In this special interview Mason shares a deep conversation with one of his greatest inspirations in work and in life, Stephen Harrod Buhner.
Stephen's work in herbalism, heart perception, plant medicine, earth poetry, Lyme's disease, bacterial intelligence and more, has reignited the journey's of many into the indescribable "imaginal" realm that plant enthusiasts, artists and adventures throughout time have known well.
In this chat Stephen invites us to reach beyond a reductionistic mental approach to life that our Western culture insists upon and "trains" us for, to discover and dance with the wild non linear spaces that lay within.
Mason and Stephen touch on many beautiful topics ranging from wild terrain medicine, herbal antibiotics and the effect of pharmaceuticals on the planet. Delving into the mystical and empowering realm that is driven by feeling, the place where we can start to develop a deep relationship with the planet and the plants that help us to heal.
Stephen's books and work are transformational, and we cannot recommend them highly enough! Among Mason's favourites are:
Who is Stephen Harrod Buhner ?
Stephen Harrod Buhner is a interdisciplinary, independent scholar, polymath, Fellow of Schumacher College UK and head researcher for the Foundation for Gaian Studies. Stephen is an extraordinary human who, like many (if not all), cannot be summed up in a simple paragraph, to read more about the universe that is Stephen Harrod Buhner, please see his extensive bio here.
The Foundation For Gaian Studies
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Check Out The Transcript Here:
Stephen, welcome to the show.
Hey Mason, thanks for having me on.
Absolute pleasure, and an honour. And I'd like to just let you fill people in, there's that little bit more completely about who you are and the work that you're doing.
Well, I didn't ever possess the DNA fragments, which allowed me to fit into the boxes of life. And actually, I think there's a lot more people like that than most of us realise. And for whatever reason, when I was born I was tremendously stubborn. And then when adolescence hit, I pretty much just decided to sort of follow the sense I had of what I needed to do. And I had been very close with my great-grandfather, who back in 1911, when he started to work. There weren't that many antibiotics available. And he really was a horse and buggy physician that went around to people's houses for the most part. And it was mostly botanical medicines, and we used to walk a lot in the forest around his home, and spend time, and there was this kind of feeling that occurred being with somebody like that, in that kind of an intimate space and spending time in natural landscapes.
And there was a feeling to it that I just didn't find in cities or in the schools I went to. And when I hit adolescence, I just pretty much left home at 16 and began to follow that. I wanted to have that kind of experience in my life all the time.
And a number of years later I ended up, when I was 20 actually, living in the high mountains of Colorado and kind of learning the forgotten crafts, and I rebuilt this old late 19th century cabin and lived in there for a long time. And just started working with wild landscapes and slowly got into plant medicines.
And then, in the early '80s got into them more seriously. And it's a kind of a funny thing that I've been in a lot of communities over the years, people, they're doing earth ceremonies, our permaculture, our ecological work, whatever. But, there's something about the herbal communities around the world that have a substantial difference to them. Most of the people, not all of the people involved, the more medically minded are different.
But community herbalists all around the world, there's this experience that most of them have had where one time in their life the plant saved their life. They became ill, doctors couldn't help and may begin taking a plant medicine that maybe grew in their front yard, or that they found somewhere and they got healed. And there's this thing that happens in this moment when a plant heals you. Nothing is ever the same again.
And these people, some sort of luminosity entered their life then, that's extremely difficult to explain to the more technological world, to reduction that's from mechanical of any sort. There's this ... Where all of us in our liberal tribe are pretty much indoctrinated in this sort of orientation of needing to work on behalf of the earth, or save the earth.
But, very few of us actually experience the earth saving us. And when that happens, it starts to pull us into this really deep world that has a different kind of dynamic going on, and it's been the kind of reality framework that we're trained in, in school. And interestingly enough, the feeling of that experience is extremely similar to what it felt like to be with my great-grandfather and walked through those woods. So it's a way of living and a way of life, that is very difficult to explain if you haven't experienced it. And it's sort of, I tend to think that the greatest hope for us as a species life and that shift of experience. It's not a mental thing, or a thinking thing. It's an experiencing a feeling thing. And it's very, very different and much more rewarding, I think.
And that's one thing I appreciate about what you talk about, what you teach so much because you don't shy away from that deep realm, that deep world. That is ultimately for me, I've kind of felt like I've arrived more into reality, especially as I've read your books on Secret Teachings of Plants. And I've gone out and I've had my own experience with particular herbs and medicines. And it's a real slippery subject, and I like having the slipperiest topics as possible. I like making it slippery for the minds, the mind can sit down and get back into unison with the heart.
And when I've been out there, and all of a sudden I can feel that connection and that unity, and that ... It was like a brotherhood, or like a brother or a sister in a plan. All of a sudden we're connected on a realm that intellectually, we're not going to be able to grasp it.
I love that you've gone about doing books such as Herbal Antibiotics, and Herbs for Hepatitis C and the liver, and you've really ... Especially the work you've done with Lyme's and healing Lyme disease co-infections. I appreciate that you're putting that work in. In all your books, you satisfy that beautiful aspect of mind that we as humans have. But then you never shy away from opening the door to that magic realm.
I absolutely love it. And what you term is what opens up as a possibility of heart perception. Can you speak a little bit more about the heart's physiological role, and then more esoteric role in allowing us to actually perceive plants, and perceive the language and information that's coming in from all around us from the planet.
Yeah, we are in many ways labour educated in the West. We're considered to be children of the Enlightenment. And for the Enlightenment thinkers and writers, the understanding that the heart was a perceptual organ that our feeling, our capacity to feel was integral. It was so fundamental to their orientation, but they didn't even really think that they needed to talk about it that much. Though, you can find many of them talking about it in various places.
But what tends to happen, there's this odd dynamic that happens with human beings and I think it's pretty much of a universal phenomenon and it's especially true in the West. Where you'll have some tremendous innovation that occurs, and it doesn't really matter what field that it's in. It could be writing or music, or it can be the Enlightenment, a new kind of thinking or something. And it's all very exciting and there's all this innovation that begins to occur, but slowly what happens, the more psychologically damaged members of the movement begin to take over everything, and they begin to reduce it down to some sort of logical absurdity.
