Excerpted from Stephen Harrod Buhner's book titled - PLANeT MEDICINE: Biophilia, Biognosis, and the Ecological Importance of Plant Medicines to All Life on Earth Chelsea Green Publishing , White River Junction, Vermont USA, 2001
I CALL ON THE SPIRIT OF HERBS
by John Seed
I am tapping along keys on this laptop here in Siberia near the border of Mongolia, China and Khazakstan where we join in the struggle of our Russian deep ecologist kin to preserve the Siberian Tiger (and the forests of Promorsky Krai on which they depend) and the Snow Leopard and the holy mountain Belukha and all her glaciers and the waters of the Katun river from damming.
I call upon the spirit of herbs to guide these fingers.
I call upon the migrating molecules presently in these keys and upon the electrons that dance across the backlit screen to join in embrace with consciousness in an unfolding of Truth that may awaken awe in the most calloused human heart.
I call upon the spirit of herbs to speak as they have spoken through shaman upon shaman buried in the layer rock of consciousness, I call on them to speak of deep ecology and of the closing decade of this millennium where we face a challenge perhaps as great as the introduction of oxygen into our ancient methane world. While watching the rate of extinctions soar exponential I remember the Cretaceous when our ancestors were among the mere 5% of species that made it through the momentous events of that epoch, a strong record of success for ourselves and the matrix in which we are embedded, in which we dance.
.... and I was the stars, Boiling with light, wandering alone, each one the lord of his own summit; and I was the darkness Outside the stars, I included them.
They were part of me.
I was mankind also, a moving lichen
On the cheek of the round stone...they have not made
words for it, to go beyond things, beyond hours and ages,
And be all things in all time,
in their returns and passages
in the motionless and timeless centre,
In the white of the fire... how can I express the
excellence I have found..." from Not Man Apart - Robinson Jeffers (1)
In 1979, after years of meditation, of growing organic food in community, of planting seeds that grew from the seeds I had planted the season before and feeling body and mind grow awestruck from the wonder of it all, I found myself somehow embroiled in the defense of a little forest.
What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wilderness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet
Gerald Manley Hopkins
I stood with my fellows on that bewildering line between the human world and the dark green vegetation, but this time not with an eye to conquest, to the "development" of this forest, but standing with the trees, alongside the trees to prevent their destruction.
I speak for the trees as the trees have no tongues
And I'm telling you sir AT THE TOP OF MY LUNGS...
The Lorax, Dr, Seuss
Out of this small beginning came the Rainforest Information Centre, The Council of All Beings workshops, and my personal path of speaking for Earth. How little could I have known what strange paths I would walk once I re-membered the ancient language of Earth and plant and animal and gave myself up to its voice.
Our faith imposes on us a right and duty
to throw ourselves into the things of the earth.
Teilhard de Chardin
The Council of All Beings is the ceremonies and rituals that bring our deep ecology to life. Here we have a practice where we approach a leaf as though approaching our revered zen master. We breathe to this leaf the oxidized carbon of our body. We do so with the gratitude and the generosity that is the signature, the clue to the Nature of which we are a fragment.
As we add consciousness to the ancient processes of sharing respiration, we savour the leaf in our imagination. Now we must notice and then lay aside our prejudice that we are the only one capable of consciousness in this transaction, this holy communion that accompanies our every breath. We consciously nourish a leaf and invite the leaf to nourish us not just with the oxygen it creates, but with further communications.
The most "primitive" peoples, live deeply embedded in their "environment", all practice ceremonies and rituals that affirm and nourish the interconnectedness, the interbeing of the human tribe with the rest of the Earth family. This would indicate that the propensity to lose this connection is not just a modern phenomenon but is rooted deep within our humanity. We moderns however, in our arrogance and "enlightenment", have ridiculed such practices, attempted to assign them to the realm of superstition. Ritual has become "empty ritual". Thus our connections are in tatters and the world torn asunder. Having ridiculed such rituals, we did not participate in them, not participating in them, we lost our place in the world. And now, how are we to recover our ecological self? Mere ecological ideas, no matter how deep, cannot save us.
It is tempting to see the Council of All Beings as a therapy. However, a therapy surely is something that ends once the patient is cured. And this disconnectedness from the living Earth is not something which leaves us, once "cured" by our workshops, free to go back to modern ways. The Hopi for example, living in the most ancient continually inhabited villages in the western hemisphere, still don their animal masks and re-member humanity to the body of the Earth.
The Council of All Beings and other reEarthing rituals must be reincorporated into the very foundations of society or else no amount of "conservation" of nature, no "saving" of "representative areas" in national parks will stop the hemorrhage whence the very lifeblood drains from the Earth.
