Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference

Another amazing year at the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference. Here's a few stories/ highlights: excerpts from my journal, and a write-up for Plant Healer magazine.

We arrived just as it got dark, and the sliver of Moon set over the horizon of waving coniferous tree tops, in the little valley that we made home, for the next few nights of the 2015 TWHC. Mating elk sang their love songs into the night. I could hear them walking ever closer to my little bed under the oak tree, where acorns regularly fell above and around me, where I and the acorns lay under a canopy of stars, that blessed reminder of who we are and where we are in the Universe, with the bright white dash of Milky Way magic strewn across the middle of the deliciously dark night sky.

We rose early the next morning, to set up our tables, and give and receive one warm loving hug after another. TWHC feels like a family reunion. I got to embrace, reconnect with, meet, and enjoy the presence of herbalists from all over the country, from a diversity of backgrounds. And, classes hadn’t even started yet.

I’ve been thinking about TWHC for the whole year. Each time I feel tired or lackluster in my struggles as a “new” herbalist, I think about TWHC, and get reinspired. Even though it’s only four days, I made lasting friendships and professional contacts that I regularly reconnect with throughout the year to ask questions, share experiences, and stay connected with, as I grow and help spread our mycelial herbal network of friends and connections wherever I travel, teach, learn, and explore.

Time flew too quickly. This is manifest in the faces of the children. I helped with the new Children’s Camp by teaching a little, but mostly by hanging out with the kids around the gathering. The students from last year remembered me, and I, them. Their families also feel like families, and their moms feel lovingly protective, caring, and somewhat mom-like towards me, too. I accompanied the kids upstairs to look for Rebecca the ghost, ogling the dark landscape from the high vantage point, and then danced with them late into the night. It’s wonderful to see them grow up. I hope to return year after year, and thus be part of their lives. “I don’t want to be an herbalist when I grow up,” said one of the pre-teens in my classes, “my mom’s always talking about herbs, and I’m a little over it.” She stills knows plants though, already confident with her basic plant families. We had fun creating our own plant language, changing the plural form of “petal” from “corolla” into “pet-us,” then “pet-me.” Perhaps it’s an inside joke. It makes my heart sing, these little moments.

TWHC brings together wonderful herbalists from all over the USA, including some of my favorite teachers, role models, inspirations, and beloved people. We shouted at each other above the loud music and laughter on the masquerade ball night, smiling through masks and colorful costumes, bodies grooving to unfamiliar music. The second nights’ dance party had most of us dancing, jumping up and down to the powerful music and clackety drums, soaring flute and vocals, and twanging guitars pulsing through our bloodstream, under the hundred twinkly small white lights, under the old wooden roof beams, under the big Sky Island sky. I danced with the kids, my young friends and students, at the front of the hall, twirling each other and laughing, experimenting with all the different ways to express the music, laughing harder as 7song brought all of us together into a big circle, which eventually snaked around and pulled everyone in the room into a giant circle, which twisted and turned around and into itself, eventually interploding back into a packed room of dancing bodies and uplifted spirits.

(From my journal):
At one moment, looked up while dancing: glittering lights above, an undulating wave of ecstatically dancing herbalist bodies: plant lovers, misfits, oddballs, outsiders. My kids jumping around in front, and I with them. Tears came to my eyes, my body grooving in synchronistic harmony with the music and those around me, feeling completely alive and harmonious in that moment, my heart soaring from every pounding beat my feet sunk into the wooden floor upon sacred Earth, every wild and untamed twirl of my young lithe body getting older, housing this ancient spirit that feels so glad, and so right to be here in this moment, celebrating with a crowd of beautiful, courageous, wild creatures, dancing deep into the night.

I took classes from as many different teachers as possible, to taste different teaching styles, possibilities, and herbal approaches. If I didn’t get a chance to take a class with a teacher, then I made a point to hangout with them.

I notice that most of the teachers were self-taught: highly self motivated, curious, and intelligent people. I’m preparing to embark on Chinese medicine graduate school studies, and question my expensive new journey, especially in the face of all of these skilled practitioners who taught themselves so much, primarily through the practice of living the medicine: starting schools, clinical practices, and apothecaries.

I sidled late into Guido’s class, for my final class of a packed weekend of amazing classes with some of the strongest and most beautiful voices in western herbalism, at the end of this conference. He was mid-story, weaving a story-spell about how the Silvanis helped a young man and the Moon princess live together. He went on to describe various plants of the Alps that are also used in western herbalism, such as Alder, Linden, Nettles, and Elder. His way of combining magic and mythology, science and clinical gems, inspires and excites both the part of me which is still a kid and just wants to hear stories, as well as the “teacher” part of me which is leading classes for both adults and kids. I hope to build such brilliant bridges as these, too.