So in the dynamics of the Enlightenment, what happened is as time went on they began to take out more and more, and more of what I consider fundamentally human about who we are as a species. They begin to just isolate reason, or what they consider to be reason from all other capacities of the human being, especially our ability to feel.
And so, of course human beings do still feel, but most of us are trained to be very suspect about our capacity to feel as soon as we start to school. But the weird thing is that all of us have experiences. And so, one of the things that I began to try to do in the work is to reinvigorate the mind with the capacity to feel. If we're going to supplant reductive mechanicalism with a different paradigm, it's going to have to be elegant and it's going to have to not be just sort of vague or fuzzy. It needs to be extremely clear, and that means bringing into our awareness capacity that all of us posses as human beings.
I mean, the conflict between the mind and the heart, or the mind and the body is extremely old. Plato was Socrates' most famous student, but he was an elitist, and he was anti-democratic. He didn't believe in people because people had killed Socrates, and Descartes kind of took it to a logical absurdity of when he said, "I think, therefore I am." And separated the mind from everything else, and made it the root of human existence.
But, I mean if you think about what we do, one of my best examples, I mean there's zillions of them that I've used. But, when we go to a new place, we go to a restaurant or something like that, that we've never been to before. Everybody does this, it doesn't even matter if it's the most die hard rationalist, reductionist on the planet, everybody does it.
We go to the restaurant, we walk in the front door, and we stop a minute. And we look around the place and in that moment, we're feeling into the place. Like how does this place feel? Does it feel warm and welcoming? Does it feel off-putting? Do we feel like this is a place we want to spend our time in?
Nearly all of us has had the experience of going into a new place like that and looking at our friend going, "You know this place feels kind of weird. Let's leave." And we do.
And nearly all of us has had the experience of seeing a little puppy walking across the floor who hasn't seen us, and then you know they're so cute, and we start looking at it, and we go, "Here boy, here boy." And the puppy looks up, and in that moment there's something that's exchanged between us and the puppy, and the puppy feels it, we feel it. It doesn't go through our mind, it goes through some other part of us.
And what the ancient Aphiemians is referred to that's a moment of what they called aphesis, where there's an exchange of soul essence between what they would consider the heart field that the human being and the heart field of a puppy, the feeling self. And that's kind of dynamic, most of us know the experience of coming home when we expect somebody to be there and we walk in and we say, "Hello." And then all of a sudden, we realise the house feels empty.
So this capacity to feel is root to us, it's a sixth sense that all living beings have access to. It's one of the ways that helps us to determine safety in our environment and to extract the meaning from things. We experience meaning, and we extract meaning, we analyse meaning, we get to meaning by our feelings, not by our mind.
So another example I use is you walk in and your spouse is there and you go, "How are you doing?" And they go, "Fine!" And if you just were a complete rationalist, you would respond to the form, which is the word, fine, with an exclamation point.
"That's good, I'm really glad you're fine." But that's why extreme rationalists really can stay married, because they can't respond to the meaning that are being communicated from their spouse. But we know that when our spouse says, "Fine." Like that, they're not really fine. So the form doesn't really have anything to do with the meanings of things, the meanings of things are something we pick up through feeling.
So there's been a lot of people in the last few years doing, this guy named Rollin McCraty has been doing some great work. But, there's a number of people who have with looking at the heart as an organ of perception, and really the heart has since it has neurons in it, very much like the brain, it makes the same, it uses the same neurotransmitters, it has memory. When we perceive things, the feeling of the meanings of things that go first through our heart and then are routed to the brain for analysis. And the science on all of this is pretty good. Not that that makes any difference to rational reductionists.
But nevertheless, this is a thing that all people know from their own experience to be true, it's just in the West, we're trained the more we go through school to distrust this capacity that we have to alienate ourselves from it really. And then the weird thing is, is that after a while we begin to not feel well, and I mean if you look at the real meaning of that. Yes, our feeling capacity is stunted, we don't feel well. And so people then begin using more and more pharmaceuticals to try to deal with that. When the real solution to it is reclaiming our feelings.
I say this over and over, the greatest act of disobedience that we can engage in is to reclaim our feeling sense. And to begin to ask yourself every day about everything we encounter. How does this hospital feel? How does this doctor feel? How does this doctor's office feel? How does this book feel? How does this restaurant feel? Because how things feel tells us about its essential and deep nature, and it allows us to begin to craft a life that's built on a certain kind of aesthetic richness where we literally become more and more alive, and we begin to feel well. And that's the thing, it's actually ... Einstein said, "We can't solve the problems facing us by using the same kind of thinking that we use to create them. We need a different kind of thinking." And by that, he did not mean just thinking with a rational brain in a different way. He was really clear about it and went on in depth that it had to do with this restoration of the feeling sense, to reclaimer is what James Hillman once said, "To reclaim the response of the heart to what's presented to the senses"
That's really what I mean by that, it's the way out of our dilemma and it's certainly the way out of all of the antidepressants that most of the Western world is now taking.
This is so normal, that's the beautiful thing ... That's what I love, you just giving those examples where we can go, "That's right, that isn't something completely coming out of left field that I've never done before." It's something innate, it's inherent to the human race, and all living beings on this planet without that ability to connect in with that [inaudible 00:16:10] and interact with the world and communicate with that world around us. And that's, for me, that's been one of the top things that has given me the capacity to actually begin doing some deep healing within myself because I shut it off when I was very, very young. I've shared the example of being very confused about why I felt as a teenager I needed to be close to tobacco, yet being really confused about the fact that I didn't know at the time my culture was only giving me access to their tobacco that had its soul ripped out and chemicals put in it, and then I was told, "That thing that you want, that you feel into that's going to kill you."
So I'm like this teenager going, "Why am I doing this then?" And I've had to go on that healing journey to go into the jungle and connect with the real tobacco and go, "Right, okay. I've started healing that relationship with myself." And I can trust myself once again.