Of course they feed us! Of course they heal us! Of course they get us high! We've been co-operating together for aeons before arrogance and amnesia set in, they are the manner in which we are rooted in biology, they mediate between us and the sun.
They lay between us and the inorganic world that they suck spectacularly into biology as we suck them in turn into the peculiar consciousness that now reflects back upon these things.
Much information and wisdom has been methodically suppressed. From the burning of 9 million European herbalists grew the modern masculinist medical profession. How are we to reclaim our selves? Can this be learned by the modern mind in the sense of "adding something on" to our existing knowledge base? Another acquisition for the mind?
To reclaim ourselves we must tap once again that ancient participation in the deep life of the Earth of which we are a part. We must know that world as surely as we think we know the one in which we have lived so long. To know it we must use some other faculty than mind. A beginning of this is imagination.
Imagination itself, of course, is a recent extrusion of the animal through some of its more recent exuberant bulges of forebrain and is embedded inextricably in the organic matrix from which it blooms. So, I invite my imagination (and yours) to trace a path back. Beyond the point where imagination is rooted in this physical body, (this incredible record of success upon success, 4 billion years of organic symbiosis). Back to where the animal is rooted in the vegetable: And through that to wedding our mutual and complementary roles in the sharing of breath; Through the fact that primary production on this Earth is vegetable and the animal world must first eat the vegetable world to exist and only later can animals feed on other animals; Through the miracle of the brilliant stroke of creativity when plants first decided to spring forth and capture sunlight, to eat the photons that fall upon this barren rock. Ahhh, photosynthesis!
Back to the ultimate miracle of sunlight itself, energy with the propensity, the delight to weave itself into all this.
Deep ecology concerns the interconnectedness of all things, the way that all beings, plant, animal, human beings are part of a larger organism, arcs in vast circuits. We are all cells in the vast body of the Earth as the Earth itself participates in wider solar and galactic reciprocities.
Inside this clay jug are canyons and pine mountains
And the maker of canyons and pine mountains
All seven oceans are inside
And hundreds of millions of stars
The genepool, the ancient partnership between the herbs who capture sunlight and make it all possible, photosynthesis, creating the basis for animal and human life who can't transform the sun directly but must rest upon the layer beneath just as the vegetation rests upon geology, and the animal layer rests upon the vegetable.
Our evolutionary journey.
In the fourth World Rainforest Report, Queensland zoologist Peter
Dwyer noted that the New Guinea highlanders find the rainforest
wildlife not only good to eat, but also "good to think". He goes on to say:
"Whilst we don't eat our rainforests, we do become enmeshed in our perceptions and thinking about them until they suddenly and vividly possess for us values that we can only identify as symbolic, intrinsic and - with some desperation - as spiritual. The tropical rainforests are primitive and ancient ecological systems whose origins stretch backwards through the emergence of the flowering plants in Jurassic times over 135 million years ago to the plants preserved in the coal measures of the carboniferous millions of years before that and which appear to us today in the form of plastics. Such is biogeochemical continuity."
Dwyer's ability to see rainforests of hundreds of millions of years ago embedded in the plastics of the present age is a good example of the PSYCHOLOGICAL effects of rainforests upon people who spend their time in them. PSYCHObiogeochemical continuity?
For psyche grows from a foundation of animal and vegetable. The personality conditioned in the modern human has found it convenient to filter out conscious awareness of this process. Let us now invite ourselves to dismantle these filters and begin to extend our awareness and identity to the points where our intersections with animal and vegetable take place.
For now our glorious and crucial task is to take this magnificent heritage of our evolutionary journey, remember it, recapitulate it, call on it's power and momentum to aid us on a further leap into creation. Wedded to our friends the herbs, we prepare for another leap into complexity, into articulation.
most royal greening verdancy,
rooted in the sun,
you shine with radiant light.
Hildegard of Bingen
In Australia, two sisters by name of Bradley came up with an exciting technique by which we may slowly invite back the original biotic community from denuded and scarred landscapes.
Their method is essentially simple, unheroic. Nothing needs to be planted. All we have to do is to learn to distinguish the exotic from the native species right from when the tiny seedlings first emerge. Then ... we remove the exotics without treading on the natives.
This must be done painstakingly and methodically. And we must start from the strongest expression of native vigour in our management area. That is, let's say there's an erosion gully breaking our hearts, we want to start the repairs there at once but any attempt to heal it is doomed. What we must first do is discover and begin from some least-damaged spot. For example, in a park of introduced grasses, we find a corner that the mower couldn't reach where a few annual weeds flourish. We begin from this corner and move out. Or perhaps among all the annuals, we spot a few pioneers and begin carefully clearing the exotics from around them.
