Grassroots Healing, Musings, Reflections, Spirituality, Plant Medicine

Consider the Lily: blissful blue Nymphaea.

 

To be engaged by the livingness of nature, the person chosen to walk the green path of healing begins their journey by following the call of a plant. For many, we come to this path through a need for our own healing, and subsequently Veriditas enters into us via whichever plant we first engage with. Along the way our paths are shaped by various plant allies, teachers who remind us of who we are and what we are made of, and where we need to be going.  The following account introduces you to one of my plant allies. My power plant if you will. The first account was written a year ago after my first meeting with the plant. The second part explores its nature more deeply and comes from our second, more recent, meeting. A different sort of monograph develops and will continue to develop as I go to sit with it on an annual pilgrimage.

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Photo taken by M. Carnochan 2019.

The First Encounter.

“My beloved went down to his garden. To the beds of spices, to feed his flock in the gardens, and to gather lilies.”  (Song of Solomon 6:2)

There are plants of power that inhabit this world. Some might think of Cannabis or Ayahuasca or Iboga, or any one of the so-called entheogens that alter consciousness and take you on journeys to kaleidoscopic worlds of cosmic awakening. But in truth any plant might be a plant of power. For some, it might be as commonplace as nettle, or dandelion, or daisy. Rather than how many alkaloids, or psychoactive principles a plant may have, a plant’s power perhaps lies more so in where on your journey it meets you, how it speaks to you, and as equally importantly, your receptivity and response to it.

Almost always, the plant draws you to itself first, and capturing your attention, it begins to sing to you. Your receptivity to its song may be a tiny crack in the door, a trepidatious curiosity that looks past the chain and says, “Um, okay. I’m ready.” But are you truly ready? Do you then just lunge at it, ripping its metaphoric shirt off, expecting it to give you everything and when it does you’ve lost your mind, or do you tread carefully, respectfully, fully aware that it wants to teach you to come home to yourself and you must be willing to let it lead?

So, you check yourself, and when you are truly ready, truly receptive, you allow the plant to determine that first move. It begins to gently caress and coax, and whisper of promised ecstasy as it begins to open those parts of yourself that once for whatever reason, you had closed off. And you begin a dance as old as time, entwining serpentine, senses quivering as parts of yourself that had been shut down or closed off and perhaps long forgotten, begin to open and blossom once more. Or perhaps you blossom for the first time. A heady mix of fear and hunger drives you on as the dance gains momentum. Hunger, because your soul longs to feel the exquisite bliss of liberty, to slough off the old skin of stories that no longer serve you, the old belief systems that tie you down. Hunger, as you strive to open to endless possibility.  And fear, because you know that in this awakening, old stories will emerge, and their demons must be confronted. And so, as the dance progresses and you allow yourself to surrender completely, you find yourself arriving, climaxing, at the edge of reason, where shadows disperse, the imaginal coalesces with myth, and suddenly – electrically – a brightness engulfs you, and waves of ecstatic freedom ripple, pulse, and throb through your consciousness. A consciousness now merged with the vast ocean of awareness that transcends the mundane world.

You have changed. Deep in your core, once hidden things are now exposed. You may not be aware of what has changed, but you feel different. Something -tangible- has awoken. You feel a little more bold than you did yesterday. A little more confidant. A little more free. The plants work is done. The paradigm has shifted. How you carry on with the energy that was generated is now up to you. How will you live your life from this new starting point?

Or does this make you feel uncomfortable?

 

I want to linger, just a little

in the land of the lotus eaters

where well-muscled men

chiselled

from myth

caress my soul

and make love to my mind.

 

Plant medicine is sensory medicine. It asks us to engage our sense perception in our inner, and sometimes outer worlds in order to effect healing. Some plants, like the subject of this story – the Blue Water Lily (Nymphaea caerulea), invite us to awaken and explore our sensuality in and of itself. The Miriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘sensual’ as; relating to or consisting in the gratification of the senses or the indulgence of appetite.

 To be a sensual being – to engage our senses and indulge our appetite, is the first thing we arrive into the world knowing. It defines our experience of the world around us and the level to which we perceive it. As newborns, we have various needs that must be met: nourishment, touch, safety. As newborns, our sensory gating channels, those neural channels by which we receive information about the outside world for processing, are wide open. This is why babies are largely kinetic in their expression. When they encounter something new – a bright coloured ball, dappled light filtering through green summer leaves, the prickly tickly texture of grass on chubby bare feet – their eyes widen in delight or wonderment and their whole body trembles as a result. They may squeal with joy, or draw a long gasp of air, or make some other delighted coo. This is sensuality. In this divorced society, we forget or supress this memory of being, and we tend to equate it only with sexuality, or food (which for some odd reason we have also applied the term ‘sexy’). Yet sensuality is so much more than sexuality. It is so much more than the gratification of the senses. To be sensual is to feel on multiple levels, and to imbue such meaning in our response to this feeling, that others can’t help but notice.

