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On fire: the choleric temperament.

Keep in mind, that nobody is 100% any temperament. We all have aspects of all four in us, but we’ll tend more towards some than others. That doesn’t mean they’re solely like this, and depending on what the secondary temperament is, these traits will change. Paired with air, for example, choler becomes much more flexible, more easy going. Paired with earth, choler becomes harder, more set in stone. We’ll get into the combinations in a couple of weeks, but I wanted to put the reminder here because it’s easy to forget that this stuff, like everything, is not a set-in-stone science. We’re all different, have different combinations of things, different life experiences that bring them out, different socialisation patterns that make our behaviours different. It’s all in the nuance… 

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Fire as an element: 

A flash in the pan, a slow-burn, the thick slow crawl of lava as it crawls down a hillside. A meteor, a lightning strike, a raging churning forest fire. Fire as an element is ferocious in its display. Place matter in front of it and it’ll burn through it on principle, because it can, because that’s what it does, the very purpose of its existence is to consume. But what comes after that consumption? Volcanic ash is fertile ground, the scorched earth rich with ash and minerals. Forest fires leave room for plants to sprout; some plants can only sprout after the seeds have been burned.

Let it get out of control, however, and it is all-consuming its ferocity: a supernova, blasting through forests without a back-thought, blasting through homes and collected memories with the flick of a wrist. And let’s not forget about man-made fire: an abomination, really, in its ability to decimate, melt structures, leave a crater in the earth and our collective history. Our world’s collective shell-shock for the atrocities we can commit with fire rattles through us and serves as a warning: never again. Fire out of control is a horror because it doesn’t just destroy, it decimates. It melts skin from bone and building from foundation and is the alchemical force that renders substances unrecognisable from their original form: something we want in small quantities but on a massive scale is abhorrent.

Transmutation: it’s the fire in alchemy that turns lead into gold;  it is the holy fire that purifies, and it is fire that transforms: dough into bread, house into home, lead into gold, lump of rock into liveable planet, affection into passion. A fire in the hearth heats water, bakes bread, warms a house, is the light around which we gather at the dead of winter. It is fire at the center of the earth and fire at the center of our solar system. Without it, life as we know it would not exist. It is that burning passion that drives all life forwards, the fire of will; the fire in the drumbeat of the heart, rapping out the rhythm of life with each ferocious beat.  Continue reading

On Air: meet the sanguine

Need to catch up?
Temperaments part 1.
Temperaments part 2. 

*When it comes to temperaments, we are never just one. It takes a combination of all the elements to give something life and complexity, so we all have elements of all of them, however we’re going to have much more of some than others. So if you read this and you think ‘this sounds like me but I’m not ENTIRELY like this’, then that’s good because it means you’re a complex human with nuance, not a robot. We usually have one primary temperament, a secondary that influences the first, and then a tertiary that influences the primary two slightly. Depending on who we are, there might be evidence of a fourth and there might not. I, for example, display very little earth/ melancholic characteristics at ALL, however I have surrounded myself with them in my friendships, most likely an attempt to balance myself out! This is one of four basic temperament explanations.  

Want to learn more about temperaments? Come to jim mcdonald’s class in LA at the end of January!*

firenze

Air as an element: 

It’s an easy matter because the gravity of air is so small, but when the winds shift, they do so rapidly and without great thought or effort. It is this lightness that we love air for. Inhale deeply as a breeze carries upon it the smell of orange blossoms on a warm spring day. On that warm breeze comes good tidings, chattering of news, the rustling of grass, and it bolsters you with its good spirits. That breeze picks up, lifting your hair, and how can you not lift your arms up out to the sides and throw your head back with abandon. This is the universal pose of freedom, and it is the air that is in many ways the most free: while other elements have to fight gravity, inertia, lack of fuel, the air is unencumbered by the solidity that inhibits movement. The air can move as it pleases, when it pleases. Freedom.

