As I was looking to learn more about herbs, I came across a workshop put on by Davidson’s Park and Rec. Department. If you haven’t already tried it, your local libraries and Parks and Rec departments are excellent places for free classes and experiences. And even better, you will often run into the most remarkable, accomplished people, like I did with Kathleen.
Since I could not attend the date the workshop was offered, I looked her up online and found that she offers so much more than just knowledge about herbs. I reached out to her to meet for coffee 2 years ago, and she has graciously offered her wisdom and resources to me ever since. When I first met her, I immediately loved her wild curly hair and casual demeanor. She exuded complete peace, despite being a mother of 2 young children and running her own business. I aspired to be more like her.
Now allow me introduce you to this brilliant woman.
Hi Kathleen, Let’s start with your background. You are accomplished in so many areas: an educator, herbalist, coach, spiritual director, ecologist, and nature therapy guide. How do these different modalities tie together for you? And what do you see as your greatest gift/s?
Everything I do is anchored in nature. My background is in forestry and forest ecology– which is looking how to create or restore healthy systems. The foundation of my teaching with young people and adults, no matter what I am teaching, always comes from that lens of creating healthy systems within a natural environment. I am a systems thinker and that is where my ecology background comes in. And that works with individuals in coaching or spiritual direction sessions as well, because our health and well-being are a system with all these intricate parts to delve into.
Again, I tie everything in to nature. Even now when I have to meet on a Zoom call with someone, we are both sitting in nature. And I have found over the years that nature really helps people settle in. In fact, one of my greatest gifts is helping people to settle into their bodies and their hearts so that they can go deeper into wisdom. This in turn helps me center into my own wisdom. It is a gift that I give and receive.
You used your knowledge and experience to co-found the Davidson Green School. Could you tell more about how that school operates and what inspired it? Now that many schools have turned to remote learning for this year, what advice could you give parents about educating their children in the outdoors? What can they do to help their children navigate through these times?
The school was inspired by a personal need. I needed a place for my young children to go and be inspired and in love with learning. I wanted them to be outside all day and not stuck in an indoor classroom. At the Davidson Green School, we try to create an innovative, engaging environment for children to thrive social emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Lessons are student driven and rooted in problem based learning. For example, we learn about sustainability through our aquaponics system and our vermiculture. Students learn economics, entrepreneurism, market math, and customer service skills through on-going opportunities at the Davidson Farmers’ Market.
My advice to parents whose children are going to school online is to have your children take their computers outside to work. Give them a fan or whatever they need to be comfortable, just so they get fresh air. For the little ones, take them to a park, a local creek, or any natural environment to explore. Let them show you the natural world through their eyes. If they don’t know how initially, then build a fairy house together, gather different leaves, or look at what grows where and why. By being keen observers, over time you learn a lot about the natural world. By looking at the form of something, you start to understand its function. It creates inquisitive, observant individuals and is great for their social emotional health as well.
Many are experiencing anxiety with the current state of our world. What tips or advice could you give? Since you were educated in energy and herbal medicine, do you recommend any particular herbs or energy work to help with anxiety?
Fear and anxiety are rampant these days. Probably my number one tip for working with anxiety is being aware of what your triggers are. Once you see what triggers the stress, you can make choices to keep yourself from going down the path to anxiety. If you feel tension in your body when you are watching the news, then stop. Shift your attention elsewhere and stop feeding the anxiety. But first we have to pay attention to our bodies to become aware of what triggers us. For people with anxiety, the body is often a scary place because there are so many body sensations which often trigger panic attacks. But developing your body awareness, and trusting that it is a safe place to be, is the biggest gamechanger.
To get back into your body: Notice your breath and your feet on the ground. Doing it outside is even more helpful and often feels more safe. Go barefoot, put your hand on a tree, and feel connected.
