Podcast 159: Listen-Along Plant Sit Meditation
Today’s episode is a little different from our usual. We’re sharing a listen-along plant sit meditation! You can take this episode with you to sit outside with a plant, and we’ll guide you through the meditation practice.
Plant sit meditations are an excellent way to develop your powers of observation and your awareness skills. Plants have a lot to teach us, and this is one way to learn directly from the plants themselves. When we slow down, take time, and devote our attention to a single plant, we can gain a much deeper appreciation for that plant and its medicines.
Many people experience this connection as a communication direct from the plants. Others find it helpful to “get in the plant’s skin” and imagine what it would be like to live as that plant. However you experience it, nature-based meditations like this one are a great way to expand your understanding of an herb and its place in the ecosystem. And you just might gain some insights into your own place in that ecosystem, while you’re at it.
Plant sit meditation practices like this one are a great way to get to know an herb in detail. Our Holistic Herbalism Materia Medica course is another great way! In the course, we profile 90 of our most important medicinal herbs in detail. Your purchase also gives you access to our twice-weekly live Q&A sessions, so you can connect with Ryn & Katja directly; as well as student communities, discussion threads, printable herb profiles, and plenty more!
As always, please subscribe, rate, & review our podcast wherever you listen, so others can find it more easily. Thank you!!
Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.
This episode was sponsored by Mountain Rose Herbs. We thank them for their support!
Hi, I’m Katja.
And I’m Ryn.
And we’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.
And on the internet everywhere, thanks to the power of the podcast. Well, hello friends. Today we have something a little bit different for you. We’re going to be doing a plant sit meditation.
Yeah. I hope that this will be really fun. I’m pretty excited about it. This is a tool that we use with our own students, just to help broaden awareness and deepen perspective when we’re learning about working with plants.
Yeah. Plant sit meditations like this are a really excellent way to develop your skills of observation and awareness. There’s a lot to learn about plants as herbalists, and there’s a lot to learn directly from plants too. By slowing down and taking some time, and devoting your attention to a single plant and to its macro and micro scale ecosystems, you can gain a much deeper appreciation for that plant and for its medicines.
So, you know, whether you think about this exercise as really like talking directly to the plant and listening to the plant talking directly to you, which I will say, when I first started out was really hard for me to wrap my head around. But it gets easier. Don’t worry. Or whether you think about this as a mental exercise, like…
How do you put yourself in this plant’s shoes, or I guess into its roots to imagine or try to embody, even try to experience to the extent you can, what is it like to be this plant. And what does that tell me about its needs and about its talents, you know, about its medicines in the end. These two ways of looking at the exercise are not actually contradictory.
Right. And, you know, you may also move back and forth between these two concepts as you develop this practice. Because if you’re having a stressful day and everything is kind of a little haywire, and you sit down with your plant, it might be hard for you to settle in enough to really have a conversation. And so on a day like that, you might be focused a little bit more on the sort of mental, analytical perception side of things. Whereas if you’re having a day where you’re feeling pretty calm, you may find that you are able to settle into a kind of more direct form of communication.
So before we dive in or, well, sit-in I guess, we just want to take a moment to thank Mountain Rose Herbs for sponsoring this episode of our podcast. As we’ve mentioned before, when you order from Mountain Rose, you can see where your herbs come from. And you can know that a lot of them come from small scale herb growers. But you can also know that those folks are getting compensated fairly.
Yes. You know, we were just looking at the info about the certifications on the Mountain Rose Herbs site. And you can do that too. If you go to the who we are section of the menu at MountainRoseHerbs.com and then choose certifications, you’ll see this whole list of certifications that they have.
Yeah. You know, to be organic, to be non-GMO, to be a zero waste company. Like all those kinds of things are pretty great. And, you know, not all certifications are created equal, those little badges you see on product labels from supplements and herbal products you buy. Sometimes it’s sort of just a stamp. Sometimes they’re made up. But sometimes these certifications are much more demanding.
Yeah. Like the organic certification, actually the non GMO certification, but especially the Fair for Life certification process. This is one of my favorite ones out there. I mean, I think that this process is a good effort in society anyway. That even though sometimes there are flaws with these, that people are working really hard to not just do better in their business, but also to have accountability for it. And this Fair for Life certification applies to all links in the supply chain. So, it’s not just what’s happening at the like big warehouse in Oregon. This is also about all of the farmers and the people who are working on the farms. And making sure that they have, you know, a living wage and access to healthcare and that they’re not being exploited for the purposes of us getting cheap herbs.
