Everything is medicine. Some even say that the most potent form of medicine is not that which we consume physically but that which is invisible. The invisible connections between people, plants and everything are the foundations of our health and wellbeing. The invisible connections of community and diversity are the foundations that allow everyone and everything to thrive. The natural world around us mirrors our cultural worldview. If there is discord in the community, a lack of acceptance and a loss of diversity then the natural world will reflect this back to us. Our mono-culture – the custom that rewards sameness and ostracizes deviation from the norm – is reflected in our natural world. Not only in our mono-culture growing practices but also the hegemony of exotic noxious weeds over native flora. We are now becoming aware of the alarming rate of species extinction and loss the biodiversity that had once been the foundation on which all things thrive. If we are to protect our native species and revive our plant medicine in the natural world around us then we must first honour the foundations of indigenous wisdom. Revive the invisible connections between the people. Once we understand how to revive our connections, strengthen community and embrace diversity within and among us as people, only then can we understand how to revive and strengthen the natural world around us.
In an established landscape these are often the species that make up the fringe that protects the species that grow within it… In healthy forest the fringe is constantly renewing and extending itself, so that usually most of the species involved continue to persist in the landscape… But a quick look at the forest fringe in most parts of the country these days will show a very different scenario. Where once would have been found a range of indigenous species; manuka, kanuka, tutu, kumarahou, mamaku, mingimingi, karamu, etc. one is more likely to find exotic species… very often the exotic species increasingly dominate the landscape, and a succession of indigenous species disappear.
~ Pa Ropata
Our people that have remained connected with indigenous ways of life are invaluable repositories of wisdom. Our people that have been pushed out to the fringes of society have kept alive a much needed alternative way of living. As a culture we are yearning for the worldview of the indigenous and alternative cultures to return so that we can begin to heal both individually and collectively, culturally and ecologically. It may seem like slow progress, slow growth, but the time is ripe for us to openly and wholehearted embrace what was once suppressed as primative or alternative, even hocus pocus. The time is ripe for us to honour indigenous wisdom and not as if it is from another culture but because it is our own. The indigenous worldview is the worldview of humanity as a whole. That is not to say that I encourage cultural appropriation – humility and respect is well overdue. If we are to honour indigenous cultures and the indigenous worldview then we must be gracious in our approach as if we are children seeking the counsel of our elders, because that is exactly we are. No matter what worldview we subscribe to, we are not separate to or different from indigenous cultures, we are simply the children of humanity. And those that are the repositories of wisdom are the elders. We are all of the same family.
I am constantly reminded by kaumatua from different iwi that the foundation or rongoa is not rakau, trees and plants, but taha wairua, something spiritual. That is the case now as it ever was. However, having said that, matauranga Maori has at its foundation its connection to the natural world, te Wao nui a Tane, and if that connection is not kept alive, Maori culture itself will slowly lose its meaning and relevance.
~ Pa Ropata
Our yearning to turn to our elders and seek their wise counsel is a natural response, as if we were children that had wondered off into the wilderness only to find that we are scared and do not know where we are going or what we are doing. As a culture we are scared and do not know where we are going or what we are doing. And we know this by the pervasive experience of anxiety in each and everyone one of us. The further we wander away from our connection to the invisible world and spirit of everything that lives all around us the more anxiety we feel. When we perceive the world as purely material and functional then of course it is hard to find meaning and it is an unforgiving, impersonal and vulnerable place to live. But when we remember that we are held by a web of the invisible world all around us, that our ancestors are somehow alive and guiding us, and that the natural world around us is alive and openly offering its medicine to us, then there is nothing to be anxious about. The indigenous worldview is innate is all of us but we have forgotten. We do not allow ourselves to remember because we have lived through so much pain that we have become numb to the wholeness of our human potential.
The physical act of going to the ngahere, the bush, to collect rongoa has a much wider significance than the medical properties particular rongoa may contain. It is representative of the connection between the children of Tane and Papatuanuku, the Earth Mother, and collection of rongoa gives expression to that connection.
