Better Boundaries balm

by Silly Dog Studios


This balm is quiet support for the moments we're not with trusted friends and loved ones to make sense of the world, and we're feeling emotionally hurt/stepped on by someone. The ingredients in this salve include grown and ethically gathered Whidbey Island Western Red Cedar (windfall branches), usnea lichen (gathered off the forest floor or from windfall branches), rose petals (both wild gathered and grown here at Silly Dog Studios), and yarrow (grown here at Silly Dog Studios) infused into organic extra virgin olive oil for 6 weeks to 4 months (depending on the plant), plus beeswax, and just a couple of drops of cedar and rose absolute (rose in jojoba oil) essential oils.

Size/container: Reusable 2-ounce, screw-top tin.

To use: 1. Rub a little of this balm into your palms. 2. Cup your hands over your nose and inhale deeply. 3. Slowly make fists and open your fists--a few times--noticing and appreciating your amazing hands, your strong and fluid self, and/or recalling your remarkable ability to move and make choices about what you let into your thoughts, home, community, life, and/or newsfeed. 4. Breathe deeply. 5. Ask for help. This is a deep strength that humans (at least me and my humans) tend to need a lot of practice with to get. Practice now. Ask a person, tree, animal, river, ocean, star, mountain, God, ancestor, beloved author or artist, flower, etc.--who you ask is entirely up to you. 6. Repeat any of the previous steps that helped you until... 7. Say to yourself "I'm okay. I've got this." or "We're ok. We've got this." before you move on with your day.   

When to use
Here, I find Better Boundaries balm useful when I'm alone and momentarily really:

  • Worried. I'm worried about a conversation that I'm about to have with someone about differences between us or about the boundaries we don't want crossed or that have already been crossed.
  • Emotionally hurting. When I feel like somebody just stomped on my heart, or ignored me (and/or my people) completely, or assumed the worst of me, or walked all over me (emotionally). Or, sometimes I'm hurting because I'm realizing that I crossed somebody else's boundaries and that I hurt them. Plants in this balm support me whether I'm the hurt-er or the hurt-ee. That's one of the best things about plants. No judgement.
  • Sad and confused. When I'm sad and/or confused because a conversation didn't go well or an important-to-me event or experience didn't happen at all as I hoped or expected.
  • Overwhelmed. For me, usually in response to spending too much time in a large group, or in the presence of a person in deep and repressed emotional pain who has been lashing out, or spending far too much time again reading the news or listening to my whole large community on social media without talking to trusted others. 
  • Inspired to quietly support a friend. Now and then friends ask for advice about setting or maintaining boundaries, and I want to support them. I love to listen but I don't find words easily or quickly in person. I can give them one of my books, but that often feels too distant or self-serving somehow. I love giving hugs, tea, and jars of homemade jam or pickles as emotional support. And now, I can give this balm as a gift, out of love, to someone who has been asking about boundary setting or talking about struggling with how to get along with other people, especially when their others think and act completely differently, or wrong, from their perspective. Spending time with plants and trees is often a great step on a path to spending time with people we're struggling with and creating real, lasting change or deeper connection, because plant and tree wisdom tends to be quiet, open, and listening by nature. This reminds me that listening and being heard feels great, and that I'm not alone on earth, which is useful to me and to most people I know. If our plant- and tree-loving ancestors are to be believed, then the plants, tree, and lichen in this balm have a special affinity for helping nearby humans struggling with differences, boundary setting, judgement, and feelings of worthiness. Give this balm only out of love. Don't offer it to someone out of spite or meanness (if you're tempted to, first give it to yourself and lean on it for a while). Spite and meanness are definitely not what these plants/trees/lichen are about, and when we find peace within ourselves and support from our community, that's not what we're about, either.

Important: If you're feeling chronically worried, sad, emotionally hurt, depressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, it's time to open to receiving more help. Reach out to a trusted someone and ask for help. Or, simply say "Yes, thank you." whenever trusted others offer to help. Some of us have to get comfortable with allowing imperfect help--coming from unexpected places--to be good enough, too. It took me almost 50 years to learn these things, and I'm still learning. We all show up at this place at some point: frustrated, angry, hurting, at the end of our ropes, exhausted, needing help and not wanting to accept it. Especially when we come from people who, for generations, have tried to be strong mostly on their own, or thought they had to be. These are the things we're here to help heal for ourselves and our people! Better Boundaries balm is helpful in small moments of hurting until you can reconnect to trusted friends, loved ones, and find other help. It's NOT a replacement for community support, which we all deeply need.

