Reality. The ‘real’ part of reality is something that few, if any of us ever get to experience: a mass of swirling, shifting, oozing primordial soup that takes form for a while and then shifts again. It’s likely that if any of us were simply thrust into seeing it exactly as it is, our minds would explode and we’d suffer some sort of nervous breakdown. It is outside of time, outside of form, and outside of reason. Every mystic tradition under the sun has a word for reality as it is, and the general consensus is that its something you cannot describe, cannot fathom, can’t pin down and definitely can’t communicate to your friends over tea on a Sunday afternoon. By the time it trickles into our consciousness, reality has passed through filters. Our emotions and awareness filter reality, our ability to perceive through our five senses filter it, and then our minds and personal history add a twist. While this applies to the whole, it applies to the smaller parts too, be it an apple, a rock, or a human. In order to make sense of the large amount of information we encounter when meeting, say, an apple or a rock, or a human, for the first time, we naturally start organising this information into patterns. Thus, apple, very quickly goes from being a strange round thing that may or may not be edible and may or may not taste good to ‘apple’. And the more apples you get to know, the more you can differentiate types of apple: that is a Macintosh, that a Granny Smith, and that [atrocity], a red delicious.Read More
I listened to a podcast last week, in which physicist Lisa Randall was being interviewed about dark matter. A relatively newly discovered substance, dark matter is at the forefront of physics research. It moves through us as it moves through everything, and is responsible for making up the majority of the universe. Yet, it is completely invisible. Dark matter doesn’t interact with light, and because it doesn’t, we can’t see it. What it does can only be inferred by the gravitational pull it has on other objects around it, but it has a strong effect on the workings of the entire universe: without it, nothing would exist.
As I was listening, I started thinking about in their own way, our myths, planetary cycles and mysteries have all described this kind of thing already: that which cannot be seen but is nonetheless important. We don’t really hold on to our ancient myths as a means to keep ourselves connected with the cycles of nature anymore, but this delving into the invisible darkness in science gives me hope that we might somehow come back around to appreciating that which is hidden.Read More
I have this image in my head of us as a society, as this gaping maw of hunger that chants its war-cry into the night as it devours its way forwards. ‘More. More. More.’ it says as it chews its way through forest and ocean and pristine wilderness. ‘More!’ it chants as it gnaws through black rhino and ice cap. ‘MORE!’ it cries as it gnashes at spirit and joy and free will, leaving a wake of emptiness in its shadow. We beat our resources into submission, be it the planet, our employees, our own bodies, demanding more: productivity, energy, youth, attention. And rarely, if ever, do we stop to ask if what we are and what we have is actually enough.
During classes about crofts and the Highland clearances (a good Scottish education for you) when I was young, we learned about crop rotation. It was all perfectly logical: nutrients are being sucked up from the land into the plants and if you don’t rotate the crops and leave one field fallow each cycle then the land has nothing to give and eventually the crops fail. At some point, this changed. People discovered that you could keep pouring chemical nutrients onto the soil and spray chemicals to kill the insects that have taken advantage of the plants’ weakness. On the surface the crop still looks the same: big and plump and ripe for the picking. But underneath the surface, the crop is a sad replica of what it could have been.Read More
About six months before he died, my stepdad’s best friend sat me down and said ‘Your life is nothing but a series of choices: the most important thing you can do is to make good decisions. And don’t think that not making a decision is an option— that’s still a decision, and its a bad one.’
I thought about it a bit, and then he died, and then I thought about it a lot. Sometimes we’re so overwhelmed by all the choices that it seems easier not to choose. To click again. To refresh the page. To look at how Kim Kardashian did her hair this week*, because it saves us from having to act.
It seems like every time I get on the internet I’m being bombarded by things that matter so much they threaten to rip me to shreds. A 3 year old Syrian boy dead on the beach. His father lost both children and his wife in one day. Rip. 50,000 acres of the San Bernardino forest and my rose patch and all the pedicularis I gather every year burned to a crisp. Rip. Washington state devoured by flames. Rip. Unarmed man shot by police. Suicide bombing. Oil spill. Rip. Rip. Rip.Read More
You can’t turn down $700 flights to Rome. Every week or two the travel bug hits and I start typing random places into travel search engines to see if there are any good deals. And there it was, including tax. I called Jam:
‘any plans for the first two weeks of August?’
