GIZELLE RHYON-BERRY INTERVIEW
Interview Date: April 21, 2007
Place: Novato, CA
Interviewer: Linda Milks
Desda Zuckerman gave me Gizelle’s name and said she would be a good person to interview for NSP. Gizelle and I met at a Starbucks in Novato and then went in her car to the head of a public walk–trail near a golf course. It was raining / drizzling so for about 2 hours we spoke inside her car parked at the side of the road.
Cars were zooming past us regardless of the wet roads. I was holding the recorder close to Gizelle who has a fairly soft voice and I was concerned the recording would not be good. It turned out to be fine though.
She chose this spot where we could be outside by the trees but except for the last 20 minutes or so, we stayed in the car due to the rain.
Gizelle teaches and conducts research for the Foundation for Shamanic Studies founded by Michael & Sandra Harner. She collects and organizes a huge amount of material from many, many sources and cultures world-wide dating back to the 1500’s. Digital copies are being made and cross-cultural connections are highlighted. She is searching commonalities and regularities in shamanic journeys throughout the ages including contemporary modern westerners. Much of this information has been re-told and re-recorded by secondary authors over a period of time and she must take this into consideration when assessing the quality and validity of the documents. She sees that people all over the world have similar experiences and artwork that fit into archetypal images & realities.
Gizelle was born in Hungary and immigrated to Canada in 1967 when she was 23. She was raised partly by her grandmother who was very knowledgeable about plants and their properties. She now lives and works in Novato, CA and is in the US on a 3 year work visa that the Foundation assisted in gaining for her via the court system. She goes once a month back to Western Canada to teach for the Foundation.
She also spends time teaching in Australia & New Zealand.
Where are we now in Novato?
We’re very close to Stafford Lake, which is the water reservoir for this area, and it is near the Indian Valley Golf Club. This paved pathway is a very short hiking loop but there are some lovely trees along and there is a little creek running behind them. And we have a view of Canada geese and there are cattle grazing here.
(There were some cattle grazing across the road. She explains that it’s supposed to be a public place (the golf course) but she couldn’t get farther than the clubhouse when she walked up by way of the driveway / road. She doesn’t think much of golf courses because of their huge need for water and upkeep at the expense of the environment.)
You were mentioning before about your (shamanic) journeys and the personal relationship that is required with the plants, and in your experience it is all about this personal relationship. So the communication you have with them is from the plant spirit to your spirit. Would you talk a bit more about that?
Yeah. Yes, precisely. As I mentioned if I want to bring information or to relay some information that is valuable for the larger humanity, that message still has to come to me first. And through my actions the changes are going to take effect; the changes that I make in my life is going to affect the larger humanity.
We can see the big picture for the community, but we also know that small individuals can make a big difference if we want to change the bigger picture.
There are larger powers on basically 3 levels:
There are powers below, there are some in the middle range somewhere and then some above. We have to communicate with the divine in all three, but we also have to be physically and actively making changes following the instructions of the divine if we are to make a difference and to make things happen.
Just talking is not going to do it. Even praying everyday, going on journey everyday, seeking advice, asking questions and acquiring is not going to make a difference until I actually start acting on it.
Very interesting - and a good reminder.
It’s very interesting, I have a counseling practice where I incorporate shamanic journeying into it and I do experiments on myself – journeying everyday. For 2 months, I practiced, what I called a journey therapy. I experimented journeying every day, recorded the journeys, followed up on them and noticed the changes in my own personal life. And then I proposed it professionally if someone was interested.
And what was interesting is that the first 2 weeks, everyday I went to journey. I would journey to the lower world to my power animal, or upper world, or to a plant spirit. I communicated with the living plant in ordinary reality as well. Everyday they gave me something to do.
My intent or my questions were; what is it that I need to know, what is it that I need to do today or this week or tomorrow? I was not asking how I’m going to pay my bill next week or something trivial. This is a spiritual quest for me, it’s a spiritual journey for me and I’m going for self discovery. I want to understand myself and in the process of doing the journeying, I discover it, hopefully. It was a lot of work.
I’ll give you a couple of examples.
All the assignments spirits give depends on how I learn, how I relate to a learning process, my own learning style. There are some people who are visual learners, others are auditory, or experiential - they have to do things, and yet others are solitary. Some people work or study in pairs and their learning is communal. So every one of us has a particular way of learning.
Some of us need humor to learn and some of us need a lot of lecturing and some of us just listen, or don’t do anything but just be. Some people have to be pushed and some left alone. And so that is exactly the way the spirit teaches. To the way we learn.
So my spirits - springing from my personality - need to push me a little bit. My spirit teachers are very quiet. They don’t really say anything, they don’t do much, they just wait until I get an “ah ha!”. Or I have to actually do something and then in the process of doing I discover it.
The relationship with the divine is custom tailored to every single individual. This is why I have so much problem of accepting that there is this big message out there and there’s a big mission we are all heading for.
I don’t know, I think it’s an individual life and an individual’s experience that affects the surroundings. This magnificence manifests in the community and the individual through action, there’s no magic formula here.
And as for humanity; well I am a pessimist, I am not an optimist. I see what we are doing to this environment, what we are doing to the air, what we are doing to the ocean, and to animals and the plants around us and to us as a species. There’s no divine power that’s going to save us from the result.
This is why – I don’t believe in mother ships coming from somewhere and lifting up some good people and taking them somewhere else, I don’t believe in that. I think it’s our responsibility to do the best here.
I was watching Bill Maher last night – and he is wicked, he appeals to my taste -
(she says this good naturedly), and he was talking about bees. Einstein said that “once the bees die, we are going to die with them”. And then the bees are dying, and they are dying for many reasons. One of them is cell phones.
That’s what I heard last night.
You know, we won’t be giving up the cell phones, so where are we heading?
No – I don’t want to go away from spirit communication.
