Plants, People, and Cosmic Balance: A Healing Justice Invitation

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September 14, 2020

Plant medicine has always been the people’s medicine, and flower essences create unique opportunities for issues surrounding accessibility, as essences are extremely safe and can be made rather inexpensively. The shift toward holism—complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and integrative medicine—and the proliferation of herbal interventions within our health-care system are proof that we are making progress. In light of this, there are a number of dynamic ways we can promote flower essences to be even more accessible and inclusive for people. Even flower essence therapy itself is a modality historically dominated by white men, but increasingly it is being pushed forward by women-identified, LGBTQIA+, and BIPOC healers.

Currently, the alternative healing community is processing its own biases. Much of alternative medicine was developed in the service of the dominant culture, or the patriarchy. Therefore, it hasn’t been a healing space for many groups, including but not limited to women, people of color (BIPOC), LGBTQIA+, people with disabilities, economically oppressed people, neurodiverse people, and (in the United States) non-native English speakers. In the words of Cara Page, a founding member of Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective, healing justice “identifies how we can holistically respond to and intervene on generational trauma and violence, and to bring collective practices that can impact and transform the consequences of oppression on our bodies, hearts, and minds.”

Plants, People, and Cosmic Balance: A Healing Justice Invitation blog image 1

One of the main themes of The Bloom Book involves balancing duality, which means challenging the perpetuation of oppressive systems. Unless we are actively engaged in dismantling racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and ableism, we are merely reinforcing the power structures we are claiming to challenge. As models of healing justice are emerging, many organizations and community collectives are generating their own missions and value statements from which to work. Meanwhile, practitioners—especially white practitioners like me—have to ask ourselves:

How is my work a function of my privilege? 

Where can I be doing better? 

Does my practice truly support inclusivity, diversity, and accessibility?

The working definitions of healing and trauma are also evolving. Within a healing justice framework, one can see how, by understanding trauma merely as “an emotional response to a terrible event,” we are ignoring a more inclusive interpretation that includes the cumulative and historical trauma of colonization. In the last decade, science has validated that trauma is intergenerational and historical. Likewise, many traditions include community in what constitutes emotional and spiritual healing, whereas Western models of mental health are focused exclusively on the individual self. 

When you open yourself up to the plant kingdom, new awareness can develop. You can become more empathic, which sounds pleasant in theory, but can be overwhelming because now you’re not just experiencing more of your own feelings, but the feelings of others as well. If you’re committed to applying a healing justice framework in your work, you will likely expose new trauma and have to reckon with your own privilege, which can be painful. You could develop more attunement with nature, which also can feel wonderful and, because of the tragic state of our Earth, completely disorienting. At this time, we are experiencing a heightened polarity between the light and the dark. We are being asked to hold a neutral space for all this duality and to have more compassion for all life. Flower essences enhance the energetic interconnection between all living things and so are especially well suited to support an expansion of consciousness.

Understanding how we function within—and our responsibility to—the collective is important because none of us operates alone. If you forget what you derive from the collective, you assume you don’t owe it anything and exist separately from everyone. Much of the privileged world enjoys the benefits of being part of the collective, whether we are conscious of it or not: rights, amenities, protection, accessible health care, clean drinking water, electricity, and so on. So, those with the material upper hand at this time have a special responsibility to the rest of those sharing the Earth.

Within a healing justice framework, we must not only question our privilege as white people, we must elevate BIPOC leadership within all the transformative justice movements. We are all dependent on one another to collectively wake up and heal.

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In this way, it is an exciting time for the community of herbalists and flower essence practitioners. Modalities that are so helpful in bringing people into balance are themselves coming into greater balance. A sign of hope within an era of great hope. The ancient wisdom explored in The Bloom Book supports that the power of the plants is coming through in dynamic new ways. This text exists, in part, to provide more context around the validity and potency of the flowers. The spectrum of human emotional experience is here for our development and delight.

The Absence of Women-Identified, WOC, and QTBIPOC Healers Throughout History 

Missing from our Western history books are most of the contributions by women-identified healers through the ages. Even more scarce are WOC, and most scarce are queer and trans people of color (QTBIPOC) within the codex of Western medical history. The misogyny of the burgeoning patriarchy from ancient Greece spread throughout Europe, Africa, the Americas, and the rest of the world through colonization by white settlers. The suppression of women healers in Europe and the Americas coincided with the rise of the ruling class, capitalism, and the privatization of medical care, away from folk-healing traditions—traditions that women played a huge role in preserving and advancing. Gender seemed to be less of a construct throughout many parts of the ancient world, as there are significant written reports of intersex and gender-fluid healers. In many cases, those who exhibited androgyny were known as having special healing powers because of their ability to connect with both masculine and feminine energy. 

