Podcast 115: Rebecca Altman & The Wonder Sessions
Join us for a discussion with our friend Rebecca Altman about the importance of self-awareness in the practice of herbalism – but also an exploration of vulnerability and in rebuilding our connection to the natural world.
Some of the things we discuss are what it means to take responsibility for our health, how to build trust for experimenting in our lives, and the trouble with living in a society that prioritizes productivity over curiosity and wonder. We also focus on the importance of allowing ourselves to start from scratch and learn slowly, and to cultivate ever-expanding relationships with plants, instead of “knowledge” about them. These are important issues for any herbalist to explore, and especially for those interested in clinical practice.
Mentioned in this episode:
- Wonder Botanica – get on Rebecca’s newsletter today, so you can be notified as soon as enrollment is open for the next round of The Wonder Sessions!
- The Holistic Herbalism Podcast, episode 65: How To Not Be A Guru
- Herbalism and the Law: The Practice of Medicine in Massachusetts
As always, please subscribe, rate, & review our podcast wherever you listen, so others can find it more easily. Thank you!!
Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.
Hi, I’m Katja.
And I’m Ryn.
And we’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.
And I’m Rebecca Altman coming to you from Idyllwild, California.
And we’re all on the internet, everywhere. Thanks to the power of the podcasts.
Sothis is our lovely friend Rebecca. And Rebecca also teaches awesome herby goodness and to be honest, makes the best herbal products on the planet. And you can’t get them anymore because she has recently changed her, her focus of her work. And that’s actually what we’re going to talk about today. So Rebecca started teaching this amazing class called the Wonder Sessions or course, I guess. It’s not one class, it’s like a whole series. And we can talk about that a little bit more in a minute. But as we were having a conversation about it, she made some comment that was sort of like Oh, and now this is kind of more herbalism adjacent. Because this course really focuses on building self awareness and things that one of our mentors, Paul Bergner would call self-mastery. Like really knowing yourself deeply and, and being aware of how you are in the world. She will say it better than that. But for the purpose of this we were talking and I was like, that is not adjacent to herbalism. In my mind, that is like the primary work of herbalism. That is the like – do not pass go, do not collect any plants – like part of the herbal journey. And so that’s what we wanted to talk about today.
Yeah. So Rebecca, maybe you could talk a little bit about that transition. What drove you to that.
About the transition, the course itself had been brewing in, like it had been percolating there in the back of my mind for a very long time. And I think I had probably wanted to start teaching it about five years before I actually did. And I’m actually so glad I didn’t five years before, because I was so and no way ready to teach this course five years before I wanted to. And that sort of actually brings up an interesting point to me about percolation time and how long some things actually take to get to the point where they’re ready. But it was I’m going to be completely honest about this, it started off as one thing. And I had originally envisioned it as like a year long course that guides people into a deeper connection with the natural world. And I launched the course. A lot of people signed up. Then I started writing the course. And it was the kind of thing that if I had waited until it was done before launching it, I would never have written it. So I was just like, am I allowed to swear on this podcast?
Okay. So I was just like, fuck it. I’m doing it because I’m doing it. And I wasn’t a) expecting as many people to sign up and b) I had such a clear idea of where it was going. And then when I started writing it, I was like, Oh, this isn’t… like it’s not coming out the way I thought it was going to come out at all. And it was like I had agreed with the natural world around me to express this thing. And my brain had thought it was going to be one thing. And as it started coming out I was like, Oh shit, first of all, this isn’t a year long course. Like there are some things that I need to face in myself before I can even express this. And so the first six months or so of writing this course turned into me going through the gauntlet of my own life. And like, you think you can teach this? Haha! Let’s see how you feel about it, really. You think you can teach this. Oh, here’s a nice test for you. It’s like, Hmmm. You want to pain? We’ll give you pain. And so it turned into this thing that I had no idea that it was going to become. A we’re now, it’s been two years. I’m about to launch it for the third year, and I still don’t fully know how to describe it. All I know is that it is now a two year journey that sort of guides people on an internal journey into discovering their own ability to receive and feel joy, and feel connection with the natural world and connection with other people, and to let the world in. But also an internal journey to sort of like clear out all of the things that get in the way of us seeing how alive the world around us is. And how we are such a deeply connected part of it. Like it’s not us and nature, and it doesn’t matter where we are, it’s like we are a part of nature and a part of the growing natural world. And that is as apparent in a big city as it is when you’re out in the wilderness. And it’s like, like a city to me is such an amazing expression of wildness that I love it so much. And so it’s like this thing where it’s sort of like weaving our place back into the fabric of nature in a way so that we are a part of it. And that is a long journey because it involves undoing all of the societal programming that we’ve had our whole lives that make us feel separate from it and superior to it and in control of it and in control of ourselves and in control of our own lives. And like we have any clue or understanding of the big picture. So it’s this big thing. And for the first two years I was doing that and writing it and teaching it, at the same time as I was making products and shipping products and marketing products and doing all of this stuff. And it was a lot of work. It was a lot of work. And when my husband and I moved up here to Idyllwild, we were living in Los Angeles for 10 years. And we moved up here just over a year ago, and I find the perfect little shop space to keep manufacturing my products. And everything was perfect on the surface. And then I started hitting like roadblocks left and right where it was like I couldn’t find help and I needed help desperately. And then like, we had five feet of snow for so long and I couldn’t get to the post office, and people were like, where the hell is my order? And I’m like, I can’t, I’m sorry, like we don’t have mail delivery right now. And then we had floods and lost all of our roads. And then we had like a fire and were evacuated. It was so much that after awhile I was just like, either I get my super stubborn Scorpio hat on and like double down on this. That’s the right usage of double down?