Herbal recommendations* depend on what your anxiety is presenting like. If you have heart palpitations, motherwort has been beneficial. Skullcap is great for ruminating thoughts at night when you can’t sleep. Lemon balm nourishes and calms your nervous system. I love that motherwort, skullcap, and lemon balm all grow locally in North Carolina and you can combine them to make your own tinctures. Motherwort and skullcap mix well in a tincture and lemon balm is wonderful in a tea. I also recommend chamomile, because it is gentle, helps to calm the tummy, and relaxes you–especially good for children. There are adaptogens too. Ashwagandha and Reishi are 2 adaptogens that help your body handle stress.
My other advice is to treat yourself like a baby that is overstimulated. I believe 110% that no one has to live with anxiety and everyone can be totally healed. But it does take a lot of letting go and becoming more connected to your body.
*Do not try any herbals until you have consulted with your doctor.
As I and many others have battled anxiety, I would love to learn more about your journey with anxiety. I find it inspiring that you were able to free yourself after 10 years of suffering from anxiety. Could you tell us more about that? What was the anxiety stemming from? What was that like for you? What did it take for you to find peace?
My anxiety started out of the blue in my early 20’s. I had been a super sensitive child and I think my system became overloaded by the time I hit my 20’s. I was disconnected from my body and not aware of what was going on until I had a panic attack. I was into positive thinking and spirituality but was lacking body awareness. I needed to learn how to be grounded and centered in my body so that I could notice the imbalances and give my body what it needed. I began to notice how I was sitting and standing, the sensations of my body, and just feeling my feet on my ground and my breath moving through me.
I think the cause was just being a sensitive person in the world and I did not have the tools to recognize and treat my body how it needed. So my journey of anxiety was an awakening into my calling as a wounded healer. I found peace by feeling more settled in my body and more compassion for myself. I could experience the beauty of the world with greater clarity. I still get pulled from my center as I get busy but I know how to get myself back now.
Science has shown links between depression and anxiety. Where have you seen that link? And what natural therapies could you recommend for finding relief from depression?
Both feel like a loss of self. Anxiety makes you limited in your life experience because you want to control it so you stay safe. You lose your joy and vitality. With depression, you lose the richness and the ability to see the beauty in life. Both are losing your way. We need help finding our way back to ourselves. I believe the best way to find your way is through nature.
Get out into nature. Nature is everywhere- the tree in your backyard, a patch of flowers, or sitting by the lake. You can access it no matter where you are. We experience a cognitive shift when we experience nature regularly. There are studies showing that just 20 to 30 minutes a day in nature can decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Even a 15 minute walk or sitting by a tree and looking at the sky is enough. Your body, mind, and spirit will transform.
Put down the phone and be aware of your breath and the natural world around you. Use all your senses… see the dappled light through the leaves, listen to the birds, feel the breeze on your face. It is a present moment experience of your body and the world around you. It is a break from your story. Nature draws us fully into the present moment and gives our minds a break. It returns us back to balance.
Another thing is to ask yourself, “How can I support my nervous system?” Look at the basics- cutting out sugar, eating enough nutrients and minerals, and getting regular sleep. If you have taken care of these things, then look into some herbal remedies. My herbal recommendations are oat tops, lavender, and St. John’s Wort. Oat tops are gentle and bring an easing calm to nervous system. A lavender bath with epsom salts helps you discharge the negative energy. And St. John’s Wort actually repairs nerve endings and damage.
Finally, I would love to hear about your retreat and workshop offerings. Do you have anything coming up? And what is the best way for people to connect with you?
Our retreats have had to be cancelled, but Wendy Swanson and I are currently developing programing around yoga and nature locally. We should be posting offerings for that beginning in September. I have mostly been meeting one on one with clients and working on getting my book published. The book is about nature’s lessons on resilience,well-being, and transformation. It’s full of practices on how to connect with nature in restorative and healing ways. The title is The Journey Home: Nature’s field guide to resilience, well-being, and transformation.
I look forward to reading your book when it comes out! Thank you for sharing all this information, Kathleen.