Yeah. And Mountain Rose has been helping some small scale farmers and cooperatives to attain these kinds of certifications for themselves too, which I think is pretty great. So all around, just another reason to love Mountain Rose herbs. Check them out at MountainRoseHerbs.com. Okay. So let’s get sitting.
Set up for the Plant Sit
Or actually, let’s take a second before we start. Just, let’s take one second to kind of set up the exercise for you so that you know what’s going to happen ahead of time. And also there are a couple of things that you might want to take with you in doing this exercise. So, let’s just take a second to kind of explain all of that. And then you can pause, and get yourself all set up. And then we can get started for real.
Yeah. So, you know, with a plant sit, it’s kind of right there in the name. You’re going to find a plant and sit by it. So let’s break this down a little bit. So first you need to choose a plant, right? It could be any plant. It could be a weed outside in the yard. A friendly, friendly dandelion, perhaps. It could be a tree in a green space that you like to visit. Or it could even be a potted flower or a potted culinary herb in your house. Really any plant will do.
It’s a really good idea to choose a plant that is convenient for you. One that is close to you and accessible. There may be some gorgeous botanical sanctuary 45 minutes from your home. And it’s fine to go there and do this exercise. But if you want to develop kind of a regular practice, then it’s a good idea to have a spot nearby, like really easy to get to, so that if you’re having a busy day, that doesn’t put a break in your practice. You don’t have to drive 45 minutes to do this. Literally you can just sit on your porch with the calendula seedlings that are growing in a bucket on your porch and do this work with them.
Yeah. So, you know, when you get near your plant and get comfy, you’re going to be there for 15 or 20 minutes or so. So if you’re going to want something to sit on or to lay on, then go ahead and bring that. And what you’ll do is you’re going to settle yourself down right there with your plant. And so if you’re with a little herb, maybe you can sit beside it and be able to see the whole plant all in all in one view. If your herb is spread all over, like a field of dandelions or a field of violets or a field of dandelions and violet like the one Elsie and I were walking through yesterday, or if it’s like a big forsythia shrub that’s all spread out, Maybe you just get right in the middle of it. You know, get in the middle of everything.
You know, or if your herb is really small – I’m thinking about ground ivy, because I’m often thinking about ground ivy – then you might want to like lay down on the ground. You could sit on the ground, but ground ivy is only like four or six inches tall. And so you won’t really be able to look at it very clearly if you’re sitting on the ground. So just, you know, if you need a mat or a blanket or something, that’s fine. But maybe think about just laying all the way down so that you really can get close to your plant.
And if you’re with a tree, then maybe you lay down with your head at the trunk and look up into the branches of the tree. Or maybe you climb it, you know, safely within your capability and everything. But this is a way that I spend time with plants…to climb up a tree and then hang out there for a while. You might want to bring along a notebook or a sketchbook, something to write down some thoughts or something to draw in, and whatever other little comforts you might want.
Yeah. You know, sometimes especially if your brain is very full and you’ve been very abstracted, whether that’s doing a bunch of computer work or just thinking about solving problems in your head or whatever, it can be hard to focus in a meditation. And so on one hand this meditation has a lot of construct already. And that’s going to help, but sometimes actually drawing your plant while you’re going through this exercise can also kind of just give a little extra structure for a busy mind, to help you stay focused on what you want to be focused on.
Yeah. All right. So, go ahead and pause the podcast while you gather the necessities and get yourself in place next to your plant ready to sit. We’ll be right here when you’re ready. Okay. Did you do it? Ready to go?
Observing the Plant Parts & Drawing Them
All right, then let’s get started. So the first thing we’re going to do is an exercise that’s going to involve kind of drawing the plant in your mind’s eye. Because this is going to engage your visual memory and your visual working capacity in a little bit different of a way than just kind of looking at it. So the first thing to do is to look closely at your plant. And as you do this, you’re trying to take note of all the different little features, all the details that you can see about shape, about colors, about arrangements of the parts of the plant. So, you could start by looking at a single leaf.
You can look and see along the edges of the leaf. Is it smooth or are there jagged edges? Are there teeth that are like a serrated knife, or are there sort of scrolly bumpy edges like a Valentine doily. You can look and see if there are veins deeply etched in the leaf or lightly sketched on the leaf, or maybe sort of embossed, like a raised rib along the midline.