If we turn our attention to the energetic architecture of the body, the sacral plexus speaks to our ability to feel nourished, and therefore to enjoy life. Sitting just below our navel and centred in our pelvis, this energy plexus is the next progression up from our energy centre of survival, security, and feeling protected – our root. When the root is healthy, our next need is to delight in the things that life has to offer because we feel nourished. According to ancient understanding, this sacral emotional energy centre is also associated with pleasure, sensuality, passion, intimacy, connection, and creativity. Passion resides here, for whatever pursuit it may be directed. It is here in its physical cradle that the primal, sensual, sensate being that we once were arose from. I believe that in a healthy, balanced state, this centre for feeling, (and feeling nourished) dovetails with the perception that the heart employs and the depth that it offers to this feeling sense. A heart that gives nourishment must also be nourished. A clear connection between the sacral and the heart is then paramount. Steven Horne equates the sacral plexus with the navel energy centre on the Tree of Life model of energetic architecture. He describes the positive state of this centre as a person being able to feel worthy and deserving of love, of being able to bond with others in long-term loving relationships and feeling confident that one’s physical needs will be met in life. He describes this as the Philia aspect of love (in the Greek definitions of love, this is the familial aspect.) The energy here therefore develops with nurturing, particularly from the mother, and any emotional traumas here such as from abandonment issues can lead to physical issues related to digestion, addiction, infertility and other reproductive concerns.

Returning to this place of sensuality, Steven also describes that people with emotional wounds or blockages in this centre tend to live too much in their head, avoiding the body and physical life. Unfortunately, as the waters have been muddied around this area and sensuality has become synonymous with sexuality, much detrimental conditioning, rigid belief systems, and trauma has caused the sacral centre and the heart to close for many people. For them, only guilt and shame reside here. Their feelings, and their ability to feel, to create, and to be passionate about life has been cut off. Repressed.

Incidentally, in my own personal journey, I fractured my sacrum when I was eleven years old, at a time when I had just begun puberty and the shift in hormones and thoughts around my own sensual experience in the world began to emerge. The impact of the fall also left me with a permanent slight twist to my pelvis. This, along with birth and inherited trauma to the associated energy centre, created several wounds or blockages.

Therefore, do we dare to gently – tenderly – coax it open once more? Do we dare to allow ourselves to feel? To allow ourselves to be nourished and to enjoy life?

Sometimes the universe conspires against you – or perhaps secretly with you, and a plant begins to sing those first ethereal, enticing notes of its siren song. Sometimes this plant might be one that you least expect, and sometimes its reputation precedes it, its song recorded in the annals of antiquity. Nymphaea caerulea,or the Blue Water Lily is such a plant as this.

The ancient Egyptians also succumbed to the Blue Water Lily’s spell. It’s also known as the Sacred Lily of the Nile, being indigenous to the region, and perhaps its first recorded use was by the Egyptians. We see it adorning the walls of their temples and their tombs as a key motif in their artwork. It is a recurring motif in their funeral rites, erotic art, and rituals for healing. In fact, the dried flowers were found scattered all over Tutankhamens mummified body when his tomb was opened in 1922. Across the Atlantic, the Mayans also adopted the water lily into their ceremonial life, and we see it as a recurring motif in their artwork as well. For the Egyptians however, it represented surrender and rebirth. For one who has had the pleasure of swimming amongst these ethereal blooms on a warm Summers day, it is easy to feel why they were so revered. How captivating the scene of bathing amongst the papyrus reeds beneath an azure desert sky with the Lily’s heady scent infusing the air, a beguiling note played on the zephyr. Sublime. This is the Lily’s essence. Relaxing and euphoric. Often described as narcotic in nature, it is not the dull and heavy cold sedative that we might associate with the Opium Poppy and her chemical children so often employed to numb the pain of living in our harsh and cruel world.  Nor is it the intoxication of alcohol and loss of self-control. Instead, it is simply a surrender into bliss, a gentle ride on a long and undulating wave of euphoria. A sensual experience that invites us to be who we are on our truest and deepest level. And to release any fear, shame, or unhealthy guilt attached to that. Blue Water Lily simply invites us to be our core essence, our ethereal integrated self. To be reborn.

The element of most obvious association is water, mutable and fluid, with the Blue Water Lily perhaps being one of its most archetypical plants. I really love Keith Robertson and Danny O’Rawe’s description of the qualities of the water element in their book Celtic Herbal Medicine(2018);

“ Water energy is moving and cleansing. Without the Water of Life nothing can grow. Water is a remarkable solvent that should really be a gas at room temperature, but its molecules are bound by light hydrogen bonds and so they follow each other up the capillaries of trees and over waterfalls in a gleeful dance. Water in the body surrounds everything bringing nourishment and taking away waste. It demonstrates its emotional nature by giving us the precious water of human tears. It is centred in the kidneys and the urinary tract but is also associated with fat, our drainage and immune functioning lymphatic system and our sexual life which requires emotional connections and fluid lubrication. If we are unable to let life flow around and through us as it should we can experience problems in these systems.”

