On most days of the week, you can find Marysia Miernowska, head of the California branch of The Gaia School of Healing, surrounded by her students somewhere in the hills of Malibu, teaching them how to listen to the wisdom of the plants that inhabit the land. Trained by Sage Maurer, the founder of The Gaia School of Healing originally started in Vermont, Marysia leads the California apprenticeship program which teaches individuals how to use native plants to heal themselves, and in turn, heal the world.
We spoke with Marysia about the future of the school, how taking care of the self is important to the Earth, and the ways in which she incorporates the wisdom of plants into her self-care routine.
Can you tell us a little bit about your apprenticeship in Vermont at the Gaia School of Healing with Sage Maurer?
The Sacred Plant Medicine Apprenticeship that Sage Maurer created at The Gaia School of Healing (which I now offer in California), was life changing for me and is life changing for the students we work with. Sage has truly created the most incredible ten month journey that roots students in The Wise Woman Tradition of Healing, which teaches them to listen directly to the plants. This cultivates a deep relationships between people, the Earth, and the plants, which in turn heals and guides us on a dance toward wholeness. I had no idea how deeply it would change the course of my life. By helping me remember how to connect to Self, Spirit and the Earth, it ultimately gave me the tools I use daily to steer my way.
Upon entering your apprenticeship were you experiencing any physical, mental or emotional imbalances that you hoped to remediate?
The dance towards wholeness that occurs by connecting to Self, Spirit and the Earth leads to many transformations and deep healings. In my years of guiding students through the Sacred Plant Medicine Apprenticeship, as well as my own experience of taking it and journeying with other students, I have seen the most beautiful transformations. For some, there is a call to work on a specific imbalance, for most, there is just a deep call that they answer to by taking this journey. In both cases, the healings and transformations take on forms that are often unexpected. In my case, when I took the apprenticeship in my early 20s, I felt a call to journey deeper into Earth Magick, and to dive into tending to my relationships to the plants and Spirit. While I did not have a specific issue I was hoping to remediate, there was a dull worry in me that I was not aligned to my purpose—a sense of feeling a little lost. I also had some adrenal fatigue, digestive system imbalances, and inflammation in my gut. All of these physical imbalances have been and continue to be nourished into balance through consistent use of the wild weeds.
What was your relationship to yourself before participating in the school, and then after?
The Gaia School rooted me in the Wise woman tradition of healing, where healing is a nonlinear, magickal dance toward wholeness. In our tradition, death and disease are not seen as the enemy that we must fight at all costs—rather, they are seen as allies of transformation. Sometimes wholeness is death, sometimes it is being sick and having to rest deeply and listen to the messages from the body. The school helped me remember a knowing deep in my being that changed my entire paradigm of what health and healing looked like, felt like, and was. I definitely had come from a more "heroic tradition" approach before The Gaia School, where I tried lots of different healing modalities such as cleanses, the raw food diet, etc. and ultimately always felt "optimal health" was a goal I was trying to reach, like a finish line.
My entire relationship to healing, to myself, to the mysterious dance toward wholeness is completely different now. I understand that living a life of balance and wholeness is an art that we practice breath by breath, moment by moment. That pain, “dis-ease”, and death are important portals of transformation that feed the cycles of life and renewal. Getting out of the dualistic understanding of healing as "good or bad", "wrong or right", has also brought me into a very nourishing and deeply magickal space of non-judgment and compassion for myself and others. As a healer, I know my role is never to try to "save" someone, but rather to create a magickal journey for them where they can connect deeper to their self, Spirit and the Earth. In this place, true wholeness and healing happen.
How is self-healing and the healing of others important to the Earth as a whole?
When we begin to understand that we are not just a part of the Earth, but rather, we are the Earth, self-care and earth care become like the inhale and exhale of the same breath. The purpose of self-care is to bring us into wholeness. Our modern day cultures often push us to be active and in the yang aspect of doing, and so the balancing that self-care such as bath, massage, a walk in nature, etc. provide drop our nervous system into relaxation, open the healing portals of embodied bliss, which in turn balances our mind with nonlinear thoughts and dreams that inspire and that we can later bring back into the doing aspect of our being.