I found myself drawing little Sylvanis on my plane ride “home,” back to an unknown future: how to continue with my work as an herbalist. Continue onwards to Chinese medicine school, or not. How to best walk in this world. I outlined my hands, filling them with dancing Sylvanis from Guido’s Dolomite Alps stories. Little magical men with red capes who appear out of nowhere in the Alps, and guide people on how to use plants, or gets them in trouble. Like Coyote, but with red capes. And, trees from Juliet’s tree class, Rosaceae family plants from Kiva’s class, inspiration from Sean and Asia’s class, the faces of my friends, children, people and plant herbal family, and more.

I love walking by myself, crunching the red and gold leaves beneath my feet in the frosty late autumn air, geese honking above, turmoiled questions and colorful inspirations swirling within my chest, released with each outbreath. I’m grateful for opportunities to ignite myself in the fires of community, setting fire to my latent passions and budding possibilities and impossibilities. “Where to from here,” becomes less of a question, and “How can I make THIS opportunity NOW and HERE the BEST it can possibility be,” rises, instead.

Small hand in large hand, large hand in wrinkled hand, hand by hand, a roomful of people dance around, under the sky stars in an old room, weaving together a fibrous fabric of time. We are creating our own mythology as the gods of our own lives.

(From my journal): 
After TWHC, I feel powerful, inspired and unwilling to compromise me for my dreams... a mutual movement of me reaching for the world and vice versa, not a solo one way dance.

The elk are mating right now. We got serenaded each morning and night with their haunting songs, plaintive love cries that echoed across the cliffs and canyons, and the sounds of their footsteps, the chattering squirrels, and the falling acorns of autumn. Night sky: bright stars, Milky Way, dramatic sunsets and sunrises, a thin crescent moon that grew to a quarter moon by the time the Gathering ended. Sleeping on the ground warmly ensconced in two sleeping bags, bare face smiling up to a ceiling of stars and fattening moon, wind, elk, squirrel, and acorn songs to sleep, and days filled with herbal speak: inspiration, wisdom, experience, possibility--- didn’t make any photos while here. Fully present and engaged, four days lost to the world, fully present in the world. Now, at the end, flying on to my next adventurous journey--- I realize this is what it feels like to be fully alive. And, I want this (!) in my life.

NCNM Personal Statement

There's a 1000 word limit that I had to stay within. Sometimes when I get inspired, I just write and write. I cut a lot out to meet the word limit; there is so much more to say. There is always more to say. And, when it comes down to it, the story means nothing (even though it sometimes feels like everything. And it does provide a basis for everything else, in the mythology of my life, and the world that I've woven around myself in my head, and therefore also in reality.)

I left the Academy for Five Element Acupuncture (AFEA). It was a complex multi-layered decision that I still feel deeply conflicted about: sad, angry, somewhat helpless... and, necessary. And now, onwards.

I just sent in my application for the National College of Natural Medicine (NCNM) in Portland, OR. I don't have many friends or connections in the Portland area, and am looking for connections and support, especially around finding affordable housing, preferably an "alternative" housing situation where I can do worktrade in exchange for a place to make a nest, make beautiful, and rest at night. NCNM will be an intense education; a "real" Chinese medicine education that includes the study of classical Chinese, translating ancient texts, as well as engaging full-time in school, work, clinic, personal practice, memorization, experiencing, and so much more.

I applied for, and hope to embark on, the Doctors of Science in Oriental Medicine (DSOM) program, beginning January 2016. It will be more than double the cost of education at AFEA. The total should add up to around $130,000 for just tuition alone. After considering my options, this one still feels like the best one. Daunting, yes.

I want to share one of my application essays with you. And, I want to ask for your assistance for school finances, again. You can donate via my Jiling Botanicals business page here, or you can just send me a check (preferable, so I don't get money deducted from using a credit card). Any help is appreciated--- I'm asking for at least $5 from each person, if possible. If not, then send me your prayers; I'll need it!

There are four essays required for the application to NCNM. I should hear if I get accepted or not within a week or two. I expect an easy acceptance, but who knows.

Writing all four of the essays brought me to tears. Making this commitment is truly life-changing for myself and all those I come into contact with. It feels like a decision that is larger than just my life, not just affecting my future clients and students, but also wrapped into the fabric of my very being, and all of my ancestors. It feels deeply personal, and through its depth of connection with my heart and being, touches humanity.

Thanks for reading!

