Stephen Buhner Is Listening to the Plants

imageLike the speaking stones celebrated by poets, herbs too have a voice of their own. Each one speaks within a community so vast and in a language so rich that, taken together, these natural miracle workers truly represent one of humanity’s greatest treasures.

by Angelo Druda

At some point in my career as a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, I realized I was relating to the herbs I was working with more as personalities than as chemical compounds. The more I saw their effects upon my clients, the more I began to appreciate their subtle, alchemical magic. Like the speaking stones celebrated by poets, herbs too have a voice of their own. Each one speaks within a community so vast and in a language so rich that, taken together, these natural miracle workers truly represent one of humanity’s greatest treasures.

I remember when I finally caught on to the true essence of ginseng, the most famous medicine in the Oriental Materia Medica. The more I worked with it, the more amazed I was by its ability to adapt itself to the needs of each particular person. If the kidneys were weak, ginseng would energize; if the heart was overactive, ginseng would calm it down. The plant—which is even shaped like the body of man—seemed to know what was required in each particular case. Noticing this remarkably intuitive capability, early practitioners of plant medicine coined the term “adaptogenic” for a whole group of these versatile, magical plants.

Working with these plants as an herbalist requires one to become, in a sense, part empirical scientist and part magician, and it is this mysterious play, with all its attendant sensual and intellectual pleasures, that makes the practice of herbal medicine so endlessly fascinating and rewarding. Stephen Buhner is an herbalist who knows this more than most. An award winning author and educator, Buhner is that rare kind of herbalist who not only knows and loves this magic, but is able to write about it in a manner that appeals equally to the poet, the scientist, and the engaged human that each of us natively is. Buhner’s writings on subtle anatomy, herbal medicine and the environment are some of the best we have.

In two of his most recent books, The Lost Language of Plants and The Secret Teachings of Plants, Buhner sounds an ominous warning about our current cultural and environmental predicament. At the same time, he inspires the reader with what he calls the “amazing natural patterning in which we are immersed, enmeshed, and most fundamentally healed.”

Buhner uses the words “lost” and “secret” in the titles of his books for good reason: the wisdom and holistic genius inherent in plants has been largely lost to the modern world, as have so many other forms of hard-won wisdom gained throughout our history. No generation in history has been subjected to more false teachings than ours. We live in a media-dominated age, where we are overwhelmed with sensory input from every direction. We process more information in a day than our ancestors did in a year. In the old days, cultural instruction was transmitted around the campfire in the form of stories and myths. The effect of these teachings—good or bad—was personal and local. In the modern media age, where the darkest distortions can be transmitted to billions of beings in a matter of moments, the effect is global. 

In one of his last public performances, the late George Carlin warned his audience that they, and the culture as a whole, had been infected by false teachings and lies. The audience laughed, but the message was clear: we are eating bullshit, and it is not good for us. The collective force of so many uninspected presumptions and points of view has overheated our brains, and grown our conceptual faculties to dangerous proportions. We have lost what our ancestors used to have: a perceptual, feeling relationship to the earth, the plants and each other. In its place, we have the modern thinking man, who knows no other way than to tear the world apart.

Among the many false teachings we have been fed in modern times, the dogma of scientific materialism remains one of the most prominent and destructive. Scientific enquiry is a great and necessary tool—that much is not in doubt. We get in trouble, however, when science’s conceptual beliefs become the dominating collective point of view. The thinking this orientation induces in us, by its very nature, becomes chronic. Man is moralized in his feeling heart—not his thinking mind.
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Over the course of his many years of service to humanity, the modern great sage, Adi Da Samraj, made it abundantly clear that this chronic thinking mind is not a virtue at all, but rather a dissociative, egoic imbalance with very real personal and collective consequences. This modern thinking mind, he wrote, is inherently reactive in nature, arising “From A Non-conceptual emotional-physical State of Doubt.”  This very disposition, he wrote in The Enlightenment of The Whole Body, actively dissociates us from reality.

The scientific, rationalist, intellectual and technological core-culture of our social order is the secret esoteric ‘Mother Church’ of the left brained congregation of ordinary people. It is through the growing and pervasive influence of this exclusively left brained esoteric or most highly developed core of our verbal culture that the holistic, intuitive, psychic, or right brained communion with the conditions and the Reality of our world is being gradually eliminated as a possibility.

This world of ours is not ultimately material—which means the separative, conceptual mind we make out of all our chronic thinking is not our true identity. We inhere in the context of light, being and consciousness, not matter. The presumed boundaries between rock and sky and man and nature are not real. They do not truly inhere in things themselves. We are not really separate from anything. This understanding, once it truly takes hold, profoundly changes our relationship to our natural circumstance and to each other. Stuck in the chronic mode of thinking, we fear what we see as separate from ourselves, and so we try, through all our misguided means, to control what is in front of us—whether it’s nature, other cultures, or each other. But to do so, as we can see in the signs of trouble all around us, can only end in destruction.

In The Lost Language of Plants, which was published a couple of years before Secret Teachings, Buhner offers his reality consideration on modern man’s management of the planet. The story, as we all know by now, is not good. Among other things, we are awash in toxins. Our drinking water is full of manufactured residues and pharmaceuticals. Nowadays, we all practice hormone replacement therapy, whether we like it or not, every time we drink from the tap. The chemicals we have come to rely upon to support our modern lifestyle, Buhner writes, do not just disappear when we throw them in the trash:

In their final manufactured form the environmental impact from pharmaceuticals continues through excretion, hospital wastes streams, and landfill dumping of expired drugs. Pharmaceuticals are inserting significant quantities of highly bioactive chemicals into soils and water throughout the world.

