Everything exists because everything depends. This philosophy was drummed into me by my Buddhist meditation teachers and I think I’ll be forever understanding it in new and deeper ways. If we consider closely, we can see that all things can only exist in dependence with other factors. The table can only exist because there was a tree and a carpenter. The carpenter can only exist because of the air he breathes and the food he consumes. The vegetables he eats only exist because of the soil which also depends upon the bacteria and breakdown of other plants and once living beings. And so on and so on.
Over the past few years, this philosophy has become central to my understanding of health and the healing powers of plants. We can see it working on very simplistic levels, i.e. eating poor quality food leads to compromised health, but also in more subtle ways that are to do with our relationships to the plants and ourselves.
We all have our own individual ways of looking at the world, our own genetic make up, our own physical and mental strengths and weaknesses and we all perceive the plants we use for medicine in slightly different ways. Each plant is also unique, even if it is from a particular species, and so when we take medicines, the result is always about a meeting between ourselves with the herbs.
This understanding runs counter to Western biomedical understandings in which the body is seen as a machine and the drugs as the tools to alter or fix it. Results must be precise, repeatable and measurable or they are discounted. In my understanding however, herbal medicine can never really fit this pattern, though many have tried to make it, because it doesn’t allow for the uniqueness of people and plants and the relationship that occurs between the two. Even if you and I suffer from the same disease and take the same herbs, our healing will be different. That is because plants aren’t drugs (even if some popular books and T.V. shows use that terminology to appeal to a wider audience!). In fact, plants are unique and remarkable living beings, just as we are and it does well to approach them with the respect and reverence that this understanding incurs.
Just as we all have discernible personalities, yet feel ourselves to have many facets, the plants too are able to surprise us. Often a group of people will have a general consensus about a friend of theirs, agreeing that ‘she is serious and practical’ for example. There’ll always be someone however who says, ‘Really? I find her very amusing, she has a great sense of humour!’ That’s because these qualities are dynamic, they depend, it’s impossible for a relationship to be static as things are always in a state of change. And so it is with plants. When you do herb tastings with a group of people most will agree on the major effects but there will always be some variation. This is because we are entering into a dynamic relationship with another being, so what we feel won’t just depend on whether they are hot or cold, moist or astringent etc, but what is going on for us too. That’s what makes healing with herbs so exciting, the same plant can offer many possibilities when you spend time really getting to know it. It turns from acquaintance to deep and most darling friend.