Plant Medicine: Radio Show

Last month on Going Shamanic, we spoke with Janis Silver Owl on the topic of Exploring Plant Medicine.

Check out this great show with insights on how you can work with plants to guide you on your life’s journey:



On Being Alive

Life sometimes demands:

Furious flying,

Rapturous play,

Creative unfolding,

Calm waters,

Moving among chaos,

Singing full voice,

Trance dancing,

Emotional flow,

Endless grace,

Mountain climbing,

Careful descents,

Free falling,

Sacred irreverence,

Conscious building,

Focused destruction,

Collaborative energy,

Fierce solitude,

Courageous action,

Unwavering intent,

And an adaptive stance- all within the same moment.

A paradox and possibility at the same time.

The challenge and thrill of being alive in a human body.

Are you up for it?


-Jen Engracio

The Joy of BEing

I went to visit my grandma the other day at her care home. She is turning 96 this year and has pretty advanced Alzheimers. Although she is not able to carry on a conversation that makes sense (to me), she looked into my eyes and recognition came over her. She knew my spirit and I could feel the delight rising in her. I spent an hour massaging her arms, legs and hands while she relaxed and looked out the window at the trees and the spring sunshine. At one point, she gave me a leg that I’d already massaged and said, “Faz. Faz.” which in Portuguese means “Do it. Do it.” I laughed and gave her what she wanted. I barely said a word to her the whole hour I was there. We did this somatic and spirit dance that was intimate and loving; we said more in that hour of not speaking than in one hour of talking. And I thought, “What a gift to just be able to BE together.” It was a relief to not feel like I had to chatter away. All of my earthly titles, degrees and achievements didn’t matter one iota. All that mattered was two humans connecting. Sometimes when I struggle with the predominant worldview we live in of achievements and titles, I think about what will matter to me when I am readying to die and reflecting back on my life. I doubt my university degree will be on my mind.

Reflections on Costa Rica

Costa Rica changed me with her wide open oceans, teaming with life.  The wall of heat persistently sank deeper into my bones each day I was there until I relented and relaxed into the flow of life.  Each night, the ancestors of the land greeted me in my dreams and taught me how to surrender to living in the present.  I watched the natural fires that blazed across the mountainside in amazement that they just went out without much intervention at all from the local people.  Fire is representative of Spirit in the Medicine Way I study.  It is clear that these people have a good relationship with the spirit world.

I saw the fishermen on the beach each day catching tuna by hand with only a reel and a hook.  They said that “pura vida”- the Costa Rican saying- means “pure living.”  The Costa Ricans still live mostly off the land.  They are dreamy, unstressed people who work in a steady, rhythmic way.  They know how to conserve energy.  Attention to beauty and simplicity is everywhere you look- the décor, the meals, and the dress of the people.  The generosity and open heartedness of the land is also echoed in the people who live there- willing to lend a hand and offer local knowledge without strings attached.

Costa Rica’s indigenous people are named after this ethos of peacefulness and giving.  One of the tribe’s names literally means “those who run.” The ancients simply moved when other tribes came in and took over their territory.   At first glance, this may seem to some to be capitulating but it seemed to me to be a strategy that saved them energy. Horses do this too; they avert confrontations that are unnecessary by fleeing from predators.  When they have to, they fight predators off vehemently.  The Costa Rican government today finds creative solutions to border disputes with neighbouring Nicaragua. Today, Costa Rica has no military and puts her funding into protecting the environment and serving her people.

One Costa Rican lady was sincerely perplexed at why Canadians and Americans seemed so stressed all the time and had no patience.  I saw many foreigners lose it on local people when they didn’t get their way or when something didn’t go as they had planned it- despite the service being fantastic, timely, and thoughtful all across Costa Rica.  It was a stark contrast to the natural fluidity of the land and her people.  A masseuse on the beach noted that this tension is deeply felt in the bodies she works on.  This is in contrast to the local bodies.  I noticed that after massaging clients, the ladies would work on each other restoring their own bodies back to balance.  Balance, in fact, seems to be a really important value to Costa Ricans.  This is evident in the way they protect their ecosystems.

