Herbal Meditations and Magic for Thriving in a Neo-Colonial World
Guest student post by Avani Mody
There is an incomparable beauty to sunrise. The time of the gods, as it is described in Ayurvedic traditions. As a child my father told me, walk barefoot on the earth and take in the green grass at sunrise, to strengthen my eyes. The combination of a luscious green and morning sunlight, calmed my eyes and mind. During my recent, formal herbal education, this advice remains in my psyche. The colors, beauty and feel of the plants, indeed calm my mind, and strengthen my vision — my ability to see in multiple dimensions. Plant meditations are one of the ways I like to spend time with plants and imbue myself with their serenity.
Learning herbal medicine that is rooted in traditional cultures, resilience and a holistic worldview is complex and profound. In our contemporary society, and perhaps especially here in the Bay Area it’s further complicated because we can’t escape #BeckywiththeGoodHerbs* on every street corner and instagram feed, co-opting traditions and/or proclaiming their own guru-ship on any traditional healing practice they can grasp. How can we heal from generations of colonization and all its atrocities, that manifest as body aches, high blood pressure, diabetes and other ailments by the hands of the people who colonized and continue to colonize? When not re-colonizing herbalism and healing practicing from other cultures, White herbalists and healers proudly spout their European traditions, in a way that is a little too familiar and also terrifying. In my best attempts to stay grounded in myself, I am still triggered and reminded of White supremacists every time. How did we get to a place where it is often just a thin line between White healers and White supremacists? Our doctors, authority figures and even our “alternative” healers such as herbalists often fit in this colonial framework.
For me I have frequently reflected and questioned if we can heal and also if we can learn from the abundant non-European healing traditions when they are so co-opted and distorted? And who can we turn to for support, when all of our healing traditions and the healthcare sector is so inundated by neo-colonial practices?
I don’t have the answers to these complex questions, rather I have struggled with their weight throughout my life. As our teacher Elokin of Shooting Star Botanicals, said to me once (and I paraphrase here) listen to the plants, for that will always be authentic to you. And indeed, the plants, despite the complexity of herbalism here, have brought me power and healing that can not be bought or sold.
*#BeckywiththeGoodHerbs is in reference to many white herbalists and alternative healing practitioners, and in particular to the ways in which they co-opt, columbus, capitalize on and exploit healing traditions. Also liberal White healers who try to distance themselves from their current colonial practices and heritage. Also in reference to how Whiteness has changed and distorted healing practices from around the world. It is playing upon the idea of a “Becky” which evolved from pop-culture and hip-hop music.
The Plants, and How we Heal Ourselves:
In herb school, we have practiced meditating with plants, both by ingesting them internally or simply sitting with them or near them. For me I extend these meditations to drawing and photographing the plants as well. I have been particularly drawn to the magic of flowers, whose beauty is universal. Plant meditations, have deepened the medicine that I first learned from my father — that even just being with the plants can heal and strengthen us.
When meditating with the plants, they often show us their healing properties, give us visions of colors, places, people, cultural traditions or things that may relate to us in any way. For me, plant meditations have taught me to trust in my own ideas and visions. In a colonized world, I, like many of us, am often deemed “too much” — too much voice, too opinionated, too expressive. In plant meditations, the “too much” has translated into guiding visions and moments of epiphany, reflections of resilience and intelligence.
In the first year of herb school, I spent so much time sitting with and photographing the vibrant California Poppy, I still feel it’s deep color and energy within me. Having always struggled with insomnia, the image of the poppy flower opening and closing in rhythm with my breath would organically appear in my mind, helping me sleep many times. The CA poppy is actually a sedative, that help many people sleep. However, ingesting it as a tincture or tea proved to be too strong and cooling for me. The best vehicle for poppy medicine for me, was simply meditating on it. I continue to practice this flower meditation, when I want to calm my active mind. I can actually see peacefulness when I envision the flowers. I believe this plant meditation was a gift to me from the poppy flowers themselves.
Plant meditations, have not given me the answers to the difficult socio-economic, racial and political issues we face, but they have given me time and beauty. Time to heal myself, to refresh my eyes and overall wellbeing. Plant meditations do not have to be confined to quiet moments at sunrise, or visual practices —they can be through any method of spending time with plants, forest bathing, even celebrations. They are medicine we can experience, with or without harvesting the plant. The plants and particularly the magic of flowers, have been beams of light and colors, I’ve floated on when overwhelmed by the generations of trauma that come with being a Brown person in a world of Becky Domination. There is a magic to the medicine, that is beyond my ability to verbalize it. There is a power and beauty to the traditions we are still untangling from webs of injustices, and to the visions and messages from the plants most of all.
The teachers at Ancestral Apothecary: Atava, Tracey, and Elokin
My mother for cooking delicious and traditional plant heavy meals that grew me. My father for teaching me how to enjoy peaceful moments with plants.
To all the Brown, Black, Asian and Indigenous peoples resisting White Supremacy in its overt and subtle forms — through herbs, through activism, through love, through beautiful existence.