What Plants Taught Me About Death
Before a gathering of people in Finland, I was asked to describe one thing I have learned from the plant world that has profoundly transformed my life. I looked across the room to asses from the faces just how much of my personal journey to reveal. Most of my life is public, but some parts are still a work in progress. I am never really sure if opening those doors will lead to inspiring words or tears. The answer to the question was clear to me, whether to share it was less clear. Is it appropriate to talk about death in a crowded room?
It All Started in Helsinki
It was a Monday after a long weekend at the Minä Olen Messut Expo in Helsinki, and I was exhausted. The booth was crowded from open to close both days and on Saturday I had given a talk to 300+, many who came to our tiny booth with follow-up questions. While most Finns speak English, they prefer Finnish, or in some cases Swedish. I love languages and have a special affinity for Finnish. When you feel like you should understand something that you have no way of understanding (since I have never studied it), it consumes your energy at a rapid pace.
By Monday, I was spent. After so many people, a gathering of 50 selected by my host seemed easy. Or so I thought.
From the moment I stepped into the room, I knew the evening would be emotionally intense. I had to do something if I was going to stand in front of others and say something even remotely brilliant.
After brooding around uncomfortably as they prepared the room, I decided it would be better to ask a plant for help. I grabbed my Music of the Plants device and an adorable succulent family growing in a glass container and looked for some privacy.
Meet Jade and Echeveria
There were two plants in the container: Jade plant (Crassula Ovata) and Echeveria (Echeveria Elegans). Another one of those unexplainable intuitions told me Jade wanted to connect. I sat very near and asked if she could compose a melody to help me transform my bad mood into something positive. I laid myself bare before her to be washed anew by her song. It was probably a big ask for such a tiny plant, but at the time it felt right. I sat in her presence with my eyes closed, receptive to whatever she wanted to give. And after ten minutes of silent connection, the music began.
It didn’t take much to go from surly to energized. Jade played until I was called to begin, and with each note I could feel the courage fill me. Unbeknownst to me, the reason she chose courage would be revealed quickly with one question.
The Finns don’t ask many questions. They tend to observe and internalize their thoughts. Lucky for me, there was one woman in the audience that broke the silence. She more than broke it, she was inquisitive and commandeered the room with her constant combination questions/comments. It has taken some time to learn how to navigate these types. Thanks to Jade, I had the energy to do it. In a rare moment between the vocalized thoughts of my inquisitor, another woman interjected. She asked, “Can you tell us one thing you have learned from the plants that has changed your life?”
Stillness. Jade’s music was still playing within me when I carefully opened my mouth — and my heart — and began to answer…
I was Born with an Innate Fear of Death.
Not your garden-variety fear of death; the kind of fear that makes you jump up and pace the room uncontrollably for when death takes hold. The fear that keeps you up at night for fear you may not wake up. I could not listen to a particular song because it was on the car radio when the fear of death came so strong that I associated the two ever since. My closest friends and partners knew that if they saw me leap out of my bed or run out of a room with no notice, the only thing to do was hug me until it passed. Talking would make it worse.
The only thing that soothed this fear was the thought of my mother. Just thinking about calling her pacified me. And while we have never spoken about this, I reach for her endless stream of love when in death’s grips.
A Different Kind of Dying
One day, a man contacted me to ask why his “dead” produce and flowers would make music when connected to the Music of the Plants device. While it is not a supported use of the device, manipulating the clips, you could listen to plants without roots. He mistakenly took his lettuce and broccoli as dead, so he couldn’t understand why they would make music. Do you remember those childhood experiments when you would place fruit or vegetables in water for them to grow? We don’t give a second thought as to why this works. The answer is so obvious we are blind to it. They grow because they are still alive. I hate to break it to you, but when you eat a salad, you are actually devouring living beings!
His question triggered a curiosity, “could I hear death if I listened to a cut plant as it died?”
Carefully cutting a flower from the orchid in my office — I don’t normally have cut flowers around me anymore — I proceeded to spend two weeks listening to the music of this delicate flower as it finished out its physical life. I listened attentively for any noticeable changes that I could associate to my definition of death. As I listened, I realized that while the flower might be “dying”, the plant it came from continues on. Not only, that plant is probably a collection of plants within one container and was likely connected to an ecosystem of plants before it was individuated into the pot. Listening lead me to think about my own spiritual beliefs around death and the journey of the soul. At the end of those two weeks, I saw how my belief system and physical fear were out alignment.
Why was I so Afraid of Death?
I have spent the better part of two years on a quest to bring into alignment my conscious beliefs and my unconscious fears. In the Sacred Woods Temple, I sat with decaying plant parts and sprouting buds searching for where life begins and ends. In cities, I observe stepped on grasses and mangled dandelions to understand why plants keep coming up in places where they know life is unsustainable. And through my studies, I ponder the endless web created above and below ground for clarity on these extremes we call “life” and “death”.
What I Discovered
I discovered that there is no such thing as death as I had come to know it. I feared an illusion built on the belief that the physical body contained the real me. But I am more than my body.
In Spiritual Physics, we are attractors of personalities connected to a Primeval Divinity. (Cardo, 31) In the King James version of the bible, Ecclesiastes 12:7 states, “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” Even some scientists are coming around to the idea that the soul doesn’t end with physical death, but instead returns to the universe. (Hameroff, 2014) And with all of the recent discoveries around consciousness — something we don’t know how to describe, but believe exists — who is to say that what lies beyond this physical life isn’t even more exciting?
The mini panic attacks stopped when I internalized that my body is one of many shells my essence will use on this journey through existence. Birth and death — the same as success and failure — are not end points. They are transitions beyond which you don’t stop experiencing “because you arrived somewhere”, but instead continue to accumulate with increased discernment. More than a road to travel to an end, there is a road to build across lifetimes, like a plant endlessly regenerates itself.
- In what I can only describe as the connection between mother and daughter, as I was writing these words, my mother unexpectedly contacted me. Given the moment, I thought it was time to finally shared my fear with her, which lead to a beautiful conversation and a few tears of connection.
Want to know more?
If you want to be part of the conversation around plant neurobiology and social innovation, #natureinthecity, or plant music and communication, reach out via my website, Medium, and if you are interested in this type of research, our Facebook group on the Effects of Plant Music on Human Health and Interspecies Music.
As a philosopher, naturepreneur, and keynote speaker, I have spoken in front of intimate groups and conference audiences around the world about climate change, the Music of the Plants, plant intelligence, biomimicry, bioutilization, and how the plant world can help us find solutions to problems big and small.
How to book Tigrilla:
My schedule for the first half of 2018 is booked solid, and now you know why! If you are organizing an event and would like me to participate or would like to organize a dedicated workshop or lecture, contact me to discover a new vision sure to spark creative!
References and Credits
Cardo, Coyote. Spiritual Physics. Vidracco: Devodama Srl, 2015.
Hameroff Stuart. Consciousness, Microtubules and “Orch-OR”: A ‘Space-time’ Odyssey, Journal of Consciousness Studies, Volume 21, 3–4, 2014, pp 126–153 PDF
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Originally published at Tigrilla Gardenia.