‘not that I know of’
‘we can get to Rome for $700 each’
And that was that.
We cast off with no specifics: rent a car, choose places (Rome, Venice, Florence, Orvieto), book hotels because it’s high tourist season. And with these as our compass points, we set off to explore.Read More
Southern Californian summers smell of sage and the sea. I know this because I have spent a lot of time recently up mountains overlooking the Pacific, gathering sage for the Sage + Clarity surprise box. On a cliff’s edge, my backpack full of white and black sage, I sit and stare out to Catalina island, getting lost in thought about the wisdom of sage. After a while of sitting and thinking and munching on crackers and cheese, topped with freshly gathered sage leaves (my current favourite hiking snack), I determine that sage's lesson is one of clarity: it helps to clear thought that is confused, it clears a sick room of microbes, it clears stagnation from digestion. It elevates, enlightens, broadens perspective. Content with my conclusion, I brush the crumbs off my legs, gather up my belongings and begin the hike back to my car. It was only this afternoon, when I was processing another batch of dried white sage, that I started to think more deeply about clarity itself.Read More
There is no observed without the observer. I know this is a given, but when it comes to panic states and times of uncertainty, I find it helpful to think about. In the microcosm of our personal history, we react one way, but in the macrocosm of the entire universe and the vastness of time, our perspective is so different that our reaction is also different. And the conflict of these two things— the minute and the massive, and how the reaction appears relative to both— well, to be honest I find it quite funny. The massive is a pair of eyes that rests on my left shoulder, and throughout the day it gives a little tap at my consciousness to remind me of my place: both small and big. Significant and insignificant. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise: it’s always both.
Do you ever have the same themes appearing in your life over and over again? For me, my reappearing theme, at least right now, is stress, and my response to it. It often feels as though I am freaking out on the surface but aware that underneath I am not naturally like that, that the stress response is a learned response: a mental script that runs itself and says ‘you can’t handle this’ or something to that effect. I chip away at the surface, pulling things off to see if they belong there, attempting to get to the place underneath that watches silently. The chips vary: that one comes from my grandmother’s panic at being bullied; that one from my father’s rage; that one because there was a point when I was 4 when I thought I was alone and never stopped to check to see if that changed over the years. Chip chip. Inspect. Discard. Repeat.Read More
(on slow living, finding our own pace, and rebellion as the way forward)
It started a few thousand years ago when the first foreman realised that he could eke a little more work out of his workers if he could somehow convince them that he had more authority than they over the inner workings of their bodies. A plan was hatched— a god bigger and stronger than the body knowledge of when to be done for the day, more worldly and knowledgeable than the seasons that ebb and flow with hours of productivity and then days of rest. The plan took the shape of a sundial on a wrist; a timepiece owned by the boss letting everyone else know when they could come and go. This god was bright like the sun, for it’s the hours of the sun that it governed. In that bright light there was no time for sleep, no afternoon naps, no explorations of the dark spaces, no time to crawl under a rock and look at beetles or pluck worms from the soil and watch them wriggle around in your hands. No time either to wade in the stream under the shade of the redwoods trying to move as slowly as a banana slug as the dappled light hits your eyelids. The bright sun god, all knowing, shone light into every crevice and with that bright light uttered those first words that changed everything: ‘you’re late’.
The knowledge of the body was ousted in favour of this all-knowing god, for what is more important or more constant than time? What is more objective than a second hand ticking like a metronome dividing life up into easily digestible chunks. A life you can eat on the go, cut into easily digestible squares, so neat you don’t even need utensils anymore. Would you like a soda with that?
