Rest and Renewal with a Tree

Birch photo
Birch – a tree for new beginnings – photo by Jane Valencia

Is this true for you? As we approach the shortest day and the longest night, our bodies, hearts, spirit — and thinking mind too! — yearn to burrow in, to rest and rejuvenate like some of our animal friends do, as do our herb and tree friends, as does the sun with its ever-lowering course. The energy within the plants is moving inward to the core and the roots. The sap in trees moves down from the leaves and branches into the trunk and core as well.

In Southern folk medicine, which likens the movement of our blood to the movement of sap in a tree, our blood is understood to “thicken” with oils, the better to insulate our bodies, and, as with the trees, to “lower” (to move inward like the sap in a tree), and to slow. Certainly within me I feel a pulling inward and a slowing, both energetically and physically, even as my calendar remains sprinkled with holiday cheer and end-of-the-year commitments.

Here is a practice for taking a a little time for yourself to rest and renew with a tree.

The Practice

Doug-fir photo
Douglas-fir trunk – photo by Jane Valencia

What you’ll need to do in advance:

Decide upon a gift that you can give to a tree. This can be a pinch of cornmeal, some tea you made for yourself but didn’t drink all the way, a bit of a ceremonial herb like sage, red cedar, tobacco, or lavender, a hair from your own head (to represent the wisdom you’ll have when you’re older, thanks to the tree), a song, a creation of nature art, or anything else you think a tree might enjoy.

If it’s a stretch to consider that a tree might have any opinion whatsoever about you, or opinions at all, I just invite you to bring a curious and playful mind and heart to this notion.

Dress yourself in outdoor-wear that you don’t mind getting dirty or wet.

Be open to your experience, and, as Obi-Wan Kenobi so memorably said: “Trust in your feelings, Luke! [replace his name with yours here]

Now, head on outside!

Find Your Tree.

Outside your door, take some deep slow breaths. Open your senses to the world around you, especially to Nature, wherever you experience her. Do you hear any birds? What are the plants — even weeds — that are right near your door? How does the air feel on your skin? Can you smell moisture or a tree? Can you experience the earth under your feet — even if concrete lies between you and the soil?

Once you’ve opened your senses and feel yourself to be present, silently express an intention to find a tree with which to enjoy some rest and renewal. Invite a willing tree to make itself known to you.

Red Cedar photo
Red Cedar trunk – photo by Jane Valencia

A tree making itself known to you will take on any number of forms. It might seem to be waving at you, or to be especially bright, or you might get a sense to head out in a certain direction. Simply put, head on over to a tree that you happen to notice.

At the Tree.

  1. Give it your gift, and take time to appreciate the tree. Appreciation can begin by you noticing the details of the tree — the smell and texture of the bark, the branching pattern of its limbs, its form, where its trunk meets the ground. Where are its roots? What plants are nearby? Any birds within it? Any animal trails to or from it? Admire what you notice about the tree.
  2. If you can, settle on or near the ground and wrap your arms around the tree. If you feel self-conscious, sit with your back against the tree. This week I’ve actually enjoyed lying on the ground with my arms wrapped around the base of the tree — but do what appeals to you or is simple for you.
  3. You might want to press the side of your face against the tree (I always take off my glasses and hang them on a nearby tree limb 🙂 ).
  4. Now, close your eyes, and just hold onto that tree. Feel the bark against your skin and clothes, engage your other senses. Even imagine yourself as the tree. Take some time with this.
  5. Next,  let go of any active perceptions, and merely be with the tree. Experience your thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations, memories, insights, qualities … whatever flows in or through you or surrounds you, just gently notice these things and let them move along. Rest.
  6. When you feel complete, take some deep breaths, and thank the tree.

Embodied Storyweaving.

I like to take some time “reenacting” my experience with the tree as  if it were the story it is. I start with the moment I stepped outside, to finding, to being with the tree, to an experience of the tree itself as a being.

I recreate that world and experience for myself inside in my kitchen or wherever I happen to be in my home. I allow other movement, gestures, and ideas to enter the tale, so that my time with the tree becomes woven with what is essentially “dream space.”

Take note of new ideas, of animals, dream figures, super-imposed experiences, and anything else that layer into your experience. Notice the qualities. What patterns emerge?

Taking time to move through the story of your time with the tree, and deepening into imaginal and other aspects of it helps root the experience into your being. It also serves to further awaken you to the tree itself and its special medicine for you.

