Today’s post continues my long series in land healing (see earlier posts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6), and given the heaviness of the last few weeks of posts, today, I wanted to delve into how to do this healing work and to stay happy, healthy, and sane. Today, I want to explore and voice some of these mental health concerns and share strategies for coping, addressing, and action. And so, in this post, we’ll look first at some challenges to help us frame these overall issues, including the concept of solastalgia, and then we’ll explore a wide range of ways that we can engage in self-care on these issues: Having the tools and cultivating hope, supporting our adrenals and physical bodies with plants, supporting our souls with healing retreats and escapes, daily protective workings, working with the energies of light and life, bardic acts of expression, visiting well-tended places, and talking with it and more. And so, off we go!
There is good cause to talk about the subject of mental health and self-care in regards to the work of land healing–as I shared a bit last week, research is emerging on the mental health implications of living in a rapidly depleting and crumbling world. And that research is only scratching the surface, really, of what people who are spiritually aware of these things and deeply connected with the land really experience!
I recently came across a psychological theory–solastalgia–that sheds great light on today’s subject, so I’ll share it here. Nostalgia is, in the psychological sense, what happens to people who are distant from home and long to return–this often occurs with people who were refugees or other people forced to leave their homes for various reasons (no work, etc). Solastalgia, which was proposed by Albrecht and colleagues in 2007, is a similar phenomenon and describes the stress and mental health issues that people face when experiencing first-hand devastation of their homelands. Through a series of focus groups, interviews, and surveys, they explored how a rural population experienced massive surface mining operations and extreme drought; people who live among and experience large-scale environmental destruction had a range of negative emotions, a disconnection to their sense of place and belonging, descriptions of extreme duress, and a strong sense of powerlessness. This “environmentally induced stress” was particularly difficult to manage because it happened in one’s home environment, every day, and escaping it meant leaving home. They described these chronic stressors as “generally not seen” by mental health professionals or researchers. Although this term was proposed in 2007, it hasn’t gained much traction in the time since and I think that’s a problem. The longer that we pretend this stuff doesn’t affect us, the more problematic it becomes.
I find this concept really useful to explain some of what I’ve been personally experiencing since returning to PA, and I wonder how it plays out not just in the short term, but over time. As an herbalist, I know that short-term stressors can give way to long-term adrenal fatigue, and eventually, adrenal burnout when a person is in a chronic state of prolonged stress that causes depression, apathy, lack of energy, and general ill-health. I sometimes wonder if that’s what is going on here when people have been living for so long in this chronically stressed state. And I think it’s important to realize that even if people aren’t as aware of the specific ecological consequences, this stuff is hard to avoid seeing. These implications are there, I have found, whether or not you are awake and paying attention to what is happening. All of us, on some level, know things are changing and each of us has to find our own way through it. For many, its, as I wrote about two weeks ago, ignoring it and choosing not to see. It’s a self-preservation response to avoid even more stress.I think when you begin to open your eyes, however, and really confront this stuff through land healing, there’s a different kind of level of awareness that takes place. In choosing to see, you also choose to experience. Some of that pain and suffering, invariably, goes within is, and if we aren’t careful, gets lodged there. And so, for the remainder of the post, let’s explore some of those self-care strategies that can really help land healers along!
Supporting our Adrenals and Physical Bodies
On the practical level much of our stress is handled through the body’s automatic nervous system; chronic stress often puts us into a long-term sympathetic nervous system state. (Really, daily life in industrialized cultures in the 21st century does that already, and adding on some of these environmental stressors just pushes it over the edge). Our adrenal glands produce hormones that help our bodies deal with stress, but over time, they weaken and are taxed. Chronic fatigue syndrome can set in if we are not careful; and so, finding ways of reducing the stress and replenishing our adrenals are of critical concern. Reducing the stress and supporting our adrenals has a number of different aspects: we need physical rest and rejuvenation (see below); we need a healthy diet (no caffeine, lots of nutrients and leafy greens); we need to work to reduce stress when possible; and we need plant allies that can help physically and mentally help reduce stress and rejuvenate. I have had a tremendous amount of success with these plant allies in coping with my own stress (from work, from all this stuff) and wanted to share. Here are a few of my favorite plant allies that are easy to grow, local, and abundant for adrenal support and rebuilding:
- Oats / Milky Oats (Avena Sativa): Oats are a gentle, powerful herb and a fantastic restorative, particularly for stabilizing and rebuilding the nervous system. Any oats are tonic and nurturing, but milky oats are most so. Jim McDonald writes in his Nettles, Oats and You: “Regular usage builds up both the structure and function of nervous and adrenal tissue, resulting in a lasting strengthening effect. It is especially well suited to nervous exhaustion due to debilitative nervous system disorders, overwork (mental or physical), drug abuse, or trauma and should be used during nay period of prolonged stress.” Even a bowl of oatmeal can be restorative in this way–and taking oat straw or milky oats is all the better!
