Autumn Herbal Classes (tentative schedule)

Here's my first draft, (the teaser, if you will), of autumn herbal classes in Connecticut. Let me know your scheduling and topic preferences, and I will adjust accordingly. Thanks! 


The Classes

Autumn herbal classes will alternate between lecture and field classes.

Lecture classes:
Lecture classes cover a variety of topics, primarily materia medica for different body systems. These classes take place indoors with tea, discussion, and some samples. A basic understanding of herbal principles is requested for this class.

Field classes:
Field classes take place outdoors; all are welcome. These classes may include plant walks, botanical field identification, medicine making, and sharing herbal projects. Please dress appropriately for walking outdoors, and bring your current herbal projects to share.

The Details

When: Tuesday nights, 6:30- 8:30 PM. (Days/ times may change. Let me know your preferred evening. Classes will start in September, and conclude in December. Specific dates TBD. Come for one, or all, of the classes. Drop-in’s are welcome, though pre-registration is preferred.)
Where: Out-on-a-Whim Farm (312 Litchfield Turnpike Bethany, CT)
Cost: Sliding scale $30-$50 per class. Trades welcome; no one turned away for lack of funds.
Register: Contact Jiling at LinJiling@gmail.com or 626-344-9140

For more info, visit www.LinJiling.blogspot.com or www.facebook.com/jilingbotanicals/events

Tentative Weekly Schedule

1. Herbal overview: constitutional evaluation, actions and energetics
2. (Field Class)
3. Nervous system
4. (Field Class)
5. Digestive system
6. (Field Class)
7. Respiratory system
8. (Field Class)
9. Herbal first aid II: commonly seen conditions, materia medica
10. (Field Class)


Pit Firing: the basics

We just pit fired two groups of Two Coyotes Wilderness School students’ pinch pots, almost fifty pots, in a grand fire a few days ago. It was epic. Here’s a brief description for how we did it. I’m writing this mostly for the students and staff who didn’t get to be there for the firing, but it’s also for any interested individuals, who may wish to try it at home. I am here in Connecticut, where it’s a wet climate. Pots fire differently in the desert areas, where I first witnessed this process. This was my first time somewhat spearheading a pit firing, instead of just participating in anothers’ process. The results were really good! There’s always the danger of pots exploding or breaking during a firing. We only had two cracks, in this firing. It felt like somewhat of a rudimentary firing process. These pots won’t hold water, but can do so for short periods of time. They mostly came out pretty charred, with some beautiful color variances. It’s a learning process. I am glad to dance with the elements in this way, and hope to eventually learn about raku, and other more refined ways of working with primitive clay firing techniques. Making pottery already feels deeply connected with all of the elements. Fully participating in the firing process feels even more elemental and connected. I consider these pots sacred works of beautiful and functional art, and lovingly call them our “dragon phoenix children.”

Preparing the pots
1. Make pot/ clay piece (I will henceforth refer to it as just “pot,” from now on.) We added extra sand to temper our terra cotta clay: about a handful of sand, massaged into about a handful of clay. The presence of more sand in the clay helps to keep it together, during the firing.
2. Let pot fully dry. We let them sit in cars, windows, and full sunlight for almost a month, before the firing process. In the desert, we just let them dry for a few days, before firing. This part depends on where you live. But, the drier, the better. Any presence of air pockets or moisture in the pots can lead to exploding/ broken pots (no thanks!)

The Community
Let people know when and where you’re doing this. Ask for help, and turn it into a party. Many hands make light work, and it’s basically creating a huge bonfire... with baby pots birthing, under it.

Preparing the fire
1. Find a good spot that’s in a safe and clear place, away from the forest, or other accidental flammables.
2. Dig a pit. Make it about 8 inches (two hands) deep, and as wide as you might need it to be, for however many pots you are firing, laid out next to each other.
3. Gather lots of wood. We used a full bag of sawdust for the fine tinder, a pile of newspapers, and a truckload of assorted sized sticks from finger sized to solid lumps of firewood.
4. Prepare water. We had about 40 gallons of water and buckets nearby, for emergency usage.
5. Add a layer of sawdust/ fine tinder to the bottom of your pit, about 1-2 inches deep.
6. Arrange sticks around the edge of the pit, that creates a “support structure nest” for the pots, that more sticks can later be piled atop. These will help protect the sticks (Andy and I came up with this idea, in the moment.) Note that this layer is only for the edge, and not for the center of the pit, as the center is for the pots.

