SummaReview: The Lost Language of Plants

cover_LostLanguageOfPlantsThe Lost Language of Plants unveils a world (our world) that is both shocking and stimulating, spectacularly disturbing and deeply moving. In this world there are plants, yes, but the book is about much more than plants. As Buhner comments in a note to the reader, “…this book explores the complex, multidimensional, intricately interconnected, synergistic, living organism that we call Earth, and it is designed to be complex and multidimensional as well” (viii). The book itself intentionally transmits multiple layers of communication, reflective of the plants and living organisms that are featured throughout.

He describes how plants communicate using self-generated natural chemicals—affecting, directing, and responding to the environments and communities that they live in. Unfortunately, our global environment has become completely inundated with trace amounts of pharmaceutical chemicals, radioactive materials, and medical, infectious and pathological waste, all of which significantly disrupt the healthy function of ecosystems (including human ecologies). Beyond that, he urges us to see that the simplification of species in ecosystems worldwide dangerously reduces the regenerative capacity of Earth’s ecosystems, and has grave consequences for human health; human health is inextricably tied to the health of ecosystems worldwide.

Man sees the morning as the beginning of a new day; he takes germination as the start in the life of a plant, and withering as its end. But this is nothing more than a biased judgment on his part. Nature is one. There is no starting point or destination, only an unending flux, a continuous metamorphosis of all things.
–Masanobu Fukuoka (148)

The mountain of devastating and publicly available data and statistics about the environmental impacts of technological medicine highlights deeper issues of our modern predicament; these deeper issues have to do with the reductive and mechanistic paradigms, epistemologies, and concepts that we use to understand and interact with the world; this includes the “universe-as-machine” metaphor, which denies the possibility of intelligence, self-awareness, and sanctity in the non-human organisms of Earth.

Ironwood Archepelago

The Ironwood archepelago exemplifies the non-linear affects of the language of plants on ecosystem function.

By describing the systemic and multi-functional uses of plant chemistry throughout Earth’s ecosystems, Buhner makes the case that the chemical language of plants is much more than mere chemistry; it is an intentionally meaningful language that is crucial for maintaining the health of ecosystems. The “lost” language of plants, then, has more to do with the loss of meaning ascribed by humans to the world around us. In other words,  “this book delves into the meaning embedded within plant chemistry, the language of plants—a language human beings in the Western world lost knowledge of when we began to think so insistently with the analytical portions of our brains and quit thinking with other more holistic parts of ourselves” (ix). Thus, what is deeply needed is for us to recover the innate capacity to understand the world as a living system. This means interacting with the land as a sacred place, filled with sacred beings. It’s the foundation for healing the interior and exterior wounds created by the “universe-as-machine” mentality.

“Without deep connection to the land our healers remain anthropocentric—human centered—in their approaches, their theories of human health generated in isolation from the environment with which we evolved. They contain the same category error that all reductionist sciences contain. The solution is reconnection to the natural world and the living intelligence of land” (230).

Citations

Advertisements

Senior Capstone Reflections

Create a list of three broad principles or themes from your field of study and three broad interdisciplinary principles or themes from Maharishi’s Science of Consciousness that help to inform your field and its connection to the whole of knowledge.

1&2) Sustainable Living Principle – Produce no waste: By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste. This entails designing systems from the ground up and/or retrofitting old wasteful systems so that energy and resource outputs from one process feed into and support another process or function. This is a thoroughly intentional way of designing, so the consciousness of the designer is paramount.

Thus, we see a connection with Maharishi’s Science of Creative Intelligence in the principle: “Outer depends on inner.” This principle applies to the individual life by the way in which our interpretation of the reality that we experience moment to moment is largely contingent upon the state of one’s “inner” condition – the way the brain has been structured up to that point, and the paradigms from which each person’s worldview is constructed. On the collective level we see that the structure of society stems from the consciousness of the architects of that society. We now see the obvious shortcomings of current systems built out of ignorance of the need to conserve resources, recycle everything, and produce no waste.
3&4) Sustainable Living Principle – Use and value diversity: Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides. In the field of Sustainable Living, diversity – whether referring to the variety of plants in a garden or field, sources of energy production in the region, or our social atmosphere and culture – are seen as assets that make a system more resilient. For example, an uncontrollable variation in a weather pattern like drought will not be as devastating to the farmer if he has a variety of crops with different levels of tolerance to drought.

