Tree Dream #1: Trees Are Part of the Earth’s Nervous System
“The story we need is written on wood, on the trees. This is not a story we can get from computers. We must not rush. We learn to speak tree language to use in healing. Healing energy enters through lines of text.” – Dream, March 2004
Deep in the silence of my first Medicine Walk, a month after I had this dream, the trees spoke to me.
In the words of Grandmother White Eagle, a gifted shamanic teacher with whom I have worked for many years, a Medicine Walk is “a sacred adventure. It could be described as a vision quest on the terrain of the Divine Feminine, a journey into the natural and spiritual realm of the Earth Mother.” For a period of 36 hours, we opened ourselves in silence to the guidance, support, and wisdom of Spirit, seeking healing, grace, vision, and medicine. It is not necessary to fast or stay awake outside during a Medicine Walk, as one does during a traditional Vision Quest. What one gives up can include outgrown notions of oneself, one’s limitations and fears, one’s separation from nature and Spirit.
About five hours into the silence, on our second night among big trees on the Washington coast, I woke to feed the fire in the woodstove. Trying to go back to sleep, I experienced a rush of adrenaline, a familiar pattern of worries and fears, wakefulness that resulted in part from childhood trauma. Seeing the moon’s light through the trees, I thought of my mother, born in the sign of Cancer, ruled by the moon. She had died of metastatic breast cancer over twenty years earlier, days before her sixty-seventh birthday. In one of my dreams, she had a beautiful round face like the moon. I called her to me, felt her hands on my heart and mid-back, and began to cry.
Between the house and the ocean stood a large Sitka spruce around which we had performed a ritual in the afternoon. The spruce called, “Come outside.” I got dressed, went out and lay face down on the ground at the base of her trunk. I knew I was with my mother then – my human ancestor and the Earth herself. I was – and always had been – held and supported, like a child on her mother’s shoulder. I never needed to feel alone again. I prayed to let go of my fear.
My roots extended deep into the soil of the sandy bank, like the trees. I felt all of our roots forming a network, a vast nervous system, of which I was a small part. My fear could be released, transformed, along these connected roots. I was accepted into that web and knew I could draw on it for knowledge, healing and inspiration. And I was also responsible to it.
Having long known that trees are the lungs of the Earth, I was just beginning to grasp that they are part of her nervous system as well. This knowledge, transmitted directly from the trees, was confirmed five years later when I happened to pick up a copy of Sun magazine and read an article about biologist Paul Stamets’ work.
Based in Olympia, WA, Stamets has devoted his life to studying mushrooms and mycelia, or the webs of fungi’s networked fibers. These organisms partner up with other plants, including trees, for mutual benefit; the partnerships are called mychorriza. The fungus breaks down nutrients that can then be more easily absorbed by the roots of the tree. In turn, the tree releases sugars that the fungus depends on, as fungi don’t photosynthesize. One Douglas fir tree may form mychorrizal partnerships with 2,000 species of fungi.
In his book Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World, Stamets says:
I believe that mycelium is the neurological network of nature. Interlacing mosaics of mycelium infuse habitats with information-sharing membranes. These membranes are aware, react to change, and collectively have the long term health of the host environment in mind… These networks not only survive, but sometimes expand to thousands of acres in size, achieving the greatest mass of any individual organism on this planet.
After reading this, I dreamt for three nights of being held in the net of tree roots beneath the surface of the Earth, feeling deep connectedness. Re-entering the dreams through a shamanic journey, I experienced the mycelial networks directly:
My spirit allies take me down into an underground cave. Others arrive; I am moved to have them all present. They put me in the middle of the circle. I sink down into earth, connect to the fine roots of trees, which show up as white threads. I start to swim in the brown richness of the soil, bathed in the neurotransmitters secreted by the mychorriza, feeling calmed, nourished. This deep layer is the nervous system of the Earth. Disrupting and thinning it causes neurological damage to Earth that is immediately reflected in our nervous systems. Is it any wonder that we’re all so damaged by mental illness, abuse, depression, trauma – that humans are so out of balance? We damage the Earth’s nervous system, which damages our own, which brings us to further damage the Earth.
I also understand that trees are literally “standing on their heads”; their primary neurological tissue is under the surface of the Earth. This is where they dream from. Swimming in this deep brown layer, I am in the trees’ dreamtime.
We can create the capacity to dream ourselves back to health – and we can help heal the dreaming tissue of the Earth. Who among us can imagine the restored power of the dreaming trees, the dreaming Earth? As we learn to dream with and for them, we become whole.