Medical Disclaimer: It's believed that cedar can have a stimulating effect on the gastrointestinal tract, and possibly the uterus, so your doctor may advise against using it during pregnancy (JJ Purcell, The Herbal Apothecary). The information on this page is for general reference for further exploration and study. It is not intended as a replacement for professional medical advice. I'm an herbalist like my grandmother before me, and I am interested in community, planetary, personal, emotional, and spiritual wellness. I have a doctorate degree in education (EdD). I am not a medical doctor or a scientist, nor have I been pregnant. I lean on ever-deepening relationships with local forests and pants and herbs and flowers and lichen, local wise women, ancestors (my own and others), other herbalists, and I love learning traditional folk ways from people who love to share them across old boundaries, every chance I get. I intentionally study forests and plants directly, plus community wellness and connectedness, resilience, self-organizing groups, playfulness and deep fun, and life as experienced by those with different ancestors than my own--because I believe these are what we need to learn more about right now. I don't study illness and disease. So, please, to make well-informed decisions for yourself, seek the guidance of your qualified health professional, such your medical doctor, nurse practitioner, naturopathic physician, and/or clinical herbalist with questions regarding your medical conditions, dosage information, and possible interactions with prescription drugs. This is especially important if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, taking prescription drugs, have a chronic disease or any chronic concern, have allergies, or if you are considering using these products with children. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

What our relationships with local plants bring us! Your experience of the plants, trees, and lichen in this salve may be remarkably different from ours: that's the nature of relationships with the living. You may simply love the plants for their smell or the memories that they bring up in you or how soft the salve feels or for the salve's ability to offer you a momentary green and plant-y hug in a Humans-suck! kind of day. That's great! And. Here is what our relationships with the local plants, herbs, trees, and lichen in this salve bring to us (not to mention our relationships with local wise women and ancestors):

  • Rose petals - Rose calms my nerves, lifts my spirit, and connects me with ancestor presence (both my own and those who moved on this land before me), which never fails to open my heart. Her presence eases my stress, lowers tension within me, and sooths my heart when it feels broken. Thanks to my herbalist teacher Julie Charette Nunn, who has a special connection with acres of wild Nootka rose on their land and elsewhere, I've spent a lot of time sitting with, under, and within wild rose thickets the past few years. What a gift. I used to be scared of the Rugosa rose thickets on the land here, because their stems are so thick and entirely thorny (hello boundaries!) and their thickets grow so large and in abundance without apology or, apparently, any sense of decorum or reason. They are SO wild and bad ass. I've learned to sit within thickets until I notice them as whole civilizations of activity and life. Thorns play valuable roles--warning or keeping out those who move in uninvited, or with unwelcome intent, and those who are just too big or fast moving for those already in the space. Rose has taught me to move slowly, gently, deliberately, curiously, and, ultimately, confidently--to the point that I have no need for gloves or extra protection around wild rose thickets anymore. Beautiful boundaries! I can say that with all roses now. Still working on saying it with all people. :-) 
  • Yarrow - Ancestors and many present-day healers use yarrow for all sorts of things, from stopping bleeding to supporting blood circulation to preventing infection. My love for yarrow has to do with it's ability to bring pollinators to the yard, it's remarkable soft intricate leaves, complex and empowering unmistakable scent, and it's total bad-ass emotional support. It helps me see--and name out loud--necessary boundaries. Helps Introvert and Empath me feel less overwhelmed in groups, grounds and uplifts me, and somehow both stimulates and relaxes me simultaneously. I just love the mystery and power of yarrow. Yarrow can awaken my senses to the point I feel like I have enhanced perception, which is useful when dealing with people I both disagree with and fear. I didn't have much fear in my childhood and early adulthood, so now I need help recognizing and naming fear when it shows up within me, even at 50. I once read that yarrow strengthens and firms our energetic boundaries, although I can't recall where I read that now. I can say that If I have to break ties (for a while or forever) with a loved one again, you can bet this time I'll be holding on to yarrow as I do it, and that I'll give them a bouquet with a little yarrow in it or maybe this salve, too. 
  • Western Red Cedar - This is the tree of life in the bioregion where we live. To honor these trees and the people who lived here with them first, I only use cedar branches that have either fallen to earth during winter storms or that have been gifted to me by neighbors who had to remove branches for a good reason. I don't cut branches or bark from a cedar tree: we're not nearly close enough for that yet. It would feel rude and wrong. Cedar connects me with an ancient source of life. One friend here sits on the earth, back against a cedar trunk, to support her imagination and decision making. Just being in the presence of these trees somehow helps me return to my true self. It's hard to describe, but I can say that they fill me with wonder, and it's flat out impossible for me to be petty and mean-spirited when I'm touching a cedar tree, branch, or hold the cedar-infused oil that I create. And wow, have I needed that across the past 10 years! Dr. J J Pursell, in The Herbal Apothecary, says that their flower essence clears energy for new beginnings and protects energy from others when one is unable to set clear boundaries. How cool is that?  
  • Usnea lichen - We were walking along the edge of an old-growth forest this winter and found strands of usnea on the wet ground that were more than 4 feet long. Given how glacially slowly they grow, this usnea was hundreds of years old. Here on Whidbey, I rarely find usnea longer than a few inches. Touching the very old and long strands, they felt friendly, interested in us, and magical, and holding them felt like holding a well-worn and concise wisdom well beyond what I'll be capable of understanding in this lifetime. I like to learn with usnea, directly from usnea, without too much human intervention. Usnea helps me with maintaining personal boundaries, maybe especially in the moments that I feel like I'm giving too much of myself. But not in expected ways! Usnea demonstrates both that boundaries are good and needed and help us thrive, and, that every living thing is connected and is, in fact, my "self." So, at the bottom of things, maybe I'm upset about giving too much of myself to myself? What? Speaks to the part of me that needs to hear and remember that I'm worthy, no matter what. Subtly suggests that maybe we're all deserving of love, no matter who we are, because we are part of each other. Even when we have to bounce someone out of our lives for our own sanity and health. Usnea is clearly a they: part algae and part fungus. Side by side, even among themselves. They seem to be here to help forests breathe and also to return some life elements back to soil and air and those wandering in the woods, helping return powerful dead tree limbs to the earth and air to become something new again. Still a mystery to me, and they always will be. Because whatever else they do, usnea's presence surfaces Kid Me: the one who believes in wonder, and magic, and fairies who decorate trees, and in people. And for most humans, it's lovely to be in the presence of anyone  who believes in both humanity and fairies. PS, I never take usnea off a tree--living or dead--because it's needed there. I will pick it up off a windfall branch or off the ground after a storm, though, especially when it calls to me to do so!    

