Healing is Always Political: An Interview with Herbalist Jennifer Patterson of Corpus Ritual

Healing is Always Political: An Interview with Herbalist Jennifer Patterson of Corpus Ritual
1. On your website you said, “I feel a kindred kind of love and respect for survivors of multitude of traumas. I admire our willingness to sit with what is profoundly complicated and difficult. I admire our tenacity and resilience, our searching for healing, our willingness to settle into the life-long continuum of healing. I admire our desires to shift and grow into aliveness.” How do you see herbalism as a route for healing or rather working with trauma?
Pretty simply, herbs help us to build up our relationships with our bodies. Our human bodies, of course, but they also help connect us to bodies of plants, bodies of the earth of which we are all connected. All of which need our compassionate and urgent attention. It’s a way of reconnecting to our bodies after others have harmed us, made us fear or doubt our bodies. Plants support our whole bodies: our nervous system, our adrenals, our digestion system, our cognitive function and all the other parts of our richly complex bodies. It’s also not just a physical reconnection that we might need, when we experience trauma and violence, there’s an emotional and spiritual violence that our bodies hold and working in relationship to plants helps engage all these various parts that have been impacted. It can feel safer sometimes to build up relationships with plants and animals, to trust them when it feels hard to trust people. It’s also just a really beautiful way to invite joy back into our lives. Working with plants is true joy and pleasure work.
2. How did you come to this kind of work? How did you first feel relationship to plants/herbal medicine?

My grandmother, grandfather, and mom are all lifelong gardeners. I remember walking through my grandparent’s elaborate and skillful gardens as a kid. I’ve been gardening my whole life too! Each summer my mom would let my sister, brother and I all pick out plants for our own kid’s garden. Being in the city for the last 15 years, it’s definitely felt harder to garden the way I would like to but I have a pretty solid fire escape garden of various plants I use in my practice, including some poison plants which I work with closely in salves and flower essences.

3. How did you create Corpus Ritual?

Firstly, the name is very personal. I was born in Corpus Christi, Texas and so bringing that in felt like honoring my roots. Corpus also means “of the body” and my whole practice is about supporting people to make new rituals that support their full bodies and selves.

Corpus Ritual is a community based practice that draws in the modalities of herbalism, breathwork, and somatic writing workshops. These are all also tools that have been the foundation of my own healing (along with intentional ceremonial psychedelic use) from experiencing a lifetime of trauma and violence. I wouldn’t be here had I not found my way to these supports.

But the herbalist wing of my practice began in 2012. I had kidney stones and was a freelancer which at the time meant I didn’t have health insurance. While doing research about how to navigate the pain without painkillers, I remembered that herbs were a tool! Even though gardening had been integral when I was a kid, I had forgotten that plants also had healing properties! I began doing a lot of self-study, studied with some teachers (and still do), and began making herbal remedies just for myself and a small community of dear ones. I remember being so cautious. There is so much to know about herbs—a lifetime of knowledge and there is no rush to pump it out into the world where people will be ingesting it. It does involve skill, strong ethical engagement, and intentional care. It also involves us, as practitioners, continuously doing our own personal work to heal. I took a lot of time studying and dreaming up blends and gifted just about everything I made for a couple years before people started telling me that my work had value and that I should charge! LOL. Alongside this work I began editing the anthology Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Violence Movement which was published in 2016. In 2013 I began a graduate program at Goddard College, which I finished in 2016, which supported me in naming, writing about, and honing my vision while building up my confidence so I felt ready to dive into building up my practice.

In a perfect world everything I do would be free or part of an equal exchange but since we’re all working under capitalism I slowly began building my practice up, centering sliding scale care in the hopes that people would be able to find it a bit more financially accessible. While my remedies are offered at a flat rate, I will always offer my consultations on a sliding scale. I’m really honored that I get to do this work full-time. It’s been many years of grinding hard, the support of so many dear friends and collaborators, and trusting the universe to hold me.

