklore on the healing power of flowers dates back at least to the medieval times. In the 16th century, the great healer and mystic Paracelsus collected the dew from flowers to treat emotional imbalances.

Dr. Edward Bach (1886-1936) is considered the modern pioneer of flower essences. In earlier articles, I have written about some of the flower essences he developed. He believed that his repertoire of essences covered the entire spectrum of human energetic imbalances and that by using the appropriate flower essence(s), subtle energetic corrections could be made that could halt physical ailments from manifestation.

In recent years, flower essences have been developed in various locales around the word by gifted spirit healers (actually, anyone can make a flower essence as it is quite a simple process….yet to come up with an entire line of unique flower essences with their uses clearly understood is a life project for just a handful who feel this call.)

As Ian White puts it, the world that most of us live in is quite different from the era in which Dr. Bach developed his essences. Ian believes that new flower essences are now being revealed to help us cope with this current era of such complexity and heightened change.

Australia is one of the oldest lands, from a geological standpoint. It never experienced the ice age, nor does it have deep tectonic factors that cause earthquakes and volcanoes. Add to this its geographic isolation, as the largest island/smallest continent, and you have a plethora of unique flora and fauna in the red lands “down under.” Most of the Australian Bush Flower Essences come from plants that only grow in this very special part of the globe.

I myself wondered as the only non-Australian at the workshop whether these Australian made essences would be meaningful and useful to friends and clients in this area of the United States. Why not use more place-based flower essences, instead of drawing upon plants from so far from home?

My only response, which may explain why I was so guided to attend this workshop during my recent travels in Australia, is that they sure worked for me. I have used Bach flower essences for years, and will sometimes recommend them to clients to complement the crystal healing work I do. I have also worked with a few other types of flower essences, plus I make my own gem essences.

All I find powerful and transformative, and yet during the workshop and afterwards I was transformed at a very deep level by the Australian Bush Essences we used at the workshop. Their energies almost seem to harken to feel of the Australian lands and waters themselves – bold yet gentle, fluid yet solid, hardy yet alluring.

Right now, I am taking Boab for two weeks –morning and night –which is the standard recommended way to use these essences. This plant grows only in Western Australia. It said to help clear negative patterns of the ancestors. I’ll share my experiences with this in my next article.

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Different Views of Mental Health

When I wrote my column last month about the Robin William’s memorial in Keene, it never occurred to me that it would still be in place when I wrote my next column a lunar cycle later. And yet it is still there, a memorial to Robin Williams and perhaps, for some of us at least, also a way to remember and acknowledge ritually people we have known whose lives were marked indelibly by their so-called “mental illness” challenges.

What is “mental illness”? Around the world, there are very different ways of viewing behaviors that in our mainstream culture are currently termed “mental illness.” In fact, there are some cultures and peoples who consider those individuals who experience profound mental crises to have some important and unique gifts that can be used to help their community in very positive ways.

This point first came clear to me a few summers ago when I led a group of college students to Cuba to explore African diaspora spirituality. By the luck of the draw, about half the group were psychology majors. As the trip progressed, the students began to notice that many of the spiritual leaders we met with recounted how they had become spiritual priest(ess) due to having profound experience that would have been defined as psychotic crisis in our standard terminology.

One man who channeled spirits for healing purposes explained that when he was eleven he started to have fits, that his doctor called epilepsy. His mother however refused to accept this diagnosis, and took him to apprentice with an African spiritual healer who taught the young man how to use his gifts of shifting consciousness to bring in spirit and help others.
Several of the students at the end of the Cuba commented that what they most learned was a very different view of so called psychological illness and how to deal with it.

A more recent story from a different spot in the world. I have just returned from a trip to Australia. While there I was invited to an Australian aboriginal center by my friend Stephanie. She recounted to me how she first met the Aboriginal man who headed the center. When she was a teenager going through some challenging times and living homeless on the streets, she had gone to a weekend workshop during which time she felt a mental collapse and withdrew crying inconsolably to her tent. She felt herself suffocating in her own sadness.