 This dovetails beautifully with the essence of the Sacral energy centre. From these aspects alone, we can begin to see where the Lily is going to begin its interaction. Interestingly many of the flower essences used for healing the emotional wounds of the sacral/navel energy centre are lilies. Matthew Wood also says that many of the lilies can be used interchangeably when treating issues in these areas.

 

The Second Encounter.

When I first met the Blue Water Lily, it was during a five-hour swim at a special swimming hole known as the Tea-tree Lakes situated in the sub-tropical climate of northern NSW. As I floated and swam and chatted to my friend who I was with, I kept feeling drawn to go and swim amongst these lilies that shone like jewels in the midday sun. At intervals, I’d breathe in deeply the exquisite fragrance. I drank in the Lily’s essence as it wove its way into my soul, and the most notable effects lasted a full three months after this first beautiful encounter. It inspired the piece written above, and yet I didn’t feel ready to publish it at the time. I still felt stuck, as though I was still seeking to do it justice. So, I began to work with other preparations of the plant over the course of the year.  I experimented with drinking a tea made from the dried flowers, and taking drops of a spagyric tincture made from the fresh flowers. But that initial meeting and the stirring it caused within me paved the way for the second meeting not four days ago. And I feel that it had to work through the physical and clear the inherited shame and guilt related to sensuality then in order to reveal the deeper insights which came next.

The insights which followed have come much from observing the Doctrine of Signatures of the plant (that is, ascertaining its tissue and organ affinities or its sphere of action by its appearance and how it appeals to the senses). As the physical healing of the emotional wounds held within the spheres of physical sensuality gave rise to the heart-connection of compassion, this then opened up a higher vibration again, because suddenly I had the eyes to see it. That of the spiritual lessons to be learned and internalised.

“Consider the lilies, and how they grow. They neither toil or spin, and I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed like one of these.” (Luke 12:26)

The context of where the plant chooses to grow is as much a part of the Doctrine of Signatures as what the plant looks like, how it feels, how it tastes, how it smells, and how it sounds. In this regard, the Blue Lily that lives within my heart grows in a freshwater lake (a remnant of sand-mining carried out in the region many decades ago) close to the beach, so it has a sandy bed to anchor its roots into. The lake is situated within an indigenous reserve surrounded by groves of Tea-tree (Leptospermum and Melaleuca spp.) – Australian natives, and the lake’s water is tinged a rusty colour because of the tea-tree’s tannins and oils. The tea-tree itself carries many medicinal properties and an interesting history. Many will be familiar with the essential oil extracted from its leaves which has anti-septic and anti-fungal properties, as well as being an uplifting and refreshing scent.  The tea-trees are so-called because early settlers used the leaves as a substitute for china tea (Camelia sinensis). The Australian Bush Flower essence of the Peach-flowered Tea-tree (Leptospermum squarrosum) is for people who experience extreme mood swings, who have trouble committing to and following through with various projects due to becoming easily bored, and hypochondriacs. It helps people take responsibility for their own health without being pre-occupied by it.

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Photo taken by M.Carnochan 2019

Even from this brief look at where the lily grows, we see a picture emerging.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sandy bottom is symbolic of the foundations we ‘build our house on’. Our core values and belief systems, and what we put our trust in. It has been written;

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does them, shall be like a wise man who built his house on the rock, and the rain came down, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not do them, shall be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand, and the rain came down, and the floods came, and the wind blew, and they beat on that house, and it fell, and great was its fall.”

There are two aspects to where the lily puts down its roots that illustrate these words. The first is that in propagating the lily, it needs a soil mix of coarse sand, aged manure, and loamy potting mix. This creates a muddy, nutrient rich mire from which the seed can sprout and begin to send up its leaves and then finally a long upright stem.  This mix needs the manure to hold it together or it will break up and the soil will float away when watering. The Lily itself doesn’t like to grow in turbulent or fast-moving water. Perhaps because it knows that it could quite easily get swept away. Once the roots are established though, in a lake, damn or pond, it snuggles in quite contentedly around the waters edge. Where it grows in the tea-tree lakes, the edges of the lake are re-enforced by the roots of the tea-trees, providing some stability, protection, and a foothold in which many of the lilies take root. This dependency is interesting in itself.

Water is usually symbolic of the emotional state of a person. Dreams of turbulent and rough seas often belie some inner emotional turmoil, whereas dreams of still millponds and lakes usually typify satisfaction or contentment around a situation. In this context, the lakes are still and serene. Swimming and floating there is very calming and relaxing, and a very peaceful experience. The lakes are away from the hustle and bustle of civilisation – even that of small country towns. The people who visit sense and respect the serenity, keep to themselves and sitting almost hidden amongst the groves of ti-tree, reveal themselves only to swim in blissful meditation. Occasionally, clothing is optional for some visitors but still a sense of peace and respectful distance pervades.