I only communicate with my spirit guardians, spirit helpers, or nature spirits, when I’m confused or when I really don’t know what I need to do. Most of us, when we ask a question, we already have an answer in mind. And most of us know exactly what we need to do. However, either we don’t want to do it, or we are not capable for whatever reason. Or external influences may prevent us from doing it, but regardless most of us know what it is we need to do in particular situations.
There’s a beautiful story of a traditional practice by Coast Salish women, a native group on Vancouver Island.
You’re talking about a particular tribe.
Yes, the Coast Salish, I don’t know what particular linguistic group they are.
Every month the women came together for a meeting, strictly a women’s meeting to discuss and talk about things, issues or whatever. One woman would hold the talking stick and say whatever she wanted to say and how she wanted to say it without being judged, reprimanded or criticized for it.
If there was a woman who came to the circle the third time talking about the same problem, the whole group stood up, moved away from her and formed another circle.
I like to tell this story because the story shows, that the woman was to realize that she has been talking about her problem but not done anything to resolve it. Asking continuous questions and guidance on how to solve a problem, but not actually solving it was unacceptable.
I had not heard that before.
It relates to what I’m saying, that there is divine wisdom that’s accessible for every single one of us, and divine wisdom comes through living plants and living animals and the spirit of the plants and the spirit of these animals and people.
It’s accessible. We can go and we can ask but we also have to make the effort; actually, physically, and willfully follow and act on the advice.
Life is action, life is a process. The spirit alone is powerless. People say how powerful God is, how powerful divine is, but it’s only powerful if we engage that power; otherwise it remains neutral. There’s no good and bad, only neutral.
We human beings are capable of charging that neutrality by either thinking or doing good or bad. My thinking influences that neutrality. This is why I mentioned last night when we were talking, that we need to be careful that the messenger doesn’t write the message.
We have to put our ego our personality and everything aside when we are communicating with the divine because it comes through the channel of our personality. We can influence it if we don’t. If this grey jelly in our cranial cavity is in the middle then everything gets really muddled up.
Do you have any questions?
My priority is to reveal as much as possible from the plant world; to tell about who they are so we humans have a better understanding of them.
And so this is your perspective and it is very valuable, everyone’s perspective I find is very valuable. And I would love to hear stories. As much as you can reveal, as many details that you can reveal would be appreciated.
I believe human beings can still learn. And there are many indigenous cultures living in simple societies, and farmers who work with plants and nature understand this.
Plants, and I don’t want to talk of them exclusively because animals as well - live in the moment. They are in the now. They are now. They don’t run back and forth between past present and future.
Why we differ profoundly from any other living creature on this earth is because we’re split. We’re capable of separating and splitting ourselves.
There’s a Chinese saying that, ”when human beings were born, heaven and earth separated.” Becoming conscious of our being, or recognizing the self had created duality.
Plants don’t recognize duality. They are just one, one with the divine one with everything. There’s no separation. The acacia trees, the laurel trees, or the oak trees do not differentiate themselves as oak, laurel or acacia. They are just beings and they do whatever those particular beings do, unfolding in the moment.
This world where we’re living, where there are trees and animals, is a finite world. Everything we see, feel and touch will eventually end. It wasn’t here before, it is gone to seeds, the sprouts and then grows and flowers and reproduces more seeds and you have the cycles of finiteness. Only the cycles are infinite. One cycle is finite. In this finite world, time is structured – we can only understand the “one thing follows the other”. In non-ordinary reality time doesn’t exist. There is no structure. Living plants and animals seem to be able to transcend the structure and just live in suspended timelessness.
When we ask a question from plants they just wonder; why are you asking this question? Don’t you understand, don’t you know?
At least, the spirits of nature pointed this out to me. Why are you asking this question, don’t you understand? Of course we understand, but either we don’t want to admit it, or it’s difficult because we are not living in the moment.
Either I think about what happened before or what’s going to happen next.
Plants, animals, flowers, are in the right now. This is what it is.
In other words we have and live in memories.
Trees, they just encompass, they hold everything. This is interesting how difficult it is to put into words. This is when words fail us.
But maybe with one example I can demonstrate. One of the messages or homework I got from one of my journeys…I lived in Victoria, BC (Canada) at that time.
It was the beginning of January – (the homework) was to talk with 5 budding plants and seek advice. What is it that the plant can tell me?
Now where can I find in the first week of January 5 budding plants? So of course the head goes into gear, I start thinking. Well, there are no budding plants now. This is winter. The winter is a little bit colder than here, (San Francisco). Thinking too much about it and looking for plants from my memory – ok, what kind of plants would be budding at this time of year?
I have to stop thinking and go outside maybe I missed some. And sure enough I go to my garden and there is this primrose. The leaves are all shriveled up, we had a little snow, and it was very cold, but right in the center there were a couple of little buds already. This was the first one I found. And of course, I had budding flowers inside my house.
So anyway, this was the very first one. I asked the little spirit there, “what can you teach me. What can you tell me, what is it that I need to know”?
The little voice said. “I’m ready.” And then I said OK, can you explain this a little bit. And then the plant spirit said, “I’m always ready”. And then I waited a little longer and the voice said, “I’m always prepared. I’m always prepared. Are you?”
That was a question. And then that’s all the plant said. To me the plants don’t go into stories.
I’m always ready – this is what the spirit was saying. So I have to contemplate on this and think about what that could mean. Of course, that was the first moment I recognized that they are always in the moment.
That little plant is prepared to live, it’s prepared to bud, it is prepared to grow, it is also prepared to die. It’s always ready for whatever comes.
So if I am in that moment – just like the greatest warriors are always prepared, so am I.
In the native tradition why they called some young men warriors, they are not hunters, they’re not just looking for something and trying to shoot them or capture them. The warriors are prepared but they don’t necessarily have to fight. They are just prepared.
So for every single one of us the spirit is there. To me it was so profound.
It was nine years ago when that happened.