And then this aboriginal man came up to her to ask what was wrong. She could barely reply, she was so down and out. “You need a walkabout” he told her. And he made her leave the tent and follow him into the bush. And he sat with her out there, making sure she put her feet in the water, for many hours, all the while sharing with her ancestral stories from his clan. By the end of the day, she was recovered.

Stephanie is now a very talented massage therapist who works with nature energies to help people in her community heal.

I love these stories of different views of mental wellness and healing because they offer us alternative ways to perceive of mental health crisis situations and those who experience them. Often they are people like Robin Williams and so many others who have very special and wonderful gifts to bring to our world.

Published in “Monadnock Shopper” 10/14

Posted in Community healing, depression, healing, mental illness, Monadnock, New Hampshire, Robin William's suicide, Skye Stephenson, writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

That Dark Place

Robin Williams’ suicide has touched many of us and the familiar Parrish Shoe sign has become a shrine of sorts to his life and legacy. My favorite role of his was as Patch Adams, a doctor who found out that making his patients laugh was a very healing thing to do. It is ironic that the man who played this character ended up taking his own life because he could no longer find any joy in this world.

I venture to forward that a lot of us know intimately what that dark place feels like. And it may be that slight hint of underlying pain and sadness that Robin William’s somehow imparted to all of his characters that made him so beloved as an actor, and why we are all mourning his premature passing so widely.

Apparently, Robin Williams “suffered” from depression most of his life. “Suffered” in quotation marks, because in many cultures and spiritual beliefs, rather than “fighting” against and/or “overcoming” this pain, there is a call to accept it as a natural part of the cycle and rhythm of life. Just as there is day and night; winter and summer – there is pain and joy.

My mother, who herself had many dark times, always refused to give us aspirin. Rightly or wrongly, she said she wanted us to know what pain feels like, and not always run away from it.

As someone who has lived abroad and traveled quite extensively, one of the hallmarks I most note about US culture is our emphasis on trying to ameliorate problems and pains through pills, legislation, psychotherapy and more. It is as if we wish to always live in a Disney movie that ends happily ever after.

But that is in truth a lie, and perhaps one of the shadow sides of our culture is our inability to accept that other side, that dark side, of life as a very important component of wholeness.

There are many different strategies and ways of encountering that dark place, navigating our way through it, and then back into the light once again. Creativity of any sort can be a most powerful technique for many of us, and in fact much of the greatest music, writing, artwork, and visual productions were birthed by people who were in that dark void when inspiration came upon them. I began writing more deeply years ago in my moments of despair over a crumbling marriage and difficult life circumstances, and it was this writing that saved me from the abyss.

When darkness becomes a problem is when it does not pass – dwelling within us so heavily we lose all hope of ever feeling joyous and full of light again. And it is here that the role of loved ones and a compassionate community is so important.

I was once told by a Mapuche man from southern Chile that his people have a way to cure depression that is community based. When someone is in a deep depression, a ritual ceremony is carried out in which all members of the person’s extended family must be present and participate in fully. By forming a circle of care around the person in need and singing and drumming, they can cast out the darkness through their collective presence and support.

Some recent articles have pointed out how Robin Williams felt all alone and abandoned during his last and final bout with depression. Maybe this is what touched us too, our sense that we want to let him know – even if he has departed this world – that he is not alone. He is beloved by many of us, because we too are quirky, different, don’t quite fit in, and we too sometimes feel the pain of those dark places that can crash down upon us and hold us in their grip.

Perhaps it is easier to honor Robin William’s suicide than those of local residents, but it bears mentioning that one block away from what has become an altar to Robin Williams a middle-aged man set himself on fire because he was so depressed and felt so abandoned by the system and his own loved ones. And just last month, on the other side of town, a man committed suicide after an hours long stand off with a horde of police.

Maybe one way we can honor Robin William’s legacy is to support with compassion those around us who are experiencing that dark place and are in need of some of our joyous light right now.

