Before a gathering of people in Finland, I was asked to describe one life-changing personal transformation I achieved thanks to my relationship with plants.
I looked across the room to each face, trying to understand just how much of my personal journey to reveal. Most of my life is public, but some parts are still a little tender. I’m 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 in so few days, 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 needed a recharge if I was going to say something even remotely brilliant. But with little time, what could I do?
After brooding around uncomfortably as they prepared the room, I decided 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 searched for some privacy.
Meet Jade and Echeveria
There were two plants in the container: Jade plant (Crassula Ovata) and Echeveria (Echeveria Elegans). When you start communicating with plants, you are often the one to initiate the contact. You reach out in hopes of getting a response.
The more you work with plants though, the more you hear them call out to you. And in this case, it was Jade that wanted to reconnect.
I sat very near and asked if they could compose a melody to help me transform my bad mood into something positive. I laid myself bare before them to be washed anew by their song. It was probably a big ask for such a tiny plant, but at the time it felt right. I sat in their presence with my eyes closed, receptive to whatever Jade 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 they called me to begin, and with each note I felt an energy of “courage” fill me. Unbeknownst to me, the reason they chose to give courage would be quickly revealed—all it took was one question.
An unexpected question
Finns don’t ask many questions. They tend to observe and internalize their thoughts, which makes for very long monologue feeling presentations. Lucky for me, there was one woman in the audience that broke the silence. She more than broke it, she shattered it with her inquisitive nature. My gratitude turned to mild concern when she commandeered the room with her constant combination of questions and comments.
It took years to learn how to navigate these types of guests. Thanks to Jade, I had the energy to do it with grace. In a rare moment between the vocalized thoughts of my inquisitor, another woman interjected, “Can you tell us about one personal transformation that has completely changed your life thanks to what you learn from plants?”
Stillness. Jade’s music was still playing within me when I carefully opened my mouth—and my heart—and began to answer…
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 when death takes hold. The fear that keeps you up at night from the sheer terror you may not wake up. There was one particular song I could not listen to for years 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 had clear instructions that if they saw me leap out of a car (yep, I did that once) 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.
Dying for a personal transformation
A man once 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 thought of his lettuce and broccoli as dead—which is why it is OK to eat, right?— so he couldn’t understand why they would make music. Something had to be wrong with the device.
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 though, “could I hear death if I listened to a plant as it died?”
Music of a dying orchid flower
I decided to carry out an experiment: tentatively 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.
It sounds easy. Most people cut flowers or rip pieces off of plants all the time. But for me, just the thought of this experiment was enough to send me into hyperventilation!
First, you asked me to willfully cut short the life of a bloom simply out of my own curiosity.
Second, did you read above about how I react to death?
This was no easy task.
Taking many deep breaths and focusing on the science, I listened attentively during those weeks for any noticeable changes that could be associated with my definition of death. While listening, I realized that even though the flower was “dying”, the plant it came from continues on.
Not only that, the “single” orchid is most likely a collection of plants within one container. And before that, was probably part of a greater ecosystem of plants, mycelium, and insects willfully torn away and put into the pot I now found in my office.
Listening forced me to meditate on my own understandings around death and the journey of the soul. At the end of those two weeks, it was clear to see that my visceral fear of death was not in alignment with my spiritual beliefs around life.
Why was I so Afraid of Death?
I 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 of Damanhur, 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”.
The more I pushed myself outside my comfort zone, the more I discovered that there is no such thing as death as I knew 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?
Personal transformation came when I internalized that my body is one of many shells my essence will use on this journey through existence. Oh, and the mini-panic attacks ended around the same time.
Birth and death—the same as success and failure—are not end points. They are evolutions beyond which you don’t stop experiencing “because you arrived somewhere”, but instead continue to accumulate with increased awareness. And the more conscious you become, the easier it is to see that all you need in order to be happy is to believe that you are happy.
More than a road to travel to an end, there is a road to build across lifetimes, like a plant endlessly regenerating itself.
1. The Music of the Plants is a device that allows plants to make music using their electrical system. For more information, click here (Link to the internal page on the site that talks about plant music)
2. In what I can only describe as the connection between mother and daughter, as I wrote these words, my mother unexpectedly called me. Given the moment, I thought it was time to finally share my fear with her, which led to a beautiful conversation and tears of reconnection.
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