Knowing When it’s Time to Change
Okay. I say the wrong idiom all the time. Or I just let it go and focus on the thing that I actually want to be doing full time, which is teaching and spending time with my students and writing. Because that really has been what I’ve been wanting to do for so long. And I was like, alright, it’s time. So
Rebecca, I wonder if maybe so that was like there was a thing that you were doing. You were trying to do a bunch of stuff. You realized that you couldn’t do both and then you said, okay, time to change. But I think maybe it didn’t quite happen like that. I think maybe that there was like a long period of like wrestling with that decision. Is that true or did it really turn around?
It might be that the wrestling happened before the decision.
The wrestling happened before the decision. I think it’s just a personality trait of mine that once a decision is made, there’s no more wrestling. However, I think for a few years I had been wondering if I wanted to be making products forever. I think there’s a thing that happens when you’re good at something where you feel like, but this is what I should be doing. And when you’re successful at something, there’s also like, why would you…
How could you give this up?
How do you give up something that’s doing well. And I remember, maybe it was when I started writing the wonder sessions, and I said to my husband that like, my dream would be to write full time. And to be teaching full time and like having this group of students and we’re so close and so it’s just so beautiful like our interactions. And I said, yeah, that’s my dream to have that full time. But I was like, you know, financially, I don’t know if I’ll ever get to that place, so. And then, so I think it had been in the back of my mind. But like I had been wanting to make that transition. And then when all of these roadblocks came up and my husband was like, you know what you said you wanted to be doing full time. And so yeah, I think that the biggest part of the struggle for me was that I’d found the perfect place. And I had set it up to be like the perfect manufacturing space. I had a six foot giant manufacturing table and it’s sink. And like everything was very well organized, a very well organized space. And so that was hard for me I think, because I do tend to place a lot of meaning in things in life. And so I’d say why would I find a perfect place? If it was only meant to be my perfect place for a year and to have so much struggle as well. So that was my biggest mental thing to get around. And then I was actually chatting to a friend of mine and she was like, but you would have had in the back of your mind like what could have happened? Beause I’ve always like had this, I want a shop space, I want a shop space, I want a shop space. So quitting before trying it meant I would have always been questioning. So I think that sometimes you just need to try something to know you don’t want it. And that became clear very quickly. And if hadn’t been the perfect place, it would have always been, but it wasn’t the perfect place. So maybe if I’d had the perfect place, it’s sort of like, I don’t know, it’s like any kind of relationship where if you don’t try everything then you don’t know for sure. And then you’ve always got like lingering tendrils. Yeah. So I tried everything and I was like, no, this is good. And ending on a note before I got resentful. I think …
Pretty great when you can do that.
Yeah. But also I think sometimes like it’s hard to kill your… I was about to say babies, but that doesn’t sound right.
Darlings, there we go. Thank you.
Yeah. Something that you have like grown and nurtured and you know, it was a thing that didn’t exist before, before and now it does. And you put all that energy into it and then being able to say it’s time to stop now. That’s a thing.
It’s a thing. There’s something really exciting and nerve wracking and empowering and devastating about it all at once. It’s pretty great. I’d highly recommend it.
Let’s Just Go
I was really interested by what you said about having made the idea for the course, and then marketed it, and got a bunch of people enrolled, and then sitting down to write it. Because that idea gives me hives. And we do that all the time. And it gives me hives all the time. The idea that it’s like, but we haven’t actually made the entire thing and completed it and gotten all of the supplementary materials into there as well before we sell it to anybody. And Katja is often like, we just have to keep moving. Let’s just go.
Well, you know, we had a similar experience also because I wanted to start our online program three full years before I could convince him that we really should do it. And, I, too am glad that we didn’t do it before we did it because a lot of things grew in those three years that really meant that when we actually launched it, it was perfect. Like, okay, maybe not perfect because there’s definitely things I want to add already. But it was like, it was really ready for this format in a way that it hadn’t… It would have been fine if we had done it three years earlier, but it wouldn’t have been awesome. And this is awesome.
We think it’s pretty good.
I feel thrilled. I feel thrilled with the work that we’re doing. Right? And that’s where the awesome is. Like, I hope that the people who receive it also are very thrilled with it. But, I feel thrilled it, I want to be doing it. I am excited about everything that goes into it.
Yeah. Just the idea of like, you have to already be doing the thing before you can know fully whether it’s actually the right thing. That’s scary sometimes. But it does seem to be true, over and over again.
Yeah. It’s true. It’s really vulnerable and because people are paying you for it as well. There’s an element of responsibility there that is a great responsibility.
And so that is, yeah, that’s a huge thing. There’s a lot of pressure there. And I think temperament wise had I not had such like a choleric streak that makes me like, Ooh, pressure?
I will rise to this. Yeah. I could see different temperaments would either thrive or collapse under that just depending. But I think also there’s the reality of this world that we live in, where we don’t all have the luxury of the time to write something before marketing it. And I’ve spoken to a few different herbalists about this and they’re like, you know, I’ve never written a course before selling it because just financially I literally couldn’t do that. And there’s, I think this is something that’s really important to take into account. Like, you know, in an ideal world of course most of us would want to, you know, spend 10 years getting something to the point where we’re actually able to put it out into the world. And then have people want to sign up for it or read it or whatever it is that we’re doing. But we don’t sort of live in a, I’ll say artist supportive world. Because I think that there is an element of artistry to whatever it is that we’re doing. It just doesn’t work like that. Which, do either of you watch Grand Designs?
Don’t know that one.
