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Subjectifying Life: turning What into Who

Do you believe in a wider life force that moves through all things? A sacredness that imbues animacy to both us and the world around us? An intelligence that expresses itself in all forms, that shapes our form?

For each of us are but a single expression of this force that also expresses itself in the shapes of trees, rock formations, volcanic magma, wind patterns, bird song and wolf howl.

This spiritual outlook of life doesn’t require religion, and was once the norm of how all of our ancestors perceived the world. In his beautiful book, “Waking Up to the Dark,” Clark Strand writes,

"The belief that everything in the universe, animate and inanimate, possesses an imperishable spiritual essence was once the global norm… It meant that humans weren’t the only “people” in world. There were “tree people,” “sea people,” reindeer people,” and countless invisible people as well. That “animated” world wasn’t lonely…there were no objects in it, only subjects. You were never alone in a world where everything was living…. Who? has now become What? We’ve done this to virtually everything in our world now. Everything has become an object rather than a subject, the worth of which is determined based on what we do with it. The problem is, objects don’t truly satisfy us, no matter what we do with them… the problem at the heart of this post-medieval epoch we call “modern” is the loss of a personal relationship to life."

I try not to call plants “it” anymore. Even landscapes, mountains, water, or fire. It feels wrong. It feels dead, when my experience is that these presences are very much alive. Not just alive but wise.

It’s hard to shift language. We don’t have great alternatives. But it’s certainly something to think about - how we’re talking about our world.

Our perception creates our reality.

How we perceive of something dictates how we move in relationship it, and organize the world around us. If we perceive the world around us as devoid of intelligence, purpose, or needs, we can justify treating her without care, without respect.

When we perceive humanity to always be the most important, wise, or deserving part of an ecosystem, then the whims of humanity are followed without a feeling of responsibility to a living world.

It’s more difficult to have relationship with something non-living: a What. It’s less personal. It doesn’t feed you in the same way.

When we lean into the perception that the world as living, as a Who, as having life-force move through them just as it moves through us, then reality becomes very different than the sterile world full of objects and things.

When we recognize the whole world is a living, pulsing organism, then the plants, the stones, the clouds, the hummingbird become messengers through which to communicate with the wider experience of the living earth.

And it is through this relationship we come to know ourselves as part of the whole. Or, as the whole having an experience as a part.

For me, this relationship of turning objects back into subjects began with my relationship with plants.

I came from a very scientific and mathematical background.

I would have most definitely questioned if someone said that plants had spirits. Or that plants were incredibly wise elders that could teach us about how to be in right relationship with ourselves and the world.

AND I would have felt a stirring deep inside myself. An awakening of something ancient and primal. A force within myself that knew they were right.

I didn’t go looking to find the world as alive. And yet, once I was drawn to herbs, to the healing properties of plants as medicine, they brought me into their realm, slowly but surely, and opened my eyes to the sentience of the world around me.

I encourage you to widen your lens of perception today. What if everything around you was alive? How would this change the way you interacted with Life?


If you want to explore this realm of the spiritual in plants, and practice relating to the deep-soul of plants, then join me in Plant Magic: a Shamanic Plant Medicine Immersive.

This will be a day to experience the subtle-body of the plant realm: the vast body that lives interconnected with the unseen realms, that is woven into the web of life, and that can help us weave ourselves back into inter-relationship as well.

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