MOVING THROUGH SHIFTS AND CHANGES
I have this good friend that moved away. When she left she posted about her trip and then she began to make posts about some changes in her thinking about the path that she had chosen for many years. So meet my friend Mollie. One of my favorite things about Mollie is her candor. I appreciate her desire and ability to look closely at herself and then talk openly about what she sees and how she is moving through shifts and changes. It is that quality that made me want to ask her a bunch of questions regarding Ayurveda, yoga, appropriation, language, a little politics, plants and a few other tid bits. ENJOY!
Please, introduce yourself to the readers. Your name, where you live, relationship, pets, what you like to do, any or none of that or more
Hi! I’m Mollie. I’m an herbalist, artist, and former ayurvedic practitioner learning a new (to me) ecosystem and letting the land and plants transform me. I love gardening, working with weeds as food and medicine, making things with my hands, and drumming. My partner Cait and I moved to my home town of Lincoln, Nebraska last year, after I had lived in Oakland, California for 7 ½ years. She is an acupuncturist and has opened Nebraska’s first Community Acupuncture Clinic, back in March, which has been received with a lot of warmth. We have two eccentric, needy cats, we have turned our driveway into an extension of the garden, and we bike for transportation even in winter. Which I don’t necessarily recommend.
My ancestors came to Turtle Island from various Northern places as settlers, colonizers and refugees. There is no other home for me to return to, so I am trying to fully arrive on this land and become of it in all ways, to sew the seeds for a land-based future folk culture.
One of the things that speaks to me is your move from Ayurveda to Native Plant Medicine (??). I know that is a huge topic and has been a long path for you but if you could in some way tell people what lead to this shift in your thinking.
Yes this IS a huge topic and there are a few ways to tell the story. BUT one facet is that I couldn’t stomach importing plant medicine anymore. I couldn’t stomach it because of the carbon footprint, because they aren’t super fresh by the time they get here, and they come to me in a powder or a pill and I don’t even know the plant itself - often couldn’t even recognize it if I did see it growing. Certain ayurvedic herbs grow quite well here on Turtle Island but many don’t. And The deeper I tried to go into ayurvedic pharmacology, the more obstacles I faced. For instance, there is a rich, old tradition of making complex (like 100 herbs or even more) herbal formulas that are still being made by herbal pharmacies in India, but there is little accountability or oversight in terms of the safety and quality of the water that is being used or the soil the plants are grown in, and so many are contaminated with heavy metals. And, like everywhere else in the world, there is more of a tradition in India of gathering herbs in the forest than of growing them oneself, and as a result of India’s huge human population and of the demands of global capitalism, many herbs are severely over-harvested and even endangered.
So of course there are people trying to change all that, but the only herbal companies I know of who are sourcing herbs from India that have been third-party tested for heavy metal contamination and are not over-harvesting from the wild are also not making most of the complex, traditional formulas - they are making their own formulas and offering single herbs - and, more importantly, they are owned and run by white people from the west. Surely there must be some run by Indian people themselves, but I don’t know of them. And so that does not feel good, that is a neocolonial practice. It doesn’t matter how good their intentions are or how much they give back, it still smacks of white savior bullshit and extraction.
So then it’s like, Okay, maybe I can understand the plants that grow around me in ayurvedic terms. But that is harder than it sounds. And also just weird. It kind of begs the question, Why? And also, is ayurveda a disembodied system of knowledge, as I was taught? Or is it really actually embodied in the land and plants and people of India? Is it maybe, at it’s best, local, bioregional, culturally specific medicine? Who am I to attempt to apply an ayurvedic understanding to the plants that grow outside my door, if my door is not in India? Wouldn’t it perhaps be better to understand those plants on their own terms? To sit with them and watch them and learn from them, to read the medical literature and folk herbalism literature that already exists on these plants, and let them just be what they are?
Here in Nebraska, the ecosystem was a complex and healthy grassland grazed by bison, shared by many different indigenous tribes who migrated around the region following the herds and the seasons. There were no permanent human settlements prior to the westward expansion of the US and settlement by whites. This was not very long ago, 150 years or so. With the almost total destruction of the vast bison herds and genocide of the indigenous people who lived here, the land was “cleared” for agriculture. As a result it is still primarily agricultural land, broken up into parcels, and there is, I think, 1.5% of the native prairie remaining. So perhaps it goes without saying, but I am not working with prairie plants for medicine, except as flower essences, which I make without actually picking the flowers.
The plants I work with for medicine are the abundant ones, either that I can grow in my own garden, source from other local people doing the same, or the wonderful weeds and tree medicine which are everywhere. Most of the plants that are weeds here were medicine to European and Asian peasants: Mullein, dandelion, the docks, creeping charlie, catnip, motherwort, plantain, cleavers, you name it. These plants have a history of medicinal use which stretches into prehistory in the Eurasian continent as well as the neighboring islands of Ireland and the British Isles, so these plants are pretty easy to learn about, especially from older herbal books, and there is a deep body connection, knowing that my blood ancestors were nourished and cared for by these plants for millenia. It is so beautiful and moving for me to think about this.
And it seems because of this shift a lot of other things have come back into your life and other things have begun to grow. Can you talk about any new projects that you are feeling really drawn to?
Oh yes it’s true, I have too many projects. Here is a list!:
No Bad Plant: I have made three block prints of common medicinal weeds that grow where I live and offering them for sale. I absolutely love sketching plants in “plein aire” and carving the blocks, so I’d like to make many more!
Heirloom Zine: My friend Raha Behnam and I, along with 13 contributors, have co-created a zine (really it feels like an actual book at this point!) of personal stories of cultural wounding and healing. Both writing and visual art. We just finished crowdfunding in order to pay all contributors, because we really wanted to do that, and cover the printing costs. Now we are just waiting for the disbursement from Indiegogo and will get them all printed!
