When I grew, my voice quietened. I was, like all us humans, born wild. And like all wild, I was filled with the innate yearning and pull to tend to my unfurling so I could bring my medicine into the world. Just as dandelion seed or acorn so naturally moves towards tending to their own beauty and that of the world around them. Yet, through the taming quality of culture, education, upbringing, and the weight of trauma, I learnt to quietly concrete over the beautiful wildness of who I am, how I felt, and the truth that roamed through my heart and flesh. Suppressing the very soul of me in order to be safe, to fit in, to be easier, prettier, nicer.

So it was no surprise that in my twenties I had no idea how things made me feel. I could barely finish a sentence and I certainly couldn’t voice my feelings, let alone even know what they were. I had lost faith and trust in my own knowing and my own voice.

I came to plants more concrete than woman, drawn to them by a feeling sense I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps it was the happy memories of being with my grandmothers and their earthy, seed-filled hands; perhaps it was an overwhelming wild instinct doing what it could to live, perhaps it was ancestral memories leaking out and guiding my bones. Whatever it was, I knew I needed the plants, I was hungry for them.

Out of a desperation to change, to come alive again, I followed the pull and met a teacher, a woman in her elder years; fierce, strong, earthy and loving. Her way of working was a slow and steady way of joining body and plant on a journey of care and discovery. And to begin with, she wanted to teach me how to come nearer to the instruments so needed when working with plants, these being our bodies, our senses and our intuition.

I had grown to feel that people weren’t a safe place for me, and it was very hard to soften, open and feel when working with, or being with people, whereas I quickly realised that plants were the perfect being to ally oneself with when it came to learning to sense my feelings again. They felt kinder, non-confrontational, more true and medicine-rich, and I felt safer to explore with them.

My teacher taught me to sit with each plant, and to go through my senses. Primarily smell, sight and touch, finding out how the sensory experience of each plant made me feel physically, emotionally and mentally. I was guided to look deeply at the plant, as if I were a child again. Looking at their shape, their unique personality, their veins, their tiny lines, their beautiful body hair, the texture of their skin and to just be aware of what was arising in the way of feeling, story, sensation, association and pictures inside of me. After a while, I would roll them between thumb and finger, releasing the volatile oils held within the plant so that I could breathe them in with more fullness.

Even now, many years later, I still feel a sense of wonderment in the way a plant can change how a person feels mentally, emotionally and physically, just from breathing them in. Just a few seconds of conversation between leaf and nose, can shift and ignite so much, and we are brought straight into our bodies by their emotive and visceral presence.

To begin with, this conversation between me and the plants was clunky. I had spent years of my life cutting off from how things made me feel. I had taught myself that to be in connection with my own feelings and truth was dangerous and would lead me into trouble. This question, “how does it make me feel?”, was asking me to deviate from my well-worn path of ‘safety’. But, over time and from communing with the plants in a deep way, I came to see how much I mistrusted how I felt. Whatever arose for me, I noticed how I immediately told myself I was silly, stupid even. That I needed to change how I felt, make it funnier, wiser, cleverer, so that I could please people and be safe. Working with the plants drew my attention and awareness to my learnt habit of gaslighting the heart of me.

To begin with, these plant and person interactions, these conversations older than words, involved me learning how to be kinder, softer and more protective about what arose for me. I would approach each conversation by letting my body know that I wanted to do things differently now, that I wanted to listen, to feel, to taste the heart of me. And this intention in itself was a healing balm for my body to absorb. The plants, their properties and their essence, would travel inside of me, touching me, guiding me, cracking open the concrete and creating new pathways within.

After a time, I remembered how to be in communication with my body, I became like a tracker, noticing the subtle changes, the sensations gently rippling within, getting to know how the feeling sense moved through my heart and the tracks it left. The more I listened with compassion, the more my body felt and the more I noticed.

Plants don’t change the body in a way the body doesn’t know how to do and be already, plants simply remind the body of what it is capable of; the magic inside of us, and the beauty we had thought lost. They are our allies. In this way of working, slowly and steadily with each plant, I also got to know parts of my body long ago shut away.

Rose and hawthorn brought me into intimacy with my heart and my grief; lemon balm and chamomile brought me into friendship with my nervous system; nettle brought me to know my energy, my need for nourishment, my inner strength. Dandelion helped me to acknowledge my stagnation and my ability to rewild. Each plant, by gently taking my awareness by the hand, would lead me to a place in the body, helping me to remember it, to feel it, to know it. And in that way, I became more intimate with my animal body, but not only that, I became more intimate with the language of feeling, and learnt to trust once more the voice within.

And slowly, like a seed forming and opening, I grew a strength I thought lost. As I tasted my feelings in my flesh, I learnt how to not only acknowledge them, but speak them on my tongue, and out into the world. My teacher, gnarled and silver, showed me my next step: “Do what you did with the plants, in your everyday. Ask yourself in each moment, how does this make me feel? And let it guide you, direct you, show you, and just see how it changes your life.”

Brigit Anna McNeill is a writer, ecotherapist, naturalist and herbalist. She has a new book coming out this year on rewilding the human psyche through plants and Nature. Instagram @brigitannamcneill