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On grief and sadness, and making it through. 
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Hi everyone,

Last week, I took a day off and drove up into the mountains with a blanket, a picnic, and a book. I parked by the side of the road, gathered together my things, and walked off into the trees for about a mile until I found an oak tree that I liked the look of. There, I lay my blanket down, set out my picnic and my books, and lay around, snacking and reading probably 5 hours or so. I'd just been working so hard all week, had been feeling so stressed (despite all my writings and teachings and everything I know about the matter), and I'd been feeling the pull for days. Sometimes you need to do that: just listen to exactly what it is your body wants to do even if its silly (a 2 hour drive to go lie under a tree for hours?), even if you don't have time. Do it like its your most important job to obey your body's every wish. I only left because it was starting to get dark and cold and I hadn't come very prepared for dark or cold, else I'd have spent the night out there, under that oak tree, with leaves falling onto my body and the cool fresh air dancing on my skin. 



While there, I was reading some of Rilke's work-- his Sonnets to Orpheus which I'd just randomly picked up on my way out the door. There was a passage that really stood out to me, lying there surrounded by autumn which to me feels like a time for grieving: everything around us is dying back, the flowers are disappearing, the trees are shedding their leaves, and it looks like the end of something important. Not only that but autumn makes us so damn aware of the transience of life, the constant-ness of change, and that stirs up something deeply sad (also scared, and also, exciting) in me. In all of us, I'm assuming. I came upon a passage that reads: 

"Do not fear to suffer; - cares sink back

Into the earth again from their heaviness;

Heavy are the mountains, heavy are the seas.

 

The trees which you planted as a child

Have long since grown too heavy; you do not deceive them.

But the winds ... but the spaces ..."

And it got me thinking about grieving and how as a society we're not really constructed to understand how to deal with grief, be it heartbreak, loss, betrayal, anything. In Jewish culture we have a lot of rituals that help us deal with the grieving process, and I know that similar rituals exist in other cultures. Last week was Yom Kippur, which is the day of atonement. We light a yarzheit candle, which is a memorial candle for the dead, and as I lit mine (I'm ridiculously secular but love the yarzheit candle tradition) I stated thinking about all the people to say prayers for. People I've lost personally, people who have died needlessly, victims of violence. The water, the drought, the state of the oceans, the situation at standing rock, the blanket of suffering that permeates life and the earth and the earth and weaves through time. 

There’s something beautiful to learn from the autumn, from the falling leaves, from times of great pain and suffering, and change and I think what there is to be learned is different for all of us. 

This is what I’ve been thinking about all week. Suffering and pain and grief and loss and heartbreak. It’s too big a topic for me to cover in one little newsletter, but I figured I’d start at the root of it: grief. As you’ll see, these other aspects of grief tie into it. I hope the information below is useful and helpful. 


Other updates: 
There are 2 spots left in my class on Yin deficiency, stress and exhaustion next weekend. I'd love to see you there! Read more HERE.

Surprise box updates: 
The Thorn + Bramble surprise boxes are shipping in just over a week. I'm immensely proud of this surprise box, and think its perfect for this time of year: protective, but also helping one to explore the boundaries of who they are and where their edges are. I have 5 boxes left for sale, and they are available HERE
 
-Rebecca


Contents: 
1. On grief 
2. Herbs for grief 
3. Some recipes and an exercise
4. Shop updates
1. On grief
 

Grief is not easy, nor is it kind. We can’t prevent it from happening, and it happens because we are hurt, or we experience loss. It is cruel because it is usually about what ‘was’, be it innocence, a relationship, a person, a possession. Life is painful. People die, things change, a huge huge percentage of what we have to face is loss and bereavement and the wrenching pain of things, eras, places dying. Somewhere between the passing of time and our acceptance of what IS is a chasm of grief that we need to traverse. 

When it comes to grief, as a healer, I separate grief into two categories: current and old. Or, acute and chronic.  

Current grief is due to something that’s happened recently or even not recently, that is causing emotional pain. 

 

Old grief is a shroud that blankets every day life, but there’s no ‘real’ reason for it, just a vague sense of sadness that lingers. This can be long-term or just bouts of short term. 

Current grief:

I’m quite sure that everyone on the planet knows what I’m talking about when I talk about current grief. Be it because of a devastating loss, or something smaller, we’ve had the ground ripped out from under our feet, had someone die on us, had something stolen, been betrayed, violated. Along with current grief comes other emotions: shock, anger, terror. Sometimes the other emotions mask the grief, because, for many of us, feeling ANYTHING other than grief is preferable to the pain (this is why so many people get angry when they’ve been hurt). 

