Watching the snow fall among the pines and evergreens surrounding my Vermont home, the sunlight streaming through the trees in long bands… I’ve forgotten what day it is, the things I had planned, what my name is. Everything empties and fills again, with light and snow, with the sound of the pines swaying in the wind. Taking in their size and beauty, the play of light as it slices through their branches and hits the flakes of white snow. Nothing else seems to matter in this moment, and all is gentle and still.
This is how I experience and know these trees and their medicine – a combination of bark, wind, quaking wood ringing like chimes… plays of light, the presence of silence and stillness… green needles in snow, white sky, clouds, soft earth, breath… All of these are pine tree in my experience. Pine does not exist on its own in my consciousness separate from its environment. I experience it as a web of many different things weaving together to become “pine tree”.
The presence of the sky is strongly present in pine – possibly because the white and red pines here tend to be so tall that I am always looking up at them. Their lack of lower branches always lends one a view of the sky. When I am working with pine in healing and medicine, I am also working with the presence of the sky. Wind is also strongly present in pine for me, because I so often watch them sway in the wind, or feel wind blowing around their trunks. I breathe more deeply when I’m among them. I feel expansive, taller, and open. Their lower branches fall away as they grow taller and they create openness and spaciousness around them – less dense than other evergreens such as hemlock, which keep their lower branches. In a pine grove I meet the presence of wind and breath as it moves unimpeded through the trees.
With pines I also take in the presence of regeneration after destruction. White pine is a pioneer species that grows after a forest has been completely cleared and is then left alone. Here in Vermont around 150 years ago 70% of our land was cleared for sheep farming, but as sheep farms were abandoned from people moving west, pine trees began to cover the bare landscape. Slowly over 70% of our land here in Vermont returned back to forest, at first covered mostly with pine. I don’t need to know about this ability of pine from history books, on my land the pines try to populate wherever land has been cleared. When I am with pine I am also taking in the sadness of loss, and of regeneration. I feel their energy of new growth and restored vitality.
My example here of Pine is to explain that when we learn from the plants we are not taking in just the plant on it’s own. It does not exist isolated from its environment, the land it grows on, the cycles it lives within, and the animals who surround it. What we receive from a plant is also then set within the framework of all that resides within our own consciousness.
Pine medicine for me brings the spirit and energy of wind and sky, sunlight, the stillness of winter, openness, silence, breath, awakening, loss, and regeneration. The scent of pine makes me feel calm, clears thoughts from my mind, and wakes me when I am sleepy. Pine is connected to all those feelings (and millions of others) in my consciousness and within my body, forming how I experience and receive its medicine. When I work with pine I receive medicine from an incredible number of sources from both outside and within myself. With the sky and wind comes the smell of pine resin in the air, peaceful walks in the woods, meditations sitting at its trunk, summers with my family by the sea… all of that, and infinite more, is in the medicine of pine in my experience.
This is how we build a relationship with a plant and truly receive its medicine, by taking in all that it truly is, and all the ways we personally experience and receive it over time… from other lifetimes, or the collective unconscious we tap into during deeper states of meditation… from the way it makes us feel when we take it in our bodies through sight, smell, taste, or touch… all that is experienced on the surface of our skin or within the depths of our consciousness in one present moment with a plant.
All of our relationships are like this. Each person, plant, or object around us is not experienced just by themselves. For each of us certain people come with the experience of specific places, feelings, sounds, energies, and sights around them. I experience my dog as a combination of things – soft fur, specific smells, the sound of teeth on bone, cuddling in bed, the New England woods, vacuum, the love I feel in my heart when I’m around her, snow falling, breath, running, soil, ice, water… all of these things come with “dog” for me. When I think of my dog, I take in all of these things into my consciousness all at once, since that is how “dog” is understood and experienced by my consciousness over time. I feel and receive from all those sources every time I am around her or think of her. If I didn’t have a dog and all these associations to what “dog” is in my consciousness, I wouldn’t be receiving the medicine I do from her. It is the depth of relationship itself that determines the strength and breadth of the medicine or potential of healing that can be received. The longer or deeper the relationship, the more medicine is available.
This is why plant and food medicines are so incredible and so vastly different from western medications – and why I dislike reducing plants to their chemicals/actions so much. Western medication is made up of a man-made series of compounds not found in nature or environment, so they can patent these compounds in order to make money (patents cannot be made on substances found in nature, unless they are changed or manipulated in some way). These man made substances are not embedded in the natural world and environment as plants are. They are lacking all of the energy, spirit, and medicine that is coming from many sources existing within and around the plant – as well as all the associations and connections within our own consciousness/soul.
What does it mean to learn directly from a plant as a teacher? It means listening to the earth and environment surrounding you and the plant, listening to your body, your memories, your associations, your nervous system, cycles of change, the animals and insects surrounding it… the wind, water, stone, sun, and beings that hold it. There is no way you will receive the same medicine as another person from one plant species, let alone one specific plant, because what we perceive, experience, have access to, are able to receive, and need in the moment, can be widely different from each other. Since our consciousness resides in every part of our body, this includes how we experience the plants within our bodies. Our context for working with the plant will also vary greatly – from purchasing a capsule online, to harvesting a plant in the wild after a relaxing hike.
For me to work with a plant as my teacher I am not trying to understand exactly what a plant “does”, I am witnessing my own experiences with it and witnessing who it is, each moment as it is revealed. Sometimes hiding, sometimes choosing to be seen. Hopefully as time goes on I will be blessed to witness many other people’s experiences with that plant, witnessing healing and nourishment occurring… Simply to be alive and to witness this incredible universe and natural world at work.
Slowing time, releasing goals or the need to control. Observing yourself and others in the natural world – being with the plants and their community of sun, water, wind, sky, and dirt. Listening, letting yourself be guided towards healing and nourishment. Observing the cycles of change over time. There is no endpoint and no mastery, there is only the continual dance of changing forms. All we can do is have patience and trust, hopefully delight along the way… joyful and grateful for what we experience and what we are able to receive.
Learning to observe and listen to what we experience within, as well as truly listening well to others around us is the greatest tool we have. Observing and feeling the plants, our bodies, each other, and the wild world around us. Learning to empty the mind and fill it again with life unfolding perfectly.
Trusting your own experience is and will be as real or valuable as another… even someone who you think is able to receive and listen better than you can. Most likely they have just learned how to categorize in their mind, articulate and regurgitate what they receive so that it can be communicated. This does not mean they are receiving the healing or the plants any better than you are – or that their knowledge is more valuable. In my experience the deepest understanding and wisdom is wordless. For many of us what we hear and experience dwells in the space of the mysterious ocean that is our consciousness and bodies.
If I couldn’t tell you in words how I experienced pine, what I know about it, or how it affects me, does that mean that I did not receive it? Does that mean someone else might know and should explain it to me? No. I receive the healing whether or not my mind understands it or I can express it to you. It came from a thousand sources working through the plant… and how I could (or allow myself to) receive it.
Most healing occurs in the space of the unspoken.
Plants and the natural world do not withhold healing and nourishment to anyone. It’s not about how it’s bottled. It does not matter how you categorize, theorize, understand, or articulate your experience or understanding of a plant.
Now let’s put away the computer together, put down our bottles and jars and go outside. There is no bad or good, right or wrong. Go rest your body and mind in the winds. There is no need to pick anything. You do not need to know anything.