It’s interesting that we can read books, we can listen to lectures, neighbors can tell us, children can tell us, friends can tell us, wise men & women can tell us things but not until the answer clicks within when the real grasping and understanding of a particular meaning comes home.
That was a moment for me, understanding that little budding.
When you say that was the first one, you mean that was the first of the five plant spirits.
But you have been doing this a long time right, longer than 9 years?
Yes. This was just one of those… Every encounter is not always so profound. The reason I’m saying this – I can come to an understanding or grasping from reading journeys (of others for her research), which resonate, and there are thousands of them.
Some of them are incredibly profound and meaningful and when I read them, I understand them, but they didn’t get it. (the authors who had these experiences).
They claim at the end of their description that “I don’t understand what it’s all about” and I say, “why didn’t you get it, why didn’t you get it, it’s so clear”?
But sometimes we just can’t! Why can’t we? Because thinking gets in the way and sometimes emotions get in the way.
We have to get out of the head, we have to get ourselves out of the way to communicate with spirits.
I have to get back to what happened after a series of 3 weeks journeys. I went back to journey to grasses – I love talking to grasses, they’re beautiful, - and to other plants and animals about one particular question I didn’t get.
I think I went on 4 or 5 journeys on the same question. I don’t remember now what it was, but I remember the last instruction I got. The spirit asked me to stand on my head and look through the window that way.
(I chuckle at this)
This is – when the spirit asks you to do something, you do it. For some reason there is this incredible intelligence or wisdom out there that knows you so well.
(She muses about what the spirits must be thinking:)
[We have given her 4 assignments she still doesn’t get it now we have to turn her upside down to see things differently.]
Because we can only recognize something when there is a shift, we only recognize a difference. If things are the same, we don’t see it. We have to move a little bit, or something has to move to create a little discrepancy. We notice the discrepancy. Sure enough, I stood on my head and I even drew pictures. And I think it was for 4 days every morning before I got on with my day, I stood on my head and looked through the window until I noticed something different. And that’s when the insights come, that’s when the “ah ha’s” came.
You noticed something different within yourself, not on the outside…
I understood, actually I grasped the meaning of the difference. You know why we cannot change sometimes is because we are doing the same thing over and over and over again. With change we have to do something different because it’s the difference, the discrepancy that attracts us.
I’m reminded of the Tarot deck and The Hanged Man. And to me it is an archetype of what you were talking about, that’s what it represents.
Oh yes absolutely.
OK here is my own personal experience with this and this is my understanding.
But this particular insight is useful for everybody, it’s not only for me. And this is where we come to the bigger picture, to humanity.
I was listening to this panel last night on TV– I don’t have a TV but I am house sitting for someone. This was so interesting to see that the Englishman, I don’t know his name, a very conservative thinking man wrote a book on presidents and the Pope or something like that. Then there was this young woman who was a political critic and also present was a Senator.
It was so interesting to see how caught up they were in their own belief systems. They were not capable of seeing anyone else’s point of view because they could only see in everybody else, what they see for themselves. And what I like about Bill Maher is that he could see and is so quick to recognize things and he was the only one to grasp where the panel was side tracking.
Then the satirists Stewart and Colbert, who are brilliant and quick to see through hole’s and grasps in human thinking and behavior. Most often it’s not pretty, it’s not nice.
But if we see everybody as like us, we will never see the difference and we will never agree.
And this is what the plant was saying to you?
Yes, this is what the plant was saying. We only recognize differences, we only recognize discrepancies and if we’re exactly the same as what we see we don’t recognize it. It’s invisible.
All of humanity could use that.
There’s another interesting story which happened in Africa with an American anthropologist or psychologist. There was a particular tribe and they had rather harsh rituals for initiating young girls and boys. The American who was visiting there was criticizing this cultural practice. He just kept saying I don’t understand why are you doing this, I just don’t understand…
So finally an elder said, “you don’t understand it because you are the same as us”. You can’t see the meaning in this suffering because you are the same as us.”
And of course this person was taken aback.
“We do this particular ritual and it is painful for a particular purpose. You also hurt other people in your own cultures but you don’t know why. So at least we have a purpose for why we are doing this.
Spiritual and initiatory rituals have been done throughout the ages. Human beings have inflicted some type of suffering because through suffering, an understanding comes. This is extremely valuable.
Most healers have health problems and issues here and there. And I remember once that the spirit told me, “how can you be empathetic and sympathetic to someone else’s plight if you haven’t experienced pain yourself. How do you even know what suffering is if you haven’t experienced it yourself.”?
This was a plant spirit that told you this?
This was not a plant spirit it was another spirit teacher.
Do you ever have this encounter with the plant spirits? Do they address this?
No, it never comes up –I never come across suffering. That’s very interesting, I’ve never thought of it this way.
Have you ever been around trees or forests that have been cut down indiscriminately?
Yes, I have and also it’s very interesting that suffering didn’t even come into the picture. There was a great deal of sadness.
I remember I had a landlord in Victoria, BC. I rented this lovely old home where he planted a small redwood tree, a sequoia. The first year it was doing OK and the second year it was not doing so well and the third year I thought it was going to die.
A couple of branches had started turning brown and it was not growing, though I was watering it and doing what I could. But then I thought, OK, why don’t I journey to the plant and see what I can do? I’ll never forget this because there was a great deal of fatigue and sadness to the energy, but again, that is how I perceived it.
This is the way I am capable of feeling and connecting with other living things. It is through my emotions or feelings. The plant didn’t say, “I’m tired.” I felt tired being near this plant so I thought obviously that the plant was tired. This was how it communicated with me, not with words.
And you could tell this was coming from the plant and this was not your interpretation projected on to the tree?
That may be, but then there was a plum tree that was full of flowers and exuberance and I just walked past that tree and when I got home I felt fine.
