I do not remember the first time I contracted poison ivy but I do remember my mother telling that I was extremely allergic to it. The second time I received the blessings of this plant medicine I do recall, quite vividly, the event. I lied! Yes, you heard me correctly. In my third year nursing, in the days or in this case, the nights, when we worked 10-8 hour shifts in a row I was determined to fly out to Saskatchewan, home of the famous and delicious Saskatoon berry.
So why did I just not complete my 10 nights and then fly out? I was surprising my parents who had left earlier in the week to drive to my mother's youthful home on the prairie. I wanted to get there ahead of Bruce and Erma and be able to jump out from behind a couch and yell, "Surprise." Then spend time with the relatives or as they say in Australia, the Relies. The fateful evening before my departure on Air Canada L1011, myself and the beau of the moment along with 2 friends decided to go to High Park. We frolicked as only 20 year olds can and rolled down the steep hills and along the grass, running through the bushes to see who could get to the lake first. It was a wonderful evening. Next day I flew out and managed, as I had planned, to surprise my parents. The excuse I used to call in sick and get the time off was, "I have poison ivy." OH as I know now NEVER EVER fool with Mother Nature.
The week was uneventful but filled with a lot of family picnics and marked with the overdue visiting of acquaintances. I returned to Toronto and called up the Man of the Moment. (In the day before cell phones I had not been able to talk to him for a WHOLE WEEK!) My Italian boyfriend begins the conversation with, "I have poison Ivy." I laugh thinking he is teasing me.
SIGH my foolishness was not able to hear the angst in his voice but only to snicker at the reversal of the order of things. I mean it was my excuse and he got it. Some minutes pass and I begin to itch. Now I am convinced that I am having sympathy pains for this beau. In a couple of hours, however, I reported to sick bay and was able to convince everyone that I indeed had had poison ivy and had not lied to sneak off time from work. I have not lied since or at least told one using poison ivy as the excuse!
Two weeks ago I encountered this plant for the third time and became, not covered with it, but dotted with some blisters and the sense of burning alive from the inside out. Talk about flames of irritation as someone once described poison ivy. Anyone who has ever met up with this medicine understands the sensitivity and cringes in fear of 3 leafed plants! Interestingly enough, not everyone gets Poison Ivy. Now why is that?
I was at first not sure where to begin this quest for an answer but I knew that if I was ever to appreciate the medicine of this plant then I needed to talk to her. To get inside her and hear what she had to say about this re-appearance within and along my red road.
I have over the years worked enough with my elder to know that Mother Earth is a teacher. So what's the lesson and why now at this juncture along my path?
In the past when confronted with the side effects of a clash with the ivy, I would have merely exclaimed, " I walked into some poison ivy and didn't see it was there." Adequate answer but I knew that I needed to come at this from an entirely new angle. I wanted a new perspective on the appearance of this plant and the timing.
The Right Question:
Along any heroic journey it is only when the right question is finally asked does the heroine/hero return home. So are these the right questions?
Have I done something rash? Are there irritating aspects of my life that I need to address that the poison ivy is a precursor to? What is inflaming in my life? What is erupting and causing havoc and making me scratch the surface to go deeper to the source of the irritation. Can the spirit of poison ivy have a deeper more positive significance for my journey, given the pain and the disability? Is this a wake up call? Have I missed earlier clues along the path that I have refused to see or hear? Is this a reminder of something greater than my self, of a connection that I am missing?
So I became still and posited the notion in both my mind, and emotions that YES there was a more in depth approach to this lesson from the Mother and its timing of showing up in my life now. But, how does one begin the revelatory, life altering process of interacting with the powerful medicine of poison ivy?
To begin my walk or is it my meditation with this plant, I created a sacred container of silence, respect, and humility within which I could listen deeply. I created space to be open to the answers this plant could offer me on my quest for resolutions. My mind churned over a myriad of possibilities.
The spirit of poison ivy.