Fast forward and here we are, slaves to the time-god. Deadlines, meetings, places to be. On one hand it makes us feel important, and on the other, its slowly killing us. Really, it is: stress is responsible for blood pressure issues, cholesterol issues, cardiovascular issues. Stress causes a pressure that pushes on our chests to shorten our breathing. It causes our digestion to stop functioning so we stop absorbing nutrients. It causes our lymph to stagnate so that we don’t process toxins and our immune systems don’t work as well. And it causes us to tense up; to zero in on the source of the stress; and to hyper-focus, disconnecting from the world around us.
Katy Bowman, in her book ‘Move your DNA’, talks about load on the body: how load isn’t just weight but anything that moves or impacts your cells. Stress is a load on our psyches. There’s positive stress: stress that nudges us into action (because the idea of being a single-celled organism that doesn’t have a to-do list is a nightmare), and there’s stress that creates a slow burn that wears on us over time, like an old cartoon character running around chasing a carrot on a stick, except the cartoon is you, and you are the one holding the stick and the carrot is actually a giant rock hanging over your head suspended by a fraying rope, If you move fast enough then you can get out in front of the rock just enough that when the rope snaps the rock hopefully won’t land on your head, so you move as fast as you can, just to keep ahead.
Pace. Your cells process what comes at them at their own pace. There’s no shoving a to-do list in their faces or underlining deadlines to hurry them along. They just take what comes and metabolise it and spit out the waste, while the rest of your body fulfils its functions of delivering nutrients and taking away the rubbish. Positive stress is stress that moves us forward at a pace our cells can keep up with. We all have different requirements for this— for some of us its really really low, because our cells process things slowly, and we, in turn process things slowly. If, at a cellular level, your body cannot keep up with its load, then what is it doing to your body as a whole to be overloaded?
If you move slowly, and that is your natural pace in the world, how is having a 20 item to-do list to finish in a day going to make you feel? From the very beginning your thought process jumps to ‘I can’t do this’. Or, at our very basic core level, in wanting to move at a pace that isn’t our own, we are saying ‘I am not good enough as I am’. Conversely, if you move naturally very fast and you’re being held back to work at another person’s pace, how is it going to make you feel? Frustrated? Angry? Like a large and powerful animal stuck behind bars?
I was listening to an episode of Invisibilia a few weeks ago, in which a woman who had a calcified amygdala, and as a result felt no fear at all, was telling a story about the time she was mugged. She was held at knife point, and told she was going to die and she, feeling not an ounce of fear, responded with ‘well I guess you’d better go ahead and kill me then’. The mugger let her go. The most interesting thing to me was that she wasn’t traumatised by the event. The podcast then discusses how some of us have a heightened fear response and this is a self-protective mechanism that stops us from getting hurt. So people with a heightened fear response risk less. But at the same time, if they DO get hurt then it is deeply damaging (and reinforced their reasons for having a strong fear response in the first place). People with less of a fear response fling themselves into things more, get hurt more, but are not as damaged each time.
Evolutionarily speaking, it makes sense to have both: those who see danger in everything and those who take risks. A combination of the two in useful dialogue leads to moving forwards carefully but avoiding danger. The ability to remember past hurts but not to let them cripple you from moving forwards. There should be an ebb and a flow: a nervous system slipping back and forth between the two like an anemone opening and closing, responding to its environment. If there are no threats then it can open, turn its face towards the sunlight, take in the light and the nutrients from around and inside it; absorb and utilise. If there is a threat then it constricts, tightens, buckles down, focuses on surviving the immediate threat. We too, under threat, stop absorbing, stop putting the nutrients to use, focus on escape. Its an expansion and a contraction, an undulating flow between two things like you see all the time in our [binary] world. We move between the two naturally.
For many of us, the fear response is so excessive that it becomes the constant state of existence? Fear of the unknown. Fear of being fired. Fear of not being able to make the mortgage. Fear of being late. Fear of being inadequate. Fear of success. Fear of failure. If there is a constant threat, say, a rock hanging suspended over our heads, then we remain closed, focused, braced for impact and ready to bolt all at the same time. And even worse, if there is no actual outlet for that energy— nothing to fight, nowhere to run, not even a scream*, then there is nowhere for the energy that just got dumped into to the nervous system to go. It remains trapped there, loaded into the muscles, and from there it becomes tension.