Likewise, the SCI principle: ​”Harmony exists in diversity” supports this understanding in my field because it recognizes the underlying strength in diversity. Harmony is complementary, collaborative, and improves a given situation. The presence of harmony is a sign that things are working well, and in Sustainable Living we seek to design systems that harness the power of diversity to optimize function.

5&6) Sustainable Living Principle – Integrate rather than segregate: By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other. This is related to the principle of diversity, but it also points to a reality that all things are connected, and when we try to segregate and treat things as independent of each other our results inevitably fail and produce undesirable effects. When things are integrated we see that the relationships between them produce emergent properties and gain a greater status as something more highly developed than the parts themselves. Additionally by seeking integration in all areas of life we become more focused on the underlying unity of all things.

​”The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” ​ is an obvious principle connected to this idea. The reality of wholeness is different than the conglomeration of individuals. This can be seen in medicine, where the special healing properties of a medicinal plant are not fully present in the isolated chemical or chemical compound that is synthesized in the lab. The interaction of energy that happens when things are in relationship creates a special “extra” something that does not exist without the interaction or relationship.

“The Brain is a River, Not a Rock” (Last) Part III

Experience changes the brain – that’s the only way I can understand how my lifestyle has changed so drastically during the 4 years in college. The motivation for change first started after an experience in the car with my mother in 2008. We were 4 hours into a long ride down to southeast Virginia to visit Christopher Newport University, which I hoped to attend after graduating that year. I was behind the wheel, and once again my mother’s wisdom had a CD playing a man named Eckhart Tolle, who was speaking to a group at a spiritual retreat center. His calm, intelligent voice took my unsuspecting attention to a place I never expected: the present moment. As he spoke, he guided my attention not just to the words but also to the silent space between the words, and to my great surprise I found something there. As I listened and drove my mind became still, his teaching became clear, and the reality of “me” expanded way beyond the ego-personality that is confined to a human body. The awareness in me noticed itself and the infinite nature of its presence. I felt peace and freedom like I had never known before.

This experience propelled me into a new world, one that was enlivened by inner-silence, mystical experience, and meditation. To my surprise, the pleasure of this sense of inner awareness and freedom was more expansive and interesting than any altered state I could conjure up with drugs. As weird as I seemed to others who had no reference for this strange behavior, my interest in the Eastern traditions of Vedic, Taoist, and Buddhist meditation was justified by the peace, freedom, and clarity I felt during and after meditation. Today at age 23 I sit down to meditate as part of my daily routine. The simple and natural process of transcendental meditation brings me to a stress-free place where there is nothing but pure subjectivity – I am a witness – and infinite silent space pervades. After twenty effortless minutes I emerge as the exceptional thinking-feeling individual who I knew myself as before, but something is different: My brain. Even though the content of my waking experience had disappeared, my brainwaves revealed that something significant was occurring during the process of transcending.

As a student at Maharishi University of Management I’ve been literally required to learn all that brain scientists have discovered about the positive correlation between Alpha 1 coherence in the brain and transcendental consciousness (meditative state). These well-established findings include other unique physiological markers, which establish the transcendental state of consciousness as distinct from simply sitting with eyes closed or contemplative practices. Alpha brain waves are a sign of relaxed activity in the brain, and are defined as waves that cycle between the frequencies of 8-12 hertz. Alpha 1 brainwaves are active during “peak experience,” and are associated with the feeling of “being in the flow” and operating at a highly creative level. This provides neuroscientific understanding as to why daily meditation is such a good thing to be doing. The repeated experience of Alpha 1 coherence throughout the cortex during consistent meditation practice changes brain circuitry to support optimal brain function. Each new experience in meditation strengthens and reinforces the Alpha 1 coherence, just as the effects of any other behavioral pattern or habit is encoded in the brain. So the science is out – The experience of transcendental consciousness changes the brain in a special way, yet the mystery and intrigue of this deep state remains.

