We humans have a special relationship and dependence on plants. Since our beginnings, they have been the source both directly and indirectly of our food, our shelter, our medicines, our fuel, our clothing, and of course the very oxygen that we breathe. This is common knowledge and in general we take if for granted. Yet we view plants in our Western culture as semi-inanimate, lacking the animating force labelled soul, mind, or spirit. Many people ridicule and regard as eccentric those who speak up and say they communicate with plants.
The biggest challenge for a Westerner undertaking this communion with the plants is to accept that there is another order of non-material reality that a person can experience through his entrance into plant consciousness, and to do this requires a significant leap of the imagination.
How can we enter into a communion (in the true sense of the word) with the plant consciousness? This can indeed be difficult, as we in our culture have long forgotten this understanding and body of knowledge. However we can learn from those peoples who still live within the paradigm of human and plant communication. The body of practices, known as the ‘diet’ in Amazonian shamanism opens the door to this world.
The diet is a complex and challenging discipline required of Amazonian shamans, who wish to learn directly from the plant spirits. It implies much more than mere dietary restrictions of avoiding salt, sugar, meat, and alcohol. It also means refraining from libidinous thoughts and sexual activity. The diet should be carried out in isolation without any social activities and stimulation. This attenuation of our primal human instincts cultivates us to become more ‘plant like’ thereby incorporating the plant consciousness into ours to access the knowledge given by plants. This is where the shaman learns the icaros to invoke the power of the plants and how to use the plant for healing.
An Exercise: Developing and exploring your connection to the Plant Spirits
Traditional cultures regard plants as being alive, and conscious. Although this world view is ridiculed in our Western culture, many of us still feel and are aware of a spiritual connection to the world of plants, and search for ways to create a profound connection with the Plant Kingdom.
The first and possibly the most important key in developing your relationship with the Plant Spirit or mind (and what really helps to ‘open the door’ ie. makes the connection work), is a benign attitude and to have good intentions and feelings towards the plant. In addition our rational logical thinking mind is not in ally in this endeavour, so avoid analysing and rationally trying to understand what is happening. Go with your feelings, trust your feelings – don’t dismiss them.
In many respects this is an approach to perceive the world around us in a new and different way. When we were children, the world we perceived was novel and in a way untarnished. As we grew up the world lost its freshness and novelty so to speak, so when you enter into the communion with the plants this is a way to evoke that child-like manner of perceiving the world with a new and pristine vision that many of us have lost in the maelstrom or banality of life.
The plant consciousness or spirit, communicates with us when we are in relaxed, gentle trance-like, or dream state. So the person, who holds the desire to commune with the plant, needs to know how to move into an altered state.
Moving into an altered state of consciousness can be achieved gently, for example by going out in forests, woodlands, or a park; and walk at a slow and steady pace. Gradually the rhythm of this slow and steady movement will bring you into an altered or heightened state of awareness. When you feel or sense this subtle shift, lift up your eyes and look around. Allow yourself to be drawn to whatever tree, bush, or plant attracts your attention; you may experience this attraction as akin to a little ‘tug’.
Now go and sit with the plant. Use all your sensory and tactile faculties to engage with the plant.
Visual – Study the shape and form of the plant. Maybe the plant grows alone or is in a cluster. Look at the form of the leaves; look at the spaces (the forms within the forms) between the leaves and branches. The latter is part of a practice called gazing, which offers a way to perceive patterns outside the consensually agreed shapes and forms.
Smell – Our olfactory nerves go directly into the region of the brain called the limbic system. The limbic system is also called our ‘primitive’ brain, as its structure is below the linguistic and ‘higher’ functions of the cerebral cortex. The limbic system is the location of our primal (primate) emotions, and primal needs. The sense of smell is our only sense which has this access to our primal or unconscious mind. Breath in the fragrance of the plant, allow any feelings, memories, images, and associations to arise and experienced.
Tactile – our sense of touch. Gently move your hand towards the plant, maybe you can discern a movement, or sense a connection between the respective fields of energy, yours and that of the plant. Touch the plant, leaves or bark with your fingers. It is possible that you may sense the flow of energy within the plant, into the earth, and up into the sky.
Taste – Place a very small piece of the plant against your tongue and gently taste it. The taste may be acrid, bitter, hot, sweet, sour, or sharp. The taste may attract, be neutral, or repel you. This tasting will give you an indication of its character or ‘personality’. Exercise caution with this practice as there plants that are toxic, do not eat or swallow the plant.
When you have completed these practices (which form part of the Amazonian plant apprenticeship ‘plant diet’) take some time to meditate or embark on a shamanic journey to encounter the spirit or consciousness of the plant you have been working with.