Guest Post by Maribeth Keane//Silence & The Medicine Of Sleep
A simple ritual for connecting to Plant Spirit
It has been an uncharacteristically warm and wet Winter where I live in the north east. I have been thinking back to all of the Winters I spent in California, when we would go to the beach on Christmas, endure the ridiculous tradition of lighting a fire in 75 degree weather, and eat an abundance of fresh vegetables in February.
I remember when I made the decision to leave the west coast. I longed for the dark, cold Winters of the east that somehow made it ok to spend entire days inside, moving slowly to just notice how my body shifted through time and space. In coming back to my birthplace, it’s become clear to me that this is a moment of homecoming to heal some of the deeply rooted wounds of my past, perhaps a past I haven’t lived in this lifetime. It took me years of relearning how to quiet and reconnect with my inner world in order to even begin this process of healing.
As I’ve been learning to let go of the guilt or unworthiness that has come with choosing to live a slower life, and by that I mean a life guided by mindfulness and the needs of my body, I have also deepened my connection to the medicine of sleep, a profoundly nourishing medicine that is in fact essential to our survival and has come to be mostly ignored in our current culture. Allowing myself to rest when I needed to because my body asked for it over and over again, has helped me to learn how to let go of any shame or discomfort that comes up from saying “no” in order to say “yes” to myself.
Sleep has often become a distraction for many of us that, like eating, is accepted as a passive experience in favor of all the work that needs to be done. It seems as though we have come to fear the silence of our aloneness. The stillness of just being keeps us steeped in anxiety that we’re not doing enough. Over stimulation and overwork actually make it very difficult for the body to accept deep rest, so we remain restless, nervous, unable to truly relax or let go of the endless wheel of our to do lists.
Without the sleep we need each night we are unable to healthfully or joyfully show up in the world. I have come to know that a lack of good sleep perpetuates the frantic state of our mind, making it nearly impossible to truly connect with the world we move within, keeping us on the edges, totally disconnected from the center within our own body and the subtle magic that exists in between all that we do in a day.
I have been led back to the center by gently integrating rituals each day to check in with my body, and the support of a few good herbs to help me find rest many moments throughout the day. Some of these rituals are innate within us, like making it a point to consciously cook my own meals or to stretch when I notice I have been sitting for a long time. I also started allowing myself to say yes to what my body was asking for, something that I believe we shouldn’t have to “allow” ourselves to do. Each “no” I was saying in my outer world, I turned into a big ol’ “Yes” for myself, eventually leading to better boundaries and less feelings of missing out or feeling bad.
As I committed to these practices, what no longer served me started to fall away. The more I moved from the space within my heart, the less afraid I became about leaving things to be done at another time and the more clarity I felt about where I was going on my path. The more I practiced moments of mindfulness, the more connection I felt to the intricate goings on around me.
The poet David Whyte has a wonderful poem where he talks about our aloneness not as something to fear or be weighed heavy by, but to find that in our aloneness we are truly connected to all of the intricacies and intimacies that surround us and how that may open us to the wild world we are a part of.
“Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything, everything, everything is waiting for you.”
Silence is not necessarily without sound (think of the way you feel near the ocean) but a certain calming of our internal noise so we may be present for the symphony of silence that is in our company each moment whether we are in our homes or walking a forest path.
Plants have undoubtedly become my greatest allies and teachers in this process. When I think back to the first plant that spoke to me at the botanical gardens in Berkeley, California, it was through quieting and integrating myself that I was able to connect to the messages of nature, a world we are not separate from but intimately steeped in the same glorious star dust. This experience moved me so deeply that I immediately followed the advice of this unidentified plant and moved back to the east coast, ultimately leading to the rich and rooted teachings of herbal medicine. In learning to communicate with the plants through silence, I ultimately learned how to connect back to my self and from there I began to know more intimately the path I was already on.
I offer you a simple meditation from my zine, Self Care in Uncertain Times, to welcome your own silence as a way to deepen your connection to the guidance of the plants and to your innate ability to heal. This meditation was passed down to me from my first herbal apprenticeship and is one of my favorite rituals for helping to relax into deep sleep or when I start to get overwhelmed by never ending to-do lists.
A few herbal suggestions to brew: chamomile, holy basil, rosemary, thyme, mugwort, skullcap, red clover, mullein, rose, hawthorn, linden, pine, elder flower, lemon balm
Brew up a cup of herbal tea.
Find a quiet, warm comfortable place to sit.
Close your eyes and settle into your body by taking 3 deep, slow, full breaths.
Sit here, quietly, sipping your tea for 5 - 20 minutes.
Allow the thoughts to flow up and out, gently noticing what comes to you.
If you feel called, begin to write freely about your experience, simply notice what comes up, how you feel, and what the herb illuminates within you.
Now is a time when connecting with the guidance of the plants and relearning the wisdom of our own bodies is truly a radical act. If you’d like a more in depth read about the medicine of self care and the magic of plant spirit, you can pre order my zine, Self Care in Uncertain Times. This 32-page booklet is an introduction to navigating the uncertainty of the world we live in through the gentle and deeply grounding practice of daily self care.
All photos were taken by Maribeth Keane.