Plants, People, and Cosmic Balance: A Healing Justice Invitation blog image 3

As historical contexts are becoming more inclusive and less Eurocentric, there is more room for the theory around matriarchal-centered civilizations being much more prominent than previously thought. Senegalese anthropologist and historian Cheikh Anta Diop felt that, historically, most of Africa was matriarchal in organization. Colonizers were tremendously misogynistic, which holds much information for us to ponder as we consider our connection to the feminine and the history of medicine. 

The lack of representation of women and WOC healers in the historical literature of medicine is decidedly a Western trait. Not only is much history transmitted orally and through practices and traditions, but the written history is also a very biased account, formulated in large part by, and for, white men. While our participation in medicine and healing traditions has been historically restricted in the West, women have long been associated with healing, especially within the domains of life and death—as midwives and compassionate caregivers helping to bring new life and support the soul into the afterlife. Women healers have traditionally addressed the issues and needs of populations that our culture typically shames and would rather ignore. Written accounts are limited, but we do have a record of a talented few. We must honor the oral traditions that are not meant to be shared (by me anyway) with the mainstream. There is a protection in keeping knowledge hidden from the masses. This wisdom is secured within the light lineage of all healers. 

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Conclusion 

The social and healing justice movements have affected me deeply, and it is my sincere hope that we can continue to decolonize and dismantle where dominant systems are limiting the positive proliferation of alternative healing and flower essence therapy to make them more accessible and inclusive. The more we come into balance in this way, the more transformation is available to us all, our communities, and our Earth—and the more we maintain plant medicine as medicine for all people.

Healing Justice Flower Essence Allies

There are a number of herbalists such as Karen Rose of Sacred Vibes Apothecary, Jennifer Patterson of Corpus Ritual (also a Bloom Book contributor), Lauren Giambrone of Goodfight Herb Co., and Amanda David of Rootwork Herbals, (to name a few), who have been speaking on the subject of healing justice for quite some time, and I am grateful for their leadership and inspiration. Healing justice business models such as that of Third Root, a worker-owned community center that provides collaborative, holistic health care in Brooklyn, offers a standard that everyone in the healing arts should aspire to. 

I offer some essences below that are wonderful to use in process groups or healing circles that center on antiracism and anti-oppression work. Some flower allies to assist you as you dig deeper into this rich and rewarding terrain are:

Delta Gardens lemon balm—a wonderful essence for when you are immersed in deep work, to keep calm and carry on

Delta Gardens valerian—for any resistance to change, to be able to take in and assimilate new information

Flower Essence Society quaking grass—“harmonious community consciousness,” letting go of personal attachments in social groups

Flower Essence Society lupine—seeing beyond the level of self, seeing self as part of the whole

Flower Essence Society or Delta Gardens echinacea—integration of those parts of the self that may have been repressed

Flower Essence Society or Delta Gardens borage—to support the heart and offer courage

Bach Original Flower Remedies water lily—for humility and wisdom in communication, to heal the perceived separation we feel from others based on race, class, or gender

Flower Essence Society pink yarrow—for emotional vulnerability, assists in discerning what is your responsibility to emotionally process

Additional Information on Healing Justice

A Not-So-Brief History of the Healing Justice Movement, 2010-2016

What Is Healing Justice?—Healing by Choice Detroit

Healing Justice: Holistic Self-Care for Change Makers—Transform Network

Corpus Ritual

Railyard Apothecary

Good Fight Herb Co.

Rootwork Herbals 

Sacred Vibes Apothecary

Harriet’s Apothecary

Third Root 

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Bloom Book

Heidi Smith, MA, RH (AHG), is a psychosomatic therapist, registered herbalist, and flower essence practitioner. Within her private practice, Moon & Bloom, Heidi works collaboratively with her clients to empower greater balance, actualization, and soul-level healing within themselves. She is passionate about engaging both the spiritual and scientific dimensions of the plant kingdom, and sees plant medicine and ritual as radical ways to promote individual, collective, and planetary healing. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her partner and two cats. For more, visit moonandbloom.com.

