November/December 2013 Living Now
Communing with Plant Spirits
by Becky Lerner
One chilly afternoon at the beginning of fall, I was sharing the edible and medicinal benefits of dandelion, snowberry, mullein and sheep sorrel while doing a plant identification tour for a client in the Oregon countryside. I paused before a Western red cedar tree towering above us. Though I had never been here before, I recognized its soft, red-brown bark and flat needles.
“This tree has chemicals in it that prevent the wood from rotting, and so it was used by native tribes to make canoes, houses and totem poles. These same properties make the leaves a wonderful medicinal for fungal infections of the skin. If you make a tea out of it and then soak a rag in it, you can use it to treat ringworm or athlete’s foot,” I said.
My student lit up as she listened, and I could see that this common tree had impressed a sense of wonder upon her, as it does for most anyone who is newly discovering its many gifts. But what I would tell her next would launch her fascination even further: “Plants can heal us in so many ways,” I told her. “Physical medicine is only the beginning.”
I began my friendship with plants some years ago simply by using intention. With Western red cedar, for example, I would pause in front of the tree whenever I saw it and say hello, just as one would greet any other sort of friend. The next thing I did was use my heart as a perceptual organ, reaching out to the tree spirit, expressing my respect and love for it, and wishing it many blessings.
Over time, I began to clearly perceive the tree spirit as strong and maternal, like a mother you can call on to shelter you from the storms of life, both literal and figurative.
“Whether you are a sensitive person who feels overwhelmed in crowded places, or are perhaps feeling frightened to look at some upsetting parts of yourself all alone, you can invite Western red cedar to create a safe haven for you, imagining perhaps that she has built a tree house around you, or that her trunk or heavy branches are shielding you,” I told my student.
“How do you know this?” she asked.
Our Plant Elders
Although it may sound extraordinary, each and every one of us has the ability to communicate with the plants in our midst. No matter what our biological ancestry, it is wired into each of us through our soul memory and is well within our capacity as multi-dimensional beings, simply by using the power of intention.
Before the rise of farming in relatively recent history, all human cultures lived very closely with plants, eating and healing ourselves with their bounty, demanding nothing of them, not telling them where to grow or even when, but simply sending them much gratitude for filling our stomachs and salving our wounds.
We lived as foragers, intoxicating ourselves with the sublime beauty of their flowers, and at night we would often dream about them, just as one dreams of a beloved today. In turn, the plants related to us as if we were their children and they were our elders, because indeed, they were — and are. They have watched our species evolve and change, offering us comfort and support all the while, and sharing their wisdom with those who knew to ask for it with love and respect.
Today, not so many people know the plants like that. The plants have told me they are sad about that, because it is much more fun when we remember who they are, and who we are. As a species, we are much kinder and more balanced when we enjoy the kind of relationship we once had together, when we consulted our elders.
Fortunately, all any of us needs to do to reclaim this connection is use a magic pass-phrase in our hearts. I have always known this pass-phrase innately and I bet that once you hear it, you will realize that you have always known it, too. It goes like this: “I respect you. I send you love from my heart, and I open to receiving your gifts. Thank you for your medicine.”
The specific words are not so important — what matters more is to feel these sentiments in ours hearts sincerely, and project them out as gifts to our botanical friends. When we have a gift to underscore the sentiment, such as sending healing vibrations, we strengthen the connection we are creating.
“The next thing you do,” I told my student, “is you use your heart to sense the presence of the plant spirit. They all have personalities and specialties. Rose is very high-vibrational and holds the frequency of pure, unconditional love. Hawthorn is gentle and protective of the heart.
“And if there is a question you need the answer to or some advice, the thing to do is simply be receptive, and listen in your heart instead of your mind. You are naturally intuitive, and they will teach you many things.”
I could see then that my student was excited for the future. She could see now that every wild plant is a link to what once was and to what could be again. We have only to remember.
Becky Lerner, author of Dandelion Hunter: Foraging the Urban Wilderness, is a Portland-based Usui Reiki master teacher and speaker. Visit www.plantspiritreiki.com.