If A Tree Falls In A Forest

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away. Phillip K. Dick

If we stopped believing in peyote, would peyote go away? Or if we believe and pray strongly, will it always remain?

I want to backup this conversation a little bit. I’ve discussed different ideas about peyote conservation, including cultivation, and I suggested non-artificial natural culture techniques for allowing peyote to increase in numbers. There’s research supporting these concepts and charts showing increased scarcity over the past 20 years and etc. But I want to acknowledge that the research and charts and graphs indicating the need for cultivation are only potentially helpful. But there is no substitute for conserving the medicine already growing in threatened habitat. And I’m not even saying that the scientific research is necessarily relevant to the spiritual needs of a people. Only that the data seems to also correlate with our real world experience of the medicine being harder to get for dealers, pickers, and purchasers.

So I want to question my own opinions about the idea of growing medicine, helping medicine grow. Maybe I can change my own mind.

There are individuals and groups who pray with medicine who don’t believe in the idea of “growing medicine” in any manner. There are others who think it is too late to make a difference and cultivation should have started 10 or 20 years ago. There’s the opinions between, maybe the majority, where growing artificially with little regard to its nature, in greenhouses, is frowned upon as an idea. Also, commodification and manipulation of the medicine is a concern. That’s where I find myself, in the middle ground as I’m writing this, in challenging my own pro-cultivation position.

I apologize to anyone who may feel like my advocacy for germinating medicine from seed is pushy, insensitive, or overly ambitious. The emotions involved can bring strong feelings and I understand this. My motivation is that I am very interested in the process of how medicine grows and my love of gardening guides much of my attention and learning. To clarify, I am fascinated by, and focused on, how medicine grows itself. Through that, I am hopeful of how it can be assisted and basically midwifed, to increase its numbers in the world.

Most human babies can survive a solo home birth with no assistance, and most likely the mother will be fine also. But as the husband of a midwife, I can say that her ultimate role is in reducing birth mortalities to a minimum, for both mother and child. As such, at each birth she reads the situation and provides the level of care and technological intervention called for by the unique circumstances of each client. Often the baby gives signals about what is needed in order to be safe, and her job is to read these signals and respond accordingly. Her favourite births are those where she is not needed and she can sit back and let nature do what it has the inherent wisdom to do. She doesn’t jump straight to recommending interventions if those are not indicated. And she knows that no birth can ever be 100% safe and guaranteed, regardless of the medical technology involved. She is also a woman of prayer, and that is an element which I would think would be essential at the start of each life. It’s an important tool in her medical kit, perhaps the most important one.

And as a midwife she is a practitioner of necessary medical interventions only when they are called for, but not a fan of often heavy handed, expensive, and superfluous obstetrics. But when technology or an intervention are needed, she will be the first to resort to any that will ensure the preservation of someone’s precious life, and is eternally grateful that these are available in moments when they are truly necessary. And she does not inflict her will on the baby while still working hard to make sure it has everything needed to live. One of the reasons I love her so is because she works with nature to help life happen.

That’s the way I think of peyote cultivation as it relates to conservation. The Mother is stressed and the child is in peril. A midwife’s training would require her to read the signals being sent out as an SOS (the circumstances), stabilize the mother (the land), while simultaneously providing every advantage for the survival of the child (the medicine).

Wait, I was supposed to be talking myself out of this cultivation idea. And logically that is hard or impossible for me to do. But this is not all about logic. Belief is an integral part of what this whole conversation is about. So I believe I need to look at this with a different view.

I’m in debt to the traditions, the beliefs, and the practices of all tribal people. And in particular to the ones who have shared with my family their own understanding of the true and sacred nature of the medicine. My life would be completely different without that. They wisely shared the responsibilities that come along with these ways too. I am not free to act anyway or anyhow just because I may feel like it, even if I think I’m justified to act up. I comport myself, hopefully, much like I would if the chief were on the altar in ceremony. I have this medicine so this medicine has me. I make mistakes but I try to remember to have faith, love, hope, and charity for myself. Even forgiveness. Because that is how the medicine shows me to be with my family and my relations. And that’s just practical. These beliefs I try to practice even though nobody wrote it on paper or tried to make a law out of it. Well, actually they have. Lots of laws. And that works for some. But the teachings that come with the tipi are closer to my heart than anything I could ever have read. Or be threatened from for disobeying.