~ Pa Ropata
Pain is actually the perfect gateway back to ourselves, it is a source of insight into the very ideas that we hold that keep us limited, keep us stuck and keep us in pain. When we are at our most vulnerable it is possible to tap into our greatest potential. But the indigenous worldview is not predicated on pain and vulnerability, it is founded on the invisible connections that link us all together. And the remembrance of these connections is the most fundamental remedy for our pain. Returning to the indigenous worldview will happen for many as a great sigh of relief that finally our innate worldview is validated and can now be articulated clearly. We can return to the wilderness and honour the unseen that we feel but do not yet understand. We can heal our relationships with ourselves, our families, our community and our land. And in healing these invisible connections we heal our physical bodies and our environment. It is a natural happening, you cannot stop the flow of your ability to care for someone or something once you have connected with it. It is as a river flows inevitably to the sea.
The first role of the rongoa plants is to heal the whenua, the land itself. It is easy to forget this. We are so worried about our own concerns, our needs, or sicknesses and injuries that we easily fall into the way of thinking that everything in creation is for our own personal use. We are much less important than that; in fact, as healers, our first patient is the land itself; our first duty is to heal Papatuanuku.
~ Pa Ropata
If we were connected with our land, with the earth, not only would we feel less personal pain but we would be humbled with the perspective that we are indebted to the life of our land. We would sense the need to care for our land and the whole of the natural environment as instinctively as we care for our family. Our ability to care for ourselves and our families is founded on our innate invisible connections. We take it for granted that we are human animals that make loving connections and that we are capable of expanding our loving connections beyond our friends and family. We reserve all of our love for our partner and/or children, perhaps our pets and our community, but what about our resources, our plants, our land, the sun and moon? Indigenous wisdom offers us the knowledge of our capacity to love, unconditionally. And not just for those in our immediate lives but for everyone and everything that exists, with all its perfections and imperfections. Nature doesn’t make mistakes. We all belong here by virtue of simply being alive.
A traditional way of describing the situation is to say that the plants that heal the land are also the ones that heal the people who live on the land.
~ Pa Ropata
What if we were to accept the weeds that grow where they do simply because they are meant to, because they know what they are doing more than we do. They are exactly where they are meant to be, where they are needed to heal the land. And we can learn to use these weeds that are in abundance right in front of us for our own medicine. If we connect with the land and learn the medicinal properties of our weeds we may come to find that what is growing around us is exactly what we need. If we disrupt the land then weeds will grow as medicine for whatever is disrupting us. The world around us is a reflection of our inner world. Weeds will also grow as a balm to the broken earth, nourishing the soil and making it possible for future generations of other species to grow. The process is long and slow. So, in the meantime we can protect native plants and also protect the indigenous knowledge of medicine. If we are to use our precious native plants for our own health without regard for the health of our plants then we are exploiting this knowledge without understanding the foundation of wisdom underneath.
Rongoa is a taonga, it is immersed in tapu because it is the key to mauri, the gift of life.
~ Pa Ropata
Where are we to source the plants for medicine if the plants need protection? Perhaps the answer is that we are not to rely on the physical plant medicine but instead explore the non-physical medicine of plants. The unseen, the invisible connections are the foundation of indigenous wisdom. Plants are medicine without us having to consume them. What if the plant kingdom were our teachers and were patiently waiting for us to slow down, be still, quiet our minds and listen to their wisdom? The elders and shamans of this land still do this, they know that plants offer us physical medicine if we really need it but more powerfully they offer non-physical medicine, medicine for the mind, heart and soul. Indigenous wisdom holds the knowledge that it is the non-physical that precedes the physical and therefore by working with the non-physical we heal the root of the matter. Non-physical medicine could be likened to the shifts that occur inside of us when we are out in the wild, fully immersed in the natural environment. Surrounded by the energy of the natural world we cannot help but be moved, emotionally, mentally, subtly and profoundly.
The little connections are the big connections that make us whole.