So I said, “what can I do for you? Is there anything I can do for you?” And I don’t remember now if he said anything specific but there was just a sense of loneliness and then the tree said, “find me a friend”. “OK –I’ll do everything I can.” I said.
So I started walking around the neighborhood and sure enough, just a block away, I found another sequoia tree. I told that tree that I had a young one in my yard, which is very sick and tired, and it needs a friend. What can I do, can you help me?
The spirit of the tree said, “well, just take a couple of my branches and take some of my energy and give it to the tree there”. I took the branches back and I placed them around on the ground near the little tree and,- I get emotional when I think about it, - and then I said to the little tree just breathe. The next few weeks and months the tree was recovering and now it is a beautiful healthy big tree.
And when was this?
It must have been in the mid 90’s.
Did you notice something right away with the energy of the little tree?
Well, I went to see it everyday and you know you can stroke the energy of the trees and plants. You can see the energy field around them. You know you pray for them and you ask your own spirit helpers to help the tree. Because it was not a disease – we don’t know what caused it.
I remember I was very sad and depressed one time so I decided to take a nice hot bath. In the soft water I went on this very short journey – I usually pray for plants when I think of it. A message came that I should collect some little violet flowers that grow outside.
This was springtime so I went to the woods and asked permission to collect a handful of violets. I put the flowers in my next bath all around me and as I was sinking into my bath I heard these little voices say. “oh our sister isn’t feeling well so let’s help her”. That was so sweet to have these little flowers floating in my bath and speaking to me to cheer me up.
How did this come across to you?
I hear them, not with my physical ears but I hear them inside. That’s how I heard that they had these little voices.
Last spring I went to the edge of the woods around here and I spoke with them. They are very cheerful and perky and happy little flowers.
I am getting back to the long-term daily journeys I mentioned before.
After 3 weeks the work was piling up. Some things I could do one day and some I couldn’t do for another week, and then I went on a journey the next day, I got more and more homework and it was getting overwhelming. I had far too many things to do so I started ignoring it.
Then one day I went on a journey and there was nothing. There was no advice – nothing but silence. I did this the next day and the same thing happened, I got nothing. So on the third day, one of my spirit helpers came and she said, “why should we give you anything, you have not done any work in the past two weeks.”
That’s funny! When did this happen?
I started this project in 1998 I think. I was experimenting for two years and then I refined it. So what I do now is I send students on a journey daily for two weeks, every second day for two weeks and then once a week for a month.
This is a two months project. The journeys are spaced to give people more space and time. Everybody is different, our personalities, our issues, our make-up, but I don’t think we are unique.
We learn differently so spirit approaches us in a way that we are capable of interacting with them. It doesn’t matter if they are plant, animal or human spirits, they interact with us in a way that we are capable of responding.
And some people get off easy and some people have to work more. I don’t really know how it works but…
So coming back to plant spirits. I remember sitting at the edge of a lake and there were beautiful trees around me and the wind came up and ran around the lake and all the trees were moving in one direction. Then the wind stopped. There was silence. Then the wind came again and then birds came and the waves came. And then there was this little voice from a little tree behind where I was sitting on a rock. The little voice behind me said, “you see, everything comes to us”.
How true that is!
And if you look at it metaphorically from a human perspective, yeah, everything will come to us if we are waiting wisely, we don’t necessarily have to run after it.
We have legs of course so we think we should probably run.
What kind of tree was it that spoke to you? And which lake?
I don’t remember the tree but it was Matheson Lake outside Victoria on Vancouver Island.
You know there’s a Chinese proverb that says, “Everything comes to those who wait, even old age.”
Different species have different personalities and characteristics. Can you mention any of these characteristics that might define the various species?
Yes, definitely but I can only speak from my experience so I can’t say that this is exactly the way it is out there.
This oneness or this divine grace or Great Spirit – I don’t know how we should call it, is this incomprehensible wisdom. It is also a tremendous potential, which is another way to say this.
We are dreams of the gods. Before anything or anyone is born, it is a thought in the Divine, it’s a dream of the Divine. So anything that manifests here is a spark from that divine potential.
I see our brain as just an organ. It is an instrument that connects to this field that each one of us carry. It enlarges and gets bigger and bigger and we are centers of our own universe, that’s the way I see it. And that’s how we connect to this greater divine, through this field with this very fine membrane.
I love grasses I think they are beautiful so I’ll choose this. So how their personality appears to me depends on my need or desire or purpose of why I am seeking this spirit so I can communicate with it. I’m going to this particular spirit for a particular purpose.
It’s necessary that you sit in the grass and be with them. They may tell you for example, “Isn’t this so wonderful? You know, you don’t have to see the world all over when you’re lying down here, you can see the world only up to our heads.”
The personality of the plant appears to me specifically for the purpose I am journeying for. For example the plant purslane. People don’t eat it anymore, but I do because I like the taste of it. They are pretty hearty plants, a weed with a thick stem and waxy leaves that are fleshy with tiny yellow flowers. When you cook it, it has a tangy taste and it is very high in Omega 3’s.
My daughter and I were living outside of Victoria, BC on an organic farm and I got sick. We used purslane as a vegetable and also gave it to chickens… I got sick and I didn’t know what was wrong. One day I journeyed to purslane and asked its spirit if it could help me.
The plant spirit appeared to me as a very plump, jolly, delightful old woman with a round face and rosy cheeks. She almost reminded me of my grandmother, very squatty. And interestingly, the plant is squatty; it creeps on the ground. It doesn’t grow tall.
The grasses, it’s wonderful to lie down in them because you can’t see the world you can only see up to their heads. When you lie down in the tall grass you are shorter than the grass.
Anyway, this jolly little woman told me to drink its juice. And I said OK, thank you so much. I picked some, made juice, ate the greens in salad and steamed the branches as veggie. It’s really a lovely plant.