Okay. On Netflix, it’s a British TV show where they follow people building their own houses basically. The reason I bring it up is that I saw two episodes back to back. And one was an engineer who had drawn up all of his designs for the house, so specifically that the house was made. And it was perfect. And it was beautiful because it was built in a Fibonacci spiral and it was like an amazing house. And I thought, wow, that’s such a good example of a choleric expression of something and moving forward unrestricted. It was beautiful. And then immediately after that I watched one where it was a melancholic men who built a house for his family, and refused to use any materials that he hadn’t found on his own land. And he did everything by hand, like to the point where like posts, he would like hand carve, the whatever you call them that go around the top of the posts. He had made all of the doors. He had made all of the hinges that held the doors on with wood. It took him 10 years to build this house. And it was like, by the time they show back up, like the show took 10 years, the guy kept going back. The presenter kept going back every year and being like, are you done yet? And he’s like, no, but we just put in a window. And his wife and kids were all living in like a little one room house on the property basically, that he thought it was going to take one year. And so they’re like, this is fine. We’ll live in this house for a year. And it ended up being 10 years. The kids were teenagers by the point he was done. And I remember like the presenter asked his wife like, how do you feel about it? She’s like, I trust him. It’s going to get done and it’s going to be perfect. And I was just like, that to me was this perfect example of what we don’t have as a society, which is space for artists to create according to their vision. And it was, I mean, like it moved me to the point where I’m still talking about it a year after watching it and still like, have you seen Grand Designs?
What’s interesting to me about that though is, especially as it relates to the work that we’re doing, that all of us are doing is that the melancholic guy who built his house over 10 years, he had to have had a lot of skills. To Intricately carve things and to be able to make his own hinges. And maybe there were some things that he didn’t know how to do when he started and he learned along the way. But clearly there were a lot of things that he already had the skill to do. And so the work was the journey. The production of the home was the journey, but he had prepared himself for that journey. Even though the journey took 10 years, he was fully prepared. He had the tools, he had the skill of using the tools. He knew where the materials were coming from. He had sourced the materials, right? Even if maybe he hadn’t harvested them all yet, he had sourced them. So I think there’s a lot of parallel in that because when we talk about like that we have things that we teach that maybe we haven’t written yet. When it’s straight up herbalism, I mean, Ryn and I have been teaching for 10 years and now we’re putting that material online. And of course as we do it, we’re rewriting it because we’re like, Oh, this could be better. That could be better. Oh, we have some time. We have extra time. So we can add in these other things that we can’t do when we’re in person because we run out of time every time. But all that skill set is still there. And I think that’s true on your side too. That this is not the first time you’re doing this work. Like your whole life has been about rounds and rounds and rounds of this kind of processing work. So you have the tools, you have the materials. And what people are trusting you to do is to assemble them in a way to create a journey for them. And that is a journey for you. But you’re walking into the situation with the integrity of your skills, even if creating the end product means that you have to go through several more rounds with those skills.
Can I just say Whoa, like your ability to do that. Well done. Yes, totally. And I feel like there’s you know that phrase, when you teach, you learn twice.
I think it also has to do with that. Like, you know this stuff. And then when you go to actually put it out into the world in a way that is like not just repackaging it but like combining it with other things. It’s like we learn one thing and then another thing and then we sort of combine points in a way that is going to make sense to the people who are called to be our students. In a way that speaks to them. But it’s like in order to combine all these things that we learn, it’s like you do have to in a way learn it again.
Or being able to express it. And I think there’s something to that as well. Like in order to be able to teach something, like you don’t just need to know it. But you need to have embodied it in a way that makes it easy to communicate, which is so different to just knowing something.
Yeah. Like in order to teach something, you have to learn it and then you need to live it. But in order to do that, you kind of have to unravel it because the way that you receive it is the language and the methodology of the person who gave it to you. Then you have to unravel the whole thing, put it into your own language, not just your spoken language, but your body language, your life language, and then live it. And you think, great, I can say it now, because I’ve really synthesized all of that into my life. And then you start talking and you realize…
Yes. That’s exactly it.
If all you do is pass it on in your life language, now, yeah. So you’re like passing on something that’s synthesized. And no matter how well you create something to pass on, then your students still will have to break it all down, synthesize it into something that becomes their life language.
Right. Yeah. For us, I think for a long time, but it feels more acute lately, we’ve been thinking a lot about ways to emphasize for our students that they need to do that work too. Right. Especially the ones who want to go into practice as herbalists, or even like whatever they’re going to do with the knowledge. They can’t just get it from us and have it. They need to encounter it in like the full depth of what that word could mean to encounter something.
And they need to work through it and move through it and see what comes from that. And it might not look anything like what we do with it.
The Living Being of Herbalism
Totally. Especially with herbalism. Like our field is like this living being that you step inside or maybe step onto its shoulders or something. Maybe it’s just like you’re hitching a ride on the back of an Ent. And and so if in herbalism you just regurgitate what you learned from your teacher, then you’re not really stepping inside it at all, because I think we are lucky enough to have chosen this path. But to me it is so much more than just like information about plants. And I think for most of us it’s so much more than information about plants. It’s about connection and it’s about ourselves and it’s about healing. And it’s about this deep societal wound that has fucked up the planet for so long. Like there’s so many nuances to this field that we’re a part of, and this community that we’re a part of. And so I think it’s really, it’s an incredible living being that yes, we each have our own little, I think it’s a living being that expands based on whoever joins it. And so everyone who joins it is going to feel like, I want to learn from that person. I want to learn from that person. I want to learn from that person and that person and that approach. And then all of a sudden their own section of this beast emerges and it’s this growing thing.
So now we’re to self-mastery. Right. And as you were talking, I was thinking like, great, once you learn all about herbalism, you’re not ready yet. You need to go get sick. Right.
Don’t say that to people.