Ayurveda in the West Book: I am very slowly working on writing a book on my experiences with ayurveda education and practice and the history of ayurveda in the West. It’s kinda taking a while and is not always very exciting but it does feel good when I complete a portion of it.
Dark Moon Herb Offerings: I have been offering 1-2 handmade herbal products for sale around the time of the dark moon each month for the past six months, and I love doing this. It is so fun to create the products and package them and know they are going to my friends’ and other sweet people’s homes.
I just read Skill in Action by Michelle Cassandra Johnson. Its a great book on race in the yoga community and how yoga teachers can choose to use their skills and knowledge for social justice. Have you read this book? What’s a book that you would recommend to bring some of the ideas that are really important to you together?
Oh cool, I haven’t read that but it sounds good. I have racked my brain trying to think of books that bring together ideas that are important to me, and I realize that though I love to read, I have been reading a mix of fiction for fun and very niche scholarly stuff lately, and none of them are really the sort of book you describe! What does fit the bill though, are two different podcasts which I adore: Medicine Stories with Amber Magnolia Hill and is The Hedge School Podcast by Sharon Blackie.
Do you practice yoga? Do you have a movement practice? Do you meditate?
Short answer is “Yes.” And, it should be noted though that my main paid work right now is also my biggest movement practice, since I am working in the construction industry, as a tile setter’s assistant. So on days I work this job, I walk or bike to my boss’s house (she is a rad lady twenty years older than me), and then we drive to the job site together, and I spend all day lifting, carrying, and squatting with heavy things and using my body in various ways. This has been really good for my back and my knees, which are stronger and more stable now than ever in my life. There really is nothing like doing varied physical work all day to really get solid, functional strength.
I was diagnosed with ADD when I was a child, and I think it partly had to do with simply being human and having an ongoing need for movement which was not met in the school system, and so I basically just stared out the window or doodled, because we weren’t allowed to move! As I got older, I learned that I do best moving my body regularly all day long, so I try to set up my work life to accommodate that, which includes having a dynamic workstation for computer work. And yes I would say I have a varied and informal movement practice which includes kicking around my soccer ball in the park whenever I can, dancing alone in my living room and at parties, biking and walking for transportation and pleasure, as well as doing what I call my Old Lady Yoga at home. I studied yoga asana deeply in my early twenties and taught for four years. At this point, I don’t push myself at all, but use it as a way to restore myself and settle my energy.
I have had a meditation practice off and on since I was twelve, and for a few years I was really on top of it and doing twenty minutes twice a day, as I was taught. I still love the way that feels, but I have been exploring treating all things as meditation, especially repetitive hand work like sewing and processing herbs, and moving away from a
Last year, a friend introduced me to the work of Katy Bowman, biomechanist and “movement ecologist” and that has really impacted me. Her thing is integrating natural movement into your whole life, through creating dynamic workstations if you have to do computer work, getting rid of furniture, pillows, and heeled shoes, doing long-distance walking, and a bunch of other stuff that is so cool. I was already kinda on that train myself in terms of active transportation and dynamic work stations, but I didn’t know people were studying and teaching about these things in a big way. She has a podcast called “Move your DNA” as well as eight published books, if you are wanting to learn about it!
Oh! And I liked your comment on Instagram about how kids are really caught up on language these days. I have a 20 year old girl and 17 year old son and they are very clear and purposeful about pronouns, gender identification, racial identification and a lot of other language things. And they all know each others preferences because they put it all out there. It can be more complex, more nuanced. I have listened to them and grown because I have asked them questions when I did not know what was up. They have a different kind of freedom then I ever saw growing up. There are positives and pitfalls to all of it, that’s reality.
What are the things that you do to keep your energy clean? What do you do to replenish? Does the state of the world weigh you down, piss you off, make you want to scream or give up? And what are your go to tools for moving through those feelings/experiences/energies?
Ooof...yeah. Everyone runs their own energy so differently so what works for me will only work for certain other folks. The thing is, I find that I actually can’t “shield” myself from unwanted energies if I am in the same physical area as them. This goes against popular thought on the subject. I have been told many times it is a matter of doing certain visualizations, exercises, carrying certain stones with me, etc., but that just has never proven true for me. What I have to do is allow any energies around me to move fully through me, fully feeling them, and for them to pass through and move on. The alternative to this practice of allowing and witnessing is to stay in really safe, peaceful, protected places. So I do both of these things in alternation. I am blessed and grateful I have stable and peaceful housing, which helps a lot.
About the state of the world and how I feel and deal with it….that changed a lot for me after number 45 was elected. Maybe it changed for most people. During the week after that election, I danced and danced alone in my living room, metabolizing and composting all the energies I felt in and around me. In the past I easily felt despair and overwhelm about the state of the world but I no longer feel that way. It used to knock me down. Literally I could be on the floor for hours crying, I felt everything so deeply, but now I just feel this steely, active rage that simmers a low-level most of the time. It is like a tiger resting in the branches of my heart. I feel ready to spring into action any moment I am needed.
I have taken action only in many small ways. I donate what money I can to the Protect Bears Ears fund. I just attended a Mutual Aid Disaster Relief workshop and helped raise money for them (by making 50 pizza crusts over two days(!) for the fundraiser my friends organized). I have the feeling like I have not done enough, am still not doing enough, but I keep my eyes open and pay attention for ways that are right for me to do more, to put that rage to good use. I feel like the time will come for me to be more involved than I am. I have the feeling of, I will do what I need to do, whatever that is. Sometimes I wonder if making plant art and writing even matters. But I sit with that question and the answer is, Yes, keep doing it.