Vampires and Garlic Gardens

Garlic

Garlic by David Ondrik

I recently read an article in an issue of Breathe about empaths and “energy vampires.”

This is a phrase I’m hesitant to use, because it encourages us to (literally) demonize other people, especially those whom we find personally draining or difficult. 

Most of the time, a person we think of as an energy vampire is simply someone who is not conscious of themselves, or their impact on others. Think about when children are sick; we love and want to care for them, and when they are deeply depleted, they need more of our ki—our vitalityto sustain themselves. Generally speaking, we don’t think of children as vampires!

What if we apply that same patience and compassion to adults who aren’t able to straightforwardly ask for what they need, due to stress, illness, or past trauma? It’s entirely possible that the person who is draining you thinks that they don’t matter enough to affect other people—a sad situation, indeed.

How do we feel more kindly towards people who exhaust us? The best defense against anything that feels depleting is self care. Deep self care—Self Love, really—is the best protection, because when we are well-rested, well-fed, exercised, and truly engaged with our own life, we are less susceptible to getting swept up in someone else’s drama. When we find ourselves feeling drained by a person or situation that we believe has snared us, it’s usually a sign that that we need to take a good, compassionate look at ourselves. Are we offering up our own life force for the taking, consciously or not?

Another thing to be aware of is our own capacity to BE that energy vampire. What? Me?! No way! Yes. This does not make us a bad or weak person; it means that we are human, and we have down times, just like everyone else. If we’re not attentive to our own needs, and aware of our own less-than-helpful coping strategies, it is easy to tip over to that “dark side,” where we harbor unrealistic expectations of our friends, family, and co-workers, worrying about our unmet needs and unconsciously trying to pull people in to help us.

Building up our psychic immune system is the best way to avoid—and to avoid becoming—an energy vampire.  When I say “psychic,” I mean of the psyche, of the soul or the mind. We strengthen the psyche so that it’s flexible and resilient, able to spot and easily move around or accommodate difficulty, and also able to recover more quickly when knocked down by a challenge. Challenges come in all shapes and sizes, and often they blindside us—such as unexpectedly harsh words from a friend, or criticism from a colleague. When our psyche is strong, we can stand confident in ourselves, sure of our healthy connections with others and in our ability to weather whatever happens next. We can watch something play out, and even though we may not like it, we can wait and see what happens rather than jump into the fray.

Garlic has a long tradition of being beneficial to the immune system (although contemporary medicine isn’t entirely on board with this). And as the old stories go, garlic keeps vampires at bay! So how do you tend the garlic garden of your psyche’s immune system? Here are a few strategies:

  • Schedule yourself first: sleep, good food, exercise. Mind your work, your relationships, and your household.
  • Find a daily practice that requires focus: Reiki, meditation, yoga, martial arts, writing, art.
  • Set your phone to “do not disturb” an hour before bed; turn off your computer and television, too.
  • Go to bed 30 minutes earlier than usual, at least once a week. 
  • Take a social media break. Focus on doing what nourishes you, rather than posting about it.
  • Spend your free time doing things you enjoy, hanging out with people you like, and participating in work (and fun!) that is meaningful to you.

Do these seem too simplistic? Simple is good. Simple is healthy. Simplicity doesn’t drain your resources; it builds your primary resource, which is YOU, and your vitality.

If you often find yourself drained by others, try to resist being the girl in the flimsy negligee, barefoot, inching her way down the dark hallway with a wooden stake in her hand. You know where that scene ends up! Instead, get your boots on, go outside (yes, even if it’s nighttime), and check in with your psychic garlic garden. Touch the cool dirt, break off a garlic scape, and breathe in the pungent scent. Look at the stars, and feel yourself a part of this real life on Earth.

There’s no need to waste precious time being afraid of imaginary monsters.

Qigong Practice and Receptivity

Today’s guest column, about the power of Qigong to increase receptivity to herbal medicine, is written by Sheila Devitt of Sun & Moon Dispensary. Qigong is a subtle body practice from the Chinese tradition, and Reiki, a Japanese light-touch healing practice, is sometimes compared to it. Both practices are meditative and seem to facilitate healing.