 

 

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Planting a Moon Garden

What does the moon have to do with flower essences and ritual? As we discussed in an earlier chapter, the moon represents a time before the dominant culture came into power. While the moon has no gender, it is a metaphor for the divine feminine and a symbol for the creative, the intuitive, the unconscious, and the shadow. Before the Gregorian calendar came into use in the sixteenth century, many cycles of time were measured on a lunar basis, as are the Islamic, Chinese, and Jewish calendars today. All ancient agriculture was organized around lunar and astrological transits, which is one of the basic practices of biodynamic farming today. Many of us feel a fascination with the moon, and I feel it beckons us back to a different consciousness, where much healing potential awaits.

Creating altars or sacred spaces outdoors can be another place for ritual work. While I can’t have a moon garden in the city, I can have a few lunar plants in my windowsill to catch the moonlight.

Not all flowers bloom in the sunlight. Some plants prefer the darkness, opening to the night. Moon plants can be cultivated in any terrain. Many night bloomers are also very fragrant. I consider all plants medicinal to some degree; however, some of the moon garden plants may be more therapeutic than others. These can also be plants that you use for making your own flower essences. Or, if you like to make dried sticks of herbs to burn, you can use the plants from your moon garden, such as mugwort.

You can see the lunar signature of mugwort by observing the underside of the leaf, which is silver. The Latin name for it is Artemisia vulgaris; Artemis, if you remember, was the Greek goddess of the moon! Plants with light and white blooms work best, as well as gray and silvery leaves.

Here are some perfect moon garden plants:

plants for a moon garden

 

The video on how to make your own flower essence medicine can be found here.

This is an excerpt from The Bloom Book: A Flower Essence Guide to Cosmic Balance by Heidi Smith.

 

Heidi Smith, MA, RH (AHG), is a psychosomatic therapist, registered herbalist, and flower essence practitioner. Within her private practice, Moon & Bloom, Heidi works collaboratively with her clients to empower greater balance, actualization, and soul-level healing within themselves. She is passionate about engaging both the spiritual and scientific dimensions of the plant kingdom, and sees plant medicine and ritual as radical ways to promote individual, collective, and planetary healing. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her partner and two cats. For more, visit moonandbloom.com.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Remedy We Are Excited To Try in the New Year: Flow...

What are flower essences?

The goals of flower essence therapy include: ease in accessing higher vibratory states like joy and gratitude; enhanced mind-body-spirit balance, presence, acceptance of emotions and integration of difficult vibratory states; encouraging flow states like creativity; manifesting; supporting balance; expanding awareness of self and the Universe, ancestral connection and healing; and helping us to be of greater service to ourselves, others, and the Earth.

Flower essences work by way of the following:

  • synchronicities—helping us connect seemingly unrelated or previously unseen opportunities or happenings
  • indirect occurrences—positively affecting different environments and interpersonal dynamics
  • insights—supporting mental, emotional, physical, and/or astral awakening; new ideas, solutions, or information may present
  • physical changes—bringing up new sensations, shifts in organ/system functioning or in symptoms
  • emotional responses—bringing up new feelings or memories; stabilizing or releasing them
  • expression—inspiring artistic, verbal, and kinesthetic expression
  • dreamtime—bringing about new or recurring dreams, insights, and subconscious resolution
  • invoking intention—the more time and space you can offer, the more likely you’ll be able to feel flower essences. For example, taking them with a light meditation, a visualization, while doing yoga or some other kind of bodywork or prayer  

flower essence illustration

How to Select a Flower Essence

Flower essences can be purchased from a quality producer, or you can make your own. Here, I will discuss how to select and apply ready-made flower essence remedies. You can learn how to wildcraft your own flower essences with me in this video.

When you’re starting out with flower essences, it can be overwhelming—so many producers and so many essences! I like to encourage people to remember that it’s your relationship with the plant that is the most important thing in selection. Your relationship with the remedy is the co-creation with that plant. The more you work with flowers, the more you will be able to feel and trust this part of the process.

 

The following are some ways to begin exploring flower essences:

  • Depending on what issue(s) you’d like to address, begin by taking one to three essences that resonate with you. Many producers offer sets of remedies that have a particular focus. You may want to purchase a set to experiment with, such as the FES’s Range of Light, Delta Gardens’ Protection Set, Alaskan Essences, or the Bach Essences.
  • Consider flower essences that invite presence, relaxation, protection, and grounding.
  • If you want to study the essences more carefully, consider making flashcards or purchasing the flower cards (Alaskan Essences, FES, and Bach make sets).
  • If you’re curious to learn more about how a plant might connect with your ancestry, consider doing some research on how it was used historically.
  • Perhaps there’s a flower you’re curious about, or have seen in nature. Ask this plant if it would like to work with you.

