Talking With Plants – by Kiva Rose – Part 1 (of 2): Cultivating Intimacy with the More Than Human World

by Kiva Rose on March 15th, 2009
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Talking With Plants
   
by Kiva Rose

Part 1 (of 2): Cultivating Intimacy with the More Than Human World

willow-bloom-branch.jpg“In the stillness I looked inside and saw the wound laid down within all of us… The wound that comes from believing we are alone amid dead uncaring nature. And then I took a breath and began to share stories of a time when the world was young, when everyone knew that plants were intelligent and could speak to human beings…  A time when it was different.”
-Stephen Buhner

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.

Perhaps the simplest and most effective way to begin the process of communicating with the plants is simply to spend time with the individuals we feel called to. Seek them out 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 it in its chosen habitat helps to provide a context for our experience and the building of the relationship. Remaining in a wordless, completely present state honors allows us to listen intently and to fully experience the gifts of the plant.

Many exercises, suggestions and books have addressed the subject of how best to spend focused time with the plants. What I practice and recommend 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.”
-Henry Beston

Close your eyes, and imagine this is your first day alive on earth. You’ve never before seen the brilliant green of the Summer field that rolls across the hills behind your house. Never tasted a flower petal in all its sweet complexity, or leaned so close to smell a blossom that you lifted your face away brushed with a fine dusting of brilliant yellow pollen.

Or, remember that every sensual act of touching, tasting, smelling, listening and feeling can be as intense, overwhelming and remarkable as sex, as life-changing as psychedelics and as heart opening as prayer.

Humans are masters at adaptation, taking in a change, switching gears and going with it. And yet, a pitfall of this valuable evolutionary tool is that we sometimes allow ourselves to take the everyday for granted, we assume that Sunflower will be there tomorrow and that next year the same pretty Sage plant will bloom in our gardens. We tell ourselves that any day – any day at all – we can stop and take a closer look at that tangle of tree roots by the front gate. If not today, tomorrow, or next month, or surely before the first snow obscures it from view.

Or maybe not. Maybe we come home from work and the city has removed the tree, or we die in a car wreck, or we suddenly have to move. Perhaps we just get busy, and forget for a while and suddenly it’s all different. The roots have died and broken off and that amazing tangle of tree, moss and earth is gone. This same ability to defer important things, from children to health to basic happiness, is what allows us to daily walk by profound beauty and integral miracle and say, “oh yeah, I’ve seen that before, I’ll take a closer look tomorrow.”

When we allow ourselves the eyes of children – the newness of the taste of sweet, sun-warmed Clover nectar in our mouthes for the very first time – then we are at last present enough to talk with the plants. A couple of Summers ago we visited a little canyon where Blackberries cover miles of creek bank our then seven year old daughter. Their dark green vines twisted down into every earthen crevice and fat black-purple jewels hung next to just opened white flowers. Rhiannon was so intensely excited that she was instantly on her knees, her hands clasped together and actually shivering with excitement. “Oh Mama, oh my goodness, I never ever thought I’d really get to see a real, amazingly alive Blackberry on the plant.” She gasped for a bit of breath, “Wow!  I can’t believe I’m really here, it’s better than a dream, and I never thought they’d be that FAT and that BIG and that beautiful dear dark color! Mama, I think they sing!” And then, in her bare feet and pink sun-dress, she proceeded to crawl in and out of the maze of canes, carefully picking pints of berries with nary a scratch on her bare little legs.

I try to approach every plant, every day with a similar awe-struck attitude. It reminds me of the feeling I had when I gave birth to Rhiannon, this shock and amazement and throat-tightening gratitude of holding this brilliant, precious being in my arms every day and being allowed to be in her presence every minute, every hour, every day. And no light eating, green growing being is any less a miracle than a human child.

meadowrue.jpg“Plants are exemplary communicants, warning us away from taking parts that might be unduly harmful to either them or us, and sometimes suggesting a specific medicinal use to the sensitized listener.  Still, what it communicates first and foremost is the essence of itself and its immediate kind, its expressive ‘plantness.‘  While we may truly be able to hear what a plant has to offer us, only the fruit says ‘take me, I am yours’.  And it can be enough to hear its song that says ‘I’m here, look at me. Quiet your words and still your fantasies long enough to truly and fully experience me’.”
-Jesse Wolf Hardin

Insulated as we often are within human-centric communities, it can be easy to forget that there is a way of seeing and feeling bigger than our own. This is never more evident than when we attempt to interpret the language of the natural world. Too often we hear exactly what we want to hear, or sometimes, just what we are most afraid to hear. In these cases, our perception is so heavily colored by our own expectations, emotional hangups and personal history that more often than not results in us mostly talking to ourselves rather than with the plants.

Plants are not humans, but they are no less sentient and complex beings for their differences from us. While not human or even animals, they are people in the sense that they are intelligent, adaptable, vibrantly living and deeply feeling. In our attempts to relate to them, we would be wise to acknowledge and respect their profound otherness. Our natural tendency in nature is to attempt to understand through the similarities between them and us, and indeed, we are all connected and related through an amazing variety of traits. And yet, each species has its own special gifts to contribute to the whole. We honor those gifts by noticing and appreciating the ways in which we are different as well as the similarities.

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 uniqueness 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 understandings 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 beings in relationship with the world that is our larger and more comprehensive self.

(to be continued in part 2)

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This essay by Kiva Rose will be appearing along with an Interview with herbalist Susun Weed, in the upcoming issue of Susan Meeker Lowry’s wonderful home-published magazine Gaian Voices.  As a gift to our blog readers, she has offered to send a free copy to anyone requesting.  Please include $2.00 to cover postage.  If you know of a group or church where they could be distributed or sold, please contact Susan for quantities:
Susan Meeker-Lowry
132 Fish Street
Fryeburg, Maine 04037
or e-mail: info@gaianvoices.com


Categories: Botanical Medicine, Wild Plants & Traditional Healingways

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  • [...] I just posted the first instalment of a new version of my Talking With Plants essay on the Animá bl…. These undertandings form an important part of the foundation of the Medicine Woman Tradition and the way I teach herbalism. You’ll likely recognize a few paragraphs from my orginal posts by the same name on this blog, but the latter half of the first installment as well as most of the second installment is all new. The new version is much more concise, to the point and blunt (I do so hate being misunderstood), and just generally improved. A vastly expanded version will be in the upcoming book and this shorter version will appear in its entirety on the Medicine Woman site in the near future as well as in the upcoming issue of Gaian Voices. Here’s a short excerpt: [...]

  • Beautiful! I will share this with all of my students.
    Yesterday my daughter Ella went running for the road- I was horrified yelling for her to stop- instantly she stopped in her tracks, sat down in a ‘splits’ fashion and shoved her face right in the middle of a group of wild iris. When she emerged she had the widest grin. As you know Ella doesn’t speak any words yet, but her actions tell me how much she is connected with nature and the world around her. Imagine how vibrant, amazing those irises looked to her- seeing them in bloom for the first time. It was the highlight of my day:)

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