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Learning to Balance with Parkinson’s

I awoke early to the rising crescent moon, red as the poppies in the field below the barn. A dream followed me into that first morning light – of a guru, wiry and strong, young yet old… and wearing glasses. A sacred shawl of red and white swaddles his shoulders, reminding me of how I used to wrap my babies. His smile illuminates my face and I laugh to see him. My baby guru. Or maybe father, Babaji. He teaches me to breathe in rhythm with infinity, leaping from the earth to touch the high-set branches of a great hawthorn tree, sailing back to the ground like a petal from one of its blossoms, and then diving deep into clear, still water, reaching for the root of a water lily and then drifting back to the surface.

Up, down, down, up. A figure-eight of breath. Balance.

Last November I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. During the brain scan that day, I lay on my back, closed my eyes, and followed my breath. It took me deep within the realms of the cerebrospinal fluid, the sacred juice that nourishes our sense of being. I traveled through white matter and gray matter, to the deep chambers of who I am. There, where the scan proclaims I am broken, I saw light – shimmering like the aurora borealis, brilliant and green. Vital. Afterward, as the tech guided me towards the exit, I foresaw the result that would soon land in my inbox, and I tucked the image of the northern lights into my pocket.

Since that time, I have learned that Parkinson’s folks struggle with balance. Not just physical balance – sometimes I walk like I’m drunk – but also on many other levels. I find myself swaying between striving and apathy. Between I can, and I cannot. Leaping, falling, diving, floating.

My Babaji continues, “See the balance of the heart and mind. The mind is like a knife; it cuts and separates, dissects and understands. The heart is like a needle and its thread is love; together they stitch everything together and unify. The ability to see the forest is the heart. To look inside and see each tree, every leaf, the individual cells that make the leaf – that is the mind.”

I see this tree.

Recently I had the privilege of hosting BotanicWise guest Gaby Gonzalez. Gaby, a soil scientist, architect, and third-generation Mexican farmer, is also trained in biodynamic gardening.

In her presentation, The Language of the Earth, she asks us to imagine a tree. I see hawthorn, Crataegus phaenopyrum, crooked branches, scraggly bark, triangular leaf, and in full bloom. The simple white blossoms remind me of blackberry blossoms – they’re cousins after all. This splendid show of snowy white blooms adorns the tree like a poofy gown, hiding the inch-long needle-like thorns from the casual observer. Hawthorn flowers and fruit are “food for the heart.” With that, alongside its spiny nature, I can’t help but wonder at Babaji’s reference to the heart as a needle, stitching us together with the thread of love.

“Look at your tree,” Gaby says, keeping our attention…

“What kind of tree is it? What does the canopy look like and what interacts with it? What does it do? What kind of leaves grow on its branches? What flower adorns it? What fruit does it give? Do birds nest in the branches? Or is it a tiny little weed? You are this tree.”

The tree thrives in two realms, she points out. Above the ground, surrounded by air, and beneath the earth’s rind, deep into the mysterious world of soil. “Imagine your right arm is the great trunk of this tree, and your fingers its branches, reaching up and out, touching the sky, kissed by the sun, your leaves adding life-sustaining oxygen to the atmosphere. Your left arm dives deep into the earth, roots reaching towards the fiery center. Roots and rootlets drink water and send nutrients skyward to your aerial parts. There, deep in the soil, we communicate with a world of beings, bacteria, nematodes, worms, grubs, and mycorrhizal fungi which communicate and thrive with our roots.”

This visualization reminds us: we are soil.

Gaby Gonzalez, https://www.phc.eu/en/

Held together by carbon, we are destined to return that carbon to the earth – human will become humus. We are all shaped from the same clay. As such we have a responsibility to go beyond what we think we need, want, or deserve, and instead give, nourish, create… reciprocate.

Tend the soil, steward the land, cultivate kindness, and fertilize with love.

Jump, fall, dive, rise up.

By leaning into the fundamental nature of our being, connecting with the essence of soil and the breath of our soul — that spark that brings us to life — we are cracked wide open so that our heart can pick up its needle and thread and replace ego with love. That ego is like the hard shell of a tiny seed, rigid and limiting. When the seed germinates, the shell falls away, giving space for expansion and growth, both above the ground and beneath. Gaby refers to this process as transforming Homo sapiens into “HUMUS sapiens.” Now we can rise up and dive deep, free from the constraints of our seed casing.

The humus of the forest gives life to the forest. Through transformation and photosynthesis, the quality of the atmosphere depends on this life. Humans give love and depend entirely on the alchemy of the forest. Like a figure-eight, the symbol for infinity, the tree exhales oxygen, we breathe in that oxygen; we breathe out carbon dioxide; the tree takes in carbon dioxide.

Life gives life gives life gives love.

I am forever grateful to this generous community of plant-lovin’ folk. Your enthusiasm to keep learning, and your loving support of each other and the plants, lift my heart. The joy of connecting with you is like the thrill of spring’s first sunny daffodil unfurling her petals to the “Cheer! Cheer!” of the cardinal’s song.

My “Babaji” is not a dream, he is a real person, Alex Artymiak. He is a yoga instructor on glo.com. His classes inspire my body to move and the breathwork reminds me of who I am. I will be hosting Alex on Instagram Live for a 2-part series, Breath: The Spark of Life, starting Thursday, April 21, at 12:30 PM ET. Details will be posted on my Instagram page.

If you’d like to learn more about my personal journey with Parkinson’s, and what I am doing to live my best life, follow me on Instagram or TikTok.

If you’d like to learn more about Parkinson’s, instead of Googling, start with these wonderful resources:

Davis Phinney Foundation
Parkinson’s and Movement Disorder Alliance
Twitchy Woman

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