Monthly Archive: October 2014

Herbalism is Alive and Well

When I think of an herbalist, I think of a medieval monk in his cloistered garden, doling out remedies to his parishioners. I’m happy to say thatHAWTHORN even today, Herbalism is alive and well.  I discovered this wonderful fact when I took a beginners herbal course this past Spring and Fall. It was taught by John Redden, assisted by his wife Susan. During the Spring, we planted a garden with herbs that we would be harvesting and preparing in the Fall. We also went on herb walks, identifying local “weeds” also known as herbs, and coming to learn their real value to our health and well

What I discovered is that we are surrounded by natural medicine, everywhere we look; and that there are people – herbalists – who can help us rediscover this unbelievable natural wealth that lives around us.

Tinctures we Made

Tinctures we Made

According to the Canadian Herbalist Association of BC, Herbalism is the use of plants to treat common ailments and promote wellness, and is the oldest form of medicinal healing known to man. It goes on to say that ”herbal medicine uses plants that do not have the aggressive and invasive action of modern drugs, but instead support the body’s own natural tendency to heal itself”.

I now have my own apothecary, filled with teas, tinctures, syrups and salves that I helped to grow and prepare. I know they are potent and pure, and that they were prepared with care. I am so grateful that I live in a time when these natural medicines are so readily available.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.

Not-Doing – Every moment is a moment

“Every moment is a moment. What does this moment ask of me?” A quote from Charlotte Selver (Every Moment is a Moment).non-doing

“Practice not-doing and everything will fall into place.” From Lao-Tzu (Tao Te Ching).

One is an ancient promise that we in the West are only now re-discovering. The other is from a woman who lived fully until she was 102, practicing and teaching Sensory Awareness all her adult life.

We now know that struggling and striving to get where we think we want to go will almost always give us high blood pressure, migraines, chronic indigestion, inflammation… . The list is long, and none of it is good for our sense of well-being or for our physical longevity.

“Practice non-doing and everything will fall into place.” That is a powerful promise; one that many of us long for, me included. What does Lao-Tzu mean by this?

It doesn’t mean resting on our laurels, zoning out in front of the TV, or shirking all responsibility. I don’t believe he meant never doing anything, nor would this make any sense at all to us: we were raised on the values of hard work and good effort, and that was meaningful to ourselves and others. Besides, our brains are wired for doing, for solving problems. Even if someone were to sit in meditation all day, every day, that person would be doing something that was meaningful.

In our modern world, too many of us are striving and struggling to “get somewhere”, to pay the bills, to live in the house of our dreams, or even any house. We struggle against our inner judgment that this isn’t what we thought life would be like, or that while we strive to bring home food, we are not present for our friends and family. We, in fact, are rarely present for anything, forever planning the next day and week and month, worrying about what might go wrong, focusing on our goals for the future.

In fact, we don’t really need to put that much effort into living and making the things we want to happen, happen. Perhaps it’s a function of aging, having to find ways to use energy wisely. Perhaps it’s the wisdom we accumulate through trial and error. But as we age, we find a lot of satisfaction in making things happen and solving problems with minimum effort. It means we don’t have to sacrifice living in and appreciating the present for some future goal.

“Every moment is a moment. What does this moment ask of me?” I’m in a study group that is led by Lee Lesser, a long-time student of Charlotte Selver. We meet every month, and in-between times, we practice ways of being with and appreciating fully with our whole person, body and soul, this moment, right here and now.

Taking a moment like this is a way of not-doing. If we were to practice taking only a few moments to be truly present, how might it alter our world?

Here’s a simple exercise that you might try: close your eyes … notice how your eyelids feel on your eyes as they close over your eyes … Can you feel your eyelashes against your skin? Now raise your hands to your eyes … cup them over your closed eyes … notice the sensation …. Is it warm? Cool? Practice sitting there for a moment, supporting your eyes with your cupped hands. Notice how your hands alter to accommodate your eyes … how your hands covering your eyes alter how your eyes feel … how your arms, shoulders, back, adjust to support your raised hands. Be with this moment … and then when you are ready, remove your hands from your eyes, sensing what that action brings to your awareness.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.

Buying a new car – something to panic about


My car – my 15 year old once-reliable Ford Focus – is breaking down regularly now. Even though I fully support using public transportation, there are too many times when I need a car. So, finally and reluctantly, I readied myself to buy a car.

This time, I thought, I’m going to do my homework. So I began scrutinizing reviews of new and used cars. I asked friends and acquaintances about what they knew. I looked at every angle I could think of – space, reliability, potential issues, gas efficiency, price. I finally decided on the car I wanted, then began to look at both new and used versions.

At last! I found what I wanted and began the process of negotiating price. This is where I gradually and inevitably lost it. Why? Because, well, while I did my homework on the car I wanted, I did not do my homework on financing. So that when it was time to negotiate price and payments I was left having to rely on someone I didn’t know to be fair and equitable.