~ Pa Ropata
In the fading world story of separation and materialism, if we were to acknowledge the unseen, the invisible or the non-physical world we would be silenced, forced to the fringes and labelled as ignorant, naïve or irrational. But in the new and ancient emerging world story this is not so. If you were in the presence of an indigenous elder would you think that their knowledge of the unseen was ignorant, naïve and irrational? If you were to express your judgments about the unseen aspects of the world to an indigenous elder how do you think they would respond? They would probably look at you with a compassionate heart and then quietly walk you deeper into the bush. Walking deeper into the bush can be seen as a metaphor for welcoming in the deeper layers of our own truth. Our path of evolution and growth looks less like linear path stretching out in front of us into the future and more like the growth of a tree: our roots reach deeper into the earth and our branches expand higher into the universe. We do not need to believe in the unseen we simply need to clear away the rubbish and toxicity that has been limiting our growth. We can do this with physical medicine – food, plants, herbs, massage, movement – and we can do it with non-physical medicine.
The earth is a source of life, not a resource.
~ Pa Ropata
Non-physical medicine is medicine that utilizes the energetic blueprint of something in order to change the energetic blueprint of something else. We could call it energetic medicine or vibrational medicine, but before we do lets check in with our judgments about these words and what they mean in the context of indigenous wisdom. For some of us energetic or vibrational medicine may seem perfectly natural and for others it conjures up past experiences of people who we have judged as ignorant, naïve or irrational. Lets return to the idea that we intuitively know that we are not just physical machines but we also have energetic bodies that are intrinsic to our physical form. The energy within and around our physical body holds patterns that vibrate to frequencies – we know and accept all of this just as we know and accept that radio waves carry music to our ears. By grounding ourselves in this knowledge we can come to ask, without self-limiting judgments, what is energetic or vibrational medicine?
Medicine is the whole of you and how you relate to the world around you.
Rongoa is a living knowledge, knowledge living in people.
~ Pa Ropata
Vibrational medicine is that which holds an energetic pattern, just as we conceive of plant extracts holding physical constituents. The vibration is transferred from a plant into the medium of water and when we take this water into our physical bodies the vibration of the plant is transferred into our own energetic vibrational patterns. This is what we call plant essences, commonly known as Bach flower essences or New Zealand plant essences. If this idea of vibrational medicine still does not compute then think about how water is not an inert substance but a living conduit and solvent. As human beings, whose material make up is 80% water, we are highly conducive to vibrations of subtle frequencies and we are highly solvent to whatever we come into contact with. We become more akin to that which we are in contact with both physically and non-physically. This means that we have the capacity to absorb, vibrate and resonate at a subatomic level to the more subtle frequencies of plants. And that means that we can access more subtle ways of perceiving our reality and that we can live from a ‘we’ level of consciousness instead of a ‘me’ level of consciousness.
It takes time to grow a new solution… A new way of finding expression that actually is appropriate for the new realities.
~ Pa Ropata
Elders and shamans of this land hear plant medicine as vibration as if it were music, this medicine is known as the song of the plant. Each plant resonates a unique song that influences and resonates with our most subtle energies, subtly clearing out denser residues of thoughts and emotions, and replacing them with more harmonious plant intelligence. The vibrational medicine of plant intelligence lifts us out of our conditioned and limited ways of perceiving, and offers us insight into our own expansive nature. Nature is more intelligent than we think we are. There are no mistakes in nature. The more we watch, and listen, and trust the intelligence of the plants the more aligned we become with the intelligence of the universe. And the intelligence of the universe does not need to force or control anything, it just is what it is and does what it does. It is the kind of harmony that we all have the capacity to experience and live in, if only we could open ourselves up to the indigenous wisdom of plant medicine in order to grow. The process is long and slow. Vibrational plant medicine is where to begin.
If your curiosity is piqued then here are a handful of New Zealand native plant essences and their medicinal qualities:
KAWAKAWA ~ Recklessness. Leap of faith. Enthusiasm.
MANUKA ~ Rage. Purification. Regeneration.
KANUKA ~ Exhaustion. Restore inner vitality. Spontaneity.
POHUTUKAWA ~ Can’t say no. Self-assertion. Initiative.
KOWHAI ~ Difficulty with change. Adaptability. Move on from the past.
KAURI ~ Co-dependency. Self-acceptance. Compassion.
There are hundreds of unique plants with unique medicinal qualities to offer our mental, emotional and more subtle healing growth and development. If you would like to find out more of have your own plant essence blended for you then you can see one of our apothecarians in store or make a request online through our website…
May you be inspired to turn inside and return to the wilderness!
Full article and speech by Pa Ropata (Rob McGowan):