The ancient Vedic knowledge of Indian yogis explains that the state called “Cosmic Consciousness” (CC for short) is the inevitable progression of a person experiencing transcendental consciousness over time. This state of consciousness is what others refer to as “Enlightenment.” Aspects of this state of consciousness include total brain integration with alpha coherence as described above, as well as some subjective markers like experiencing the unbounded, stress-free awareness of meditation simultaneously while functioning as an awake individual in the world – being “in the world, but not of the world,” as the Indian mystics say. One additional prediction was made about life in CC that can actually be studied scientifically: witnessing sleep. Strange as it may seem, neurophysiological markers of alpha and beta brainwaves are found in coexistence with delta patterns during deep sleep in long-term practitioners of transcendental meditation reporting subjective experiences of being consciously aware that the brain and body are asleep. The coexistence of alpha-beta-delta deep sleep patterns are currently beyond the acceptable scientific paradigm; the studies done on “witnessing sleep” are immature and thus considered protoscience, which calls for replication and further analysis of new findings. Nonetheless, so-called “higher states” of consciousness do appear to be a real and inevitable development of human potential.

Before coming to MUM I only read about “higher states” of consciousness in terms of philosophical or psycho-spiritual theory, and individual anecdotes seemed to point to glimpses of potential for experiencing an unexplainable reality. The framework of brain research used to support the understanding of transcendental consciousness and “higher states” of consciousness as distinct from waking, dreaming, or deep sleep states is very informative. At first I could only relate to my meditation and other spiritual practices in terms of philosophy and the great wisdom traditions that teach about them. Coupling experience of transcendental consciousness with knowledge of brain development has influenced me to refine my paradigm once again. I am beginning to realize just how powerfully our minds limit and constrain the range of experience that is available to each of us.

Given what is known about paradigm blindness I must make it a practice to seek novelty on a daily basis, which can be as simple as opening my mind wider to what is possible and present in this moment right now. What if I really can consciously communicate with others without word or sign? What if illness and disease in the body can be prevented and reversed by believing I am healthy and immune to disease? Based on the nature of the brain I have realized that an emotionally-supportive and loving environment infused with wisdom, honesty and openness is conducive to the type of growth I am seeking. I can intentionally create a lifestyle overflowing with beautiful and pure food for all the senses, as well as challenging activities that draw out my higher capacities and talents for Self-mastery. As self-organizing systems (humans) our unique physiologies determine which stimuli in the environment disturb us and warrant response; the influx of new information from this course has created a disturbance that I have chosen to respond to. As I continue to digest and assimilate new ideas and information I realize that my brain is changing accordingly. The more open I am the more flexible and resilient I will become. If I refine the filters of my reality to accept the whole range of experience as growth promoting and evolutionary, the way I interpret and perceive my reality will change; this inevitably shapes the flavor and nature of my experience. How far can we go as human beings? How much are we capable of? What limitations do you hold yourself to? What will it take for you to thrive?

Change of Mind, Not Heart

Fairfield is a transformative place to be, especially when you’re already working on yourself. The inner work of Self-awareness and liberation from unconscious conditioning is the good work of becoming your True Self – free from guilt, shame, fear, suppressed emotions, hidden desires – and free to be happy, sad, mad, loud, quiet, tough, rough, soft, so long as it respects the free will of others and is non-violent to others. It’s this process of inner transformation that makes life most exciting for me daily, and being in a place like Fairfield allows me to connect with a ridiculously high number/per capita of other people consciously becoming their unique and liberated True Selves. Interestingly, not in Fairfield but New Mexico I experienced an enormous acceleration and integration of my personality; participating in the Earth Medicine Apprenticeship was a primary reason for this progression.

“Earth Medicine” is a way of healing; it involves sacred plant medicine and herbal medicine, deep ecology and environmental philosophy, ecopsychology and psychotheraputic experience, shadow work, inner child work, extra-sensory perception and tracker skills. I just threw out a bunch of labels to point to a process that is more than the sum of its parts. To practice Earth Medicine is to commune deeply and develop a compassionate healing relationship with our own inner nature, which is guided, inspired, informed and blessed by deep communion with Earth Mother – Gaia – Mother Nature. This process involves developing our innate intuitive and psychic skills and developing a deep capacity for sensing with the heart-field as an organ of perception; the experience of these practices challenge the boundary we perceive between “us” and everything else. This work in integrative in the way it connects individuals with a sense of wholeness and oneness with all things “inner” and “outer.”

As I was reflecting with my school advisor on my decision to do a permaculture design for my senior project it became obviously, undeniably, irresistibly apparent that what I want most deeply is to continue to go deeper with “Earth Medicine” now and on into the future after graduation; thus, it would be most appropriate to focus my senior project around this area of interest to go deeper and get to know what aspects of it I am drawn to most. This would include actual physical work in the garden where I live – planning and planting a perennial medicine garden, writing a 30-page integrative paper on the subject, and offering a series of workshops on “Earth Medicine” to the community.

