Note: this is probably going to be the kookiest article I have ever written, so if you are a hardcore skeptic, stay away. Go read about veganism, polyamory or my transgender experiences. Or, if you really want to challenge yourself, read this article where I explain how and why I transitioned from a hardcore atheist skeptic to the Californian hippie I am today.
A few years ago, I had a fling with an older woman who taught me about the art of hugging trees. If you have never tried that, I really recommend it; the connection you feel is so clear and powerful, much more than what you’d expect from something inanimate.
She also taught me the art of communing and communicating with plants. I had just never tried it before, but as soon as I did, I found that I had a really clear channel. It seemed easier to open up a telepathic link with plants than with humans, somehow. My theory is that humans have more mental “noise” which would get in the way.
Yes, telepathy; I have had some experiences with this; experiences such as picking out sentences from someone’s head, or knowing what my partner is thinking or feeling from a distance. I’ve even had a mind-to-mind contact with a dead person, who gave me information I could verify. This sort of stuff has happened enough that I know I’m not making it up.
As I said, connecting with plants was easier than that somehow. Of course, it’s harder to tell if you were right or not with what you perceived, because plants can’t exactly speak aloud to confirm your perceptions. But, on the other hand, it was easier for me to get this sense of a connection, the information coming through clearer and more persistently. With such a clear feeling, it’s easier for me to feel sure I’m not getting a false signal.
Looking at it from a skeptical point of view, I would obviously be able to discount these experiences a thousand times over, but I’m not looking at it from a skeptical point of view. I already know that my subtle perception is reliable (something I DID question with rigorous skepticism), and I know that subtle phenomena such as I perceive through it are real. Because of that, I don’t have an extremely pressing reason to question my experiences. I’ve questioned enough in the past, and to keep doing that would be to disrespect and erase my lived reality.
With that out of the way, I’ll explain a bit more about the experience of communing with plants.
Plants seem simpler or perhaps just more at peace than humans, but it was surprising to me just how much of an independent existence they really had. For instance, I realised that trees don’t much like to be disturbed at night. The familiar sense of foreboding which a lot of people feel when they are in a wood at night – I think perhaps we feel that because we perceive, on some level, the trees’ wishes.
I also found that I had full empathy for a plant, just as I had for an animal or a human.
One day I tried to pull up a lettuce from my parents’ garden, and I found myself almost crying. Their life force was so strong, so beautiful.
I don’t remember if I did pull up the lettuce that time. In any case, it was so hard.
I also found myself almost bonding with certain trees I saw frequently. Their energy, perhaps even their personality, was each unique. Sitting in the branches of a fig tree in my parents’ yard, I felt comforted and protected.
So when my parents cut down that fig tree, for what seemed to me to be an entirely frivolous reason, I felt genuinely and deeply sad about it. Every time I passed the stump, I would remember this loss and this injustice and my heart would ache again. It felt closer to them having killed a person than destroyed an object.
I came to see a sort of hierarchy of the value of life, based on the natural length of a being’s lifespan and perhaps something subtler like “life force” or the will to live. Just as I feel better eating plants than animals, I see it better to kill a lettuce, who would have only lived a year anyway, than to kill a tree, who would have lived for a hundred or more.
In fact, sometimes I see the death of a tree as being as sad and as shocking as the end of a human life. They are just so majestic, so powerful. Their lives are long. They mean something. You can’t just cut them down just like that.
Well, I left the rural environment of my parents’ house and managed to leave the matter of plants having feelings to the sidelines for a while.
I still ate plants, of course. Going fruitarian (which I think must be the best option for plant welfare) seemed way too hard and destabilising – it just wasn’t an option for me, as much as I would have liked to.
And the thing is, the plants you buy in the shop – I don’t know what they do to them, but it just doesn’t feel the same. I find it harder to connect with a supermarket lettuce than with a lettuce growing in the ground.
I guess cause they are already dead or pretty close to it. Well, lettuces can regrow roots, so it’s not like they are exactly dead. But energetically it seems that perhaps a cut lettuce is in a stunned state, like a chicken who goes limp in the jaws of a dog, waiting to die. It’s like the personality has vacated the plant, the flesh passive, waiting to be consumed.
This is disturbing in its own way, but it does make it easier for an empath like me to consume plant flesh. Just like most meat eaters ignore and forget the origins of the meat they eat, I – pretty much willfully – choose to forget the life that was my salad. It’s all I can really do. At least for now.
