I teach, a lot. Life as a teacher essentially means being on stage, most of the time. My students and my clients have images of me in their minds, and I’m quite certain that those images are better than what I really am, or that they are taking their image of my Best Self and imagining that it is my Everyday Self.I am not, by nature, a graceful person. I have a loud, big personality. I think faster than my second thoughts (those thoughts that say, “you probably shouldn’t say that out loud”) can keep up with. I am long and gangly, and a little clumsy. All of my life, even as a very young child, I have known that to be graceful in every situation was The Right Answer, and I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of energy trying to learn to appear to be graceful, with varying degrees of success. I can remember saying that I would know I was grown up when I became graceful. It turns out, “grace” doesn’t quite work like that.
Growing into Grace
Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about this. More and more, I’ve had opportunities to see my teachers (herbalists always have teachers, no matter how long they’ve been doing this work) “off-stage”, to see them just being people. To see them cooing over their children, talking about their own lives, being whoever they are when a classfull of people aren’t watching. Tripping, gaffing, spilling their tea. Experiencing surprise or disappointment, and doing so gracelessly. And in those moments, I felt such relief!
I know that a younger me would have seen those moments and thought: Wow, this teacher is not what I thought at all! How graceless! I must now call into question everything they’ve ever said – how can it be true when seen in the light of this? I’m really glad I outgrew that younger me! (And I wonder to whom I might owe apologies for having thought such things!)
Today I see those moments of gracelessness, and they are beautiful. They are proof that we are all here together. We’re all on our paths – it doesn’t really matter what the Great Terrible Problem is this week. Everyone has Great Terrible Problems, and none is really any more difficult than any other, it’s only that we perceive them to be when they are in our own path. All troubles are troubles, and I am not any better than someone else just because I don’t cheat on my food allergens. Right now, someone learning to avoid food allergens might feel it is really difficult, terribly trying and uncomfortable. They might look at me and say, if only I were like her, it would be easier. Or, it’s so easy for her, but I will never be able to do it! And yet, I face my own struggles, which to me are just as large and looming and impossible as giving up cheese feels to someone else. (Which is why I try always to be really clear with my students and clients that I cried for an entire day when I figured out I had to give up dairy. I probably would have cried again the next day, but some big thing happened on the farm that day and I didn’t have time to cry anymore.)
We are all on our paths, here together. And it turns out that grace, really, is just realizing that all paths are paths, that all troubles are troubles. Grace is the thing that wise old women (or wise old men) have – not because they’ve lived long enough to know the right answer, or to know how to react in a not-embarrassing way to every situation. Grace is when you’ve lived long enough to see someone struggling and find it beautiful, because it’s real. To see someone struggling and be able to offer support – even to do it quietly, maybe offering them a little shelter from judging eyes who would judge the struggle as awkward or embarrassing. To be struggling yourself and not to lose your center because of it, because by now you know how to struggle, and that it will pass.
Rose and Hawthorn are two really particularly wonderful herbs for these times. They are strengthening to the heart, they give courage and comfort. But more to the point, they have thorns: they offer protection. When you feel raw and wounded, when you’re feeling like everyone can see you struggling and certainly they are all judging you for it – when you wish you could just enclose yourself in a nest of protective barbed wire and be small and safe inside for a while: this is a time for Rose and Hawthorn. You can blend just those two up into a lovely tea – Rose petals and Hawthorn leaf, flower, and berry – and drink it as often as you like.
You could add a few other herbs in too – Linden and Violet are both soothing: I think of it as lining your barbed wire cocoon with silk on the inside. You could add Skullcap, to stop your mind from spinning around and around about what everyone must be thinking, and Wood Betony (Stachys off.) to help ground you in your body. If it’s bedtime, you could add a bit of Passionflower and Wild Lettuce, to help you get to sleep and find rest. If it’s morning and you have to get up and face the day (ready or not!), you could add some Tulsi and Spearmint.
Everything Will Be Fine
This is the base of a formula I call “Everything Will Be Fine”, which is one I use very frequently in my practice – but in reality, it’s one that I originally came up with for myself, in a time of struggle. I keep a jar of it at home and I’ll tell you, it’s the blend I go through the fastest and refill most frequently! It tastes quite nice, and it’s lovely to look at while it’s steeping in your cup or your tea press. You can find all the herbs at Mountain Rose Herbs, so why not blend some up today and have it ready for the next time you’re feeling graceless! In this particular case, the ratio is fairly simple: you could just use all equal parts. If you need a little more barbed wire, then put in more Rose and Hawthorn. If you need more help with spinning thoughts, then increase the amount of Skullcap. If you just love the taste of Tulsi, then let that be the largest part of the formula. These herbs all play well together, so it’s a great opportunity for you to tune in to what you need most in this moment, and customize the ratios accordingly.
This weekend, my friend and mentor Cascade Anderson Geller passed away, rather suddenly. I had written this post a couple weeks ago, when I was feeling particularly graceless, and Cascade was who I held in my mind as I wrote about grace. She had amazing kindness and gentleness, and a deep strength. Moreover, wisdom, and grace. I am so sad to carry on without her, but I am so grateful to have known her, and to have her amazing beauty to hold in my memory as a role model.