Sheila Devitt is an herbalist and actor in San Francisco. We met in the late 1990s, while working for an herbalist. I have long admired her equally strong commitments to acting and herbalism, interests which seem to balance and influence one another in ways that I find continually inspiring.

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I’ve been a practicing herbalist since 1998, first working with Western European and North American herbal medicine, then incorporating Ayurvedic traditions, including yoga practice, and in recent years expanding to include Traditional Chinese herbal medicine. A couple years ago, I had an opportunity to study herbal medicine in Shanghai. I traveled with a group of fellow students and teachers for a two-week intensive. While doing hospital rounds, our translator mentioned that she also works at the Shanghai Qigong Research Institute, across the street. She arranged for our small group to meet some of the instructors and drop-in on a couple classes.

One of the instructors asked about our group of herbalists from the United States. “How can you just practice herbs?” he asked. “We do not separate it from the other branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine” (acupuncture, Qigong exercise, Tui Na massage, and diet and nutrition).

“We practice Qigong so that our bodies will be more receptive to the herbs.”

That simple statement was like a light-bulb moment for me, an “A-ha!” Of course.

Qigong is a form of simple stretching and movement that focuses on the meridians: the same meridians that acupuncturists reference when selecting needle points. One teacher defines Qigong as “a form of gentle exercise composed of movements that are repeated a number of times, often stretching the body, increasing fluid movement (blood, synovial and lymph) and building awareness of how the body moves through space.”

Another teacher says, “Practicing Qigong cultivates positive energy.”

When we practice Qigong, we clear stagnation in the meridians. Receiving acupuncture also clears stagnation, or blocked energy, in the meridians. When energy blockages are removed, or at least reduced, it clears the pathway for herbs to work in the body. When we are less tense, more relaxed, the herbs have an easier time getting to where they need to go, therefore working more effectively and efficiently. (Oftentimes, herbal formulas will include a small amount of a warming, spicy ingredient that stimulates circulation, such as ginger, cinnamon, cayenne or black pepper. This serves a similar function, helping to facilitate circulation, and deliver the main ingredients in the formula to their destination, whether that’s a particular organ or joint or limb.)

Acupuncture, Qigong and herbal medicine are all synergistic modalities: each one amplifies the benefits of the others. I believe that any practice that helps to calm us down, reduce stress, quiet the mind and release tension will also help the body become more receptive to herbal medicine, both physiologically and energetically.

I recently read an article about electricity in nature that said, “Plants, being earthed, have the same negative charge as the ground that they grow upon, but they protrude into the positively charged air. This creates substantial electrical fields between the air around them and the tips of their leaves and branches…”

Herbs as medicine contain a variety of active chemical constituents, that can be identified and measured using various scientific means, but they also retain this electrical energy. Of course it’s highest when the plant is alive, and will gradually diminish once the plant is harvested and dried, but it will still retain some echo of that energy.

When we practice subtle body arts, in the form of Reiki or Qigong, we might well tune in to, and amplify, a similar electrical energy in our own living bodies. I believe in this way, we become more receptive.

Here are links to a couple of my favorite Qigong videos. I often recommend the Eight Brocades series and the Five Element series to my herbal medicine clients. The Eight Brocades is an ancient practice that has been handed down over many generations. I think of it as a foundational set, similar to doing sun salutations in yoga. In the Five Element series, I especially like the link between the physical organs, and corresponding emotions. When our emotions feel overwhelming, as if they are too much to contain, this practice can help us to create a larger, more stable container, and to provide us with a greater capacity to process difficult emotions.

Here are links to a couple Qigong teachers and their practices:
Water Tradition Internal Arts (in California)
Water Study Chi Kung (in Oregon)

When we combine the physical exercise with herbal medicine, we are utilizing simple, gentle, powerfully effective healing modalities that bring peace and comfort in a busy world.