Herbalists, Keep Learning: You Know More than You Know

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At the recent American Herbalists Guild conference, I met various people who felt inadequate about their herbal knowledge '"- that they were somehow inferior to teachers or to other AHG professional members -- and so wondered if they'd ever learn enough about herbs to 'get there.'

I guess I felt that once, when I just opened the door to the huge world of herbal medicine. But that quickly evaporated in the process of learning, studying and experimenting. And 30 years after opening that door one of the main things I've learned is that 'the more I know, the more I know I don't know.'

To me this is one of the attractions of herbalism: there is so much to learn, so many different possibilities and avenues to explore, that I can study my whole life and never get bored, never be done; there is always more to learn. As a result, I quickly learned to steer clear and beware of people who seem bored with herbalism, who feel they know it all. They obviously had stopped learning and growing.

Besides, herbalism is not just a science; it's also an art. To me the art part is the most important because this is where experience is developed '" the application of knowledge '" and thus is the spring from which wisdom blooms. It is also where time and practice come in, which is only accomplished by doing. I guess that's why working as a medical practitioner is called 'practicing' medicine '" it's about constantly learning, applying what you've learned and learning from your mistakes and successes in an ongoing, life-long process.

So there is no 'getting there' place to achieve in herbal medicine. You are always 'there' wherever that may be, whatever knowledge you might hold. Today you know more than you did yesterday and yesterday you knew more than a year ago. Stack a bunch of these years together and you've got stores of knowledge. But those stores only matter if they're applied in some way; only then is it true wisdom.

As Ansel Adams once said, 'The perfect is the enemy of the good.' When we hold other people up as 'knowing' and ourselves as 'not knowing,' then we can get paralyzed, stall, and not explore or make mistakes. So avoid comparing yourself with other herbalists and instead, keep applying what you do know. Soon enough you'll realize that 'being there' is actually 'here!'

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