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I love this time of the year when the nights begin to get a little longer and our attention begins its journey inward.

The plant kingdom has striven through summer, stretching branches and flowers skyward, but now the energy flow is sinking back down, toward the roots, where it will be stored for the winter.

Even if it’s not usually your thing, pause and pay attention to the shifting light, the crisp chill in the air, the browning of the leaves.

Notice how your body feels, how your mind responds.

I often start my classes at this time of year, just as the Butterfly Weed and the Obedient Plant drop their seeds upon the ground. It’s an apt metaphor, dropping seeds, as that is really all a teacher can do: drop seeds and wait to see what takes and what blooms.

Any new learning experience calls on us to ground in and allow ourselves to grow into new knowledge from our roots up. That's why it’s hard to learn anything when you feel ungrounded and dwifty.

So I invite you all to use the shifting of the seasons and this weekend's equinox to allow yourself to get in touch with the cycles of your own energy as it moves towards your roots.

Carve out a few moments each day to be in gratitude for those people and things that hold you up and give you strength.

Ginger tea (a root to support our roots) is a favorite at this time of year. Simply simmer a few slices of ginger root for about 20 minutes, sweeten with a bit of maple syrup or honey, and add a squirt of lemon for extra zing.

How are you grounded here on this earth? Are you rooted in family or in wood walks or in yoga or cooking or dance? Acknowledge what supports you. 


The Lost Camellia

Every once in a while, I stumble across something that sparks my love of myth and mystery, something that roots in my soul and makes me behave like an O.C.D. gerbil, going round and round on my little rodent wheel.

Five years back, that something was Franklinia alatamaha, the Franklin Tree, the Lost Camellia.

Philadelphia is not a particularly mysterious city. It lacks those gated, stone walled-courtyards that tease the outsider with hints of jasmine and gardenia or twisting alleyways that smell of roasting coffee and croissants in the hours just after dawn.

What Philadelphia does have is the Franklinia, The Lost Camellia.

Extinct in the wild since the late 1700s, the Franklinia is a member of the Tea family (Theaceae), the same family as the camellia, which is a native of Asia. The last confirmed sighting of the Franklinia in the wild was in 1790.

This elusive tree is the unicorn of the plant world and I now have one growing in my backyard.

Philadelphia botanist John Bartram collected the seeds of the Franklinia on a trip to Georgia in the eighteenth century. He brought them back to Philadelphia where he successfully propagated the Franklinia tree from which all modern trees are descended.

And there aren’t that many: a loosely conducted census of the trees on the East Coast put the number around 1,000.

When I first learned of the Franklinia, my love of the curious, the mysterious, and the elusive kicked into high gear. I searched nurseries and online sources. At a native plant sale, I arrived after the only one had been sold. For a few years, the Franklinia became my personal Holy Grail.

Then we moved and my garden changed. I forgot about the Franklinia and focused on painting the living room.

Last week, touring the New York Botanical Gardens with my mother-in-law, we came across a strange little tree. It looked like a cross between an azalea and a camellia. Beautiful, glossy leaves framed five petaled white flowers, even though it was autumn and late for blooming.

We debated what it was, never suspecting it could be the ever elusive Lost Camellia.

Five days later, I was in my local nursery and came across an unusual looking tree. I circled it a few times, trying to identify the oddity before checking the tag. Franklinia.

I often think about the ways in which our culture reveres the obscure and the hidden, as if somehow we ourselves become rare and precious by proximity or ownership.

And yet we so often overlook the beauty that surrounds us everyday in search of this thing that we are sure must be better for being touched by mystery.

I’m not gonna lie: having a reminder of the fleeting and elusive nature of life, having a living bit of our botanical history growing in my garden, is a gift that I will be charmed by as long as I live here.

But in the time when my Franklinia obsession had faded, I remembered the joy of peonies and cone flowers. I smiled at the thyme creeping in a dense blanket and was soothed by the gentle rustle of the birch trees.

Oftentimes clients have read about an herb from India or Korea, something so obscure that we don’t even have an English name for it, and they wonder if maybe I could find it for them, if maybe it would be better than the easily accessible dandelion or nettle, or more potent than oregano, or a better winter heal-all than elderberry.

There is a thrill to finding the rare, to knowing very few others have tasted it or felt its effects. And yet, the true art, the deeper wisdom, is finding the mystery in the everyday and the healing in our own backyards.

Appreciation sometimes seems to be the rarest elixir of all.

When I remember to notice the world around me, there is so much mystery to savor.