It was a very, very little slippery thing that I had in my past, I need to go back into my past and reclaim that feeling ability. And as well with beers, I was a bartender for many years after school, and I loved the act of mixing these concoctions and balancing them out with bitters and medicine that had been fused into the liquors, and beer fascinated me.
And then when I got into the health scene, all of a sudden it was like a, "No, that's not allowed. Beer's bad. Alcohol's bad." In this blanket statement that went over and just said, "You know that part of you, that felt affinity for something, shut that off."
And so now, through just I've got a fascination with that culture of creating beers, I loved your book about that as well. And what I've learned now, I've been able to go past the reductionist approach to beer that our culture has and tap back into the real living essence of what that lineage is.
And that's been very healing for me, that's brought back a lot of my ability to trust myself and trust myself to navigate my own health path and not be reliant on external systems.
One of the things I like to say is that a Protestant is somebody that knows that somewhere, someone is having a good time, and they have to put a stop to it.
I was raised with the stupid fundamentalist protestant upbringing. That pretty much worked to take all of the joy out of everything. As if somehow we're going to live to be a million years old. I mean there's this old saying I heard from this guy in Europe once, he said, "You know, what's really weird about America is nobody can die of old age. You die something that you did that you shouldn't have done." Yeah, that is really bizarre.
And there's, there's this weird belief that if only we do the right stuff, we're going to live to be like a billion years old. But the thing is, the realisation that we're meant to biodegrade. That we're supposed to biodegrade, that were biodegrading right now. Everything is supposed to biodegrade and that's really important, except for us.
But nevertheless, that's true. And no matter what we do, we're going to end up dying. But reclaiming that, I mean Rilke said a great thing once, the German poet said, "Not only do people not live with their own lives anymore, they no longer live their own death." And I thought, that's a really interesting thing because it's so hidden away and people try to hide just from the awareness of it. But the thing is, there's all of these dynamics. We're rubbing up against life and going through all of these processes while we're alive, and life is meant to be experienced and rubbed up against, and enjoyed in the passion of it, and it's fantastic.
And so you talk about the dynamics of tobacco, and they've got these weird beliefs about alcohol and tobacco, and about all different kinds of drugs. I wrote about the necessity for psychotropic hallucinogens in my newest book, Planned Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm. It's fundamental, these things have been around for hundreds of millions of years, and they affect the neural network of every living organism on the planet. And they shift them in particular ways that are extremely crucial for the ecological functioning of the planet, including human beings.
So this things, like one of the things that you touched on when you were talking there, is, in the West we've been trained to lose touch with the wisdom of the body. The body is a highly intelligent organism, it's very, very intelligent. If it wasn't we wouldn't be alive. Our immune systems, for instance, has to be able to analyse millions of incoming dynamics that are occurring. And to craft responses, they have to decide is this thing that's coming in beneficial or non-beneficial?
If it is not beneficial, what is it? And it has to identify it. Then it has to figure out a way to respond to it and then to deal with it after. Very, very sophisticated. There's no way that our conscious mind could even do that at all.
So the wisdom of the body is this incredibly crucial thing. Now, when you're looking at the largest biological oscillators in the body, there's three of them. The brain, the heart, and the GI tract. And for a long time, I was wondering why are there so many sensory neurons in the GI tract. I mean there's massive, massive numbers. It's absolutely huge, and it's called ... People have heard of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. But there's also the enteric nervous system, which is the GI tract.
And if you actually even cut, which I mean, scientists are weird, they do weird shit like this. But, if they cut the nerves that go from the GI tract to the brain, the GI tract will continue to function just fine. And they don't really understand why, and it took me, gosh, a long time, 10 years, 12 years to figure out what it does.
And when these biological oscillators, the brain, the heart, and the GI tract, as they oscillate, they create electromagnetic fields. Now the heart's electromagnetic field is about 5,000 times stronger than the brain, and it extends out indefinitely out of the body. But it's strongest at about 12 to 14 inches from the body's surface. And everybody can feel it if you get up close to somebody, you can tell when you're in their space. And that's when you've gotten inside that strongest portion of the heart field.
But the enteric nervous system also creates this electromagnetic field that goes outside of it, and whenever it encounters any other kind of electromagnetic field. The two fields tend to merge and the GI tract begins to analyse what's out there. The interesting thing is, one of the things that it does, is that it can analyse different food substances that we're encountering before we eat it.
And there's two different types of substances. One, are substances that it just encounters the electromagnetic field of the plant, whatever it might be, and it can ... Once the two fields sort of merge together, it can figure out whether the substance is edible or not. And whether or not the body needs it.
And other substances, it has to taste once. And one of the reasons that babies crawl around on the ground and put things in their mouth all of the time, is they're calibrating that capacity of the GI tract to analyse substances.
And of course this makes perfect sense from an evolutionary and ecological frame of reference. Than when an organism can do that, it provides a safety dynamic about the kind of foods it's going to take into itself. And all organisms can do this.
Bees do it all the time, everything does it. And it's not unusual that we would do it. But we're trained out of trusting the wisdom of the body. And when I first heard about this and talked to it, it was a woman named Geneen Roth, who wrote a book called, When Food is Love. And she was enormously overweight, right. And so she'd been trying to lose weight, and she was hanging out with all of her friends, and she tried this diet and that diet, and all these diets, and nothing worked. And so, one day, she had this really unusual idea, she just decided to eat whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted it. And her friends were like, "Oh, no you can't do that. You'll weigh a million pounds and then you'll die."
And she's like, "No, I think that's what I'm going to do." And she began doing it, and at first she did gain a lot of weight. But what is interesting is because, then she would always ask her body what it wanted to eat. And after a while she began to lose weight, and she lost more and more weight until she got down to exactly the weight she wanted to be. Because instead of eating with her head, she was letting her stomach and her GI tract decide what it wanted to eat.
And there's been a lot of studies that show for instance, if children are allowed to eat whatever they want growing up, they have very few eating disorders later in life. But, if they're forced to eat three meals a day, and some sort of stupid nutritional pyramid. After a while, they have eating disorders, because they're eating with their mind, not their body.
