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Speaking of Plants

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Have you ever taken time to go outside and just sit next to a big old oak tree? Did you feel anything, hear anything? Some people have an impassioned relationship with trees and believe it is possible to take energy and learn from them.

Have you ever taken time to go outside and just sit next to a big old oak tree? Did you feel anything, hear anything? Some people have an impassioned relationship with trees and believe it is possible to take energy and learn from them.

Ethnobotanists, who study how plants are used as food, discovered that cultures geographically separated by great distances simultaneously discovered similar medicinal qualities in the same plant. For example, the Marsh Arabs of Iraq and the First Nations of South America, Mexico, and California both used tule reeds for watercraft. Similarly, the Saami people of northern Scandinavia and Siberia gather sweet grass for their basketry designs, as do the Ojibwa and other First Nations of North America. How did this happen?

Connected to the Plant World

Ancient people learned of the nature of some of these plants by being acutely aware of their surroundings and paying close attention to what animals were and were not eating. Within their communities, curanderos, shamans, and traditional healers developed immense knowledge of the plant world and taught others of the essence of the plant and its role in healing. These gifted medicine people were highly revered and valued because of their knowledge of the plant world.
When a member of a community fell ill, the shaman would use ancient mystical rituals of plant spirit medicine through drumming, chanting, or dancing to enter a trance-like state where plants would whisper or speak, teaching him or her the proper plants to use for healing. Sometimes plants were eaten, made into tea, used as a poultice, or used as an amulet for protection. Many years have passed and fewer traditional healers remain, but we are fortunate that wisdom continues to be shared among cultures.

Making Your Own Connection

We can enhance our own experience with trees, plants, and flowers by spending time outside. Begin by learning to sense your spiritual response to different natural environments. How do you feel during a walk in the forest? Compare that to how you feel during a walk through the long grass of an open field. Sit in silence near a grove of old trees.

Pick a day when the weather is comfortable enough to sit outside in the same spot for a while. Select a fairly natural, untouched area where you enjoy spending time. Begin by taking a few deep breaths to ground yourself. Find a plant or tree that you feel drawn to. Sit close to it and explore its texture, appearance, and smell, and jot down some of your observations in a notebook. If you enjoy drawing, sketch a picture of it.

Try closing your eyes and sit with it for a while. See if you can "feel" something from it, or even try to ask it a question. In some North American First Nations traditions it would be appropriate to first ask the plant or tree for permission to take some of its time and then afterwards leave a small offering like tobacco.

The point, though, is to explore and enjoy the experience and have some fun with it. If you don't feel anything the first time, keep trying. Maybe the next time you'll be able to tap into the wisdom of plant spirit medicine.

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