If you don’t ever, like one of our students in the community herbalist program this year got mono really bad in the middle of the year. And it was amazing because she had to, I mean, it’s really inconvenient to get mono as an adult. Like you have to go to work and stuff except you can’t. And so her need to synthesize what she was learning was enormous. And her relationship with the material changed drastically because of that illness. And so I kind of feel like if you’re a person who’s never been sick as an herbalist… Like some people are like, well you’re an herbalist, why do you get sick? No, no, you’ve got to get sick, or like you’d never have a chance to do this work. And that’s true on one hand, but there’s the other part of it that is the self-awareness, the internal work. And we don’t have to get sick to do that cause we all already have it. Like our society is already so deep with schism from nature that we all already carry that sickness. And it’s that work that is the other side of the sniffly nose, you know, or the whatever, the creaky joints, whatever the physiology.
Whatever it is. Yeah, it’s an interesting thing. I’m like a nebulous thought person. I don’t know if you knew this already.
We noticed that about you.
Teachers and Vulnerability
So there’s like, I live in Southern California, which is the land of like bright eyed, bushy tailed, I have limitless energy and unstoppable sex drive and I’m super successful. And I’ve manifested everything I want in my own life. And my life is so perfect and I sell these supplements, which is basically how I got here. And there’s this veneer of perfection that a lot of people strive for. And I think so many people feel like the path, whatever the path is, is the path to escape suffering, or to escape the possibility of anything bad ever happening in your life. And so when you see your teachers, who are human and experience vulnerability. When you see them experiencing that, it can make some people be like, what? But I thought I was getting out of this. And I think that is exacerbated by this perfection veneer society where people reach a certain point, and start hiding their struggles. And a friend of mine, she’s a yoga teacher. Her name’s Angela Jamison. And she wrote an amazing, amazing article. And she was talking about yoga, but I think it applies everywhere. And her article was about celebrity versus relationship. And she said, we live in a celebrity culture where we want to put people on pedestals and look up to them and be just like them. And there is no vulnerability there. And inevitably when you put someone on a pedestal, they will fall. And that creates this power dynamic where you’re like, I have nothing. You have everything. And I want to be just like you. And it’s this terrible thing that we all do. We don’t all do. But it’s a very common thing in society that people do in order to avoid the messiness of relationship, and the vulnerability and the stickiness and all of that stuff. But it’s so isolating.
Like on both sides actually. Yeah. It’s isolating to be a teacher and to have that done to you. And it’s isolating to be a student and to do that to yourself, you know, to be like, Oh, I will never be like that. And it does set up a situation where there’s a lot of fear to be vulnerable, but also there’s so much need. I mean, it’s why I talk about cake all the time. Like it’s a dumb thing. But…
No, I mean I think if I could get people to listen to one thing that we’ve ever made, it would be this podcast episode we had called How to Not to be a Guru. Because we think that that’s important, to actively work to achieve as any kind of a teacher. But even more so when the things that you’re teaching do have to do with improving people’s health or helping them to, you know, achieve more self mastery or more self awareness or something like that. So I’m sure this is something that you must deal with a lot is like students maybe coming in with the idea that you’re going to solve all their problems for them by teaching them your secret skills. And then they’re not going to have these problems anymore. And now they can just do what Rebecca says and everything will be fine. Do you have that?
Like you can self master yourself out of suffering.
You can self master yourself out of suffering. Wouldn’t that be amazing? I don’t, hang on, I want to see if I’m like trying to avoid noticing something because it’s uncomfortable. I don’t know if I’ve had that yet, but I think I make such a big effort from the beginning to be like, Hey, I am human. And I think I’ve in a way been kind of lucky that, not lucky that I screwed up so much, but I’ve been so honest about like, Hey, I thought this course was going to be one thing and it’s not, and I’m so sorry. Because like, so I sort of started on this very human note where I’m like, I have no idea what I’m doing. But I am being guided by something else here and like I’ve sort of tried to make very clear from the very beginning that it has nothing to do with me. Like I’m more like a conduit for information and I happen to have been through some shit, so I’m quite good at helping other people through their own shit, but not through giving them advice. But just being like, I am here. And you were okay and you can feel this. And when you feel this, you will know what to do. And sort of like handing it right back over, because I have no desire to be the person responsible for another person’s journey. Like that’s messy and gross.
Being Responsible for Your Own Journey
And it doesn’t serve them anyway. No, that’s like, at that point, it’s just like health care. Like every state in the United States regulates the definition of medicine, the practice of medicine a little bit differently. But in Massachusetts, the legal definition of the practice of medicine actually includes the words.
yeah, it’s to assume responsibility for the maintenance of human health by encouraging their reliance upon the doctor’s knowledge and skill.
Right? Isn’t that gross?
Oh, I’ve met chiropractors who do that.
And that’s what our culture says is that you should rely on a doctor to tell you what’s wrong with you. That you should rely on a doctor to make you healthy. And I’m not saying that there’s, I mean, obviously there’s a huge place for conventional medicine. And there’s so much stuff that they do that’s really important, but I need to rely on myself. And I want practitioners who help me to rely on myself. Who give me the tools that I need, whatever kind of practitioner it is. I want someone to give me the tools that I need to be self-reliant. Not to encourage me to be reliant on them. And especially when you’re doing work in self-awareness, you can’t become self aware if you’re relying on somebody else for the journey.
