The Secret Teachings of Plants (Anglais) Broché – 27 octobre 2004
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We in the West have been immersed in a particular mode of cognition the past hundred years, a mode defined by its linearity, it tendency to reductionism, and an insistence on the mechanical nature of Nature. This mode of cognition, the verbal/intellectual/ analytical (VIA), is now the dominant one in Western culture.
There is, however, another mode of cognition, one our species has used during the majority of its time on this planet--the holistic/ intuitive/ depth (HID) mode of cognition. Its expression can be seen in how ancient and indigenous peoples gathered their knowledge about the world in which they lived and how they gathered knowledge of the uses of plants as medicines.
All ancient and indigenous peoples said that they learned the uses of plants as medicines from the plants themselves. For, they insisted, the plants can speak to human beings if only human beings will listen and respond to them in the proper state of mind. Gathering of knowledge directly from the wildness of the world is called biognosis--meaning “knowledge from life”--and, because it is inherent in our very physical bodies, it is something that everyone has the capacity to develop. It is something, in fact, that all of us use (at least minimally) without awareness in our day-to-day lives. It is a way of being that is concerned with our interconnection to the web of life that surrounds us, with wholeness rather than parts, with the very human journey in which we are all engaged.
Prologue to Part Two
The woman who had come to see me was tentative at the door, hesitant. Her eyes were nervous, quick, lines of worry surrounding them. She eddied in the door like a wisp of smoke, whispered across the room, and hovered lightly in the chair. She was forty-five years old, short, thin and wiry. Her skin was pale, washed out, hair a brown, not-flowing shadow of life. Just there.
She had come because she could not breathe. She had asthma.
She began telling me her life in many languages. In words. In the small flutterings of her hands. In intonations, the rise and fall of her voice as she spoke. In the slight shifts of her body, in the tiny patterns of emotion that crossed her face.
Her asthma had come on suddenly with no prior history. It had been almost twenty years now. Her medications were many, expensive. Laden with side effects.
I responded to her gesturings of communication. Talked with part of my mind
hearing her speak of her life
while another part looked deeper, seeking the path the disease had taken in her. Searching for traces of its truth.
Her chest caught my attention, standing forth of its own accord. Beckoning.
My attention centered there and I breathed into it, letting my awareness move deeper, touching its shape. Feeling my way. I felt an overwhelming urge to cry. And then my chest began to feel tight. The muscles clenched, closed down. I began to hunch over slightly, curl around myself. My chest hollowed and I began to breathe high up, rapidly, in small quick bursts, my breathing a tiny bird, fluttering against the walls of my chest.
I began to feel afraid then, slightly hysterical.
I calmed myself, breathed more deeply. Sat back in my chair. Felt a wave of relaxation flow through my muscles. Slowly, one-by-one they unclenched.
I let myself care for her then. Sent out a wave of caring from me to her. Let it touch her chest, hold it in the hollow of caring hands. Waited. . . waited. . . waited. Breathing slowly, softly, calmly. Into her chest. . . .
I saw her sink more deeply into the chair, her muscles beginning to relax. Her skin tone was changing, the muscles and skin itself softening. Her face relaxed. And she took a deep breath. There was a slight wheezing sound. Then she took another, and deeper, breath. Her chest began to open up slightly, the muscles letting go. . . .
My attention focused on the lungs, my seeing alive to every part that had been revealed to me. I reached into her lungs with my caring then. Directed the living, feeling field of my heart to hold them, envelop them. My caring moved deeply within her lungs, interweaving with their tissues, holding them, all of us now suspended in a living moment of time. Then, still holding them, still present with them, I turned a part of my attention at a slight angle, sent it out into the world. Sent out a request for help, a prayer from my deepest being, my earnest need flowing out through this channel I had opened into the world. At the same time I kept a living channel open through me into the living reality of her lungs. . . .
I felt that living communication flowing from us going out, its field spreading wide, touching the living reality of the world. I felt the living intelligence there, deeply embedded in its own work, its own living. Then as it felt my touch upon it, and seeing that my appeal was genuine, it quickened, awakened, and turned toward me and saw. A living flow of energy came back through the channel I had opened between us. A deep caring and loving, coming from the wildness of the world. . . .