So a big part of what we learned if we begin to re-inhabit our inner being with the world. I mean it's important if we take this other path to begin to re-inhabit our inner being with the world.
And one of the primary dynamics that's important in that is beginning to trust our bodies again to trust our feeling sense, to reclaim the wisdom of the body. [inaudible 00:26:56] the great German poet said once, "It makes a wonderful difference if you find in the body an ally or an enemy."
And in the Protestant Western tradition, we're trained to view the body as our enemy. And it's kind of that part of Plato, Socrates, Descartes, Spinoza thing of the mind versus the body. But we're really an integrated organism, and that's really the way out of our dilemma. And certainly the way out of our much of our personal and happiness, I think.
Yeah, I love that so much. When I hear you say that, I think about like what I'm feeling right now and people listening right now. I kind of just feel that come home to yourself. That you don't have to fight anymore, relax, you can be gentle and start that ultimate love story, which is that love story with yourself and your body, and find that ally and that friend.
I think it's beautiful. And I think just that alone will just immediately switch us out of this chronic reductionist mental state that innately, inherently keeps us stressed out. And everyone is just stressed, that's it, that's a core part of why we're stressed. I know it's why I was stressed. All the diet, figuring that out and all that, I'm going to leave that for a moment, that'll all come. I'm just going to cut everything and just ensure that I've got this relationship.
Right. And it's a big part of it, and just one little phrase that I came across years ago, was by a woman, Laura Lee Rourke, and she had a call [inaudible 00:28:36], I can't remember now. And she said, "When you once again make friends with your body, you're ready for the Holy communion of breaking bread with yourself."
Isn't that a great line?
God, I love that line.
Wow, breaking bread with yourself. I love that. And all of a sudden, this opens you up, you get to go deep into that world, and into that realm where it stops being such and ambiguous, lofty conversation about navigating through being attractive and attracting your own medicine. Like working with a living system and getting the skills on how to navigate that living system of the earth, the elements, the herbs, the plant medicines. As opposed to just simply going to an institution that goes, "Listen, you don't know it, we know it." It's the same with many nutritionists and dieticians, not all of them.
But, just coming into that realm and having people like yourself and what I endeavour to do is empower people to be their own medicine and trust their own instincts, their heart essence to allow them to start to get into communication with the essence of the herbs and with practises, so that they can very, very tangibly and in a feeling sense go, "Yeah, that's my medicine and I'm going to that right now." And I didn't need anyone to tell me that.
No, and that's what is a thing. I mean ... Another fascinating story that I like, that I talked about in the book, Lost Language of Plants, is how the different members of the ecosystem our kin out there, how much knowledge of plant medicine exist among animals. I mean, we're animals too, but we're trained to think of the distinction between us and the rest of all living organisms. But you know, when people find out the major story that has the most impact is about chimpanzees. And chimpanzees know over 100 different medicinal plants to use, but the amazing thing is, is that they know exactly how to use them.
So for instance, this one ... If a chimpanzee is ill, let's say they have intestinal parasites, and so what they'll do, early in the morning they'll leave the group of chimpanzees that they're with and they begin walking through the forest until they find the plant. They're using basically the capacity of their body to determine what plant they need. And when they find one of them, they'll sit down and quite often they'll lean over to the plant and they'll hold the living leaf of the plant in their mouth. And they just sit for a while, and that's sort of the way it allows the body to determine the strength of the plant, if that's the one they need. If it is, they'll use it, if not, they move one to another one, until they find the right one.
Now this particular plant, in this particular example, it's kind of like Velcro, it has these sort of really stiff wiry hairs on the surface of the leaf. So, the chimpanzee will pick the leaf, and they fold it up kind of like an accordion, the paper in an accordion, back and forth, back and forth. And then they kind of fold it up into a little pill shaped form, and they swallow it. Now, it will only work to cure these parasites if used in exactly this way. If they chew it up, it won't work.
So what happens is, they swallow it whole, and it unfolds in the stomach. And then, what happens is the stomach acids begin to leach the different chemical constituents out of the leaf. The leaf drops down into the duodenum and begins going through the small intestine. Where bio-acids and other dynamics pull more of the constituents out of it. Now those constituents, what they do, is they put the worms that are attached, the parasitic worms are attached to the bowel wall with their mouths, and it puts them into kind of a coma.
But that wouldn't be enough, all that does is allow them to not be so active. But as the leaf unfolds, the sharp edges of the leaf, plus the Velcro hairs literally scrap the bowel clean. And then when the chimpanzee poops, they're all just kind of pooped out.
So the interesting thing is, like a lot of people go, "How do they do that? They're just animals. They can't figure that out" I have this friend of my, James Duke, who's really an interesting guy, and he says, "You know ..." because he's got a PhD, and he's trained in all of this stuff. And he goes, "You know, I can kind of get over how over millions of years chimpanzees might sort of figure this out. That sort of makes sense to me. But the one that really, I have difficulty with is ..." he said, "In Africa, there's some plants from the Americas that were transplanted to Africa, and the baboons have learned to use them in a near 500 years exactly the way that all of the people use them for medicine." He said, "I can't get my head around it." He says, "There must be some way to gather knowledge about the will, that's different than the rational approaches in which I've been trained."
And he's right. In a sense, we're trained in the field, of the world it's like software programming. I mean people call it beliefs, but software programming gives a better idea of it, software programmes behaviour. And if we're ... Programme does all this software that says no other intelligence out there but us, we're not going to see if it's there.
But what happens to all of us? The software programme we've been given and we've been trained in has very little to do with the real world itself. And over time, what happens is the real world begins to break through that programming and forces us to see that there's something else going on. And very much the same way that plants break through concrete sidewalks. We have our software, here's a kind of a concrete sidewalk, where we think everything is safe and predictable and linear, but in fact, this wildness keeps breaking through and rather than being terrified, I think the proper response is to be excited. I mean there's nothing more boring than a sidewalk, really, in the long run.
And the wildness, it's breaking through, it's doing it out there and it's doing it in here, right?
