Since I am in the business of teaching about gardening and nature to young children, I love recounting stories of Cleve Backster and the Secret Life of Plants at parties. Amazingly most of my peers are unaware of the experiments Backster performed with plants back in the 60's and 70's that for a time revolutionized how humans regarded plants. I only qualify that statement with "amazingly" because Backster's findings were incredibly cool and thought provoking and one would think more widely talked about. 

Consider a potato plant in the field. It is waving in the wind amongst a community of comrades. It is probably ecstatically happy out there soaking up the rain, basking in the sun, vibrating with the turning of the planet and the buzzing of the bees. It has a certain consciousness, however primitive, and who is to say? Who is to say if its life is any worse than ours? 

Time runs differently for plants. The average human life expectancy in the U.S. is 78.7 years. Japan, a little better at 82.6. Swaziland? Well let's just say that I'd already be dead. But there are millions of trees on the planet that are thousands of years old. Tasmanian King’s Holly Lomatia Tasmanica (Proteaceae) has survived for 43,000 years (still alive). 

Humans have 30,000 genes. Yet rice has 50,000.If we look at the number of genes as a sign of higher evolvement (and scientists do), rice is more evolved than humans. Could you stand in a foot of water all winter long using only the sun as food? I think not.

Try this on. Plants manufacture their own food from the sun. All they need is sun, soil and water. They don't have to buy clothes or rent an apartment. They don't have to buy a car and negotiate rush hour traffic. They don't have to worry about paying bills, going to the doctor, imposing their will on someone else. Most are beautifully scented… no need for perfume or showers. As seeds they fall or float into the air in an epic moment of freedom. The rest of their lives are motionless, and in that state, exquisitely free.

One of the main determinants of intelligence is the ability to perceive and react to the environment. Plants have evolved incredible environmental IQ. Think about vining plants. How do they know where to grow to find a wall or branch to climb on? Plants grow arching and resolutely toward sunlight. There is a dancing plant that moves when you play music near it. The probable reason as to why trees can live for thousands of years is because they don't worry and they don't have endless negative chatter going on inside them all day.

Back to Backster. He was a lie detection specialist working for the CIA. Up late one night in 1966 preparing for a class, he attached polygraph electrodes to a plant in his office on a whim. He then watered the thirsty plant and saw the polygraph needle register a wild, excitable needle movement. Wow. Then he thought about burning the leaf with a cigarette. Another very strong needle movement registered before he was even able to light a match. So not only did his plants register "feelings" about various things, but they were also apparently telepathic. 

I think that we humans are also highly telepathic but our telepathy is obscured by our other five senses and almost constant background mind chatter. It is so incredibly difficult to quiet our minds for even one moment. One moment. When I meditate, I cannot quiet the constant chatter of thoughts in my head, so I observe them instead. And their repetitive banality astounds me. So I try to still my mind whenever possible… to be present with time moving perhaps circuitously around me along with thoughts and emotions of the world's inhabitants. One of the most effective ways for me to progress on this consideration is to walk in nature.

I read somewhere that If we taught children to meditate, 90% of the world's problems would be solved. If you are raising and/or educating children do not underestimate the power of mother nature. (Was that a commercial in the 70's?) Take them out into nature to bask in the sun and vibrate with the turning of the planet and the buzzing of the bees as frequently as possible. Their emotional well-being will be well-served by it. Their future health will benefit by it. The planet may well be saved by it.

Are plants more primitive than us? I certainly can't say. But I'm sure that the potato does not have to constantly work to stay mindful, present, and happy. Even death as a normal event in the circle of life is probably acceptable to it. In some ways I aspire to that unconditional acceptance and what it can afford me.

A great documentary: Mind of Plants: Documentary on The Intelligence of Plants

Expand your mind: Music: Sound of the Plants

Interview with Cleve Backster

"The Secret Life of Plants," by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird is a page turner. It's so good my son stole it from me. Mac, if you're reading this, I want my book back.

Full disclosure: there was a Mythbuster's episode that refuted Backster's results. But others have evidently successfully repeated his experiments.

Finally, please share with us innovative ways you employ to quiet your mind. I want to know!

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