The water, being tinted with the constituents of the ti-tree is like swimming in a herbal-infused bath. After swimming there, people comment on the softness of their skin and hair, the freshness of their scent. It’s a cleansing experience. The worries and foolishness of the world is washed away.

From here the lilies verdant green round leaves float on the water’s surface, a covering for small freshwater fish, a landing pad for the iridescent dragonflies that dart and hover across the lake, or a shelter for small frogs and other tiny creatures seeking rest. Green is the colour of the energetic heart. It symbolises abundance, fertility, welcome and compassion. The fact that much of the vegetation that covers the planet is green echoes the compassion of Divine providence.

Green stems – sometimes single, sometimes a few, then arise straight and upright from the centre of the plant, with a single bud on each stem that blossoms into the Lily’s most precious jewel – it’s flower. The flower is ethereal, radiant and captivating – in design, to look at and to smell. The purple/blue hue of the petals are symbolic of intuition and spiritual vision – the ability to see both the forest and the trees, and the holographic pattern that sustains all of creation. The petals are arranged in a radiating pattern – like a bright and glorious star that permeates all things, sees all things. The centre of the lily flowers is, quite literally, its crowning glory. The bright white-merging with golden hue of its stamens reflect our crown, where we are infused in the womb with the light of Life and we connect with the Divine. (One could argue that it’s golden yellow centre could also reflect the solar plexus and its representation of intestinal fortitude and core grounding and connection between the spiritual and the physical, and perhaps it has that aspect as well, but my initial sense was of the crown and its openness to the Divine. The pattern of colours invokes a sense of the ethereal rather than the material) It also speaks of our Higher calling, or purpose in life. Again, we see these stamens tipped with the indigo of intuition and spiritual vision. We might also see the merging of male and female in these patterns. The divine expression of both attributes complementing each other.

I had opportunity to meditate on and integrate this deeper, more embodied essence of the Nymphaea caerulea two days ago. Having ventured some 700kms north of our home to sit with the Lily, and catch up with family and friends, my plans for the rest of our visit were thwarted when my car broke down. I was forced to cut my trip a couple of days short, as the car was unable to be fixed by the roadside assistance mechanic and the best option was to have the car towed all the way home. So, during the wait for the initial Roadside Assistance, and then the tow truck, and then the 8-hour journey back home in the cab of the tow truck (thankfully it was air-conditioned) I had ample time to reflect. I realised that the things of the man-made world are foolishness and unstable. The Lily reminded me to rise above this, to wash away my bad attitude and wash away the worries associated with my car breaking down and the initial panic of what I needed to do about it. It reminded me to have compassion for my sixteen-year old son who was my traveling companion and also had his plans to spend time with his friends changed. Above all it reminded me to put my trust in a Higher power, my Creator and God who sustains all, and for some reason allowed this to happen. It allowed me to raise my consciousness.  As it turned out, if anything could be gained from the experience, it gave me opportunity to consider the Lily and how it grows, and I gained the vision to see its patterns and its teachings. To me this is true euphoria, because it doesn’t just reside in the sacral/sensual centre, it connects the spirit, the mind, and the body and points the focus back to the Divine to let it guide me and direct me.

The Blue Water Lily is a glorious creation. A beacon of peace, of soul nourishment, and a deep joy, a hope in a turbulent world. Perhaps next year, I shall make a flower essence from it and make it available to all. In the meantime, its scent lingers on my nose, its quintessential nature lives in my heart. The journey continues. I hope that you also have the opportunity to meet with this beauty and infuse your life with its joy.

Many blessings,

Michelle

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Photo taken by M.Carnochan 2019.

 

Nymphaea caerulea (Blue Water Lily, Sacred Lily of the Nile)

 

Constituents: volatile oils, apomorphine, flavonoids, kaempferol, phytosterols, alkaloids, posphodiastrates, nuciferine, nupharine, nupharidine, quercitin, nymphayol, starch, tannins, catechins, and saponins.

Tastes: sweet, astringent, bitter

Fragrance:a sheer, light earthy-floral, musky, slightly green, sultry, sweet-aromatic, sensual, ephemeral.

Energetics: Cooling

Tissue/Organ/System affinities: mucous membranes, pancreas, nervous system, digestive system, urinary and reproductive system. Sacral plexus. Heart centre. Crown and Pineal energy centres.

Virtues: euphoric, mild sedative/hypnotic, anxiolytic, astringent (flowers) demulcent (rhizomes), cardiotonic (flowers), mild bitter.

Parts Used:Flower, buds, stem, rhizomes, leaves.