4. One of your mission statements reads that you, “work towards providing care that is in line with and accountable to healing justice & disability justice spaces (and want to recognize the legacy of activists, writers and healers who have been creating a language and framework for these spaces for a long time as they ground them in queer and trans communities, poor and working class communities and communities of color…I want to provide care that is accessible in multiple ways; through interrogating how ableism and oppression impacts survivors and how we are able to access care, through recognizing the impacts of racism, transphobia & transmisogyny, homophobia, fatphobia, slut-shaming and classism and on and on. I work through a harm reduction lens meaning I support people where they are at, my process is people-centered, and I bring curiosity, not judgement, to substance use and misuse.” Which I think is really beautiful, how would you encourage people to get involved to support this mission?

Whew! A very big question! In my twenties I was a community organizer and have always been engaged in activism in various ways so when I began my healing practice it felt really important that my work was in service to these movements. Healing is always political, no matter how many people try to spiritually bypass the violence of the world in search of some kind of depoliticized enlightenment. Enlightenment is a daily practice and is deeply connected to being with the pain of the world, of outrage and protest, not just basking in the beauty.

So many people I’ve worked with have told me that they have felt excluded from healing spaces: whether that they aren’t physically accessible, or that they felt like more mainstream recovery programs like AA and NA were shaming, or that they were tired of being the only queer, or trans, person of color, or disabled person (and all the intersections) in the room. So for me my work is about acknowledging my own privilege and truly listening to other people, about what feels harmful or difficult. We all deserve to heal.

Some ways to get involved are to first just allow people their humanity! So often we find ways to dehumanize people and their experiences, or gate-keep who can or should access healing. Another way is to get familiar with the legacies of people who have done this work, who are still doing this work, and lifting them up and throwing financial support behind their work. And another way is to allow people to be the experts of their own experiences. While I certainly draw from my areas of study, I also just think it’s so necessary that I create a space where people are their own experts and affirm that they are also bringing a lifetime of knowledge about their own bodies and experiences.

5. How will you be celebrating Pride month (if you are!)?

Honestly, I’m in a deep study and work grind this month! I have been studying with breath worker and spiritual teacher Jessica Dibb and am currently in the woods working on a writing project, with publication on January 2020. But beyond that, I’m spending the month remembering the trans women of color, the sex workers, the dykes like Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, Stormé Delarverie, and Miss Major (and the many we don’t know the names of) who began the Stonewall Uprising 50 years ago. The roots of pride month are protest and revolution, not corporate sponsorship, cops marching in parades, or respectability politics. Pride, for me, is also about celebrating the millions of ways we continue to survive and maybe even thrive, loving on my girlfriend Rose Blakelock of the music project Night of Cups, loving on my badass queer community, and supporting elders who are still here and need our support.

While three of the people I named have passed on, Miss Major is still alive, building community and needs financial support to continue her vibrant and necessary work. If people would like to learn more, there’s a documentary film called Miss Major and more info here. And please please for people who are financially able to, you can offer a one-time or monthly donation here. Let’s remind our elders how much we love them by supporting their financial stability. They deserve to thrive, not just survive.

About Jennifer Patterson

Jennifer Patterson is a grief worker who uses plants, breath, words to explore survivorhood, body(ies) and healing. A queer and trans affirming and centering, trauma-experienced herbalist and breath work facilitator, Jennifer offers sliding scale care as a practitioner through her private practice Corpus Ritual and is a member of The Breathe NetworkBreathwork for Recovery, and All Bodies. She facilitates writing and breathwork workshops at healing centers, LGBTQ centers, a needle exchange and harm reduction clinic, online with the Transformative Language Arts Network, sexual violence resource centers, at colleges and universities, and in the past, veterans hospitals, the collective What Would an HIV Doula Do? and a Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish healing center. She is the editor of Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti- Violence Movement (2016), speaks across the country, and has had writing published in places like VIDA: Women in Literary Arts580 Split, OCHO: A Journal of Queer Arts, Nat. Brut, The Establishment, HandJob, and The Feminist Wire. She is also the creative nonfiction editor of Hematopoiesis Press. A graduate of Goddard College’s MA program, Jennifer is finishing a book project focused on translating embodied traumatic experience through somatic practices and critical and creative nonfiction. Another book on is forthcoming in January 2020. You can find more at corpusritual.com.

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