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Empaths and Horsetail: Knowing and Using Antidotes


There’s a Mayan teaching that says that every poisonous plant found in the wild is accompanied by an antidote, and that it’s within human vision of the one that’s toxic.

I’m not going to speak to whether or not that’s true in every environment, deserts to tundra. Let’s face it, the Maya were surrounded by rainforests that are especially diverse in terms of flora. The sheer number of species of plants living in that environment certainly has a bearing on the truth of that statement.

But I think it’s certainly conceivable that the same thing is true in many instances, including the Pacific NW where I live. For example, stinging nettle grows all over our ceremonial property in NW Oregon. So does the antidote, horsetail. In fact, I get stung every year when I’m weed-whacking my camp spot for Ceremony Season. What might stop me from applying horsetail to the wound? 

Two things, only. Lack of knowledge, or lack of motivation. That leaves four possible outcomes after being stung by those... lovely… nettles.  

First, it could be that I don’t know how to remedy it, and I’m unmotivated to learn. I get hit by nettles, but I don’t know the remedy, and I don’t care; I’ll work through the pain. This has been my modus operandi for all my years out there. I didn’t know that horsetail was the antidote until recently.

I’m also quite familiar with the second scenario, which is that I get stung and would gladly apply the antidote if I knew it. As I mentioned, I generally suffer through a six-hour, stinging sensation, but I wouldn’t if I knew some snazzy Native American repair. At least I now know one exists. If I can figure out the application of the medicine, I’ll be ready to apply some first aid when I go to town on the weeds in a few months.

That brings me to a third possibility: that I know the cure, but just don’t want to apply it. Does that really happen? Oh, certainly. This is far too common in some circles. Like ours. More on this in a few inches.   

Finally, we come to the place where naturalists, medicine people, and interested folks come to: they get stung, they want to fix it, and they know how. So, they do. The idea that’s presented can be simply put as being a matter of three preconditions: a painful event, a desire to remedy it, and some understanding about how to make that happen. That’s it.

Or is it? 

Here’s a question: what if a person is hyper-sensitive to stinging nettle? As in, more than most people? Horsetail is still the remedy, right? (Yes, it is.) That means that I could feel this particular pain more acutely than others, but the fact of the antidote still applies. Another extenuating circumstance may be that I’m standing in a forest of nettle, so I get stung profusely. Either condition might bring more pain. Still, nothing changes, other than my motivation to know and apply the antidote might be increased with increased pain, right? Nettle is no more deadly in either circumstance, just potentially more uncomfortable.

I have another question, and it’s this: Are you really 450-ish words into an essay about nettles? Don’t worry, you’re not. This is about far more than that.

I’ve come to sense that the natural world is not only physically abundant, but metaphorically relevant. She, Mother Earth, Pachamama, Unci Maka, is a living parable, the best Teacher we could have. This is by benevolent, divine design. That’s why environmentalism, for some of us, is about far more than the dry, “saving the planet” line. It’s about saving the most unique living species in the known Universe, with a sample size of one: Earth. (Oh, and by the way, saving her is saving ourselves.) More that that, She is wise, coherent, conversant and available – if we (re)learn her sacred language – which the ancient Maya knew. (For more on this, see my book, Sand: A Conversation About the Enormity of Life, available, go figure, on Amazon.) It’s about the Earth Teaching, and humans Learning, both capitalized. Since the best teachers rely heavily upon metaphor in order to meet their students at their level of understanding, we can expect this to be true of Mother, too.

In other words, if the ancient teaching is correct and fairly universally applicable, it means that the antidote to other types of poison might be within our grasp, too. I’m not talking about physical poison, now.

It’s time to shift into metaphor mode. Ohh, yeah.

As we do so, I look at my own life and those around me and I see a lot of people who feel stung by life. They’re right, too. I mean, this world is full of “nettles,” isn’t it? They’re all over the place. No one doesn’t get hit. I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t, anyway. Do you?   

So, let’s say we’ve been stung by life. It’s not fatal, but it hurts. Do the same scenarios, one-through-four, apply? I think they do. Let’s take each possible outcome and chat them up.

For the first option, we can sit down in the middle of the nettle patch and moan about the pain. Hell, if we’re particularly sensitive, that might even be understandable. Of course, we may end up with more stinging on the derriere, but it’s still understandable – just not very helpful. We’re wallowing, and we have no hope of relief. This, for lack of a better term, sucks.

What’s better?

Well, it’s better if we can stop and say, “Dammit, I’ve been stung! I would remove the pain if only I knew how!” If we can get out of the way of the pain for long enough - which exists in our minds, hint - we can search our tools and see if we know anything about horsetail. If we don’t, we’re solidly sitting at situation number two; we’re hurting and motivated, but don’t have the understanding to do anything about it. More and more people are coming to this place. It’s a significant step up from number one in that at least these realize that the pain they’ve gone through is not the way things have to be. Rather, they can admit that they feel pain, and they would fix it if they could. More,they conceive that there might be a repair, which sounds a lot like faith. There’s still a sense that they could do it if they only knew how. But in this case, they’re stuck: no fix.