Traditional Preparations & Usage: dried flowers steeped in wine. The dried flower smoked. Water infusions of the leaves and flowers. The starchy rhizomes have been traditionally eaten. It is also used as a water purification plant. Used extensively in Ayurvedic and Unani Tibb medicine in digestive disorders, to calm the emotions, as an aphrodisiac, and as a cardiotonic. It has also been used to regulate menstruation, in leucorrhoea and other female discharges. It has also shown anti-microbial and immunomodulating actions and the seeds, flowers and leaves are infused in a topical wash for the treatment of skin infections.

Potential Therapeutic Uses: Researchers in India found in 2016 that the seeds and rhizomes proved effective in controlling the blood glucose and lipid levels in persons suffering from Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Combines well with: rose and damiana (self-nurturing, useful for menopause)

 

References;

 

http://entheology.com/plants/nymphaea-caerulea-blue-lily-blue-lotus/

https://ayalamoriel.com/blogs/smellyblog/tagged/blue-waterlily

https://www.cogentoa.com/article/10.1080/23311932.2016.1249172

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/304395869_PHARMOCOGNOSTIC_STUDIES_ON_NYMPHAEA_SPP

 

 

 

 

Grassroots Healing, Musings, Reflections, Spirituality, Plant Medicine

Learning to Open the Eyes on the Ends of my Fingers

(or Reflections on The Diagnostic Touch)

 

The times are changing and perhaps more exponentially, or more rapidly than ever before. Tech is venerated as some new god that will redeem us all, as we get swept up in a tsunami of information unprecedented in human history. For folks who are digital migrants, we have either taken to it like a fish to water, or we have started to feel like we are really drowning. In my own work, there’s now an unspoken burgeoning pressure to somehow be ahead of this game as most people now are wont to self-diagnose via advice from Dr Google. Some people subscribe to every internet health gurus eNews, and as a result not only end up taking every supplement and ‘superherb’ that’s on trend, or worse – start prescribing these wonder drugs indiscriminately as some sort of panacea to everyone they meet. At the other end of this spectrum, we also have clients who are on about twelve different pharmaceuticals and so we now have to wade through which drug is for the original ailment, which are for the side-effects, possible drug-herb interactions, contraindications, and half-lives. And then we have to figure out if we can actually be of help at all, and if they have a doctor who is willing to work with us to begin to wean the patient of this chemical cocktail. The mindset that births both of these extremes is the same. In this Age of Instant Gratification & Technological Wonderment, it is the reductionist mindset of the quick fix. And as a result, we are losing our traditional knowledge and understanding of the unique essence and specific virtues of the plants, and we are losing our skills of diagnostics. And why not? We have the machines that go ping to do that for us now. (And we have standardised plant extracts – but that’s another story). We are losing touch.

But machines, or even standard lab tests, can’t detect nuance. They can’t depth diagnose through empathy or perceive the dynamics of the life experience that courses through a patient’s veins. They can only take snap shots of that given moment, without regard to extenuating circumstances. The conventional assessment of blood pressure is a prime example.

monty-python-machine-ping
Monty Python fans will understand.

 

Before medicine became technological and profit-driven by the pharmaceutical companies, the physicians/healers  themselves, if they were any good, had to also be skilled diagnosticians. Trained on the job, their own bodies were highly aware, acutely sensitive diagnostic instruments. The full use of all of their senses was employed to make an accurate assessment of the dynamic being that sat or lay before them. Mindful observation of mannerisms, pallor of skin, observation of the tongue, colour of eyes – both iris and sclera, the posture, the gait on walking, facial expressions, the colour of urine and any discharges, as well as skilled and thoughtful palpation of the tissue, the moisture of the skin, feeling the temperature, feeling and reading the pulse, smelling the general odour, hearing the tone of voice, hearing the heartbeat or the lung sounds, the crepitations (crackling) in the joints, the gurgling of the stomach.  All of these, as well as a detailed case history allowed the physician/healer to make a highly accurate diagnosis.  Of course, one needs to have a certain depth of knowledge and understanding to then be able to understand the significance of what the senses are reading, as well as the most appropriate treatment, but overall what we have is a truly holistic picture of the state of health of the person. Up until the 1950s, many physicians in the West still practised like this and with an understanding of the energetics of the disease process. Physicians who practised in the East within the systems of TCM, Ayurveda, and Unani-Tibb continue to practice under this paradigm. Their diagnostic skills have been maintained.

Touch is a human need. Babies crave it. Appropriately given, it soothes our nervous system, or it can stimulate it. It can convey a sense of belonging, and of being loved and cared for. We may think of the therapeutic touch of massage and bodywork. Yet, the diagnostic touch, the touch that conveys that someone is willing to spend time with you, is willing to listen to you -on all levels of your being- in order to most appropriately care for you, can also be therapeutic. We all want to be heard. We all need our pain acknowledged. Whether modern medicine thinks so or not, this acknowledgement forms as large a part of the healing process as the treatment itself.