- Lemon Balm (Melissa Officinalis): Helps us recover from nervous exhaustion, insomnia, or low spirits. Has a gentle and powerful effect on the central nervous system over time. I find lemon balm a fantastic tea for after land healing work!
- Stinging Nettles (Urtica Dioca): Stinging nettle is a first-rate adaptogen (herb that helps us adapt to stress) that restores the depleted or exhausted adrenal gland. One of the many things they do is shift our bodies from “adrenal mode” (sympathetic nervous system) to a parasympathetic nervous system state. Jim McDonald writes in Nettles, Oats, and You, “I consider it, along with Burdock, one of the most universally beneficial herbs to use as a basis for restoring and maintaining well-being.” Nettle seeds and nettle leaf should be taken consistently, long term. Nettle seeds work a little different than the leaf–the seeds provide stable energy, while the leaf I find is more rebuilding. Yes, they sting–use gloves when you harvest them, and as soon as you cook them even a little, they stop stinging :). They are well worth having a patch in your garden or yard! I have these every day as part of my stress management regimen!
There are many more healing plants for rebuilding the adrenals and reducing stress. Others include astragalus, ashwagandha, schizandra, eleuthero root, wood betony, skullcap, ginseng, blue vervain, passionflower, holy basil, and reishi. (I’ll also mention that my sister and I are in the process of starting a herbal healing blog, so I’ll be posting much more on this subject there and will let you know when I do!).
Supporting our Souls: Healing Retreat Space
Another important thing that you can do is get away from it all, to have a healing retreat and space away from everything else. This needs to be a place that is free of the damage you are seeking to heal as a land healer and from other common stressors. A small spot in a protected state forest, a small garden in your back yard, a camping retreat, a quiet spot in a park–somewhere that you can go and simply enjoy being in nature, in its regenerated state. This stuff can wear and grate on you, and you need respite from it. I think that’s part of why this concept of solastalgia is so useful to think through–the reason it’s so bad is that you can’t get away from it, and once you are conscious you need to do so, you can seek ways of responding.
Daily Protective Workings
A daily protective magical working is critical to helping you maintain your balance as a land healer or simply as a person, awake and alive, in today’s times. Most modern esoteric traditions offer some kind of protective working. The primary one that I use comes from the AODA, which is called the Sphere of Protection. I really love this ritual–it takes about 5 minutes a day, and it does a number of key things: invoking positive qualities of the elements, banishing negative qualities of the elements, connecting to the three currents, and creating a sphere of protection around the physical, etheric, and astral body. I wrote about it more extensively for our first issue of Trilithon, which is now available freely online here. It’s a ritual that takes some time to learn; the best place to learn it is in either of John Michael Greer’s books: The Druidry Handbook or The Druid Magic Handbook. I can give a brief synopsis of it here, however.
First, the Druid begins by invoking the four power (in some form: elements, deities, archangels, etc) and physically and
energetically forming an Elemental Cross while standing facing north. Second, the Druid invokes the four elemental gateways by invoking the positive qualities of the four elemental energies (Air, Fire, Water, Earth) and banishing the negative qualities of those elements in each of the four quarters. As the druid does this, she moves through each of the quarters, drawing symbolism for each of the directions, calling in each element verbally, and using visual components. And then she does the same thing as she banishes to drive away negativity. The Druid then invokes the remaining three gateways: the telluric current (Spirit Below), the solar current (Spirit Above), and the lunar current (Spirit Within)
using language, action, and visualization. The final part of the SOP draws upon these seven energies and circulates light in a protective sphere. This protective sphere is most typically placed around a person.
If the SOP doesn’t float your boat, you can do other kinds of rituals. A good one is the Summoning or Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram (you want to alternate between summoning and banishing in order to achieve balance in your life). Be aware that not all daily rituals that druid orders offer are protective: OBOD’s light body exercise is a rejuvenating and energizing ritual and is extremely useful in its own right, but it is not protective in nature. I like to use it in conjunction with the SOP or when I’m doing other kinds of work, but I don’t depend on it to keep the gunk off of me as I go throughout my daily living!
Working with Energies of Light and Life
One of the other things that are important to keep in mind is the balance of life and death, of light and darkness. We have both in our lives, and certainly, if you are doing land healing work (particularly the kind I talked about last week) you will see your fair share of pain and darkness. You can’t be doing the hard work of palliative care, working with sites that will be destroyed and other forms of land healing constantly or it will fatigue you. It’s important that you go to the spaces that are abundant, and alive and rejuvenate your energies there. It’s important that you take frequent breaks from this work to balance your energies. I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing everything as destroyed or damaged–and depending on where you live, the balance of those things may be off–but there are always places where it isn’t so. Even focusing on the dandelions growing up out of the sidewalk, rejuvenating compacted soil, and bringing the blessings of healing medicine, is so important!