No. It’s this strange thing. I think such a huge part of the societal wound has to do with disempowerment in the first place. And we learn from such a young age to hand over our freewill and to listen to adults. And even if it’s, you know, even if we don’t agree, we’re supposed to just like toe the line and do what we’re told. And so we learn to do this. Don’t get me started on school. And so it’s an interesting thing where a lot of people have a really, really hard time with it, because it feels like it’s like, it goes against people’s deepest survival mechanisms to start to stand in their own power. So it is, it’s something I have a lot of compassion for because it’s something that I’ve struggled with as well. And so it’s not, I recognize that it’s not always easy for people to just sort of be like, okay, I know my own answers now. But I think it’s so beautiful to see people go on that journey and start to discover that they have their own answers. Or even if they don’t have their own answers, that they’re comfortable with not having answers.
So, you know, given that this is something that people aren’t really trained to do in our culture, how do you teach them to do it? Where do you start?
Well, I have a course.
Yeah. You’re not planning to give away your secrets here, obviously, but…
No, I’m saying you can sign up for the Wonder Sessions…no, I’m kidding. But also, where to start. Can I take a minute to organize my thoughts before I just start talking?
I actually, I have a few thoughts on this too, and I don’t want to talk because I want to give you space to think, but I’m also very excited.
So this is work that again, we’re coming back to like the physiological and the other part. They’re not other parts. They’re the same part, but whatever. Because it is the same work whether you’re learning to stand in your own power and hold your own integrity and authority for emotional health, like for self awareness. It’s the same skill to stand in your own power for your physical health. And it’s scary. It’s really scary because as soon as you say, yes, I do take responsibility for my own health. Now if you’re sick, like there’s nobody but you. And that isn’t ever true because there’s always other people. Like taking responsibility doesn’t mean that you can’t ask for help. It just means that you have to notice that you’re eating Oreos and is that okay for you right now? Like you have to make those decisions or whatever. That’s the idea that came to my mind because I’m always thinking about sugary treats. And so that work, that fear of like, how do I decide if it’s safe for me to take care of myself or if I need to go get help. How do I decide if when I go and ask for help, I agree with what they said. How do I sit in consultation with a practitioner, whatever kind of practitioner it is, and make good choices about do I think that what they’re recommending is right for me and my body right now? And that it takes practice, it takes practice and also, so it takes practice to say I’m not certain that I know the right answer. But I see where I would like to go and I’m going to try it. And then also it takes practice to take the risk to try it. And to like break down the community or the social construct that we have that you have to know the right answer before you try something. That instead, the only thing there ever is, is trying something and then finding out afterwards if it was right or not. And if it wasn’t right, that might mean that there’s more suffering than there would have been if you had tried something else first. And that is it. That’s the responsibility is taking responsibility for, yeah, I might pick the wrong thing. I might bet tons of education from lots of practitioners and then the choice might come down to me. And I might pick the wrong choice, and that’s okay.
Returning to a State of Trust
To develop on that, you know the thing that happens when a person is traumatized, where play goes out the window and life becomes about survival. And when life is about survival, making the right choice is really important because it has to do with life or death. So what if as a society in general, we are actually traumatized by the way society is structured. And because it is not set up for any of us to exist in a way that is supportive to our deeper wilder natures. And you know, some of us more than others, some of us less than others, but society isn’t set up for any of us really to thrive. So what if we are all in some way or another traumatized, and therefore we all sort of have this idea that we need to get it right because it does feel like survival. And one of the things that I believe and see in people is in returning to a state of trust and being able to explore a little. It is not only really, really nice because it makes fun of life. And you know, there’s definitely something to being able to be in this state of like exploration and curiosity, even when it has to do with suffering or pain or physical sensations or emotional things going on. To just be like, Oh, this is curious. I’m interested in this. But that getting to that place means a sort of, it’s like a simultaneous healing of the societal traumas inflicted on us, inflicted on us or by us to each other or whatever. And that I think that space is the space that we sort of need to move forwards from. And it is a leap into the unknown because it does mean trusting life. Trusting that you’re going to be okay. And trusting that you have the reserves to handle things. But it makes such a big difference when it comes to trying things, because you’re no longer trying something with a need for it to be right first time. But you’re trying something with the, let’s see how this goes. And it’s such a different approach.
It’s like children, right? Like children don’t think about whether or not they’re resilient. They know they are. And so if they fall down, they scrape their knee, they, whatever, it’s sad for a minute and they go on. But we get into this place where we have to get it right. We feel like there isn’t this, we don’t have the resilience. We do. We don’t trust that we do. And we don’t feel it physiologically. We don’t feel the resilience sometimes because we’re so depleted by stress and by chronic crud. That would be the technical term.
That that we genuinely don’t feel that our bodies have that resilience and we don’t know how to rebuild it. But then also we don’t believe that we have the resilience to experiment because like, even from everyday stress and everything else, like emotionally, we don’t have those reserves either. The thing is that doing that experimentation is what builds the resilience. But it’s scary to try it because you think I need resilience to try. Because what if it doesn’t work? But trying it is what will get your resilience. And it’s like, argh!
Yeah. And the only answer to that is baby steps.
It’s like you have to take a tiny step and be like, Oh, I’m okay. Wow, I’m okay. And then another one.
Will that work again?
I’m okay. I’m okay. And that’s how you build your trust muscle is through actually doing it. And I think that a lot of people have this idea that it has to be a giant dramatic step. Like Oh. So if I had to name a movie that would not be appropriate,
It’s like, I’m going to go to herb school. I’m going to get in my cocoon. And while I’m in my cocoon, I’m in herb school. And when I come out I will be my beautiful transformed butterfly and it’s like, no, it’s going to be a mess.