The first step of dealing with grief is quite simple (though not actually easy): you have to agree to allow it. And then you have to give yourself permission to feel it. It sounds quite silly in a way because grief itself is so overwhelming that you can’t help but feel it, but on another hand, because grief is so overwhelming, most of us don’t actually want to feel it. So we feel the pain but we also resist the pain. We feel the sadness but at the same time want to get out of the sadness. Sometimes we feel as though we should be stronger, sometimes we feel as though it’s petty or silly, so we don’t dive into the pool of heart-wrenching pain and let it take us over. There’s a reason for that. It truly feels as though it’s going to take us over when we’re in it. It’s endless, limitless, and pervades every living cell. It sucks you down into its depths and you fear you’ll suffocate or drown in there. 

I was thinking about this this afternoon, lying outside in the sun at my parents house (visiting; Palm Springs; still hot out), and started dozing (as one does in the warm afternoon sun) and in my dozy-dream I saw an image of this endless black place. It was sticky and heavy and cut off from the world. It felt heavy and sad and familiar to me (being quite familiar with the abyss of depression). I was really uncomfortable at first, but then, in this black place a little beetle flew in and landed. It started walking around, and wherever it stepped, colours bloomed under its feet. 

I woke up out of my doze-state and thought more about this bug walking around in the darkness. If you experience grief (which we all do), it utterly changes us, rips us to pieces, swallows us whole and spits us out the other side as a different person. Not better or worse, not broken or whole, but someone who’s been ripped apart and put together differently. We see the world in a different light, and in some ways it’s much, much heavier as a result. But in some ways, it’s much more beautiful too. In the depths of that darkness, there’s actually a kaleidoscope of colour, but you have to settle into it, let it swallow you, get past the fear of it ripping you to shreds, and inevitably LET It, and then from there, you are able to see the nuance and the colour there, and climb your way back out of the hole. 

Obviously, this doesn’t actually appeal to most people. So we avoid it, let it linger, push it away, THINK it instead of feeling it. Except, emotional processing can’t be thought, it’s gotta be lived and then let go. 

And that’s the hard part. It’s not something that’s really accepted in society: we have an allotted time that we’re allowed to grieve, societally, and then we’re supposed to bounce back, move on, ‘get over it’. We don’t talk about the things that hurt us because it makes others uncomfortable— we don’t want to be a ‘downer’, and so we hold them in, pretend they’re not there, and then let them out at certain allowed times. 

The thing is, if we don’t process grief fully then it gets buried in the body and becomes old grief.

Old grief: 

Some forms of depression fall under the blanket of old grief (not all by any means). Old grief is grief that wasn’t fully experienced or expressed— it gets shoved to the side, sorta like when you have guests coming over so shove all the dirty laundry in a closet. Because it’s out the way, a lot of people just assume that that laundry is gone forever and carry on with their daily lives. Then one day it flares up out of the blue. Because there’s no ‘reason’ for it, because it’s not connected to anything in life so to speak, it looks and feels to may like they’re somehow broken, set to ‘sad’ on default. It’s not set to sad on default, it’s a sad that never got allowed out in the first place, and it’s letting you know its still there. Sometimes its triggered by things that are only remotely related but for some reason the experience makes you feel as though you’re right back where you were before. 

You’ve had this, right? Where someone says something to you and all of a sudden you’re three years old and one of your parents has just made you feel abandoned in some way and all of a sudden you’re sobbing over an innocuous comment? That’s old grief. The comment itself, without the old grief stuck in the body, would most likely just be hurtful if not for the giant well that the barb struck. That well is the old grief, and until it’s dealt with, things will keep hitting it. 

Grief isn’t a terrible thing. 

It doesn’t feel good, granted, but if we can remove the value system from it, and have it just be a sensation that we experience, then it’s just a state, and one that’s necessary for all of us to experience to be fully human. In order to process it, and in order to not let old grief run our lives, we have to let it in. 

Accept grief, agree to feel it. Agree to feel pain. When you sit with it and truly feel it, not holding on to it, or living in it, or saying ‘this is my place now and forever’, it becomes something different. It’s still painful. But there’s a beauty to the world when you can remove the story from the feeling. I’ll say it again in a different way: we have the feeling of grief, and then the things that caused it in the first place. If we spend so much time thinking about the story, thinking about what WAS, what could have been, then we spend out lives living a false reality. Look at life the way it is right now, and then allow the pain to flow, and then when it’s flowed through you, let it go. 

