It’s a lot like waking up
by Samuel Perry
We must not imagine that what we call “nature” is outside of us. When we come to rest and pay attention it is really very simple: the world is alive! And we are all part of it! The places we live, the communities we move within, the web of life that holds us; all of this is our body. When we separate ourselves from “nature” we can only experience dis-ease, suffering and alienation. When we see clearly how nature pervades us thoroughly, and how completely we pervade nature, the feeling is at once intimate and immediate—and here healing begins.
From this standpoint, everything we need is here. Right now. Medicine is everywhere. Do we have the eyes to see this? Where can we find the training to put this all into practice? There are of course many logical ways to get here—basic thought experiments that ask: Where does our food come from? Our water? Where does our waste go? We use expressions like “throw something away.” Where exactly is “away?” We know—at least with our minds—that we are not separate from our environment. Facing ecological crisis, our intention and action must come from this understanding. The sickness of the planet is our sickness. Healing is Whole.
When we don’t act from this viewpoint, what has happened? Perhaps we were tricked? Perhaps we fooled ourselves? We gave it up too cheap. This precious planet is not the property of human beings. Neither is this earth a collection of resources for the use of human beings. The belief that some special authority has given human beings dominion over the earth is a seductive and prevalent worldview. Watch out! And pay close attention. How often throughout the day can we detect this thinking patterning our minds? How often do we act from these assumptions?
To find out who we are, the first step is to learn where we are. It is a lot like waking up. Where are we? And who is here with us? The basics. We do well to be humble, to listen carefully to our elders: the trees, the grasses and the rivers—the ones who already seem to know where they are. To some people this sounds naïve or just silly. Then again, the cynical trading of ‘carbon credits’ as well as the spectacle of fake debates over ‘climate change,’ ‘sustainability’ and other marketable buzzwords seems hollow and absurd. Especially when we realize that the earth is our body.
The practice of plant medicine has been a part of human life since there has been human life. Knowing the plants (their names, their habits, their style!) that share our communities is at once the most basic of human skills and completely revolutionary. New Yorkers are the most sophisticated and elegant people I know but they can suddenly transform into awkward yokels when it comes to their thoughts about interacting with the natural world. Do we really believe that the healing medicine of the natural world may have been important in the past, but we are beyond that now? Do we think that maybe somewhere else plants are medicine, but not here? Maybe in the Amazon or in the Congo we imagine some magical cure exists, but not here in the middle of our city parks, crawling out from under our concrete crust. Are we convinced that there is nothing left of nature to look for?
We shouldn’t be tricked into thinking that we have to travel to distant lands. Or that somehow this level of connection was possible only in the past. We don’t have to wait for some perfect future for it to be true again. New Yorkers are blessed to live in possibly the most culturally diverse place on the planet. This is true for the plants too you know; representatives from all over the world are gathered here.
We will need training. We will have to study, to reconsider our habitual thinking, to open our minds, but we won’t need specialists and heavy equipment just yet. We simply have to realize that Nature hasn’t gone anywhere. Here we are.
Where are we? Who is here with us? Let’s begin.
About the author:
Local herbalist Samuel Perry delights in helping people learn to recognize and enjoy the huge diversity of medicinal plants and mushrooms that share our communities. He will be leading The Medicinal Mushroom and Plant walk series in Prospect Park, helping to train our attention to detail and deepen our intimacy with the natural world.