But… they may start looking.

I’m going to pause here, and let you stew on that. What is the metaphorical equivalent of the act of acknowledging the pain and searching one’s emotional toolkit for an answer?

While you’re thinking, can we remove ourselves from the nettle patch for a moment? Hey, we have work there so we’re not going to run out of it – the camp spot needs to be cleared, no matter what, right? But we’re going to exercise some self-compassion and remove ourselves from the situation, temporarily. That’s cool, right?

Yes, Marley, it is.

To answer the question, a remedy might be a teaching, or a practice, wouldn’t it? Unpacking this scenario a little further, let’s say someone with whom you’re in a relationship says something hurtful. They’re having a bad day and strike out at whoever was closest. And it turns out, it’s your turn. And it hurts, badly.

Unfortunately, this is scenario number three, and this is where it stops. S/he knows the remedy, but doesn’t do anything about it. I’m taking omniscient license here to even suggest that this person walks out of the nettles; many times, we don’t even do that much, do we?What’s especially tragic is that we know the cure, including where to find and prepare it. We just don’t do the work.

And this is where I have to come clean. I often find myself here.

Ouch. That admission stings almost as much as the metaphorical nettles do. 

Almost.

You know that phenomenon where you go to a retreat, or sacred ceremony, and come back motivated to implement the tools you have? And what happens? Well, they work. (Duh.) For me, and maybe you -or your neighbor- they work so well that we start to forget to use them. In my case, maybe I skip a day of meditation. Maybe I don’t do my fire ceremonies. Maybe I don’t smoke my chanupa (sacred pipe) for a week. Or two. Or three. What starts out as situational forgetfulness, turns to plain old daily forgetfulness, which turns into flat-out laziness.

How does a guy like me, who’s had so many soulful experiences, laze-out like this?

A great meditation teacher told me one that it was the height of pride for him to think he could go even one day without meditation. 

Now… the height of pride? Well, maybe for him. But for me, I can get higher than that, mister. My pride gets very, very tall, until I have a lot more than meditation to worry about. I got job trouble, and relationship issues, and overall bad judgement, galore. All because I stood outside my nettle patch, looking at horsetail, unwilling to apply it.

Don’t laugh, Empath… I’m talking to you, too.

We don’t get to be Amazonian abundant in spiritual gifts without having a plethora of potential remedies to whatever nettled buzz-saws we run ourselves into. That's just Earth-true. It's what She shows us. I understand how Empaths are “more sensitive” than everyone else. I happen to believe we’ve earned that designation, that we worked for it, and qualified for it. But instead of celebrating that state, I see a lot of moaning about it, especially online.

Bottom line: if we’re empathic, it’s not only because we’re wonderful. We asked for this. The Universe granted it. And with it, came tools; tools that don’t always get used.

This, my friends, is the embodiment of situation number three. And it’s an epidemic among “spiritual” people, including the religious.

We could solve world hunger with the amount of money we’ve spent on overcharged weekend retreats, “teacher training” and dubious “certificates” over the years. And yet, when we’re triggered, we all-too-often stand outside our nettle patch, and that’s where it stops.

What’s better?

Take some horsetail to the site with us, right? This is analogous to doing our practices. Meticulously. Every. Single. Day. We don’t forget to eat, do we? I sure don’t. When our desire for peace is as strong as our desire for food, peace will stick around, I guarantee it.  

What happens then? Situation number four.

We get stung (we all do), but unlike the other scenarios, we have both the knowledge and the motivation to act wisely. If we’re smart, we have the antidote already prepared in our back pocket. We stop, smile up at the sky that provided the rain for both nettle and antidote, thank Pachamama for both as well, and apply the salve.

If we’re lucky, we may know the dude clearing the next site over. You know he’s going to get stung, right? Look at him go with that weed whacker! And what, he’s wearing shorts?

He just got stung. You sure saw that coming. Now what are you going to do?

Stop what you’re doing, right? Walk over there. Now, you’ve partnered with Pachamama. You’ve partnered with Father Sky. How? Because it’s your turn to teach, to show your careless brother something about horsetail.

This is how Empaths can serve. It’s not by complaining on Facebook in mock humility about how sensitive we are. It’s about taking our antidotes with us into the nettle forest, so we can do our work without so many interruptions, and so we can assist others in theirs.

Interestingly, this is also how nature works (which makes sense because when we’re aligned, we act like Nature does). It spreads. It finds ways to exist and thrive. Nature is rather mycological; growing in the strangest places, in the strangest ways, creating community wherever it goes, processing waste and making lovely colors. You and I are right where we’re supposed to be. We’re clearing our sites for ceremony season, which is coming fast (goody, another metaphor!). People are working next to us.

The nettles are thick, and getting thicker.

We’d best have our antidote(s) ready.

We’re gonna need them.

Photo by Alesah Villalon on Unsplash


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