And into my mind flashed an image of skunk cabbage as I had seen it last. Standing powerful and green, luminescent in wetland forest. . . . You find skunk cabbage while walking deep in wetland bogs and shadowed forest. For it belongs to an ancient world, ancient long before humans walked or talked or breathed. You must wear boots when you go to find it, and dirty clothes. Skunk cabbage is not a plant for white shirts, not a plant for the fastidious.
we’re going to get dirty on this one
Revue de presse
“Buhner’s writings are a powerful call for people to work together to restore the sacredness of Earth.” (Brooke Medicine Eagle, author of Buffalo Woman Comes Singing)
". . . Stephen Harrod Buhner reveals the use of direct perception in understanding nature, medicinal plants, and the healing of disease. . . . This book is a must read for any nature lover." (Share Guide, Mar-Apr, 2005)
"Science and spirituality blend in an intriguing ecological assessment of what the plant world can teach us." (The Midwest Book Review, April, 2005)
". . . how to achieve heart-based perception, and how to learn the medicinal uses of plants directly from the plants themselves." (The Burlington Free Press, Feb. 27, 2005)
“I learned more from part one of this magnificent book than from any source in years. Buhner writes of complex discoveries in neuroscience and neurocardiology with clarity and coherence. Encompassing the highest spiritual insights of such giants as Blake, Goethe, and Whitman, part two is worthy poetry in itself, offering readers a unique way to move into transcendent realms. Of the truly great books appearing today, The Secret Teachings of Plants is easily the most rewarding I have had the privilege of reading.” (Joseph Chilton Pearce, author of The Biology of Transcendence)
“In this wonderful book Stephen Buhner shows us that the heart is not a machine but the informed, intelligent core of our emotional, spiritual, and perceptual universe. Through the heart we can perceive the living spirit that diffuses through the green world that is our natural home. Required reading for all owners of a heart.” (Matthew Wood, herbalist and author of The Book of Herbal Wisdom)
“Beautifully written, The Secret Teachings of Plants is a work of art--as much a poetical journey into the essence of plants as it is a guidebook on how to use plant medicine in our healing practices. Stephen Buhner is among the plant geniuses of our time. Like Thoreau and Goethe and Luther Burbank, the master gardeners and “green men” he so liberally quotes throughout, Buhner will be long remembered for his deep and introspective connection with the green world and for his ability to connect us to the heart of the plants through his teachings.” (Rosemary Gladstar, author of Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal and founder of United Plant Sav)
“A ‘must read’ for herbalists, healers, gardeners, nature lovers, and anyone who has ever been moved to tears by the everyday miracles of life.” (Susun S. Weed, author of Healing Wise)
"The Secret Teachings of Plants offers ways to bypass the linear intelligence of the brain and tap into the nonlinear intelligence of the heart. . . . enables people to gather information directly from nature for diagnosing and treating illnesses, as well as for developing connections with the natural world." (Richard D. Wright, Tranquil Things, New Age Retailer, Holiday 2005)
"If you work directly with plants, as a gardener or in herbal and alchemical practices, and want to cultivate a more intimate view of them or simply want to better enjoy your time spent outside and among growing and green things, The Secret Teachings of Plants will help you do both. (Mark Stavish, Institute for Hermetic Studies, April 2006)
"This book is part poetry, part sicence . . . There is an energy that overcomes and refreshes." (Loretta, Widewest blog, Feb 2010)
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There is a great, and little explored puzzle: virtually every known group of humans has developed sophisticated plant-based medicines and agents for altering states of consciousness. Many are only used in complex mixtures. Too much of one ingredient and not enough of another, and the concoction is either inert or toxic. Yet to have found all these plants and all of their combinations by trial and error would have taken armies or researchers and hundreds of thousands of years. Throughout the world, traditional healers report that they learned about these properties from the plants themselves. They speak of using intuition and the "intelligence of the heart" for the direct perception of nature. Stephen Buhner suggests that this perception comes from the neural network within the physical heart that beats in our chests.
Throughout the book he presents countless examples of people from Thoreau to Luther Burbank and Goethe, who saw deeply into Nature, not through the intellect, but through the heart. He shows us how these people obtained their direct knowledge. It is very clear that Stephen Buhner is not reciting something that he read, but he is telling us about his own direct and deep perception of Nature. He explains how we can all share in this communion with Nature. He goes on to teach us how we, like the shamans of old, can learn the medicinal uses of plants directly from the plants themselves. He also shows us how this opening up to the world of plants can have profound effects upon us.
The fundamental premise is extremely interesting and the second part of the book is excellent. So why "only" four stars? There are two reasons. First, I am not convinced that the connection between living beings can be reduced to electromagnetic fields. The author had some excellent material, but seems almost to lose his nerve, and to try too hard to find a "scientific" explanation for his observations, while not giving enough credence to the evidence suggesting that the web of life is a more subtle underlying property of the Universe.
The second is the style of his writing. He describes the first half of the book as linear and the second half as not. He calls the two halves systole and diastole, to reflect the major cycles of the heart. And he invites the reader to read the book in any order. He tries quite deliberately to move away from a linear, verbal and analytical presentation. Many of the pages are broken up by italicized words or phrases on separate lines and quotations, poems and comments that don't always seem to be in the right place. It may be that he is trying to stir us up and make us think. Or rather to not think: to apply our intuition to his words. But it can make reading a little difficult.
