Do you see these “markings” on the back of the fern’s leaves? In fact, these patterns are spores. Each one is a potential fern. The ferns carry their fertility in each and every leaf. If you are interested in joining a spore exchange group (not kidding), then you might want to look into membership in the Hardy Fern Foundation. The American Fern Society is over 100 years old and has more than 900 members all over the world.
Not only that, but each type of fern has spores that organize in a different pattern.
Recently, I have gone on retreat for a few hours a week to the Fern Room at Phipp’s Conservatory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Each pilgrimage to this sacred space has brought me to a deeper place of respect for this amazing plant type. I am also grateful to the amazing Theresa who cares for these plants and seems to have a well of patience for all my questions as well as some of the other horticulturists and care takers who work without fame or glory to keep my fern friends safe and healthy.
When I sit in this space, filled with ferns, light, air, and space, it makes me feel a lot like I’m being hugged. The image directly above is a hanging Staghorn and the leaves that drape down almost appear as hands that might pat me on the head while offering me an oatmeal cookie and a glass of milk. The energy of this space is fertile, abundant, and centered. It is the embodiment of the heart chakra. Sometimes, I place my hand in the leaves and allow the energy to roll up my inner arm directly into my heart-space. Have you ever played with a plant with an exchange of energy?
I have a beautiful friend who has some favorite trees that he likes to hug. While it seems he is an equal opportunity tree hugger, there are some specific trees that he has a long-term relationship with. When I watch him hug one of his tree friends, trees he has been hugging since he was a child, I can see his whole face and body relax. What he receives from the tree, he also gives to the tree. He really is one of the first people I have ever seen exchange energy with a tree. Sometimes we use the term “green thumb” to mean someone who is good with plants. Perhaps they can listen to plants and the plants tell them what they need to thrive? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all learn to listen to the trees? One of the trees that I am developing a close relationship with is a ficus from Nepal that is in the orchid room at Phipps. The ficus was added to the collection in 1849. Go ahead and let that sink in. I love to press my temple into this grounded being and reach one hand up to press into a higher branch while reaching another down to press into the trunk.
How many people have walked beside this ficus newly engaged, with their baby, in their immeasureable grief, on their wedding day, upon the joy of a visit from a beloved friend from afar, to celebrate a holiday or birthday or special occasion? This tree has witnessed it all, but not in silence. No, the ficus has a deep and grounded vibration. When I stand close, it absorbs low vibration from me and sends them down deep into the earth and returns high vibrations from it’s wisdom branches that face towards the sun. Surrounded by fragrant and jewel-toned orchids, the ficus does not fear my worst or suffer from my offering. I give, I breathe, I receive. If this isn’t friendship, then what is?
When we think about pilgrimage, we think of a destination, but my time with ferns and new friendship with a very special Nepalese ficus have made me wonder if we can also pilgrimage to a new geography of awareness. In Charles Genoud’s poetic “Gesture of Awareness” (page 116), he suggests that
We may wonder where the body’s awareness is, imagining it’s in the body, but the body’s awareness will only be in the body if we stand outside ourselves trying to figure out where it is.
I can’t tell you how many times I have read Genoud’s book. While I have always had a strong affection for the practice suggested in his teachings, not all of it makes sense. I have been practicing yoga techniques for enhancing my awareness for 25-years, but this concept above has not been applicable to my practice for all this time. With my new connection to the vibration of plants and trees, or, rather, with my willingness to open to the vibration of plants and trees, I start to feel a glimmer of understanding. Awareness is the softening of my friend’s beautiful face when I watch him hug his friend with his arms wide and face and chest warm and open against the bark of the trunk.
Not locating awareness in the physical body allows for a new geography to be explored. It is the geography of space, perhaps that space that we know to be mapped by mandala. The pilgrimage here, then, is not internal, but it is to an entirely unique geography. The palms of our hands have an energetic connection to the pericardium, the casing around the heart. Even if it feels silly, perhaps you want to play? Just pick a tree that calls out to you. The more ridiculous this seems, the more you might need this for your soul, your well-being, and a full expression of heart-mind. Gently place your palm on a place on the tree that calls to you for touch and connection. Trust your instincts here. The tree will welcome you. You know what to do. Take a few deep breaths into your palm and let the energy of those breaths flow up your arm into your heart space. The color of the heart chakra is green. You can do this. Feel the leafy green tendrils of your heart open to the tree, be fed by the tree, sent laughter and wisdom by the tree. From your heart to the tree, send it back through your inner arm, wrist and palm of your hand. You are smiling because this is so important and liberating. You can’t help yourself.
If you are not free to be out among trees for any reason, then go there in your mind. Practice wherever you are. As you practice, the geography of awareness will unfold like a forgotten map to a secret garden that has not been tended to in many, many, years. This is an important yoga. This is life.
Written by Sharon Fennimore, a yogini, teacher, and global doula who loves to pilgrimage each and every day to find the sacred in all that is around us in image, experience, and nature. This post is for Jason, who brought me to the Allegheny National Forest for the first time in my life and, in doing so, changed the geography of my heart-mind forever and my most generous and beloved Aunt Patty who treats me to a membership at Phipps so I can spend as much time as I want with the ferns.