And you were talking about wild terrains earlier, and just the medicine of being in amongst the wild terrain. Can you speak about that a little bit more?
The interesting thing is that we're made to walk in wild terrain. The hippocampus in the brain, they used to have this ... Look, most of what scientists know is wrong. And the fact that it's wrong, is I like to say it's concealed and open access peer reviewed journal article easily accessible in the internet, where scientists don't know where to look.
But the thing is, we know less than 1% of what's accurate about the world in which were emersed and from which were expressed. So it was extremely common in the late 20th century for neural scientists to make ridiculous pronouncements like, "The brain doesn't make more neurons after birth." And all of this stuff. But in fact, the brain is constantly regenerating itself and making more neurons and restructuring itself in really unique ways. And, the hippocampus, which is the part of our brain that tends to deal with meaning with the encountering meaning and to identify meaning.
One of the things is, if we walk through wild landscapes, it tends to be more healthy to produce more sensory neurons that are much more sensitive to the meaning fields that we encounter. Whereas in domesticated landscapes, it tends to become almost a bit comatose and not reactive.
So, the thing is, one of the things I say over and over again, is that one of the hardest things to do is to train ourself to see what is right in front of us. It's the hardest thing of all.
Now, one of the things I'm playing around with now, which really drives many members of my liberal tribe completely crazy is the following:
Okay, so we have all heard of carnivorous plants, right? Like venous fly trap, that's like the really famous one. But what those people don't understand is that there's a great many passively carnivorous plants, and there's one whose name I don't remember, I have to look it up again. Because I'm going to talk about this next month sometime. But, there's this plant in Spain, I think it was, where the stalk ... a massively strong stalk with these massively strong prickles on it, and quite often if sheep get too close to it they'll become entangled in it and they'll die. And what happens is then they rot and fertilise the root of the plant. And the plant grows really big and healthily.
And I've seen that with burdock before, this plant that was near our house. Where every year, I would find it or it's progeny came back, I find bats or small birds caught in the prickles on the burdock would die and rotted, and then shelled down around the root, and fertilised it. And as I began to realise that there's passively carnivorous plants and began to look with that eye, begin to see it more and more, and more.
So that's sort of upsets conventional thinking dynamics. But then it even goes further. So there is these two guys that were doing studies on birds in this one region of the United States in the forest. And so, what they would do is they would put up this really fine netting, it's almost invisible to the eye, and the birds would fly through the forest and they'd get entangled in the net. So the next morning, the guys would go there, untangle the birds and they would keep a record of all of the birds that they were capturing, because they were trying to get an idea of the ecological diversity of bird flocks in that area.
But after a while, they would come every morning and there would be no birds. Every morning there was no birds, no birds. And they were like, "This is really strange." So they put up a motion sensitive camera in there. And, they wrote a really nice peer reviewed journal, [inaudible 00:40:00] people.
Anyway, so then they're looking at the camera, and so they see the birds fly into the nets and the birds are caught there and everything, and then they see this herded deer come along, and the deer stop, they walk over to the net and they eat the birds.
Okay, so this is like ... But, these are herbivores everybody things. And then I started looking at ... It turns out that horses are also carnivorous, that horses throughout history have been known to eat meat. The battle horses, during the Middle Ages, in the battlefield, they would then go around and begin to eat the dead. Which also really screws up everything.
But then, if you start to really think about it, what in herbivores life is. If you look at cattle, or just even wild buffalo of any sort, any kind of foraging animal that's moving through grasslands. When they come across bird nests that are built on the ground. They just eat the baby birds if they're there. They eat everything.
But if you think about it, if they're eating the grass, they're eating insects and everything else. But it happened to be on the grass, so they're not herbivores, they're a special kind of omnivore just like we are.
But this kind of belief system that Bambi eats meat is completely alien to the way we've been trained to think. And it's a perfect example of how we're trained with a certain software programme that has very little to do with the actual world.
So when we go into wild landscapes, the very first thing that starts to happen, even if we're unaware of it. And sometimes it takes a long time depending upon how suppressed or repressed we become in ourself, how out of touch with our ability to notice or to feel. The very first thing that starts to happen is the reality of the world starts to press against this very strange analytical framework that we've been trained in and that have very little to do with the actual world. Then as time goes on, cracks begin to appear in that paradigm and that very safe linear world in which we've ensconced ourself. And after a while, more and more cracks become.
And then, if it breaks open enough, we begin to become barbarian. Which I think is very important. To be barbarian means to no longer be of the cities. To be civilised means, literally to be of the cities. And we begin to reclaim a certain kind of pagan sensibility, a certain wildness of perspective to really understand the earth and what the earth is, and how it is. We have to become wild again in just the way the earth is.
But once we do that ... What's interesting is that all of the civilised people, like Robert Bly the poet, American poet, had a great way of talking about it. He had this great book, he said, "Friends I've Eaten from Darkness."
And I loved that, and it's like, he said, "After a while, people can tell that you have eaten something that they have not." Would be eat the wild, it begins to grow inside of us, and we begin to change. Our language changes, our life changes, and the people that meet us can tell we've eaten something that they have not.
But in our time, I think it's really our job to eat wildness and carry that with us into the world because we are in the midst of a paradigm change. The collapse of the old linear reduction as the paradigm, which has exhausted its potential and really doesn't work. And a new paradigm that's beginning to emerge.
And of course ... When I was in my 20s, I thought paradigm shifts would be a lot of fun. And what I realise now, no, they're incredible horrible times, because the entire civilised structure is based on the old paradigm, and when it collapses, so does the civilised structure before a new one can emerge.
But that's really in a lot of ways our job is to carry this wildness into the world and to spread it around.
Yeah. Absolutely, spread the wild in the world, and in ourselves. And it can be simple right, just looking at a wild terrain all of a sudden, I felt that experience in my brain and my heart coming alive again.
And it's like you feel that symbolic relationship, that I'd forgotten for so long and it's kind of the essence-
That's really what you're describing is, re-inhabiting your inner being with the world. It's really what it is, I mean, that's a perfect description of it.