Despite my two quibbles, I hope that this book is widely read for its stories, anecdotes and Buhner's encyclopedic knowledge about plants. It is an interesting but not always an easy read.
Buhner's book can be divided into two distinct parts. In the first half of the book, Buhner explores the ideas of linear versus nonlinear thought. He explains that nature is a culmination of fractal patterns and fluctuations, and extrapolates this idea into the concept of the human thought process. According to Buhner, the brain thinks linearly, defined by logic, language and life experience, but the heart has its own vibrational consciousness. When the heart is used as an organ of perception, the entire body is healthier and more in tune with its natural surroundings. I related to the story about the author's exposure to nature after living in the suburbs, which immediately brought up memories of my own childhood and similar feelings about being in natural versus manmade surroundings.
The second half of the book is devoted to applying the concept of heart consciousness to communication with plants and with people. He explains how native peoples around the world have learned over time to use plants for medicine, ritual and food - when asked, they always say they learned from the plants themselves. In this section I found some very powerful, unique concepts about plants. One was the idea that a person's deep-seated need will be communicated through their energy, expressed via the heart consciousness, and that plants respond to this on various levels. They not only begin to produce medicinal chemicals in response to the need, but they respond and tell the person how to use them. Buhner explores methods of communicating with plants and shows how to bring about an open dialogue for learning from the plant itself. He then goes on to show that this heart communication with the plant can also be used in the same way to communicate as a healer with people, their disease, and their organs. This type of communication involves a spiritual link with the person seeking healing and involves much introspection and time on the healer's part. He teaches how to use all of your senses to perceive information about a patient on many different levels and how to integrate this information into a complete picture, finally feeling for the right plant to heal that person.
In Buhner's paradigm, to be a healer you must be completely honest and in touch with yourself and your heart in order to be able to communicate with other sentient beings. He concludes the book by exploring how to access this heart consciousness through introspection. Part of this is undoing the damage of socialization and education so that we come closer to our primitive state and feel with our hearts - until we think with our hearts and there is no difference between thinking and feeling. Thus linear thinking is abolished and the individual is in true communion with all living beings. Buhner ends with a series of exercises for "refining the heart as an organ of perception."
Reading this book has been a defining moment in my education, not only as a Naturopath, but as a spiritual being. Although parts of the book were somewhat tedious and not well written, the ideas expressed therein spoke to me on a deep level. I have always felt drawn to plants and natural environments, and have had a communicative, interactive experience with the few plants I have been fortunate enough to cultivate and learn about. Being in a medical school and focusing on linear, scientific methodology has sometimes taken me away from the path of spirit that I feel more comfortable with Buhner's book helped refresh in my conscious mind what I have always known to be true - I must think and feel with my heart in order to be true to myself and those around me.
Though there are so many people in society today that take credit for something that has, in fact, been around for years, this is not the case with Stephen Buhner. His intentions are genuine as he writes for and about Nature. He never claims ownership of any of the ideas presented in his book, rather, he takes the words of the wise people who came long before him, and weaves them eloquently through-out his own, demonstrating how the idea of the heart as an organ of perception is not new. That we all have the capability, it has simply been unintentionally taught out us out.
I am also the Director of a medical research foundation, and often times I am appalled by how close minded so many in the realm of medicine/science can be. Though their intentions may once have been sincere, the unfortunate truth is, somewhere along the way, their motivations changed and they lost the ability to see the big picture.
I highly recommend this book. Society is ready for this book. The environment needs for society to read this book. I found the following quote by G. Leonard, in Mu Soeng's commentary on the Heart Sutra, and I think it is appropriate to insert it here:
At the heart of each of us, whatever our imperfections, there exists a silent pulse of perfect rhythm, a complex of waveforms and resonances, which is absolutely individual and unique, and yet which connects us to everything in the universe. The act of getting in touch with this pulse can transform our personal experience and in some way alter the world around us.
By reading this book, perhaps we can learn to come out of our heads, and back into our hearts. By doing so, I am hopeful we, like Stephen Buhner, will be able to feel once again, hear what Nature has to teach us...and listen.
Buhner's book is about plants, but more than that it is about the human heart and its capacity to understand more than the head. The heart does indeed have its own reasons, and has much to communicate if we would listen. As one who has a deep affinity for living organisms especially, birds, dogs, cats, and trees, and having lived with said creatures all my life and knowing for a fact that they all communicate with me, I do not believe that humans are the "be all end all" they believe themselves to be no matter how much they have recorded their own self importance in ancient texts. In the end, belief is belief, but Buhner suggests there is much one may be missing if she does not listen to her heart. THE SECRET TEACHING OF PLANTS is a delicious wonderful treat, and I have taken weeks to read and reread a man who may indeed be a reincarnation of Thoreau or Goethe.
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