Next time you’re out in public, take a look around at the way people in our society walk: heads jutting out in front of their bodies, quite literally representing this pattern of people trying to move faster than they are. Head out in front, body trailing behind, like an afterthought, a hiccup, an ‘oh you’re still here?’. Bodies, silly old bodies that ache and leak and ooze and slow us down with their whims and reaction to the world around us. And as a society on one hand we talk about self-love like its this easy thing to attain, and then on the other hand teach ourselves and each other not just to hate the way our bodies look, but the fundamental basis of their existence. Hurry up, body. Catch up, body. You’re moving too slowly, body. And with each barb the body locks up a little more until it is holding tension where we all hold our tension best: in our bellies.
This head-jutting represents a larger pattern going on in the body: the inability to use it properly; that we’re conditioned to sit, not to move, to hunch over, to hold tension that is really just energy stuck in place. Deep. In our psoas muscles that run through the middle of our bodies. When the psoas is tense then you can’t breathe deeply, you can’t walk properly, you get back pain, your lymph stagnates. Four things that if divided could likely cover the majority of the modern population. I’ll leave explanations of psoas tension to the experts. But read about it, learn to release it, to let go of the tension locking it in place and at the same time maybe try to let go of the tension that holds our minds in place. Because they are, of course, connected.
I started noticing our paces when studying temperaments. Different temperaments have different natural paces and directions, from slow and direct (melancholic), slow and meandering (phlegmatic), fast and direct (choleric), fast and zig-zagging (sanguine). Or any combination of the above. We all have these natural paces and speeds at which our bodies move at best, but also at which we’re most efficient— at which we are moving through life and still relaxed and connected to the world around us, but still feeling enough pressure to move forwards. Of course there are times to veg out, and times to kick into panic mode, but in daily life, when going about our business, is there a better way to do it than flowing at our own pace? And yet in society there’s a norm: it’s fast, its direct, its productive. I’ve met people who proudly stated that they have no time for a hot bath. People who talk about how busy they are like the inability to practice basic self-care is a medal of honour. It’s this unspoken societal agreement: if we all move as fast as we can, then we don’t have to stop to acknowledge the basic thing underlying it all: we don’t like ourselves. But maybe the first step in liking ourselves is in simply acknowledging that we are enough as we are, and then slowing down.
I call it ‘slow’ but slowness isn’t truly the word I’m looking for, its a suitable pace. Our own pace that’s specific to us. It doesn’t need to be a constant (sometimes you need to get your ass in gear; that’s what the stress response is there for), but for the majority things in life there’s no reason to do them at anything but our natural pace. And I think for a lot of us that is slower than we’re doing things. The ‘slow’ movement came about because of the slow food movement, and the whole point is to foster connections. Not just between us and other people but between us and the world around us. To notice things. Little things. To smell the flowers you’re arranging in a vase in your house in a hurry to get it looking nice because there are people coming over. To ogle the colours of the vegetables you’re chopping in a hurry to get dinner on the table. Just, for a second, to stop and marvel at the afternoon light as it comes through the window as you’re buckling down to meet a deadline. I, personally, do not think that working hard and working at a pace that allows the world to seep in are mutually exclusive. In fact I’d go so far as to say that working at one’s own pace allows one for the most part to be even more productive, because there is no longer the looming stressful load of a rock suspended overhead.
Picture that foreman again with the giant sundial on his wrist as he lords over people hunched over in the fields working hard as he shouts orders at them. In some way, we’re all still doing this, hunched over, sweating into our work as that foreman shouts at us. For a lot of us, though, the foreman has disappeared— we have jobs, things to do, places to go, but if we don’t work in a sweat shop in a 3rd world country (and can we all just take a moment to give thanks that we’re not working in a sweat shop in a 3rd world country, and maybe while we’re at it, try not to buy anything that exploits people in such a fashion?), where does the pressure come from? Are you going to be fired if your stress levels aren’t through the roof? Are you going to get less done if you are relaxed and savour the moments that arise during your day instead of hunkering down and stressing through it?