There is, however, an important consideration and responsibility that I must uphold – Doing the Permaculture Design. Since my original project proposal was for a permaculture design at the site where I rent and live, I need to consider my landlord’s expectations, since we agreed that I would do the design for his land. I am free – I was born free and I will die free -and I’m not bound to anything. But keeping agreements is something that is important both on karmic and personal levels. Thus, I need to re-negotiate my agreement with my landlord because the timing of everything is going to change. While my intention and interest still lie in doing an ever-so-necessary design for the land, my highest passion and most precious attention will be going toward Earth Medicine for the 2 months of my senior project. Fortunately, there is overlap between certain aspects of permaculture design (observation, analysis and assessment) and the process of Earth Medicine will help tremendously with the initial fundamental stages of any good permaculture design.

Fortunately, I plan to remain living where I am for several seasons after I graduate, which will allow me to continue to work on the permaculture design after I graduate. I also have a feeling that having more time to deliberate and research proposed aspects of the design will make for a more intelligent and appropriate design overall. Ultimately, what’s most important is that I’m being True to mySelf. So long as my thoughts and actions are grounded in the integrity of who I am at my core the outcome will be most evolutionary for all concerned.

Prairie Song Permaculture Project (Part II)

By the time mid-November came around I was exhausted from all the grunt work but felt great about the increased growing capacity in the garden from the formation of new beds. All in all, there is about 1500 sq ft. of prepped bed space that will be ready to plant in come spring. Originally, the plan for my senior project was to focus on growing as much food as possible in the garden to feed farm residents and sell at the farmer’s market; in addition, I would do a comprehensive permaculture design for the farm.

However, various conversations with friends and fellow permaculturists inspired me to think about the garden’s growing potential more as a perennial medicine garden than purely annual veggies. Growing herbs for market and certain restaurants seems to offer more of a profit-earning niche for the farm than would annual veggies; also, it seems to be a better use of space, since the price per pound of fresh herbs may yield more dollars per square foot than would melons or broccoli or beans, if you know what I mean…

With this shift in focus for the garden I realized that the garden itself will be an ongoing project beyond the scope of my 2 months of senior project. Thus, the formal permaculture design will be the primary deliverable and focus of my senior project, along with the creation of a website to display and present the design among other things.

Thus, the deliverables for my proposed project are:

  1. The entire permaculture design, with physical base maps, overlays, species lists, etc.
  2. A digital representation of the full permaculture design and a presentation of the design from the viewpoint of the website. This will include a guided tour of the website for Stacy, who will be grading my project.
  3. A 10-page summative/integrative essay (double spaced) to replace the 30-page paper (double spaced) currently required by the official SL Senior Project Guidelines. This paper will integrate the most pertinent principles of SCI that inform and enrich the project, as well as a summary of accomplishments and short discussion/reflection about the significance of the senor project experience (what I got out of it).

Since most of my time during this month of self-directed study was spent outside in the garden, it was only toward the end of this month that I really sat and thought about the permaculture design process itself. I chose to do a formal design for the farm because I identified that it will provide a thoughtful and comprehensive basis for the ongoing development and creation of this sustainable living experiment. For a concise background of Prairie Song Farm and its mission see “Unconventional Rurual Permaculture Farmstead with Work-Trade Renters,” posted on February 24, 2012.  As students come and go, this design will be useful to offer a context and common basis for action, with regard to project phases of implementation and long-term goals.

I feel like this process is important for my evolution as an individual, because I’m learning that the key to a successful design is how well I observe. My primary goal is to spend quality time observing and yield to the voices of the land and its inhabitants – plant, animal, elemental, invisible. This place is home to people seeking spiritual growth as a primary purpose for life, and the actualization of material projects, whether they’re called “permaculture” or “business” or “creative,” are a waste of time if they don’t serve the spiritual evolution of the people, planet, and universe. This means that this project is less about what comes to be and more about how it comes to be. I don’t expect to be perfect when it comes to the nuts and bolts of the design. All that I hope to accomplish is a deeper acquaintance (and thus knowledge) of the land and its diverse inhabitants, and that I observe/listen to the source of creative intelligence out of which all things come.

