Heartache- its a part of life. True. From no matter which direction it comes- loss of love, death, homesickness, separation, the lingering effects of trauma, or despair and loss of hope- the effects can be devastating. It can be hard to breathe, you may feel as if you have forgotten how. You can't stop crying- or you cry at the smallest thing. You lose interest in doing things you love. You are barely able to eat, or instead fill yourself with sweet, comforting foods that you know aren't in your best interest. You may not want to rise from your bed. You might lash out in anger and bitterness at those who reach out in love to comfort and help you.
But its okay. This is living. This is how we grow. This is how we know what is what we truly love and value.
Of course, you don't want to hear this when your heart hurts this much. All you know is that it hurts to exist. It hurts to be anything but asleep. I know this is no mystery to anyone. We have all been here...maybe we are here right now.
My heart has been crying a lot lately. Homesickness, depression, heartbreak, estrangement- this has been the journey I've been on for the last 12 months.
I can't believe that a whole year has passed.
I do believe I am on the upside of things, but there are still nights when I cry.
But there are so many ways to support yourself during heartache using plants, using food, using the abundance of gifts that mother Earth Gaia provides.
It may feel like the last thing you want to do or have energy for. And that is okay too. We learn so much when we do not turn away from our shadows and try to sweep them under the rug.
Being with your pain for a little while can be healing, but when it becomes too much to bear alone, too long- find a way to reach out. Here are a few things that I have found to be my best allies this past year.
lady's slipper orchid
Care for Heartache
These are the ways that I have found to be supportive to me personally in my own times of heartache- and I hope that they may serve you when you need them.
Go to the Earth- however this looks to you. Find a tree to hold on to. Cry your tears onto the Earth. Take a nap on a warm spot in the grass. Swim in wild water, surrender to the flow. This is always the most important first step for me. I spent so many days dunking myself in cold river water, laying in the sun on the rocks, crying under giving trees. Opening my heart to Gaia, allowing all my sadness to come out, and make space for the Earth to fill it up again with her green life force.
Engage your living senses- taste a wild flower, smell the mud, immerse your skin in the heat of the sun or the chill of the winter air, run hard and feel your heart pound and your lungs fill with air. Take a hot bath with bubbles, chocolate, coconut milk or essential oils- anything that will remind you and make visceral your awareness of your physical life force. For me this often takes the form of delicious food- I make a special effort to cook myself something delicious and nourishing- sweet winter squash, warming bone broth soup, or a bowl of baked apples and whipped organic cream. Guilt free- and savoring every bite. Running hard for a few minutes is always a good way for me to come back to my senses...I love to feel my breath ragged in my lungs to remind me that I am alive.
Reach out for support- find a friend who can give you a hug and let you cry on their shoulder, who will cook you a hearty bowl of soup, or pour you a glass of tea. Ask for support from your spiritual mentors or community- prayers, sweat lodge, counsel. Work with a counselor, coach, or therapist who can respect you, help you get clear, and give you tools you can use to help yourself move forward. I am so incredibly grateful to my friends and my coach In Arms Coaching for filling this role for me through this year. I know I could not have done this all alone. I needed the support, the extra hand of affirmation, the safe place to give voice to my feelings.
Ritual and Ceremony- give voice to your feelings, your fears, create a sacred, safe space and structure. Invite your supportive spiritual or friendship community or do this alone. This can include hands on or energy healing for you, sharing circle, ritual burning of the things you wish to release, ritual cord cutting from the things that drain you, ritual planting the seeds of what you wish to grow in your life.
Invest in and recognize your pleasure- every day find one small thing- it can be the tinest little thing, that gives you a moment of pleasure and recognize it. give thanks for it. sometimes a small shift in our perspective, even for just a moment, can begin to shift things within us. The universe nourishes what we put our energy and intention on. Plant a seed of more pleasure every day- be it the way the light falls the trees in the morning mist, the way your cup of coffee smells in the morning, the gentle hand of a beloved friend or child on yours, or the sound of your favorite song. I try to spend time each day, know matter how hard it is, to find at least 3 things to be in gratitude for. I find one small way to give myself pleasure each day- rubbing a little sweet aroma oil from Amrita Apothecary on my pulse points, making a sweet heart nourishing mug of tea. Or taking time to really dive into the one thing that does give you pleasure- for many months, the one thing I could hold on to was playing my new to me banjo. For hours on end. And it paid off.
I think it saved my life on more than one occasion. Find that thing- be it writing poems, painting, knitting, playing an instrument, caring for your child- that gives you pleasure just in the doing.
Here is a recipe for a nice tea I have been drinking a lot of this season as my heart is hurting and healing.
2 tsp black or oolong tea leaves (or 1 tea bag)
1 tbsp cacao nibs
1 tsp licorice root
1 tbsp mint leaves
1 tbsp jasmine flowers
1 tbsp rose flowers
1 star anise pod, crushed
1 inch piece of fresh vanilla bean (sliced open)
Add all ingredients to a quart jar, and pour steaming hot water to fill the jar. Steep covered for 15-30 min or more, and dress up with a spoonful of honey and/or cream if you desire. Serve warm, share with your beloved friends, and treat yourself as sweetly as you would a lover.