While preparing the fire...
Start pre-heating the pots. You can either just do this in the oven, at around 250 F for 30-60 minutes, or:
1. Build a fire. Crowd the pots around the fire, gently rotating them, so that they are evenly heated.
2. Slowly move the pots in, closer and closer around the fire. Let the fire die down into coals.
3. Place the pots on the coals, when they feel hot enough. You can place coals into the pots, too.

The Fire
Once everything is ready,
1. Place the pots on top of the first sawdust layer, facing downwards.
2. Add another layer of sawdust/ fine tinder on top of the pots, again about 1-2 inches deep.
3. Layer with newspapers.
4. Keep building your fire structure. Add sticks, moving from smaller up to to larger sticks. We started off building a log frame fire structure (criss crossing sticks), then placed longer sticks around that in a huge teepee fire structure. The end result looked like a massive teepee. We kept a “door” at the bottom to start the fire.
5. Start the fire. We bow-drilled a coal, blew it into flame, then sang songs as we lit the entire thing on fire.
6. Let it burn. It creates a huge fire that burns for almost an hour, then dies down into fat, bright, hot coals.
7. Once the coals stop smoking, cover with dirt. This keeps the heat in, and prevents oxidation. I just learned about this part from experienced potter John Olsen, who makes beautiful painted (with concentrated plant juices) and clean pots (not black and charred). We’ll try this, next time. And, add more pitchy wood at the beginning of firing (about half, to create a hot and smoky fire), for a reduction fire method.
8. Our coals stayed hot for almost 24 hours, uncovered. I slept next to them, and regularly visited them, the next day. Do not disturb the pots. Let them stay in there, slowly doing their thing: heating, cooling, and waiting. Once it feels cool enough...
9. Unearth the pots. Use leather gloves; they may still be hot.
10. Celebrate.


Herbal First Aid- Web Resources

Rainbow Medicine 2014 (A list of most of the medicines brought to the 2014 Rainbow Gathering by Sevensong and the Northeast School of Botanical Medicine, with a brief description of their uses. May be more helpful for someone with a pre-existing understanding of individual medicines, and their uses.)

7song’s handouts (go to the “First Aid” section, for related handouts. These are my primary references/ resources. These are also list-like, and potentially more helpful for more herbally experienced folks.)

jim mcdonald’s list of articles

7song’s currently working on an herbal first aid book, and occasionally conducts an “Herbal First Aid” class series with Learning Herbs:

I haven’t read it, but have heard mostly good reviews about Sam Coffman’s books, relating to this topic:

(Photo of the Herb Temple that I started setting up in Patagonia, AZ. Preparing for a salve-making workshop. The night before. The red cloth on the table makes me think of the usual red cross symbol that usually signifies first aid, as well as an invitation to bring more to the table. More research, more information, more skill. More intuition to match that, more care, and more importantly than anything else... the willingness to ask more questions, listen more carefully, and just be present with whoever shows up, in whatever ways that they do.) 



My family started meditating regularly when I was 9 years old. We became vegetarian, and attended group meditation four to five days a week. Children under twelve years old were “half initiates” who meditated at least 30 minutes a day, whereas adults meditated at least 2.5 hours a day. We spent our weekends camping at a meditation center in Riverside, CA. We drove there on Saturdays, and camped until Sunday. I spent many happy hours exploring the surrounding desert hills, roaming old trails, creating new trails, dreaming, questioning, and learning from the natural world.

I started rebelling as a teenager, and challenging all that I grew up with. I spent more and more time alone in the mountains, and even started cutting classes to go hiking, instead. After I left home and started traveling, I eagerly started exploring other forms of spirituality, and ways to understand myself, the world, and Spirit.

Meditation formed the foundation of my childhood, and continues to inform my life, regardless of its exact form. It increases self-awareness, cultivates presence, and, when utilized in an appropriately personalized way, can facilitate deepened connections with yourself, and the world. It can bring you more fully to life.

