(as a pause during more scientific writing to reflect a moment…)
Sitting and writing about particular medicinal plants, I realise it’s important to talk about relationships and interactions between plants and people first. I believe questioning our mental constructs and ideologies about medicine, healing, and plants is important. Many of us are using the same term for ‘healing’ or ‘herbal medicine’ for practices and belief systems that are vastly different.
Science and the Western language of ‘parts’ is one of the main languages we use with each other to communicate about nature, and to come into connection with such wildness. Though I use this language as well, I don’t believe that seeing other living things through a scientific lens, as organisms or substances we can identify through their separate parts and actions is all that helpful when it comes to true healing. Useful for relieving symptoms, supporting the physical body at times and easing some suffering, yes… But when we’re talking about deep healing, this language of parts and chemicals is very little help, and can often be a bit of a trap. We think we’ve done a good job of addressing illness, but often we are just helping someone control their body/soul’s voice by silencing it for a while. A symptom may shift out of sight for a while as our body’s voice may quiet when deeper healing has not occurred. We might have received a period of repose long enough to rest and regroup our strength. But the voice will come right back again until that deeper level of healing occurs… within the heart and soul.
I am not a traditional Western herbalist, though I do use some western language when communicating about plants. My relationship and work with plants does not fit into one particular language or cultural way of knowing; it emerges from the space of one individual meeting another, shedding language, pretense, culture, or mask. I cannot describe easily what happens there – that is for silence, tears, the body and heart to express better than words could. I am more of a lover of wildness than anything else, (and a crazy medicine person born into this strange mind and culture), hoping to sit in the presence of the soul and of nature. Listening to and trying to express the mysteries I witness in the realms of spirit between people and plants.
In sitting writing about certain plants, I began to realise that in talking about anything we have to start boxing it in and categorize what are indescribable mysteries… We do it because we love knoweldge, control, and words so very much. However in the dwelling space of silence and mystery is where we truly come to know the plants (and most things). In a place much deeper than the thoughts of the mind.
If someone sings, the song is not isolated from the singer. The song, the body’s voice, might have it’s own presence and energy, but when the voice quiets, the singer is there when the sound ends. I can write down what the voice of the body sounds like, what pitch, how long it expresses certain sensations, but it would be disrespectful and arrogant of me to assume I know the source of that song. That is territory only for my heart to experience, soul to soul, as a sacred mystery. I will hold their hand, build supportive space, and guide them in if they ask for help, and listen to the songs I hear. But they are the ones who have the truest connection to the source of what their body and soul expresses… even if it resides in some of their darkest hidden places. If they wish me to enter into those precious and deep chambers, I will go without any other objective but to love, support, and honour such a divine being unfolding before me.
If I’m lucky, the songs I hear from them will help lead me deeper into myself without their knowing…
I am there to listen to the plants when they speak to me, and bring these elders into the room for someone to taste, smell, and feel. Which of those plants the person will be pulled to or connect with is where I get out of the way. Only they have access to how a plant is touching them. The plants teach me to listen and hold witness to what occurs, since there is no way to know exactly what will unfold in someone’s healing journey. I can guess, but better to keep that to myself, or I might block something from opening that is beyond what I can see. Gently inviting the both of us to listen and connect to ourselves and the plants – heart, mind, and body. Nothing to fix or do, just to be, to open, and receive. Trusting the individual and their body, knowing that I do not have to control anything, and neither do they. We are there to support and love the body and being on this journey of wholeness and connection. All we are invited to do in the healing process is come close to ourselves and each other through it. Learning to be loved. Gently letting go, and returning to source. No agenda, no judgment of what occurs next on the healing journey, just being together peacefully with all that presents itself. Healing of the soul will then happen on its own as we return to loving presence. This is where the medicine of the plants can bring us.
Because we often use scientific thought as our first way of connecting to the natural world (or in understanding relationships between things), it’s an important language to be able to speak in this culture. If we desire to speak to many people… or we may choose to just stay in the woods and be quiet, which is certainly another option. Sometimes a very appealing one. In my observation, science (or analyzation) though useful in communication in Western culture, is not a very reliable vehicle to soul/heart connection, communication, intimate relationship… or healing. If anything it is often used poorly and becomes an obstacle to intimacy – just as any reduction or judgment is. To me it seems it’s within the space of intimacy and the depths of the heart that healing occurs. Not in a test, or from something found under a microscope. I do love that we are so interested in looking deeply, I’m just not sure we are looking through lenses that help us to see.
Why use scientific/western language at all then, why not just bag it?