Like I said before, it’s actually quite simple, but not remotely easy. 


Further reading: 

New Yorker: a reading list for the grieving
Why we write about grief
When things fall apart
Embracing grief
The light of the world
H is for Hawk

2. Herbs for grief support



Hawthorn // Crataegus spp. 

Heart-friend and support for the grief state, hawthorn is like the hug you receive when you've been holding yourself together, feeling alone and unstable, that finally allows you to let yourself fall apart. When you have to go in and delve into the deepest, darkest parts of yourself, hawthorn is a supportive anchor saying 'You've got this; I won't let you fall apart completely'. 

How it does this, I have no idea, but I have an analogy that I like. When we fall apart due to grief, it's like most of our entirety gets swept away in a tsunami of it. It swallows us, breaks us into pieces, dashes us against the rocks, and washes us up on the shore, battered and broken. But as we're being pulled to pieces, there's always that constant thrum in the background that's 'you' there. I mean, it's the constant that most of us aren't even aware of because we're so caught up with the surface stuff (I am my job, I am what I wear, I am my reactions, I am my gender, I am my sexuality, I am gay/straight/poly/queer/neurodivergent/cis/trans/alawyer/adoctor/adeskjockey/acashier/ajock/anartist/aniceperson/abadperson/lonely/confident/cool/aplantperson/rich/poor/inarelationship/loved/etcetcetc. Except, if we were to chip away at every single self-identifier we have, we'd still be there, still exist, still be *us*. When our lives fall apart, either in grand explosive fashion or in little pieces, and when WE fall apart as a result, that nugget of 'us' at the center of our being remains constant. And it's that nugget of 'us'ness that hawthorn connects to and strengthens, so that the rest of us can fall to pieces around it. If our entire being was a map and the 'you are here' sign moved around on said map depending on how we feel on any given day, hawthorn points to the land itself so that the lines on the paper can dissolve and rearrange themselves. 

Read more: Kate Clearlight's article
Found in: Heart + Happy



Rose // Rosa spp.

I talk about rose a LOT in my newsletters, most likely because it's one of my favourite plants (one of almost everyone's favourites, no?). Not just because it's beautiful and it smells good and gathering it in the summers is a transcendent experience, but because it's such a little [gentle] powerhouse. 

Rose, like hawthorn, offers spiritual heart support. Unlike hawthorn, it relaxes and unwinds the tension that we hold in our chests and diaphragms that often prevent us from fully letting go. And in order to grieve, you sorta have to be able to let go. Rose is also sweet medicine. What I mean by that is that it's so soothing and gentle. Have you ever felt so close to tears then thought 'I can't have anyone be nice to me right now because I'll lose it?' it's rose that's nice to you. It's rose that reminds you of self-love and the love of others, and allows that love to blossom in your chest and quite frankly when you're trying to hold it all together, you're not looking at love, you're looking at getting through. 

Rose is especially useful where there's fear of the pain, and fear of getting hurt again that causes you to close off even more. Fear of FEELING, really, where you create a hard shell around your heart so that you can carry on as you were. Rose helps to soften those barriers, so that you can feel again. 

The thing with both rose and hawthorn is that they don't reduce you to a blubbering wreck all the time. But taking them for support through a grieving process will allow you to live from that place of sadness. This sounds weird, I know-- we're taught that grief has a place and it's behind closed doors-- but the healthiest way to grieve is to let it permeate your being. Let it influence the way you see the world. Not to make the world flat, but to enrich it, deepen the colours, deepen the feelings. There's something infinitely beautiful about what can be uncovered in that darkness. 

Read more: The comforts of rose
Found in: Ocotillo + Rose Heart Center Elixir



St John's wort // Hypericum perforatum 

Hypericum is one of those herbs that's known in non-herbal circles as a 'herb for depression'. I remember trying it in the late 1990s because I suffered from severe depression. It made my belly area cramp like crazy, so I stopped taking it, even though I had actually started to feel really good. I didn't think much more about it until years later, when I'd learned a lot more about herbs than 'x treats y', and started thinking about grief, depression and the solar plexus. You see the solar plexus area in our bodies is where our willpower comes from. It's where we interpret information and make decisions and then put the energy out into the world to act on those decisions. A lot of depression that I see comes from a blockage, of sorts, in this area: where there's something getting in the way of a person's being able to act directly in their own life. This makes one feel powerless, and there's little more to make you depressed and hate your life than feeling powerless. 

