There are many ways in which the Universe speaks.
There’s a language spoken by the plants and the trees, one that isn’t heard or written but sensed and almost seen. It blows in the breeze when you tilt your head back from the forest floor, branches unfurling across the clouds like pulmonary veins, the lungs of the world carrying oxygen back to the heart: as above, so below; as within, so without.
When you soften your ego and step into the forest, you can feel it. The borders around trunks, leaves, and needles both sharpen and blur; the layers of the landscape stand in hyperdimensional high relief. It’s both strange and familiar; there’s the feeling that this is the way things always look, we just don’t typically have the eyes to see. It’s aggressively clear and yet a blurred view, the quantum perspective; dimensional layers stacked on top of one another, waiting to be entered into; reality at the molecular level.
There are portals that open in the forest and offer access to these realms. You know them when you see them, and you can see them when you get yourself into a receptive state. They’re slivers in the fabric of space-time where branches, fronds, leaves, vines, and trunks form natural doorways; when you peer into them, the landscape beyond is soft-focused and deep. I’ve never walked through one. I’m not sure I’d come back.
You can see the unspoken language in the stark, unblinking light of the desert, too: succulents that spill from red rocks and brown sand, buds and stems fractally replicating, aerial roots gently waving, the scenery sketched in crosshatch view. It’s written in soft, silent snowscapes; misty, fog-filled mornings that obscure mountaintops; the crashing of gray surf against sandy shore. It calls to you in form constants, beckoning beyond the borders of everyday experience in hexagonal grid.
You can even accidentally stumble into it when your ego is soft and the wild beauty of a moment arrests you, whether it’s the beauty of a landscape or staring into the eyes of a wild creature. Suddenly the subject-object barrier collapses, trees and sky and water and animal and human bodies all melding into one.
I used to think that you couldn’t get to this place through manufactured substances, that there was an inherent separation between those that came from the ground or grew from plants and trees and the human-made: the natural world versus the machine world. But I’ve been shown that it’s all one thing, and humans are part of nature, too; nothing is binary, not even the digital and industrial and the wild, feral realms. Life is endlessly curious and seeks to know itself, and the ego-softeners we synthesize are just another form of this universal exploration.
Now, being all one doesn’t mean it’s all the same—nor does it mean that what’s good for one world will work for another. You can’t dump toxic chemicals into the rainforest and expect it to flourish any more than you can cram your laptop full of fertilizer and expect it to run. These worlds require separate inputs and outputs, and most importantly, a symbiotic relationship in which one informs and encourages the other to thrive.
The most biodiverse place on Earth, the rainforest is home to as many as 50 million plant and animal species; it’s also the source of nearly 85% of the world’s known psychoactive plants with cultural uses1 and many of the world’s medicines, including 2/3 of those with cancer-fighting properties. New species are discovered every other day, but they’re also being wiped out at an alarming rate due to climate change and deforestation. Technological advances can help conservation initiatives—for example, mapping forests and resources, empowering the people who are their stewards. And the plants that dwell within can be our teachers, illuminating not only much about ourselves, but our place in the cosmos: as one tiny piece of a vast, interconnected whole, every piece of it pulsing with life.
In crosshatch dreams, the forest speaks, waiting for us to awaken. We must learn to listen to the unspoken language, to see the synesthesia of these unwritten words. It’s all around, and we can feel it when we get quiet. It’s the presence that is always waiting—looking, listening, and feeling for us in return.
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Glenn Shepard, presentation for the Chacruna Institute’s course on Shamanism, Ritual, and Indigenous uses of Sacred Plants, August 30, 2022.