Interview - Issue #15
misery’s co-facilitators, Sonji Shah and Maymana Arefin, discuss how we can redefine our relationships with nature and create spaces for queer joy and healing outside racial capitalism.
misery is a mental health collective and sober club night for queer, trans and intersex Black people and people of colour (QTIBPOC) based in London. In 2021, the misery medicine: plant magic programme was launched - a series of free, monthly herbalism walks for Black people and people of colour to learn about local plants and fungi, to explore their medicinal histories and connect with human and non-human kin alike. Each month, participants are invited to spend time with and meditate alongside particular herbs, share teas and make medicine together with a team of nature facilitators and community medical herbalists. After exploring a vast array of green spaces all over London, UK, including Wanstead Flats, Tottenham Marshes, Hampstead Heath and Beckenham Place Park, the programme shifted in 2023 to monthly gatherings in a regular location to prioritise accessibility. The simple act of being outside, together, and in a healing space, has quickly become a focus of the programme.
Sonji Shah I’d love to reflect upon how misery started as a sober club night and has now evolved into the plant magic programme.
Maymana Arefin To me, it’s all about providing different types of healing. Because healing can look so different to each person, right? Being able to dance can be a medicine but also learning about the healing properties of plants and fungi… the two can definitely be linked.
Sonji They also both relate a lot to the body and to connecting to the body. Moving the body in one way can be really freeing on a dance floor. And then in nature, you feel the sort of expansiveness where you don’t need to be performing for anyone or hold your body in a cramped way because there’s more space - space to let go of the heaviness.
Maymana Exactly - in fact, it’s difficult to describe the feeling that we’ve had at previous misery medicine gatherings. Like you said, that expansiveness of being outside - I really notice how “held” it feels: like a container for how people are feeling. Also, being in a big group of other Black people and people of colour, and a lot of queer and trans folks within that, feels so powerful - that’s the best word I can think of to describe it - there’s such a strength in being able to feel that power while being outdoors, which is, unfortunately, a lot of the time not the case in places where we’re not the majority. We don’t necessarily feel safe outside. In the English countryside, you’ll be constantly vigilant… there are so many reasons why you might not feel that strength. But the power is really palpable at the gatherings.
Sonji Definitely. Learning about the different plants and their uses and seeing how people interact differently with the plants, whether it’s holding or touching a plant, or even speaking to a plant - there’s space to practise a different kind of relationship with nature, which can then open up different relationships with each other in a way.
Maymana In my own work, I spend a lot of my time thinking about how to reframe my relationship with the natural world - specifically with fungi, but also with plants - mostly on walks by myself. Whereas when we’re in that group, it’s like taking a step back from your usual relationships with non-human kin. You’re learning and relearning - experiencing them through your senses. And there are a lot of other non-verbal things going on in that relationship and communication. It reminds me that there’s space to rethink my relationships with myself, with other people - it all just opens up. Like a really intimate rethinking of care. We don’t always have to default to our assumptions, we can actually listen, take some time to hear what they are sharing - and then the same thing extends outward to other relationships.
Sonji Like listening in a different way. Not just auditory but with all your senses.
Maymana I guess because we can’t easily communicate with plants, fungi and other non-human beings, we can’t use the default of language; we have to find these other kinds of non-verbal, sensory ways of being with them.
Historically, there’s been such a colonial emphasis on rationality, speaking our thoughts into being, and communicating with others in often combative ways. This is about learning to be more receptive to other beings.
New Ways of Being and Healing Outside