Forgiveness and self love
This can be the hardest thing for us to do when we are in pain, but one of the most important things we do for ourselves. Forgive yourself- for whatever it is you are feeling bad about. Forgive yourself. Do not berate yourself or beat yourself up for eating the whole tub of ice cream, for forgetting to take your medicines, for not wanting to do anything, for failing to keep up with work or promises you made to others, for decisions you made that you feel were made poorly. Forgive. I cannot emphasize enough how very very important this step has been for me. I am still working on it everyday. I still feel like I have made some horrible mistakes that I'm trying to recover from. There were days when I ate the whole pint of ice cream. There were nights I didn't bother to cook myself any food. There have been times I lashed out unfairly in my pain. But I am forgiving myself. I apologize when needed to those who were on the receiving end of my mistake, and I give myself a break. I am still a good person, I still have things to offer. I am human- perfect in my imperfection-and I am learning. (Flower essences help a lot with this step!!! )
The Sweet Medicines of the Heart
Our culture has a mixed and tulmutous relationship with sweetness- either overindulging or shunning it completely.
Neither seems to be a productive or healthy way to be in relationship with sweetness. Sweetness is a gift! Sweetness brings us the pleasures of life. Sweetness nourishes the heart and the spirit.
It is no wonder we crave sweet, sugary treats when our heart breaks. It truly does make us feel happier and sweeter again, but we do not need to turn to large bowls of ice cream or cookies to fill that longing for sweetness.
When the heart is aching there are some very sweet plants that serve us very well in our journey to heart healing.
These are the plants I've been turning to most often this year and find to be such strong allies when I feel like I'm going to break apart.
Apple- an uncommon choice- and much neglected by modern herbalism. Apple is the tree of fertility, abundance and love in the Celtic Ogam, but I had an incredible personal journey this year with the apple tree, that revealed her medicine for me personally- collecting her blossoms for medicine in May as I left behind a life, a lover and and home, running to the old apple tree in the yard in the pouring rain to cry out my anguish when my heart was breaking this fall- feeling her sweetness embracing me, comforting me, sheltering me, watching all the apples ripen and fall from the tree to rot on the ground as the summer waned and sadness overtook me. A friend shared a quote with me that struck me to the core- and was the final piece that revealed the medicine of apple tree to me-
"Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won't either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could." ~ Louise Erdrich, from The Painted Drum
It seems to me that the apples sweetness is the medicine for the heart- for love, heartbreak, anguish, passion. Not the fierce thorny protection of the hawthorn medicine, but the sweet, nurturing mother medicine that soothes the heart and is so exquisitely sweet we can hardly contain it. The apple is one of the trees strongly associated with the Goddess, with her five pointed star contained within the exuberant abundances of sweet fruit. I have been most often using a sweet elixir of apple twig and blossom to soothe my heart when she cries, but you can use tea of the leaves and twigs, drink sweet or fermented cider, or bake some sweet apples with cinnamon and top with cream.
Hawthorn - Should come as no surprise that we turn to hawthorn for heart healing. Most use the sweet tart fruit as the medicine from this thorny protective tree, as it nourishes, sweetens, and strengthens the heart muscle. I find that the leaves and flowers are equally useful- and have even more affinity for the emotional heart and aching spirit. Hawthorn infusions sweetened with honey are a beautiful nourishing way to use this plant ally. Unlike the apples gentle sweetness, hawthorn lends a fiercer, more protective, thorny strength to the heart. Use hawthorn to fortify and strengthen your spiritual and emotional heart. I really like an elixir made up of leaves, flowers and fruits of hawthorn with brandy and honey, and is a simple way to use the medicine when its hard to make yourself to do anything towards self care. Make this one ahead of time, and have on hand all the time for when you need it, or someone comes to you in need.
Rose - I couldn't leave out rose. Rose, the flower of love-passion-and romance. I most love to use the wild rose as a medicine- it shows us so poingnantly the way to be sweet, vulnerable and beautiful- while at the same time protecting our hearts, protecting our sweetness with firm boundaries. Rosa rugosa has incredibly fragrant blossoms that make an exquisite elixir, but I have made rose elixir from the wild and weedy white multiflora rose, sweet unsprayed garden roses, and wild pink mountain roses and hips. I drink roses infusion almost daily these days- its in almost everything I blend up to sip on. Either way, elixir, tincture, or tea- roses are sure to soothe. Rose medicine, both as a tea or elixir and as a flower essence is especially good when you are at that point of apathy and inaction- when you have lost hope and can't muster up the give a shitness to do anything to help yourself- even when you know what you need to do. I spent quite a few months, more than I care to admit, in that space of not giving a damn enough to help myself- so consider this as a friendly reminder from my experience. Just reach for the roses...if nothing else. Roses.
It will help move you in the right direction.
Flower Essences- There are so many flower essences that have been so helpful to me at different times during this year- in various ways. I'd need to devote a whole article just to them alone, but a few that stick out to me as the most helpful in general.
Lady's Slipper - for easing and healing the heartache that arises from trauma
Sweet Chestnut- to ease the painful anguish of heartache and loss, and restore sweetness to the soul.
Pine - for healing self reproach, and self blame and guilt. Forgiveness of the self- for mistakes, for not taking responsibility for things that are not yours.
Willow- to help you reclaim your power and sense of self and release the 'why me', victim mental pattern.
White Chesnut- to release repetitive, circular, obsessive thinking. This helps us to let go of dwelling on the hurt, the loss, the things we shoulda, coulda woulda, and live more presently. Much of our pain is the result of dwelling on it and refusing to let go of thoughts that cause us more hurt and anguish and anger.
Honeysuckle- to release the longing for the past, the way it was, or what is no longer. It helps us to live in the present moment, let go of what needs to be released, and move forward.
For more reading on the Sweet medicine see my blog post on this topic.
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