What happens when you pause and ask yourself: which mysteries of the everyday have I been overlooking in the pursuit of an elusive obsession?


When DIY Becomes DYI


I used to be a do-it-yourselfer.

I truly believed that I should be able to grow it, cook it, can it, build it, and paint it... all while running my own business and adopting every wayward plant and stray human who crossed my path.

Paying someone else to do a job I was sure I could do, if only I spent enough time talking to the Home Depot guys, was sacrilege. Being personally, hands-on responsible for everything in my reach was practically a religion.

Part of my doctrinal relationship with DIY was economic; I was spending so much time doing all this other stuff that I wasn’t spending much time doing the things I do best, which meant I was barely making enough money to cover the mortgage.

Part of the problem was attitude; I needed to do it all if I was going to be an independent, well-balanced semi-survivalist, which was my own crazy interpretation of feminism (note I said crazy – this was not a rational, thought-out view of feminism; it was a convoluted fairy tale that had I created).

The other piece of my DIY fixation was a story I told myself that went something like this:  no one likes these jobs, therefore it’s not fair to ask someone else to do it, so I should just suck it up and do it myself. I was morally attached to not making others do my dirty work.

I remember one night – when I lived in an old Victorian in Beacon, New York – balancing drywall on top of both my head and a large wooden T. As I screwed it to the ceiling, tears ran down my face because it was heavy, and my neck hurt, and I was so bone-numbingly tired.

I told myself this was just one of those jobs that nobody liked but somebody had to do.

Imagine my immense surprise the first time I saw the drywall guys laughing on their stilts as they quickly hung a ceiling.

So, be honest, has your love of “Do It Yourself” become your personal path to “Do Yourself In?”

Here’s how to find out:

* Do a myth check. It’s kind of like a tick check in your brain. Examine your thoughts around activities that leave you tired and grumpy and un-invigorated. Scan the nooks and crannies of your noggin for any ideas that are bleeding you dry or causing headaches and exhaustion.

* Pay attention to the activities you continually put off. Procrastination can be a sign that something is out of your skill set.

* Recalibrate your abacus: it’s time or money, baby. If you spend your time making money doing something that is within your special skill set, then you have money to pay someone else to do the things that you are inefficient at, made miserable by, or find mind-numbingly dull.

Find yourself protesting that you need to know it all, “just in case?”

Remember that human beings have lived in tribes, forever. If the apocalypse comes, we will still live in tribes. The chances of you ever having to do everything yourself: pretty slim.

On the flip side of DYI is both the time and the need for self care:

* Nourish your adrenals: bee pollen for your B vitamins, hibiscus tea for your vitamin C, and herbal vinegars to up your mineral intake. A pinch of licorice root added to your tea will support adrenal health (too much licorice raises blood pressure, so this is not a more-is-better situation!).

* Start adding a small amount of seaweed to your meals (buy dried aramay or hijiki dried, soak a teaspoon in a 1/3 cup of water to rehydrate and add to whatever you are cooking).

* Unplug: walk in the woods, read a book, take a bath, chat with friends by candlelight. Time away from the electronics allows us to more deeply relax and appreciate the gorgeous color we choose to paint the living room... back when we did it all ourselves.


A Dream Within A Dream

Andrew and I decided to move in together before we decided to get married.

Actually, I didn’t want to get married at all.

It had nothing to do with Andrew and everything to do with my concept of The Institute of Marriage: the place you go when you agree to wear a ring and a white dress and take someone else’s last name.

Marriage felt like giving in, giving up, becoming part of just another uninteresting married couple with 2.5 kids and a white picket fence.

I fought it, hard.

One afternoon, Andrew and I were walking the dogs during a snow storm. The powder was piled knee deep and we were threading our way down a narrow stretch of sidewalk. Andrew was in front with Bandit and I was trailing behind with Dakota.

I was talking to Andrew’s back about how we needed to make an appointment with a lawyer to draw up wills, power of attorney, and a whole bunch of other contracts that I had mentally created before we bought a house together.

Andrew eventually turned around and said “Maia, they have invented one document that covers all of that. Do you know what it is?”

“No,” I said, truly flabbergasted. “What is it?”

“The marriage contract,” he replied in exasperation.

“Fine,” I shouted. “When you get down on your knees and ask, I will consider marrying you.”

“Knee, Maia. It’s one knee,” he grated out.

That’s how it went down. And that’s how I went down. And it took a long time to recover.