The personality of this plant spirit appeared to me as a stocky, grounded earth mother and I didn’t know at the time that they were high in Omega 3’s. I put the plant into the juicer added some water because it came out as sticky liquid, kind of like jelly. I discovered later that the Omega 3 oils were what I needed to get better – it was amazing!
I really don’t know how this works, but the personality of the plant spirit shows up for the need that you have.
How long did you drink the juice and when did you begin to feel better?
Well the plant has a short growing season and I was eating other things that were suggested to me as well. I was using other wild things so I’m not sure.
The same purslane plant could have appeared to you differently if you had approached the spirit with the same problem.
If the same plant appears to a large number of people with the same advice then that’s when the truth of true medicine women _____??? of the plant comes from. That’s how we have such an incredible knowledge base of herbal medicine.
Many previously unknown plants were introduced to North America and native people very quickly picked-up on what they were good for.
Have you ever journeyed to a plant or tree and received instructions that seemed contrary to your understanding of the use of that plant? For example hemlock – if the spirit of hemlock were to say eat me, and we know that can kill us...Have you ever encountered this?
Well, again it depends on what question you are asking and how you are asking it. There are two shrubs I can tell stories about. One is poison oak.
I did not know what poison oak looked like. Everybody said well, they have three leaves look like oak leaves, etc. And the other one was castor bean. It’s a seed that looks like a bean and comes in this very spiky casing. The plant is quite large with huge leaves. The seeds are where the purgative castor oil comes from. If you eat the beans, you can get very bad and serious digestive problems and make you very sick.
I’m sharing this with you so you know how important it is to ask the right question and to know what it is that you need or want. Because the plant will answer you based on the exact question you are asking.
I love drawing. I use colored pencils and last fall I was drawing this beautiful plant by the side of a road. The leaves were orange and yellow and deep purple red – it was wonderful. I thought, being a respectful person, to ask if I can take some of its branches of the tree to take them inside to draw because it was becoming difficult to stay outdoors.
I asked the plant, “can I take some of your branches and draw you?” And the plant said, “Oh of course, sure, go ahead, why not!” So, I took a knife and cut a few branches and I was carrying them in my hand when two joggers running along the road side. They looked at me and sad, “Mam, do you know that you are carrying poison oak?” (we laugh)
And I said, “Oh you are kidding me!” And they said, “no, why would we kid like that, mam. That’s dangerous stuff!”
I was very calm about this and I said, “well, I think I will just leave it here”.
“That’s a very good idea, mam. Leave it here and wash your hands.”
So, I went back and put the branches down and thanked the plant. I heard a giggle coming from the bush! But you know, I had no reaction whatsoever, absolutely no reaction.
Do you think if you had carried the branches back to draw them you would have been affected?
That I don’t know. I really don’t know.
My question was, “can I take you with me”?. And they said, “sure, why not, you can take me with you!”
But if I had asked, “would you hurt me”? They might have said, “yeah, probably.”
So then I would not cut it. We have to know how we need to ask questions.
I had a very similar experience with the castor bean. I asked, “can I eat your seed?” “Sure you can eat my seed.” So I took the seed and ate it and I got very sick for a day. Everything came out of me and my stomach was awful.
The question was, “can I eat your seed”? “ Of course you can eat my seed.”
Did I ask, are you going to hurt me or are you going to heal me?
Have you ever been given a warning by spirit about the dangers of eating a certain plant? If the plant would kill you, do you think the spirit of that plant would warn you of this or steer you away from it?
Well I don’t know, I haven’t had that experience. Unfortunately the shamanic literature doesn’t have enough material on conversations with plant spirits.
There are instances where the spirit of a plant takes pity on a person who is sick.
There is a story about a battle between two tribes and one of the warriors was seriously wounded and he couldn’t keep up with the party as they headed home. Typically what that culture does is that they leave the wounded alone to die.
So, here is this young warrior lying on the ground bleeding and he hears a little voice coming from beneath him. (Paraphrased)
It says, “why are you lying like that? Get up, get up!”
So he moves a little and he hears it again. “Get up, get off of me!”
So he moves and looks to see that he is lying on a plant. And the plant says to him, “just take some of my leaves and put it on your wounds and you will be fine.”
So he took the leaves, put it on his wounds and he walked home.
And this is a true report, I have a copy of this but I don’t remember from which tribe, it was a North American tribe. The plant was very likely yarrow.
In this instance the plant was able to heal the man. It took pity on him and helped him. But generally we engage them somehow because they are neutral spirits. They really don’t care about us. I’m not kidding, they really don’t care.
This whole universe is not only for human beings and this earth is not only for human beings. In the larger picture we are not more important than an insect or a plant or a one celled organisms. We are not superior.
Have any of the plants or grasses mentioned that to you specifically?
I have to look at my notes - I don’t remember any particular incident.
In general the spirits of plants don’t care. We engage them because we need help. Almost exclusively we go to them when we need help and it’s not really reciprocated.
So you would say that none of the plant / tree community believes that they can offer education to humans?
On occasion they may take pity on us if someone is suffering. But in general, we engage them. We ask for something, they don’t engage us specifically or come to knock on our door or anything like that.
I wish they would!
We will be gone from this earth before the trees and plants will. They are not worried. We can kill some but life is tenacious, life is absolutely amazing. What we are doing right now to the plants and oceans and animals – we are killing ourselves.
The initial understanding I had from the trees was that they wanted a better relationship with humans. They want us to understand the need to live in partnership with them instead of in domination over them. And I haven’t received anything in the interim to make be believe otherwise. Would you comment on that?
My interpretation is similar to the stories I shared with you. If we engage them, if we seek advice from them they will tell us what we need to do to make a better world. This is why we need to go to them.
If you received this message I am absolutely convinced that in some way or the other you were already on the path of some sort of self understanding. And then a door opened and then a message came through. I’m absolutely convinced that it was not a cold call for you. You have been on this path already and sometimes there is a small opening and then the spirits can come in.
