By Karen L. Culpepper
Greetings and much love coming to you from the Washington, DC metropolitan area (also known as the DMV). As you may have heard, we have a new president in town and my, my, my what a time it is to be a healer. At Freed Bodyworks, a space committed to radical inclusion for every body, my schedule is usually fully committed and I am holding space for more and more folks these days as both an herbalist and a bodyworker. On the one hand, there is a general sense of clarity and solidarity amongst communities that I am affiliated with as a healer. However, from the practitioner perspective, I am witnessing a great deal of grief, anxiety and uncertainty as I continue to do my work in the world.
Here are a few pearls and concepts that I have harvested from holding space for folks since the election in November and how I plan on tending to myself as a heart centered healer.
Tend to all of your bodies
In my role as a bodyworker, I am very appreciative that I am able to take my time and have a conversation with each client about how they are feeling in their bodies. Yes, that’s correct. We have multiple bodies, which include: the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual body. In my observation, what shows up in the physical body is usually the result of an upset in one of the other bodies.
For example, the other day I worked with a client that came in with discomfort in their shoulder, which had shown up previously from overuse. When they came in, they were guarding the shoulder to prevent further injury by limiting the range of motion. Towards the end of our intake, they casually mentioned that they had a heated discussion with a family member that had created some upset mentally and emotionally. I decided to include cupping during the session, specifically on the back and around both shoulders. At the end of the session, they felt very relaxed and I mentioned that the gallbladder can have referred pain around the shoulder and part of the gall bladder meridian runs near the shoulder. The next day upon check in, they felt better in their body, their shoulder felt relief with less discomfort upon movement and they had a larger than normal bowel movement that morning. I was impressed at the results of the cupping and thankful that their body decided to let some things go.
How do you tend to all of your bodies? Here are a few ideas on how to tend to each essential layer.
Physical body: Mineral dense food to feed your cells and higher self. Schedule a massage. Try energy work. Sensual touch. Hydrate with clean water, fresh juices and mineral rich teas like nettles and red raspberry leaf.
Mental body: Unplug from the electronics. Sit in silence. Create healthy boundaries. Schedule a talk therapy session, if it serves. Purchase a coloring book and a nice set of markers and embrace your inner child. Perform self scalp massage with warm sesame oil.
Emotional body: Laugh until your belly shakes. Design your mood every day by choosing it. Ask for help and check in with folks if you are in breakdown. Dance. Connect with plants and nature. Breathe deeply. Purchase a few essential oils that resonate with you to reset your mood and clear the energy in your spaces.
Spiritual body: Design and practice self care rituals. Remove yourself from the presence of toxic people, places and things. Discover crystals that resonate with you and have them on you for protection or rejuvenation. Soak in healing spiritual baths.
Do YOUR work
I am blessed to work with an amazing team of activists and practitioners. I also have the honor of holding space for clients in the social justice realm, which includes: artists, activists, educators and healers, who are actively and tirelessly showing up in their prospective movements. I am saddened when I hear about a lack of vitality and the health breakdowns in this population as a result of not putting their own oxygen masks on first. Some folks are so invested in the movement, yet are emotionally unavailable for their loved ones or can brilliantly strategize a plan of action, yet cannot work through personal issues. Liberate yourself FIRST. Take the time to work through those unresolved challenges at home and in the personal realm. Trust and believe, it will rear its head. I have a wonderful colleague who held space as a facilitator for a group to work through their organizational challenges. The main source of the upset: personal matters were showing up and getting in the way of an entire local movement. Get off the ego stuff and do the shadow work for the sake of those closest to you and your movement.
The mind creates the clutter
Be aware of your thoughts and words. In graduate school I learned the following two concepts, which I still use with clients today: “we word our worlds into being” and “there is what is so, and the story you make up around what is so.” When we speak into someone’s listening, we are creating our reality. Be mindful of statements such as “this headache is killing me” and the infamous “I can’t” because my response is usually “ok you just decided you won’t, now what?” With your speaking, are you choosing to design a small world with limitations or a large world full of possibility? What is so is this: in November 2016, a new president was elected into office in the United States. Now you pick a story about what is so because there are so many to choose from at this point. My request is to use your word medicine wisely.
Note to Self: stay in formation
In the words of Erykah Badu “who gave you permission to rearrange me? Certainly not me.” Do NOT join in on the suffering of others. That is not your game plan and that is not your battle to fight. As a practitioner, I will not create the capacity to join in on the suffering of others. As a bodyworker, I trust my guides to lead me to the places in the body where there is holding and resistance and create space for the client to just be; perfect, whole and complete as they are. As an herbalist, my intention is for spirit to guide me to the plants that will best serve in the moment and create ease and transformation for the client. My gifting is to hold space for your highest self to come through and express itself in the biggest way possible.
Pleasure and self care as acts of resistance
Guess what I did for the first time ever this year? I created the fiercest, juiciest sex goals with sex educator Lisa Swinney of Afrosexual. She introduced a concept that blew my mind away: pleasure as an act of resistance. Many of our ancestors did not have a say about aspects of their bodies, specifically in the realm of reproduction. As a result, I am choosing to invite more fun into my life (and bedroom). My high school sweetheart and I have 24 years of beautiful partnership and the thought of creating space for higher vibrations, more spontaneity, healing and deeper connection in the form of sex majick brings healing, joy and pleasure into all of my bodies.
Self care is an integral part of my practice. When I neglect self care, I do not feel well in my bodies at all. I created a clearing spray and a protection spray for use on clients and in between each session to shift the energy in the treatment room. I have personal clearing rituals at the beginning and end of my work shifts. I create boundaries and cutoff times for communication with the outside world once I get home. I do head to toe spiritual baths, which include salts, herbs and my home made florida water. Please take any of these sacred steps (and create your own) and apply them to protect and preserve your energy so that you may come to the table more fully.
My movement is in mason jars
The two things that have never let me down are my spirit guides and plant spirit medicine. I set the intention to drink quarts of herbal tea every day because it literally sustains my vitality. Tea is an ancient and very simple ritual. It helps create pause and invites patience and beauty into the day. I currently have two different tea blends in rotation. First is my heart space tea, which is a combination of organic red rose petals, holy basil, hawthorn leaf and flowers and damiana and it helps me stay grounded in and connected to compassion. My other favorite blend is my holy basil chai, which is a combination of holy basil, cinnamon chips, dried ginger root, cardamom pods and ground cloves and is a source of wonderful, warm aromatics that help me stay focused on the tasks for the day.
In the face of change and uncertainty, let us not forget the sacrifices of our ancestors, the strength of community and the wisdom and resilience of the spirit. Right after the election I got so clear and connected with my work in the world: I am space holder for healers to heal and do their work in the world. That is my offering, medicine and movement. What is your medicine? What is your balm that will bring soothing and healing to your communities? Create space to figure it out and do it with all your heart. We need you. Right now. In this moment.
Karen L. Culpepper
Karen L. Culpepper is a clinical herbalist and licensed massage therapist in the Washington DC Metropolitan area. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.