Slowly at first, the pioneer natives emerge creating shade, soil, microclimate, then the next stage in the succession, till finally, years into the process, the conditions are ripe for the re-emergence of the climax species. We will never know whether the seeds were introduced by a bird flying by or perhaps lay dormant beneath the soil waiting for conditions that allow their germination. But years into the Bradley Method of an area, to our amazement, climax native trees begin to emerge, perhaps unseen for generations and unremembered.
With each succeeding season the process becomes more vigorous and robust. By the time the spreading cover of burgeoning native vegetation reaches the erosion gully, it takes it in its stride.
The Bradley Method is more than a handy tool that teaches us how to repair the simplification that we have wrought. It also provides us with an extremely useful metaphor for the reclaiming of our own native wisdom. Buried under millennia of conditioning, suppressed by inquisitions, ridicule and doubt lie unimagined potentialities to reinhabit our interbeing with the world, to fully participate in the world once again.
It's no use to learn something new to accomplish this however. Merely to discard the false certainties of this age (of our triumph over nature}, to weed out our anthropocentrism is to create the conditions for healthy psyche to spring forth anew. We must learn only to discern and discard those exotic ideas which suppress our old ways of seeing to allow ancient knowing it's place in the sun. Of course we may wish to begin at once with the transformation of the CEO of some scumbag corporation. However, preaching to the choir is the way to go, strengthening and nurturing deep ecology wherever we see it emerge rather than attempt to transplant it into souls lacking the necessary nutrients and microclimate.
In the Council of All Beings we practice in the ways of old, the generosity to lend our voice, to lend an ear, to spare a sigh, to hear the tale of the many non-human beings of the Earth. Thus consciousness completes the cycle and ensures once again and again and again that this frontal lobe does not succeed in it's fevered excitement to leap forward and out of matter all together. Rooting ourselves in the wisdom of plant, allowing consciousness again and again to travel along, to open up the pathway to our source - through animal to plant, through plant to geology and sunlight, inviting the sunlight in the plants that fuels these fingers to dictate:
O humans,are you truly tired of our dance together? Have we not served each other well through the endlessness of our journey? Remember humans, remember.
Remember the vast abyss of time and that all of the poor certainties of your idealogies and religions are merely an expression of the last split second.
Remember humans, that you too are leaves on the tree of life. The sap of the tree pulses through your veins. Of course you can allow your being to glide down the stream. Invite yourself to slip back into and through the tree, into each other leaf and into the ground of being itself. All you need do is remember and slide juicy back into the flow.
The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age;...
The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my blood
In service to the larger pictures, deep ecologists surrender the momentary dreams of this recent time to offer our lives, our days, our minds to the service of plants and the animals and the species and communities and ecosystems and life support systems. Moment to moment, ritual by ritual, action by action, we surrender tiny human desires to the great lust of the universe to fashion itself ever more complex and subtle. Meaning and order emerge spontaneously. No need to strive, no need to build: community emerges "by itself" among those who thus surrender to the same larger picture. Like iron filings consenting to the stroke of the same ancient magnet, we fall easily into harmony and our actions may approach once again the divine greatness of the rest of the universe.
O Sweet Spontaneous Earth
how often have the doting fingers
of prurient philosophers
pinched and poked thee?
How often has the naughty thumb of science
prodded thy beauty?
How often have religions
taken thee upon their scraggy knees,
squeezing and buffeting
so that thou might conceive their gods?
But, true to the incomparable couch of death
(my rhythmic lover)
Thou answerest them
ee cummings (3)
For eternity, without the mixed blessing of thinking we spontaneously, instinctively, reflexively danced in harmony with the symphony of the Earth. Just think of it! Your ancestors, my ancestors, without thought for 4 billion years succeeded, succeeded! Each generation our ancestors managed to breed before being consumed, while at each step of the journey thousands, millions fell gladly by the wayside, spent, donating their flesh, the sunlight they had accumulated and stored, to those few at each step who carry the living flame forward.
To dwell upon such things is to allow the humility that blooms effortlessly in this medium. To allow the possibility of unmade synthesis and co-operation and mutual aid with countless beings who's surrender needs no thought is the beginning. To do this regularly is to join the shamans and healers of all times, the ceremonies of all natural peoples who thus remained in harmony with their world. They did not expel themselves as we have done into the cold illusions of separateness which may be the chief characteristic of our kind.
To surrender thus is to fall, not back, but forward into an age where the knowledge that we have gained (at what cost!) may once again be plowed back into the eternally fertile soil of this Earthly existence.
We make the path by walking:
You, walker, there are no roads
Only wind trails on the sea