Analogue life is a resistance to the fast pace of society. But more than that, its a rebellion against the invisible foreman, its realising that you are the one holding the stick with the rock hanging over your head, and stepping out from under it, letting it drop to the dusty ground behind you, and walking your path, burden left behind, finally free.
Recipe: find your own pace. Serves one
Ingredients: One day without anything specific to do One self
First: you need to know how it feels when you are relaxed. You can try Jacobson’s progressive relaxation technique. Or a psoas release. Or a hot bath with lit candles. Or switching off your electronics and declaring it to be a day off. You can drink some herbal tea like lemon balm or rose or skullcap. Or you can take a tincture like rose or lobelia or milky oat seed. Or this herbal formula (Fellow Worker's Farm Rosestorative) Or this herbal formula Or this one Or all of the above (though I'd pick one herbal formula because, being conscious is good).
Do you start to notice things? Do you feel more connected to the world around you? Can you hear birds outside, cars driving by? People, if you live near people (I can always hear my neighbours)? Can you hear these things and just let them exist, let them slip by, let them be the soundtrack to the moment.
Do you notice the light as its coming in through the windows? Are there shadows hitting the floor? Can you observe the light and let it be without trying to hold onto it or trying to interpret it?
How about inside your body? Do you feel movement? Do you feel tension? Can you breathe into that tension and let it out with each exhale and feel blood return to an area that has been holding off the world? And as the blood flows into that space can you feel the world flow into it too?
And can you feel your heart? Your heart as it beats out a rhythm that is yours and yours alone, lub-dubbing its way through time and space, propelling the very essence of who you are forward.
That. That place where the world is moving and you, too are moving, that is your space. Move from there.
Second: from that relaxed place, try to do something. Start with something small, and with that thing, hold onto that feeling of relaxation. Take a walk around the block, cook something, sit and write, draw, gaze at the world around you. Do something simple that is something you usually take pleasure in. And as you do it, pay attention to that place in your body. How slowly do you need to do the thing you’re doing in order to hold onto that place? That, as of right now, is your own pace.
Third: start to implement this pace in areas of your life that you have more control over: Set a time to end work for the day and stick to it. The same goes with starting work in the morning. Before and after work, do things at your own pace: take a long walk, put on some music and cook something you are excited about with a glass of wine in hand and bare feet. Take a bath. Sit and breathe. Imagine for a second that there are two separate paths that your evening can take: one of ‘I have to get dinner done then get the kitchen clean then get to bed by 10pm so that I can wake up in the morning and be a functioning human being tomorrow’ or ‘I choose to make a dinner I like the sound of then I’ll clean the kitchen’. The same things and yet a totally different approach.
When you start to get stressed and feel rushed, go for a walk around the block and re-connect with your self and your pace; take a look at the world around you, find that connection to it again. Then get back to work.
Be stubborn. There are times to rush and times to not-rush. Getting your priorities straight will help you sort out which is which. Late for yoga class is not a time to rush. Medical emergency is. Getting the floors cleaned right now is not an emergency; getting your taxes in before deadline is. Sometimes your job is one at which you need to get things done quickly; sometimes the pressure to perform comes from yourself first.
And as with anything, its a process. A long one.
Finding your own pace and moving at it is an act of rebellion. To the invisible foreman standing there yelling at you. To society as a mass that seems to emit messages through our collective standard-bureau (the media). To yourself for saying you’re not good enough as you are. Because that’s what it comes down to. You are good enough as you are. We all are.
Its dark. Early morning. I’ve taken to waking up as early as I can drag myself out of bed to sit in the black-ness. It feels like a cocoon, the dark quiet, where my mind can wander without feeling over stimulated. And then, because that’s what I do, I started thinking about this whole ‘sensitivity’ thing.