Since the intention of self-care is to listen deeply to yourself and respond by lovingly caring for all aspects of your being with the intention of cultivating wholeness, sometimes self-care can look very non-traditional. While we often need more "yin" therapies to balance our predominantly "yang" way of life, the opposite can be true as well. For instance, when I was a new mother, I was so deeply in my yin and feminine aspect of nonlinear time, being in bed and caring for the baby at all times, eating and feeding, sleeping and feeling waves of emotions. After a few months, my yang aspect was hungry to be fed. My mind and my intellectual side was craving stimulating conversations with adults, I wanted to "do". My self-care was to go back to work a couple days a week. While this is not what we traditionally associate with self-care, it is important for us to expand our understanding of what self-care is so that we can truly practice deep, embodied listening to our selves and respond lovingly to our whole being.
The practice of deep listening to our selves and expanding our consciousness to include the entire web of life shows us how important our balance is to the balance of the entire ecosystem we are part of. When a new mother is receiving the (self) care that nourishes her wholeness, the ecosystem that is her family thrives. Similarly, when our culture is out of balance and what is valued in our society is productivity, doing, collecting material goods, etc. the entire ecosystem that is Gaia, the Earth, begins to suffer. When we are out of balance, the Earth is out of balance and responds in turn to balance her self, sometimes with natural disasters. We can begin by balancing our small selves and this ripples into the being that is our family, our community, our culture, our planet. Consider how intimately we are woven together with each breath we take coming from and going into the plants and trees. The electromagnetic field of the earth we stand on reduces inflammation in our body and balances our nervous system. We are quite literally the Earth, just like the trees, birds, ocean, rivers, soil, and fungi.
In understanding this, our deep listening brings us to the inquiry of how we can care for ourselves as the Earth, and how we can care for the Earth in order to nourish ourselves and each other. For me, tending to the Earth is one of my most important self-care practices. Composting my food honors the cycle of death and rebirth that I am woven into. It is not self-care for me to create trash and use plastic that fills the oceans. In just a short lifetime, we see the devastating effects of our consumer culture on the planet—it is not self-care for me to be contributing to over flowing landfills, and a planet where there is not enough food and clean water for all children to thrive. When I compost, I feed the cycle of death and rebirth. The food waste I create becomes food for the soil, which in turn makes my garden an oasis where bees, butterflies, birds, children, adults, animals, the bacteria in the soil, the fungi that send communication between trees in the soil—all of us thrive and receive nourishment. In our receiving of deep nourishment, we can all give and do our part—each part of the web of life being in its wholeness is so important for our survival.
Remember, the "self" in self-care includes the soil, the water, the ocean, the animals and this entire living, breathing, dying, regenerating planet that together we are. I invite you to reflect on how you can care for the Earth, and to open to receiving unexpected miracles of deep nourishment that come from practicing Earth care.
Do you have a personal self-care ritual with medicinal plants/trees/fungi/the power of the natural word? How does this help to heal yourself and others?
The various rituals in my life have a common thread of weaving me into the body and consciousness of the Earth. Whether it is a simple ritual of drinking infusions of wild weeds on a regular basis, or the more elaborate celebrations of the cycles of the Great Wheel, they all expand my being so I can draw upon the wisdom, energy, remembering, and guidance of Gaia. My (mostly) daily ritual of drinking infusions of wild weeds has been a radically transformative and simple practice that Sage and I share with students at The Gaia School of Healing. The wild weeds are abundant and free; they grow all over the world, they heal the soil where it needs regeneration, and offer the same healing vitality to our earth bodies. Once we begin to eat the wild, the Spirits of the plants awaken a deep remembering inside, and we begin to realize that we are not just a part of nature—we are nature. By expanding our "self" in this way, we embody the Earth healing herself, instead of being a small little person with limited understanding, energy, and wisdom trying hard to save the planet.
The rituals of drinking the wild, meditating with plants, tending to my relationship with Nature, celebrating her cycles and seasons of nature, connect me to the memory and the dreams of the Earth. In my own healing, the nourishing aspects of the wild weeds help keep my body nourished. My understanding of the cycles of death and rebirth allow me to midwife death in my own life, instead of clinging to some idea of what optimal health looks like. Being a student of the Great Mystery keeps me humble and teaches me to listen from the sacred center of my heart.
My "self" care rituals include:
- Drinking nourishing infusions made of wild weeds daily.
- Laying my body on the Earth for 10 minutes a day, or grounding my electromagnetic field with the Earth by walking barefoot.