So belief is an important part of peyote conservation. After many years of prayer and observation, I personally believe we should grow from seed for planting in the ground, not in greenhouses, unless NAC groups in cold areas believe otherwise. Then I believe they should grow it, if that’s what their own prayers and councils lead them to believe. And I would be happy to help in that effort. Because respecting the beliefs of people who practice this way of praying is very important to me. But I can’t really help anybody not grow it. I believe that doesn’t make sense.

For those who oppose all aspects of peyote cultivation by their belief that it can only be honored by harvesting wild, unassisted, untouched medicine from the gardens- I respect your opinion. I have no desire to oppose or even alter your holding of that view. But I respectfully question how without something changing we can reasonably expect that ability to continue. We can pray for it, which we do. But also those prayers may be manifesting in our very discussion of this. And contention has no need to arise from questioning, or discussing, or even planning. It doesn’t even fit, much less help.

I will not question another’s beliefs for argument’s sake. I only question the likely results of carrying on, as we’ve been, up to this point. Whatever is your belief is yours. But I also don’t believe that one’s beliefs (especially my own) or decisions should, or can be, binding on others. Ethical and spiritual sovereignty in caretaking this medicine is something we can apply peacemaking principles to for the purpose of unity. Counsel and advisors and listening to elders and children should have their place in this circle. The manner in which our beliefs or practices may diminish or increase our sacrament might ultimately be the only judge of their validity.

I wonder, if the Native American Church’s sacrament grows less upon the earth, will part of our prayers be that less people use medicine, our tipis grow smaller, and we become the last generation with memory of gratitude meetings held with abundant medicine? I don’t believe that’s logical, or desirable, or unavoidable, but somebody had to wonder it.

There is room for constructive disagreement in much of this. But I think the room for automated opposition to the idea of cultivation is shrinking with time and circumstances of numbers and ecology. The mother and the child are sending us signals.

And there are rays of hope that prayerful people are joining together on some meaningful level of consensus. This has been many years in the making, like a seedling in the desert just barely the size to make its first flower, to produce a new seed.

As I say, there must be space for opinion, beliefs, and even disagreements. But let us educate ourselves to the facts involved while respecting each other’s perspective. If peyote were only about one place, one people, and one thing, none of this discussion would be necessary and nobody would need to agree or not. The time has arrived for a prayerful consensus of purpose, with respect for traditional relationships to the peyote, and the earth our mother.

What can you do?

If you are a person who prays with peyote, or supports those who do, I recommend that you take time to understand the mission of the following organizations who are taking steps towards conservation or regeneration of peyote for the future. Supporting those who support the medicine is an option for anybody who wants to make a difference. This is not necessarily a complete list of peyote advocacy or conservation groups. In future installments I hope to highlight other projects relevant to the medicine’s future.

The Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative is an example of the growth of a spiritual conservation movement. Based on land in peyote’s native habitat, this group is on its way toward a generational plan for bringing the land, the people, and the medicine together again. Natural, native culture of medicine has been initiated for the purpose of education and prayer. The success of this initiative will play an important role in preserving a prayerful way of being with the medicine in nature, and providing for the sacramental needs of the individuals and NAC groups involved.

The Cactus Conservation Institute is a research and field data collection organization concerned with increasing education and awareness of the negative effects of habitat loss and over harvesting of both peyote and the star cactus, Astrophytum asterias. Although CCI’s mission is not a cultivation oriented one, their compilation and evaluation of information regarding the ecology of peyote is an invaluable resource for present and future conservation programs.

Morningstar Conservancy is an advocacy organization that promotes land preservation awareness and seed production for repatriation of peyote from naturally cultivated seedling stock. As previously mentioned in these pages, I serve as this organization’s cultivation director and liaison.

I personally pray for these and other groups to grow and to flower. The interest is not in evangelizing for or promoting the use of peyote. As I understand it, that is the medicine’s domain.

What we can do as people, individuals and organizations, is to respect each other’s activities and beliefs which align with responsible stewardship and relationship with medicine. For it is its own being, provided by nature, which positively affects and contributes to life and the goodness of Creation. Like a midwife, we need to read the signals. We cannot, as one or a diversity of people, of beliefs, or opinions, allow this tree to fall without all of us listening.

Sweet medicine of life. Please hear our prayers sent to Creator by your aid. Let us love all that there is to enjoy in our fellowship through you. Bring hearts and hands together in unison for your, and our wellbeing.

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There Are No Small Miracles

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