Overstimulation can be a problem. There are some people for whom it feels as though there is no boundary or separation between them and the world. This can be a wonderful thing— the birdsong outside right now, while I type it is playing in my body, warbling over my upper abdomen. Cars drive by and blend into this music, their bassline cutting a diagonal from shoulder to hip. The construction a couple of blocks away is the percussion, an odd, arhythmic rhythm that hits in different areas depending on the note. And while this is going on there’s the electricity, which is a subtle but oh-so-audible ring. That’s the early morning. It gets louder throughout the day, and throughout the year, as the days get longer and the temperature rises. And when it gets to be too much, there is a natural tendency for those of us who are easily over-stressed to want to dampen the noise, provide a safe barrier between us and the world.
Think of the tension of dryness: of dried up winter skin that feels tight and stretched; of a dried out river bed, cracked and crunching underfoot— this tension caused by dryness creates a barrier, a false form of protection that’s paper-thin. Think of the relaxation of moisture. Of the oozing, the leaking, the dripping, the squidgy saturated sponge. There is more openness but at the same time that layer of moisture is there as protection, for things to bounce off, get stuck in.
When you dive underwater, what happens to all the sound above? It becomes muffled, dulled. Less overwhelming. The same can be said for layers of water in our bodies: the more exposed we are to the world around us, the more we feel. The water in our bodies helps to dull that feeling; I see a lot of hyper sensitive people tending to collect water in their bodies simply as a barrier between them and the world. A layer of safety.
When I was in TCM school*, ‘damp’ and ‘bad’ were practically synonymous. Dampness was seen as the ultimate evil, to be done away with whenever possible. Of course its easy to have an enemy that’s out there, but its ultimately disempowering. If we are subject to our ‘dampness’ then all will be well if we could just get rid of that pesky damp. Which is nonsense. Damp arises for a reason, just as it does in the environment— you have weather patterns and geological activity and latitude and these usually combine in some way or another to make places that are damp or dry or hot or cold or any combination of the above. Our bodies and psyches are like that too— dampness isn’t an evil force that invades us rendering us unhealthy, but something that arises for a reason. One of the reasons is because things aren’t digesting properly, and this creates ‘amma’ (cross-system-referencing, hey!), or ‘bad blood’. What it comes down to is that things just aren’t processing right, which could be anything from the liver to the lymphatic system to the kidneys to the stomach acid. Why aren’t things processing right? Because the system is overwhelmed. Be it nervous, digestive, lymphatic, cognitive, the ability to process matter that’s coming at us is a function that transcends systems. Some of us are better at it than others.
But you can look at it from another direction too: on one hand you have the body not processing things clearly, and this is creating a white noise of sorts. On the other hand, you have the body being so sensitive that it builds up this white noise as a protection. So why the sensitivity?
When you think of the body function that has to do with distinguishing ‘self’ and ‘not self’, there is processing that needs to happen: is this ‘not-self’ useful or harmful? What do I do with it? And there is a moment in the noticing of not self where we make a snap decision: either that we can process it or we cannot.
This can apply to our immune system, which works hard on a daily basis separating out self and not-self. It can also apply to our empathy function: somebody who is incredibly empathetic is going to have a harder time separating ‘self’ from ‘not self’ in the first place, and then know little of what to do with it all when its there. And a person faced with a lot of nervous stimulus, who feels deeply sensitized to the world around them, might feel energized by a little, but there will be a threshold at which ‘I enjoy this’ turns into ‘I cannot handle this’. And what happens when we can’t handle something? Stress. Lots of stress.
There’s a lot of talk in internet-land about antifragility lately. Its a term coined by the stock market analyst Nassim Taleb, and he used it to refer to systems that were made stronger by adversity. This principle, when applied to the human body, is similar to that of the Mithridate— you challenge the body in tiny quantities and this in turn builds up the body’s ability to handle stressors. This can apply to working out, to poisons, to diet, to stress levels, nervous stimulus, etc.
