Wisdom of the Exile
Transcript from an episode of The Plant Witch Podcast.
[00:00:32] Welcome to The Plant Witch podcast. Where we enter together into the web of life and all of its many seen and unseen dimensions. I’m Eryn Shrader, owner of The Rebel Herbalist, and it is my honor to hold this portal to the other world. Let’s enter, shall we?
[00:01:23] From Sharon Blackie’s new book Hagitude, The Old Woman - the one who haunted the hedge lands. The mysterious shadow and the heart of the dark wood. The exile. The rebel. The one who shrugged off the fetters of conventional society. The one who imagined and cultivated her own vision of how the world should be. Thank you very much. I’m so interested in this character - the exile, the rebel. The one who shrugged off the fetters of conventional society. To imagine and cultivate her own vision of how the world should be. Early on in my podcasts I recorded “Baneberry and the Process of Othering” and I’ve been really interested in this ‘othering’ that humans do to one another. Which is the process by which the exiled is initiated. The process by which the rebel is crowned. Without ‘othering,’ the exile cannot exist. And in many cases, the exile becomes the prophet. The one who can see vast, see far, see clearly from the fringes what cannot be seen from in the midst of it all. We are in the Gemini full moon of Sagittarius season - exactly conjunct Mars Retrograde - and from my understanding, this is illuminating the exile within us. The rebel within us, the part of us that we’ve ‘othered’ and sent into the shadow and has grown wise there. A prophet. From the hedge inside of us, watching all the workings of our lives and silently judging it all. The part of us that’s repressed and oppressed, that’s been gaslit into believing her needs or his needs or their needs don’t matter. And in that place of exile has grown eyes to see and ears to hear and the wisdom to understand what’s really going on out here on the surface of things. We can access this sage within us any time, but right now there’s an infusion of power into this part of us that is sort of a collector of wisdom that is hard won and painful. This mysterious shadow in the heart of the dark wood, moving within us.
[00:05:37] This has been the topic of conversation in my circles recently. Giving voice to this part of us that is voiceless. How does this part of us - this inner prophet, exile - communicate with us? Well, I woke up with a pretty terrible migraine this morning and historically that is how this part of me has gotten my attention. Through physical pain - when I do not have the eyes to see and the ears to hear and the wisdom to understand my body, in partnership with this deeper, wise part of me - takes me out and down. And when I’m in terrible pain I am soft and receptive and I can hear and understand things that I will not go anywhere near when I’m infused with light and energy and vitality and focus. And so from this place of pain and humility and limitation, I’m able to approach reality rather than edify myself with fantasy, and that is what the exile does - shows us the truth of what is real. Not the illusion of a world created out of good luck, privilege, being in the right place at the right time. But the real, gritty underbelly of what it takes to get through everyday. The sacrifices that are made for our comfort. The sacrifices our children make for our career success. The sacrifices our partners make for our happiness. The sacrifices we ask of the tender, innocent parts of ourselves so that we can continue to show up in the world that we’ve created here. The sacrifices of people living oceans away so that we can have iPhones. All of this is seen by the exile, because the exile bears this cost. The one who is ‘othered’ and sent into the dark heart of the forest is the one who lives out the collateral damage of our decision to live only in the light. To live only in what is edifying of the ego.
[00:09:08] And so I’m sitting outside the hut of this part of myself - this exiled part of myself - and I’ve come to her door many, many times over the years and so we have a bit of a relationship. But when we come for the first time, it’s not usually a pleasant experience for either she nor us. Because she’s angry, or he’s angry. Or in my case, when I first encountered this part of myself it was very nearly dead, withered. I kept dreaming of finding little fairy bodies - like Tinkerbell - the Disney version of fairies. Dirty and broken and sick, and I was not allowed to touch it in my dreamscape, these beings were taboo. I wasn’t allowed to be near them but I had to, I couldn’t help myself. I would scoop up these little broken fairy bodies and take them home with me and nurture them back to health. And over months and years, I began to dream of these fairy beings, powerful and riding the backs of dragons. And in my psychic landscape, these little fairy beings represented the exiled parts of myself. Innocent, magical, sensitive, deeply connected to the forest and nature, deeply connected to the other worlds. Which is how I came into this world and how I learned to repress and quiet so that I could function in the society that we’ve created for ourselves. But when we first met through meditation and journeying and in the dream time, these parts of me did not trust me because I had done this to them. Inclusion with the over story of our culture. But over time, with committed and dedicated practice I’ve been able to build a relationship with these parts of me, these exiled parts of me. Who are the exiled parts of you? Have you been dreaming about them? Have you met them in meditation or in ritual? Do you see them in the eyes of people around you? The parts of you that have been unheard, that bring shame, that are uncomfortable to look at. They live in you still and they have gifts for you. When these magical parts of myself started to heal and grow and ride the backs of dragons, they had so much wisdom to share. Such deep philosophy from living under the boot of my life. They could show me my brutality. Not so I would be ashamed of it, but so I could be realistic about what it took, what it cost for me to show up in the world every day in the way I had chosen to - or felt that I had to. So on days like today where pain is a companion, these days remind me that not all is easy here. That pain in a human body is non-negotiable. It will happen. It does happen. And how we respond to it in ourselves and in others is part of the story here, it’s built in. It is a passage that every human must make. How do we respond to pain? How do we show up for that part of ourself that’s in pain and that pain that we see in the eyes of others? Are we patient with it? Do we want them to get on with things? Ignore the pain, still be productive? What is the balance there? There is a balance there.
