Your Armor’s Too Tight: Using Thorn Medicine to Open Your Heart

If you were asked to name your favorite season, which one would you pick? For me, that’s a tough choice. I have two seasons, Autumn and Spring, but I prefer Autumn a bit more than Spring.  I like the balance of the temperatures: not too hot, not too cold, just right.  The Chinese element of Metal is Lungs/Large Intestine and the Fall. Now is the season of the Lungs and the release of grief and sadness. It’s not uncommon to see respiratory issues become prevalent at this time. Grief and sadness are felt and carried around by many, sometimes hidden, and sometimes not.  I draw upon my herbal allies to find relief and comfort in these times.

My go-to friends are Hawthorn, Rose, and a newcomer: Devil’s Club. It’s interesting that all three are thorny. I’m currently growing Hawthorn and am impressed by the thorns: delicate, long and quite sharp versus the Rose thorns which tend to be shorter, thicker and with a small hook that can stay embedded even after removing the thorn.
Thorny plants use sharpness to protect their inner softness – a metaphor for boundaries. If you have squishy boundaries or NO boundaries, everything is seen as comin’ at ya and demanding a response. Fatigue, resentment, anger, depression and feeling unsafe become our armor out of which we interact with the world. Paradoxically, strong boundaries (what’s me vs what’s not me) enable us to feel safe, to inhabit the present and to show great compassion.
When I was going through trauma release training, one of the first things we did was to view skin as a boundary, a separation between what is me and what’s not me. I started to use that image in my meditation when I was having a difficult time letting go of the concerns of the day. I would place one hand around my wrist and say: “This is my skin, this is my boundary. I am here. The world is out there.” This helped turn down the outer chatter and allowed me to focus on my inner world.
Of the three thorny plants, two focus on the Heart: Hawthorn and Rose. Hawthorn protects the softness within by being a comforting presence, a reassurance that the inner you will be safe through the storms of change. It helps one to see the possibility that change can happen.
Rose brings a slightly different quality: it allows us to trust ourselves and to be open to trusting those around us. Just the scent of Rose goes straight to my heart and exerts a gentle softness. I find it blunts the sharpness of grief so that it can be processed more fully.
Devil’s Club is a tall spikey plant that likes moisture. Its’ stalk is covered with small and extremely sharp thorns. Thorns are also located on the underside of the leaves. It has been used medicinally for generations by the Alaskan Tlingit for coughs and colds to stomach ulcers, tuberculosis and hypoglycemia. Energetically, it helps bolster inner strength and supports one’s ability to re-connect to the deepest sense of self. We could all use less armor and more compassion in our lives. Thorn medicine can assist with this process.

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