Hold your hands together: imagine pouring or giving a gift to the tree. What is it? Cup your hands, and imagine the tree giving you something in return. What is it?

Now take time to ….


Red Cedar photo
Red Cedar trunk and bark – photo by Jane Valencia

Reflect on your physical experience, and your reenacted/”dreamtime” experience. Jot details about what happened, what you noticed, what you felt. Drink in the layering of your experiences.

Take time to journal about the tree itself, about who or what it is as its own being. Allow yourself to accept the qualities and attributes of the tree that come to mind for you. Rest in them and in your experiences as you write.

More Gratitude.

Offer some final gratitude to the tree for anything you experienced.

Please share your story in the comment box below!

Want to gather with a circle of powerful, questing women like yourself and share more nourishing, joyful discovery of the medicine of  the trees and of the wondrous and wise landscape of your own bodymind? Consider joining us for our Mid-Winter Retreat, taking place Feb. 5-7, 2016. Early registration discount is available through 12/21/15. Find out more here.

Big Leaf Maple photo
Big Leaf Maple – photo by Jane Valencia

P.S. Need a “practical” reason to hug a tree? Check out this article: Tree Hugging Now Scientifically Validated

Posted by Jane Valencia

Gratitude, Sip by Sip

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.”

A page from a Book of Hours
A page on Chamomile in the medieval book of hours known as Grandes Heures d’Anne de Bretagne.

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.

Hawthorn berries (haws) ready for harvest - photo by Jane Valencia
Hawthorn berries (haws) ready for harvest – photo by Jane Valencia

Make Tea!

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.

Herbal Brew
An herbal tea of haws, Doug fir needles, and kitchen spices

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

Journey into Your Ancestor Nature

What does it mean to explore your ancestor nature? This short video starts you down that trail!

We can look to how the ancestors live in us physically (and in our imaginative sense as well). We can also journey into ancestor nature by way of connecting with a powerful plant ally and teacher: Maize, more commonly known as Corn.

Corn has a rich, vibrant, and long history with our human family. Whether we eat corn or not, gratitude for the  co-creative, deeply interactive, respectful and even sacred relationship she has had with humankind for thousands of years can awaken a potent sense of wonder within us. Corn can help us recognize that we too as individuals are the result of an incredible co-creative dance of land, spirit, myriad beings, our own ancestral lineage, and so much more. Understanding and experiencing Corn as nourisher of our bodies, communities, ceremonial life, and spirit is one way to renew and deepen your sense of your own old ways nature!

Zea_mays_-_Köhler–s_Medizinal-Pflanzen-283Where do you sense ancestor nature within yourself?  What is that sensation? If you contemplate this sense of “ancestor” within yourself, what thoughts and emotions arise? Take time to journal them, create from awareness of them, and to share about them with a trusted friend (someone who won’t think you’re nuts 🙂 ).

I invite you to entertain the notion that the spirits of plants exist outside of three-dimensional reality, just as do our own spirits. Plants — especially those who are in close relationship to the human family — are often quick to respond (favorably!) to a greeting or appreciation by us human folk. Gratitude is a potent way to connect with a plant spirit.

An offering such as a little water, a song, cornmeal, or some other gift that feels appropriate to you in the moment are time-honored ways for cultivating a relationship with a plant and its spirit. Note that you don’t have to be physically present with a plant to connect with it (though it’s great to do so whenever you can).

CornSpirits-webIn journeying into your ancestor nature, consider calling on Corn to infuse that journey with her own wise ways. If you eat corn, you might mindfully prepare some corn and taste it before settling into reflection. How does Corn engage with whatever feels most “old soul” within yourself?

Suspending  disbelief (just set it respectfully to the side for the time being!), ask Corn if she is willing to share some wisdom or insight with you. Notice what arises (emotion, thought, sensation, memory …), and trust that these responses are a gift to you from Corn.  Write them down or engage in some other creative expression to explore what they mean to you.

How does awareness of the ancestral nature of Corn nourish your sense of  life-affirming wise ways? If you bring that awareness to the next food you eat — a curiosity about its ancestral nature — what awakens in your imaginative spirit and in the felt experience of your body as a result? What shifts for you?

Please share your stories and comments below!

More about Corn Spirit: One of my plant medicine teachers, Shamana Flora, Darcey Blue French writes eloquently and beautifully about Corn Spirit here.

Posted by Jane Valencia