Being Perfect in Our Messiness
It’s going to be a mess, That’s what it’s like to be a mess. Like please be a mess. I think like it goes back to that striving for perfection thing where I feel like, like we are perfect in our messiness. Beautiful. And this idea that we’re always on a journey. And we’re always on route somewhere. And so I, I feel like, I don’t know, because I’ve never spoken to her. But I would guarantee that Oprah wakes up some mornings and it’s like, what the hell am I doing? Like I would guarantee it because it’s human and she’s a human who’s constantly growing and trying new things. And that’s like, we look at other people and we’re like, God, they’re not a mess. And on the inside they’re like, what the hell am I doing? Why did I do that? Oh my goodness. I can’t believe I said that. There is no one who on the inside feels like they’re perfect. And if they do, they’re missing something. But and so I think it’s very interesting that we have been taught to compare ourselves to each other’s outsides when it’s like that doesn’t say anything. And it sets us up for this horrendous comparison game where we’re comparing ourselves to something that isn’t real. Stupid
Students or clients will come and they’ll be like, Oh, you’re going to be so disappointed in me because I did my whole 30 for three days and then I ate a piece of pie. And I’m like, are you kidding? You did science. This is great. You have data. This is wonderful. Or like, Oh, you’re going to be disappointed because I got sick and I tried to fix it with herbs and it wasn’t working and I went to the doctor. And I’m like, I’m thrilled because you made a choice to support your health in the way that felt right and best to you in that moment. That’s perfect. Like you don’t lose your herbalism card just because you went to the doctor. Because that was the thing that you needed to do in that moment.
Right. And guess what? That is going to make you such a good practitioner because next time, you say to someone you need to do the whole 30. You’re going to be like, how do I help this person do the whole 30. How can I tell someone to do this when I couldn’t do it? Guess who never tells someone to try food elimination diets. I think I tried dairy once and it was like, I think after a month everyone in my life was like, please stop talking to me about milk. Stop it. I don’t care that you miss it. I don’t care if you miss cheese.
That’s why I tell people so much about how much I love cake. Because it isn’t that it’s easy for me to be gluten free. It’s that it’s serious for me to not be gluten free. And so hard or not, I have to do it, which is why I have so many recipes for gluten free cake.
Yeah, it’s really important. It’s really like, it’s actually impossible to succeed if you don’t fill that craving spot, whatever it is. But it’s not about, it’s easy for you or it’s too hard for me. It’s about finding that path between like your own awareness of what you need to do and whatever tricks it takes to help you succeed with that.
Yes. Totally. And I, I think there’s this assumption, and I think this applies across the board. Like it’s not just with foods. And it’s not just with teaching or learning or the path of self development or whatever you call it. But there’s this idea that when you see other people do it, then it must be easy for them. Like I remember I had a yoga teacher who used to just do like astonishing things. And I remember I said something like, Oh, but it’s easy for you. And she was like, I came to this broken. Like I had been hit by a car and could barely move. So when you say that it’s easy for me, that is really like denying her own journey and also making it seem like it is something that’s out of reach for me. And I think there’s something really interesting about that where we, we sort of be like oh but it’s easy for you. But that’s not possible for me and I couldn’t do that. And it’s really disempowering to ourselves. And that’s not saying that we don’t all face different struggles. But there’s also like I love to do this experiment of when we say I can’t.
I Don’t Want to Do A Thing
Changing it to I won’t or I don’t want to or I want to want to. And I think that’s what happens with most people is that we want to want to do things. I don’t actually want to do things. As a side note, that really doesn’t work. Well, when it comes to parties, I try and I’m like, I want to want to come to your party. And people are like, thanks. Honesty. Good. No.
That’s such a cultural thing though because why do we want to want that? Like how many things do we need to want? Like, Hey, is it okay to not want that? Like, Hey, you don’t have to want all the things that society tells you are good. You can want half of them. You can want one of them. It’s okay if you don’t want to be good at music.
You don’t have to be, you know. Like on the other hand, if you want to be good at music and you think well it’s easy for them but it’s hard. Like okay so I’ve started taking Irish harp lessons. And my teacher is very good and I am not. And I have a musical background. So it’s doubly frustrating because it all clicks in my head. But getting it into my hands. I mean it is literally about taking the time to develop the muscles to make my hands do this thing that is not normal for hands to do. And it is just going to take hours and hours and hours. And to say that it was easy for her, just like that yoga teacher, negates all of the hours that she has spent doing the exact same work that I have to do. Developing my muscles to do what I want them to do. And so if you want something, it doesn’t have to be easy, you just have to want to spend the hours and maybe hours and hours and hours getting to a point where you can do that. And that’s true. Whether it’s harp or yoga or emotional health or anything. Or being able to sit comfortably with discomfort, whatever it is. It is just the time it takes to train. And it’s not fast and our society wants fast. And our society wants easy. And our society wants us to be able to do all things.
And none of those are, none of them are anything.
No. Although I will say I’m going to do the Kali hands thing. On the other hand and on the other hand and on the other hand I would like to acknowledge that you and I are both very choleric. And so we have this privilege and an already choleric society of being people who are like, I want to do that, I’m going to do that, and I’m going to get there. Whereas for plenty of other people, there are hurdles that come from just not being necessarily a forward momentum driven person in the same way. So it isn’t, like I would like to acknowledge that it isn’t always a case of if you want to do it, then you can do it. But, and I think this ties back into what we were saying before about learning about yourself, and learning how you work in the world and being able to trust yourself. Because, for example, learning how you learn is really so important. Like I, for example, cannot learn sitting still to save my life. I hate sitting still. This has been hard. And so when I was in Chinese medical school, I would study, like pacing. And I would just pace or I’d put my notes and I would like start to do a yoga practice and I would just like, I had to or I’d go on a hike and just say things out loud and like find ways to get my brain to do things. And there’s like we all have different ways of incorporating information and different ways of getting to where we’re going. And this idea that it needs to be this like straight forward, linear get to your goal by pushing as hard as you can thing is really it’s harmful. Because once again, like you’ve been saying, it ties back into the journey thing. And it is, like what’s wrong with being a person whose fingers aren’t working properly on a harp. And being like, wow, my teacher’s amazing, but this is where I am. And my fingers don’t work. And exploring this place of having your fingers not work. Like you will literally never be in a place where your fingers work like they do today again.