I’ve come to this reflection on this diagnostic touch from my own nagging feelings of inadequacy, of something missing, spurring an eagerness to learn. When I did my training at college, out of the four or so years dedicated to the practice of Western Herbal Medicine, we did a grand total of two days dedicated to physical examination. Even then we didn’t use it much, nor were we encouraged to, in the 400 hours of student clinic. And reading the pulse or feeling the tissue for changes beneath didn’t come into it at all. But a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, I’ve learnt much on the job, and I often find that when the time is right, things come into your world that suggest – either subtly or blatantly, that it’s time for further development. The personal upheaval of recent months has been such a time.

In my previous post, I mentioned that working with plants and making medicine is one of my coping mechanisms. Reading is another. I devour books almost insatiably. The first book that came into my world around this time was “Cancer: It’s Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment’ by the late, great American physiomedicalist, Eli Jones, MD.   Published in 1911, it is as relevant today as it was back then. Perhaps more so. After spending the first two to three chapters lamenting the state of cancer treatment in regular (allopathic) medical practice[1], and indicting it all to shame, he then begins an emphatic treatise on the physician’s skill in correct diagnosis.

He [the physician] must educate his hands — have his eyes at his fingers’ ends. The delicate, sensitive touch of the fingers will soon teach him how to detect cancer in any form….”   (Eli Jones. Ch.5)

In “taking a case” of cancer to treat we want to look the patient over carefully; ……

We examine the pulse of our patient; we find the pulse of cancer a weak pulse, often a discouraged feeling to it, and quicker than normal. The weight and feeling of the muscles show lack of nutrition. The tongue under its yellowish, white color shows, in advanced cancer a dark red color; in the last stages we have the “beef steak” tongue. The white of the eye has a pearly tint with greenish yellow spots, showing a drain upon the system, toxic matter in the blood and decomposition of albumen. The eyes will tell you if the glands are acting normally or not. The tongue shows you whether the patient is digesting his food or not; if he cannot digest his food, he cannot make good blood. The pulse tells you whether the vital forces are strong or weak. You must learn to study the quality and character of the pulse; until you can do that, you cannot cure this disease or any other.

Thus it is, by a careful intelligent study of the eye, tongue and pulse of our patient, we can get a good idea of the advancement made by the disease and the vitality of the patient; and this will be a guide to us in making up our prognosis and also for the rational treatment of the case.”  (Eli Jones, Ch.6)

And;

“Never forget the fact that the general health of the patient must be better before the cancer is any better. Watch the eyes, the tongue and the pulse; they will tell you of your patient’s condition. One of the first things my students have to learn is how to read the pulse. Not one doctor in a thousand can do it…. Grasp the wrist of your patient; banish every thought from your mind; think of what you are doing and what you want to know. How does it feel? What is the impression you get from the pulse? Remember the pulse of cancer has a weak discouraged feeling. It is a little faster than normal. If there is pain the pulse will show it, also if there is any heart difficulty. You can tell by the pulse if your patient is responding to the action of your remedies. The pulse will feel a little stronger, fuller and more regular. Remember that the healthy, normal pulse is full, strong and regular.”

I particularly like this admonition to his students;

“A doctor of all men should be a gentle man, and have an easy, gentle touch. I have had patients tell me how their physician pinched and squeezed the tumor in their breast until they screamed so that people could hear them out in the street. Such men are ignorant jackasses. I told these patients that they should have “slapped them in the face.” Such men need that kind of treatment. It is the only treatment that they can understand. In examining a case of cancer, it is hardly ever necessary to cause a patient a moments pain where a doctor understands his business. Treat your lady patients just as you would like a brother physician to examine you or examine your wife, sister or mother.”

Throughout the rest of the book, he then cites numerous successful case histories, along with his particular treatment protocols. The good doctor clearly knew his stuff and got extraordinary results. It’s a fascinating read and one which I will refer to time and again, and perhaps I will expound upon his work in some future article, but this idea of the importance of the physical examination, the diagnostic touch, to confirm a case spoke to me. Something was stirring, once spoken of, long forgotten, wanting to be heard once more.

Perhaps it spoke because of my own case of fibrocystic breast change. I’ve had it for about 9 years, managing to reduce it somewhat through various means including fasting, juice feasting, and dietary management, but never fully being ‘cured’ of it. Over the years it has changed character, largely influenced by hormonal cycles, that in themselves are an apparent barometer of whatever stress I have been going through. Recently, the character of the fibrous tissue and the cysts changed again. Using it as my own case study, I am acutely aware of the ‘eyes on the ends of my fingers’ as I palpate the changes and monitor closely the response to more accurately chosen remedies. It is often said that it is very difficult for the practitioner to self-diagnose, and an objective view must be obtained. Having said that, there is also the adage; “Physician, heal thyself.” Why pass up an opportunity for such intimate hands-on learning? It’s only through direct experience, that which we then can internalise, are we able to apply the knowledge gained with true, deep understanding and maybe a hint of wisdom. During my pregnancies, I learnt to feel the growth, and the positions of my babies, to listen to the heartbeat, and the whooshing of the blood coursing through the umbilical cord, as well as the difference between a ‘ripe’ and an ‘unripe’ cervix.  I am, by and large, my own practicum, being curious by nature. But I digress.