The concept of antifragility applies to multiple systems, and it applies to many humans, but it doesn’t necessarily apply to all of us— some of us have a stress response that’s too out of whack, who don’t actually get stronger with pressure, but get more stressed, and therefore weaker. But you’ve seen people who thrive under pressure: they usually end up in high-stress jobs, or in the Special Forces doing things that plenty of us would lose hair over.
Which brings me to medicinal mushrooms.
On a spectrum of opposites, you have desert plants which are subject to vast variations in temperature and an onslaught of pathogenic factors, and things trying to eat them for their moist, sweet cores, they put out antimicrobial chemicals, or sharp spines to keep themselves safe. Desert herbs teach us about boundaries and water dynamics. Deep forest herbs, on the other hand, teach us, not about boundaries, but how to manage the lack of boundaries. Mycelium, by nature, spread out across the forest floor, connecting one thing to another, one edge to another. Mushrooms don’t grow without moisture. They come out after the rains, when its damp and wet and dark, and they thrive in their connectedness.
A lot of medicinal mushrooms help us build up our ability to handle stressors, with our ability to process that which is ‘not-self’, be it a tumour, a virus, a deadline, the noise of the city around us. My friend Renee who speaks Biochem explains it with regards to beta glucans and the way they challenge the immune system (this concept of antifragility when applied to the immune system is called ‘hormesis’). My language, however, isn’t Biochemistry, it is energetics, and elements, and patterns, but underneath, regardless of language, the principle is the same: something in the mushroom triggers us to increase our tolerance and ability to process things.
Mushrooms tap us into that connectedness, the openness. They raise the threshold of what we can handle, so that we can remain open and connected in more situations. So that when we are faced with more stimulus, we can process it more easily, because we have been absorbing that ability to be open and connected and still separate.
They obviously don’t have the same energetics across the board— reishi affects the psyche, nervous and circulatory system more than, say, turkey tail which acts more on the immune system. Chaga affects the lymphatics slightly more; cordyceps, our ability to handle stress loads, both physical and nervous, with our firey reserves. That said, there is that similarity. The underlying thread of tolerance, reserve-building, building our capacity for stress in response to stressors. The ones I use the most often are reishi, cordyceps, chaga and turkey tail. Which isn’t to say that they’re the best, but that I like them the best right now, which is why they’re in this recipe.
Last month’s surprise box was focused on medicinal mushrooms, and so I got to do a lot of exploring of different recipes and ways to incorporate medicinal mushrooms into every day life. My favourite was this black cocoa + porcini hot chocolate, made with a variety of mushrooms. Its a variation on my Reishi + Cordyceps hot chocolate blend, this time using *more* mushrooms, and black cocoa, which is deeper, richer, less acidic (think of the chocolate flavour in oreos). I threw in some culinary wild mushrooms (porcini and chanterelle), and a whole bunch of medicinal ones, and the effect is much more grown-up tasting: deep chocolate with a hint of mushroom and wildness.
If you can find the ingredients, do try it. It’s a great way to ingest medicinal mushrooms without necessarily having to think ‘oh I have to take my medicinal mushrooms now’. And more than that, its delicious, which I think is a great help when it comes to taking our medicine.
A note on powdered mushrooms:
If you can buy turkey tail and reishi already powdered. The process of running them through a Vitamix turns them to fluff, making extracting any usable amount of powder from them painstaking and hair-pulling. Chaga is so hard that it might break your blender, so I’d recommend buying that pre-powdered too.
Porcinis and chanterelles are available dried at speciality food shops, and *those* can be run through the blender to be powdered quite easily. Lion’s mane also powders easily, though is much more difficult to find commercially. My favourite source for powdered mushrooms is Mushroom Harvest, where the powders are excellent quality.
Black cocoa with medicinal mushrooms
(Makes enough to last a while)
1 lb black cocoa (King Arthur makes a black cocoa, I got mine at Savory Spice Shop) 1/2 lb dutch cocoa (Droste is my favourite, but the Valrhona one is also excellent) 2oz powdered turkey tail mushroom 2oz powdered lion’s mane mushroom 1/2 oz powdered reishi mushroom 2oz powdered porcini mushroom 2oz powdered chanterelle mushroom 2oz powdered chaga mushroom
Mix ingredients together thoroughly. Keep in an airtight container.
