Stephen Harrod Buhner, author of The Secret Teachings of Plants: The Intelligence of the Heart in the Direct Perception of Nature has been using the following exercises for over 30 years and with his students for over 20 of them. According to him, they can help tremendously in improving our ability to use the heart as an organ of perception, in refining our perceptions, in developing facility with emotional communications, and in reclaiming parts of ourselves we may have put away long ago. For some background on the incredible properties of the heart that they don’t teach you in school about, read this. For the following select exercises, it’s recommended to practice them for at least a year daily or weekly in order to habituate them and let them become second nature.
Exercise: The Natural World
Go to a place in Nature that you like (be sure to take a journal with you). Choose a place you have been before, one with which you have some familiarity. Find the particular part of this place that you like most and let yourself relax into it. Sit down, really let yourself get comfortable.
How does this place feel? Try to describe it in words. Be as specific as you can. Go on in your journal at length if you need to. Write down everything that comes to you, no matter how silly it sounds. Even if you think it’s crazy. When you are done, allow your eyes to rove, to be drawn to whatever thing in this place that is most interesting to you. Perhaps it is a rock, a plant, or a tree.
Look at it. Let your eye explore it. Notice everything about it. Look closely at the colors, the shape, how it rests on or grows in the ground. See its relation to the air around it, to the plants, water, soil, and rocks. Now, notice what feelings you have about this thing and the parts of it you have noticed. Let them grow very strong within you. Write all of them down.
Is there any part of what you are looking at that you like more? That you like less? Can you determine why? Do all the parts of what you are looking at generate the same feeling or emotion? Or do they generate different emotions? Write everything down in your journal in detail.
Do this with at least two other things that you see. Make sure that one of them is a plant. You can get up close if you want to, place your eye on a level with its leaf, take an insect’s view of its plain. How is the plant shaped, how does it feel to your fingers, how does it smell? What emotions do each of these things generate in you? Write everything down.
Now, go to another natural place, different from the first. Sit down and relax. Get comfortable. How does this place feel? Does this second place feel different from the first place? How are the feelings different? Which place feels better? Is there a name you can give the feeling you had at the first place? A name you can give the second? Names that will make clear the difference in feeling that you perceive? If you can’t think of a word, make something up.
When you are finished with this, find something else your eye is drawn to and write down everything that you feel and perceive. Do this as well with two other things, at least one of them a plant.
Go to a coffee house that you like (one with a bookstore is a good one for this exercise), a place you can linger for a while and have some coffee or tea. Choose a place you especially like. Take a table that has a good view of the room, one where you can get a good look at the people entering the shop.
Now. Let your eye go to whichever person you are drawn to most. Really let yourself see this person. Take the time to really let his or her sensory impressions enter you. Since you will be looking at them with some intensity, you will have to be clever so that you do not make them nervous or make them wonder what you are doing and why. This works best if you can observe while you yourself remain unobserved.
What kind of feelings do you get from this person? Happy? Sad? Nervous? Empty? Masculine? Feminine? Strong? Weak? Comfortable? Assured? Indulgent wealth? Indulgent emotion? Poverty?
What thoughts come to you when you look at this person’s face? Let yourself examine this face that you see. How does the chin feel to you? The nose? What is communicated from this person’s eyes? Ears? Nose? Chin? Forehead? Face?
Faces are extraordinarily faithful to the internal world of their owners, no matter how schooled someone is in “keeping face.” Each part of the face, through the feelings you feel, will tell you something about that person’s internal world.
Now. Look at this person’s hands. Do the hands seem alive and aware or asleep and unlived in? Are these hands strong or weak, happy or sad? Businesslike or filled with feeling? How old do you think this person is emotionally? Just let a number come.
Write everything down in your journal.
How do this person’s clothes feel? What do they communicate? How about the shoes? Is this person comfortable in these clothes, in the artificial skin that you see? Do the clothes match the feeling you have from looking at this person’s face?
Repeat this process with as many people as you with, at least two. Compare the experiences you had with each.
The personal world (and the meanings) within which a person lives are communicated in every gesture, intonation, movement of eye and hand, every piece of clothing and stride of foot. It is possible, with practice, to learn to perceive all the elements of a person’s internal world and their meanings, to know what it is like to live there. To understand how other people experience this person in his or her daily life. To understand the emotional tenor of the life this person lives within.
There are 10 exercises in total and the two exercises above are only a starting point to going deeper into using the heart as an incredible tool of perception. Not only can you open the doorway between human and plant consciousness but you can open gateways between you and the luminous numinous. Great secrets still lie hidden. Wouldn’t you like to discover them?
This above is a select excerpt from The Secret Teachings of Plants: The Intelligence of the Heart in the Direct Perception of Nature.