Healer Heal Thyself
Protection and security are BIG themes in our world.
An important question every healer needs to ask herself sometime or another is: how do I protect myself?
Many healers take out insurance policies and wrap themselves in white light. Locked doors, child proof caps and credentials are another form of protection healers seek. Unfortunately, although these things decrease risk, they do not guarantee security.
In the loving-kindness meditation we pray, “May happiness be my guard.” This prayer suggests that happiness is a form of protection. It has certainly been my experience that lovingkindness and happiness is a form of protection. When my heart is open to others insults and injury roll off my back. A slower reaction time solves many problems.
Quick reactions, not rooted in lovingkindness, generally create entrenched positions, hurt feelings and blaming attitudes. Quick reactions are rarely solution orientated and lead to more fear about living our joy, offering our gifts freely and expressing the truth of our being creatively.
Realistically though, it is almost impossible to sustain a continued state of lovingkindness. At times we all react quickly, dig a trench, nurture our wounds and blame others. Beyond the idealism of a continuous state of lovingkindness, we are left with the question, “What is protection?” or “How do I protect myself?” Knowing how unpredictable life is, I’m stumped for an answer.
When a question does not bring forward a creative solution to a problem, I reframe the question. Let’s try the question this way, “As a herbalist, what am I protecting myself from?” One answer that resonates loudly is - mistakes!
Oh the dreaded mistake! We all fear them. Images of fingers pointing at you saying, “It’s your fault!” “You’re to blame!” “How can you call yourself an herbalist when this happens!” Mistakes are looming shadows in the dark corners of most healers’ minds. Perhaps fear of mistakes is a form of conscientiousness because as herbalist’s we know mistakes lead to discomforts for our client like constipation or diarrhoea, skin rashes, a sleepless night or worse scary anaphylactic reactions.
We know, if we have studied plant medicine and human beings well enough, that there is always a chance that something unpredictable can happen with our medicine, as with any medicine. With a mistake, will we be blamed, sued, reviled? With this thought a blank arises in the mind quickly filled with images of ridicule and disgrace.
What if there is another reason to make mistakes? What if mistakes can be a form of protection? Now that is radical! Is fear of mistakes a form of protection?
I know it’s a cliché but I am going to use it anyways, “We learn from our mistakes.” (using clichés are mistakes writer’s make!) By carefully retracing the steps we made along the path to the mistake we will learn how not to make the same mistake twice. Discovering the underlying causes of a mistake, whether it be an oversight on your part, a challenge with the plant medicine itself, or something not disclosed by the client, you will learn how to ask better questions, how to source and examine your plants whether fresh or dried, and how to keep yourself aware and present.
I used to think if I was right, I could not make a mistake. Then if I did not make a mistake I would be safe. Therefore, I invested all sorts of time and energy into being right. Fortunately, I made mistakes. Eventually, a realization broke into my hard headed-ness (part of the cause of some of my mistakes) and I learned being right is not a form of protection. It only causes more mistakes.
Being right means one cannot listen to other points of view. Hearing other point of views often offers important information needed to avoid mistakes.
I have found mistakes such a remarkable opportunity to understand practical and (often not recorded) information about plant medicine. Mistakes have taught me to gently probe my clients until I have received all the information I need to make good recommendations on the use of plant medicine. Mistakes have made me a better herbalist. Honestly and openly acknowledging my mistakes offers me the protection of integrity.
When I have made a mistake in my practice as a herbalist the first thing I do is acknowledge it and talk about it with the client. I clearly express my sincere regret and offer free replacement medicine or their money back. Interestingly rarely does the client want their money back or free medicine. Usually they are relieved to talk about the mistake with me. They value the opportunity to clarify the cause of their experience. Most (and there has not been a lot of mistakes in my practice) clients who had unfortunate experiences using plant I offered are my most loyal supporters. They know they can trust me to be honest with them and that I am willing to listen to their concerns. This is the best protection I know.
As an herbalist you will make mistakes. You might as well accept this now. And you might as well prepare yourself to be open and honest about your mistakes. If you are smart, you will vow to learn from them the first time and not the second, third, forth and so on.
Most people learn to protect themselves from mistakes with either blaming another person or venomous self-criticism. These are strange forms of protection. In my experience both of these reactions to mistakes only creates more harm. Openly acknowledging mistakes creates a sense of vulnerability. In vulnerability, there are no shields between ourselves and others. Vulnerability is just two humans looking at each other allowing all to be seen. Nothing hidden. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable is the great healing. Your mistakes will take you there. We are always vulnerable no matter how much we shield ourselves.