There's another aspect to this, however. Many of us, when facing pain, tend to disassociate. For some its dramatic (ie. diagnosable), for others maybe less so, but the underlying principle is the same: I don't want to feel this so I'm going to leave. Our bellies, our solar plexes, our information processing centers, are the easiest for us to check out of because it's the deep, dark, FEELING place in our bodies, that can't be rationalised away. 

St. John's wort directs energy back to the solar plexus. Gently but firmly. It directs energy back to the place where we have gut feelings, and underneath those gut feelings is a place of surrender and trust, where we trust ourselves and our bodies to know, to feel, to guide us. As a result of energy flowing back in a place where it's not been for a while, energy in our belles and trunks start moving more, resulting in less stagnation, and the lessening of that stagnation leads to less teary fits, less frustrated outbursts. But, the real gift is an ability to process feelings directly, and stay with them. 

For more staying power, I like to combine with aralia (racemosa or Californica). 

Read more: Kiva Rose's article
Found in: Into the deep: Grief support formula

 
3. Some recipes, products and exercises

Recipes: 

Grief support formula (selling a small batch here)
This isn't a formula to lighten the load or to make it heavier, just one to help you inhabit your body and stay grounded and present while going through the grieving process. If you want to be able to go through your daily life without pushing it aside, without forgetting, but at the same time, to let it move, feel, touch the places it needs to touch, and change when it's ready. 

1 part hawthorn flower tincture
1 part rose tincture
1/2 part st. john's wort tincture
1/2 part aralia (californica or racemosa) root tincture
a tiny drop of osha (ligusticum porteri) root


Grief support and movement bath: 

1 part hawthorn leaves and flowers
1 part dried st. john's wort
1 part rose petals
1/4 part dried calamus root

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and throw in all the herbs (I do a cup of each). Simmer for 20 minutes then strain into a bath and let yourself soak. 


Grief support tea: 
1 cup hawthorn leaves and flowers
1 cup hawthorn berries
1 cup rose petals
1 cup st. john's wort 
1/4 cup sage leaf

Mix all the herbs in a jar, shake well and store somewhere cool and dry. To brew: pour a mug of boiling water over a tablespoon of the tea blend. Sweeten to taste. Drink often. 


Here are some formulas from the facebook masses: 

Henriette Kress: Grief releaf. I give elecampane and rose as a tea, milky oats as a tincture, plus rescue remedy. Other herbs as per the person involved. (AND vitamin B plus magnesium -- the stress depletes B something fierce).

Amber Shehan: Depending on the kind of grief...for a supportive *nudge* to allow someone the space to relieve pent-up grief, I've used Motherwort, Oatstraw, and Lavender.

Amy Dadachanji:  vervain, rose and hawthorn

Marcia Hibsch Coppess: Heart's Cry: an elixir of motherwort, milky oats, rose, skullcap and albizia with cacao, cardamom, honey, and brandy.

Dawn Lacska-Tommerdahl: White or pink rose petals, silk tree flowers, rescue remedy (when fresh grief). I also make a spiritual bath tea with marigold flowers, White rose petals, salts and E.O (Blend depends on what else the person needs)

Julie Caldwell: new growth redwood tips collected in the Spring

Zoe Hawes: Anything for the lungs, heart and adrenals. Rose, elecampane, hawthorn, liquorice. When nursing people who are dying the transformation a little morphine could make to ease the release of earthly ties. I like to use California poppy for those who cant let go of the suffering of loved ones now passed.


Some products from good herbalists: 
Grief release (aromatherapy spritzer)
Olwyn's heart elixir
Wholehearted
Hawthorn



An exercise to help you simultaneously feel grief more deeply and detach from it on a personal level: 

I learned this exercise from my teachers in the Maker tradition. It's a beginning exercise to help expand your perception of the world, and since our emotional outlook informs so much of our perception of the world, we change our perception by first separating from our emotion. It also helps you to understand the nature of these emotions in a different way. 

Find somewhere quiet to sit. 

Breathe deeply for about 10 breaths and clear your mind as best as you can from any external stuff. The to-do list, you can pick up after. The conversation you had with someone yesterday, you can think about after too. Let your breath flow in and out of your body and as it does that, let yourself drift a bit, get bigger, relax. 

Then, pull up an emotion. Let's start with fear. Think of something that scares you, and let it MAKE you scared. Make that fear big. Bigger. Bigger still. Until you're practically shaking with fear. If at some point you can drop the thoughts or memories that invoked the fear but let yourself keep feeling the fear, then do so. How does the world look when you feel this way? How does your body feel when you feel this way? 

