What does the book “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer and the Five Elements, especially the Earth Element, have got in common? Having read the book this summer I have found out that actually the two speak of each other.
This marvellous book is written in prose but reading it is like poetry. To me it was totally music to my ears and probably not only to me, as Elizabeth Gilbert describes the book as “a hymn of love to the world”.
There would be so much to share about this book, so I only would like to concentrate on the main three reflections and insights I have had, that infuse Robin's tradition with what I know and practice in Chinese Medicine. All quotations below come from Robin's book.
The first reflection made me realise that all ancient and indigenous people, whether they are from the East or the West, had one thing in common: their relationship with the Nature. They observed the Nature attentively, its processes, cycles, in order to understand self and to understand the place which a man occupies in relationship with what is around him/her. In those times, human beings felt an integral part of an eco-system they lived in. Everything that surrounded them had a meaning and they took note of the cyclical nature of all process of the Earth. So, be it indigenous Americans, or Australians or ancient Chinese, they all lived with the same reverence in the relationship to the Nature. That means that some of the bases of the Classical Chinese Medicine (especially Taoism) are common to all other ancient and indigenous cultures.
The second insight I have had relates to Robin's call for going beyond gratitude and infusing more reciprocity in all our relationships. Reciprocity in Chinese Medicine is related to the Earth Element energetic quality. Robin explains reciprocity so well. It isn't only about "if I give you, then you will give me back" but rather "when I give you I create a relationship with you". The lack of attention to reciprocity in our-day-world has created anonymity and indifference in which reciprocal relationships are often considered more a burden than richness. So, "we are called to go beyond cultures of gratitude to once again become cultures of reciprocity". In the Chinese Classics that is the Earth Element energetics within us. Losing that sense of reciprocity we lose touch with our Earth Element, which we need for grounding and bonding with the place we live in.
My third insight into timeless and ancient wisdom is about "honourable harvest". Harvest is again related to the energy of Earth Element in Chinese medicine and philosophy. "Honourable Harvest" is an "exchange of live for life"... yes, their sensitivity whether to animals or plants, was the same. People living in true communion with the Nature knew that all harvest is taking away some form of life. Therefore, they were propenced to actions that gave that life back or to "take only what you are given and not what you need".
I know that ancient Chinese practitioners collected their herbs in the same "honourable" way as Robin describes indigenous Americans did, in order for the herbs to have that pure energy and be granted the Nature's healing potency. We practice honourable harvest every day by making choices in our daily consumptions. Whenever we buy something new think about the life that's been taken away. In return, try to give that life back somehow.
The ancients' way of living was treading so lightly as if "longing to hear the land give thanks for the people in return". Wow! Do we ever ask ourselves that question? Is the Earth actually happy with me living on Her surface? Do we realise that with each gift we were born we also hold our responsibilities for that gift? It is the Earth that makes the "paste" of our bodies, the Earth creates our gifts and we have the responsibility to use them to create hers. The plants "can't meet their responsibilities unless we meet ours". Once we realise that we live in such interdependence with the Nature, we start wondering why we moved so far away from Her.
It is that consciousness that we need to truly understand our power. As if describing the Yin and Yang of Chinese Medicine, Robin quotes: "all powers have two sides, the power to create and the power to destroy. We must recognise them both, but invest our gifts on the side of creation".
These and other insights I have had thanks to Robin Wall Kimmerer's book, confirm to me that much of the bases of the Classical Chinese Medicine do not pertain to Chinese or Oriental cultures only, they have been lived and followed by most, if not all, of the indigenous populations worldwide. The Nature's language is truly global!