You have already been seeking. That’s what my answer is because my experience was the same.
I went for advice and they gave me an answer. “If you want more cooperation and a better world, then do this. Live this way. Act this way. Think this way.”
Initially I thought that this communication was for me, personally. And then I came to understand that it was probably more like an all points bulletin and whoever tuned into it would get the same message.
Probably. But initially that was for you first.
Knowing is not enough. There is enough knowledge out there that is totally useless but I do respect nature’s intelligence.
I work in a library where we have thousands and thousands of books and we are still going down the drain. We are not making our world a better place to live. This is what I’m saying; knowledge is meaningless unless is acted on.
I had a master who told me once to burn all my books. What happens is that we just gobble up information but do not change the world. What will change the world is to change how I act and think and how I live my life. If the plants and the trees tell you what to do, Go And DO It! That will change the world.
I had a client who had 450 books on self-help. He was miserable and had been in therapy for 15 years.
I was teaching for the Foundation (Foundation for Shamanic Studies) in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada and there was a young fellow I really liked. He was very intelligent. We went on a journey (shamanic journey) and asked a question. In the journey it came up, “why are you asking this question, you already know the answer.?” This is what we do!
So you are implying that the spirits of the plant and trees are wiser than humans because we are going to them for the answers to a better life?
Why do you think that is? Can you put this in a context that we all might better understand this; such as, why plants and trees? And would you go to specific trees for certain things and to others for something else?
Well, coming back to what I am seeking information for – if I want to consult the spirit of the plant and not using its substances – again it is very different.
The willow tree is where aspirin comes from and we know that if we eat the bark then the pain will go away. And oak leaves are relatively poisonous so since I already know that I would not go to oak tree and make medicine from its body to heal me.
But I would go to the oak tree spirit and seek advice or some sort of wisdom or even healing.
We know that the oak is a very hard wood and it grows very slow it’s very sturdy and stable. However, it also has a weakness, it breaks, it does not bend. So I would choose an oak tree for advice if I had those issues. But then again I know the oak tree.
And the willow is a very soft tree. It bends, that’s its strength. So, by observing and watching and living with certain trees and plants, this would give me that knowledge and discernment of why I would go to certain trees or plants for different issues.
But, if I don’t know anything about a plant then that’s even better; because I don’t know what to expect.
Journeying to plants and trees in Australia and New Zealand while I was there was amazing because I didn’t know anything about them, but in terms of advice, they were not different than the advice coming from plants here.
Indigenous people lived in a particular geographic area and all the things they encountered they were familiar with. The animals, the plants, the fields, the water, the mountains were all familiar because that was their home. They were not familiar with anything that was beyond the borders. They lived for hundreds and thousands of years in that area, but still went to the same plants and animals to seek advice because of their general wisdom.
I don’t necessarily have to journey to an unknown plant to seek advice. I have a fig tree and an oak and a redwood in my yard and I can journey to the fig tree to ask a question every week if I have a problem. It’s exciting to journey to a plant that you don’t know but that doesn’t mean you get a better answer or less meaningful advice than from a plant that you know.
You’re saying then that you could go to any tree or plant with any issue and you would feel confident that the answer you received was right and beneficial. And the species doesn’t matter.
Right. It doesn’t matter what species they are – I really don’t think so.
I can’t tell you how many plants I journey to and I cannot say that they would give me different answers, maybe they would present it differently.
For me I can see and hear things and sometimes the plants talk to me and sometimes they show me things. The very first journey I ever did for my spirit plant helper looked like a young male classical dancer just leaping.
I couldn’t really figure out what it meant at first because it just looked like a very handsome male dancer leaping. I asked if he would come closer, and he came closer and closer so I could see him. And sure enough it was a seed pod of the black locust?, a tree related to beans?. Because the bloom is similar to peas and beans in little pods and when they dry up they pop open and the seeds hurl out. That motion looked exactly like a dancer. So, my plant spirit helper is the black locus tree and it presented itself to me as a dancing male.
When I am close to my spirit trees, (I actually don’t even have to see them) I can hear them because there is particular melody, a song comes to me. When I call in my spirit helpers I include that song for the tree spirit to come to me. And the music is orchestrated. I can actually hear it far away and I know where the tree is.
It is a guide post with the song.
I actually had a very specific experience with that. I was guided out of the woods by ferns. This happened on Vancouver Island in the north where there are old logging roads that are rarely used by hikers and bicyclists. I was with a friend who is quite a talker, who knew the area quite well. But when you’re talking you know you lose track, and you’re not really in Nature anymore because you’re busy expressing your own nature.
At one point we stopped and wondered where we were because the trail had ended. Somewhere we had turned off the logging road. I recalled a few cedar and fir trees in a corner of the road and also a very large patch of ferns, but that’s all I remembered of the trail where we turned off from the main road.
Getting lost in British Columbia forest is not only dangerous because of the bears and cougars but it is also very scary! It was mid-afternoon and we turned around to see if we could find our way back.
We didn’t know how we got off the trail but there we were, more subdued and quiet. We kept going but nothing looked familiar so I said, OK, let’s sit down on this log and I will journey to see how to get out of here.
On a previous occasion, I sat with a ferns and there was a sound that emanated from each plant. There is an interesting resonance all ferns emit. To me it’s almost like buzz, sounds like bees a sort of droning sound.
(This happened to me Australia as well, We can talk until tomorrow morning!)
I asked for the plants to guide us out of the forest.
And then I heard the buzzing sound. But there were no ferns where we were. So I told my friend Nick, that I think if we follow the direction of the sound we will find our way back. I heard the sound but I couldn’t figure out what direction it was coming from. I had to tune into the sound closer to get a sense of the direction, and very interestingly I heard the faint sound from the right side of my head but the feeling of the sound was actually on the left.
I said let’s go to the left for now so that’s what we did. After a while I sat down again to listen. This time the sound was a little bit fainter. I said OK, we are going in the wrong direction so let’s go back.