flower essence

 

Here are five basic ways to select a flower essence:

  • Intuitively: A flower essence might come to you by way of revealing itself in nature, or appearing in a dream.
  • By dowsing: Using a tool of resonance, such a pendulum, to test for essences.
  • Through muscle testing: A simple way to muscle test is to make a ring with the index finger and thumb of your nondominant hand. If you would like to test for a yes for an essence, say the name of the plant and flick the circle with your dominant hand. If the circle holds, that’s a yes. If it breaks open, that is a no.
  • By consulting reference literature: Books, repertories, or flower affirmation cards.
  • Through blind testing: By drawing a card or randomly selecting an essence from a set. This method works well with children.

Any of these methods can be integrated into your ritual. Before making remedies for other people, it’s a good idea to spend some time with the flower essences yourself. The flowers will have much to share with you. Also, the more experience you have with the essences yourself, the better you will understand how the essences will work for others.

This is an excerpt from The Bloom Book: A Flower Essence Guide to Cosmic Balance by Heidi Smith.

 

Heidi Smith, MA, RH (AHG), is a psychosomatic therapist, registered herbalist, and flower essence practitioner. Within her private practice, Moon & Bloom, Heidi works collaboratively with her clients to empower greater balance, actualization, and soul-level healing within themselves. She is passionate about engaging both the spiritual and scientific dimensions of the plant kingdom, and sees plant medicine and ritual as radical ways to promote individual, collective, and planetary healing. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her partner and two cats. For more, visit moonandbloom.com.

 

 

 

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DIY Rose Essence and Heart Breathing Ritual

The heart chakra is the central integrating chamber of the chakra system. Through the healing power of love, all things eventually find their way to connection and wholeness. 

ANODEA JUDITH

Heart Medicine Rituals

The greatest lesson I have learned so far is to exist within my heart. This is a lifelong practice for me because, like many, I was not taught to inhabit my heart space. On a physical level, the general collective is not doing so well in our hearts. This is evidenced by the stark reality that heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. This high incidence of disease points to a deeper situation of the heart, but in order to be open to the possibility that more profound heart healing is necessary and possible, we must open our minds to a more metaphysical or energetic interpretation of what the heart is and what it does. Ancestrally, the heart held a much higher evolutionary significance, and as our consciousness split, we moved from inhabiting our hearts to glorifying our minds. Perhaps this disconnect can illuminate some clues for us to consider to reclaim more balance within our hearts, ourselves, and our world. 

Vibrationally, the heart contains the strongest electromagnetic field of any organ in the body. Transference of heart energy can occur in close proximity with another human or animal; and if you apply the theories of quantum entanglement and wave function collapse, transference of heart energy can resonate beyond space or time. Plants and the elements, too, can have a positive entrainment effect on the heart, reiterating the interconnectedness of all life and the organic balance nature engenders. In both traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicines, the heart is the mind. In TCM, grief is stored in the lungs and closely related to the heart. The Hopi defined harmony as one’s heartbeat in resonance with others and the Earth.

Our liberation is tied to the heart. The cost of liberation is unique to every person and is cosmically linked to each of us. The price of liberation varies for each individual, but we are given choices: in what we think, what we feel, what we believe, how we want to be. The inability to see choice is the unconsciousness of the fear-based toxic masculine that seeks to keep us disconnected and disempowered. 

Image 1

Our liberation depends largely on our ability to love unconditionally. Unconditional love means loving without circumstance or codependence. This can take different forms, from exiting a toxic relationship to taking more care of yourself. And it doesn’t stop there. If you want to get really free, you have to love yourself no matter what, and love all beings no matter what. Tall order? Yes. Impossible? No! While humans are conditioned to be in separation, plants (and animals) hold only unconditional love for all life. There are people on this Earth who radiate unconditional love, and when you are in their company, your heart is completely relaxed and open. For instance, my heart feels completely free when I am with people and animals who love me unconditionally. My heart also feels free in this way when I am in nature. Can you think of anyone who loves you unconditionally? Or perhaps it’s easier to think of an animal or pet? What if you loved yourself and everyone like that? What if you loved all your uncomfortable parts, illnesses, and neuroses like that?

EXERCISE: Making a Rose Essence and Heart Breathing Exercise

There are a few plants whose application is almost universal, and the rose is one such flower. Roses hold the frequency of unconditional love and have an affinity for the heart chakra. This ritual works best with either a wild growing or organically cultivated rose; it can be any species within the Rosa genus. Some of the lower vibratory states that can be addressed with rose include grief, loss, heartbreak, depression, and panic. 

