A few weeks ago, I attended an Edible and Medicinal Plant Ramble, organized by Homestead Atlanta and guided Lorna Mauney-Brodek founder of Herbalista.
One of the plants that we “met” was comfrey. Comfrey contains allantoin, a substance known to aid granulation and cell formation. However, it should not be used for deep wounds, because it will repair the skin, which will then grow over the deeper injury, possibly causing it to fester.
It struck me that this is a perfect metaphor for what is going on with our society right now. Because surface indicators like GDP, quarterly reports, stock markets, and employment rates have been on the rise over the last eight years, many people thought that we were healing from the economic recession and that life was improving for most Americans.
But the deeper wounds were festering underneath and showing signs that real healing was not taking place. This is evident in the Black Lives Matter Movement, which has shown a spotlight on deeply ingrained racist structures. Unfortunately, in many cases, their message has been met with vehement opposition, denials, and dismissiveness, illustrating that race issues are not a thing of the past, but are a very present and deep fissure in our society.
This underlying toxicity also shows up in the rampant rise of opiate abuse. If you look at this map, the states with the highest number of pain killer prescriptions, are also where people have lost jobs in manufacturing and mining industries and as a result their income is below average and further decreasing.
These racial tensions and economic woes exploded to the surface during the election, showing the depth and infection of our collective wounds.
We have to address what is at the root of the pain. I heard a story on NPR, although I can’t find the link now, but the person speaking made the point that when you go to Germany, reminders of the Nazis and the horrors they enacted are found throughout the country as a way to honor the victims, hold the perpetrators eternally responsible and ensure that the atrocities are never committed there again. Yet, in Atlanta for example, you can walk through the city and never see a landmark of where the slave trade was held. Because we refuse to look at it, acknowledge it and make amends, we continue to repeat this violence – now in the form of police shootings, mass incarceration, and economic injustice among others. I don’t know how you could possibly put a price on generational suffering and determine financial reparations, but at the very least I think there needs to be emotional reparations to start to heal deep-seated beliefs and hurts.
For the people who are in so much pain (either physically or emotionally) that they are abusing painkillers, we need to address the ways in which the economy is not working for them. To say that all will be solved by bringing back manufacturing and mining jobs is a temporary solution at best. You cannot have unlimited growth with finite resources, and continuing to invest in a fossil-fuel based economy is a death sentence for us all. Rather than cling to an old paradigm, we need to invest in a green economy, which would lift people out of poverty and not threaten their soil and drinking water in the process.
In our own lives, what salves do we use to keep us from addressing and healing the deeper wounds? Consumerism, drugs, alcohol, food, chocolate (guilty!), binge watching, trashy fiction, social media?
In Coming Back to Life, Joanna Macy writes, “Our pain for the world, including the fear, anger, sorrow and guilt we feel…is natural and healthy. It is dysfunctional only to the point where it is misunderstood and repressed. By honoring our pain for the world we open a gateway into deep participation in the world’s self-healing.”
We have the “response-ability” to honor our pain, and the pain of others, by listening deeply from a place of compassion, and from there begin to see how to truly repair the deep wounds.