Because it is often our first way in this culture’s collective mind of coming to a place of honour and connection to nature, including connection to our own body. Because it is useful in helping relieve physical suffering to some degree, and to help love on our tissues, organs, and bodies as a whole. I adore science since it allows me to view one aspect of the natural world that I love. It’s important to understand however that this language of parts and provable interactions (seen through observing, categorizing, isolating, testing, and repeating) tends to cut off deeper knowing that arrives from the body, soul, and heart as it opens to connection and relationship. Science can cut us off from direct experience and intimacy… an unfolding present moment that can never be repeated. Science often relies on a what is repeatable, provable, factual (unchanging), and static nature of things, when the natural world and the conscious beings within it are continually transforming, often through interaction and inter-relationship. Science relies only on what it an see with its eyes, and measure in physicality. The tools of observation in science can be delighting, but we must understand that what we can see and measure is not even close to all there is.
Thankfully where there is separation, there is always union that follows, the two cannot exist without each other – and in that way, science has created a beautiful opportunity for us to experience separateness, and then if we choose, to return to wholeness and union.
I witness the medicine of these plants through their relationship and connection to an individual during a moment in time of interaction, something that cannot be explained and will never be repeated again. To say I understand what is happening when someone takes a plant into their being would be ridiculous. No one knows or can explain it fully in words. On a purely scientific level, there are hundreds of compounds in a plant working together, meeting your billions of cells, enzymes, chemicals, hormones, bacteria, and thousands of compounds that make up our body. On a spirit level (and really spirit and body are not separate), again there is no way for me to understand how a plant and individual, in that one moment, are interfacing. All I can do is witness, hold space, and stand in the mystery that unfolds. I understand that it is not my business what happens between one being and other, it is their intimate space of connecting and communicating with each other.
I can help guide someone along their path of healing without needing to know exactly where they should place their feet, but supporting them in finding their own movement forward towards what nourishes.
What is the point of trying to explain or know what one chemical in a plant put together with a particular person, in a particular moment of their constant state of transformation has the potential to be? I believe we think we can truly control and predict what will happen when two conscious beings come together. I think the point is we are trying to control the universe as it interacts and transforms. Too esoteric? We are trying to control birth and death because of our own fear that we are not enough just being present to the unfolding as it happens.
So what is the medicine of the plants for me? I can only describe what it feels like… Deep nourishment to all parts of my being, body mind and spirit. Coming into union, returning home, communicating with source, loving and being loved without judgment… surrendering my ego, letting go into the arms of the mother earth, our greatest healer. Drinking in incredible life energy… coming back to life and breath. Dreaming, awakening in my mind and consciousness. Depths of intimacy. The medicine of the plants for me is opening myself to be touched by ancients. The dissolving of my ego mind in order to feel for a moment the presence of my whole self as nature. That is what I understand the medicine of relationships with plants to be. It cannot be attributed to the plant itself. It is in the place of union where plant, nature, spirit, and person mingle together. Intimacy and trust/safety does not often develop overnight, it comes with continual presence, kindness, and opening.
When someone says a plant doesn’t ‘work’ for them, or it stopped ‘working,’ I can launch into explanations of the mind, based on observation, facts about the plants, my past experience etc… The best and truest answer I can give is explain, plants and you choose each other – sometimes it’s time to walk together, sometimes it’s not. You are changed by the plant as you work together, and you are not the same being each time you take it – it will effect you differently over time. You are not going to explain it by braking you or the plant down into isolated individual parts that do not equal the truth of who either of you are each moment, or explain your relationship/interaction. Allow room for each of you to dance with each other, your own dance, for the time you do. When you come, and when you go, no judgment needed. When you try to control it, less will unfold. With assessment we close ourselves off to the mystery and potential that is there if we let go and open to meeting the plant with a beginner’s mind, knowing nothing.
Information about chemical constituents or particular actions a plant can have on the body should be understood for what they are, small aspects of a whole mysterious being that cannot be seen by the eyes of science or the human mind when it is disconnected from heart/body/soul. If you tried to explain me by the chemicals that make up my body, it would be pretty inacurate… and it would not explain what happens when you mix me with all the many other spirits in body around me.
Each time I drink a plant, I am different than I was last week, the plant is new to me, and this is a new moment coming into being. This moment will change and pass into the next sip… when I will meet the plant again with a beginners mind. My whole being will be changing from one moment to the next – that plant (including all of its ‘parts’) are changing as well. Even if I could explain how a plant is interacting with myself or another, would I be able to explain what that interaction will be in the next moment as each being continues to change and transform? What I can do is witness and honor what unfolds as spirits meet each other.
