We humans have a special relationship and dependence on plants. Since our beginnings, they have been the source both directly and indirectly of our food, our shelter, our medicines, our fuel, our clothing, and of course the very oxygen that we breathe. This is common knowledge and in general we take if for granted. Yet we view plants in our Western culture as semi-inanimate, lacking the animating force labelled soul, mind, or spirit. Many people ridicule and regard as eccentric those who speak up and say they communicate with plants. You only have to recall the popular reaction to Prince Charles’s comments saying that he often did just that.
The biggest challenge for a Westerner undertaking this communion with the plants is to accept that there is another order of nonmaterial reality that a person can experience through his entrance into plant consciousness, and to do this requires a significant leap of the imagination. We are all born into the social paradigm that surrounds us, with all its beliefs, myths, and institutions that support its view of the world, and it is not within our worldview to accept the immaterial and irrational. Before we embark on this journey to the plant mind, then, we first need to examine some of our most deeply ingrained assumptions, assumptions still fostered by many of our religious and social institutions today. The starting place for this journey is we ourselves.
HomoSapien-centricity is a strange looking word but perhaps an appropriate one to describe the concept that many of us, consciously or not, carry within us: that we humans are the most important (and maybe even the only) conscious and self-aware, that is, ensouled beings in the universe. For shamans the world that we perceive through our senses is just one description of a vast and mysterious unseen, and not an absolute fact. Black Elk, In John G. Neihardt’s book, Black Elk Speaks , the Oglala Sioux medicine man, remarked, that beyond our perception is “the world where there is nothing but the spirits of all things. It is behind this one, and everything we see here is something like a shadow from that world.”
How can we enter into a communion (in the true sense of the word) with the plant consciousness or soul? This can indeed be difficult, as we in our culture have long forgotten this understanding and body of knowledge. However we can learn from those peoples who still live within a paradigm that our physical forms are illusions, and beyond that we are all connected and no different from all things. Modern physics which recognises the underlying nature of form and matter as an energy which pervades and informs the universe is saying the same as the ancient shamans, “reality is an illusion, albeit a persistent one” Albert Einstein (Alice Calaprice. The Expanded Quotable Einstein. )
These are the peoples referred to by the Alberto Villoldo as those who were never ejected from the Garden of Eden (unlike us). It is clearly a good way to learn and study from the shamans of the Amazon rainforest where this knowledge is still alive and from those who still live in the mythological Garden of Eden. One of the great plant teachers is Ayahuasca, also called the ‘Vine of the Soul’.
Ayahuasca is a combination of two plants (although other plants are added to elicit certain visionary experiences or healing purposes). This mixture of two plants the Ayahuasca vine and the Chacruna leaf, operate in a specific manner with our neuro-chemistry. The leaf contains the neuro transmitters of the tryptamine family (identical to those present in our brain) and the vine itself acts as an inhibitor to prevent our body’s enzymes from breaking the tryptamines down thereby making it inert. Science defines this as the MAOI effect (Monoamine Anti Oxide Inhibitor) and forms the basis for many of the widespread anti-depressant pharmaceutical medication such as Prozac and Seroxat. This MAOI principal was only discovered by Western Science in the 1950’s, yet interestingly this very principle has been known by the plant shamans for thousands of years, and when you ask the shamans how they knew this, the response is invariably “the plants told us”.
The Sacred Doorways to the Soul
The plants have in my subjective experiences have been a doorway to my place in the great field of consciousness. I am aware that subjective experience is not regarded as scientific, but at the end of the day, all our experiences are subjective and reality is not always that consensual as we believe it to be. It is somewhat of a paradox that the leading edge of modern science, Quantum Mechanics has also arrived at this conclusion and describes a mind-bending reality in which we are all both alive and dead at the same time. Quantum particles (the very basis of matter) exhibit the properties of bi-locality i.e. exist at different locations in the universe at the very same time transcending vast distances of many thousands of light years.
With the visionary plant doorways opening to the wider field of consciousness my experience and personal revelation is, that I am a discrete element in this great field, a unique frequency or wavelength amongst infinite others and that all these are vibrating in a vast wavelength of ecstatic harmony. I understand the purpose of my human existence is to be just simply human, and embrace the unique experience of human emotions and feelings. I have learned that my soul is not separate and is integral to me. Expressed differently, I am part of this soul, which has the appearance of form. My soul is outside of physical time, space, and itself a component of an ineffable and indescribable existence in infinity.
My first real encounter with the plant world of the shamans was when I first arrived in the Amazon some twelve years ago. The moment I stepped off the aeroplane in Iquitos it felt as if I had been hit by bolt of energy. I felt so energised that I didn’t sleep for two days, my senses were at a heightened state of awareness, and it felt as if I could hear the heartbeat of the rainforest itself.
Iquitos is a city in the Amazon rainforest, there are no roads (completed anyway) to it. The only way to get there is via aeroplane or by river boat. The city in the 19th century was the centre of the Rubber industry but by the early 20th century the rubber trade had moved to the Far East, and the city had fallen into neglect and disrepair. It is now a place without an apparent purpose resplendent in its post-colonial splendour literally in the middle of nowhere, a true frontier town.
I recall my first moments in Iquitos standing on the Malecon at the edge of the city overlooking the river and some 3000 miles of pure rainforest spread out in front of me, an exhilarating experience which still fills me with wonder and awe.
I had come to Iquitos out of a long-standing interest and desire to experience at first hand the living tradition of plant spirit medicines and of course, the magical brew of Ayahuasca of which I had heard so much about.
I was not to be disappointed; my first sessions with a shaman in an open jungle clearing changed my view and understanding of life, a spiritual epiphany. I experienced being in the very centre of creation. I had the realisation and experience that I was not separate but an intrinsic part, a discrete element in the vast cosmic mind or field of consciousness, and that we were all connected. All part of the one great mind, and our experience of ‘separateness’ was no more than an illusion, generated by our being in our bodily vehicle which housed our senses.
One of my most profound experiences in an Ayahuasca ceremony, when I found myself transported to what I felt as the centre of creation. I was in the cosmos witnessing totality, planets, stars, nebulas, and universes forming. Everywhere stretched vast patterns of intricate geometric and fluid complexity constantly changing size and form. The chanting of the shaman was filling every cell with an electric force, every port of my body was vibrating and it felt as if I was being bodily lifted into the air. I was in a temple of sound, vibration and bliss. Gathered around me were giants in ornate costumes of gold and multi-coloured feathers blowing smoke and fanning me, these were the spirits of Ayahuasca, and then this soft gentle and exquisitely soft and sensual voice spoke to me of creation and the universal mind.
To reinforce this poetic insight, the words appeared before me in bold neon like script. When I related this after the session to the maestro said, “Ayahuasca wanted you to understand”, and he continued; “Ayahuasca opens doors to different dimensions. Often the mind can be obstructed from accessing inner knowledge. Ayahuasca can open up the mind to abstract things that cannot be seen in the material world. If I hadn’t had the experience, I would not be able to believe that a tree could have its own world or have a spirit. But when you begin to discover these dimensions personally, little by little you begin to recognise and accept the mystery of it.”
Howard G. Charing, is an accomplished international workshop leader on shamanism. He has worked some of the most respected and extraordinary shamans & healers in the Andes, the Amazon Rainforest, and the Philippines. He organises specialist retreats to the Amazon Rainforest at the dedicated centre located in the Mishana nature reserve. He is the author of the best selling book, Plant Spirit Shamanism (Destiny Books USA).