If I can leave behind a permaculture design that is creative and useful to residents in some way I will be happy. If I can learn to be a better inhabitant, a more responsible co-creator, a better son and servant of Mother Gaia during the process I will be happier. And if by some miracle I can remember to keep things simple and not over-think it, I might actually enjoy myself the whole time.

Prairie Song Permaculture Project (Part I)

Today is November 20th, 2012. For the past 6 weeks I’ve experienced something novel: Life at the farm, enrolled at MUM, and not in class. I’ve been blessed with the freedom to create my own schedule with a self-directed study to prepare for my senior project. I’m writing this to reflect on the value of this time, show-off some of what I’ve done, and draw out lessons learned to help me as I continue the permaculture design process.

To be honest, most of the time has been spent gardening; double digging new raised beds, sheet-mulching garden pathways, and putting the existing raised beds “to sleep” for the winter. These are all “grow-biointensive” style gardening practices and i’ll explain their function/reasoning (in a nutshell):

1) Double Digging – this is a labor-intensive method for forming new beds; ideally, a “broad fork” is used to break the surface of the soil and de-compact the virgin soil (in our case, clay) to about 2 ft. dept. Then, a flat shovel is used to dig out the de-compacted soil and pile it on top of the forks-worth that you turned up 2 feet earlier; This allows air, water, and plant roots (hopefully they’re plants of your choosing) to penetrate more deeply, which sets the conditions for healthier plants with more soil and nutrients to gobble up.

Sascha uses a broad fork with 18inch teeth to decompact clay in our garden

2) Sheet-Mulching – this is a labor-intensive method for suppressing grass growth in the garden. A double layer of cardboard is put down to cover the entire area of path; next, a 6-8 inch layer of wood chips are added on top of the cardboard to form the floor of the pathway; this thickness of wood chips prevents light from reaching the soil (understanding that the cardboard will decompose eventually) and prevents existing grass and dormant grass seed from establishing roots. A grass-free garden reduces competition for soil nutrients, root-space, and water.

Straw – the carbon blanket that puts beds to sleep

3) Putting Beds to Sleep – this is a method for adding natural fertilizer to the garden bed before winter; ideally, a biologically active and balanced compost is added across the top of the existing raised bed; this addition of carbon material and microorganisms will add life to the soil and replace some of what was taken out by the plants that grew there during the spring, summer and fall. Super-ideally, a layer of cardboard is put down on top of the compost to cover the entire bed like a blanket. Finally a 6-8 inch mat of straw or leaves is added as the final top layer to hold down the cardboard and provide even more carbon-rich material to feed the soil microbes and add nutrients. Its important that the compost and cardboard be wet or soaked with water during this process so the microbiology can thrive and decompose everything faster. By spring, the bed should wake up feeling recharged and full of fertility!

Pictures of the Process:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

6/8/11: Integral Ecology

In this reading the author provides some western historical context of the various values given to human interiors throughout the ages, and relates it with modernity’s conception of nature. He uses this context to discuss the different meanings of “nature” utilizing the quadrant model of Ken Wilber’s Integral theory (Wilber’s 4 Quadrants below).

From Integral Ecology


The author clarifies 3 distinctions of the use of the word “nature,” by utilizing different spelling/capitalizations to distinguish the meanings intended by the word. “All three kinds of “nature” –NATURE, Nature, and nature—refer to actual dimensions of reality, but problems frequently arise when these three realms are confused with one another.” Thus, as I see it, the purpose for and usefulness of making these distinctions. Our professor intended to utilize this reading to provide the class with a tool to help us communicate during our discussion about the subjects and experiences that relevant to nature in the conext of “Deep Ecology.” I think it was a good idea, although some would disagree.

I first read this chapter when it was assigned in February in the class “Systems Thinking and Ecological Worldviews” taught by our current “Deep Ecology” TA, Colin Heaton. Having already read Wilber’s “A Brief History of Everything” before that gave me some context and familiarity with Integral Theory and it was easier to assimilate and cognize this information initially when I read it in February. Seeing part of Wilber’s framework applied to Ecology makes sense to me intuitively. The orderliness that Wilber frames out in his Theory seems appropriately applied to the subjects of Ecology and Systems Thinking, and I think it is obvious that the three are closely related. Exploring deep ecological concepts is greatly aided by, and seems to sometimes require a basic cognition of systems thinking and ecology. Integral Theory then is a nice compliment to our exploration because it is inherently philosophical, which naturally lends itself to deep ecological discussions.