Embrace the magic of the spring, of the seed, and of the promise of rebirth and life. Grow some sprouts or start some seeds. Keep a garden. Bring in light into your physical home and life–open the windows, embrace the sun. If you work with deities, make sure you work with some that focus on life and living. If you do yearly celebrations, you do all of them and use the spring holidays for your own healing and rejuvenation.
Bardic Arts and Creative Expression
Of course, spending time cultivating your own creative gifts can be a source of healing energy and life–and is a critical balance for you if you are engaging in difficult healing work. I especially like to do this through my painting and eco-printing work–I like to bring in the energies of life and light, and paint them in ways that help others embrace the energies of the earth. I wrote about this much more extensively in my post on permaculture and self-care.
Visiting Well-Tended and Well-Loved Natural Spaces
Another excellent balance for this more difficult land healing work is to spend time visiting places where humans are cultivating the land carefully, meaningfully, and with love. This is another way to bring light and life back into your life and help drive away from the darkness. Any small organic family farm often fits this bill, as do places like botanical gardens, nature sanctuaries, retreat centers, botanical sanctuaries, permaculture design sites, and more. Time spent here, even a few hours, can really help you remember that lots of good people are doing good healing work in the world, and helping keep the scales balanced.
Talking About It with Others
Just speaking about your feelings, especially surrounding the stuff that I opened this post with, I believe is a really important part of our own healing work. We have to, as Joanna Macy suggests, come to terms with what is happening, be able to voice our grief and pain about what we see, and find ways forward. JMG talks about this as going through the stages of grief and working toward acceptance–and we do need to do that inner work. I have found that talking to others about this really, really helps move me forward. I know I’m not alone. I know that others share my concerns, feel what I feel, and there is a great release! (I think we even do some of this here, on the blog, for those that are scattered at a distance!)
Having the Tools in Hand and Embracing the Power of Hope
Being in the mindest of hope and having the tools is another especially important part of this self-care practice. I think that a lot of us feel powerless, disempowered, and hopeless, and that is the worst thing. That kind of thinking leads you down a dark path that you do not want to walk. Instead, I encourage you to focus on the power of hope even as you go about healing the destruction of others. A personal example, here, might best illustrate this point. As I frequently write on this blog, my primary way forward has been through my integration of many sustaining and regenerative practices that fall under my path of druidry: permaculture design, wildcrafting and wildtending, land healing, herbalism, ritual, and celebration, inhabiting the world gently, and more. I have found that the more I focus on the good I can do, the better I feel. I think I was at my lowest with this stuff around 2008-2010, before I discovered and began practicing permaculture and herbalism. As a druid that had been waking up and paying attention for a few years at that point, I was hit with the enormity of it all, but I had lacked the tools for change, lacked a lot of the healing approaches of any kind (physical or spiritual). And so, instead, I kind of brooded on it, thought about it a lot, sat with it, but didn’t know what to do. I think my original edition of the Tarot of Trees book really reflects that state of mind: I wrote an introduction that was kind of demoralizing and talked about what was happening like a giant wave that nobody could stop–I was painting the trees in honor of the ones that had been cut. Consequently, when I re-released the Tarot of Trees 3rd edition earlier this year, I created a new card called “regeneration” and rewrote a good deal of the opening of the book to reflect that hope and renewed perspective. I give this example because the difference in what I wrote, and how I thought, had everything to do with the empowering tools of hope–and I found those tools through integrating my spiritual practice of druidry with the practical tools of permaculture. I was now doing something, something that was making a difference, and that was incredibly important. Melancholia strikes us all at times about this stuff–but it’s about not staying in that space that can help us keep moving forward.
Ultimately, a lot of what I share on this blog in a response to all of this–the power of doing something. I talked about the implications of doing something in my post earlier this year, on making a difference, and how it’s the act of trying, of exerting effort, that really is key for our own growth. It heals us, it heals our lands, and it helps, I believe, brighten our very souls. My solution to the solastalgia, to the destruction, is to do what I can to build a better today and a brighter tomorrow and to equip myself with the best tools to do so: the esoteric and spiritual practices of druidry, the knowledge and ethics of permaculture, and a smattering of other good stuff: ecology, herbalism, natural building, playing in the mud, painting trees, community activism, and more. I hope you’ll continue with me on this journey–because more land healing posts–and a lot of other things–are to follow!