Posted in Community healing, depression, family healing, healing, inspirational thoughts, mental illness, New Hampshire, Robin William's suicide, Skye Stephenson, writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Apu Mt. Monadnock

In the central Andes, where the second highest mountain chain makes their imposing presence viscerally felt, the indigenous people have since time immemorial venerated their mountain peaks. Quechua-speakers (the language of the Inca Empire) call them Apus.

Certain Apus are designated sacred mountain peaks, based upon teachings of the wise ones. Typically these sacred Apus are found in pairs – one is considered masculine, the other feminine. And to these mountains sacred gifts are offered and special ceremonies enacted at specific times in the calendar year. And at all times, prayers include the local mountain peaks – considered to be protectors of the zone – in the spirits thanked and invoked.
Some of us in the Monadnock area yearn for a deeper sense of this kind of connection with our own geography and place. Some activities an increasing number of local folks are stepping into more boldly these days such as organic agriculture, CSA farming, engaging in ritual and ceremony, healing modalities of many types, community support, helping animals and plants, etc., are being done – at least in part – to contribute in some small way to helping heal and nourish our beautiful environment.

Place-based ceremony and ritual may be one way to contribute to such needed healing.
Back in 2007, when I had lived in this area for a few years and just begun to discover Mount Monadnock, I was faced with a pivotal decision in my life. I was offered the chance to move elsewhere, to an area and job that in many ways were more appealing. Yet I fleetingly sensed Mt. Monadnock whispering to stay around here, that there was work to do in this area. And so I chose to stay.

Last year, my friend Lisa who lives atop a hill in southern Vermont, spent a month in Peru in ceremony and ritual. Months later, on a crisp and clear Fall day, she was on Putney Mountain walking her dogs when she happened to look to the East and beheld Mt. Monadnock silhouetted alone on the horizon. And she sensed its presence, as she received the following message: “You do not have to go to Peru to find the Apus. I am right here in front of you. Look at me.”

Lisa called me all excited and we met and talked about our local Apu – Mount Monadnock. And we decided – as many others have before us and many will do in the future – to enact a ritual ceremony for this powerful mountain that looms nearby us. Mount Monadnock offers us the opportunity to acknowledge its presence and feel its energies if we so desire.

James Beard, also known as Noodin, is a NH park ranger who is lucky enough to live in the cabin at the base of White Dot trail. He is also a white man who has spent many years studying deeply with the indigenous peoples, especially the Ojibway, and he has written a wonderful book about his own life journey along this path of learning.

From what he has gathered from indigenous peoples as well as from the mountain itself, Mt. Monadnock was considered especially sacred because it did literally “stand alone,” as its name attests in the Abenaki language. And due to its sacred qualities, most people walked the base of the mountain and left offerings. Only a few of the very wisest would at special times climb to the peak for ritual ceremony.

How different from today where hundreds and even thousands climb the mountain on a nice weekend day, most viewing it solely as a diversion and exercise. In recent years, money has been charged to visit the mountain and rules enacted such as keeping dogs off, which contribute to making the mountain – like so much in our current society – another commodity to be marketed for profit.

Knowing the long indigenous history in this area and the Abenaki name given to Mt. Monadnock, I was surprised to hear last year at a fundraiser a member of the NH park service say that the first person to see the mountain was a white man sometime in the 1700s or 1800s!

Mt. Monadnock is our Apu, as my friend Lisa heard so emphatically. And as a mountain that does indeed stand alone, perhaps it holds both the male and female presence within it. That makes it even more special for some of us…thank you Mt. Monadock! May we honor you through how we treat you.

Posted in Community healing, healing, indigenous wisdom, latin america, Monadnock, New Hampshire, Skye Stephenson, spirituality, travel, writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Hopeful Time and Place

This Spring Equinox (2014) found me in Barth, Germany. I had traveled to Austria and Germany for work, taking advantage of the College spring break.