- Meditating and practicing deep listening.
- Creating nourishing and loving experiences for me and my daughter to share.
- Connecting with people I love and cultivating safe, honest, authentic and nourishing relationships.
- Praying and practicing devotion and spirituality, feeding the web of life and the Great mystery with my prayers, rituals and ceremonies.
- Composting my food, planting seeds, gardening.
- Hiking and listening to the wild places.
- Taking baths with Epsom salts.
- Vaginal steaming with herbs upon completion of my monthly moon cycle.
- Self massage with oil.
- Bringing joy and heartfelt connection to my community. Weaving my community of humans with the land we live on.
- Making herbal medicine for people I love and work with.
- Celebrating the cycles of nature, and living in harmony with the moon and seasons.
- Eating delicious nourishing foods made with love.
- Savoring pleasure in my life.
- Having flowers in my home and keeping a tidy space that feels like a warm hug and lets my creativity breathe.
- Creating opportunities for alone time.
- Sleeping in the dark and quiet of the night.
- Listening to my body and responding with movement, rest, massage, etc.
What are some of the most powerful lessons you've gleaned from working with plants?
I could write a book full of insights and teachings that I have gained from the plants! Perhaps I have not because the plants are consistently teaching me and guiding me and I am forever humbled by their wisdom and perspective, feeling like their student for life.
It is wise to realize that the plants are literally our elders. They have lived on this planet longer then we have and have adapted through great changes in the Earth. This makes many of them highly adaptable and when we work with them both physically and spiritually, their consciousness merges with ours and deep wisdom, perspective, and lessons come through.
Many of the plants are here to teach us that we are not a part of the Earth, we are the Earth. We are one living organism and therefore all of the nourishment, healing, wisdom, love and support is always available to us. The plants are so incredibly generous and loving and they teach us how to receive deep nourishment and how to nourish ourselves and others. They heal us so we can connect to the life force energy that comes from the Earth, and which helps our bodies regenerate and heal. Often, the plants will show us where we are out of balance, what the medicine is in a situation we are moving through, and how we can move into wholeness.
Most recently, the plants have been talking to me a lot about the importance of remembering that we are the Earth, and to maintain a practice of grounding down, since so much of our modern life and technology takes us out of the body and into a chaotic air element.
Just a couple weeks ago, Linden showed me how I am an instrument, and that since I move energy through me, it is my responsibility to tune myself each day so that which moves out of me is harmonious and healing. Sound waves never cease to ripple through. It is amazing to consider that the big bang and all the prayers ever spoken are still reverberating through our bones and the space between our cells. Linden attuned me to the sacred stillness and trust in my heart, and reminded me that it is my work to attune myself daily to this vibration so the energy that ripples through my instrument is medicine and magick for all.
What is your relationship to pain?
Pain has a purpose and in my life, it has proven to be one of the most powerful portals that exists. Pain has been a divine messenger and a powerful teacher. In my experience, when we try to numb it, quiet it, tell it to shut up or turn away from it, it becomes louder and it begins to tear everything down in us and around us trying to get our attention. It asks us to GO INTO it. To stop looking away and to face it directly, feel it fully, and ask it to invite us in through its gateway. Rumi said, “The cure for the pain is in the pain. And the only way out, of course, is through."
The most practical and transformative tools I gained that began my conversations with grief and pain I learned from a book I highly recommend called, Women, Food and God. This book taught me the simple and incredible practice of stopping, closing my eyes, and feeling into where the pain is in my body. At the first sign of anxiety, I ask my body, “Where is this feeling?” After identifying where I am feeling the grief, pain, or anxiety, I ask, “What color is it? What texture? What does it feel like?” When the feeling becomes fully seen and received, it tends to soften, shift, and transform. It is as if it says, “Thank you. Thank you for coming to receive the gift I have for you.” These gifts of darkness are unglorified in our culture, but in my experience, they are the most precious alchemical portals that connect us to the gold within our very own human experience. This is where we can transmute poison into medicine, this is where we find magick.
Do you work with people seeking plant knowledge for healing, and what are the ways in which you witness plants impacting people working with pain?
