Plant medicine brings crucial messages we desperately need if we are to thrive as a modern-day tribe. Amongst other things Plant teaches us how healthy beings are deeply rooted, and shows us the value of slowing down and being less aggressive and more content with what we have.
I know of nothing that teaches these things more than Plant Spirit. It is why shamans all over the world often revere Plants as the greatest of teachers.
PLANT MEDICINE TEACH US HOW TO BE CALM, SLOW AND GROUNDED.
COMPARED TO ANIMAL, PLANT SPIRIT IS SUPREMELY RELAXED AND UNSTRESSED
There can be so much stress involved in being an animal, so much to do, so many places to be, so many drives to meet, so many complex relationships to navigate.
By contrast, Plant is chilled and relaxed. So, it is no surprise that the themes of calm, slow and grounded feature so prominently in Plant medicine.
It is true that plants can get stressed by environmental factors. If resources such as water or sunlight are in short supply, plants will exhibit stress in that they adopt strategies in order to try and survive. But compared to Animal, Plant really is supremely relaxed and unstressed. Think about how you feel when spending time around plants.
DIFFERENT WAY OF BEING
To really understand Plant, you have to feel yourself into a very different way of being and approaching the world. To get “inside” what it is to be a plant, you have to put aside a whole range of strategies, options, drives, and responses that are familiar and habitual to you as an animal. You need to give up movement; certainly, movement as you know it and understand it as an Animal. You need to let go of the restless and relentless drive to find the things that, as an animal, you need in order to survive.
You need to stop doing, and just be.
As a Plant, you do not need to find food. If you have enough water, trace nutrients, air, and sunlight, you can literally make everything you need. And if you do not have those things, there is nothing you can do about it in any case, so there is literally no point worrying.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF CONSCIOUSNESS
Lack of worry, freedom from the restless need to be doing things, and lack of agendas, mean that plants can relax and slow down. They operate at a much slower pace than animals. To really understand Plant medicine then, to get inside them and grok them, you need to slow right down. I mean, really slow down. As Stefano Mancuso, one of the leading scientists studying plant intelligence says in his book “Brilliant Green: The Surprising History and Science of Plant Intelligence”, “Plant lives unfold in another dimension of time”.
Or, as Spock might have said:
This difference is not because Plants are any less conscious than we are (far from it). Rather, it is because they have a different kind of consciousness.
Think of a continuum with self-awareness at one end and collective-awareness at the other. As humans, we are, it would seem, the most self-aware species on the planet; we are right at the end of the self-awareness side of the spectrum. However, from an animist perspective, where everything is alive and conscious, this also makes us the least collectively-aware thing on the planet too.
Indeed, as modern humans, we are so far away from collective-awareness, so cut-off and isolated in our narcissistic awareness of self, that most people cannot even recognise collective-awareness as being a form of consciousness and sentience.
Well, we kind of get it with some animals. Whilst recognising that insects that live in colonies do not have individual consciousness, we recognise that the colony as a whole may have a kind of collective intelligence—what we call a “hive-mind”. But that is usually as far as we go. Understanding collective-awareness, collective-consciousness, is at the heart of beginning to understand plant sentience, though.
PLANT MEDICINE TEACHES US ABOUT BALANCE BETWEEN FATHER SKY AND MOTHER EARTH
When we listen to Plant medicine, when we slow down and step out of being Human and Animal enough to grok Plant, we find that Plant Spirit teaches us how to hold the balance between Father Sky (Sun) and Mother Earth.
Plant shows you what this feels like. What this is like is not something that can be easily put into words. If I tried to describe it, it would not mean much. For it is a somatic thing, an energetic thing. Through shamanic journeying, though, it is something you can begin to experience for yourself.
It is not an idea, but a feeling of inter-connectedness and openness, a deep and certain knowing that you belong and are a part of the Earth. A strong message that comes from this experience is that, to be healthy, we need to honour the Earth as much as the Sky. That the descent of the roots is as valuable, as essential, as the ascent of the branches. That truly healthy beings (and cultures too) are ones that are deeply connected to the Earth.