[00:14:27] Our son is taking guitar lessons right now, he’s 7, and he’s confronting the pain of pressing the chords into the neck of the guitar - or the strings, rather - and it’s dance. Honoring his body’s pain and pushing through to learn his craft and how we approach that - that dance, that balance - between honoring our bodies and disciplining ourselves. Builds our character, it tells us who we are. How we’re going to show up here in this place where pain is part of it. Where we don’t let the pain stop us and paralyze us and freeze us, but we also don’t make the pain our identity. Or ignore it, pretend it isn’t there, or project it onto others and spend our whole lives trying to save people from pain while ignoring our own. Pain is a primary and essential ingredient of life here. It flavors the soup. How do you dance with it in your life? Have you found balance there? Some of us seek pain, either to punish ourselves or because through the deep feeling of pain we find a catharsis and a liberation for other kinds of pain that we can’t touch otherwise. These parts of us that are shamed, exiled, repressed - they feel pain and often hold a lot of our pain for us so we don’t have to confront the reality of that. It seems to me that our human unwillingness to see and sit in our discomfort is one of the major roots of our dysfunction here. That we believe in these magical superstitions about avoiding pain for ourselves, that we take on all of these methods of control - of ourself and others - and the belief that it will somehow make us immune to pain or suffering. That people who are in pain - emotional pain, financial pain, physical pain - they somehow deserved it. They didn’t do what was right like we did. We do the right thing so we don’t have to feel pain. Those people did the wrong thing so they deserve the pain that they have.
[00:18:00] The stories we tell ourselves about pain and deservingness, are the foundational stories under most of our belief systems because we are working so hard to avoid pain. Which makes pain extremely powerful, and the architects of power know that very well and they know how to use our pain to guide our decisions. So many of us who struggle with chronic illness have become alchemists, we understand pain deeply. How to walk with it, how to dance with it, how to live with it. How to live in spite of it. How to thrive within it. We carry wisdom - hard won alchemical wisdom - just as the people of marginalized communities carry deep wisdom. There’s a gritty wisdom - a practical wisdom - in the exile. I don’t want to romanticize this because it can break us, and it often does. But even in the broken of us there is so much truth. I remember one of my hospice patients, he lived many years as an unhoused person in New York City where he kept warm through the winters with a bottle of rum, or whatever was cheapest. But he had come to the suburbs here in South Central Pennsylvania to live out the end of his life and he loved to tell me the stories of what it was like to be invisible in the City of Lights. All that he had seen, all that he came to understand about being human. There was such a gritty wisdom in him, and a humility. Yes, he was broken in some ways, but he was also a prophet. And I believe that exists in all of us and the closer we are to pain, the sharper the relief of that wise part of us. That gritty, truthful, raw exile that lives within us all. And learning to approach this part of ourselves with care and gentleness gives us the tools needed to approach that part of other people that we see around us who are in pain. And to honor their strength, to keep living in the face of so much pain. That is something that is so often overlooked in our bright neon light society. Those of us who continue to show up to life in the midst of terrible pain - whether that’s the pain of grief, the physical pain of an illness in the body, the pain of financial devastation, the pain of addiction, the pain of broken relationships, the pain of trauma of all kinds. The strength it takes to keep going, to keep showing up, to keep loving, to keep trying, to keep hoping. There’s such a power there that could be celebrated, that I do celebrate. Sometimes I just look back over my own life and the stories of the people that I know and I am just in awe of our resilience. Humans are a truly incredible creature. I have found that celebrating the strength and resilience of these exiled parts of me has been a huge part of healing. Instead of living in regret, or shame, or denial, or resentfulness. To look back in celebration, look at all that we have endured. Look at how strong we are. We can do anything together. What will we do now?
[00:24:23] This is the energy I want to bring to this full moon. I was born on the full Gemini moon of Sagittarius season on a Thursday, 41 years ago. And as I sit here with the close proximity to this exile in me that bears so much pain and shame and clear-eyed wisdom, I know that as I look forward to the next cycle of my life - the next season of my life - I know there will be pain and I know that I have survived all of the pain I have endured so far. And I actively choose to continue to be soft in the face of this pain, to not let it make me rigid and resentful and bitter and afraid. But to do what is necessary to stay supple in the face of it. To stay hopeful. To see beauty. To play. What do the exiled parts of you need to feel seen and celebrated? To join forces with you in resilience? How can you find them? How can you invite them out to join you? When was the last time you saw them? In illness? In shame? In your dreams? How do you handle exiled people when you see them? Unhoused people, terribly sick people, people who wear labels on the other side of the line that you stand on? They are carrying the signature of the exiled parts of you and how you respond to them gives us information about how we respond to those parts of ourselves. And so when we feel those feelings in our body then we know we’re in the shadow lands. May this full moon - this full, cold moon of December - illuminate for you the places where you can bring healing, where you can reclaim wisdom, where you can rest in the deep, gritty magic of the hedge lands. These exiled parts of us are wild, and wise, and ready to share their wisdom with us. May you have the ears to hear, the eyes to see and the wisdom to understand.
[00:28:10] Thank you for joining me for The Plant Witch podcast. I’m your host Eryn Schrader. I’m an herbalist, a mother, a holistic nurse and a practitioner of the ancient ways. You can connect with me between episodes at therebelherbalist.com. Or on Instagram and Facebook @therebelherbalist. Thank you for joining me, and it’s time to come back to life.