Costa Ricans also value the elders- not only in their own communities but also across cultures.  I was struck by the way the Costa Rican airport officials pulled all the elders out of the customs line up when we arrived and put them through first so they didn’t have to wait.  This simply would not happen in Canada.  Could you imagine the uproar if anyone jumped queue?

Because I work online, I was able to work in the evenings while I was there after a day of exploration and fun.  I had a fear that if I allowed myself to enjoy life and have fun that nothing would get done and the bills would not get paid.  What I learned in Costa Rica is that enjoying myself and having fun made me much more efficient and inspired when I did sit down to do my work with the kids.  Last month, I interviewed Saida Desilets, PhD on Going Shamanic.  The topic was “Sacred Sexuality” and we ended up discussing why experiencing pleasure was so important for humans.  She said that pleasure unlocks our creative genius.  If we don’t allow ourselves to live from a place of pleasure, we don’t create the neural pathways in our brains that will allow us to fully evolve as humans.  This went through my whole being while I was in Costa Rica.  It’s not that I didn’t experience pleasure in my life before the trip but I feel that I can relax into this way of being in the world more fully now.  And I began to understand the brilliance behind play as a way of learning.   Kids know this intuitively- if it is not fun or intrinsically interesting to them, they will not pursue it.  Far from being a threat to learning, I’ve found that this enthusiasm-based way of learning means that kids delve much deeper into the areas they study and come away with a knowing of how to apply concepts successfully in everyday life.

I asked Saida why more people don’t live from a place of pleasure when it is evident that they have all their basic needs met.  Her response was telling: “It’s not fashionable to be happy.”  When she said this, I thought of how many times I’d been told in my life that I could not be happy and responsible at the same time.  What if it is more irresponsible not to tap into the happiness and joy within us?  What if neuroscientists and spiritual traditions are correct in postulating that this is the one thing that will allow our species to survive and thrive in alignment with life?  How can each of us commit to adding more pleasure to our lives each day in ways that do not harm others, the Earth, or ourselves?  I wonder how the world would be different within this new paradigm and what novel solutions we could find to the world’s most pressing issues.

To listen to the show with Saida, go here:

Costa Rica Take Two

A cashew fruit.  The nuts are in the green stem.

A cashew fruit. The nuts are in the green stem.


Howler monkeys.

Howler monkeys.

This little one is 2 months old.  An orphan that is being cared for by humans.  Such gentleness and love in his eyes.  I wanted to take him home.

This little one is 2 months old. An orphan that is being cared for by humans. Such gentleness and love in his eyes. I wanted to take him home.

Michelle with a baby boa constrictor.

Michelle with a baby boa constrictor.


Jaguar mask.  Oh how I love jaguars.

Jaguar mask. Oh how I love jaguars.

Michelle and I ziplining.

Michelle and I ziplining.


Jellyfish graveyard on the beach in Potrero.

Jellyfish graveyard on the beach in Potrero.


Look at how huge the carrots are there!  Just like the insects- super size!

Look at how huge the carrots are there! Just like the insects- super size!


snail trails in the sand.

snail trails in the sand.

Coco Loco- favourite eating spot of ours.

Coco Loco- favourite eating spot of ours.


Sunset on Playa Flamingo.

Sunset on Playa Flamingo.

Crazy Lemonade- lime, ginger, mint, sugar, crushed ice.

Crazy Lemonade- lime, ginger, mint, sugar, crushed ice.

cycling along the beaches.

cycling along the beaches.

IMG_1789 IMG_1792 Copying IMG_1795

Mosaic designs on Costa Rican Catholic Church.

Mosaic designs on Costa Rican Catholic Church.

IMG_1799 IMG_1800 IMG_1805

Costa Rica Pictures

See, I am working in Costa Rica from my balcony overlooking the ocean.  Best office in the world.

See, I am working in Costa Rica from my balcony overlooking the ocean. Best office in the world.



Every time Michelle sees this truck advertising bread, she laughs.  It is pronounced "beembo" in Spanish.

Every time Michelle sees this truck advertising bread, she laughs. It is pronounced “beembo” in Spanish.




Stingray at the "fish" buffet.

Stingray at the “fish” buffet.

Stingray hunting group.