The air brings good tidings, news from afar, storms, fog, dust clouds. Air is a ripple, a tinkle of laughter. The sound of the air is a great howl as it gusts down from the mountains kicking and uprooting everything in its path. And then it disperses, changes direction with the beat of a butterfly’s wing. Continue reading

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On Earth: the melancholic temperament

(Temperaments, part 2)

If you haven’t read it, here’s part 1.

*When it comes to temperaments, we are never just one. It takes a combination of all the elements to give something life and complexity, so we all have elements of all of them, however we’re going to have much more of some than others. So if you read this and you think ‘this sounds like me but I’m not ENTIRELY like this’, then that’s good because it means you’re a complex human with nuance, not a robot. We usually have one primary temperament, a secondary that influences the first, and then a tertiary that influences the primary two slightly. Depending on who we are, there might be evidence of a fourth and there might not. I, for example, display very little earth/ melancholic characteristics at ALL, however I have surrounded myself with them in my friendships, most likely an attempt to balance myself out! This is one of four basic temperament explanations.  

Want to learn more about temperaments? Come to jim mcdonald’s class in LA at the end of January!*

rocks

Earth as an element: 

Earth: the solid, the stable, the structured. In symbolism, it is represented by the number four, which incidentally is the number of the carbon atom which makes up everything in the organic world, and at its most condensed, the diamond which is the hardest thing there is. Earth incorporates both stone and soil, and on one side it is that which gives life to everything and on the other is it that which provides the structure for it all. Which is to say that earth, while often in the background, is very important indeed.

While air is quick, and fire is fierce and water is timeless, earth operates on a time scale that is is geological. Not measured in minutes or teaspoons or days or even years, the earth’s time is in aeons, and its voice is the slow rumble that growls from its big mouth reluctantly, deeply, at a frequency often too low to hear. To understand the earth you have to get down on your hands and knees or even your belly and really look at the details of things, of the lichen that grow on the surface of rocks, at the minute variations in soil colour as you climb in elevation, and the tiny individual pieces of sand that were once mountains and rocks and still contain the sleeping giants within each pearl. Speaking of pearls, the pearl itself is an earth-like protective shell built to protect the soft belly of the oyster from harm. The time scale and slow pace of the earth is sometimes unfathomable until you see the streaks of limestone along a mountainside and realise that was once the flat earth. To understand this however you have to stretch your timeline: To think of the rocks and soil as inanimate is to not get close enough to truly hear them and see what they are capable of: rocks speak in a language so low they are hard to hear unless you yourself slow down; soil gives birth to life in a pattern so slow that if you don’t slow down to observe it you’ll get frustrated. If you slow down enough to observe it, you’ll uncover a world within a world, layer upon layer of interesting thing that you might never discern if you just give it a quick glance and then walk away.

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On temperaments. Part 1.

I learned about humoral temperaments from jim mcdonald, who learned about them from Christopher Hedley, who learned about them from Galen, though not directly. As with all teachings that flow from teacher to student, at each level of dissemination, these things become filtered through the mind of the interpreter, which is to say, that the following is not directly Galen’s humoral temperaments, nor is it Christopher Hedley’s or even jim’s. Though I hope it honours their teachings, this is my own interpretation. I hope it gives you enough of a primer that you can then go to Jim or Christopher and find out more, and maybe in turn make your own filtered version. My purpose here is to explain (in brief) my own perspective on temperaments, and that the information be usable. Or, in the words of Bruce Lee: “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”  -Rebecca

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1. On digesting the whole universe. 