First night in Europe, jet lag kept me up until the wee hours – so I turned on my computer and began surfing the web. One thing led to another and I figured I might as well try yet again to find out some important information about my father I had always wondered about.

You see, my father – deceased nearly thirty years now – had been a prisoner of war in Germany during WW2. His right ring finger was the only visible physical reminder of his long ordeal; that finger had been deeply slashed by trees as he parachuted down from the damaged aircraft. When he was captured two days later, very close to the Allied border area, his finger was crudely stitched and it never quite moved or looked right.

As a child, I would sometimes ask him about his finger and about what it was like being a prisoner of war. He would always make a joke about his finger, and then tell me that he did not want to talk about his experience. Every single time I asked him, for more than two decades, he always refused to answer.

So my first night ever in a German speaking area, I checked the internet one more time and to my great surprise found my father’s name and record rapidly.
James H. Stephenson. 2nd Lieutenant, Air force. Stalag Luft 1/Barth/Prussia – 1/29/44-6/14/45.

My heart beat hard when I saw this long searched for information. I wondered if Dad was smiling down upon me right then and there.

I found the town of Barth on the map. It was on the Baltic Sea, not far from the current Polish border. That made sense. Dad had mentioned a northern sea.

On the spur of the moment, I realized I could make a fast one day trip there when I was in Berlin later in the week. In fact, the only day I had free to visit Barth was March 21st, the Spring Equinox.

After a five hour and one train change journey due north from Berlin, I stepped off at 11 am to Barth, Germany on the first day of spring, 2014. I had no idea where the prisoner of war camp had been located, or even how to communicate this question to the people in the town since I speak not one word of German. More significantly, I did not know how the locals would react when I asked this question.

Three people who worked in the railway station, all of them most likely born and raised when this part of Germany was East Germany, spent 15 minutes printing out a google map and writing the path I needed to follow to find the spot. They explained that it was out of town. They waved me good-bye, wishing me well.

I had to walk through the center of Barth to find the site. As I walked its streets, Barth seemed to be about the size of Keene. I stopped for an early lunch at a place filled with locals. I sat alone, but shortly an elderly couple joined me at my table. We tried to communicate the best we could, despite the language barrier. I understood the woman to say that she had learned Russian, not English, in school. I nodded understanding.

The town’s one church steeple loomed tall as I passed it by and kept walking out of town. I tried to keep a brisk pace and follow carefully the penciled directions. Half a mile out and I turned off the main road, following a smaller road that edged a large meadow. This meandered for a while until it turned to dirt, and I found myself in the middle of a solar panel farm.

Then the solar panels ended, and I was in a forested area. I walked a short distance more and then I saw the stone. It was large and prominent. Next to it was an informational sign, triangular in shape and about 15 feet tall.

I walked towards that stone and placed my right hand upon it as I read what the metallic plaque on its face said (in both English and German).
“Dedicated by the citizens of Barth and the Royal Air Force ex-prisoners of WW2 on September 28, 1996 to commemorate all those held prisoner at this site from 1940 to 1945. Nothing Has Been Forgotten”
Goosebumps moved from my hand up my arms slowly, and then I found tears welling up in my eyes – a few fell upon that stone.

I spent a long time by that rock – trying to imagine how such a peaceful scene now could have ever held a place like a prisoner of war camp filled with thousands of scared, cold and hungry soldiers. I tried to imagine my father here, and let him know that all these years later, his daughter had found the place and it was a peaceful spot now.

On that early spring equinox afternoon my strongest sensation was hope. Hope that a place which had once been a prisoner of war camp was now a forest where people walked their dogs. Hope that a factory that had once produced munitions for the Germany army was now converted into a solar farm. Hope because it was the citizens of Barth and the ex prisoners of war together who had laid plaque. Hope that even in the worst of times, there is a promise of springtime to come, of a potentially brighter tomorrow.

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Fats and Me

One of the most important health and well-being shifts that I have gone through in the last year or so is re-working my relationship with fat and fats. Perhaps even more than others of my generation, I was raised and lead to believe that fats are the culprits of many health related conditions.