In his important study, The Hundred Year Lie, Randall Fitzgerald gave us a full picture of global toxicity. The Lost Language of Plants paints a similar picture. The indestructible synthetic drugs we are pumping into the earth are disrupting a delicate natural symbiosis upon which human life depends. They are also damaging the natural growth pattern of human beings. We have already disrupted our natural habitat to an alarming degree. As Buhner writes, the time for correction is now.
Looking at how the problems and excesses of our time relate to the very stuff of life, The Lost Language of Plants provides an essential understanding of where we are at as a species, and what can be done to arrest our slide. Buhner deserves to be read. Right understanding is the beginning of change. 

As Buhner reminds us, plants provide the best foods and medicines for man and the earth he inhabits. Plant habitats must be preserved. The whole survival struggle of plants in nature can be found in the chemistry they create. The bioactive chemicals that result—whether nutritional, antiseptic, antibiotic, or anti-inflammatory—can be transferred to humans. After all, we too are a part of nature, and confront a similar survival struggle as plants do. To illustrate the point, Buhner points out the wonders of plant terpenes, a large group of hydrocarbons found in the oils of plants. Terpenes, he writes, “purify the air, modulate plant emergence, enhance the respiration of the plant community, feed into mycelial networks, and play an essential role in the formation of humic acid.”

According to Buhner, this is prime evidence of how plants are, by their nature, working for the greater good. Plants, he says, “exist not for themselves alone; they create and maintain the community of life on Earth, they produce the chemistries all life needs to live, and they heal other living organisms that are ill.”

But for plants’ many interwoven functions to be able to work their restorative magic, Buhner writes, balance needs to be restored to the environments in which they exist:
Ecosystems, to be healthy, must be composed of many plants that

are working together in such close-knit communal relationships. There is in such systems, always a diversity of plant species and a diversity of
functional types. The larger the number of plants with diverse chemistries that occupy the largest number of ecosystem functional categories, the more vital and healthier the ecosystem.

{pagebreak} In The Secret Teachings of Plants, Buhner does his best to counteract some of the prevailing materialistic fundamentalism by singing his own song of the body electric. The back cover of the book describes Buhner as an “Earth poet”, and in this book he offers us a good deal of the poet’s hope and inspiration. The book opens like a poem, and then gradually develops into a guided meditation. Buhner leads us into the unfathomable plastic that is conditional existence, skillfully describing the chemical and electro magnetic life of the cells. It is inspiring, excellent reading.

The core of the book contains Buhner’s writings on the heart itself. His descriptions of the functioning of the human heart, and the spiral circulation of the blood, were music to my ears. It is here, painting his picture of unity, relationship and interconnectedness, that he is at his best: 

The whole body is cradled within the electromagnetic field generated by the heart. The information embedded within that field is communicated to the external world through electromagnetic waves reaching out from the body. It is communicated within the body through the blood stream, which conducts electromagnetic impulses throughout the body.

He goes on to say: 

But the heart is not only concerned with its interior world. Its electromagnetic field allows it to touch the dynamic electromagnetic fields created by other
living organisms and to exchange energy. Like all nonlinear systems that display self-organization and emergent behaviors, the heart is supremely sensitive to external perturbations that may affect its dynamic equilibrium. The heart not only transmits field pulses of electromagnetic energy, it also receives them, like a radio in a car. And like a radio, it is able to decode the information embedded within the electromagnetic fields it senses. It is, in fact, an organ of perception.

In these passages, Buhner reveals an esoteric secret formerly reserved for serious doctors and spiritual practitioners: the heart, not the brain, is the true seat of feeling and consciousness. The idea that human consciousness is somehow a product of chemical processes in the brain is, to state it bluntly, wrong. Human consciousness is a kind of “step-down” modification of infinite consciousness, and it is the heart and not the brain that is the true organ of perception. In the modern world, we are taught to exercise our brains, not our feeling hearts. And this is the source of all our trouble.

This “linear mind”, as Buhner calls it, has made us destructive exiles in our own garden world. In The Secret Teachings of Plants, Buhner uses his extremely compelling observations of cells, plants and the living system around us to get our attention. Once he has us tuned in, he then artfully works to draw us out of this linear mind and into the feeling realm of the heart. This is no easy task for a writer—or any artist, for that matter—but this is their necessary work. Now, more than ever, humanity requires the clarifying voice of true artists and educators. 

As the great teachers of mankind have always instructed, the mind must fall into the heart. Humanity must wake up to the unity of all things. At the end of The Secret Teaching of Plants, Buhner offers exercises and guided mediations that are intended to help us do just that. We are called in these exercises to stop, breathe, and simply feel the biosphere in which we exist. It is sound advice for any moment.

Every single human being is utterly dependent on plants for healing and sustenance. The symbiotic relationship we share is utterly unique, an emotional and psychic connection that goes beyond the physical. Nature responds to our essential human needs through the plants. We are evolving together. Buhner wants us to rediscover this shared growth and change. For the sake of humanity, he wants to restore that living intimacy to all our lives.

There is no arguing with what Buhner has to say. We have to restore our right relationship to the world around us before it is too late. Our survival in this human form is completely dependent upon a right cooperative relationship to the greater pattern in which we exist. Even so, nature, in and of itself, is not the God that humanity so sorely needs to embrace. Nature can bathe our olfactory senses with exquisite perfumes one day and wipe out hundreds of thousands of innocent creatures the next. There is no lasting peace in nature. Humanity’s ultimate liberation lies in the realization of the radiant transcendental consciousness in which nature inheres—that ultimate reality to which Buhner’s excellent books always seem to be pointing us.

Angelo Druda, author of The Tao of Rejuvenation, is the Health and Sexuality editor of DharmaCafé. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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