Cat Pantaleo, M.A. Herbalist and Holistic Wellness Practitioner, shares her insights on holistic healing and the inescapable relevance of nature in our world and as an intrinsic part of who we are.
When did you first start to feel that there is an emotional/psychological bond/alienation between humans and the Earth?
I believe that human beings are inseparable from the Earth/Nature, and that those of us who grew up in the industrialized West, are aware of this on a subconscious level from the time we are born. Our capitalistic consumer culture makes sure that the awareness of our inseparableness is suppressed by the time we are 3 or 4 years old.
If I was to pinpoint a time in my life when the truth of our interconnectedness as well as alienation between humans and the Earth became clear, it was when I was in my mid-20’s, working on commercial fishing vessels as a biologist in the Bering Sea, collecting data and witnessing the massive harvesting of the sea coupled with enormous waste and what seemed to me a complete lack of caring.
The underlying narrative of the society in which I was raised was glaringly clear: take, take, take, in order to make as much money as you can, and turn a blind eye to how it is affecting the rest of the ecosystem and ultimately the health of the planet. It was alarming, to say the least.
Where and how did your journey with plants and nature begin?
Challenging to pinpoint, as my earliest childhood memories are of preferring time with nature beings rather than my own species. I remember as a child wandering the neighborhood in what was still then quite rural, and being endlessly curious and amazed with what I found. ~ from insects to clams from the muddy bottom of the lake behind our house.
I was privileged to have a father who, although came from an immigrant and poor family, worked extremely hard to ensure that I could attend college if I so chose. Inspired by my chemistry teacher in my senior year at high school, I went to college and ended up studying Biology, with an emphasis in fisheries.
After 5 or so years in the fisheries biology field, there was a deep sense of misalignment, so I took some time off and traveled to get perspective. Upon my return I decided that I wanted to study Botanical Medicine, looked at the various schools operating at that time (mid 90’s) and decided upon the Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies in Boulder, CO. I would say that I was called by the plants themselves to begin my journey with them in earnest.
Are there any instrumental changes that took place in your life that make you the woman and holistic healer you are today?
I do not consider myself a healer, but a person who creates space for and facilitates the potential for healing to take place. The plants, fungi and other beings that constitute the more-than-human world are the healers.
Though I cannot speak to any singular instrumental changes per se, I will say that the countless hours I have spent solo in Nature, and engaged in practices of Mindfulness, Nonviolent Communication and intentionally establishing relationship with the plants, trees and land, as well as the education I received from many trainings, programs and mentors are what made me who I am today.
How beneficial is being one with nature and how do we go about this in this crazy modern world of ours?
We ARE Nature. There is no separation. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are one with the world and only one small part of an immense interconnected system. Everything we do, every word we utter, affects the world, for better or worse. Thus being one with nature is not the goal as I see it, but a rediscovery of this truth and experiencing it.
I believe that even amidst ‘this crazy modern world’, one that Joanna Macy, Buddhist Scholar, Deep Ecologist, Activist and Author, refers to as the Industrial Growth Society (IGS) and the extreme measures and efforts to distract us from this truth, that every human being has an innate need and deep yearning to connect with the natural world.
Consider the fact that In the approximately 2 million years that the human genus homo has inhabited the planet, 99% of their time here on earth has been in close, intimate contact with the natural world. Thus, our entire psychic, physical, emotional and spiritual make up was shaped in the long evolutionary sweep of our species living in respectful relationship and in a reciprocity with the Earth. The truth of our interconnection with the world is forgotten by modern people, buried beneath the current narrative of the IGS ~ that we must amass material wealth, that we are what we have, and that we must progress, no matter the cost.
In my experience, it takes a willingness to slow down, experience different ways of knowing the world and self-reflection to awaken to the truth of our ‘oneness’ with the world in which we live. And practice, practice, practice. Whether facilitated (as in a Forest Bathing Experience) or not, a slow meander outdoors attuned to the senses, without a destination, is a simple and direct pathway that leads to inner calm, an open heart and mind, a sense of belonging and dissolution of the illusion of separateness.
Open heartedness, a clear and calm mind, as well as the realization that one is part of something great and mysterious and beautiful, is in itself extremely beneficial for optimal physical, emotional and spiritual health. From this place of clarity and health, there is an openness and trust in our ability to let go of that which no longer serves us ~ an opportunity to redefine what truly matters ~ and a thirst to actively engage in that which will serve not only our individual selves, but the whole of which we are a part.
Do you feel that there is now a tendency in younger generations to reconnect with nature?