We went back and I listened again, and then I knew that we were on the right track as the fern song became stronger. It took about an hour or an hour and a half to get back to the place where the fern patch was and also the main trail.
OH that is wonderful!
Yes, it is rather miraculous. It is the spirit of the plant that saved us. It’s just a matter of tuning in to listen. So why didn’t I hear the sound of cedar or fir tree? It’s because the ferns were the largest patch among the trees at the place where we turned off.
And that vibration sound was overriding all the others.
Yes, that is very likely, I didn’t think of it that way.
You have more stories like this from Australia?
When I was in Australia I went hiking with a group of young people who were rock climbers. I stayed with friends East of Melbourne and we went to the Dandenongs hills, which is West of Adelaide. Australia doesn’t have great forests or mountains. They have lovely gum trees and conifer forests, but the Dandenong woods were short and dense, stubby trees, sort of bushy. I don’t climb rocks, but love to hike so I just said I would wander on my own while they went off to climb.
I was walking with this huge rock on my right and my friends were going to climb it from the other side. So, I said OK, if I just remember that this rock is on my right then I won’t have any problem. I came to the end of this huge rock and the view was spectacular. I even climbed up a bit and looked around and then came back down. The climbers said they would be about 2 – 2 ½ hours so it was time for me to head back.
The rock now should be to my left, because I’m heading back. And this trail that is all around this huge rock is joined by another trail that goes out to the road.
I was walking on this narrow trail, Australians call kangaroo trail that I didn’t know then, suddenly ended at a big bush. I looked around and saw another trail, I climbed over some shrubbery and then I’m on a little trail again. But that ends too. I see another one and I get on it.
I don’t know how I got off the main trail but I no longer saw the rock beside me. I thought it must not be far away so I turned back and walked on this little trail again.
But the rock was nowhere to be found.
Now, I was just in shorts. Basically the only things that can hurt you in Australia are snakes and spiders. At this point I had been gone for about 4 hours and you know, when you get disoriented you don’t know whether you’re going up or down, and then I realized I didn’t know where I was.
I come to this big rock and I climbed up to almost above the tree line to see where was. And sure enough, I saw that I was going in the opposite direction. After coming down from the rock I knew that I needed to turn left and then straighten down and then out.
After another hour of walking there still was nothing. Then I started panicking, it was getting a little bit dark and my friends didn’t know where to find me and they were probably looking for me – I didn’t know what was happening, but I knew I had to do something.
It’s very interesting, as I thought about this later and again now, why did I wait until the last moment to actually ask for help from the forest? Why did I wait? I have no answer to that. I could have asked a little bit sooner. Not until I went through all of that and the scratches and bruises. I was wearing shorts and this little tank top so you can imagine. I had scratches on my face because I fell a couple of times. I was lucky not to lose my glasses.
So I said OK, it’s time that I ask. So I sat down on this log, and I was very emotional by that time, scared. I asked the whole forest. Usually when you downgrade yourself…help comes when we suffer. It’s very interesting. The divine is somehow attracted to suffering. When you’re happy you don’t, but when you’re miserable you do need help.
So I said, OK, please help me, guide me to the road. I was downgrading myself and admitting that I am not knowledgeable about this area or the road…
So I was sitting on this log and looking ahead of me and I was looking at the road. I had been sitting there for half an hour and tuning in and praying and praying, and I didn’t see the road! And when I looked and saw the road, I’m sure I heard laughing, I’m sure I heard laughing – and then I started laughing! Oh my God, did I do this. They guided me out there I was just so stressed I couldn’t really see things clearly. I really didn’t know I was so close to the road.
But the forest guided me out of there.
And when was this?
It was in 2001 maybe. I used to teach for the Foundation for Shamanic Studies in Australia and I went there every year for a while. I have wonderful friends in Australia.
I can just relate to you my personal experiences and I hope you can find some commonalities in it. I’m very pragmatic and practical about this, I’m not airy fairy…For me it has to be grounded in practicality and spirit, or it just doesn’t work.
When you journey, can you describe how your awareness or consciousness changes? How you experience the changes or movement from ordinary reality into non-ordinary reality?
I do it two ways. I do the classic shamanic journey, meaning, I have intent.
I listen to a drum or rattle and I decide to go to the upper world or the lower world with a particular question. In shamanic practice, you have to have a reason. As a matter of fact, for any connection to the divine through plants and animals, you have to have a purpose; you have to have a reason.
I mean you can go for la-di-da, or dancing around that’s wonderful and great and very soothing, but in a spiritual quest you go for self-knowledge or helping others only. That’s my take on it.
That is one way to journey and another way is tuning in. When you talk to a particular plant spirit you just tune in to that spirit.
(END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B)
You tune in to the spirit of a particular plant. You sit with it, you observe it you watch it very closely, you notice the area, what kind of neighbors it has, what it looks like in detail…Just by observing the plant for a long enough time the focus in itself changes your consciousness.
Then either a voice comes or pictures or the vision shifts and changes. That’s another way I do it. I don’t necessarily have to rattle or drum. And sometimes spirit gives me a song and if I sing that song, I can get much closer to it.
Sometimes if I have a song from a plant, I don’t have to be physically with it or near it. I just sing the song and the image of the plant comes and then I can have a communication with it.
These are the two ways I journey.
Can you explain how you feel when you transfer into non-ordinary reality?
Yeah. There is an interesting expandedness in that. The body disappears. If not completely, but the body sensations fade. It’s possible that my body completely disappears, even if I drum for myself. I can journey and do healing work by drumming for myself, meaning that I’m not only using the sound of a drum to journey but I am beating the drum as well.
So, somehow the body just does what it does, you know. I’m beating the drum and I am somewhere else, two or more places at the same time. To some extent I am aware or partially conscious, otherwise I would loose my body control and fall down.