When you look at the leaves, observe also how they’re arranged on the stems or on the branches. Do you have two leaves standing across from each other on opposite sides? Do you have a leaf on one side and then the other side, alternating as they go? Are there leaves growing only at the base of the plant, only on the far stretched out branches, or all the way along.
You can look at the stem of your plant and see if it is soft or woody. Is it rounded or does it maybe have sort of grooves running up and down it? Is it square? And does it have any little hairs or maybe thorns or barbs? And if so, where are they? Maybe they only happen at the join between the stem and the leaf, or maybe they’re kind of uniform along the stem.
If you can see a flower on your plant today, look closely at it. How many petals does that flower have? How many stamens are emerging from the center? Do the petals overlap with each other? Do they stand out on their own? Are they split or divided? And if you can’t see any flowers today, can you see where the flowers were? Maybe a fruit starting to form. Or can you see where the flowers will be? Some buds haven’t quite started yet.
If you were sitting with a tree, you can look at the bark and see if it has plates or furrows or ridges. You can even feel it. Is it smooth or papery? Does it have deep ridges, or just sort of light wrinkles in the bark?
Are there any insects or animals who are living or working on your plant with your plant? Maybe you see them. Maybe you hear them.
Maybe you see where they have been, where they maybe were nibbling.
If you know some botanical terms and you can name some of the features you see on your plant, that’s great. But if you don’t, that’s not a problem. Just let your eyes see what they see. What it’s called is less important.
Now that you have observed your plant closely, just close your eyes and try to draw your plant in your mind. Or if you like, sort of turn away from your plant and draw it on paper. But don’t look at your plant to do this. Try to do it all from memory.
Try to reconstruct in your mind, or on your page, a complete image from the whole plant view, all the way down to the smallest details that you could see. As you do this you might realize that there are some gaps in your mental picture. That’s okay. Make a light mental note about it, and then move on to another part of the image.
When you have your picture complete in your mind or on your paper, then go ahead and look back at your plant and check all the details. If there were spots where you had questions, maybe you didn’t quite remember exactly how the leaves were attached. That’s okay. You can check now.
Widening Your View of the Herb
If you want to you can pause and repeat that process a few times of observing your plant, gathering all those details, and then constructing a mental image or putting an image on paper that carries as many details as you can. And then checking back with the real plant again. But if you’re ready to move on the next practice is going to involve gradually widening your view of the herb. So to start you’re going to look at a small feature of the plant, one leaf, a single flower, maybe a few hairs you can see on the underside of the stem. Just focus on that one detail. Keep all your visual attention right there.
Now slowly you can grow your perception and see the whole plant, the plant as an individual, but as a whole being. You can see all the parts of the plant at the same time.
From there you can continue to widen your view, to see the immediate area around the plant. Who’s growing next to this plant? Who’s growing nearby? Are the leaves or stems or vines of your plant entwined with another one? And if you could see through the soil, would the roots of your plant be tangled up with the roots of others?
This is a form of communication for plants. Places where plants overlap one another, above ground and below, are points of sharing information. So you can look around and see who is your plant sharing information with? Who is your plant in direct physical relationship with?
You can continue to widen out and see the local ecosystem this plant lives in. Think about the way light comes to your plant. Maybe there are branches above and leaves, and the light that reaches your plant is dappled. Or maybe it’s direct sun or a mix at different times of day. What can you see about how water moves through this area? If a heavy rain came, where would the rivulets run? Is your plant protected from strong winds by others growing around it or by human structures? Keep on widening out into your broadest possible visual field, and try to relax the edges of your peripheral vision, but don’t try too hard. Just let it happen.
While you’re doing this you can also begin to widen your other senses. See what else you can perceive in the world of this plant. Are there sounds that are part of the daily life of this plant? Maybe the breeze and the leaves, or water flowing nearby, or even cars or the sound of children playing.
What scents are here with this plant? Does the plant itself have a smell? Are there other aromatic plants nearby? Pine trees above. Or maybe even some human trash not smelling so good, but still that’s part of this plant’s life, part of its environment.
Engaging Your Other Senses & Giving Thanks
If you know the plant who you’re with, and you know that it is safe to touch, then do. Feel if the leaves are smooth or hairy, thin and delicate or thick and fuzzy. And if you know that your herb is safe to taste, then you can do that too. The flavor of the plant is also communication. It’s telling us about what that plant is made up of.