This ritual is very simple. You’re going to combine the process for making your own medicine (see a simple how-to video here) using the rose of your choice, with the heart breathing exercise that follows. The heart breathing can be done while the flowers are in the water, working their magic. The heart energy you engage during the medicine-making process will become part of the energetic signature of your flower essence. After you bottle it and make the dosage bottle, take a few drops and see what you notice around your heart. Be sure to notate your findings. You now have a rose flower essence for your apothecary whenever you or someone else needs it. 

HEART BREATHING RITUAL

After you have placed the flowers in the bowl with the water, sit comfortably on the ground, if possible. Close your eyes or set your gaze low. Place both hands over your heart and begin to breathe into the heart space. Visualize the rose you are working with. Notice how the breath moves in and out of the heart—not forcing the air, just allowing it to move. See if you can sense into how the heart is feeling—in the front, in the back, all sides. Be sure to breathe into the back of the heart space. Notice how the heart feels when you place your awareness on it. See if it’s okay to allow whatever is arising, witnessing without judgment. 

After a few minutes, begin to bring the heart back into a neutral position. Thank your heart and the spirit of rose for sharing with you. Feel your body making contact with the Earth, deepen the breath, and slowly open your eyes.

The video on how to make your own flower essence medicine can be found here.

This is an excerpt from The Bloom Book: A Flower Essence Guide to Cosmic Balance by Heidi Smith.

Heidi Smith Bio

Bloom Book

Heidi Smith, MA, RH (AHG), is a psychosomatic therapist, registered herbalist, and flower essence practitioner. Within her private practice, Moon & Bloom, Heidi works collaboratively with her clients to empower greater balance, actualization, and soul-level 

healing within themselves. She is passionate about engaging both the spiritual and scientific dimensions of the plant kingdom, and sees plant medicine and ritual as radical ways to promote individual, collective, and planetary healing. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her partner and two cats. For more, visit moonandbloom.com.

 

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Transform your relationship with your kitchen—and yo...

Hello gorgeous community of amazing human beings,

For the last 15 years, I have been cooking up this question: 

What does it look like to nourish YOU? 

 

Let’s drop everything we might think this is 
and everything you didn’t get done today 

and bring our collective shoulders down from the sky. 

Let’s take a minute here. We are just getting started, yet I feel we need to slow down. Will you take a deep breath with me? Thank you for being here with me. Thank you for breathing. There is nothing to do here. 

You can bring your awareness to your breath with an inhale through your nose. Open your mouth slightly and exhale with a HAAAAAAAAA sound. It feels so good to drop everything and breathe. Me too. To let go, even a little, is a real lovefest for the heart and mind = heart mind. 

It feels so good, can we do one more? 
You can close your eyes this time if you want to—

I will be right here. 

We are just getting here, together.

Now let me ask you again: 
What does it look like to nourish YOU?

What if I told you that your kitchen is a place of stories, mothers, grandmothers, imprints, and emotional weather patterns that shaped how you live now? It is also a place to deeply nourish yourself and cook up the life you have been longing to live. 

Your kitchen (yes your kitchen!) is a fierce, unconditionally loving mother holding what is ripe and ready to become inside of YOU. Who would have thought that you can heal your life in your kitchen? I did! And now you can.  

I am excited to share my new book: The Kitchen Healer: The Journey to Becoming You.

It invites you to bring your entire body into the kitchen, put your shame into the fire, offer your grief to the soup—allowing all you have been hungry for to begin to feed YOU. As you turn on the fire, you will come home to yourself. You will make the room you need, to hear and see and feel the stories you have been carrying.  

 

You will begin, again and again, to become YOU. 
Welcome home. 

In loving service to your courage, your kitchen healer,
x x x x jules

Jules Blaine Davis, the Kitchen Healer, is a TED speaker and one of Goop’s leading experts on women’s healing. She has led transformational gatherings, retreats, and a private practice for over fifteen years. She has facilitated deeply nourishing experiences at OWN and on retreat with Oprah Winfrey, among many other miracles. Jules is a pioneer in her field, inviting women to awaken and rewrite the stories they have been carrying for far too long in their day-to-day lives. She is cooking up a movement to inspire and support women to discover who they are becoming.

Pain as the Path

The wounds, scars, and pain we carry as men have a place in our lives. A function that can lead us directly to the core of deep meaning and fulfillment and provide a positive path forward. This is what initiation was supposed to teach us as men—how to descend into the depths of our own darkness and return a more complete and contributive participant in society.