My father who was a medical doctor (a homeopath) deeply interested in nutrition spent his mornings when I was young helping with research about the role of cholesterol and heart disease. He was very clear with us that cholesterol, especially dairy products, contributed to heart disease and other health problems. In fact, we rarely drank milk in any form in our house, and my parents carefully watched other types of fats in our diet as well. This was back in the 1960s, before many aspects of nutrition became more mainstream.

As I entered puberty and beyond, I learned to be even more careful of my fat intake, largely to keep my weight in control and not “get fat”. I avoided oils and fats of all types whenever possible, and always had skim milk if I drank any dairy at all.
Through those years and decades, I experienced various health problems including skin allergies, low energy, mood swings, and a general sense of malaise. I learned that limiting my sugar and carbs – especially wheat – helped me significantly. Still, there seemed to be something else that was “a bit off” in my health and diet.

While a relatively poor graduate student I found a bottle of cod liver oil for sale when shopping one day and began to take a spoonful in the morning as an experiment. To my surprise, I felt much better and some of my allergies dissipated as well.

It has taken me years since that pivotal moment to finally make peace with what that spoonful of cod liver oil was telling me years ago. Oils – and fats of all kinds – are very important to our overall health and well-being. In fact, they are one of the most important components of a healthy diet. And we humans, generally speaking and barring metabolic disorders involving improper fat metabolism, need high quality oils in our diet on a regular basis.

The key is “high quality,” as well as careful selection of oil and fat type. By now most of us are aware that Transfats (also called “partially hydrogenated oil” which includes margarine, are not good for us and do indeed contribute to cholesterol buildup and a host of other health maladies.

What are healthy oils and fats critical to our health are Monounsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFA) and Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA). Both types come from a variety of sources. MUFAs are mainly in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, olives and avocadoes, and are liquid at room temperature. Research shows that eating a health amount of these oils actually reduces cholesterol levels, lowers risk for heart disease and stroke, contributed to weight loss, and helps reduce belly fat.

PUFAs are also important to overall health and can be found in vegetable oils, fish and seafood. They can be liquid (like the cod liver oil I discovered as a graduate student) or soft at room temperature. They contain both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, which are essential to eat because our bodies can not make them.

Obtaining the proper balance of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids is an important component of proper oil use and consumption. While Omega-3 fatty acids are necessary for proper brain growth and development, as well as being an anti-inflammatory, the typically US diet tends to rely more on oils and other fats high in Omega-6 – such as corn, safflower and soybean oils. While we do need some Omega-6, most of us tend to consume more Omega-6 and less Omega-3 than is recommended by health experts.

So in the last few years, I have begun to make oils my friend. I have realized that the quality and type of oils I purchase and use are as important as the vegetables, proteins and other foods I purchase. I buy cold-pressed oils and organic oils whenever possible, despite their higher price tag. And I strive to employ a variety of different oils in my cooking and food use, while avoiding corn, safflower and soybean oil. I figure that each oil has its own health-enhancing qualities.

Besides for the well-known olive oil, other oils I really enjoy include hemp oil (one of the healthiest oils with the ideal Omega-3 to Omega-6 balance) on my salads (keeping it in the refrigerator to maintain its quality), sesame oil for stir fries and – yes – body massage and gargle (remember our skin is our largest organ and absorbs into our body whatever we put on it), coconut oil (very delicious and good for cooking and baking), almond oil for specialty purposes, and others.

Yes, oils are now among my favorite food friends for pleasure enhancement as well as overall well-being. Each oil type is delicious and since embracing rather than rejecting oil in my diet I have felt calmer, my skin has improved, my sleep patterns are better, and my weight and cholesterol levels are just fine!
So make oil your friend – good quality oil that – recognizing the very important role it plays in our health – body, mind and soul.

Author Skye Stephenson.  Published in the Monadnock Shopper March 2014

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