The best way I can explain this is expansiveness or expandedness. You go beyond the skin and move away outwardly. The other words I could use are diluted, soft on the part of intellectual consciousness. What happens is that the continuous chatter in the head disappears and the reasoning stops.
I go into these journeys with an absolute and total surrender to what is going to come. I am not controlling it. And for successful shamanic work that is an absolute necessity. If I totally surrender to what is happening then I can’t or very rarely go wrong.
This is why it’s so difficult to do journeys for our own healing this way because we have a vested interest in our own welfare. For family issues you want things to happen and you want to help and be helped. But if, and when I do it for myself I ask, ‘what is it that I need to know about this? Or what is it that I need to do about this?”
Or if I ask for a friend or a relative I have issues with I ask, “what is it that I can do to remedy the problem, or help them? Rather than asking what is it that they should be doing?” I need to remove myself from the problem so I can learn what it is that I really need to do.
When I get confirmation on what I need to do, then I have to do it. Because if I don’t do it the next time I go on a journey they may say, well last time you didn’t do it so why should we tell you anything?
I think the secret is absolute and total surrender to that process. You are the journeyer, you are the one who is seeking, end even though you are in total surrender, how the message is received and how it comes through your mind is always personal, your way. The stronger the surrender the greater the possibility for the message you get will not only be good for you but also for the whole world.
All plants and trees emit a signal when they are threatened. I notice that when I am with a plant in a calm, soft, altered state, their energy is embracing. If I am upset, focusing on something fiercely, they withdraw. Animals do the same. If we are in a calm expanded awareness in the woods, they come close and don’t have fear. Once we shift the focus of attention to them, they go or fly away.
Intent is a force behind direction. If I intend to be participatory, I am welcome. If I intend to single something out, I become an outsider.
Would you be willing to do a journey now to a tree?
Well, in order to do that I would need to be near it because I don’t have a drum or rattle with me. Do you want to go to those trees?
(We have been sitting in her car by the side of a road near a small park. It has been raining off and on and the ground it wet but the rain has stopped for now. We both are happy to get out and go visit a stand of trees by a small creek. And so we continue as Gizelle comes to communicate with a tree here.)
There is a certain sense of expansiveness that I feel from it. (the tree we are standing in front of)
If you have a specific question you would like to ask, what would you like to know from the tree? Should we ask for advice? (she say’s to me)
That would be good.
(To the tree)
Is there anything you can tell us, for Linda and me? Is there a message for the two of us – is there anything we should know?
(she tunes in to the tree and after about 40 seconds she translates)
OK – the word is radiating. The first feeling I had was expansiveness and the tree says, “radiate outwardly, radiate outwardly and then reverse the radiance.”
So the way I am seeing it is as a wave that radiates outwardly and then it comes back. The message is for both of us, this is what we need to do. To radiate outwardly, to send out and receive it back with the message. Like the wind goes away and the wind brings back the information.
And you see the wind just came up?!
So as a wind, send yourself out and then you come back. This is the same message.
And so let’s expand on that. “How can we radiate, how can we show, what should we do, how should we radiate?
(There is another 30 second pause. I can hear the wind in the trees and birds singing..)
OK. The tree is teaching by who it is. It emits itself in fragrance. So let’s break a leaf and smell it. (we do this) This is what this tree is.
It says, “each one of us has this quality that we can send out.”
The tree sends out its fragrance.
So what is it that you and I have, that we can send out?
This is what we need to find out because what we send out will eventually come back, reflect back. So I guess we need to find out what this metaphorical fragrance is that we have. It is some gift that you and I have that we need to give.
And then it stopped.
So I think this is what we have to pay attention to. What is it that Linda and I have that we must radiate outwardly and then welcome it back? The tree knows but can’t tell us what we have, we have to figure this out. The tree knows what it is.
So the tree is telling this to us on a personal level. When I heard you say this I immediately thought of the next step in this project which is to build a website and place these interviews on it so that they get out there, get disseminated.
Yes, this is who you are, that is part of your fragrance. This is what you need to do, also as a person as an individual, not only sending this knowledge out. This is who you really are. This is what I felt the expansiveness was all about and then reversing it. This is what makes you Linda.
Have you seen the Johnny Cash movie, WALK THE LINE?
In the beginning when he goes into this recording studio and they sing this gospel song, the studio owner gives him a lecture saying, “what is it that you want the world to know about you? What is it that you want the world to see about you?”
This is how I understand the message from the tree. What is it that the world really wants to know about you? This plant has that something. It has this fragrance about it.
The Willow has something that only the willow has. And even this Laurel and that Laurel, although similar, are a little bit different. This one is closer to the water, that one is a little further away. That one gets a little more carbon dioxide from the road and that one doesn’t!
I love your analogy of the Johnny Cash film, it helps deepen the context of this.
Yeah. That’s how I understand the message from the tree, that this is you. And this is me and this tree is here and not where the other tree is standing. We are human beings and these are Laurel trees but they are still different.
And your understanding from the tree is that the tree is making the distinction between this particular body and that particular body of tree.
Well, we distinguish. No, the trees don’t have that split consciousness. We have the split consciousness so that’s why I made the distinction.
That’s what I thought, I just wanted to clarify.
This tree is just this tree and that tree is that tree and that shrub is that shrub, to them it’s irrelevant. It does what it does and this is very difficult for human beings to grasp the “suchness” of things. Seeing the suchness of them. This is what’s so wonderful and gracious about trees and plants. They know who and what they are. They don’t have to go to school to learn it, or go to a wise person to figure it out.
You know how tactile we are? I am. I have to touch things.
If you make smudge sticks, dry them and ground them and burn them then the fragrance comes up and then you really feel the plant spirit presence. That is the oil and essence of the plant. All plants burn but most don’t let us distinguish them by emitting a fragrance.
Thank you so much Gizelle, thank you trees and grass for sharing your wisdom.