After today’s practice you’re going to be better. So why not like fully dive into experiencing your body being where it is with this information, and being in this relationship that you are with the music and the harp, where it’s all nebulous right now. One day it’s going to be in your body. And you’ll be like, Oh, I don’t even remember what it’s like to be a beginner.
Yeah. Also, as you were talking about sitting with that, there’s that speed thing too that society says you should already know it. And so somehow there is no value to sitting here doing the same damn scale for literally half an hour because I’m trying to get my fingers to do it right. It isn’t that I don’t know what the notes are. Yes. He’s had to listen to the same scale, literally for half an hour. It’s because I’m trying to get my fingers to do it right. And to feel that discomfort in the back somewhere saying, this time is not well spent, because you played those eight notes already. And to just be comfortable doing the same eight notes. And to not project that he’s upset because he’s still listening to this darn thing. And to not project that if anybody were to see me, they would think that I’m not using my time wisely. Or that, why don’t I know it yet. Or that like all of these things that we say to ourselves when really it is, look, today, this is where my fingers are and this is how long it took me to get there. And it took 72 hours of these eight notes or whatever, you know?
Yeah. But it seems to come with like there’s an aspect of not actually being fully attentive to what’s really happening here. You’re not in fact playing the same eight notes over and over again. You’re playing the same strings, but you’re playing them a little bit differently. Right. So like ancient philosopher Heraclitis says, you never step in the same river twice, right? You never play the same eight notes twice, right? Everything is new and it’s different each time. But you have to be in a particular frame of mind to experience it that way. And I think wonderment is actually a really great word for it. And I love the way you title your program, the wonder sessions, because again, ancient philosopher, right? Socrates, maybe Aristotle said, philosophy begins in wonder. And I think that really applies to a lot of pursuits. You know, I think herbalism begins in wonder and past the point of like, Oh, herbs can heal you. That might be something useful to learn. But like, Wow, look at this Sage plant when I lay down in the garden and put my face under here like this and stare at the sun up through the leaves. And I see this like shape of the veins and the thing. That’s amazing. And I think that that’s really important to what Sage does. So that’s wonder. And wonder is also, I wonder what will happen if I take Sage this way or give it to that person.
Thank you very much. It’s also, it’s the opposite of knowing and I think that is really important. And we all, it’s like, it’s another one of those societal things, right? Where we’re supposed to have answers. You’re supposed to have a position on something you’re supposed to be able to debate because that’s supposed to somehow make us know whether you’re going to be a good leader. Sorry, but it’s true. And like having a position is supposed to be what makes us an adult, and you know, makes us worthy of having an opinion at the dinner table. And I feel like that’s such bullshit. Like if you have a solid, immutable opinion on something, then I feel like you’re on your way to dying. It’s like an area that you’re blocking yourself off from the flow. And the ever changing nature of life is the river. Right?
Yeah, it’s like you’re creating stagnancy.
Yeah, that’s exactly it. And I feel like, you know, if you can step into that river and just sort of like lean back in it and be like, wow, let’s see where this goes. Like that is, it’s the opposite of being in that traumatized state where you’re like, I need to know what’s going to happen because I’m terrified. And it’s also this place where life becomes this beautiful, playful, constantly growing joyful thing where you can be like, wow, like what does this plant do? I think we’re not supposed to say that as herbalists, but like who is this? What’s its nature? How does it change based on the day or the season? Like, and not ever having the answers, but just having relationship. And relationships that change constantly based on our attention and awareness and the passage of time. And I think it’s such an immensely healing place to be. And to get back to what you were saying before about like how to start. How do you start? I think one of the ways that you start is by dispensing with knowing, you know. When it comes to her bodies, like instead of being like, Oh, I have, let’s say for example, I have a sore wrist, it must be a tendon. And maybe, you know, maybe it’s this tendon because it’s right here and it must have happened because of this thing I did yesterday. And there must be inflammation in there right now. And therefore, and then like, we extrapolate on that and we make the future predictions based on our our ideas about what’s happening under the skin. So we can’t see it. But what we do have is sensation. And so there’s such a different thing that happens with your relationship with your body. If you can explore sensation instead of label. And explore sensation and allow the sensation to sort of express to you what it means. Sometimes it’s rest, sometimes it’s ice, sometimes it’s heat, sometimes it’s movement. Sometimes it’s to completely forget about it. And I think it’s the same with us as well. To explore who we are outside of label and just be like, who are you today? Like, you know, you’re Katja and Ryn and I’ve known you for years. And if I haven’t seen you in multiple years, that sounds like a weird phrasing, but like if I were to show up today expecting you to both be the people you were five years ago, then that’s doing both of you such a disservice.
And yet we do that to ourselves all the time.
Why can’t I do what I could do yesterday? What’s wrong with me?
We do it to the plants too. It’s like sometimes students don’t want to do things they perceive to be repetition. Like, well, I already learned that at another school. And it’s that same thing of stagnancy. It’s like, Oh, so I know that. But every time you enter into relationship with a new entity, whether that is a person or a plant or yourself or an ecosystem or anything, you learn something new. And so there may be many reasons not to repeat something because of other, like maybe you have limited finances or limited time or like, okay, fine, there’s lots of those things. But assuming we had unlimited of everything, then basically there’s always that invitation to just know nothing. Or to be like, well, I’ve had some relationship with that. And like now there’s a chance to go deeper. Even if you heard literally exactly the same words again, you’re not the same.