Reality. The ‘real’ part of reality is something that few, if any of us ever get to experience: a mass of swirling, shifting, oozing primordial soup that takes form for a while and then shifts again. It’s likely that if any of us were simply thrust into seeing it exactly as it is, our minds would explode and we’d suffer some sort of nervous breakdown. It is outside of time, outside of form, and outside of reason. Every mystic tradition under the sun has a word for reality as it is, and the general consensus is that its something you cannot describe, cannot fathom, can’t pin down and definitely can’t communicate to your friends over tea on a Sunday afternoon. By the time it trickles into our consciousness, reality has passed through filters. Our emotions and awareness filter reality, our ability to perceive through our five senses filter it, and then our minds and personal history add a twist. While this applies to the whole, it applies to the smaller parts too, be it an apple, a rock, or a human. In order to make sense of the large amount of information we encounter when meeting, say, an apple or a rock, or a human, for the first time, we naturally start organising this information into patterns. Thus, apple, very quickly goes from being a strange round thing that may or may not be edible and may or may not taste good to ‘apple’. And the more apples you get to know, the more you can differentiate types of apple: that is a Macintosh, that a Granny Smith, and that [atrocity], a red delicious.

Humans are more difficult to differentiate because we are a lot more complex than apples. Each time we encounter a new human we rapidly start assimilating information to try and understand the person in front of us better. As a herbalist, but also as a human being who interacts with other people, it helps to have some sort of understanding of the patterns in reality that apply to the humans, to help understand them better, quicker. This is where the constitutional model comes in handy.

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Solstice

(on darkness, winter, setting intentions, and a recipe for winter gin) 12310029_10156391001075601_253023689337495405_o

I listened to a podcast last week, in which physicist Lisa Randall was being interviewed about dark matter. A relatively newly discovered substance, dark matter is at the forefront of physics research. It moves through us as it moves through everything, and is responsible for making up the majority of the universe. Yet, it is completely invisible. Dark matter doesn’t interact with light, and because it doesn’t, we can’t see it. What it does can only be inferred by the gravitational pull it has on other objects around it, but it has a strong effect on the workings of the entire universe: without it, nothing would exist.

As I was listening, I started thinking about in their own way, our myths, planetary cycles and mysteries have all described this kind of thing already: that which cannot be seen but is nonetheless important. We don’t really hold on to our ancient myths as a means to keep ourselves connected with the cycles of nature anymore, but this delving into the invisible darkness in science gives me hope that we might somehow come back around to appreciating that which is hidden.  Continue reading

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On productivity: one piece of the exhaustion puzzle

pro·duc·tiv·i·ty
ˌprōˌdəkˈtivədē,ˌprädəkˈtivədē/
noun
-the state or quality of producing something, especially crops.“the long-term productivity of land”
-The effectiveness of productive effort, especially in industry, as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input.
-The fertility or capacity of a given habitat or area.

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I. More.

I have this image in my head of us as a society, as this gaping maw of hunger that chants its war-cry into the night as it devours its way forwards. ‘More. More. More.’ it says as it chews its way through forest and ocean and pristine wilderness. ‘More!’ it chants as it gnaws through black rhino and ice cap. ‘MORE!’ it cries as it gnashes at spirit and joy and free will, leaving a wake of emptiness in its shadow. We beat our resources into submission, be it the planet, our employees, our own bodies, demanding more: productivity, energy, youth, attention. And rarely, if ever, do we stop to ask if what we are and what we have is actually enough.

During classes about crofts and the Highland clearances (a good Scottish education for you) when I was young, we learned about crop rotation. It was all perfectly logical: nutrients are being sucked up from the land into the plants and if you don’t rotate the crops and leave one field fallow each cycle then the land has nothing to give and eventually the crops fail. At some point, this changed. People discovered that you could keep pouring chemical nutrients onto the soil and spray chemicals to kill the insects that have taken advantage of the plants’ weakness. On the surface the crop still looks the same: big and plump and ripe for the picking. But underneath the surface, the crop is a sad replica of what it could have been.  Continue reading

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Moving forwards

(On facing down the abyss)

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About six months before he died, my stepdad’s best friend sat me down and said ‘Your life is nothing but a series of choices: the most important thing you can do is to make good decisions. And don’t think that not making a decision is an option— that’s still a decision, and its a bad one.’

I thought about it a bit, and then he died, and then I thought about it a lot. Sometimes we’re so overwhelmed by all the choices that it seems easier not to choose. To click again. To refresh the page. To look at how Kim Kardashian did her hair this week*, because it saves us from having to act.