This article came into being after I started to care for plants in my new house in Berlin. For some months now I’ve cared for a basil plant, who I bought for a recipe I wanted to follow. I didn’t think much of the fact that the plant was in a pot and still living their life, at least not till I brought them home. Then, I was faced with the issue of pulling leaves off this beautiful being.
I think that time I chose to shut down my empathy a little bit, in order to make the mutilation easier on me. Cowardly, I know, but what can I do?? If I let my empathy stop me from hurting this basil plant, I’d have to admit that my empathy wants me to stop eating about 95% of everything else I eat, and I’d be plunged into an impossible situation. As I said, I really can’t go fruitarian at this point in time.
So I pulled off some leaves, hardening myself as I did so. I did, however, make sure to leave enough leaves for the plant to survive, and in the places that seemed most critical. I left the buds and young leaves.
After that, I have rarely used the leaves of this basil plant for food. They became a sort of companion plant, sharing good vibes with me as I watered them and watched them grow.
I did, however, realise that there were opportune moments to take their leaves. To be exact, when they had lots of yellowing and browning leaves, I realised that it didn’t hurt them for me to pick them. In fact, the plant felt grateful when I removed their ailing leaves – it felt similar to cutting your nails or something along those lines. (That said, pulling a leaf when it is still healthy seems to cause a plant pain).
I could use those yellowing leaves in recipes and they would still be good. A perfect symbiosis, but unfortunately not something I can rely on for my diet.
This reminded me of something I saw on an anime called Earth Girl Arjuna. This short series is fictional, but attempts to provide a serious message about ecology. One of the ideas it put forth was the concept that insects, slugs, snails etc only eat the old leaves which plants need to get rid of. A poetic and intuitively attractive idea. I didn’t know, and still don’t know, if this is true, but my own experiences make it feel more likely or at least possible.
What actually got me to write this article, though, was my experiences with a tomato plant.
I bought this plant some time ago, hoping that I could grow some tomatoes in my kitchen.
As it turned out, the plant came out thin and scraggly, and their flowers dried and dropped off shortly after appearing. Eventually the leaves went purple and began to drop off too.
At some point, me and Anja decided that I should kill the plant, as they were obviously not going to produce. So, I took up a pair of scissors, and went to the plant with the idea of cutting their thin trunk into small pieces I could put in the compost.
However, this time I decided that I would not shut down my empathy. If this was the right thing to do, I told myself, I should be able to feel the pain and still go through with it.
But, standing before the plant, it didn’t feel as easy as all that.
I tried explaining through my telepathic connection. Sorry, plant. I just have to do this.
I tried coming from a different angle. I have to, because I can’t afford to waste the time I spend on watering you. That sounded unbelievably callous. My time is worth more than your life. No. It wasn’t.
And after some time, I found I was just unable to go through with the act and still hold my heart open at the same time.
So I gave up.
And now I’m going to do what I can to save the plant (I think they needed a bigger pot), and apart from that, wait for them to die at the end of their natural life cycle, this winter.
Of course, I know this is a horrible double standard. I am certain that when I buy a tomato, the fruit was taken from the plant and then the plant was killed immediately afterwards. Industry doesn’t care about lives. In fact, I may be only one person in ten thousand who has some concept of empathy for plants. Whoever I get my produce from, the prospective looks grim for my leafy benefactors.
I really have no idea what I can do to act on my empathy. Perhaps if I went all the way I would only be able to grow and eat fruit and seeds from my garden. But I don’t even have a garden! And I have serious doubts about my ability to survive like this long term.
And, see, my life is already dedicated to helping others. I am doing what I must for myself, and all of my spare energy is dedicated to making messages of consciousness, growth, love and awareness which I hope will benefit the planet.
Would I help the world more if I spent that energy on minimising my impact on plants?
I don’t know.
All this is a big conundrum to me, compounded by the fact that if I were to do something so radical as go fruitarian, I’d also want to put my beliefs into question again. (I have gradients of belief, not absolute beliefs, and when I need to take action on a belief, I often need to be more certain than I would be if I only wanted to talk or think about it).
What I know is that currently I’m simply shutting down or ignoring my compassion in one area of my life, simply to avoid overwhelm.
That said, I do need to close my empathy down in other areas, too. I could spend all day crying about people who are starving, or victims of war or genocide, or the animals who are tortured in our industrial complexes.
But crying doesn’t help things much. So I do need to choose what I focus on, and that often includes focusing on action instead of the injustice which inspired that action.
So I guess I have my “justification”. If you can call it that. But I still need to decide what this empathy means to me, and what action if any I must take on it. And I have to admit, for the moment, I’m at a loss.