The Heart of Therapy    

by Joshua Paquette

 A heart is roaring animal. A hearth is a heart inside the body of a home. The flames animate outwards. At the foot of the hearth is an attendant—feeding, nourishing, feeling the flames, fanning, focused, splitting wood, stacking, cooking. Above the hearth is an altar—a mantle—where small meaningful things are kept: carved figures, a letter from a loved one, a painting, an urn filled with ashes. The hearth is a place of grounding and sacrifice, filled with the “fear of missing out”— care isn’t free.

“If you want to change the world, imagine you’re living where you’re living and you are never going to leave.” So said Gary Snyder. Our post-modern flight fantasies make this a difficult proposition. We can be anywhere in the world today and run a business as long as there is an internet connection, and maybe a café with croissants to nosh. Why stay when you could go? Why linger when there is a world out there to discover? When the going gets tough, might as well get going. Indeed. The problem: If you are everywhere, then you are nowhere, because all and nothing convert into each other. If at any time you can pack up and move to Sedona, or to Costa Rica, or to Canada, then how much does this place matter? This place, right here, where you live now? If you imagine you will never leave the place you live now (gasp!) you might talk to your neighbor, might grow your own food, might think about fracking the next county over, might care that Amazon is entertaining the idea of building headquarters number two in your own back yard.

“We live in a mono-manic Hermes age” James Hillman critiqued. Mono as in singular, manic as in mania, “mental derangement characterized by excitement and delusion.”[1] We have a new God, one that is filled with trickster-wit and mobility, hyper-communication, and is a messenger to all the other Gods and Goddesses. Hermes (known as Mercury to the Romans) is personified as an eternally youthful and greatly gifted man with a flight fantasy. In our day, Hermes takes on the face of Icarus with his wax wings flying too close to the sun, nothing to ground him but his own naïvety. He’s chock full of inspiration and magic and the gift of gab, but is also deceiving, deceived and delusional, slippery like quicksilver, mercurial like water: always moving, never still. Why Hermes is at times portrayed as untrustworthy—akin in some ways to Coyote or Raven in indigenous Native American lore—is he needs to be to get past the underworld guard dogs unscathed, and to get past Zeus’s high-brow stare. He is a messenger, a messenger that carries information collected from others, delivered with a twist. Because Hermes doesn’t take a stance himself, there is something about him that just doesn’t add up. When you put a finger on him he squirms away.

In Greek mythology things come in pairs. There isn’t one God or Goddess, there is a polytheism of divinities. Truth to the Greeks was polysemous, polyphonic, multifactorial, never singular. Never one cure, never a magic bullet to heal all, never an ultimate victor: just paradoxical drama. A slew of crude constituents, each aiding and adding and contradicting the others but still a complete whole unto itself—like an herbal remedy.

When the Greeks spoke of Hermes they also spoke of Hestia. The two were a pair to the Greek mind: one implied the other. As the French saying goes, les extrêmes se touchant (the extremes touch each other). If Hermes is the personification of hyper-mobility and flight (no-place), Hestia is the personification of home (place). The hearth. Fire. She is rooted and present, patient and focused, careful. She sees which animals come through, which people, what the land wants, gives gifts. She exudes a sense of self-sacrifice, waits out the storm, rebuilds after the flood, brings home food.  Hestia is an “attendant at an altar,” which is the root meaning of the modern word “therapy.” Therapeuein literally means “to attend, do service, take care of”[2] and was first applied to persons bestowing burnt offerings:

The verb therapeuein primarily means to serve, and is found in Herodotus, Hesiod, and other classic authors. As the language develops, therapeuein and therapōn expand their meaning from serving a god or serving a master, to serving or caring for elderly persons and invalids (Lysias), animals (Aristotle), plants (Herodotus), clothing (Plato), temples and statues of the gods (ancient inscriptions). Eventually, this family of words came to be one of the many words representing medical care (Apollonius of Miletus, the Hippocratic Corpus, and Galen) … The word occurs frequently in both the Iliad and the Odyssey, but often in reference to a human being [as] an attendant of a god.[3]

The temple we’ve been serving in is one called “progress” or “the bottom line” or  “I don’t care, just fix it.” If the average time a doctor spends with a patient is fifteen minutes, then maybe that doesn’t qualify as therapy.[4] If the long stay in the waiting room is suggested by the use of the word patient (one meaning of which is “enduring without complaint”)[5] then maybe that doesn’t qualify as therapy either. Or are we in it for the irony? Too, the word client implies customer, buyer, shopper, consumer: healing through capitalism. It’s not the doctor’s fault, it’s how we’ve set it up.