As luck (or divine direction?) would have it, I came across another book for the hands-on aspect of diagnosis simply called ‘Hands On’ by Nic Rowley. It outlines in very easy to read and systematic detail the course of physical examination that any practitioner can employ (the subtitle is ‘Basic Clinical Skills for Students and Practitioners of Complementary and Alternative Medicine), and in a logical and what may become intuitive sequence. Although written much more recently than Eli Jones’ work, it borrows from the physical examination methods used in modern conventional medical practice (but devoid of observation of the tongue or reading of the pulse beyond counting it’s beats), and the author states that “if you have not got a pretty good idea of what is wrong with someone by the time they get on to your examination couch, you are unlikely to know what is wrong with them by the time they get off it”. This method of physical evaluation was what we were taught in that grand exploration of the subject during college. However, I think that despite the statement made above, not only does it’s offering still give our client the reassurance that we are leaving no stone unturned in their care, if we combine it with the careful visual and tactile observations of our tradition’s elders, then new information can be gained, and the case may be more fully rounded. After all, conventional medicine has left the concept of energetics and holistic practice behind, and as a result the most appropriate remedy. Unfortunately, in the modern practice of Western Herbal Medicine, particularly in this country, we are moving along the same trajectory. Nevertheless, it is a helpful book that reminds us that our senses are still among our best diagnostic tools. And even if we stop here with these ‘basic skills’, we can still determine likely differential diagnoses.

In his conversational tome, Traditional Western Herbal Medicine and Pulse Evaluation, co-authored with Phyllis D. Light and Francis Bonaldo, Matthew Wood reminds us;

“ In energetic medicine we view disease as a pattern. This is the basis of Holism, which looks to the unity in the diversity, the pattern that pulls together the disparate symptoms into a whole.

…In holistic medicine we believe – and everyday experience confirms this – that nature can cure herself. This is the primary difference between holism and biomedicine. But in order to make this belief a reality we have to pick up a different set of tools and approach the body from an entirely different perspective. Holism requires that we seek to understand the underlying problems that cause illness in the body such as heat and cold, damp and dry, tension and relaxation. If we can address these conditions before the disease has progressed too far, then we will be able to unburden nature and allow her to cure herself. Our understanding must be different and our tools must be of a different order.

…In natural, holistic, and energetic medicine our diagnostic tools must also be different. These include methods that help us to see the general patterns caused by stress in the body. We start with simple questions pertaining to hot and cold, damp and dry, tension and relaxation, basic emotions, aggravations and ameliorations. While we are asking questions, we are looking at the complexion of the face and skin, and then the signs of strength and weakness on the face (color, wrinkles, high spots, low spots, good hair, bad hair, etc.) Then we move on to methods that allow us to perceive very directly the imbalances in the body. This includes looking at the tongue, taking the pulse, and feeling the skin (for moisture, dryness, warmth, cold, oil, water, etc.) Pulse diagnosis is particularly suited to energetic medicine because the pulse reveals patterns of imbalance in the organism, not the sort of molecular lesions that constitute the evidence of disease in conventional biomedicine.

Such examination is usually enough for an experienced practitioner to draw conclusions about the origins of stress and disease within the organism. Then we select our therapeutic tools. These include exercise, nutrition, lifestyle, massage, bodywork, herbs, and homeopathic remedies. They must be suited to natural energetic patterns and changes in the body.”

This is the third book that happened to fall into my lap in recent weeks, and one that ran along with this theme building in my mind of the diagnostic touch. On first read-through I admit that I found it somewhat overwhelming. How in the world am I going to learn all of this? How in the world am I going to remember it all? There are no less than 22 different pulses that might be felt in 3 different positions on each wrist at three different depths representing the various organ systems, existing in pairs such as high/low, rapid/slow, tense, wiry/relaxed, slippery/non-resistant, strong/weak, etc., listed under the headings of dimension, time, tone, blood and vessel, and power. As well as the Southern blood types and the seasons of the blood noted by Phyllis.  Even with a knowledge and understanding of the energetic model of Traditional Western Herbalism, and of the physiological processes of the body, it still seems at first exploration to be overwhelming. But how it has spoken to something deep within me! Pulse reading is akin to learning a whole new language. But then so was the materia medica of herbs when I first began learning them. These things become indentured over time, seasoned by practice. Even Matthew states; “ It takes decades to learn pulse diagnosis and, like herbalism, there is always more to learn.”  I suspect that over this time, intuition will also develop alongside, much as it has with learning the herbs.

