Here is a bite-sized morsel of my essay, “The Dance of Knowing and Not-Knowing in Herbal Medicine,” available from Triarchy press on February 1st in “The Wisdom of Not-Knowing.”
Abstract for “The Dance of Knowing and Not-Knowing in Herbal Medicine.”
“This essay explores the dance of knowing and not knowing that takes place within my life-role as an Herbalist. A great deal of “knowing” of both information and skills is required in herbal medicine, knowledge of Western and Eastern models of physiology and pathophysiology, pharmacology, botany, phytochemistry, materia medica, clinical skills and assessment, drug-herb interactions, treatment approaches, and so on. Indeed, there are at least two types of knowing — the epistemic knowledge of information and facts and the embodied and holistic knowing of “gnosis.” We will look at the necessity and limitations of these two types of knowing within the realms of science and of herbal medicine. The stance of “not knowing” is a vital check on the potential pitfalls of knowing (or thinking one knows) and the tipping of knowing into belief. Within herbal medicine, the stance of “not knowing” plays an important role within the consultation room. An openness to “new” information and impressions is vital when working with a client and in the process of assessment and the monitoring of progress. It is important to “meet your client for the first time every time.” Considerable harm occurs through the boxing of individuals into a diagnosis (client as disease) or a constitutional typology (client as “type”). The “not knowing” stance avoids the dangers of assumptions about the client or the condition, often without sufficient evidence for even a rational hypothesis. Not knowing protects us from the common error of forcing our client (and their symptoms and story and physiological data) into our own foregone conclusion, often blinding us to the true root of their dis-ease and thereby the path to their healing. In nature, particularly with unknown plants, not knowing creates an openness to the phenomenological and sensory experience of a plant. The discovery of a plant’s potential medicinal properties begins with an exploration via all one’s senses, a process known as organoleptic testing. Though sensory stimuli and intuition provide us with significant clues to the plants phytochemistry, and thereby its medicinal potentialities, not knowing prevents us from undue haste in categorization and a remembrance that each plant and each individual is unique, as are their interactions. As an herbalist, not knowing also has “spiritual” implications. When I am opened through the study of the intricacies of human physiology or the contemplation of the complex interactions of plants within their ecosystems to a sense of wonder, I am invited into relationship to mystery, and into an embodied experience of the vast and intricate complexity and creativity that can never be fully grasped by the rational mind. This is a call to let go of my limited knowing, to fall into a state of observing, experiencing, sensing and feeling without the constant discernment, discrimination and limitation of the rational mind. Such a moment of not knowing grounds me in a more fundamental way of being. When I emerge, and see a plant or my client before me, I know that they can never be fully known by me, and that they too rest within this vast dimension beyond any finite capacity for knowing.”
Available from Triarchy press or from Amazon.