If as a culture today we are monomanic and scattered, our hearts overworked, extended, and burdened, our veins clogged and our rivers and oceans too, then we are in need of therapy. We are in need of focus (Latin for hearth). We may need to kneel down at a different altar. When we as citizens, clinicians, doctors, teachers, and therapists are serving others, it might do us well to remember which temple we are also serving, which Gods. It may do us well to remember that people, places and things are made sacred by the altar of our care. Maintenance is required. If you don’t clean the chimney the house burns down. If there are no sacred objects in our culture—no connection to place, no home, no altar, no lintel overhead to support us—then no wonder we don’t feel taken care of, as abandoned children feel. Objects made sacred by our care, in turn, care for us. The receiving is related to the giving, les extrêmes se touchant. And let that remind us not to throw away Hermes, as that would be equally lopsided. We need his trickster wit! Hermes brings us inspiration and adventure, mixes it up, keeps things spontaneous. Our aim is to re-vision the pair: welcoming Hestia, apologizing for forgetting, and tuning our ear a bit more towards the dark earth.

The heart of the lion is roaring. It’s asking for an old kind of therapy, one where we show up, dig in, and focus—today, tomorrow, the next, and the next after that. It’s asking for us to build an altar and stick around long enough to learn the art of feeding and maintaining the flames: how to offer up good smoke. It’s asking for us to become courageous and prick our ears, sense the air, perceive. As Antonio Machado suggests:[6]

To talk with someone,

ask a question first,

then—listen.

No empty conquest. No flight without place. No new gadget without presence alongside it. Truth, via negativa. An herbal remedy alone won’t do. A magic pill won’t either. Only the red-hot presence of the lion-hearted, listening, watching…

 

Calor Inclusus

The human heart is a trembling antenna
and it hears you dreaming

It knows the touch of your underbelly
against the sheets

The ancients held secrets
inside these walls

Don’t tell me you don’t
know which ones—

Look…

If it’s safer to enter
under the cover of night

Good.

Your life is a flame
and it’s growing.
 
 
Medicine

Tiny molecules

i’ve overlooked

and now the walls are talking;

now the scent of wild rose

has me aching to be whole

and knowing how to become;

a rock wearing sulpher-bright lichen

is now speaking, asking for rain

(I gave it most of my water)

watched it bask in the drinking,

saw the burnt-orange shift

into a cool moss-green and felt

the spreading fans of a partnership

older than words

turning ancient sea bed into soil.

 

You deserve it.

 

You deserve to be awestruck

and deeply moved.

you deserve to wonder,

asking questions

you dare not ask another.

you deserve to listen for answers.

you deserve to notice the tingling

twitterpation of knowing

enter your body and

for a few special moments understand

how completely inseparable we are

from the luminous, animate Earth.

 

— WE NEED IT —

 

 

Bio

Joshua Paquette is a botanist and herbal educator who enjoys using immersion, poetry, story and metaphor to inspire people into the graces of green landscapes. Of particular interest to him is how our personal stories intersect with those of the wider Earth. Some big questions he likes to ponder curiously are: How can the exploration of untamed places be used to foster the innate, wild genius living inside us? What do ritual, poetry, story and myth have to teach us about the analogical processes of nature, and vice versa? Who or what is actually guiding this boat, anyway? Joshua finds that engagement with natural landscapes coupled with in-depth observation often brings magic and connection to people’s lives; he aspires to share that sense of magic with his community.

Joshua holds certification in herbalism from the North American Institute of Medical Herbalism (NAIMH), as well as from the Columbines School of Botanical Studies. He began his study of the natural world in 2005 at the University of Maine, Orono where he was introduced to the craft of environmental education. Since then he has had the opportunity to work with some outstanding herbalists and botanists in the field. His time with Howie Brounstein and Steven Yeager at the Columbines School of Botanical Studies has enlivened his passion for plant identification, ecology, and wildcrafting ethics. His studies with Paul Bergner at NAIMH revealed the powers of Vitalism as a therapeutic approach to healing as well as a way of living. Namely, that our innate heat does much of work, one has only to encourage the flames a bit and step out of the way (which is much more challenging than it sounds). Joshua lives off-grid in a solar-powered, straw bale house at 9,000 feet in Ward, Colorado. He teaches botany, wildcrafting ethics, nutrition, herbalism and natural therapeutics at the Colorado School of Clinical Herbalism in Boulder, CO. You can find more of his work here: www.abotanica.net or www.joshpaquette.com

 

References

[1] Online Etymology Dictionary: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=mania&allowed_in_frame=0 Accessed October, 2017

[2] Online Etymology Dictionary: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=therapy Accessed October, 2017

[3] Stephen Rojcewicz, The Feasts of the Gods in Homeric Epic and Socrates’ Apology. http://www.cirp.uqam.ca/documents%20pdf/Collection%20vol.%201/10.S.Rojcewicz.pdf Accessed October, 2017

[4] Mary Rechtoris, 11 statistics on the average time physicians spend with patients. https://www.beckersasc.com/asc-turnarounds-ideas-to-improve-performance/11-statistics-on-the-average-time-physicians-spend-with-patients.html Accessed Oct 2017

[5] Online Etymology Dictionary: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=patient Accessed October, 2017

[6] Antonio Machado, “Times Alone: Selected Poems of Antonio Machado” Translated by Robert Bly, Wesleyan; Bilingual Spanish-English ed. edition (July 15, 1983)