You’re not the same.
So you’re going to respond to those words differently than you did the first time you heard them. And if we could free ourselves up to let that be okay and to not have to, or a phrasing of a question that happens often is, well, I know that Chamomile blah, blah, blah. But, and I hear that that phrasing as an herbalist, but you hear it as any kind of teacher or any kind of anything. If you’re perceived to be a person with knowledge, somebody who perceives that they have less knowledge will often open their question that way because we somehow need to show that like don’t worry, I know something. And if we could just be free of that and just be allowed to wonder, just be allowed to like wonder without judgment. Like if I could just say, Oh, well what were you just saying about Chamomile and not have to be worried that they will think I’m stupid, or that they will think I’m not worth telling because I’m not smart enough or because I didn’t already know some things. Or I was like somehow supposed to already know that and I don’t. If we all just were free of that, and we were like children, right? We were allowed to just ask. Small children who haven’t been to school yet and haven’t, you know.
Why? why? why?
Well, why does that get frustrating? Right. It gets frustrating because you’re like, I’ve reached the end of my ready to hand explanations for why the sky is blue and you’re still asking and I don’t actually know. And I’m getting frustrated about it.
Yeah. And also I’m frustrated because my social construct doesn’t allow me to be in the place that you’re in. My social construct says I have to go to work and I have to make the dinner and I have to clean the house. And it is time consuming for me to keep answering why. But I’m not allowed as an adult in this society just sit around and ask why. And frankly I’m quite frustrated that you’re still doing it.
You should know about light refraction by now. Well, yes, it’s fascinating. It’s all like a part of this gentle unweaving of everything that we’ve learned to do that is actually harmful to us.
Right on. Well, so you help people do that. And we’ve mentioned your program a bunch of times, but where do folks go to find you and how does it work? Is it rolling enrollment or do you start….
It is not. I start enrollment in. What date is it? Is it March yet? Is it March yet?
It’s not March. It’s almost March.
It’s almost March. So I’ll start enrollment in the second week of March. What we’re doing this year is a fun 10-day course on self worth that everyone is invited to. And it’s just going to be a 10 day course exploring how we perceive our worthiness in the world. And then after that I will be opening up enrollment. So I have the dates written down but enrollment opens, I want to say, March 17.
That’s a Tuesday.
How do you do that?
There’s a calendar right here.
Oh, I was like wow, we need to talk more because I need help with this. What day is it? Sometimes when I’m filling out a form and it’ll be like, you know, you have to sign and then date it. And I’ll be like, and then someone will look over and go it’s the seventh and I’m like, Of? And then they’ll tell me the month and sometimes depending on where I am mentally, I’ll be like, year? I mean like for two years I thought I was 38, so, and I just turned, actually I can’t remember anymore. Anyway, like this is not a forte of mine. So there’s like that, that scene in the BBC Sherlock at the beginning where Watson says, you didn’t know that the earth goes around the sun? And Charlotte was like, I only have room for important, like for actually relevant information in here. That’s how I feel. I work for myself. So I only have room for important and relevant information and the date is not one of them. At any rate, yes, March 17th enrollment opens and it is a two year course that is about those relationships that we’ve been discussing, basically. Which makes it really hard to describe because I’m like, it’s all under surface stuff. So like, you know, you notice your life’s changing, you notice your perception about yourself and the world around you and your place in it is changing. But hopefully you’re not going to be like, and that’s because of Rebecca. That would suck to put all of this work into it to feel like I have anything to do with someone else’s journey. But yes, March 17th and you can find out more about it at wonderbotanica.com which is my website. So if you go to my website, wonder botanica.com and there’s a button at the top that says connect. And there you can sign up for my mailing list.
Which is awesome.
It is awesome. Just to plug my newsletter for a second. I send out a usually every week newsletter and it’s so good.
It really is so good. It really is so good.
I put so much work into it and it’s a ton of free content. And I’ll discuss various topics, like the one that’s going out tomorrow is on the immune system. And it’s like just a bunch of information. And if you liked any of my rambling thoughts in this podcast, then you will like my rambling thoughts in my newsletter because it’s all about the same kind of thing. If you do not like my rambling thoughts, do not sign up for my newsletter. You will hate it. So yes, sign up for my newsletter and that’s the best place. That’s where I will be releasing or announcing the 10 day course that is completely free that you can sign up for. And then that’s the best place to know when I open up my course, the Wonder Sessions, as well.
Well we have students who are in your current wonder sessions groups and seriously they love it, but also we see the difference in their herbal practice. Like we see the impact of the work that they’re doing with you in building that self awareness. And building that ability to be comfortable with themselves, and to take back agency and to take their own power in situations. We see that come through in the way that they are practicing with the plants.
Wonderful. Thank you. That just made my heart like great.
Thank you for being out there doing that and thank you for being on the podcast today.
Thank you for having me. It’s so lovely to have a really deep and intense conversation with you both and just to see you both after so long.
Yes. It’s more fun than writing emails. I mean, I’m glad that we’ve been writing emails, but it’s more fun to do it this way.
So much more fun.
Well so actually we had other topics that we wanted to talk about that we didn’t quite get to. So I think we will do this again, if it’s cool with you.
I would love that so much. We get to the bullet points that we have planned instead of being like, but let’s go over here and stand.
Cool. But until then, we will say…
Thanks for listening to the Holistic Herbalism podcast. We’ll have another episode for you next week. Until then, take care of yourselves. Take care of each other.
Drink some tea. We’ll see you next week.
And, uh, find some wonder in the world.
Thank you so much, Rebecca.
Thank you so much as well.
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