Full-blown panic happened over the course of a week. Day 1: I make a deal, clueless. Day 2: I wake in a panic needing immediately to call and cancel the whole thing. I meditate instead. Day 3: I blank the whole thing out and live in temporary peace. Day 4: my dear partner who is a financial whiz says I “should have” consulted him first. Now the panic begins to form once more. I go through all the cliché negative things about used car salesman. I begin to wonder about my ability to live independently without losing everything I have. As you can see, I am quickly moving into full-blown insanity. Day 5: I get a call from the dealership. I put the salesperson off because I’m panicking. Day 6: another call letting me know that I can pick up my car. Oh dear! What have I done! I ask if we can look at leasing options. They say “Of Course!”. Day 7: I call again, worrying about the price I agreed to pay. Again, the sales people assure me they will work with me to finalize something we both like.

Buying a car is a big deal for most of us. It’s especially hard if, like me, you aren’t happy about having to buy one and you aren’t good at living with spending a lot of money.

As it turned out, we didn’t finalize something we both liked. They got what they wanted and I got something tolerable (alas! not a Porsche). Even so, I’ll enjoy my new car, and the panic is over.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.

Peeling the Onion – Revealing the Layers of the Personality

A number of years ago, Bud Feder, a well-known Gestalt Therapist, wrote a small book called Peeling the Onion. Jorge Rosner also wrote a

Peeling the Onion

Peeling the Onion

book of the same title. Both of these men were referring to the phrase Fritz Perls used to describe the continuum of awareness of the human psyche, essentially a phenomenological description of the experience, identifications, and behaviors of people. Each layer has it’s place in our every-day lives, both in terms of normal and abnormal functioning.

The first layer is called the Cliché layer. It’s what we do when we go to a party, or meet someone new, or pass the time with strangers in an elevator. It’s small talk – good for breaking the ice and beginning the process of getting to know another in a safe and non-threatening way. Small talk is essential. Imagine what social life would be like without it, where everything uttered had to be profound, filled with meaning, deep.

Next is the Role layer. Mother, scientist, psychotherapist, banker, baker, shoe maker … . It’s what we do to make a living, add meaning to our lives, and define ourselves within our society. Our role at any given moment is how we want to be seen by others. It can be something to hide behind, to use as a kind of social armour. “I’m a business woman” feels powerful to some women, whereas “I’m a housewife” doesn’t.

This brings us to the Phobic layer. This layer holds our deepest fears, and is often why we hide behind our roles, providing some “felt” protection from those fears. For instance, if I think that being simply a housewife makes me less than other woman who have careers, then I might “elevate” my status to “mother” because that is a role that is respected. It’s important to know our fears; otherwise we will not be able to be master of our own fate.

Why? Because underlying the Phobic layer is Impasse. The Impasse layer is where we come face-to-face with our fears, overcoming them, or at least forming some kind of truce or alliance. This is the layer of growth and self-discovery. It’s the place of magic, of creativity, and is ruled over by the Muses. When we are able to penetrate this layer, we gain access to our own greatness, because this layer opens the door to our core – to who we really are at any moment.

The core layer represents our true emotions, our real response to the world at a given instant. Perls identified four main emotions – anger, sadness, sex and joy, and maintained that we were either in one of these states, or we felt nothing except deadness.

Pearls referred to the first three layers as the Constructed Self in terms of how we armour ourselves emotionally, and maintained that we must have the courage to Deconstruct ourselves by entering Impasse before the deadness at our core can be turned back on.

For a summary of this theory, read the above-mentioned booklets, or go to

Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.



There is being stressed today, and there is being stressed every day.  The latter is Chronic Stress, and chronic stress is a killer.  It not only kills our ability to live our lives fully, it will also kill us physically.chronic stress

If we find ourselves chronically stressed, it means we are constantly in fight or flight mode: our adrenaline is increased and other hormones decreased; this begins to impact motor functions, mental functioning, and will eventually lead to a decrease in our immune system functioning.

“Stress is the most common cause of ill health in our society, probably underlying as many as 70% of all visits to family doctors” ( According to a recent study, it costs the US an estimated $42 Billion a year in stress-based issues, such as work absenteeism, physical illness, and mental illness. This kind of stress can lead to personal isolation, lost work, and relationship break-ups.

Chronic stress impacts us emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. The tragedy is that people can find their way out of this, but often don’t.

Stress occurs naturally as a response to something we perceive as threatening. It readies our body to respond optimally to the threatening situation, and once the threat is gone, our functioning will go back to normal. Chronic stress occurs when we find ourselves responding to threats every day, and pour body never really has a chance to go back to normal. This can be in response to both physical and emotional threats – our body will respond to either kind of threat in exactly the same way. Some examples: a serious car crash, PTSD from serving in Afghanistan, caring for a severely disabled person, being in high-stress work environment, family break-ups.

Here are some symptoms of chronic stress:

  • Isolation, not wanting to leave home
  • Paralysis when action is needed
  • Preoccupation and lack of attention, leading to avoidable accidents
  • Constant worry
  • Panic and fear of things not working, or of the unknown
  • Diminished productivity
  • Headaches, muscle tension, rapid heart rate
  • Digestive issues
  • Serious sleep issues

There are things you can do if you are suffering in this way. All of these involve finding better ways of taking care of yourself physically, mentally and emotionally. There are many self-help aids available in bookstores and online. Try them. If you find you need some guidance, help yourself by building a health care team – a doctor or naturopath and a psychotherapist – who can help you regain your balance and get back your health.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.