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We went to Italy

(su antiche rovine e l’ansia di viaggio e un sacco di cibo)

prettyfiesoleYou can’t turn down $700 flights to Rome. Every week or two the travel bug hits and I start typing random places into travel search engines to see if there are any good deals. And there it was, including tax. I called Jam: 

‘any plans for the first two weeks of August?’ 

‘not that I know of’ 

‘we can get to Rome for $700 each’ 

‘do it’. 

And that was that. 

We cast off with no specifics: rent a car, choose places (Rome, Venice, Florence, Orvieto), book hotels because it’s high tourist season. And with these as our compass points, we set off to explore. 

Travel causes me equal amounts of excitement and anxiety. The excitement comes first: I get the itch, book the tickets (impulsively, always), and remain excited until it’s time to leave for the airport, at which point the anxiety sets in. Transitions aren’t the easiest: lately my internal dialogue takes on a reassuring tone and coos ‘it’s just change’ as if I were a child having a tantrum. And then there is the arrival. The disassociation: Where am I? Who am I? What year is it? The basic ‘I exist’ mantras that we have about ourselves that we don’t even notice most of the time drop away and I feel utter panic. Am I just a pair of eyes floating through space? A wisp of a soul, a spectre? Without context, do I exist at all? That’s when I start looking at plants, repeating their names to myself like a mantra: Magnolia for relief. Poplar, joy. Alianthus, irritation (have they invaded everywhere?). Dock, fondness. A field full of sunflowers with their heads all facing the same direction, awe. Then they start coming faster as the car zips along: apple, olive, peach, plum. Passiflora, poke, pine, pine, pine. Each name ekes out a little space for me in the ground, like a root digging its way into the earth establishing its own existence. By the time we get to the hotel, I have context again: my name is Rebecca and I am in Rome. This is the magnolia tree outside our hotel door; that is the pine at the park up the street. I have a place and it is, for right now, here.  Continue reading

On clarity and confusion. 

Southern Californian summers smell of sage and the sea. I know this because I have spent a lot of time recently up mountains overlooking the Pacific, gathering sage for the Sage + Clarity surprise box. On a cliff’s edge, my backpack full of white and black sage, I sit and stare out to Catalina island, getting lost in thought about the wisdom of sage. After a while of sitting and thinking and munching on crackers and cheese, topped with freshly gathered sage leaves (my current favourite hiking snack), I determine that sage’s lesson is one of clarity: it helps to clear thought that is confused, it clears a sick room of microbes, it clears stagnation from digestion. It elevates, enlightens, broadens perspective. Content with my conclusion, I brush the crumbs off my legs, gather up my belongings and begin the hike back to my car. It was only this afternoon, when I was processing another batch of dried white sage, that I started to think more deeply about clarity itself.sageboxintro

Most of us think of clarity as a preferable state to be in: something to strive for, and cling to; whereas the opposite state: the lack of confidence we experience when we don’t know, is one that leaves us in despair.  We avoid that confusion as much as possible, and when it happens become desperate to escape and get back to that state where everything (ourselves included) has a place. This extends into the other feelings that we avoid– sadness, anger, pain– in place of the easy ones: love and joy and lightness. Of course, love and light is not the entirety of existence (and I’d argue that anybody who says so is deluded), much like periods of confidence and knowing are not always an indicator that we’re doing life right.  Continue reading

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Sweet sweet

(A brief pause with orange blossom and mint lassi)lassi

There is no observed without the observer. I know this is a given, but when it comes to panic states and times of uncertainty, I find it helpful to think about. In the microcosm of our personal history, we react one way, but in the macrocosm of the entire universe and the vastness of time, our perspective is so different that our reaction is also different. And the conflict of these two things— the minute and the massive, and how the reaction appears relative to both— well, to be honest I find it quite funny. The massive is a pair of eyes that rests on my left shoulder, and throughout the day it gives a little tap at my consciousness to remind me of my place: both small and big. Significant and insignificant. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise: it’s always both. Continue reading