To brew: Serves 2
2 cups milk 1/2 cup cream 2 tb hot chocolate blend 1 tb sugar
Warm the milk and cream on the stovetop, and once warm add the hot chocolate blend and sugar, whisk until dissolved, remove from heat and serve.
*I don’t think this is actually the fault of Chinese medicine but of the way I learned things and the reaction of the students around me— keep in mind I live in a place that is dry, thin, agitated, and naturally relaxation and wet-ness are easy to vilify because they’re ‘other’.
Consider this a popping up for air from the utter madness that is the holiday season. Because it has been utterly mad, and I'm loving every minute of it, albeit not having that much time to write the last few weeks.
But in the meantime, I have one extra December surprise box that I am going to give away to some lucky person out there. December’s surprise box is my favourite of the year. Partly because I get to spend my time up in the mountains gathering various coniferous treats, and partly because of the way my office smells in the process of experimenting with different recipes. But mostly its just because conifers are and represent something old, something wise, something bigger than our little time as humans, and I love being able to immerse myself in that for a month.
Most of our old-growth conifer forests are dying, be it beetle or wildfire. This is an odd time, we’re teetering on a precipice and on the other side of it is a world without these forests. My goal isn’t to depress you— there’s a grand scheme and we humans are but a blip on it. This planet will be here long after we’re gone and it will continue to evolve with or without our helping it along. But this precipice, this coming change, its one that is sad simply because these places will no longer exist, and one day there won’t be anybody around who even experienced them.
These forests, these big old trees, are connected to earth time, old time, ancient time. Tree medicine is wise medicine, old medicine, and working with big old wise trees connects us to that in a very direct and life-changing way.
Other than that, conifer medicine is:
Uplifting: The scent of conifer needles, resin and bark is incredibly uplifting to the spirits. Think of how the smell of pine is bright (its full of vitamin C) and how that vitamin C brightness that tastes like sunshine feels in the dead of winter. Think of how, on a bad day, a walk through a quiet pine forest can change your perspective entirely. Conifers, due to their age, their size, the fact that they operate on archaeological time as opposed to brief human time, take us outside ourselves, remind us how small it all actually is, how brief, how ephemeral, how sacred.
Moving and warming: Conifer resin is warming, stimulating, moving. It opens things (lungs especially) and brings circulation to areas where circulation is lacking. Nibbling on conifer resin while hiking at high elevation opens the lungs dramatically. Nibbling on conifer resin while congested opens the lungs and dredges up all the stuff stuck in there. Applying conifer resin infused in oil, or coniferous essential oil to limbs stimulates circulation in the dead of winter, keeping the fingers and toes warm and the blood moving.
Healing: Scratches, bumps, abrasions. Conifer medicine applied to the skin stimulates circulation to that area and with that circulation brings healing.
Awareness: This stimulation, the bringing of circulation and energy, it stimulates awareness. Something you notice when walking in the mountains under grand old firs and pines, or walking amongst the coastal redwoods. You become aware, in a different sense. Sounds start standing out, a bird lands on a limb and for a second you can’t tell whether its yours or a tree’s, the forest moves in unison with the breathing beat of the earth and when you’re out there you all of a sudden start breathing with it. Its a dance that we all fall into naturally, and in this our awareness shifts, expands, grows bigger and with that size it understands more about the scale of life. In other words, conifer forest awareness makes our problems smaller and as a result makes us wiser and older in spirit. It is good medicine to have in your back pocket. And now you can have it too.
December’s surprise box is an exploration of this. White fir, piñon pine (4 different types!), Jeffrey pine, Douglas fir, coastal redwoods. Medicine from the forest, to stimulate, lift the spirits, and connect you to that old earth energy.
One lucky person is going to win one of these!
To enter the giveaway:
Be sure to leave a comment for each of these things that you do, because I'm picking a winner randomly from the comments.
Winner will be announced on Sunday night.