Novelty and Emptiness

Estimated read time... 5 minutes

Novelty serves to fill a void, or sense of emptiness, in our lives.

Novelty is one of those things that we all strive for in some way: a sense of newness, innovation, unusualness.

We buy small mass-produced items (iPods, iPhones, iPads, Kindles, drones, cameras, FitBits, etc.) in the hopes of providing our lives exactly that which these goods, and experiences, promise to impart.

This concept is not new, it’s certainly not novel, and it’s definitely not unusual. It spans all genres, from the fashion and beauty world, the food scene to the art world, the health world to Instagram and beyond. We jump on the bandwagon of whatever trend is on the rise as it promises us the fulfillment of that missing piece that we all seem to feel in our lives. (Speaking of Instagram novelties, have you seen Ponchan918? A pet otter, that’s right, an otter in an apartment, living as a pet…)

Intermingled with all of these “novel” trends is the notion that they are somehow superior to what came before, without acknowledging that what came before followed a similar trajectory in terms of novelty and popularity as well as the likelihood that we’ll jump off the current trend onto another one, all without recognizing the inherent imperfections that reside within everything.

Many of us see how the notion of novel experiences filters into the world of those who are health-conscious: butter is bad, margarine is good, eggs are bad, butter is good, margarine is bad, eggs are good, beef is bad for you, now beef is what you should be eating (so long as it is organic, humanely raised, grass-fed, etc), raw is best, everything should be fermented, carbohydrates are bad – wheat especially so, wheat is the staff of life if you prepare it correctly, macrobiotics is the only way to eat, Paleo is the answer, all health problems can be solved by going on a juice cleanse, the list goes on and on and on.

Another instance of novelty hopping is how we can move from healing modality to healing modality: massage, then chiropractor, then acupuncture, then herbs, then reiki, then a retreat, crystals and sigils, then…. What is the purpose of moving from modality to modality in this way? Is it for a sense of newness after we’ve grown accustomed to (ahem, bored with) the current modality? Are we expecting results as fast as we send and receive texts? Do we leap from modality to modality to avoid something about ourselves that only the deep, long, and often boring work that accompanies “sticking it out” with one modality can bring out? Or, are all of these different modalities to create another “life-changing” spiritually experience (coined as “spiritual materialism” by Trungpa Rinpoche in 1973)?  What is the point of the leaps, to what purpose does it serve when the most important work of all: healing and growing, are at stake?

I see the impact of novelty in the herbal world as well: an herb gets popular thanks to a few herbalists doing and writing great things with it – then everyone starts using it like it’s going out of style: for anything and everything, whether it is appropriate or not. Inevitably, a sense of boredom with the herb sets in, although most would not call it that, then folks are on to the next “it” herb. This happened last year with one of my favorite herbs (that I tend to use quite rarely): Monotropa uniflora, the year before it was Chaga.

Monotropa uniflora is a gorgeous plant (see pictured); it has a symbiotic relationship with the mycorrhizal system of the forest that cannot be cultivated. In a time and place where everything seems to be mass produced, mass grown, and mass consumed, a plant such as Monotropa uniflora is indeed magical and novel. It is no wonder it became popular in some herbal circles! I already adored this plant, I understood why it caught the attention of so many. The subsequent backlash to the newfound love of this plant, as distilled in my mind, was that this plant is indeed not a novelty in the way we often see it -easily reproduced, or mass-produced- and needs to be treated (and used) with the care and respect it deserves*.


It seems this is the story of our times: we must learn that we and the world around us, are not small reproducible items that are disposable. Like Monotropa uniflora, we each provide something unique to the web of life and we cannot take any of this for granted: we have work to do. Our time on this planet is quite a rare opportunity given what we know about the Universe thus far.

We all must consume (food, air, water, experiences) to live, but what approach is “the best” for us as well as the environment? When we take the environment into consideration (including our deep inner environment), we are left with a constellation of questions, non-answers and perpahs the sense that we must listen deeply within for the answers to arise. Do you take the time to witness the sparks of fire and inspiration that emanate from “nowhere”, to sink into the depths, and watch and grow with the surrounding life?

With all of the noise in the world, it’s no wonder it is easier to go with the flow of noise and gobble whatever meets us in our paths, and run from all that we do not want to see – much like PacMan.

Like a game console, we think we are solid, but we are 65% oxygen, 18% carbon, 10% hydrogen, 3% nitrogen and the remaining is a mix of other elements such as calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and so on. We’ve all heard the oft-quoted: adult humans are 50-65% water, and infants are 75-78% water.(1) In short: at a quantum level we’re a bunch of energy and a few atoms and subatomic particles crashing into each other, with a lot of emptiness in between.

How are you holding that emptiness within your ground of being?

When we’re constantly trying new things, shifting around, we never truly get to find out what ground we are standing on: what does it look like, how does it feel, what sort of life does it nourish, does it need special care due to neglect, is it overrunning the surrounding environment, what is this ground trying to say to us?

To do that, we have to stop piling crap on top of ourselves, give ourselves some room, and let ourselves breathe.

Let ourselves feel the longing for the next thing, feel the emptiness that fills us, get to know the project we’ve been toiling away on now that the polish has worn off leaving our hands dirty. Let us feel restless, and get to know what it is that is truly missing. In the end, maybe we are missing nothing but the emptiness to just be…

In my next post, I’ll explore the Chinese Medicine Elemental relationships that are implicated with the search for novelty, and provide some (delicious) suggestions for working with the Element that may be out of balance in your life.

*The argument was that there are many other herbs that can be used instead of this herb, but the thing is: when something is novel (unusual), it cannot be replicated easily and it does not fit neatly into an all-purpose box. Sometimes, it is the only herb that will do, and those are the times when this herb should be used.

Herbalist soap-box moment: We as herbalists must know our energetics and have refined assessment skills in order to appropriately discern which herbs are best utilized in the various situations we are called upon to help. Herbs are living, dynamic energies and when we recognize and understand them as such, we can then work with combining a human’s energetics with an herb’s energetics to influence positive change. To not understand and really know energetics, and ourselves, is a disservice to both those we are attempting to help and the plants and environment.

What happens with a lot of these trendy-novelty herbs is that they are misused because of a lack of understanding and energetic knowledge-embodiment.

1 reply
  1. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    Pamela, I really enjoyed this post. How fitting for our times and definitely made me reflect on my own desires and patterns. Thank you!

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