The essence of poison ivy burns up through the earth or as one person described it ,"like lava in a mountain." The fire that erupts in each of the vesicles begs to be put out and yet it sticks around for a considerable time, irritating and demanding that I pay attention to its pesterings. So what is happening in my life that this poison ivy is a mirror for? What is the precipitating factor for this intervention from Mother Earth and this particular plant medicine? Anger? Injustice? Trauma? Hurt? Betrayal? Denial? Fear?
Through all these musings and feelings I came to realize that the one common denominator was fear, followed a close second by anger. They have erupted onto the surface of my psyche in the same way vesicles have erupted onto my outer skin. My pain is inflamed and it can not be ignored if I want to heal.
As I communicated with the spirit of poison ivy I began to remember the plant's purpose. It is to protect the woods. I also read somewhere that as human beings encroach on the edge of forests, or the banks of streams, dwelling places for poison ivy, the more virulent and vigilant the poison ivy becomes. Bearing this in mind then poison ivy is a strong protector, a warrior, a plant with firm boundaries. Carl Jung describes a "shadow archteype," in his numerous writings so what about a shadow archetype in my life appearing as poison ivy. Has it shown up in my life to represent something that I fear or am uneasy with? Now I think I may be getting closer to the answer for this flushing out of things that need to come to the surface of my awareness. Is this plant asking me to examine my own self limiting belief's and boundaries? Poison Ivy is not a cuddly plant but she
does set her boundaries firmly to protect what she has been created to protect. She does not go out of her way to openly attack or create drama but she will defend her territory. Have my boundaries been set too low? Have I said yes to things that do not protect me? Do I need to learn the meaning of NO! However, as one heeds the negative side effects of brushing against her, perhaps one must also consider setting up borders that are too firm. Are my boundaries too tight? I can see that I have some work to do here? There are more questions yet then there are answers.
Teachings from a plant
I found an excerpt from someone's reflection on the nature of poison oak and it applies here for my edification of the 'created creation,' poison ivy.'
".....I saw a good deal of myself in Poison Oak, and vice versa. While I’m sure I’ll be unhappy the next time I end up with an itchy red rash from brushing up against her progeny’s leaves, I won’t blame them at all. Urushiol is only the protection that Poison Oak has developed over time, and it’s really rather effective. If I can’t touch or pick poison oak like I can clover or dandelions, it doesn’t mean the itchy plant is a bad one. It just means I need to respect that plant’s boundaries as much as my own.
These peregrinations of thoughts and queries have a lot to reveal for the way I brush up against 'irritating people or situations' in my life. If, as I truly believe, I am connected to the All That Is, to the entire Creation, to the Mother, then I need to re-examine my relationships, not just to this gift of plant medicine but to my relationships in total: the 2 Leggeds, the 4 Leggeds, the winged ones, the slitheries, water, fire, air and earth. WOW I
have my work cut out for me! I am a Steward of my self, others, our earth, the elements, the Sky, the stars, the moon, the sun and my present trajectory needs a realignment, a course correction.
So while I have much work to do to return home from the gift of Poison Ivy, I can truthfully say, THANKYOU (Capitlized out of respect for this gift and its message) for showing up in the season of Fire and the time of Hunter.
In the meantime, bearing the facts in mind that I have unearthed from these meanderings, I WILL begin to speak to poison ivy and hear myself claim: "I will be steward and protector of not just a particular piece of land but all lands. I will work with you and allow you to be what you were and are destined to be." I may not cuddle you or walk where I know you are but I will love you- even from a distance- for doing your work well! And taking this a step further I will now exclaim, " I appreciate the irritations from those in my environment who set me to scratching. They are sent as a gift to open, respect and love and a lesson to unfold."
I take in this new moment a small step to examine my past and present life along the red road. I know that I will have plenty of help from Mother Nature to ground my journey. If this is personal growth than I am itching to start the process and to stop scratching the surface of my life to get to its core. I guess when I say to someone now, "what's your poison?" it may have a whole new significance.