TREES - THE STANDING PEOPLE
Interestingly, hunter-gatherers saw trees as slightly different to other plants. They referred to them as the Standing People. In terms of biological taxonomy, trees are not a distinct group. What defines a plant as being a tree is its size and structure. Trees bring specific healing and teachings:
THEY HAVE MORE INDIVIDUALITY
As a part of Plant, Trees also have a highly collective awareness. One of the things that makes them different from other Plants though is that they generally live far longer. Many of the Standing people can live for hundreds, or even thousands, of years. This, combined with their size, means that over the years individual trees acquire a history, and so, a middle-world individuality and personality. Think about great, old trees. Each is unique. Palpably, each has its own character and stories to tell. Because of this, as well as being collectively conscious, the older a tree gets, the more it acquires an individual consciousness. This is why shamans say the Standing People are more like us than the other Plants are (which often means we find them easier to communicate with).
AN UPPER WORLD CONNECTION
Another characteristic of trees is their height. Some species can even grow up to 400 feet (120 meters) tall. To do this, trees must be deeply rooted into the earth. In this, trees epitomise both being deeply connected to Mother Earth, and reaching upwards to Father Sky (Sun). This is why they are seen as spanning the realms. They connect all the realms together and help us move between them. For this reason, the axis mundi (the place in shamanic journeys that acts as our portal between the realms) is often depicted as a great tree, the “World Tree”, with its roots in the Lower-World, its trunk in the middle-world, and its branches in the Upper-World. This gives the Standing People a more Upper-World connection than other Plants, and more than most Animals (other than Bird), too. So, they are great teachers of Upper-World themes such as ethics (“right action”, “right speech”, “right living”, and so on), acting for the greater good, objectivity and healthy detachment, compassion, and so on.
GROUNDING AND CONNECTING US TO MOTHER EARTH
As well as their Upper-World connection, their huge root systems make them great teachers of grounding and connecting to the Earth. They have great medicine for those who find it hard to be in the physical world, for those who see the world as dangerous or unwelcoming, and for those with a top-heavy “spirituality” and who reject worldly things and want to escape to the Sky. Their medicine brings a deep, rooted connection to Mother Earth—a knowing that one belongs, and that one is loved, supported and welcome here.
TEACHINGS ABOUT HEALTHY COMMUNITIES
Trees are almost unique in the extent to which they provide habitats for other plants and animals. They provide shade, shelter, food, places to hide, nesting sites, and all sorts of other things. An individual mature tree can provide a home for dozens, or even hundreds, of other species. In this way, each tree creates a miniature ecosystem, a community. As such, the Standing People are teachers of generosity, selfless giving, cooperation, and how to create and protect communities. Trees are gentle giants, and yet the pillars of a community. They teach about the correct use of power. As such, they can teach us not to avoid our power but how to embrace it and use it well. This makes them powerful medicine for depression (as what is usually being de-pressed in depression is our own power).
Their long lives mean they are wisdom keepers. Their long memories mean they are the historians of the community. They can help teach us how to connect to the ancestors and to ancestral knowledge and wisdom. Because of their age, they are also great teachers of Eldership (Eldership being a vital role in a healthy community—something we will explore later in this book).
LEARN TO WORK WITH PLANT MEDICINE
If you want to learn more about Plant Medicine and working in the Lower-World, you can join us for the First Steps course.
Or if you are already a student, you can join for an advanced course on working with the More-Than-Human:
NEXT STEPS: The Animal, Plant, Standing (Tree) and Stone People. Discover what they really are, their teaching and healing gifts, and how to work with them. Find out what understanding the Other-Than-Human People can show us about what Humans really are and should be, and how to take our healthy place again on the Web of Life.
I also teach about healing gifts of Plants, Animals and Stone People in my third book about finding our true Soul.
“When we discover our true nature, we remember how to live in right-relationship with ourselves, with each other as humans, and with the more-than-human world too. For our shamanic and animist ancestors knew that healthy humans are not separate or superior to nature, but a part of nature. They knew that the world is alive and conscious, full of intelligent and sentient beings with gifts of healing and wisdom for us. They knew that we belonged, a part of a living and greater whole.”