Not because the Institute of Marriage sucked me in to its ginormous maw and wouldn’t spit me out, but because I now needed to learn the fine art of being in a relationship without losing chunks of yourself.

This theme comes up over and over again with clients, whether they have been married six months or forty-six years.

How do you compromise on situations and not on your essential self? How do you learn to live with someone else and share in decision-making, while still being decisive? One of the biggest lessons of my married life has been that sharing a life does not mean we have to share every decision.

I kid you not: for the first five years, I thought that in order to be a good partner and a good compromiser, we had to decide everything together. Andrew got sick of being included in every decision and I got sick of feeling like I was asking.

Processes that were simple as a single became complicated in the committee known as marriage. So, slowly but surely, stagnation set in. I didn’t experiment with a new class or project because I didn’t feel like checking-in to see if it would throw a monkey wrench in the works if I was absent on Thursday night; I didn’t buy new clothes because I didn’t feel like discussing the expense.

Here’s the thing: this was all in my head. It was my story, not Andrew’s.

Like most people telling themselves a really boring, repressive story, I eventually got fed-up and exploded. The kind of exploded that could have led down dark alleys and nasty backroads.

Luckily, the detonation came with a huge dollop of self-understanding and awareness that I had done this to myself.

“Wifey-poo” was laid to rest. And Andrew, far from being annoyed, heaved a sigh of relief as the woman who wouldn’t marry him came back into his life.

So, a question for all of you: are you being a contortionist in your relationships? What would happen if you dug into your story, parsed truth from falsehood, and just said no to believing your own lies?


You Name It, You Claim It!

Mythology and religion both tell us that names hold a good deal of power.

The ancient Jews considered God’s true name so compelling that a man who knew it would have power over all the creatures of the earth.

In some tribal cultures, people used their true names only with those closest to them; for daily life, they used a common name.

I remember the first time a doctor told me that I had “a pain without a name;” he then went on to recommend that I stop horseback riding to relieve the nameless pain.

At the time, this seemed absurd. Why would I give up something I love if it wasn’t causing damage in a way that could be named?

Twenty-five years later, I am seeing this from another angle.

Clients often come to me because they have visited many doctors and specialists who have essentially told them that they have pains without names.

My job is not to name; my job is to help people get more comfortable in their lives.

I use deductive reasoning to help people make changes that allow them to thrive. Things like you seem to get a stomach pain every time you eat broccoli. Why don’t you see what happens if you don’t eat broccoli? Or some people feel better if they take herbal bitters before a meal to get their digestive juices going. Want to give it a try? Or Is part of the reason you have trouble waking up in the morning because your dread the thought of going to work?

You get the picture. There are no tests, no names, only “this feels better, that feels worse.”

And yet, when it comes to making big changes, it’s often hard for people to do it without the naming.

For example, when someone comes off gluten for 2 weeks and feels sooooo much better, often they want to go to their doctor and get a celiac test. They tell me that they will happily give up gluten forever... if they have celiac. Simply feeling better is not considered enough of a motivation.

Naming works the other way, as well. Once something is named, it is claimed.

When I was eight I smooshed my ankle, then went off to overnight camp where I was made to run on it. By the time the camp nurse realized how bad it was, it was too late to cast.

As a teenager I was told I had arthritis in my ankle and that it would take about 5 surgeries to repair it. Not interested.

So for my adult life I have been (mostly!) careful with my “arthritic ankle.”

A few weeks back, we had the Family Olympics at the beach. I won a silver medal in the egg toss. It was my first medal in the family competitions and I was so overjoyed that I decided to play a game of beach soccer, despite an ankle that was already pissy from a few too many walks on the very slanted beach.

Fast forward three weeks: my ankle is still swollen. I did the stairs on my butt yesterday. This morning, I visited the sports medicine clinic to see how much damage I had done.

My ankle was x-rayed for the first time in 30 years. And, lo and behold, I don’t have arthritis!

I have limited range of motion due to two bone chips. Because of this, my tendons and ligaments have to work harder than they would in an uninjured ankle. And...

It’s totally rehab-able.

The bone chips won’t go away, but the ligaments and tendons can be stretched and coddled so they can perform their additional duties with grace.

I have so many stories around my “arthritic ankle.” It’s become part of my self-identity. How interesting to learn that it is not part of my physiology.

So, what’s in a name?

Shakespeare opted for empirical evidence when he told us That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.

Are you holding onto a disease name that doesn’t let you live your life fully? Are you refusing to make the changes that would make your life better because your disease has not been named?