Yes, I could say that everyone who begins to work with the plants deepens their healing journey. The plants lead us through the portals of pain in incredible ways. They calm our nerves when we are nervous or when our body is filled with tension or fear. They open our heart so we can be flooded with compassion for ourselves and so we can anchor in unconditional love. They ground us in the Earth, so our body can be flooded with minerals and vitamins that only the wild weeds growing in untamed places can provide. They help our minds quiet, so we can listen to pain as messenger. They shift our consciousness, so we can enter through pain as a portal of transformation.
Many students with chronic pain have experienced profound healing with different plants that we work with. The generous spirits of the plants and the unconditional love we can connect to when we meditate and work with the plants spiritually is also perhaps one of the most incredible medicines on our journeys with emotional or psychological pain.
How much of your work is esoteric and synergistic with pagan tradition?
I work with the energies of nature, the cycles of Gaia, the seasons, and the elements. I connect others to these currents, and through ceremony and with the help of the plants, help us all sync our energy bodies with these currents so we can be more expansive, harmonious, whole and effective as vehicles of transformation. The Spirits of Nature and the consciousness of Gaia is always there to support us. Weaving our consciousness into the consciousness of the Earth is incredibly healing and magickal. Birds do not stubbornly decide to make nests and lay eggs in the dead of winter, rather, they ride the blossoming of spring as fertility expresses herself through nature. What my work has in common with Pagan traditions is working with Nature and the cycles that are moving through us. My work focuses on doing this with the intention of coming into wholeness—of healing and being Gaia.
On your website, you mentioned that your relationship with the magic of plants was birthed in your childhood and cultivated by your maternal grandmother. How did she influence your ideas around plant medicine?
One of my earliest memories is of my paternal great grandmother showing me how to pick nettles without getting stung in our neighborhood in Warsaw. The weeds grow freely in the city, and much of my family’s history is connected to the devastating destruction the Nazis had on Warsaw, the people in Europe, and the grassroots resistance that responded. After being bombed, many people had to survive on these wild weeds. Two generations later when I was born in communist Poland, this memory is one of my earliest. I was so little, my great grandmother did not share the medicinal information, or at least I don’t remember if she did. But what I do remember is the wild twinkle in her eye as she showed me how to touch the nettle un-stung. And I know this wildness in my bones. Nettle was my first ally and she has been cultivating the wildness in me ever since.
Who have been your greatest mentors or spirit guides, and what has helped you most commit to your personal intuition?
I have been blessed with many human and non-human mentors and guides. Sage Maurer has been instrumental on my path as a green witch and in sharing the school she founded with me and my students. The plants and my work in “deep time” have trained me to be in deep listening. I hope my “personal intuition” is not so personal, as I am, after all, just a small human being with a limited amount of time and experience in this dimension. Rather, my practices help me remember a knowing that expands my personal experience and feeling. Being in devotion to this knowing in my bones and to my practice of anchoring in the sacred center of my heart, connecting to Spirit and the Earth is what guides me and how I guide myself. To this, I have an unwavering commitment and for me, there is no other way than listening to the intuition that is deeper than my own.
What are some of your most beloved reference books that might enrich someone exploring the idea of working with plants for healing?
Sacred Plant Medicine by Elliot Cowan, Healing Wise by Susun Weed, The Lost Language of Plants by Stephen Buhner, and The Gift of the Healing Herbs by Robin Rose Bennett are some great ones to start with.
Sage and I have a whole list of incredible books we recommend at the end of our syllabus, which can be found on the school website www.thegreenwoman.com.
Many past students of yours have gone on to launch incredibly nourishing product lines. For example Melissa Parke, Founder of, M. Parke, has benefited deeply from her work with Gaia in treating her Lyme disease, and from this work has birthed a divine line of medicinal bath soaks. You also craft concoctions for local sale and at artisanal markets like Mercado Sagrado. Does it inspire you to see these plant medicines reaching a broader audience?
It is absolutely a great joy to see and experience the beautiful medicine that is birthed through the personal journey that the Gaia students take with the plants. All of the product lines that are created each year come from a year of creating deep and intimate relationships with the plants. The medicine we make is always made in sacred space, in prayer and ceremony. Therefore, it is truly alchemical, where the whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts! All of the medicine that graduates create is made with so much love, intention, and respect for the plants that I have to say, it is consistently some of the best herbal medicine I experience. Also, because we are rooted in a reciprocal relationship with the plants, I can rest assured that the medicine that reaches a broader audience is ethically crafted, sustainable and therefore can be medicine for not only the people taking it, but is also healing for the relationship between people and the Earth.
