Review: Secret Teachings of Plants: The Intelligence of the Heart in the Direct Perception of Nature by Stephen Harrod Buhner. Rochester, VT: Bear & Co., 2004

  I was drawn to reading the “Secret Teachings of Plants” after reading Stephen Harrod Buhner’s earlier book, “The Lost Language of Plants,” and I found “Secret Teachings” especially enlightening.  It opened me to the power of the heart beyond being just the pump for moving blood.  The heart also produces an electromagnetic field that reaches beyond the body to receive messages from other electromagnetic fields of other life and substances of the Earth.  These perceived messages are emotional in nature, and the heart’s direct neural connection with the brain and especially with the hippocampus carries this emotional input from the outside world to the hippocampus where it is interpreted to give this input meaning.

    Buhner’s book provides powerful insights into the calling of spirit guides, especially the guiding spirits of plants. The electromagnetic communication, whether from animal or plant, offers us the avenue for communing with these spirits.  This communication is a two-way dialogue between the caller and the called.  Before answering a caller, the spirit guide may want to know if you are really calling from your heart and if the answers you seek will come to you though your heart.  This two-way communication was very much part of the lives of our hunting-gathering ancestors, but it is something that has been denied or ignored for the last several thousand years during the time in which we have been taught that talking to spirit guides is a sign of mental illness, or at best a superstition.

     During this time we came to believe that the brain is the only place of memory and learning, and that the heart is no more than a pump for pumping the blood through the 60,000 miles of blood vessels in the human body.  Buhner describes a number of other physiological features of the heart that facilitate the flow of blood: the vacuum that is created within the vortex of the spiraling flow of two or three streams of blood through the vessel, a spiraling flow that is facilitated by a twisting action of the vessel.  In addition, the composition of the blood with heavier blood cells at the center of the vortex facilitates the vacuum that pulls the blood through the vessels. Thus the heart as a pump is only a limited part of the process.  Buhner then continues in leading the reader on this amazing journey through the heart, a heart that is also an endocrine gland that produces a number of hormones that affect the functioning of the heart, brain and the entire body to protect the neurons that directly connection the heart to the hippocampus, and to protect the arteries from atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, and strokes.  Others hormones inhibit pancreatic cancer cells, regulate blood pressure, improve memory and learning, and have an effect on Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases among other things.  The heart is directly connected to the central nervous system with neurons that extend directly to the amygdala, thalamus, hippocampus and the cortex, the brain centers concerned with emotional memories and processing; sensory experience; memory, spatial relationships and interpreting the meaning of sensory inputs; and problem solving, reasoning and learning. Then there are the pacemaker cells throughout the heart that work together electromagnetically to regulate the contractions of the heart.  The electromagnetic field and each section of the field no matter how small contains all the information encoded within it, information that is communicated to and from the external world as well as within the body through the electromagnetic impulses.

     According to Buhner, learning to listen to the spirits of plants from your heart takes commitment and patience.  Opening or listening to your heart requires quieting your mind while focusing on your heart reaching out electromagnetically to the plant’s electromagnetic field.  With honest commitment in doing this the plant spirit will respond and come to you.  If you are seeking a particular plant to heal, whether for yourself or someone else, the plant that comes to you will know what you are seeking, and what to do as it selects from the very large number of chemicals that it has available to find the appropriate medicine to meet you need.  To communicate this need, in the same way that you opened your heart to communicate with the plant, you need to open your heart to listen to the problem for which you are seeking help.  In this process rigorous self-examination is important to release you from the issues, moral and otherwise, that can distract you from listening to the plants and the problem of concern.

     From my personal experience with clinical hypnosis and ecstatic trance, quieting the mind and listening to that which is from beyond consciousness is quite directly accessed through these states of trance. Listening to and receiving that which is from beyond you has become an expected experience in our ecstatic trance groups when others in the group have an experience very similar to yours. Also, in using clinical hypnosis I realize as the therapist how aware I am of what the client is experiencing while we are both in trance.  In these two settings listening through the heart is most evident.

     Buhner’s writing gave me the feeling that if I was able to continually listen through my heart as did my hunting and gathering ancestors that I could live in health forever, or at least to a ripe old age.  The answers are not found in the simply and linearly prescribed medicinal herbs to heal particular problems but are found by listening through the heart to the spirits of the herbs, the problem to be addressed and to what the spirits have to say.  

     The book is divided into two halves.  The first half, The Systole, is of when the heart contracts, forcing the blood outward to all parts of the body.  It is the analytic part of the book to explain the how and why of the functions of the heart.  The second half, The Diastole, is of when the heart relaxes and the heart again fills, filling the heart with emotions, of what needs to be expressed in our current world.  In the last thousand years of our so called rational or scientific thinking, our thinking has become linear.  We seek to understand Nature by breaking it down into small segments for study that leads us to experiencing it as lifeless.  This era of enlightenment through rationality should be call the era of endarkenment.  The emotional aspects of life perceived through the heart from the world around us have been ignored, thus we have been receiving only the lifeless information perceived by the brain. 