Once you're shaking with fear, switch to anger. Think of something that makes you angry. Let yourself get angrier, and angrier, until, like before, you're vibrating with it, with rage, with violence. Let it fill you until you want to spill it out of yourself. If you can drop the thoughts that brought on the anger and still feel it, then do that. How does the world look when you feel this way? How does your body feel when you feel this way? 

Then, switch to grief. Think of something that makes you sad. Let it fill you up and spill over you. Get sadder, and sadder. Feel the sadness press on your chest and twist your face with despair. Feel that sadness, that grief, and then drop the thoughts that started the feeling, and look at how the world looks from that place. How does your body feel? What details are you noticing differently? 

Then, switch to joy. Think of something that makes you happy, or a memory that fills you with gratitude. Let it fill you up and bubble out of you. Keep feeling it until you're positively aglow with it. And then drop the thoughts and continue to let it fill you. How does the world look? How does your body feel? 

Then, let all of them drop. 

You can do this in any order. I prefer to do it in the order listed, because if there's any lingering emotional effects I prefer to have it be happy :P. 

You can cycle through them as many times as you like, and do this as often as you need. It helps to teach you emotional detachment, but also to learn more about the nature of the emotions too.



 
4. Shop updates
 
// I N T O   T H E   D E E P  ::  G R I E F  S U P P O R T //

This isn't a formula to lighten the load or to make it heavier, just one to help you inhabit your body and stay grounded and present while going through the grieving process. If you want to be able to go through your daily life without pushing it aside, without forgetting, but at the same time, to let it move, feel, touch the places it needs to touch, and change when it's ready. 



// A R N I C A  +  S N A K E W E E D  S P O R T S  T H E R A P Y // 

This oil is infused with arnica, cottonwood buds, Mexican arnica, snakeweed and goldenrod, then scented with essential oils of poplar, snakeweed, Mexican arnica, Douglas fir, white fir, spruce, rosemary, and eucalyptus. It is a pain-relieving, soothing, healing massage oil for aching muscles and joints. It works amazingly well combined with cupping to reduce inflammation in injured areas (I used various combinations of these herbs in oil for my injured shoulder combined with cupping and it's better than it's been in years). For more information about all the ingredients, click on the listing. 


//  T U L S I  +  A S H W A G A N D H A  C H A I  //
Some of you may remember that I stopped selling a chaga chai because of the ethics surrounding chaga wildcrafting (it's way over-harvested and it's really not sustainable for someone who doesn't live in chaga country (me) to be using it). I've missed my morning chai though, so have been coming up with new variations. 

I'm currently drinking this every morning: a spiced chai blend made with black tea, shatavari, ashwagandha, tulsi and chai spices. The ashwagandha, shatavari, and tulsi are incredibly nourishing and rebuilding to a stressed-out system. The tulsi has added benefits: it uplifts the spirits, brightens the mind, helps regulate the immune system and helps to restore a strong sense of self. This tea is utterly delicious and good morning medicine. 




//  S A G E  C O M P A N I O N  //

I made a small batch of these for the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference this year and have about 10 bottles left. 
A mind-brightening, attention-focusing blend of white sage, black sage, hummingbird sage and tulsi. All harvested fresh (the sages in the wild, the tulsi in a garden), and tinctured in a combination of brandy and organic grain alcohol. This tincture blend tastes delicious and gives the brain and a little jolt of awareness, shifting you to a state where you see and notice more in the world around you. 




//   T U L S I   +   P I N O N   B O D Y   O I L   //

I have 5 bottles leftover from the Tulsi + Pinon surprise box. A luxurious body oil infused with holy basil, pinon resin and pinon needles, then scented with tulsi, pinon, vanilla and sandalwood essential oils. Bright and refreshing.




//   T U L S I  &  P I N O N  S Y R U P   //

This is, quite frankly, the best formula I have ever made. It's sweet, calming, and brightens the spirits. 



//   T U L S I  &  P I N O N  E L I X I R    //

A calming, expansive elixir containing tulsi, pine cone syrup, reishi, hawthorn, and magnolia blossom.
If you've enjoyed this email or found it useful, please share with anyone you think might like it. 

Also, if you have ideas of topics you'd like me to cover, please email me-- I love to hear from you. 
Copyright © 2016 Kings Road Apothecary, All rights reserved.


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