It is spring. New growth is coming up out of the Earth and blossoming on trees. Baby animals are being born. I feel the stirring of that which is new and alive within, and the desire to cleanse, lighten, refresh and renew.
It is fitting that the first week of spring presented me with many opportunities to engage in interpersonal renewal. From deeply listening to feedback from patients to having a light shone on the unconscious use of oppressive binary language (“masculine” and “feminine” as signifiers of certain behaviors and qualities) to considering how to create a safe and inclusive space for all to share what is on their hearts, the past week offered opportunities to learn and grow.
I have tried to keep myself open and humble in order to understand the experiences of others.
In doing so, I find myself returning to a central question: how do we create the conditions within ourselves, our relationships and our communities that cultivate understanding and vitality? How do we nourish ourselves so that we are capable of navigating intense emotions with equanimity and grace, and of leaning into the work of individual, cultural and societal healing?
Perhaps the easiest place to start is by nourishing our bodies. Spring is the perfect time to lighten and cleanse, and nature supports us beautifully in this. Nourishing our bodies with plants—especially consciously and ethically harvested foraged greens—gives us an infusion of energizing nutrients.
Wild greens like Claytonia perfoliata (eaten by indigenous people and then miners, giving it the popular name of miner’s lettuce) and Stellaria media (chickweed) are in abundance right now. These are rich in vitamin C and supportive of our liver’s detoxification pathways.
Nettle, nutritive and rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, supports our kidneys to eliminate toxins. Cultivated cruciferous allies like kale help keep our liver’s detoxifying methylation pathways humming, and nitric oxide-rich beets support healthy circulation.
Along with eating these greens, we can drink in the beauty of a plum tree in full bloom, which sends a rush of nourishing hormones through our body. Drinking fresh, clean water throughout the day, perhaps in the form of a cleansing tea like dandelion, flushes out toxins.
Limiting processed food wrapped in plastic is good for our bodies and the planet. Try it for yourself—how does your body feel after several days of eating only the most nourishing and fresh foods?
Cleansing one’s emotional and mental habits is a bit harder than avoiding sugar and eating fresh greens. Yet the cost of stewing in anger, resentment, judgment and hostility is great.
In addition to creating barriers to effective communication, relationship-tending and creative solution-finding, these emotional and thought patterns create a toxic neurohormonal milieu that leads to inflammation and increases the risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, strokes, anxiety and cancer. A single episode of anger has been found to suppress the immune system for six hours. On the other hand, the risk of not expressing anger and instead keeping it inside is also harmful: many studies have shown that suppressed anger is associated with a significant increase in all-cause mortality and an increased risk of cancer occurrence and earlier death from cancer. Those who express their anger in short bursts, and then let it go, face lesser risk.
How, then, do we effectively deal with anger as it arises? Noticing what we are feeling and where we feel it in our body is a helpful first step. Taking deep breaths calms our nervous system and mind, allowing us to more effectively respond. Giving ourselves a break from the triggering situation, such as by stepping outside or going for a walk, helps us enter a more effective mental state.
See if you can trace your anger back to a root cause within yourself—are you feeling scared, threatened, inadequate or attacked? Look for opportunities to understand and heal the wounds that leave you vulnerable to anger, and to find solutions to challenging situations. If no solution exists, consider the wisdom of letting it go. Reach out to a friend or a therapist so that you can express your feelings and feel heard, and better address the roots of your anger.
As I consider our challenging cultural and societal legacies of colonialism, racism, hierarchy, privilege and oppression of various sorts, I am moved to consider the humility, respectful curiosity and deep listening that is needed from us. We may not have the answers to the questions facing us, but heart-centered, compassionate dialogue and earnest listening is an important starting place.
We are all being invited to step into the transformative crucible of holding each other accountable, while at the same time holding one another with love and compassion. This is key in the cultural and interpersonal healing that so many of us seek to support.
Dr. Anna O’Malley practices integrative family and community medicine at the Coastal Health Alliance. She also directs Natura Institute for Ecology and Medicine in the Commonweal Garden in Bolinas, where she lives. She loves the energized tingle she gets in her body from eating nettle pesto.
Dr. O’Malley will lead a community medicine circle next Wednesday, April 10, this month focused on addiction. The gathering takes place at Commonweal Garden in Bolinas, from 10:15 a.m. to noon. Donations are welcome and advance registration is requested by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.