This past summer I attended a weekend-long wild plant workshop with herbalist Doug Simons. Doug is a trippy and endearing character who spent 20 years living primitively in the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico. He knows the local plants like family, cheerily greeting a valerian plant and then settling in its diminutive shadow to gossip about its characteristics and attributes for the next hour. On the end of our last day together, Doug led us to a patch of yellow arnica flowers and advised us to get comfortable.
“We’re going on a plant journey,” Doug announced, “to meet and connect with your plant guide.”
Meeting our plant guide? I thought, while my skeptic-o-meter raised just a bit.
I had also been on several plant walks that summer hosted by the local Native Plant Society, which included a lot of the nerdiness I love—addressing plants by their latin names and cataloging them into genus and family—but these walks often felt dry, lacking the spontaneous love-jams to a wild strawberry or even acknowledgement of the plants’ uses. I was trying to reconcile these different styles and figure out where my path lay.
“Lie down, close your eyes and relax your body and mind” Doug instructed us from against a spruce trunk. He explained, with absolutely no irony, how we’d journey through a dark underground tunnel at the end of which we’d meet our plant guide.
I flicked a deer fly off my face. Adjusted position. Scratched my knee. Everyone was very quiet. Someone yawned. I might have heard snoring. I imagined walking through this dark underground tunnel. And walking. In the darkness.
Right into the arms of the aspen tree.
Oh, hello aspen.
We chatted, aspen and I. We talked about how, in loving plants, some people are scientific, others more esoteric. The approach doesn’t matter, the aspen said, what matters is your love. This is true of many things. I received the word trust. Everything about the aspen embodied trust: being the lone deciduous tree in a forest of conifers (be yourself!); bearing leaves through which the mountain winds comb furiously (be flexible!); growing and then shedding volumes of leaves annually (let go, courageously!).
Later, Doug asked a few of us to share our experiences. It’s more concrete, he said, when you tell someone. So, I’m telling you all. My word for 2012 is trust. Trust!
Only one month into 2012, trusting has been a powerful practice. It feels like the answer to a dozen multiple choice questions my mind serves up daily. How am I going to write this book? What are we going to do all day cooped up in the house? May I suggest the special of the house: trust?
Trust grew up in the same neighborhood as it’s all good, as the wise elder mentoring all the young upstart slogans. Trust is the bucket of water I throw on the hot flames of my worrying mind. The more I practice trusting, the better I get at it, which looks something like this: trust → gratitude → generosity → happiness → trust → gratitude…
Trusting hushes my mental feedback so I can clearly see what needs to be done; sometimes nothing needs to be done except leaning into the luckiness of this life.
Do you have a word for the new year? Sharing is powerful. Tell me your word in a comment, and on Friday I’ll pick something lovely and delicious and handmade to send off to one of you.