However, this is where a man’s real problem resides: He has not been taught the skill or alchemy of initiation. He has not learned how to deal with his pain, or the pain of the world, and so he bucks against it.

I realized over the years of grappling with how to heal that not only was I ill-equipped to deal with the hurt I’d been given, but I also seemed to be woefully ill-equipped to reconcile with, and put a halt to, the perpetual hurt I passed on to others. Like many men, I was good at inflicting pain—and men who are good at something tend to do that thing a lot.

Not only was I undereducated in the alchemical craft of turning pain into purpose, but almost every man I knew was in relatively the same situation. Most men simply haven’t been taught how to deal with their pain and use it to become something better.

And this aspect of the journey is the missing link in male initiation, which has historically played the role of guiding a man through the transitory period between adolescence and adulthood, teaching him the skills of discipline, sovereignty, and the ability to face some of the most challenging aspects of his own life.

In fact, I began to see that not only have most men not been given the tools or resources to deal with the pain and suffering in their lives, but we as men are actively taught the opposite—the idiotic tactic of constant emotional avoidance. Not only this, but our emotional avoidance is seen as a theoretical and rational strength in certain circles.

Seeing this brings about a multitude of questions that both illuminate the foundational cracks within current masculine culture and also highlight the work we must embark on if we are to do our individual and collective parts as men in building a thriving society.

There’s more: I began to see the direct correlation between a man’s ability and willingness to face his own darkness and having a clear purpose, deep fulfillment, and clarity of contribution to the things that matter most to him.

But how can we as men give our pain a purpose in a culture where we are largely devoid of emotional permissions? Where the archetype of man, in order to be classified or quantified as a man, must do the impossible task of being brave and courageous without being vulnerable?

This is one of the biggest masculine myths—the false idea that you can be courageous without being inherently vulnerable. When we are rewarded for giving our lives, our hearts, and our emotional bodies up for sacrifice to maintain the illusion of invulnerable strength, we prioritize victory over connection. We praise ourselves for performance in the boardroom, bedroom, and bars, but we lack recognition for our performance in reconciliation, repair, and reparation.

There’s another way. A way where victory is found within the work, and part of that work is facing our own darkness.

Excerpted from Men’s Work: A Practical Guide to Face Your Darkness, End Self-Sabotage, and Find Freedom by Connor Beaton.

CONNOR BEATON is the founder of ManTalks, an international organization dedicated to the personal growth of men. He is a facilitator dedicated to building better men, an entrepreneur, a writer, and a keynote speaker. Connor has spoken to large corporate brands, nonprofits, schools, and international organizations such as the United Nations, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, Apple, TED, and Entrepreneurs' Organization. For more, visit mantalks.com.

This Is Your Time to Be Healthy, Fit, and Fine

Sex, health, happiness, and wealth . . . you know you want it all. And there’s no better time than now for having it all and “gettin’ it good!

Without social networking, motorized vehicles, or modern-day technology, many of our ancestors went for what they wanted and got it. One trailblazing “I’ve got this” woman I revere is Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler. As the Civil War raged in 1864, 33-year-old Rebecca Lee became the first Black female physician in the US. She graduated from what is now Boston University School of Medicine. In 1865, with her husband, Arthur Crumpler, she courageously journeyed to Richmond, Virginia, to provide medical care to recently freed slaves that the White doctors would not touch.

Her life in Virginia wasn’t easy. While there, many pharmacists refused to honor her prescriptions, some hospitals denied her admitting privileges, and some—reportedly, even physician colleagues—wisecracked that the “MD” after her name stood not for medical doctor, but for “mule driver.” But Dr. Crumpler persevered!

She remained in Virginia for almost four years then returned to Boston in 1869, established her medical practice, and wrote a book about women’s and children’s health. She blazed a trail upon which many have and do tread.

Hers is just one story of a brave, determined, capable Black woman. Over the centuries, there have been more in numbers untold! In the 1900s, especially during the Civil Rights Movement, Black women were instrumental in the reckoning of a nation. While their husbands got the most notoriety, matriarchs such as Coretta Scott King, Juanita Abernathy, and Lillian Lewis stood along- side their men and played pivotal roles in moving the nation forward to live up to its creed.

And as the first decade of 2000 ended and a new one began, Black women became increasingly on the move, onward and upward, and are now doctors, accountants, judges, pilots, investment managers, nurses, and elected officials as well as wives, mothers, and caregiving daughters. Undoubtedly, many of today’s Black women are carving out lives about which our great-great- grandmothers may have only dared to dream.