     Life is self-organized.  The living cell is composed of lifeless atoms and molecules.  This jump between the lifeless and life has not been explained by the linearity of science.  The cells self-organize into more complex life forms, the amoeba, bacteria and more complex microbes.  These organisms come together and organize themselves into more complex life forms.  As these organize into more and more complex life, the life of the organs of the body and the body of a particular species are formed.  But this is not the end.  All of a particular species and then the complexity of the interdependence of all living species in its entirety come together and self organize in the complex system of life.  Within this complexity there is communication between all levels, communication in the form of chemical, hormonal, electromagnetic, gravitational, behavioral and verbal messages.  Breaking this complexity down into its component parts for study is like breaking down a sentence into its grammatical parts to understand the form of a sentence.  With this analysis the message of the sentence is lost.  This communication and response system between all levels of life is continuous and instantaneous, constantly changing, making adjustments for the health of Gaia, and for life to continue this communication and response needs to be cooperative and not competitive. 

     Some time ago from my reading I wrote a summary of five features of the coming New Age: a sense of oneness with the Earth; a sense of community with each other; a sense of harmony and peace; a sense of curiosity and continued learning; and a sense of creativity.  There are likely others, but this is a beginning.  One source was Carl Calleman who suggests that the world of dualities will dissolve, that our need to define such dualities as that which is good and that which is bad, or that which is beautiful and that which is ugly, will end, and we will find value in and appreciation for the diversity that we all have to offer.  This dissolution of dualities would lead us to greater peace and harmony, but I have had a difficult time trying to imagine what a world without such dualities would be like. Stephen Buhner’s image of the “Secret Teachings of Plants” has clarified this ending of dualities in his description of a world in which “the entire system and all its parts are cooperative and not competitive. They make up one system.  They are whole.” (p. 39).  As we return to our rightful place within the evolution of all that which is of the Earth, a place where we are cooperative in supporting this system, we will with necessity be non competitive.  We will be just one of all its parts, sensitive to and in communication with all the other parts.  All life will respond in their own ways to deal with hot and cold, or to deal with health supporting or pathogenic microbes.  Dealing with such dualities will be done with cooperation and without competition.  Each level of life in this complex system of life will respond in its own way to minute changes in its environment that impinge upon it, responding rapidly to maintain its health and ability to procreate, grow and to maintain the sustainability of all in this complex system.

     Among the forms of communication Buhner elaborates on two, electromagnetic and magnetic communication.  Animals such as the shark and other fish have extremely sensitive receptors to picking up electromagnetic signals that can tell them the kinds of fish, how many and where there are available for a meal.  Birds and bees are highly sensitive to the Earth’s magnetic field to orient birds in their migration and give the bee direction to flowers and back to the hive.  Most interesting is the fact that within the hippocampus of the human brain are sense receptors for magnetic waves, magnetic signals for interpreting spatial relationships, meaning and the health of the heart, carrying information internally regarding blood pressure, immunity, pain and stress.  Its effect on stress as regulated by cortisol impacts the immune function, memory, insulin sensitivity, tissue repair and a sense of well being.

     I find that this description of communication through electromagnetic fields is parallel to Ervin Laszlo’s description of the holographic matrix that contains all information from the beginning of time that is received by the cytoskeletal structure of the brain.  This information as described by Buhner though is of the emotions perceived from the outside world and received by the heart. Though, “because we are trained to ignore these particular kinds of sensory cues and the information they contain, most people do not consciously utilize the heart as an organ of perception. Most of the information received is thus processed below conscious levels of cognition,” (p. 95).  This is exactly why I use and teach ecstatic trance, a trance state that opens us to information from outside the body, from outside the brain and heart, information that is received below the level of consciousness.  It has become expected that the ecstatic trance journey experiences within a group are sufficiently alike or similar thus reflecting what we might call “mind reading,” providing us with examples of receiving information through the heart from beyond ourselves.  

See Attached Book Cover

Nicholas E. Brink, PhDAuthor of 

  • Ecstatic Soul Retrieval (publisher – Inner Traditions / Bear & Co.)
  • Power of Ecstatic Trance
  • Baldr’s Magic
  • Beowulf’s Ecstatic Trance Magic
  • Trance Journeys of the Hunter-Gatherers
  • Grendel and His Mother (publisher – Routledge)
  • Applying the Constructivist Approach to Cognitive Therapy: Resolving the Unconscious Past (Routledge – in press)

Available from Postmark Books in Rosendale, NY or your local bookseller –