(Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash)
Through the Door
Late last autumn I felt an urgency to read beloved herbalist and researcher Stephen Harrod Buhner’s book, Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm. It is about the Imaginal realm…as in image, imagic, Im-magic, magical. It explores the liminal space where the interface between what is matter and what is life becomes thin, and energy is exchanged as consciousness and knowing, between something that is matter — or maybe alive — and living cells. In it he explores in the most scientific terms and from his own experience both, the layers and layers of connections of life on the planet, starting with the smallest forms. He describes from both a neurological and experiential perspective the depth perception that is possible between ourselves and the natural world, but that we have selectively turned off through cultural training and from lack of use. The book begins with bacteria, and demonstrates succinctly how aware, conscious and capable those minute creatures are, and what we owe to them. The pattern for almost all of our hormonal and neurological functioning was developed first in bacteria, then plants; and we still share much of that chemistry.
Quoting scientists from the highest branches of epidemiology, he shares insights into the adaptability of these wise life form that precede us. I remember thinking as I read, that many people, padded from life, or even from knowing much about their own bodies, much less other creatures that we share the planet with, would be terrified to learn how smart and capable these life forms are, and the depth of our connectedness with them. I already knew much of what he covered; even so, my reading left me astonished at the gap between what is real, and what our civilization will allow itself to know of what is real. The book pulled me on with an urgency that demanded I learn more — quickly. And then came covid-19.
Nature Talking Loudly.
Prepared by my reading, I found myself in a different state of mind than most around me, as this visitor entered our lives. Now a profound initiation enfolds us. After decades of prayer, ceremony, and hoping that something — something! — would come as an intervention to global warming, pollution, land abuse, and our way of life from which those stem, perhaps something has come. But do we recognize it, as it comes wrapped in a chrysalis that also bring horrific loss, pain and disruption? The opening is small, and we will have to continue to widen it with change after change in the way we live on our planet; but clear signals are offered to those who will listen, as we see plants and animals quickly reclaim spaces vacated by humans for such a short time. In stasis, there is no movement. Nature has sent us a brilliant, if painful intervention to our stasis. Now change is possible.
Viruses are not bacteria, but they can be messengers, and this one is an emissary with something we need to hear. They are part of the natural world, and intelligent in their ability to transform and adapt. Now, this incredibly small particle has humbled the people of the world, with it’s pervasive might.
- It has interfered with globalization — that system of trade that uses wage-slave labor to turn depleted resources into stuff, in order to funnel money upward to a very few, while leaving much of the planet in subsistence.
- It has shut down rampant consumerism for a moment, forcing us to ask ourselves: “How much stuff do we really need?”
- It has forced us to slow the frantic pace of external life, and look inward, to the mixed fear and wonder within us.
- It has temporarily shut down power-over sports, along with the huge carbon footprint that goes with each game of basketball, football or baseball.
- It has peeled back yet another veneer to reveal the core of racism in our institutions of food, wellness, and health-for-money.
And so much more.
This minute messenger of nature has shattered our normal. Our collectively toxic, planet damaging normal. It has given us a moment in time to see what the future will look like if we continue destruction of the biosphere, while offering us a momentary break from the breathless, obedient scramble of the past. In this pause, we have a chance to consider what we will have the fortitude and collective will to choose and make real for the future.
Another fascinating strand of connection in this spring has been signals that declare the earth is working with us, and sheltering us, in this opportunity. From last year into this one, I began to hear from other herbalists that some herbs were growing in greater abundance than usual. Was this signaling a bad flu year? Boneset, helpful with viruses; and elecampane and pleurisy root, both respiratory herbs, called to us from the land. The elderberry harvest was exceptional too. I usually make just a little elderberry syrup, and last year I found myself making several quarts of it. In retrospect, it’s as if we were responding to the wavefront of a large event, as we were gently but persistently told, “get ready, get ready.” Any virus that can create the global disruptions I listed above would probably be threatening to life and person, and we were being offered tools to do the work at hand. In that partnership, many lives were saved.
Now that the initial shock has receded, can we see this emissary as showing the way to possibility? What do we hear when we listen to this messenger, and what is the work we can do? The loss of life is grievous to us, and yet is part of the cycle of life-death-life. But this spring’s losses are a pittance compared to the scale of human death and suffering we will see if we continue to remove ourselves from the web of life of our earth home through pollution, resource extraction, and ecosystem abuse; not to mention the further viruses that will arise from these.
How do we greet this emissary’s message, and use this opportunity to create something new? How do we embrace this change, that makes life feel amorphous and uncertain, while many of the structures that supported us lie still in this moment? Are we willing to not know what the future looks like as we create the new, with intentions drawn from essence and based in principle, rather than from details not yet emerged?
In the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly there is a point at which the old form literally dissolves. How much of what is old and comfortable are we willing to release forever as we create new forms that serve humanity, and the earth, both? Challenging our own assumptions of “That’s just the way we’ve done it” (stasis), in favor of “What would it be like if…” will help us step through the portal, answering the call of this messenger to serve life. As it is for the caterpillar, it will probably be messy. In the mythic voyage of the hero-ine there is a dark night of the soul as the old paradigm is revealed as a poor container for the energies of the seeker; but if the journey is weathered, and loss of the Old Self is allowed, an ascension of some kind follows. Even now, a sea-change of consciousness ripples across the globe, as if seeds and spores of knowing that were dormant during decades of suppression now find conditions right, and grow above ground for all to see.
How can we nourish those seeds? How does an entire planet of people do this work together? I don’t know, but we are called to cross the threshold, and transform. As we answer the call, the the forces of nature will lead us: Guides for the journey, if we will align with them, and listen.