Premodern Western medicine had a concept known as vis medicatrix naturalae — described by physician, medical historian, and author Victoria Sweet as “‘the remedying force of your nature to be itself,’ to turn back into itself when it is wounded.”
Similarly, Hildegard von Bingen, a 12th century Benedictine abbess, theologian, medical practitioner, and mystic referred to a particular life force that she called viriditas. Viriditas is the greening force of the world, and, as Sweet also describes: “the power of the plants to put forth leaves, flowers, and fruits” — a power which also flows through us humans in the way in which we grow, give birth, and also heal.
Essentially, the premodern physician felt that everything in nature, including humans, had the innate ability to heal on all levels, and that this force within us is purposeful in its mission to restore balance and to help us express our unique design. Hildegard von Bingen regarded each of her patients as a garden to be tended, and looked to remove the obstructions to healing. To replenish and strengthen one’s viriditas, she tended them with nutritious and tasty food, liquids, fresh air, sunlight, rest — and peace, safety, and welcome. She also included the “tincture of time” — spaciousness — all the time in the world in which to allow recovery to take place at the pace it needed. All of these aspects served essential nutrients to one’s viriditas, and could make the difference in one’s healing journey.
As we approach Thanksgiving and the holiday season, it seems to me that the practice of Gratitude is a medicine for viriditas. By taking the time to notice, appreciate, and be thankful for the everyday magic around us, we open ourselves to the harmony and replenishment to our bodies, minds, hearts, and spirits that those things and qualities bring. By its nature, Gratitude includes a dose of spacious time. As we pause, reflect, and deeply experience the blessings of our lives, spacious time opens — true nourishment indeed in times of stress and uncertainty. In my opinion, Gratitude may well be humankind’s first medicine.
Here’s a quote that expresses the healing agent that is Gratitude:
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” — Melody Beattie, author
Gratitude can soften the obstructions put up by the many griefs small and large that arise in our lives. By helping restore us to an awareness of harmony around us, it can release those griefs so that they can flow and transform into new life within our hearts and between each other — viriditas.
If we lean into Hildegard von Bingen’s sensibility that the life force of nature (in which we are included) is expressed most profoundly as the “greening of the world,” then we can turn to the plants themselves to inspire and nourish us in our tending of Gratitude.
What follows is a Gratitude practice to help you tend your viriditas in this holiday season.
If you have trees and plants around you that are pesticide- and chemical-free, a reasonable distance from roads, and which you know are edible, then harvest from them: culinary herbs, needles from such conifers as Douglas fir, Western Hemlock, and Red Cedar, the ripe berries (haws) from the Hawthorn tree, Dandelion roots ….
Bring a quart of water to a boil, then simmer any needles, fruits, roots, and barks for 20-30 min. Include kitchen spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. Orange zest can be pleasant, as can some chopped apple or any dried fruit you have on hand. This is an improvisational brew — be curious, and don’t worry too much about “flavor.” Turn off the stove and add any delicate herbs and flowers, and perhaps a splash a vanilla extract. Let the brew stand for 5 minutes, then strain out a mugful for you to drink (but don’t drink it yet).
You can leave the plant material in your pot to continue steeping, or strain it all out at this time — it’s up to you. I personally enjoy “walking deeper into the garden” with my brews — tasting and experiencing with successive mugs of tea the changing quality and taste of the brew as the plants continue to steep.
Don’t have any plants and trees you can harvest for your tea? Or: Not sure about harvesting from the ones you have? Then just get a teabag and make some tea. Add kitchen spices and bits of fruit if you like. But it’s certainly fine to be simple with this!
Okay! With your mug of tea, head outside if you can, or just settle in right where you are ….
From what a Plant Knows.
Imagine yourself as a plant. Or, at the very least, that you and plants share an essential nature.This nature is a life blood within you, a life force.
Now, with open senses, take a sip of your tea. Notice the flavors and qualities of your brew, and the sensations on your tongue and in your body as the tea infuses you. Just be curious and notice.
Feel into the qualities — the viriditas — of the plants within you. No need for much thinking about any of this. You are merely opening to possibility. As my teacher Nunutsi Otterson often says, “You can only do this right!”
Sip your tea. As if you were a plant, allow appreciation and gratitude to arise in you with each sip. What kinds of things does your plant nature need and receive in its everyday life? Think in terms of what nourishes a plant to grow and thrive, and to move from seed, to flowering, and to its fruiting self — to the fullest expression of its nature.
Water, earth, sunlight, air, microorganisms … all those things that a plant needs, you need as well. Express gratitude sip by sip, and allow the plant gratitude to extend into realms that some folk might not believe a plant is nourished by. Like the stars, for instance, or music, companionship … aspects of life you value and appreciate. How do these things manifest as blessings in a plant’s world?
Allow Gratitude to move within and through you. Feel the movement as viriditas. Be curious about what that notion means for you. However this experience manifests in your thoughts, memories, perceptions, and sensations, savor it: sip by sip.
And: allow yourself to be nourished by blessings!
When You Feel Complete.
Thank the plant world for what it shares with us. If you can, pour any remaining tea on the plants outside. Compost your tea makings. Reflect on your experience, and share any thoughts, musings, or questions in the comment box below.
Blessings of Thanksgiving to you!
Sweet, Victoria. God’s Hotel: A Doctor, A Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine. This is a rich and beautiful book about the value of caring for body and soul. Thank you to Nunutsi for introducing it to me!
Posted by Jane Valencia