Black women’s voices are no longer muted or silenced; instead, they are heard around the world, with sophisticated, strong, and successful style. In 2020, America elected its first Black female vice president, Kamala Harris, at whose 2021 inauguration the words of the first Youth Poet Laureate of the US, Amanda Gorman, rang forth for the world to hear. But there’s more!

In February 2021, Georgia Tech engineering major Breanna Ivey interned at NASA and helped put their rover, Perseverance, on Mars! And as the COVID-19 pandemic stole lives around the globe, vaccine researcher Kizzmekia Corbett, who has a PhD in microbiology and immunology that she earned at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, worked with the National Institutes of Health and was instrumental in bringing safe, effective vaccines to the world.

Indeed, Black Girl Magic is in full force! When we look around, seemingly there’s hardly any- thing Black women can’t do—and do well—in any field, including medicine, the military, politics, education, technology, business, sports, aeronautics, and the arts. What we put our minds to, we can achieve! With an “I’ve got this” approach and determination, it is ours to be had.

But life is not a bed of roses for all Black women. Too often (and still) negative images barrage our psyches, loved ones in our community lose their lives in gun violence, and our health often needs dramatic improvement. Black women still carry the highest incidence of, and the poorest prognosis for, medical conditions that affect practically every organ system in the body. We are more obese and have a shorter life expectancy than other women in the female demographic, and we carry the highest mortality rate for many killer diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, infant mortality, HIV/AIDS, and more.

Despite those findings, the plight of Black women’s health is rarely, if ever, specifically addressed at length in general women’s health books. For that reason I have stepped outside of my medical office, outside of the sacred space of the surgical suite, even outside of my city and state to offer women in America and abroad Black Women’s Wellness: Your “I’ve Got This!” Guide to Health, Sex, and Phenomenal Living. May it be the one-stop source you can reference on your personal quest to achieve total wellness, health, and happiness in every important aspect of your life. I offer this book as a Black female who grew up poor in a single-parent household. I never knew any of my grandparents, had an absentee father (who I later found when I was 49), a mother with some “issues,” no siblings, and many naysayers in my midst. But to achieve my goals to become a physician and a surgeon, I studied to show myself approved. It wasn’t easy, but I got it done.

Over the years, I’ve seen thousands of women of various ethnicities suffer with chronic diseases, some of which can be avoided, or at least, better controlled. I also know the remarkable and re- warding joy of practicing medicine and performing surgery to remove disease, help women with their infertility, or free them from cancer.

As a physician, my question to you is, Are you taking time to take care of your health? In fact, when did you last really think about—and take time for—your health in a comprehensive, serious, deliberate manner?

Jack Kornfield’s Buddha’s Little Instruction Book reminds us that “each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.” Kornfield also tells us, “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” Whatever your schedule, lifestyle, religious preference, or personal obligation to others, the reality is you won’t be able to do anybody any good if you’re in poor or failing health. As said in the 2021 movie Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia, “Take one seed of what you give others and plant it in yourself.”

The words and images within these pages present information that is applicable to the specific medical, spiritual, emotional, and social needs of Black women. However, non- Black women can glean valuable information about their health and standing in this book as well because I also provide comparative data for Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American women, as well as some data about our male counterparts. But special attention is given to Black women because the fact is, Black women’s health concerns and challenges are different from those of other women.

In these pages you will find staggering statistics and a less-than-desirable legacy of Black women’s health. But you will also find tools, medical information, and encouragement that can liberate you and Black women everywhere from a similar fate. With knowledge comes power.

Look at all the wonderful things Black women have done and continue to do when they employ their mind and determination in force. Hold on to that because improving one’s physical health is doable—you can do it!— and changing the trajectory of Black women’s health is also doable. It can be done, and it must be done because changing the health of Black women can change the health of the Black fam- ily and that of all future generations. As you review and compare the health statistics across racial lines presented herein, remember one thing: the goal isn’t to be like White or Asian women; the goal is to be healthier Black women. Black Women’s Wellness provides a head-to-toe medical reference, with information that will carry you for years to come. Some of you might read this book cover to cover, as a whole. Others might read chapters that address your, or a loved one’s, current medical concern, circumstance, or curiosity. Or as you flip through the pages, you might see a pie chart or graph that grabs your attention or gives you pause.

In chapter 1, I begin with my “Societal Stress and Black Women’s Health” flowchart that ties together the psychosocial challenges and micro- aggressions that we face as Black women and how those psychosocial stressors can affect our physi- cal well-being.

