September 22, 2013 we joined at Clear Point Center with Maria and Fernando Nunez, Dr. Joseph Medicine Horse Breton, Alissa Milliken, Joseph Cohen, my lovely wife Shannon McCarthy and myself to lead an Autumn Equinox Day of Rejuvenation with fifteen Spanish speaking participants. The intent of the day was to connect and align with nature, to harmonize with the season and to be fellow explorers of indigenous healing traditions from Ecuador’s High Andes and to the North American Plains.
As we started the day’s preparation for the ceremonial lodge, Dr. Joe reminded us that we are stronger together. We sing songs, dance and pray for the Trinity that is Others, the Earth and Ourselves. Indigenous people we’re never separated from this trinity and today we come together to honor all traditions and religions that have not lost sight of what we hold most dearly. Dr. Joe went on to say that spirituality is very private and religion is public, we are here to celebrate our spirituality through songs, dance and a ceremonial sweat lodge. What is prayed for in the lodge comes true in real life and also what is shared in the lodge stays in the lodge.
The day started with the group being welcomed with a Sweet Fern Tea that we harvested from our land. The first thing one of our guests asked me was “can you tell me please where can I buy this tea?” I said, “you can pick it for free, we’ll show you how.”
Overhead turkey vultures were soaring against a clear blue sky, a cousin to the Condor.
Alissa a Gaia School of Healing and Earth Education graduate guided the plant walk. It was so great to learn both the shamanic and botanical properties of the plants. The focus of the plants we met on this day would offer cleansing and purifying benefits for the sweat lodge.
Before participating in a lodge it’s best to eat very lightly; some fruit, a green salad, teas, herbs and plenty of water is recommended. During the lodge you can sweat up to a gallon and a half of water and release a bunch of toxins; both physical and emotional.
Here are some of the plants beings we met.
Burdock looks similar to rhubarb. It’s a food and a medicine, which means it can be taken in large quantities safely. Many wild plants do have a toxic effect at higher levels which makes them a powerful medicine and why they must be approached with care. The vast variety of wild plants are safe, there’s only a handful that can be harmful.
We enjoyed the nutty flavor of the burdock root both cooked, raw and as a tea. The leaf can be used as a poultice and applied to bites and burns; the bitter dry seeds can be made into a tincture and used as food. Burdock is not to be confused with yellow dock. You can harvest burdock in the fall of the first year or the spring of the second year. It is a biannual plant. You can find it in farmer’s fields and growing on the side of the road. They love rocks and the roots go deep so bring a shovel.
As a tea you can drink it all day. It will make you pee a lot so make sure to drink plenty of water. Burdock helps to support the liver, kidneys, joints, skin conditions, any inflammation in the body. Inhibits tumor growth and cancer cells.
This plant I knew from my days of being a wholesale florist. We would dry and preserve it and it would be used a part of a fall wreath decoration. You’ll find Mugwort everywhere, especially on the sides of the road. Medicinally it is known to induce sweating and movement of Chi (energy). It also induces dreaming so it makes it a great nighttime tea. It can increase blood flow so becareful if you’re on a menstrual cycle. Mugwort can be used as a smoking supplement, for smudging or tea. Pick when flowering and dry it by hanging it up side down. You can take the dry flowers and rub it in the palm of your hand. This will break down the oils and the scent is pleasantly invigorating.
Have you ever weeded your lawn to get rid of all those weeds, especially dandelion? Most people do and are unaware of the extraordinary medicinal properties of this plant. The leaves, flower and roots of this plant are edible and medicinal. It can be taken either raw or cooked. It has a bitter taste and is best used with other greens in a salad or a great addition to a morning smoothie.
Dandelion is excellent for cleansing the blood, liver and the gallbladder. It stimulates the production of bile in the liver which helps to digest fats. Dandelion root contains inulin, which is a type of soluble fiber that is good for blood sugar imbalances and diabetes. Harvesting in the springtime and fall is best for tenderness. In the summertime months the leaves tend to be more fibrous and tough. For a much larger plant you can cultivate it in the garden.
You will see this beautiful plant everywhere. It has a tart lemon flavor and is super high in Vitamin C. You want to be careful to strain it with a cheesecloth as the hair on the berries can irritate the tongue and throat.
Sumac is an invigorating nutritional tea served cold or as a hot infusion. You can dry the berries and use in the wintertime. Make sure to harvest during a dryer time before much rain, as rain will wash away the sweetness. Use hot not boiling water when making a tea.
Maria shared with us some of the wild plants from Ecuador. Many are used to take away bad energy or what is referred to as the evil eye. In North America we’d call it a mood disorder or depression
Forest and Grounding Tour
Have you ever wondered why the air smells so much cleaner in a forest? It has everything to do with trees that purify the air. We need trees and lots of them. I was so pleased to learn that we have more forests today in Connecticut that we did a hundred years ago. In the late 1800s sheep farming was a huge boon to our economy and the farmers went all out clearing fields and in the process constructing hundreds of thousands of miles of stonewalls and vast fields. This created a region with a lot less trees. We may be enjoying cleaner air in this area today than we did 200 years ago because of all the trees and forestland that have grown back into this once – cleared land.
Alissa shared with our group that trees are consistently raining and charging the air. The vast network of roots carries water into a tree and throughout the night it provides a mist that purifies the air. A large tree can release up to 150 gallons each night.
Awakening Creativity with a Mandala Exercise
A mandala is a circle that is balanced on all sides. Most people are familiar with the mandalas made with colored sand by Tibetan monks. They will meditate and pray over a period of weeks to create an intricate masterpiece that once completed and enjoyed is swept away and destroyed. Would you do that with a art piece you put so much time into? They do it to represent the impermanence of life.
In this exercise Shannon led the group in a visionary meditation that assisted the participants in being led by inner guides that would help to formulate the perfect mandala and then creating it on a keepsake t-shirt that they we’re able to take home with them.
When I think back on the day my mind goes to the sweet smell of mugwort, the lemony zip of sumac infused water, the barefoot plant walk, hugging the trees and smelling the pine burning in the fire. My heart goes back to the High Andes cleansing ritual of rubbing an egg (with the shell intact) over my body to release negative energies. My mind said it was silly, my heart said to go with it and trust. The next day after the lodge my lower back pain was gone. It had been bothering me for weeks. Maybe that egg pulled some bad energy out.
Once I entered the lodge my thoughts go to my mind chatter, I do have some fears over the heat and closeness of the lodge, my mind started to spin its tales of control and worries. I focused my attention on the invigorating smells of sage, sweet grass and cedar that was being brushed on the glowing red stones as they were being brought into the lodge. I felt my body being supported by the cool earth beneath me as the air became infused with steam and heat. The body started to soften, relax and vibrate with the beat of the drum. The songs worked on my heart and inhibitions. After the lodge as I entered back into the open air, I felt this great sense of expansion and freedom. Shannon called her experience,“heavenly peace.”
Sometimes I have my doubts as to whether all our prayers will be answered or if the body will be healed from doing these lodges. I’ve heard it said that enlightenment happens by accident and doing yoga makes one accident-prone. Maybe the same is said for prayers being answered or our bodies being restored back to health, we have to do things that make one prone to healing and to having our prayers answered.
It can be really hard to accept ourselves when you see all the suffering humanity has created for itself and for our precious earth. This is why beauty and honoring the trinity of Others, the Earth and Ourselves is so key. We have to be consistently reminded of our divinity, uniqueness and unity. Of the vast cosmos that we live in and this wondrous earth that we share. Aho!
Steven A Munn