A luminous being appeared to me, telepathically explained they were the spirit of chuchuwasi, then became so bright and powerful that I woke up with a gasp.
This was my first encounter with a plant spirit. It came to me in a dream during my second week in isolation in the Amazon jungle. Chuchuwasi is a giant jungle tree, whose name roughly translates to “house of the heart.” I remembered only a moment from the dream, yet it was powerful enough to make me feel beyond any shadow of a doubt that something very real was communicating with me.
Traditional Pathways of Connection: Talking to Plants
I was first introduced to plant spirit communication in the Amazon jungle while working with ayahuasca, a psychoactive entheogen used in healing ceremonies. In the tradition of the Shipibo tribe, ayahuasca is most commonly used as an intermediary to working with other plant spirits in the context of dietas.
A dieta is traditionally done in isolation—the initiate lives alone for a period of a month all the way up to several years in a remote hut in the jungle. The majority of the plants used in dietas are not psychoactive, and are drunk daily as tea. The diet of the initiate is very limited to help facilitate communication with the plant spirit—they refrain from oils, fats, spicy foods, and salt.
Try going just a few days without salt and you will quickly see how powerfully attuned and sensitive to your environment you become in just a short period of time. Then imagine carrying that practice out for months or even years.
The goal of the dieta is for the initiate to communicate with and form a strong relationship with the spirit of the plant. Ayahuasca ceremonies are used to help facilitate that communication, but often the spirits of the plants appear most vividly to the initiate in dreams, visions, and songs outside of the ceremonial space while they are not in an altered state of consciousness.
Animism vs. Materialism: Cross-Cultural Views of the Natural World
In indigenous cultures across the world, the prevailing view of the natural world is animistic, meaning that everything is alive and has a spirit. Contrast this with the prevailing view in the Western world, where materialism dictates that matter is inert and without volition.
This difference in worldview has vast implications—other cultures talk to the spirits of mountains, rocks, plants, animals, and other beings as valid sources of real intelligence. Imagine the huge storehouse of knowledge that the natural world can then contain.
Moving into seeing the world as alive has revitalized my life and given me a renewed sense of purpose, because I can now feel, even in my darkest moments, that I am not alone. There is a larger community of beings in and from the natural world that are with me all the time as a resource and source of deep strength.
This sense of connection and community to our world is only available through our acknowledgement of the invisible world. I see that so much of the depression, anxiety, sense of meaninglessness, and despair in our culture comes from a lack of connection to the greater whole—the matrix of aliveness that our entire cosmos participates in.
My Journey with Plant Spirits
When I first started opening up to the idea of communicating with plant spirits, it was because I felt so afraid and alone and incapable of going on by myself that I knew I needed help from something greater than myself. I participated in a traditional dieta in the Amazon and felt only a little bit open to connecting with the plants I was meant to be working with.
I constantly forgot what I was meant to be doing, because it was such a foreign concept to me to ask spirits for help and guidance. I didn’t know where to look for signs of communication—were these spirits going to incarnate before me and speak in plain English? How could I even begin to understand how to communicate with a part of the world I never previously knew even existed? I felt like I had been dropped into a foreign country with no grasp of the native language, or even a travel guide to teach me some of the basics.
Slowly, my mind opened to the sometimes subtle and other times startling ways the plants around me were communicating. I began to feel something unexpected—a deep sense of relief. My body and mind felt, on a deep level, a sense of rightness and hope that the world was truly a more enchanted place than I had let myself believe.
Journeying Home: Native Plants
Upon returning home, I felt very drawn to continue working with plants that I could find in North America. I set aside periods of time to commune with certain plant spirits that were calling to me: rose, lavender, chamomile, and others.
I began exploring other traditions that draw healing from communing with the spirits of plants (Bach flower remedies, Plant Spirit Medicine, Vitalist Herbalism) and combined these principles with my nature-based study of Taoist Medicine and science-based principles about our nervous system’s response to trauma.
What emerged was a unique global synthesis of ideas and practices that, together, spoke deeply to my own culture’s needs for deep healing. This approach gently teaches and fosters a new kind of relationship with the plants and other elements of the natural world, while still paying tribute to our own journeys through trauma and pain.
Coregulation + The Nervous System
Sometimes we can only get by with a little help with our friends. Polyvagal Theory, Stephen Porges' groundbreaking work in the world of trauma recovery and nervous system regulation, shows we are not only emotionally tied to each other, but physiologically wired to help soothe each others’ nervous systems. Our need for connection is rooted in the very anatomy and physiology of our bodies. Coregulating with another human being who we feel safe with is the fastest way to come back to ourselves from a fight, flight, or freeze state, and reclaim a sense of safety and resourcefulness.
