Meditation On Nettle
Updated: Jul 12, 2019
It is quite inconceivable to me that the great Tibetan yogi, Milarepa, spent decades in isolated meditation in a cave, consuming only nettles and didn’t meet the spirit of the plant. During his time in contemplation, Milarepa attained realisation and is often depicted in paintings on the walls of Buddhist temples with green skin or a green halo, indicating the important role that nettle played during his arduous years of meditation on the nature of reality and the essence of the mind. Nettles were literally the only sustenance that Milarepa had and so in effect he was undertaking what we call nowadays a plant diet, where we spend a certain amount of time (usually a few days to a few months) mainly consuming one plant or tree in order to understand it on a holistic level and particularly on a spiritual or metaphysical level. It is during these plant diets that we often meet the spirit of the plant or tree and receive direct teachings from it for our healing practice or for our own spiritual development.
Despite the spirit of the stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) being one of the more elusive spirits due to its adaptogenic nature, Milarepa probably couldn’t have chosen a better plant for his mission to achieve enlightenment, and here’s why.
One of the basic principles of meditation practice in the Tibetan tradition is balance and equanimity, adopting techniques to bring the mind into balance and therefore the emotions and subsequently the bodily systems. We are looking for the still points between the movements of the mind, the middle path between attachment and aversion and the equanimous state that truly sees every physical and non-physical sentient being as equal. For the normal mind yet to attain this level of balance our karmas take us on a rollercoaster of emotions throughout just one day and while we don’t want to deny or negate the existence of emotions that make us human, the objective is not to allow them to rule us, this is emotional balance.
Nettle is all about balance, just look at the structure of a nettle, its double leaves give it perfect balance to grow tall and as a medicine it balances many things in our own body from the alkaline / acidity ratio to bringing harmony after illness. Nettle is our master adaptogen and this is reflected on the metaphysical level of the plant also. This movement towards equanimity is supported by the strong element of discipline that nettle instills in us when we diet with it and let’s face it, we all could do with a little more discipline in our lives, even if we’re not meditating for enlightenment!
Nettle brings focus, direct action and inner strength, all essential for the development of the mind and for the spiritual path, which if you are truly on the path will know how incredibly difficult it is to face our deepest shadows and overcome our strongest conditionings. Nettle can be a powerful ally on the path, showing us the weaknesses in our thought processes and offering us the support required to stick with it.
Nettle is a fire plant, meaning that it is strong in the element of fire. Everything is made of the five elements, including our dreams and visions and so it is wise to understand the nature of the elements on a multi-dimensional level in order to understand the nature of our reality better. Fire has always been regarded as having it’s own consciousness by indigenous cultures (including our own) and for the Tibetans it is an enlightened Goddess who brings purification of karmas and transformation to those that can learn to work with her. To other cultures it is Grandfather fire, one who offers profound wisdom and great bliss. To all cultures our inner fire is the spark of creation, of our passions and our joy, it is enthusiasm and excitement for life. Too much fire, however, creates agitation and irritation, a lack of tolerance of others and fuels the erratic monkey mind. Too little fire on the spiritual path results in a lack of enthusiasm to maintain principles and ethics, no enthusiasm for meditation and slower progress. Whether you have too much fire or too little inner fire, over time nettle can rebalance us back to equilibrium and therefore is a great support to our inner work.
Another great teaching from the spirit of nettle is about boundaries. Nettle creates its own strong boundaries with its stings and is often seen in centurion-like rows around trees and edges of fields. This speaks to us of our own sovereign space and where we place our own boundaries. Have we re-set our boundaries as we have grown older? Do we allow others to transgress our boundaries easily? If so, why is this? Working on a metaphysical level with nettle, perhaps in meditation or shamanic journey, we can be shown where the imbalances in our boundaries lie, where more assertion is required or where a softer approach can be applied. Understanding and maintaining boundaries is a lifelong process and requires constant reassessment if we are to progress on our spiritual path. Weak boundaries are one of the main causes of suffering. Having strong yet flexible boundaries helps reduce drama in our lives and therefore reduces the amount of energy wasted on unnecessary situations, prevents others from projecting their own issues onto us and allows a healthy sense of self-preservation and self-love to arise within us, assisting us in all areas of life.
Without strong boundaries, a military discipline, balance and equanimity Milarepa could not have attained Buddhahood or travelled to other dimensions to receive his wisdom teachings, so perhaps he visited the plant spirit realm and chose wisely with the mighty nettle as his ally!
- Emma Farrell