No, I don’t. I think there is more need now than ever to do so, but I actually think that there is much less encouragement to spend time outdoors (from parents, other adults, teachers, television) and that there is much more pressure on young people to perform academically than ever before.
Unstructured time in Nature (exploring and tapping into our innate human curiosities) is all but a thing of the past for most modern American youth and has been replaced largely by social media and screen time. A tragedy to be sure.
Is spending mindful time in nature as good as ingesting herbs and plants or do both go hand in hand?
It is all about relationship ~ rekindling our sacred relationship with the beings on whom our life depends ~ and it consists of a multitude of practices and behaviors, including spending mindful time in nature and ingesting plants and herbs. Plants are our dearest allies.
Humans co-evolved with plants, and it is my belief that plants know what our bodies need (and provide it with generosity) and our bodies know how to utilize what plants offer. If we are to return to an earth honoring way of being, it must start with acknowledging this is the way forward, and include direct engagement with the land on which we live.
What can you tell us about your Forest Bathing Experiences and who can benefit from these particularly?
Well, I could spend hours talking about this, though suffice it to say that a Contemplative Nature Walk with me (i.e Forest bathing Experience) is an opportunity to slow down, engage the senses, and touch back into a place of awe and curiosity at the profound beauty and mystery that this life is.
It is an opportunity to BE, to explore different ways of knowing, to play, and connect to a place. Participants have expressed so much gratitude to have had the experience and inspiration that my walks engender, and often share that there is a great sense of peace, clarity and gratitude at the completion of a walk.
Absolutely everyone can benefit from this sort of experience – even I benefit greatly from offering them. It is especially helpful for people that have very full lives, feel overwhelmed and don’t have much down time – which I think describes most American adults!
How do you work with your clients?
It depends what the person needs and what issues they are seeking assistance for. I offer a variety of consultation options to optimize physical and emotional/mental wellness with focus on exploring root causes and addressing those with any number/combination of strategies, including: herbs, food, mindfulness practices, nature connection, flower essences, Nonviolent Communication/empathy and journaling.
True and lasting healing involves a willingness to lean into those things that make us uncomfortable and that potentially stimulate emotional pain/grief. With the right support and guidance from a trained practitioner, and an openness and trust in the process from the client, the challenges and difficulty encountered on one’s healing journey can be navigated with grace and fortitude.
Do you promote meditation as part of holistic healing?
Absolutely. Health and healing rely in some part on paying attention and tending to what is out of balance or causing harm. And paying attention takes practice in this frenetic culture we were born into. There are many ways to meditate, which is essentially a mindfulness practice that assists in becoming present to each moment, and requires us to slow down.
I promote any practice that increases the capacity to slow down and create space for present moment awareness. All we truly have is this one moment. Here. Now. When we are truly present in the moment during mindfulness practices, it is an opportunity to simply be with what is, without judgment or trying to change it. With regularity, this cultivates a capacity to be with ‘what is’ and fosters thoughtful and ‘awareness-based’ responses instead of unconscious and habitual reactions. Unconscious and habitual responses are more likely to contribute to harm and ill health, while conscious and intentional responses increase the likelihood our choices and consequent actions will serve health and healing.
What are your views on adaptogens and their use in everyday life?
Adaptogens are plants and fungi that have been used for millennia by people for optimizing health, vitality and quality of life. While I believe that they can be incredibly beneficial for many people with a host of imbalances; the preoccupation with quick fixes in our culture coupled with an unwillingness to slow down, eat well, exercise, stay hydrated and get plenty of sleep. Adaptogens (and any herb, for that matter) used to replace the basics of healthful living can lead to harm. In addition, this class of botanicals is not a ‘one size fits all’ and requires a bit of time to not only learn about them (traditional uses, how to use them, in what form, etc) but also explore one’s own constitution to find an optimal match.
While these plants and fungi have much to offer, and there is an allure of increased energy and stamina for the overworked and stressed out, their proper use requires matching one’s own constitution with that of the particular adaptogen’s personality. Adaptogens require a commitment to slowing down, paying attention, deep listening, noticing and humility.
What other services do you offer, if still unmentioned?
One of my greatest joys in life is sharing what I know and love, connecting people to the wonders, beauty and preciousness of life and how to experience it to the fullest by optimizing physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.
I therefore teach a variety of classes both in person and online that are designed to assist people in connecting with themselves, other humans and the world around them, as well as increase the capacity for resilience and create space for the re-establishment of respect and reciprocity in the human/plant/nature relationship.