Oh, good. And I feel like right now the conversation moving into herbalism, I feel we've been able to come here now. We've made all these beautiful distinctions and it's starting to come into perception of this deeper realm. We're not talking about herbalism as this fraction part of life, or some fraction thing that gets used to heal us. But rather, we can start seeing now how we can actually, as we get to know the planet that we're living on. We can actually start having a relationship with it and watch these various expressions of medicine that pop up that we don't just cut off and use. Can call us in, and we can call in, and we can develop a very strong bond.
I'd like to hear a story from you about a particular herb that maybe you've developed a relationship. I know for me pine pollen was one, I'll never lose that connection. When I think about pine pollen right now, I get a very particular feeling of that moment when I was walking past constantly in front of my house a couple of years back, and the plant would be like just calling to me just, "Hey, notice me, notice me, notice me." And then a couple of weeks later, kicked into bloom. I got up there, harvested the pollen, and dried it out, put it into some alcohol and tinctured it for about six months, some of it a year.
And I experienced that restoration of my androgenic sexual hormone system. And I don't need to use it that much, but nothing will every take that away. And so, I'd like to hear a story from you.
Well that's ... I'll do two things with that. And the first one is just to talk a little about the pine pollen. The thing about pine pollen is, when I started off in herbs in the early '80s and looking at it in some depth. One of the things that was extremely common, I mean most herbalists tend to be women in the United States. It's probably also true in Australia, tends to be true in Europe from what I've seen.
They were of course very interested in estrogenic plants, plants that would help with menopause, or plants that would help with menstrual cycles to normalise them. There was quite a body of work done on plants that had estrogenic capacity. But it took me 10 years, 10 years before the obvious question occurred to me, "Are there any androgenic plants that had testosterone?" I mean there's a lot of plants that have estradiol, and various female hormones in them. Chemically identical to that of women's bodies.
But 10 years, it took me to ask the obvious question. And then, I looked around and there was virtually nothing on it in the herbal field anywhere in the world. And people, "Ginseng is kind of a male tonic for their sexuality." But that's about as far as it went. And I began looking, and then of course I found that pine pollen is the highest that has massive amounts of testosterone in it, chemically identical to the testosterone in our bodies.
And of course it's obvious, it's like ... We tend to think that the plants didn't do anything until human beings showed up on the stages, like they're pining around for our emergence or something. But no, these chemicals and the medicinal qualities of plants has been an active part of ecosystem, homeodynamics, and health for millions upon millions of years. That's part of the way the earth's ecosystem regulates itself.
I mean, plants can't exactly call the doctor or go to the hospital, if they're infected with a bacteria or virus, they have to analyse it and then they make their own chemical responses to it. And that's why they work for us, because physiologically we're extremely similar. We're not that different than plants, or any other organism on the planet, actually. We taught that we aren't, but we are.
So your description of that moment, it was that moment, which is the thing that's hardest to communicate to people. But you shifted out of a certain frame of reference into another, and you had an experience of living medicine that will never ever leave you. That plant becomes an ally in that moment, and it's a living medicine, it's not like a pharmaceutical, which is kind of a dead medicine.
So the other story I have to share about that is, this woman I was working with years and years ago, 25 years ago maybe. And she came to me and she was probably 28, and she had a very difficult menstrual cycle, massive cramping and pain. And she was Caucasian, her skin was extremely pale in a real unhealthy way, as if she'd never been around the sun and her eyes were pinpoint focused, and her musculature was really rigid, and her voice was kind of a monotone. And she was going through a very horrible divorce, and she was really unhappy.
And so then talking to her, and all of a sudden, I just had this idea of this plant, Angelica sinensis, which grew around our house. It's wild Angelica, we were at 9,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains, and so let's go for walks, so we start walking through this, and where we lived then, it had never been logged, never been farmed. It was like this original rich old growth place, really magnificent. And there were about 150 medicinal plants I worked with there over the years. And walking through [inaudible 00:51:21] old ancient landscape, and we'd go down this hill and through the forest groves and we'd get to the bottom where there's this little stream and we're walking along it.
And she was in front of me, and I was just watching what happened, and we're walking along. Angelica tends to grow about six feet tall and it's in a perfectly poised between heaven and earth. It's this quite magnificent plant. And she's walking along and she catches a glimpse of the plant out of the corner of her eye. What Henry David Thoreau called the unworn sides of the eye, that peripheral vision that sees so many things. And she just stops and she's been drawn to it, almost against her will, it was like the most amazing thing. And she's just touching the leaves like the body of a lover, and she's going, "What is it? What is it?" And I said, it's Angelica. And she's going, "Oh my."
And then all of a sudden, she stops and she goes, "It's hallow inside isn't it? Just like me." And I said, "Yes, it is." Because it has this hallow stem. And so I said, "You know, ask it to come inside that hallow space inside of you." And she did, and I watch her whole body shift in that moment, that her skin was flushed with colour, her eyes became soft, focused, and luminous. Her voice became much more emotive in its tone. Her whole body just relaxed and she said, "Oh." And it's in that way, in that moment like what you were describing, the moment when a living medicine comes into our body, and shifts our entire experience.
And we found another one of the plants and harvested the root, and I gave her some tincture, and she began using it. After a month or two her menstrual cycle was normalised and all of the cramping and pain went away.
But that moment for her, for the rest of her life, that plant, that experience will never leave her. It's a living medicine. And it's one of the things ... I've looked a lot at emerging disease dynamics, because we've disrupted the ecosystem of the planet. And more and more diseases are emerging, and more and more of them are becoming difficult to treat. And resistant bacteria is one of them, from overuse of antibiotics. And people will ask me, they'll say, "Well, won't a bacteria develops resistance to the herbs? And I said, "No, and there's two reasons for that."
One, is an herb is not simply a raw drug, it's a very sophisticated medicinal substance, it's got maybe somewhere between 100 and 1,000 different chemical constituents in it. And they're very sophisticated, it's not a single silver bullet like an antibiotic that the bacteria can analyse and create resistance to. They have to develop resistance to this very complex chemical gestalt.
