Today a student in my German class asked if I knew a little about Ayurveda. I said I did and found myself telling her about when I went to Albuquerque to take a workshop taught by Dr. Vasant Lad. On my walk home afterwards I reflected on the conversation, intrigued by how the experience has fermented into something different from what it once was to me.
When I was at herb school, I would make notes in the margins of my notebook, with nice big stars next to them, whenever Michael mentioned another herbalist. At the time I knew very little about who was who, or which herbalist specialized in what. I considered this information to be crucial to becoming part of the profession and gathered it eagerly. Of all the herbalists Michael ever mentioned in class, he spoke with the most reverence about Dr. Lad. He said he was a man of true wisdom. As one who loves wisdom, I squirreled that little nut away for safe keeping.
Years later, I was sick in bed with a fever. I couldn’t read, or watch a movie. I was alone with my cat and my feverish thoughts. I stripped down my belief system and reworked it. I contemplated BIG questions. I felt intensely my lack of wisdom, but even more I felt my lack of wise people in my life. Where is my wise elder? Whose feet can I go sit at? And I thought of the way Michael had spoken about Dr. Lad. I recalled what Nicole Telkes had told me of her experience going to study with him. She said that at the beginning of each class he invoked the god, the goddess, the teacher and the pupil. Class was a ceremony. Whoa. I decided that when I was well enough to get out of bed, I would look into going to study with Dr. Lad. Sure enough, a few weeks later he was teaching a weekend workshop on Ayurvedic herbs and herbal theory. Yes. I booked my flight to Albuquerque. I took careful and complete notes and refer to them regularly. That set of notes serves as my primary reference about Ayurvedic herbs.
Today, I found myself talking not about the content of that class, but the form. My fellow student and I are both very serious about our studies. Both of us are studying German mainly so that we can study other topics, but in German. We are school specialists. As I told her about the class with Dr. Lad, I compared it to the academic culture we knew. Before his classes, the students sit quietly and attentively, waiting for class to begin. He would enter the room solemnly, approach the altar and make offerings of prayers and smoke. He explained to us that what we were doing in that room was not just about us as individuals. To teach and to learn are sacred acts. We are vessels doing the holy work of transmitting and receiving, retaining and releasing. He teaches differently every time because he is open to receiving the information that comes through him in that moment. At one point during the weekend, he drew a diagram on the whiteboard of how the various tastes relate to the pulses and said he had never seen or drawn that before. It had been a spontaneous creation he was never called to transmit before our class.
I hadn’t realized it until today, but I think that workshop with Dr. Lad may be when my relationship to herbal information was transformed. I learned a great deal of content, but even more about form, more about teaching itself and what it means. I no longer look at what is in my mind as mine. I think of myself as a vessel that holds the ideas only to store them until they are needed elsewhere. I look at myself as an instrument in a much larger pattern. The information is what matters, we are temporary. Every class I teach is unique. I want the class to be a living expression of the momentary relationship among all present, a ceremony in the practice of herbalism. I have cultivated a teaching style that makes improvisation and responsiveness possible. I can’t remember if I thought that way before I studied with Dr. Lad. That wisdom may have come from him. Or, I suppose, through him.