In part 1, I present timely information about heart disease, diabetes, maternal mortality, cancers, and HIV/AIDS . . . the top five conditions that are robbing Black women of life and longevity.

In part 2, I hone in on our womanly feminine form and function. As with all creation, the hu- man body is a thing of beauty with wonders it performs! No one would be alive today without a woman’s body, for it is through women that all life is formed and born.

Medical conditions can affect all of us—whether we are tall or short; “thick” or thin; heterosexual or homosexual; light-skinned, “olive-complected,” or the color of rich, dark chocolate. You’ll read about your reproductive anatomy and physiol- ogy and the diseases that can affect your female organs, such as fibroid tumors and endometriosis, but also other medical conditions that cause mid- life “female” problems such as a dropped bladder, urinary incontinence, and pelvic pain. You’ll read about vision problems, arthritic conditions, sickle cell disease, multiple sclerosis, and more. And if you are menopausal and utterly confused about hormone replacement therapy, this part can give you guidance.

No book on wellness is fully complete with- out addressing sex. Can I get an amen? Given my personal experience and professional expertise, I wrote the sex, sensuality, and relationships section with a heterosexual approach. But regardless of your sexual preference or identity, in part 3, you’ll read about the health benefits of having sex (with whoever rocks your boat). There’s also sage infor- mation about sexually transmitted diseases and how to identify any residual sexual hang-ups you may have so you can fully enjoy and benefit from the experience that love-making was meant to be.

Maybe your love life has gone from a sizzle to a fizzle, you have trouble achieving orgasm, or you experience pain with intercourse. Or perhaps you’re wondering if male enhancement medica- tions work in women or how you can possibly en- joy sex in a day of rampant sexually transmitted diseases and men “on the down-low.” Fret not; you’ve come to the right place! I give you tips on how to boost your sex life and get or keep the passion going with your sweetie. I also offer you advice on how to address these intimate issues (including sexual dysfunction) with your doctor.

And last, in part 4, I round out the call for total wellness with information on relationships, love, beauty, mental health, mindfulness, and financial well-being. I also provide a checklist for you to take stock of your health to identify the specific areas that require your medical attention.

To find happiness in a world of frequent, near-daily rejection, it is important to have inner strength, self-assurance, emotional balance, and reliable friends and family. Part 4 will give you useful tips to achieve inner peace, to keep your brain active and alert, and to avoid toxic people. It will advise you on how to capitalize on your best traits and, if needed, minimize those traits you find less desirable or that impede your personal or professional goals.

Proper diet and physical activity for increasing the secretion of endorphins—the “feel good” body chemicals—will be addressed, and tips for hair and skin care will be presented. Lastly, unique medical “pearls of wisdom” will help you improve your interpersonal relationships. Along the way, I will share a few anecdotes of my life’s journey; perhaps they will encourage you to keep moving forward when you feel you just can’t take another step.

I am excited for you and me. Despite the doom and gloom of the past, it is possible for Black women to achieve medical parity and live the best, healthiest life possible in the 21st century. We need not give up hope, for there have been and will continue to be victories and successes in the lives of women whose skin has been bountifully kissed by the sun. As never before, the 21st century presents a new day and an exciting time in health-care technology, research education, and improved medical outcomes, and no woman—whether Asian, Hispanic, Native American, White, or Black—should be left behind. Not anymore. This can yet be our time to shine, as many of us are living well past the statistical projections of life and death . . . and doing so in healthy, fine, fun, and sexy style!

Total wellness and phenomenal living are aspirations many Black women enjoy and others seek to attain. It can be done; the journey begins with just one step. Black Women’s Wellness may prove to be the long-needed source that can encourage, educate, comfort, and celebrate you, me, and Black women everywhere. With the information in this book, the evergreen list of resources I’ve provided at the end, and an “I’ve got this!” determination, your 21st-century journey to total wellness, physical health, and phenomenal living can begin right now. Let’s get started!

Melody T. McCloud, MD, is an obstetrician-gynecologist-surgeon, media consultant, public speaker, and author. She lectures nationwide on women’s health, sex, and social issues and has served on an advisory council of the CDC. Affiliated with Emory University Hospital Midtown, Dr. McCloud was honored as one of the 25 most influential doctors in Atlanta and named Physician of the Year by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. She has appeared on CNN, ABC, NBC, Court TV, and in the New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Post, Parade, the New England Journal of Medicine, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and more.

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