The more we connect, the more we are heard and understood, the more we feel loved, appreciated, and validated. That validation activates a sense of safety, and in feeling safe with another person, our nervous system naturally begins to down-regulate from a state of threat and fear to one of relaxation and social engagement.
Expanding our capacity to feel and maintain a sense of calm and stability is incredibly restorative for our nervous systems. In Steve Hoskinson’s work with Organic Intelligence, he explains that by finding enjoyment and connection in our environment over and over again, we slowly build our capacity for greater degrees of activation and emotion to move through us without losing our center. This, in turn, becomes the foundation for increased resiliency, peace, joy, and creativity.
Working with the sprit of plants offers us a unique opportunity to coregulate even if we are alone or we don’t have anyone to rely on with whom we feel safe. Communing with plants in this way brings us both inside of ourselves and outside of ourselves at the same time—creating a bridge between the inner world of emotions, sensations, memories, images, and thoughts, and the outer world of light, sound, smell, touch, and taste. Connecting these dots coheres a larger sense of self and spirituality, a greater connection to the natural world, and a holistic unity with the cosmos at large.
Gifts + Messages from the Spirits: Plants Have Personalities Too
A lot of people have the connotation of spiritual beings being angelic, graceful, and poised. While these things are certainly true of plant spirits, what I’ve found is that they all have very distinctive personalities. For example, one of the plant spirits I work with is domestic lavender. The spirit of lavender is tenacious, persistent, and expansive. Lavender helps clean and beautify your inner and outer appearance—I had to redo my entire wardrobe after beginning to work with the sprit of lavender!
Certain plants offer different gifts—some bring beauty and spiritual or even material abundance into your life, some offer simple peacefulness or a deeper connection to the cycles of nature. I have worked with plants that have helped me through deep sexual trauma, panic attacks, fear of darkness and the unknown, sense of safety, and increased capacity for integration and pleasure, to name just a few.
Although spirits of plants do have a general energy and personality, they offer different lessons and gifts to different individuals, just as a good teacher understands the different needs of their students.
Communing with plant spirits is a practice accessible to anyone, anywhere, and has been used in many parts of the world as a means of communication with the natural world for generations. It is a skill that can be cultivated like any other. However, when first beginning to work with the spirits of plants, it can be difficult to find the right “threads” to pull on on one’s own. Some plants are more appropriate for certain issues and dispositions.
Additionally, not all plant spirits are friendly at first meeting— just like in the world of people, there are characters out there that may be uninterested in having a helping relationship. Furthermore, some plants offer very advanced teachings that could be very destabilizing without prerequisite work. Working with the support of guidance provides clarity and direction in the journey, and will make the experience easier to navigate and integrate.
I’ve created Plant Apprenticeships as an offering to help people maximize their potential with a plant ally. A plant apprenticeship is a series of five sessions with me, or can be a natural part of our sessions if we are already working together. We will meet weekly to provide ample support, guidance, and vital integration at the end of the process. I will gather your history and choose a plant spirit most appropriate to your needs that I too have apprenticed with and have a working relationship with.
All of the plants I offer apprenticeships with are widely available in grocery or herb stores. Some are indigenous or grown in cultivation in North America, while others are from different parts of the globe. The plants choose me (not the other way around). However, my intention is to use plants that are accessible within our own culture.
Apprenticing yourself to a plant spirit can be an incredibly powerful and transformational experience. The power of a plant spirit continues to grow long after the actual plant matter has been metabolized. Plant spirits help create profound shifts in your inner and outer worlds days, months, and years after beginning the work. An apprenticeship will ideally become a lifelong relationship with the spirit of a plant. After completing this guided experience, you will find you have a special connection and resource with your plant spirit whenever you have need.
Work with plant spirits can help with issues as diverse as:
love for oneself
intimacy in relationship
beauty, abundance & wealth
deep fear & primal insecurity
connection to the spirit world
Fostering a relationship with the spirit of a plant offers a distinct opportunity—it is an intimate experience that occurs within the space of one’s inner and outer dreamscape, uniting the field of potential and manifestation. If this kind of work calls to you, please be in touch. I would be honored to walk this road with you.
Dara del Rio | Years ago, Dara’s life was saved by a powerful medicine woman & shaman. The chance encounter altered the course of her life. Dara’s vision asks for a depth of healing that is only possible when mind, body, and spirit are given equal attention and weight. Her approach incorporates somatic awareness and shamanic practices that encourage and facilitate direct communication with the natural world, drawing inspiration from Amazonian, Buddhist, and Taoist healing traditions. She strives to maintain cohesion & clarity in her work with clients, keeping it simple, grounded, balanced, and slow.