But secondly, you have to understand, plants are living medicines. And the reason why they've developed antibacterial capacities is because they get infected by bacteria too. The same ones that would infect us. And if the bacteria develops resistance to what they've created, they then innovate immediately and by the next year, they've created responses to deal with the new resistant dynamic in the bacteria.
And if you look at berberine plants for instance, like goldenseal or philodendron, or bayberry, or things like that. Any of the plants with berberine in them, they'll contain berberine, which is a broad spectrum antibacterial, it's not very systemic if we take it, it tends to be limited to parts of the body it can touch. But it's a very potent broad spectrum antibacterial substance.
Well of course, a very long time ago, millions of years ago, bacteria begin to develop resistance to the berberine so they could continue to infect the plants. Well then the plants in the bacteria created a specific dynamic to do that, what's called an efflux pump inhibitor or efflux pump dynamic. Where the berberine goes into the bacterial cell, the bacteria pumps it out again so it won't be affected. So that's called an efflux pump, and the plant created an efflux pump inhibitor to shut down that part, and they've got ... When you really exam these plants, they'll have between 5 and 15 substances that all act synergistically together to shut down the bacteria's capacity to do that, and they're always innovating.
Evolution hasn't stopped, it's always going on. So these are living medicines and it's a very different kind of world than the pharmaceutical world that we've been used to. To which in a way, they're creating dead substances from an analytical orientation, and they have very limited application actually.
And we're just coming out of winter in Australia, and it's getting so bad. Obviously everywhere in the Western world, and beyond the Western world where antibiotics have been used. But our government has actually started setting up campaigns warning people of wasting antibiotics of colds and flu's, because driving to that fact because they're adapting, and they're evolving and rendering-
Right. But they've been saying this for 50 years.
And it's like, one of the reasons why, and so they periodically try to lay the blame on the patient.
Yeah, I know right. It's not a guilt trip.
[crosstalk 00:57:26], "I have to give it to them, because they come in asking for something." And I was like, "No, you don't. You have people come in all the time asking for pain killers, asking for opiates. Do you just give them those? No you don't. But you give them antibiotics, why? Because you think that they're a benign substance."
But they're way more dangerous than opiates in terms of their ecological impact. Plus you have all of the wastage from the pharmaceutical stuff, the stuff that's left over when they make antibiotics, it's dumped into the ecosystem that affects ecosystem function.
Most people don't realise that the majority of pharmaceuticals are not biodegradable. But once they're dumped into the environment, they continue to do whatever it is they've been designed to do pretty much indefinitely. And then, antibiotics that have passed their due date, they're either flushed down the toilet or thrown into landfills, and on, and on, and on.
And doctors ... The other thing that's important to realise. The technological, industrial, medical complex has virtually only one thing. I mean they've got a couple, but for the most part, they have only one thing that can cure disease, and that's antibiotics. Most of the rest of the stuff they use suppresses symptoms so you can continue to live doing the same things you've done your whole life without changing your lifestyle, but it's merely suppressing symptoms. So if you have blood pressure, you take a high blood pressure medication, which suppresses the high blood pressure, rather than looking at the root cause and changing that.
Doctors are not going to give up antibiotics, they use them prophylactically all of the time. Dentists always use them, they're not going to stop. So we've got this problem that the entire [inaudible 00:59:25] of technology medicine less on this antibacterial foundation which can't be sustained because virtually the entire earth ecosystem rests on a bacterial foundation that all human beings. And this comes as a shock to most people, we are simply bacteria morphed into more complex forms.
The work of Lynn Margulis was really seminal in that respect and showing that there's only one form of life on earth, and it's bacteria in various types of complexity. And by declaring war on disease, we've declared war on ourself. And by pumping out millions and billions, and trillions of pounds of antibiotics over the last 70 years, we flooded the earth's ecosystem, if bacteria had not developed resistance all life on earth would already be over.
Most people don't understand that. So we've created this thing where the age of miracle drugs is coming to an end. Antibacterial substances are coming to an end of their usefulness and we're about to enter a whole new frame of reference, which it's going to be very, very different than what went before. There's no way around it, but there isn't a bacterial researcher on the planet that has not said that it is inevitable that this is going to happen.
Wow, we're getting the wake up call aren't we?
Yes we are. And it doesn't matter where we look. We all know that we've exceeded the capacity of a planet that we've damaged the ecological balance in ways that can't be reclaimed. And of course, the implications are terrifying and very few of us really want to look at it or talk about it. But the human species is in for some difficult times, there isn't any way around that.
And in turn, so it's nice to see that it seems to be a very resounding shift. We know that the doctors and dentists aren't going to give up the use of the antibiotics.
However, we're now at that point where we're going to stop going to war on our planet and on ourselves, since we are heavily bacterial and we have our ancestors, right, a bacteria. That's a reality, right?
Yes it is.
And now we're going to come home and start developing some relationships as well with the planet and with ourselves, and start falling in love with ourselves again. Start falling in love with the planet and nurturing through that. I just really appreciate you. Just going deep, and going into that deep space with me Stephen and-
You're welcome. You see, a lot of people, when we start talking about this, they're so very depressed and very ... But the thing for me is that the way through this really is dependent on the individual genius of millions and millions of people. I'm fundamentally a democratic person, I believe in the individual, and I believe that the individual genius of people. I mean one of the examples I put in my new book, Planned Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm is, so these doctors have been working for like 10 years trying to figure out how a certain HIV protein folded, because if they can figure it out, then they can create a medicine that would interfere with it. And they spent millions, and millions of dollars trying to figure this out, and they finally gave up.
And then, one of the guys on the team had this idea, he said, "Well, why don't we just put it out because the gamers on the internet. They work with puzzles like this all the time. Why don't we put it on the internet, and see what happens." And they said, "Well, nothing to lose, because we can't figure it out."
And in seven days, there were 250,000 people working on it. In 10 days they had solved the problem.
