Connecting to Spirit, Land and People
My first encounter with Lyn Pacificar and her Filipino plant medicine store Herbalaria left me with a sense of enchantment and home that I could not fully reconcile. A small, glass vial filled with golden-colored oil and guava leaves, along with the scent of lemongrass and geranium, caught my attention at Lyn’s booth at a Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) conference in Chicago last year. In some ways, Herbalaria appeals to pinays like me who seek deeper connections to our Filipino heritage and indigenous practices that may feel altogether mythical and at times, inaccessible.
Lyn Pacificar is an albularya (traditional folk herbalist and healer) and katuuran (a Visayan priestess or shaman). While Lyn offers a number of body oils, tinctures and other products through her store, Herbalaria serves as a step into a deeper world of Filipino herbalism, healing, spirituality and ancestry. She talks to us about her approach to her healing and spiritual practice in a contemporary context, how she cares for herself while caring for community and her vision of true kapwa.
As we began our conversation, Lyn expresses a reverence for trees, her “temple,” and recalls a sweet memory of conversing with a tree outside of her childhood apartment in Koreatown, Los Angeles. I can’t help but liken her to a tree — deeply rooted in source and spirit — and her work to fruit she bears as gifts, reminders that our traditions are very much alive and accessible, even within ourselves like seeds ready to sprout.
What are your favorite plants to work with, right now?
Guava is my main plant goddess…The guava plant is the most gentle and yet the most healing plant accessible. It’s also sustainable because she just keeps regenerating — you can use her leaves, her twigs, her bark, all down to the root. Every spring, I harvest her leaves to create the guava leaf elixir [for Herbalaria].
How does your work with the plant realm connect you with the spiritual realm?
The plants provide the remedy and those remedies have spiritual association. For example, the guava leaf is nourishing, nurturing. It's associated with the water element and its planetary association is the moon. So, when I tell you to drink guava water or burn guava leaves, you're getting the spiritual aspects of what those healing properties are and putting it into your body. Also, when I'm connecting with the ancestors, they will tell me exactly what to recommend. So, the spirits of the land, the spirits of the ancestors and the plant spirits all work as a team behind me.
How do you approach your healing practice?
I’m also a Reiki master. There's no plant medicine involved with it, it’s just pure, universal love energy. I use that as background support for the work I do. There are different diagnostics that albularyos use…I look at you and I use my hands and I can feel already [what needs work] and then I do a reading. Then I go in and see where the spiritual infection is or attachment, if there's any trauma. And then, I am given the ancestral recommendation on how to proceed with the person. My practice relies heavily on ancestral message because I channel spirit.
How do you approach creating products for Herbalaria?
If you're a community leader, then you will feel the needs of your community. So, I've created a set of products that I felt were in alignment with our ancestors and our traditional practices and yet, contemporized so that people can relate to the use of these medicines.
How do you tune into the community without losing yourself?
I focus. I go out to the community, but I only go to where I feel I will be needed best and where I will be supported best. A lot of times people just want to be everywhere and anywhere. Then, they get discouraged and…become unclear and start having doubts and fears. How can you connect with community, now? So, you have to learn how to position yourself in the right way and also protect yourself when you're in the community.
I take a mini-sabbatical. So, this is about taking time for myself so I can go back inward. I make an announcement on Facebook or Instagram that I will not be available and I don't get online…I disconnect from the world and I connect with source and spirit fully so that I can know where I need to go next with the medicine and with any events that I have to have in the future that will serve the community best…This is how I keep my medicine pure as a healer in the diaspora. I don't allow myself to be influenced by other people.
Once I feel like I've done what I had to do, I go back out. So, it’s an ebb and flow with the energies. That's how I manage dealing with my business, being a ritualist, being a mom, a wife, managing the household and also taking care of many people who come to me for healings.
Self-care can be a buzzword in western, capitalist conversation and tends to focus on a sense of lack, rather than empowerment. What does self-care means to you?
It really is being conscientious and making the choice to unplug yourself from the world so that you'll create the space and time for you to at least put yourself in alignment again, because if you're not doing your self care, you become out of alignment.
My goal is to get people to heal themselves, [laughs] like alright, y’all need to learn how to do this! I think if more people knew how to do their own healing, we could at least solve more than half of the problems the world has.
Self-care can also be looked at as a luxury that requires lots of time and money. What would you say is the essential purpose of having a healthy spiritual and self-care practice?
The first component that I teach as part of energy work is breathing…It's free. Feed some oxygen to your heart, some oxygen to your cells. You'll feel a lot better, trust…When you breathe, you get in touch with your inner soul energy, so that you're at least focused for a second and see where you need to go. If we just take the moment to breathe and just calm down and think about it not emotionally, but logically, then we can approach things more methodically instead of reactionary and emotionally.
You come from generations of Filipino healers and being a healer seems like a path that you've accepted from a young age. How do you see your purpose in this particular generation or moment in time?
I feel like I'm in the middle of several generations. I'm Gen-X, so it's a really peculiar position because I had people in my generation that are not super sensitive about gender, [for example]. But when that [next] generation came through, we had to become super sensitive to those people. We’ve also had to become sensitive to what’s happening in America exclusively because these are not the types of attitudes in the Philippines. When I’m in the Philippines, the conversation is not about traditional medicine, it’s more colonial like, “What’s the best Southeast Asian colonized whitening skin cream?”
So, I feel that being in the middle of all of this is about being more sensitive than ever, but still teaching from a place of integrity, rootedness and ancestors…no matter how we are with every generation…there has to be a mutual respect and love and that kapwa, that interconnectedness that people keep talking about, but don't practice.
I feel the best way to do kapwa is to be kapwa…you have to embody these qualities versus just saying it because then you’re really not practicing it. You’re just hurting other people, including yourself.
What does kapwa look like for you, in practice?
It's everything I do. It's being with my family. I'm grounded and rooted and connected to the land, connected to my roots, but I'm also connected to community and to the medicine.
What challenges have come up for you as you’ve grown and evolved in your practice?
One thing is that people don't know protocol anymore and that's not their fault, [that comes from] a colonial mindset and their recent ancestors who felt that our culture may not have been good enough…it's my job to start teaching people protocols, not just within our own culture, but to make sure we're sensitive to the protocols of other indigenous cultures…this helps global community become more reverent and respectful of each other and our traditional practices.
While there are many layers, details and protocols to learn about healing and plant medicine, what's one thing that you would want others to take away from your work as a healer?
The whole purpose of Herbalaria is to bring value and recognition to Filipino plant medicine and to spark curiosity about, awaken and activate in every Filipino person their own traditional healing methods. To seek out their ancestors, to be rooted in something, to be proud of something that is tangible in healing…As a healer, what I want my clients to come away with is to feel like they are brand-new, like they can move forward. I want to see people succeed.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
If you are in the Los Angeles area this June, check out Lyn’s art exhibition "Dimensions of Mind, Reflections of Spirit” at the FASGI Bayanihan Center. You can find more information on her Instagram @lynpacificar_art
Kristen helps others to verbally, visually and aurally share their stories through copywriting, graphic design and public relations. She also hosts and produces Kidnapped for Dinner, a podcast featuring conversations about disorienting moments in the creative process.
In her artistic practice, she works with a variety of media —including writing, weaving, video and sound — to ask: how do we understand ourselves/our own interior worlds and through that relationship, understand others and our environment?