Plants Speak: On Pesticides and Genetic Modification
Updated: May 2, 2019
Are pesticides and genetically modified food really that bad? There are lobbyists and scientists on both sides. But amongst all the discussion, nobody has asked the plants themselves.
Over the past few decades, there have been multiple shifts in western culture’s food production and how people think about what they eat. This of course includes plant based foods – fruits, vegetables, and grains. Concepts such as “organic,” “non-GMO,” and “locally sourced” have become widespread in reaction to industrialized farming. Compared to only ten years ago, more and more stores are filled with products for consumers who want their food without pesticides, genetic modification, or long transport trails. There has also been a great deal of debate on such issues: Is it all just a fad? Are pesticides and genetically modified food really that bad? There are lobbyists and scientists on both sides. But amongst all the discussion, nobody has asked the plants themselves.
While our culture agrees that plants are alive, few regard them as conscious beings – which is why they have been left out of discussions that address the inhumane conditions that the animals we consume are raised in. Even now there is contention about “how much” consciousness animals have – and plants are virtually left out of the picture all together. There have, however, been a handful of scientific studies that indicate that plants release different chemicals in response to different human emotions directed towards them; other studies have demonstrated specific chemical reactions occur within plants when parts of them are cut off (scientists cannot conclude if the plants feel “pain” as humans do). Such studies could lay the groundwork for a shift in how western culture – as well as other cultures – approach plants. But as of now the general population regards plants as alive, but devoid of any spirit – as if they were hollow bodies.
Yet in the life world of the shaman, plants are very much conscious entities with spirits and minds – just like every part of nature. To look at just one example: In the South American shamanic tradition of the Ayahuasquero, sacred tea is made from two plants – ayahuasca and chacruna (in some traditions another plant is substituted for chacruna). The process of brewing this tea (known simply as ayahuasca) is quite involved, and can take as long as twenty-four hours. When used in ceremony, the tea has the ability to facilitate deep healing and create intense visionary experiences. Scientifically, the chacruna contains DMT and ayahuasca contains MAOI harmala alkaloids; the DMT is what brings the visionary experience, but without the MAOI harmala alkaloids, DMT could not be received by the brain. Only these two plants together could create both the visionary and healing experiences that ayahuasca tea produces. When the Ayahuasquero shamans were asked how, with all the thousands of plants in the jungle, they found that these two plants could be brewed in such a complex manner to create such effects, their answer was simple: The plants told them.
As we start to open ourselves to the possibility that plants are indeed conscious, we must recognize that the minds of plants obviously differ from the minds of humans. The consciousness of each individual plant is less localized than that of each human individual; that is, each plant may not feel the sense of individualized self that humans do. Instead, each plant species’ consciousness (its “spirit”) is localized in a realm other than the physical; each individual plant we find in the physical world is a particular manifestation and a part of this species’ plant spirit. So while each pine tree that we come across is individualized in its particular features and has a life of its own, it is intimately connected with the consciousness and spirit of the Pine Tree, which shines through each and every pine tree. (Animals are similar to plants in this respect, but their consciousness is somewhat more localized in the physical realm than plants, though not to the extent of human consciousness.)
The difference in modes of existence between plants and humans is one reason why people have lost the sense of plants as conscious beings. However, plants are forever ready to re-open this channel of communication. Human communication with plants is necessarily different from communication with other people. By spending time in nature/with plants, talking with them (out loud or inwardly), sharing your feelings with them, and listening to them with heart and mind, it is possible to come into relationship with a plant. Through an individual plant, one can communicate with its spirit.
It is even possible to ask plants specific questions, such as how they are affected by pesticides and genetic modification. It is no surprise that they are harmed by pesticides, specifically chemical or synthetic pesticides. Being sprayed with such substances can be likened to humans being tear gassed – a painful and disorienting experience. Plants rightly point out the obvious: These pesticides would not be necessary if the natural balance had not been upset by human actions such as monocropping and deforestation. This is not to say that plants cannot be cultivated by humans, but rather that humans have become out of sync with the natural forces that keep ecosystems balanced. In fact, plants are very willing to be cultivated, but in such ways that are harmonious with their being – some examples are small-plot farms and forest gardens. In short, humans were not intended to have dominion over nature, but to be stewards of it.
While use of chemical pesticides is physically harmful to plants, they find genetic modification even more detrimental. Genes are the mode through which the plant spirits enter their particular species in the physical world: Like a code, genes allow the spirit to identify its species in the physical; and like a channel, genes are the gateway through which the spirit inhabits each physical plant. When genes are modified, the spirit has difficulty entering its plant; if it can come through at all, it is only in a distorted form. As the spirit is not fully within the plant, it is not able to perform its role in nature. In terms of plants consumed by humans for food, there is another side effect: Each plant’s spirit brings the life force into the plant; that life force nourishes the human – bodily, but especially in mind and soul. Since most genetic modifications don’t allow a plant spirit to fully enter its physical species, the life force that nourishes us does not make it through either. So while genetically modified plants are alive physically, their life force is being strangled. In this way, we are manifesting our delusion of plants as alive yet but devoid of spirit – genetically altering them to keep them alive physically, but restricting their spirit.
The present genetic modification of plants has been a direct consequence of losing touch with plants as conscious beings. However, if we re-learn to connect with plant spirits they could guide us in genetic modifications; we could become their engineers, allowing their spirit to guide us in developing their physical manifestations. This has happened in the past, as with the cultivation of the corn by Native Indians, where they cross-pollinated various species with guidance from the Corn Maidens, and created a great variety of corn (red, blue, yellow, and white). If we look again to ayahuasca, we find another example: The spirit of ayahuasca, Mother Ayahuasca, has demonstrated that the physical plant was bio-engineered by the Atlantian civilization, who then called upon Mother Ayahuasca to inhabit it. Such examples give us an idea of relationship we can re-build with the plant world.
As we stand, our relationship with plants is incredibly lacking. Use of pesticides and genetically modified food is still prevalent, not to mention fields of monocrops and large deforested areas. But there is hope in the shifting attitudes in western culture. To fully restore the human-plant relationship, there must be the actual perception of plants as conscious entities. Shamans, for their part, can be a great resource in re-establishing this connection. They have been actively continuing the human relationship with plants, using plant’s physical manifestations for healing and invoking their spirits for guidance. All of us, too, have the ability to communicate with plants in this way – we need but to listen to them, walk amongst them, reach out to them with our hearts and minds. The natural world is incredibly generous, and plants are no exception. Through re-engaging our relationship with plants, we can begin to heal the pain we have caused them; we can co-cultivate plants along with their spirits.