There is an extensive waiting list already for the 2018 plant medicine apprenticeship program. Do you see any possibility of this program expanding?
There is indeed an incredibly large amount of souls who are hearing the call of the plants and of working in this nourishing, magickal, and restorative way that we share at The Gaia School of Healing. For this, I am grateful every day. It shows me that there is a huge need for this bridging of land and people. People of all walks of life are coming to us to learn the language of the plants, and our mountains are also calling out loudly for love, healing, and attention.
My vision for the school to acquire and steward land, which would allow us to expand and host more teachers, offer more courses and invite more hands-on opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds to receive the healing the Earth provides, and to learn and take back to their community’s way of living that nourish and regenerates the land they steward. Year by year I am getting closer to this, but I am still but one person, so for this to happen I will need some angel donors and allies to join forces with me and help bring this dream to fruition.
In the meantime, our community of graduates is ever growing and there are so many ways we have already expanded as graduates share the plants, offer workshops, create lines of medicine, open apothecaries, etc.
This year, I opened an activism branch of the school and we are offering free workshops in underserved communities such as Inglewood and Compton. Our mission is to make Earth Medicine people’s medicine—accessible to all. We will continue to spread the healing ways of the plants and call in a physical place where we can ground this magick, so we can begin to invite more people to receive the full experience of falling in love with the Earth and receiving the deep healing and nourishment she offers to us, her children.
Before founding the California branch of Gaia School of Healing, you worked as a participatory design facilitator with an architect responsible for bringing Cohousing to the US. Can you share how this experience influenced a holistic approach to systems design, and do any of these same ideas influence your approach to garden design?
What brought me to study architecture was a realization that our environment and way we create spaces changes our social interactions and ultimately our culture, rituals, and relationships. I wanted to create healing spaces, specifically urban low-income housing that would help create community and connection. Current housing projects are actually designed to look like prisons—this has an effect on the psychology and spirit of those who live there.
I ended up coming to CoHousing because it was the only form of architecture I found that took the participatory design process so seriously, and involved the actual residents in the creation of the neighborhood and design of the space to reflect the desired culture. This taught me “deep listening” to the lives of those who will live the space into being, rather than designing what I think is best for a space or community—something that is all too common in the field of architecture and design.
When designing gardens, I begin by deep listening. This means I listen to the land, and do so in different realms, using different tools. From a permaculture perspective, I look at the opportunities and restraints of the land, and as a green witch, I listen to the plants and spirit of the land, and go into deep time through shamanic rituals. I also listen to the people who are stewarding the land—what relationship do they want to foster with the land? What are they available for? What can they give and what do they wish to receive? Ultimately, the intention is to connect with the potential alchemy of land and people by asking: what is the highest available expression from the union of this land and the people? That is then our vision, and through deep listening, we outline the steps to get there.
Can you tell us a little bit about the magic you are birthing at the Gaia School of Healing in Malibu?
We offer at ten month Sacred Plant Medicine Apprenticeship that is both a spiritual journey as well as a course on medical herbalism and traditional folk healing. The classes and ceremonies we offer are a practice of devotion to the land and the people that call this land home. We hear our mountains calling out, we hear the Earth asking for us people to learn how to tend to the land, and to ourselves and our communities in a whole and holy way. We see the “dis-eases” that people are struggling with, and how so much can be healed by reconnecting to the Earth and oneself, and by learning to receive deep nourishment. We seek to give back to the Earth and learn regenerative practices that can help support a thriving ecosystem. In many ways, the work we do helps weave our consciousness into the consciousness of the Earth. In these highly transformative times on our planet, it is profoundly balancing to root into the Earth and drop into deep listening and meditation with the plants as our elders and guides and to seek deeper wisdom on how we can bring balance to all of Gaia through ourselves.
My dream is to find land for the school so we can continue to expand our programming and serve a greater population, while hosting more teachers and workshops that are aligned with our purpose. There are so many incredible ways we can live in a regenerative way that is healing to both the land and the people of Southern California, and it is evident that we all need such a space for healing, education, grounding, and community.
This year, we opened an activism branch of the school, and are offering free workshops in underserved communities, such as Compton and Inglewood. Our mission is bring Earth Medicine to the People and to help heal this relationship, so we as people can also be medicine to the Earth.