I went on my first real hike of the year (finally) today, and watched as a forest fire sprung up on the other side of the ridge. I ate thimbleberries and right now I am drinking pennyroyal tea from leaves that I collected. I’m an idiot for not hiking more often. I hiked at least once a week last summer, but a number of things such as the World Cup and mosquitoes have prevented me from going thus far this year.
Anyway, I was thinking about some things as I hiked, and one of the threads regarded our civilization’s conceptions of “primitive” or ancient humans. We regard them inherently as simpleminded and lacking in sophistication. Even when there is ample evidence as to the contrary. We seem to have a hard time accepting that people who lived thousands of years ago could possibly have understood things on a deep level. And so when we come across irrefutable examples of their ingenuity, creativity, and intelligence, we inevitably attribute them to space aliens, or simply relegate them to yet another of the past’s “mysteries.”
Localized ancient wisdom, such as the understanding of herbs, plants, roots and how to make healing medicines from them, is swiftly passing away in the face of globalization and homogenization. But even as it is passing, something makes me think that this wisdom isn’t something that will just be lost forever. The only thing which can be lost is our ability to listen.
Shamans almost universally make the claim that their knowledge of plants comes directly from the plants themselves. I think that this is a claim that should be taken more seriously. Take the example of the Amazonian concoction of ayahuasca. It’s an amazing phenomenon to modern botanists and chemists, because the mixture of different plants which constitutes the hallucinogenic beverage is extremely advanced–on the surface, requiring a knowledge of chemical botanical interaction with the human brain that only modern science could provide. Yet ancient shamans have been crafting the brew for centuries, without science and without “proofs”. To say that they discovered the concoction through trial and error is akin to saying that we invented computer chips by banging rocks together. So unless you subscribe to the cop-out space alien theory, you have to accept the conclusion that there is a different system of acquiring knowledge than what we commonly accept. This system of acquiring knowledge does not rely on logical explanations and research. It relies, I would argue, on creative empathy and sensitive and attuned intuition–the ability to make associations between seemingly non-related and disparate things.
I think that we have a lot to learn from the earth and life itself, and that we have forgotten what it is to listen. We are so full of ourselves and our accomplishments as a species that we assume that we innately possess more wisdom than, say, a chipmunk or a tree. Yet the fact is that the earth breathes. Life is vast and delicately interconnected like the system of nerves and veins in your body. If a shaman says that he learned how to make ayahuasca from the plants themselves, than I would be inclined to accept his statement. I don’t think that plants talk. But I do think that if someone is in touch with themselves, than through the use of their creative empathic abilities, they can hear the call of things related to themselves, and the fact is that we are deeply interconnected with plants.
Humans are an extension of the earth. If you subscribe to the idea of evolution, which is supported quite firmly by scientific evidence, than you should know this. Which is to say that deeply embedded within our own minds lies the roots which connect us to all the world. The connection which we have temporarily forgotton, due to all the blinding surface lights of our modern conveniences, is to ourselves.