Talking with Plants 2: Engagement and Immersion
For those of us who were taught, and came to accept, that the Universe is a machine, the journey back to wild water is a long one. We find our way one step at a time.
Down on our bellies on the grass, we take a flower’s view of the world — the huge blue sky, the ancient sheltering trees, the dance of the wind with every being and the rain drizzling down, iridescent drops spilling onto skin and petals and fingers and roots. From this perspective we’re children again, speaking in the primal wordless hum of ancestors and plants, animals and delighted babies. We’re here, in the truest sense of the word, in this moment and place Immersed in the fragrance and feeling, engaged in the timeless exchange of human being and earth.
Once we’ve begun the process of opening up to our own connections and relationship with the plants, we can begin to engage on a deeper level. Engagement comes from the 17th century French word engager which means “to pledge”. So then, to engage with the plants is to pledge to them, to commit to being present and fully ourselves when with them, which is always.
Perhaps the simplest and most effective way to begin this process is simply to spend time with the plants we feel called to. Seek out plants in as natural a setting for them as possible. For a Wild Rose this may mean a green riverbank and for a Dandelion it may mean a sidewalk crack outside a gas station. Meeting the plant in its chosen habitat helps to provide a context for our experience and the building of the relationship.
Many exercises, suggestions and books have been written or spoken on the subject of how best to spend focused time with the plants. Stephen Buhner, Susun Weed, Paul Bergner, Rosemary Gladstar and Matthew Wood have all written admirably on the subject. What I recommend and practice is that we each find a meaningful way to consistently spend time with the living plant. This could be simply sitting with the plant for some, performing some kind of personally significant ceremony with the plant for others, or even sleeping outdoors with it for a few nights for some. Whatever we find that works for each of us, do it on a consistent basis. Just as with human relationships, while love may spark at first sight, the relationship depends on time invested and commitments made.
It is only when we are aware of the earth and of the earth as poetry that we truly live.
In the knowing of vine and tree, earth and stone we come closer to our selves, our own innate and authentic beings. And the better we know ourselves the less likely we are to project or anthropomorphize upon our fellow beings, and the more we appreciate the unique being of the plant as well as the threads that weave us all together. Time spent in communion with our allies allows us to nurture our knowings of both self and plant, teaching us the balance that is so integral and yet so fragile. From the plants and the earth, we remember how to be human being in relationship with the world that is our larger, and more comprehensive, being.
When we have been with the plant for a while, but before we begin to speak, we practice feeling the plant’s presence with us wherever we go. This may at first sound a bit silly or new-agey, but most of us carry a sense of our children, or siblings, lovers, friends of each other with us, and often posses some awareness of their well-being at all times. In this, is the great beauty of the intense connectedness of all things. This evolved yet often unconscious awareness is one that children innately embody and that our culture often smirks at — as media propaganda constantly reinforces the great human fear that we are, in the end, all completely alone in the world. That we are separate and lonely beings lost in a dark void where the only possible meaning stems from consumerism and competition. As adults, we often fear we’ve left behind something important and valuable, something magical, in order to survive or succeed in the “real world”. And yet, that lost something, that joyful connected child isn’t gone but only submerged.
To practice feeling the plant with us means simply opening ourselves to the recognition of its presence. At first, this may feel like pretending because of the programming most of us have endured, but after some time –a few days, weeks or even months and years– we’ll start to notice the naturalness of having other beings connected to us in intimate, constant ways.
Ways of facilitating this connection can include carrying a bit of the plant around with us, or sleeping with it under our pillow. We can create special pouches or containers for the plant piece in whatever feels most appropriate to us. Natural materials seem best for this so that the plant piece can more freely share its scent and energy with us.
Plant communications are like stones in water. The ripples they create move throughout ecosystems; they wash up against us. That we take plant words in through our nose or our skin or our eyes or our tongue instead of our ears does not make their language less subtle. or sophisticated, or less filled with meaning.
Now that we know the plant on a more energetic level, we immerse ourselves physically in the experience of the plant. If the plant is one that can be ingested, we might consider eating small portions of the plant on a daily basis. Michigan herbalist jim mcdonald recommends carrying about small chunks of root and chewing them. This works especially well with herbs such as Calamus, Osha and even Burdock. Herbal baths, footsoaks, massage oils and etheric doses of the tincture or provide us with myriad ways to envelop ourselves in the physical presence of our ally. Whatever way we use, we try to engage every sense. Awash in the essential, sensual immediacy of the body of the plant, its essence is pressed into our very being, recorded in our cells and spirits.
If we feel called to work with a potentially poisonous plant such as Sacred Datura, or a less than palatable ally it may be preferable to experiment with homeopathic doses used externally or in a bath. A single Datura flower floating on the bathwater is a wonderful way to evoke the magic and power of this intense spirit without inviting the physical malaise possible with larger doses.
When we find the ways we feel most able to connect and hold on to the presence of the plant, then we use these methods as a meditation, a discernible practice upon which to build a lasting relationship. An internal map to the terrain that leads us back to the awareness of the spirit underlying all things.
Up in the trees with our face pressed against leaves, as dandelion seeds float effortlessly past, we remember what it is to be whole, with roots deep in the warm, wet earth and our wings spread out on flower fluff. We remember what it is to be home.