Do you remember how you felt about the world when you were little? How did you think about the sky, the birds, the trees and animals?
My guess is, if you travel back in your mind and really think about it, you felt much more wonder and connection to those things than you do now. Maybe you saw them more as kin than other, more as friend and equal than separate and object.
Why was that? And why did it change?
At some point, all children learn that the trees will not talk back to them, and that wild things should be left alone. We separate ourselves.
But do you remember how it was, before?
What was that thing we lost, exactly? It flickers at the edges of the mind, gone as soon as we look in its direction. A shadow, or a spark of light. Something pulling at the core.
For now, let's call that thing a knowing. An understanding. A comprehension in our bones of how inextricably linked we are to the rest of the world and everything in it. Maybe the glimmer of that web of connection is bright and fresh and sparkling when we're born, but fades a little with every year, if we let it, until we can't feel our way back. We can lose our sense of home, of belonging to the land we walk on.
I think many of us sense this loss on some level. It's like we dropped something very important somewhere, something of immense value, but we can't remember what it was or where we might have lost it, and we can't afford to stop and look for it because we have to just keep going.
I remember that first time I realized I'd lost something.
I was home for a break from college. My life had become numbers, instruments, concrete walls, long nights at the lab, competition. I had great friends, but I would still describe that time as hard, gray, square, finite. I had no idea how stressed, disconnected and changed I was until I was driving through a forest and came across a grove of ferns.
I can still see them now. They were moving so gently in the breeze together. The sunlight was filtering hazily down through the thick overstory of trees. It was all soft gold and lush green. It was life. The sight of it pierced right through the ice I didn't know had formed all over my skin, and I realized how numb I had been. For a minute, I remembered myself and what I loved and what made me feel whole, and knew I had been neglecting big parts of me.
It took me years to find the path I'm on (and that's a whole weird story for another time), but I remember those ferns as being what snapped me awake and made me look at what I was doing and how I was living. They were like a shard of sunlight opening a space in my mind. They made me ask myself if I was ok, and if it mattered that I was not that ok, and realize that something had been lost somewhere along the way.
It's easy to get distracted and lose our sense of direction, meaning, and even purpose. Life goes very fast these days. The goals and standards of the world may begin to block out what's really true, and we forget about our animal bodies and what it means to really live on this gorgeous, abundant planet.
And especially right now, it's easy to feel very isolated, alone, empty, and disconnected. From each other, and from so many things. But no matter what, and no matter where we are, and whether we like to admit it or not, we are forever tethered to the earth. And if we want to, we can pick up that golden thread again and retrace our steps home.
My way back to myself, after years of bending myself into the shape of things I'm not, was the plants. It may be something different for you, but I think the green growing things really do welcome everyone, and I invite you to start a relationship with them as a way to reignite your connection with the earth.
How to Connect with a Plant
The thing you have to understand about plants is that they like us. They have their own very different and very strange (to us) consciousness, but they are aware of us. They observe and respond to the things around them. They appreciate our help, and they like to help us. What being does not want to be part of something good?
And they are, after all, our elders and our ancestors, inhabiting this place long before we were formed. We're made of mostly the same stuff. We evolved alongside them. We both need sunlight, clean air, and clean water. We tend them with our nimble little fingers and move them around and plant seeds, and they give us nutrients and medicines to keep our bodies whole and well. We take care of them, and they take care of us. We are held and surrounded by life-sustaining plants. It's an elemental, deeply codependent friendship, one that is the birthright of all us humans.
When you take time to sit with a plant, identify it, learn its names, understand its place in the world, and maybe harvest some of it it to use in a delicious meal or as medicine, you are establishing that you are a being that directly participates in life on this planet. You fall back into the web of connection, and it welcomes you. You are grounding yourself in the solidity of the soil.
There is a dialogue always unfolding now, between you and the earth. Those little violets grow right outside your door every year and the leaves are so delicious and cooling, and it's nice to have such good friends so close by, and when you see them return in the spring you say hey, welcome back! And the wild rose petals from across the street taste so...soft, and now you feel a little softer, too, and every June you can't wait to see them flower. You remember what you forgot for so long.
This is magic. This is belonging. This is being alive.
This is the missing thing.
So how do you really connect with a plant?
The best way, in my experience, is to just go and be with them. Take your time. If you don't recognize a plant, try to find out its name and the special things about it. Spend time with it, look at it, touch it.
Here is a very simple, but really effective, meditation I like to do:
Sit beside the plant, close your eyes, and take a a few deep, even breaths.
Know that you are breathing in what they are breathing out, and they are breathing in what you are breathing out. You are linked by this elemental relationship.
Let your mind relax, and just think about the plant. Picture its beautiful leaves.
Listen. What does it want you to know?
If it's your kind of thing, try to be open to any energy you might feel from it, and any thoughts about it that might come through, but don't force it. Think about how lovely that plant or tree is, and send it a little burst of gratitude and love.
Stay with it as long as you want.
I also think it's important to note that even if you can't physically be around the plants, you can still do this little meditation and connect with them. Just close your eyes, relax your mind, and try to remember a certain plant that you really liked. Maybe it was the big, fragrant rosemary your aunt grew in her garden, or a tall, welcoming pine tree that was perfect for climbing. Send a little love to that plant, and remember the joy it gave you. Remember that relationship.
It may take a while, but if you put your heart into it, the connection and kinship you have with the growing things, and all the life on this planet, will form and deepen.
One day you'll walk through a beautiful forest and know that you're surrounded by the best of friends. You'll find that glimmering web again, and you'll know that whatever happens in this world, you are held by all of this.