I am fascinated by diverse means of accessing the Divine, especially through Earth-based indigenous traditions. Growing up mesmerized by and enamored with the stones, plants, magic, and mystery of the southern California desert hills and San Gabriel mountains, I’ve carried that passionate curiosity into my adulthood, as a “wild creative spirit” aficionado and aspirant. I’m a seeker, and intend to continue exploring and sharing these sacred ways, for as long as I breathe.

In this article, I’d like to share a few meditation frameworks and possibilities. I try to cover some classic cross-cultural traditions, as well as what resonates most strongly with me, personally. Please remember that there is no “right way” to meditate, or connect with the Divine. There are infinite possibilities. I am spiritual but not religious, and hope the same for all of us. Dogmatism is a doorway to misery and judgmentalism, potentially hurting both ourselves, as well as all those we come into contact with. Stay open-minded and be experimental, but also set clear boundaries for yourself and the spirit realm. Try these techniques, but personalize them according to your own needs and desires, interests and penchants. My suggestions are all pretty general. None of the below meditations come specifically from any set tradition, though many of them are incorporated into more detailed traditions. Follow your intuition, your inner knowing, your heart song. Listen. Feel. See. Know.


Seated Meditation
Seat yourself in a comfortable position with your spine aligned, and both sides of your body balanced, where you can relax into your posture for however long you wish to sit. A cross-legged or kneeling position is commonly used, though lying down in Corpse Pose (Shavasana) or other supine positions is also done. Either gently lower your eyelids, or close your eyes. Draw your awareness to your breathing, heartbeat, and body. Allow your breath and heartbeat to soften, and slow down. Consciously relax all tension in your body, starting from the bottom of your feet, up to the top of your head. As thoughts arise, gently notice and release them without judgment or attachment. Noticing and releasing thoughts is a foundational practice.

Further exploration: yoga, mantra meditations, visualization meditations, affirmations

Breath Meditation
Count the length of your inhales and exhales. You can start with an equal length of both, noticing as your breath slows down. Gradually increase the duration of your inhales and exhales. Breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth. Begin lengthening your exhale, while maintaining your inhale. Eventually, focus only on the exhale. Notice your body through this exercise, maintaining relaxation, and drawing breath and awareness to any areas of tension. Breath awareness and body relaxation forms the foundational basis of many other practices, or meditation forms.

Further explorations:
Breathing exercises are best learned in person. Yogic pranayama exercises combine different breathing techniques with breath retention, and different postures, to cleanse, relax, and/ or energize the body-mind-spirit being. They require some degree of physical health and stamina, and a dedication to the practice. Sufi elemental breath exercises are simple, and don’t require much time or physical effort. Like a tonic herbal formula, they are more effective over time. They connect different breathing techniques with different elements, engaging with the five elements--- Earth, water, fire, air, ether--- physiologically and otherwise.

Moving Meditation
How can meditation be incorporated into a daily practice? A moving meditation can be any action done in a conscious and intentional manner. This could include yoga, chi-gong, tsalagi, dance, sports, etc. A few more detailed ideas are below.

Walking Meditation
Walk at a place and time where you can be silent and focused. Slow down. Coordinate your breathing and walking. As you inhale, raise your foot. As you exhale, place your foot upon the ground. Notice the areas where your foot comes into contact with the Earth. What kind of relationship does your foot have with Earth? How does that relationship impact you both? How does that impact feel, traveling up your leg, into your hips, extending upwards into your spine, rolling down your shoulders and through your arms, up through the top of your neck and into your head? What’s your walking posture? How do you swing or hold your arms? When you slow down, what is tense? What is relaxed? What is most comfortable? What is most difficult? Just notice. With each conscious step, synced with breath, notice what’s happening in your physical body, breath, and surroundings. What birds are singing? How does the air feel? What’s the quality of light? Keep your vision loose, not focusing on any one point, but looking ahead, with a wide angle vision that takes in as much as possible, more than 180 degrees from side to side, up and down. As thoughts arise, allow them to flow onwards, without engaging them. Keep walking, noticing, breathing, and stepping. Try doing it different ways, in different terrains, times of day, tempos, etc. If in a safe space, try it barefoot. Blind-folded. Naked. Backwards.