Stingray hunting group.

Stingray food :)

Stingray food :)


Michelle escaping a wave.

Michelle escaping a wave.



The Gifts of AD(H)D

This first appeared as the introductory essay to the show “The Gifts of Attention Deficit Disorder” on Going Shamanic:

Our show today focuses on what it is like to live with Attention Deficit Disorder in our society as well as on the gifts the diagnosis can bring.   I became interested in ADD back in university when I was getting my teaching degree in 2000.  There was a gentleman named Paul in my Teaching Training class who caught my attention.  He was thoughtful, wise, and at 55, he was the eldest in our class.  I noticed that he was always drinking coffee in a to go mug.  He carried a thermos to every class.  One day, I asked him about it and he said matter-of-factly that it was the way he self-medicates for ADD.  This seemed counter-intuitive to me at the time but Paul explained, “It actually calms me down.  My brain chemistry is different than yours.  Caffeine also helps me to focus.”  Then, he told me his story.  Paul was actually born in Nigeria to parents who were Canadian missionaries.  They lived alongside the Nigerian people until Paul was seven years old when they returned to Canada.  Paul told me that it was then that he started having problems- when he began school.  Before then, Paul spent much of his time hunting with Nigerian men and boys.  They recognized his gift of being able to focus on one thing that interested him to the exclusion of all distractions early on and encouraged Paul.  He became a pretty good hunter.  In Canada, he was forced to sit still for most of the day- something he had never done in his training as a hunter.  This was excruciating for him.  I asked him why he decided to become a teacher after working in the trades for so many years.  He said, “I met a lot of apprentices over the years- young folks who had the same issues I had in school.  They were intelligent people who were simply misunderstood by the school system.  I found ways to work with their talents and I knew I could do the same for kids.  It made sense to me to start with younger kids when they most needed the confidence and skills.”  I had the privilege of participating in one of Paul’s classes during our practicum.  He was brilliant.  The activities were mostly hands on.  The kids worked together to solve problems and they were allowed to move their bodies as much as they needed to.

 In 2001, I got to see the opposite of what Paul was doing in his classroom when I did my own practicum in a Grade 3 class.  The teacher I apprenticed under was decidedly ‘old school’ using archaic teaching methods and running her classroom with rigid control.  The children were not allowed to leave their desks without permission and there was no group work allowed.  Anxiety levels were high among the kids in that class.  When I came in, I decided to do more group work and project-based learning with the kids- something they loved.  There was a learner in my class named Chris that year.  He sat quietly at his desk with glazed eyes looking more like a zombie than an 8 year old kid.  He struggled with the short blocks of time to do his work and the requirement that he compartmentalize his thinking.  He was also of First Nations ancestry and his culture promoted social learning and interdisciplinary ways of studying the world.  At the time I met him, he was a ward of the state being bounced around from one foster home to another.  I was sitting at my desk at lunchtime one day when I went to stretch out my legs and felt a body there.   Startled, I looked and saw Chris hiding.   I asked him what he was doing and he told me not to tell the secretary where he was.  When I asked why, he told me that she will give him the “pill” if she finds him.  I later found out that Chris was on Ritalin and the school was required to make sure this was administered daily by the state (his legal guardian).  I sat with him as he told me all of the ways he was stupid and couldn’t do school.  After a while, I looked at him and said, “Chris, you are a long thinker.  There is nothing wrong with that.  You put the things you know together in ways that are different than what the school expects.  That means there is a problem with what the school expects- not you.”  At first, he looked at me with eyes searching me see if I was mocking him.  When he saw I was sincere, he welled up with tears.  Maybe I was the first person to really show him that I saw his gifts.  I don’t know.  But it sure made me wonder about how we pathologize people in our culture when they don’t fit cultural norms and how that affects our kids’ self-esteem and self-worth as human beings.

I know that medication works for some people; I’ve met a few that are doing well on meds.  However, many folks I’ve met are not.  The journey to healing and wholeness is a deeply personal one.  This show is not interested in prescribing any one particular “cure” or “medicine.”  Rather, it seems to me that we need to reframe the way we see Attention Deficit Disorder as a gift- a difference in cognition that can help us to see the world in a different way.

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