The thing is, the solutions to the problems that we have that we're facing are not going to come from the established kind of areas that we've been trained to rely on because they think in the old paradigm. But permaculture came from ... I mean I love so many great activists that come out of Australia and that whole region, Bill Mollison is one of my heroes, I mean permaculture was a great invention. It's a fantastic thing [inaudible 01:04:19] in Japan coming up with natural farming and the whole herbal renaissance, it's going around the world, and all of the different things. These things are being innovated by individuals, most of them without PhD's outside of the frame that the elite think is most important, and they're creating these magnificent solutions and there's this whole tribe of people emerging now that understand that, and are sort of following that thread by following their feeling sense.
And they're starting to innovate solutions on the ground, in the environment where they live. And the thing I always tell people, over and over again, is trust your feeling sense, trust your own inherent genius. Because the solutions to the problems we face are going to come from that, not from the institutions that are dependent on the old paradigm.
I believe in that, I will never stop believing in it.
Thank you for that. And we won't either. Stephen, it's been so good having you on this show. There's so many other things I want to ask you, and my mind is kind of like thinking, "Oh, you were saying like the majority of the herbalists being women." So there's been a lot of oestrogen building herbs.
And now it makes me think again about the standard herb that we used to make beers in our culture is an estrogenic herb, right? The hops that we use in herbs and it's like straight away, I think, "Right, okay. There we go. We've reduced beer down to just some formula. Rather than the herbal tonic. And there's the possibility of actually having androgenic herbs in beers, right? If we go back to the way that they were originally used.
Well it is interesting about that ... Because it was Protestants that put hops in beers, starting about late 1400s, early 1500s. And hops is the most estrogenic plant on the planet. So by putting a lot of hops in beer, basically adults with sexual drive in the male who drinks it, and puts the drinker to sleep. Before that the herbs tended to be more sexually stimulating and it would tend to wake you up more. So it's fascinating that men are going around drinking these incredibly estrogenic substances.
But there's a guy in Scotland names Bruce Williams who started making traditional Scottish ales and he makes a pine ale, which is very ... has a lot of testosterone in it that's a great beer. Reclaiming these old traditions, they change everything, and there's a lot of wisdom in our ancestors in what they did that just because they didn't have PhD's doesn't mean that they were stupid. I mean, it's sort of the most interesting things that I see all the time. It's like, we just assumed our ancestors prior to World War II were really stupid.
I mean, how did the human species even survive until after World War II when we had PhD's? Well you know, I think there was something else going on then.
Me too. And if there's anyone here in Australia creating androgenic beers, drop me a line. I would love to help you out, and if you're doing it the old ways, and especially like you've read the Sacred and Herbal Healing Bees, one of my favourite aspects is that person having a relationship with the bacteria and the spirits that come into the brew to kick it up. And so a lot of the time the brew won't actually kick off until you've given a little offering back to the earth, or back to the directions, right Stephen?
There's a very ancient tradition of, before people knew about yeast, the way that they know now. They would make ... They knew that something came through the air that would cause the fermentation to occur to cause these sugary substances to become alcoholic and for them to get inebriated.
Individual solitary drinking was unusual back then. It was more of a community dynamic, but virtually every culture on earth ... Virtually the only culture I can pretty much find, I couldn't find any example of fermented beverage was really the Australian Aborigines. But every other indigenous culture on the planet that I could find, had a history of creating fermented beverages of intoxication.
And I thought, what was kind of interesting to me is that the Aborigines were also the only indigenous culture on the planet that I could find that had a concept of dream time, in the way that they talked about it. So, I wondered if there were some relationship there.
But no, human relationship with fermented beverages is tremendously ancient. And it turns out that the people that settled in the region that came to be known as Egypt, and that led to the emergence of those great civilizations there. They actually stopped in that location and built cities, because the grain naturally grew there. And so, one thing I like to say is that, civilization didn't occur because we started thinking, it started because we started drinking. That was the root of it, intoxication. We just have gotten way, way too far away from our root.
Absolutely. Time to grow, get our roots deep back into the earth. Stephen, for those people that would like to look at your work and look a bit more into what you're up to. Where can ... Is there a website where they can find you?
Yeah. Our website is gaianstudies.org.
Beautiful. And I recommend everyone to get on there or to Amazon, or wherever it is that you buy your books. And I just probably recommend just buying at least three of his books off the bat and diving in head first. It's an incredible journey. And I'll also put all that in the show notes.
Stephen, it's been an honour, and just absolutely awesome having you here. I appreciate so much.
Thanks Mason, it was a pleasure.
[inaudible 01:10:43] next time.
So there you have it everybody. A beautiful interview with Stephen Harrod Buhner and myself. I hope you took a lot out of that. There was a lot of beautiful juicy information. However, I feel it was a very, very empowering conversation. One that allowed us to bypass the mental noise of our world and start easing a little bit more into the reality of the world that we live in, the earth that we live in, the plants that surround us.
So I hope you can really take away some of that magic that we touched on in that conversation, and express that magic in your life and feel the health that oozes from that space, and the vitality and the energy. That's where it's at, that space there.
So you can definitely, I'd recommend you go over to gaianstudies.org and check out Stephen's stuff, a little bit of what he's doing. I meant that, what I said at the end of the interview, just grab three of his books, just go for it. Look into the Lost Language of Plants, The Secret Teaching of Plants, and many others. There's so many there, they'll be relevant for you. Herbal Antibiotics is one that you might be able to get very good, very beautiful resource for you so we can start shifting over from the pharmaceutical approach of medicine, and start getting into some natural healing, living antibiotics from the herbal realms.
Head over to gofundme.com/healinglyme2nd, and I believe his crowdfunding campaign is going to be finishing very soon. But it would be beautiful and encourage to join me in contributing a little bit so that they can get to their benchmark and Stephen can continue to do this incredible work that he's doing in the world.
So thank you very, very much for listening. Please subscribe to the podcast. And if you could leave a rating and a review, that would be beautiful. It enables me to get this feedback direct from you, so I can continue to deliver these interviews in this podcast for you specifically.
Thank you very much for that, and until next time. Stay enchanted.