Further explorations: Chi-gong walking exercises/ meditations

Dance Improvisation Meditation
Stand in a relaxed yet balanced position, such as Mountain Pose (Tadasana) or a gentle Horse Stance. Feel the alignment of your spine, balanced between Earth and Sky. Feel your connection with both. Bring your awareness to your breath and body, like in previous exercises. As you relax further into your position, allow your breath to begin to move you. Drop your mental chatter, and surrender to this breath, and your movement. Allow your movements to be organic, your body to take on a life of its own. Experiment with moving in tandem with breath. Experiment with or without music. Where are you holding tension? What’s there? How does it feel to move this or that way? Try doing this with no story, or expectations. Try it with an intention, or specified exploration. Eyes closed or open. Vocalizing or silent.

Further explorations: Zifagong (spontaneous qi-gong), body-mind centering, Five Rhythms movement, Ecstatic Dance

Song Improvisation Meditation
While in a relaxed and embodied state, start vocalizing. Allow your voice to rise and fall as it wishes, while releasing your face muscles, opening your jaw, and emptying your thoughts. (You can also try this, with intentions, or as a processing technique). Loosen your spine, and allow yourself to move with your sounds, buoyed by your spine, noticing all sensations stored and released, expressed and explored. Don’t control the sounds that arise. Or, control the sounds. Try sticking to just one tone. Try going all over the place, atonal, melodic, staccato, with or without words, etc. Feel the sounds that you create, and how these vibrations affect you.

Further explorations: Sufi Dances of Universal Peace

Nature Meditation
Go into nature. Go to something that draws you. It could be a plant, a body of water, an anthill... anything. Get into a comfortable position that ideally places you at eye-level with this thing, so that you can really look at it. Allow your eyes to zero in, and really look. Notice as many details as you can, letting the surrounding world, even yourself, fall away. Besides physical observations, notice your breath, heartbeat, emotions, relationship with yourself, relationship with this thing, etc. Allow your thoughts to move on as they arise, and really tune into whatever you are observing. After a while, without changing your position, gradually shift into wide angle vision. Allow yourself to notice what surrounds this thing. What is its relationship with its own environment? How do you fit into that? Don’t think about all this; just experience it. Allow the experience to draw you forward. Allow yourself to meld into this thing, into its environment, into yourself.

Further explorations: Tamarack Song’s “Oneness Meditation,” plant journeys, “Plant Spirit Medicine” by Eliot Cowan

Sit Spot
Find a natural area within short walking distance of your home, where you feel comfortable, and have a connection with. This could be anywhere from a small plot of green, to miles of national forest. Whatever you’ve got works fine. Return here day after day, to just sit here. As you sit, notice what’s happening in the natural world around you, and what changes occur over time. Allow your mind to clear, and open to the natural messages. What plants grow around you? How do they change over time? What are their properties?

Further explorations: “Coyote’s Guide to connecting with nature” by Jon Young

Mirror Gazing
Gaze into your own eyes, in the mirror. Hold that gaze. You can allow your vision to be focused or wide angle, but maintain connection with your own eyes, noting that exchange. You can speak with yourself as you wish, but just notice what happens as you hold your own gaze, over time. This can also be a good time for conversing with yourself, asking questions, releasing pent-up woes, and/ or repeating heartfelt affirmations.

Further explorations: candle gazing, fire gazing, Sufi practices: gazing into the eyes of others

Explore free-form stream-of-consciousness writing, not editing your thoughts as they flow, upon the paper. As you write, allow your mind to clear. Let this act of writing be a cleansing process, an imaginative or creative process, a process of allowing, of being completely in that moment.

Further explorations: free drawing, creating mandalas, drawing plants

Meditation possibilities are infinite, due to their personal nature. What do you need? What do you enjoy? What practices root you to your body and this earth, while connecting you with your higher dreams, goals, aspirations and inspirations?

Meditation is not a quick fix, but instead cultivates long-term relationships, through the practice. Consider committing for at least 2 months to your daily practice of choice, to allow it to season and sweeten in you, like a well-aged wine. This kind of aged wine not only tastes better, but you can also taste it better, and the effects of that taste continues to leave an impact, further ripening, richening, and evolving over time. 



List the people that you really admire in your life, and your personal heroes (alive or dead) that you look up to. What qualities do these people have? How are those qualities manifest within yourself already? How can you further cultivate those qualities? How can you become your own hero?