Final thoughts about the why and when of using this balm and where it came from: There was a time years back when my extended family got hurt, then angry, then mean, then took up sides, hired lawyers, and proceeded to do battle with itself. I spent a year trying, and failing daily, to hold things together. Trying and massively failing at keeping us what we had been--loving, respectful, and close most days. This was in the wake of both of my grandmothers' deaths, when Mom's Alzheimer's disease going from bad to much worse, and my dad's health was faltering too under the weight of caregiving. The family was grieving the loss of so many beloved matriarchs. In hindsight, of course, we had to fall apart! We needed more help! Today part of me wishes that I'd let it happen sooner, because there was rest and comfort and beauty and love on the other side of falling apart. But at the time, it was shattering--devastating--to me. I remember the moment that I gave up on trying to hold the family together. I was 44. I wept for two days straight and then proceeded to binge watch 153 episodes of the Gilmore Girls, a show I'd never been interested in or watched, having previously written it off as silly, pointless drivel. Oh Lori. I'm so glad you shut up and just gave your heart what it needed.

So, I'm 51 now, and I made this Better Boundaries balm because a) there's not always time to spend a month watching the Gilmore Girls (or your equivalent) to begin to heal, b) I often wish I'd had some simple, quiet, non-judgmental support with boundary setting in my 40s, and c) I'm certain I'll need more help with this going forward and suspect others will, too. Most days it's people who help me with this, but often, it's trees and plants that help me! This balm honors those plants that love to help with boundary setting.

I've lost count of the number of times that I've had to set boundaries between myself and other people, and between groups I'm part of and other groups, across my adult years. As it turns out, making the lines we don't want others to cross more visible to ourselves and others is an important part of adulting and community building. At times it can feel like building walls between us, but often it's a simple line that we draw for our own health (or our immediate group's health) that we have to ask others not to cross for now, or forever. For many of us, it's a prioritizing of a self or selves that we weren't raised to prioritize. So it's not easy. At all. I've had to completely cut people out of my life, too. And when that happens, and it's people we love, we need all the damn help we can get.

And! Creating better boundaries isn't just about fortifying and building them up. Sometimes, better boundaries are about tearing down stale, old boundaries that aren't needed anymore. Fortunately, at times we're called to surpass and step past old lines that we once needed to be safe or healthy, but that we don't need anymore. I sometimes call this "tearing down old walls," but it's usually just a conversation that involves catching someone up with who we are now and what we need--now--that's different than who we were and what we needed in the past. Or really listening when somebody shares how they've finally, actually, changed. And finding the power within to believe again. I've learned that there are many beautiful ways to do this, too. Personally, I'm a fan of writing a poem or essay to both celebrate and warn people about the new me, or the new us. ;-)  

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