Working with plants on a spiritual level is a revolutionary act. In my mind and heart I perceive the fundamental disharmony of Western society to be the disconnect from the spiritual aspects of life. Many of us feel like we don’t belong on this planet or don’t deserve to be alive. As if we were parasites on the earth; taking but not giving back. Perhaps we feel guilty about the way this land was stolen or the way the original inhabitants of the land were treated. Some of my students are very hesitant to harvest herbs. They think they have nothing to offer in return. This attitude is certainly a better place to start than the thought form of “whatever is out there is mine for the taking,” but both of these perspectives arise from the same root—a feeling of alienation. Only after we reestablish a relationship with the lands in which we live will we feel a sense of belonging. Only then will we stop destroying ourselves and our planet. The wisdom and intelligence of the universe surrounds us: we actually have to work very hard and expend a lot of energy to keep it out. It only takes a slight adjustment of perception to allow the wisdom of the universe to penetrate into our consciousness and hearts. It only takes a few of us to initiate this process. In fact the process has begun. As interest in shamanism has grown, many have returned to places where this knowledge is alive and have brought it back to the industrial/technological societies. As each of us continues to do our work, we make it easier for others to follow on the path.
To my mind the important thing is not appropriating the wisdom or ritual of other cultures who seem to get it, but for each of us in local community groups to connect with the wisdom of the spirits of the land where we live. Whether it be in an old-growth forest or in the middle of downtown L.A., there are spirits waiting to be contacted, waiting for connection with humanity, and waiting to impart their wisdom so that we can return to a state of harmony with the land. We need not go to the Amazon seeking Plant Teachers, we are surrounded by teachers wherever we live. Some teachers are indigenous to the land and wait for us while others, like St. John’s Wort, follow us around establishing themselves in the disturbed lands left in the wake of human progress. They follow us to help mend the disturbed parts of our psyches and souls so that we may return to a state of wholeness and recognize the holiness/sacredness of all that surrounds us.
There may be a time in the not so distant future when air travel becomes more than a luxury. When this happens we will have no option but to turn to the native plants of our land for the healing of our minds, bodies, and souls. Although there has been much emphasis in the recent years on the Plant Teachers of the Amazon, it should be remembered that plant teachers exist everywhere on the globe. The Amazon doesn’t necessarily have better or more wise teachers from the plant realm, they just have a more intact tradition of connecting with the plant kingdom.
We in the temperate regions have lost our traditions. The Europeans exterminated their own native shamans, and the knowledge here in North America was either driven underground or the holders of that wisdom were killed by war or disease. Whatever the reasons for this lack of knowledge regarding the spiritual uses of plants, it is unfair and unwise for us to look to sources outside of ourselves for this knowledge. Too much has already been taken from the native peoples with little given in return, and in my view it is irresponsible to broadcast the spiritual uses of plants outside of the matrix of the cultural initiation that ties a people to the land and to the spiritual realms it supports. Without the proper context for use, people may cause themselves damage and further separation from the self and nature can occur. In addition, we may lose a valuable opportunity to “discover” ourselves and remember the state of being that places us within the weave and warp of life.
Only by endeavoring to do this type of work ourselves and make our own connection will we truly understand what it means to live with the land. It is not merely by accumulating knowledge that we will make the necessary transformations in the times that lie ahead, but it is the manner in which this knowledge is gained that will provide the tools we need to live in harmony with Mother Earth. The act of opening oneself to the spirit world is, in and of itself, the healing salve that our culture needs. I believe that many of our present ills will dissolve when we learn to connect in this way. In the way that humans across the globe have done for uncounted eons.
It is important to remember that the very land upon which we live, the land which sustains us on all levels and is the source of wisdom and the ground of connection with the spiritual realms is the fountain of knowledge that will give us the tools to reestablish harmony between ourselves as humans and the rest of the natural world. It is from this land that the plants spring forth, shaped and formed, encoded with the wisdom that will allow us to continue as a species on this planet.
The point that I come back to again and again is that working with these plant spirits not only teaches us about the plants and their healing, but it also shows us who we are. It shines light on those parts of ourselves that are wounded, stuck, traumatized, or completely checked out. And at the same time it shows us the essence of our true beings, helping to strengthen and firm ourselves at the core, in the deepest most fundamental part of ourselves that is beyond separation, the part that understands that the concept of separation itself is a complete illusion. It helps us to refine who we are outwardly and keep us on track with our missions in life and the work that we’ve come here to do. We have no time to waste. It is time to drop the excuses. We have serious work to do.
And as we illuminate ourselves we cannot help but to illuminate and reawaken the beings of the forest, mountain, and desert. These spirits have been in close relationship with humanity for many thousands of years, but of late have been neglected. These beings need to be fed, and in turn, we will be fed and will become more whole. These relationships have been so integral to who we are as a species that we cannot actually survive without them. Without a conscious awareness of the forces that give us life and a way to relate to them, we live truly impoverished lives and risk danger of sinking more deeply into the madness and depression that have become epidemic in our society. These diseases stem precisely from the fact that we have lost our connection to the things that truly matter—the things that sustain at the most fundamental levels. The antidote to this malaise is a return to encounters with the sacred—to remember how to exist in harmony with all of the beings, seen and unseen, that inhabit this earth. We need to remember how to feed them and to feed ourselves.
A revolution in consciousness is taking place, one that can save our planet. One that asks us to return to our roots. Let us open our “eyes” and “ears” to the Plant Teachers that inhabit our lands—the places where we live, breathe, conceive, give birth, and die. Let us reestablish our connection with the spirits; that which is programmed into our DNA and is our birthright as humans. Let us resume our role as a species in this web of life. Let us open our heart and minds to the teachings of the native plants wherever we live, and let us implement their wisdom now.