Some of your senses might be able to work together to share information, like what sight can tell you about touch. If you can’t reach your plant up at the top of its height, maybe you can see some fuzz on those upper branches, and you know what that would feel like. Maybe you’ve touched pine branches before, and you know the roughness of their texture. You can see it. Or if you have a little basil plant in front of you growing in a pot, rescued from the grocery store, you can look at those soft floppy leaves, and you can know that they’d be soft and smooth. Just relax and receive what your senses have to share with you. You can settle back in this open posture. Take a moment now just to let yourself drift, daydream. Take some time and let your mind go wherever it wants. This kind of daydreaming is also receptive. Remember that plants don’t always speak in human, let alone English. Coming back now to your senses, to your plant, letting all your senses gather together here, now, with this plant you’ve been sitting with. And then in whatever way you like, say thanks. Go ahead and move on with your life.
So, welcome back. We hope you enjoyed this little meditation. So like Katja said at the beginning, this is a practice that we really strongly advocate for our students, especially those who want to advance. They want to move on into, you know other discoveries, and especially in clinical work. This is a good practice for anybody, if you can take 20 minutes every day, or at least a few times a week to do a plant sit just like this. Because meditation with plants is just like any other kind of meditation. Practice makes progress. You continue to find new experiences the longer you work with it.
And it really is a skill that will translate directly into clinical work with others if you choose to do that. Because this ability to focus both on the detail and on the whole, and moving back and forth between seeing a very fine detail on an individual plant and then moving all the way out to seeing that plant in the context of its ecosystem, those are the same skills that are really important when we’re working with others and trying to understand what they’re experiencing in the context of the complexity of the human body and the complexity of their life.
Yeah. And you know, it’s nature time. It’s a little taste of forest bathing, right?
Yes. It’s good for you.
The 20 Minute Mark & Letting in the Natural World
So this kind of 15 or 20 minute range for doing a sit, especially in a natural environment or with a little piece of nature tucked into your city, that’s certainly how we’ve lived for a bunch of years now. There’s something that happens at about that 20 minute mark. And it happens inside the body. There are some important physiological shifts that really hit their stride, right. Then both in terms of any seated meditation, but also in terms of time in nature, time in green spaces. And there can also be shifts in what’s going on around you outside, especially if you pay attention to the birds. If you go and you sit somewhere and you remain still, it’s about that time that the birds will say, oh. You’re just going to be part of the scenery for a while. I can get back to my business. So you can often hear changes in the calls and the activity, and where they’re flying, and what they get up to. So yeah, lots of reasons to do a plant sit. Make time for it. And remember it doesn’t have to be the pristine wilderness untouched by any human hands, right? We tried to bring out in the story there that if there’s human sounds, if there’s human smells, if there’s a human presence there, then that’s part of what that plant is living. And we’re trying to connect with the real plant, the one right here in front of us.
You know, I think that is important anyway. Because as humans in this time, and in this place specifically, we have some difficulty understanding the integration of us and the rest of the world, us and the natural world. And so there can be this inclination to think that in order to be with nature, we need to like drive far away and be in a place where there are no humans. And we don’t really think about the dandelion or some other weed growing up through a crack in the sidewalk. But we can’t escape the impact that we have on this planet. It is everywhere. No matter how far away you go, you might still hear an airplane overhead. And even if you don’t, you’re still breathing the same air. And inversely we also can’t…well, I suppose we can escape the natural world. We can do it. We can get ourselves all boxed up into things made only by humans. We can. But even in a city you can be surprised at how much nature really is there with you. And the more that we see it, the more that we can let it in. The more that we see it, the more that we realize that we’re not only in relationship with nature when we’re in some perfect, pristine place. We’re in relationship with nature all of the time, even when we’re trapped in concrete sidewalks and asphalt roads.
Oh, just ask a dandelion how trapped we are, right?
There’s ways to bust through. There’s ways to grow through. So, yeah, those are some of the things that we’ve learned from these practices. Yeah, for sure. So, I think that you will have your own insights, you know, when you work in this way, and when you listen to what the plants have to tell you. So, thanks for listening to us today for a little while. We’ll be back next time with some more Holistic Herbalism podcast for you. Until then take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea.
Drink some tea.
And sit with some plants.
See you later.
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