Life and death will occur on it’s own whether or not I try to control it. This person and this plant are teachers, coming to me partly in order to help me learn to allow life and death to unfold within my own being.
The plants are whole conscious beings, just as we are, capable of interacting with conscious awareness in a given moment. Trying to understand with the mind how a plant will interact/touch someone, I find to be a waste of time and energy I could spend loving. Trying to explain what occurs in someone’s experience of their own body, or in their healing process, as if I know better than they do, tends to stop healing from unfolding, dishonor and disempower anyone involved. It would put me in the middle of an intimate experience that is not mine to own or explain. Often this desire to ‘know’ is a way to make us feel powerful or important as practitioners, when it is the plant, the individual themselves, and many other helpers that are responsible for healing that has occurred… I may have played a role, but if I played it well, they are listening to themselves and the plant, not to me. I am just a guide at the gateway, hopefully providing support, tenderness, and assistance when it’s needed. I want them to be their own teacher and healer… and not to attribute the wisdom and healing from arriving anywhere other than from within their own heart and body.
Each species of plant has particular gifts and medicine they can offer, but as whole beings, they are not understood through the sum of the compounds that make up their body – just like us. As we do, they carry within them the spirit of the land in which they grow, the spirits of the people who have connected to them throughout time, memories of the earth through it’s evolution, unique individual consciousness, and a depth of connection to the creator/collective consciousness that the deepest parts of us also hold.
There is enough medicine in their wholeness; we do not need to dissect them to find an imaginary magic bullet to control life and death. We do not have to match the perfect plant to the person or pattern of illness/energy we see within them and deduce what the plant will do within their body in order for healing to occur. Again, this may help with symptoms, and can be used in combination with deeper levels of healing, but transformations at the root are not going to occur on the surface level.
There is no perfect match we can select for someone in order for their healing to occur – there are an infinite number of perfect matches. Every plant has the potential to help support me on many levels. Some are safe for me to take internally, some are not. I am not a matchmaker between plants and individuals. No one decides that for you. There is a mystery greater than the practitioner at work… the plant spirits find us and we find them when we need them. They may use an herbalist as a vehicle, but it was not their doing the plant is reaching out to that person. There are two beings coming together, plant and the individual self, deciding where they go together – it is not up to the herbalist. What heals is not up to anyone else, and certainly not in the hands of the ‘practitioner’. All we can do is take their hand and enter together the realm of mystery that leads us back to self and back to source, opening and allowing transformation to occur as it naturally will… introducing someone to our beloved plant teachers and friends along the way who can take them deeper along that journey. I am healing, you are healing, we are discovering and learning together as we go. Each one choosing and discovering for themselves where they go.
Plants are enough as whole beings and we are enough as whole beings, we do not need to always brake us down or reduce us to what we are ‘good’ at. We can talk about these specific gifts we have, as long as we understand that is a way of reducing ourselves as well as our abilities to heal down to just chemical interactions that we have no true way of controlling or deducing. No scientific test can tell you truly how one plant will interact on any given moment with a person, and how a person will interact with it. Birch may be good at reducing inflammation, but who knows if Birch would have that effect on me, since Birch is not controlled by just the chemicals within it, just as I am not controlled by mine. This may seem like a ridiculous notion to you, but this is a truth that many people around the world have understood for thousands of years working with sacred healing plants. They are not drugs or inanimate objects, but alive, conscious, and constantly changing every second as we are – more complex than we can understand, and certainly more than the parts we can quantify. We also have a very powerful role in the transformation and healing that occurs within is, we can stop it or allow it to unfold, regardless of what plants we put in our body.
If a plant happens to be good at unclogging some phlegm from my throat while holding some of the deepest parts of my heart that I rarely expose, I see that as a nice added bonus, and will certainly share that with anyone interested in resolving a phlegmy situation, knowing full well it might not work for them… I don’t know how the plant and the person will experience each other, that is where the mystery unfolds, and that is the beginning their relationship.
Do I think the resolving of phelgm is ‘healing’ happening? No… I don’t think it is, though it could be happening at the same time. Healing can occur with or without ‘symptoms’ disappearing, with someone dying, or coming back to full ‘functioning’. Healing occurs in places I cannot quantify, label, or measure. It is not for me to explain. I am there to hold their hand and provide loving support, helping lead them back to themselves and to relationships that heal the soul… back into love and the mysteries of life and death that surround us all. The plants are one of the most powerful allies on the path to true healing.
© Sage Maurer