Personal Statement
Jiling Lin, 10/ 2015

We lit candles, placing them into lanterns, then paraded around the empty streets with our colorful florally painted paper lanterns swinging from ropes, suspended on chopsticks that we delicately held in our small hands, as we tried not to run too fast, or jump too high with excitement. I loved singing the old Chinese songs, eating moon cake, and staring at the moon during the Moon Festival, lighting our incense sticks and wafting their magical perfume up towards the sky, with muttered prayers flying up with the smoke, to reach the ears and nostrils of our ancestors. I grew up in a white neighborhood, getting stereotypical Asian-sounds thrown at me like bullets from across the playground. I wore red often, feeling a connection with a land across the ocean where my parents and ancestors came from, where I spent the first year of my life, where I didn’t get to return to much at all again, until after I grew up, after experiencing the blessings and difficulties of being a first generation Taiwanese-American in a new land but still feeling a curiosity, affinity, and pride, for where I felt like I really came from.

I studied Native American traditions, western herbalism, Thai massage, Yoga, esoteric spiritual new-agey traditions from all over, and more. Nothing really connected, until I met a man nicknamed “Tofu” through a series of coincidences, who sees patients for free in his humble mountain abode of the YangMingShan Mountains that lie to the north of the capitol of Taiwan, Taipei, where my parents were born and raised, where the pre-birth of my birth arose from the Earth, where my grandparents fled when the Communists took over China, where I went and lived for three years after three years of travel around the USA as an adult after graduating from UCLA, where I re-fell in love with something ancient, refound my bones, resculpted myself, and then returned to the USA with something that I didn’t have before: a vision.

I just started teaching my own western herbal classes last July, after completing 1.5 years of formal intensive education at two different herb schools. Teaching has been invaluable for solidifying all that I learned in school, while continually challenging all I think I know and don’t know, constantly humbling me, while slowly and gently increasing my confidence. Embarking on this Chinese medicine school journeys feels like starting all over again, but also like returning home, back to something so very familiar, tucked into the folds of my childhood dreams, of falling asleep to the sound of my grandma counting her prayer beads, knocking on her wooden fish, and singing all the old Buddhist chants in a high-pitched, nasal, single-toned sing-song voice, led from her heart; falling asleep to the smell of complex Chinese herbal formulas stewing in old clay pots, then waking to the babbling of a community of elders and children, a true community moving around me.

He placed a needle in my hand. “Start with yourself,” he said. He showed me where my He Gu (LI 4) is, and how to needle it. It took me a while to actually dredge up the courage to needle myself. Then, I did it. The simultaneous pain and exciting electricity shot from the point of needled contact up the meridian line, and electrified, ecstatified my entire system. “Sing the body electric,” said Whitman. I felt it.

Where to, from here?

I started traveling intensively after graduating from college, eventually landing myself at the bottom of a cliff after a failed mountain summit deep in the Sierra Nevadas, after free-falling forty feet, and rolling 400 feet to what luckily was not a death, but was instead a rebirth: two broken wrists, a fractured chin, a cracked skull, and half my face torn off. Many stitches and surgery later, I returned to the world physically, emotionally, and spiritually shattered and changed. Impossible to return to my job as a “mere” photojournalist, I turned to the road, to a life of infinite possibilities and possible impossibilities, where nothing was clear, until after walking with the unclarity for a long enough distance, I eventually stomped out a clear enough path to notice the way I was walking, the patterns therein: wilderness, creativity, and spirituality. Body, mind, and spirit. Healing the entire person, the entire being.

It starts simultaneously inside and outside, and there are no clear answers. Every process is a journey, a process. I start with myself.

I experience dull chronic pain in my wrist, which is exacerbated by stress, coldness, and dampness. Coagulated scar tissue sits at the area of surgery, right along my Pericardium meridian. I experience numbness and tingling in my fingers, among various other symptoms that arose after my transformative mountain experience. Part of my travels was learning how to feel better, how to heal fully, how to embrace life again, after being so painfully close to death. I learned that the best, most powerful medicine that one can embrace is that which one feels an affinity with. I feel passionate about old traditions, paths that carry weight via time, experience, story, and lived lives. I love the tales of those who came before, especially if they are finely wrapped in magic and mythology, these nonliteral metaphorical tales that fire my blood and reinforce all the ways in which I’m woven into this world, via my heartstrings, inspired connection of Earth, plant, body, and life medicine. Story, connection, and Earth healed me back into life. Now, for more questions: how can I continue to walk my path in such a way as to continue helping others on their own healing paths? Herbalist, adventurer, educator, and bridger between the worlds of Taiwanese and American, seen and unseen, old and new, microcosm within macrocosm--- here, I stand at the brink of Classical Chinese medicine studies at NCNM, knocking on the door, with an open heart and mind.



What is your cultural heritage? Who are your ancestors? What is your relationship with them? How are they present in your life? What cultures do you feel connected with, or curious about? What is the cultural backdrop of your current life? What kind of input are you providing, through your own life, for the future generations?