In truth don’t know all that much about plants – but I am still going to write a piece about plants!
For me summer 2016 was dedicated to learning about wild plants and communicating with plants and trees. We had just bought our dream house in Sweden. It is set on a huge rock in a pristine forest, on the Baltic coast just south of Stockholm. I spent a lot of time in the forest and walking down farm tracks. I also read some thought-provoking books written by people who have dedicated their lives to plants.
My key learnings about plants and trees in general were that
a) They live in communities
b) Unlike human beings they have no ego
c) They are genetic shape shifters with many strategies in place for coping with the unexpected
Here are a few more discoveries:
Trees and plants will send nourishment to specimens that are struggling.
Every plant community has some highly unusual species, often written off was “waste” or “random and useless” by clever humans. But actually those plants will often literally save the day when extreme circumstances (or even catastrophes) occur.
The larger picture I slowly gained was of plants as true teachers about community values, even Life and Death!
(Great Marsh Thistle)
Indigenous peoples speak of something they call Original Instructions the ancient teachings for sustainable living that are safeguarded and maintained by indigenous (tribal) peoples. Sometimes those original instructions are referred to as The Law.
One night after a blissful day of plant-studies I had a dream where a plant community appeared as ‘the school play’, where all pupils in a class were allocated roles, robes and props. But when the curtains fell the kids were just kids again and next year they’d all be allocated different roles and robes. The child who was the star of the show this year might have only a minor role next year and so forth. That way the children learned not to over-identify with their roles.
Sitting out in the forest, or walking the farm track, I started seeing glimpses of plant and tree communities where all members play the role that is required of them to keep the collective healthy, balanced, fertile and vital.
In contrast to such eco-systens we human beings live in ego-systems. We become attached to our roles and over-identify with them. Not unlike the child starring in the school play refusing to take off his or her crown when the curtains close, reality comes calling and a reshuffle is in order. We stay put! We dig our heels in! We push others aside or speak disparagingly of them. (Just watch politicians on the world stage right now!)
(Orange Rowan Berries)
To thrive human beings need to find meaning in what happens to them. They (WE!) need to feel valued, needed and appreciated for the unique contribution we make to the larger whole. This is fair and it is not an ego-need. I would call this a need of the human soul instead: to evolve in reciprocal partnership with All That Is (all sentient beings including non-human beings). However, when we human beings cling to our roles, we become attached to them. We call this ‘ambition’ and ‘career progress’. Often we end up standing in the way of a new generation, younger voices, fresh ways of thinking and shaping reality.
Remember that some plants are annuals: they die and re-seed themselves. Others are perennials. This allows for fresh constellations of ‘known’ and ‘new’ elements every year., in response to environmental conditions. One thing that plants and trees can teach us is how to die with grace. To leave when it is our time to go but also to return (or re-seed) when and where we are needed.
Because plants live by eco-principles (not egoic drives), whatever they do is in service to the larger whole, the greater good. Within that some flower extravagantly and others cook up mighty poisons. And some plants do both!
Plants have roots and they wilt the moment they lose their roots. Many humans today try hard to thrive without knowing and honouring their roots or their ancestors.
So… if plants really are the keepers of the Law, of the Original Instructions, then I sense that we can learn the following lessons from plants:
– Eco not Ego
You cannot thrive if you pollute or disregard your environment
– Living in communities
We can greatly enjoy the roles we are asked to play – but we need to be ready to hand our robes and crowns to others when the time comes. And often a new role awaits when we do so…
– The weirdest, most unprepossessing plants often save the day when catastrophe strikes
What if we take that teaching to heart and accept the mirror it holds up: how can the disabled, the sick, the elderly, the dispossessed save our planet today? What keys do they hold that we are not seeing? (What if we miss out on medicine that can save our planet because it comes from – say – a black lesbian autistic herbalist – rather than a medical doctor?)
What if a young child sees new ways forward?!
Where are we NOT looking?
What are we thoughtlessly disregarding (or not aware of at all?)
– Individualism gone mad has no place in any eco-system
Plants show a vast array of individual expressions, colours, shapes, behaviour and adaptations. Even secrets, tricks and strategies! But plant spirits know that individualism gone mad has no place in the eco-system (it is an expression of an ego-system).
Today my question is: are we willing to learn fron plants and trees?
It is time to pay more attention to non-human teachers in our efforts to save the planet and arrive at sustainable ways of living?
I think so! I will spend summer 2017 in the same place learning more and I may well write another piece about my discoveries.
Imelda Almqvist, 5 April 2017
About the author:
Imelda Almqvist’s book Natural Born Shamans: A Spiritual Toolkit For Life (Using shamanism creatively with young people of all ages) was published by Moon Books on 26th August 2016. She is based in London,UK and teaches shamanism and sacred art internationally.
Check out TRUE NORTH (the school of Sacred Art and Norse Shamanism Imelda is opening in this location in Sweden in 2018):