Phyllis D. Light picks up the thread;

“ The pulse is also that lyrical, throbbing, musical heart rhythm that sings the song of our body and soul. This is the pulse that I must explore. It is the cadence, depth, quality, breadth, speed, force and rhythm that invites me into the wrist to palpate the flow of the bloodstream, the river of life. Feeling the pulse against my fingers is one of the most important assessments of vital energy that I know.”

 This is a book that I expect to be referring to over and over again as I begin to slowly train those ‘eyes at the end of my fingers’ to ‘see’ and really feel into the dynamics of the blood – that river of life – moving beneath them. Don’t be alarmed if I greet you now with “may I feel your pulse?”, rather than “hi, how’s it going?”  It may take me a while to learn to really feel what it’s telling me but, in the meantime, I need lots of practice, so “may I feel our pulse?”

In this age of tech where even the idea of robots ‘caring’ for the elderly in nursing homes has been floated around, I fear that we are, quite literally, losing touch. Obviously for the practitioner – allopathic or holistic – mindfulness, empathy, and respect must accompany this ‘hands on’ tool. One must be aware of past trauma, or cultural taboo. This should go without saying and permission should be gained first. The diagnostic touch may also serve, however, as an educational tool. By explaining what you are looking for and why, the patterns that we are feeling and observing and how it all connects, we invite the client in to the conversation with their own body. We invite them to get in touch.

By often feeling of the pulse….we may get the faculty of discerning the natural magnitude of the different constitutions, which no words can explain…”  Sir John Floyer (1707)

I’m excited to add this tool to my practice, and to grow and develop with it in seeking a truly holistic framework for the wellbeing of my clients.

 

 

 

References:

 

Jones, E. “Cancer: It’s Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment’.  1911. This book is available to read free online at https://planetherbs.com/research-center/cancer-book-resources/

Rowley, N. Hands On: Basic Clinical Skills for Students and Practitioners of Complimentary and Alternative Medicine. 2018. Aeon Books. London.

Wood, M. Bonaldo, F. & Light. P.D  Traditional Western Herbalism and Pulse Evaluation: A Conversation.  2015. Lulu Publishing.

[1] If we read it without a knowledge of the time he wrote it, one might think that he was writing about the state of affairs today. The allopathic paradigm hasn’t changed in 100 years.

Grassroots Healing, Musings, Reflections, Spirituality

What is Love? (Baby, don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt me, no more.)

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become as sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophecy, and know all secrets and all knowledge, and if I have all belief, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am none at all. “

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Image Source: Michelle Carnochan

 

 

There is a lot of talk about love in this world. Numerous songs have been written about it, endless poems and stories, movies, and all manner of art have been inspired by it. We particularly like using the word to express our feelings toward each other, toward our favourite food, puppies, the latest fashion, the latest miracle product that everyone is using, and anything else that we fancy.

 

I really really love chocolate.

So why don’t you marry it?

 

We seem to have lost the meaning of Love. Yet every living thing from newborns to those passing on, and every stage of life in between needs it.  As much as there is a survival instinct within each and every cell of each and everything living thing, I believe there’s also an instinct for love. On some level, we all crave it. It makes us feel good, to give love as well as to receive it. Sometimes – all too oftentimes – this need, on both accounts, is unmet, perhaps due to ignorance, to previous hurt, or to anything that has closed our hearts. You see, in order to receive and to give love, we need to acknowledge that we also need to be vulnerable. We need to have an open heart. We need to be able to feel. Because Love is a verb. It’s an action, a way of being and doing and seeing and thinking and feeling, and living.  It is the fundamental principle, and the most radicle (and in today’s world – radical) foundation for optimum wellbeing. So with that in mind, I thought it would be a good place to start in an exploration of the holistic foundations to good health. Consider this Foundational Principle #1.

The ancient Greeks identified at least four types of love, and several expressions associated with love-like feelings. Although I have it on good authority from an authentic source that there is only one word for true love (agape). Nevertheless, I find all of the expressions attributed to love interesting because I found that they can be correlated with the five elements of air, water, fire, earth, and the quintessence or ether (or life force that animates and permeates all things). These are the same five elements that the ancients recognised as the basic building blocks of the entire universe, and which we explored in my previous post on the energetic architecture of our constitutions and tissue states. And like the interplay of the elements that make up our individual architecture, they can become a little imbalanced, some can become a little too dominant, or not engaged enough. But let’s explore these correlations a bit deeper.

 

Love is Elementary.

 

Eros (ἔρως)= Fire. Intense, primal, that initial spark of romantic love. Passionate. Can burn out quickly or become lustful if not supported by the other elements.

Storgè (στοργή) = Water. Kinship, organically flowing between family members, such as a parent and a child. The familiarity of family, and good friends.

Philia (φιλία) = Earth. Brotherly love, grounding. The deep and shared experience between friends. Denotes loyalty and comradeship.

Ludos = Air. Playful young affection. Euphoric. Laughter, banter, light, and carefree.

Agape (ἀγάπη)= Quintessence. Selfless, compassionate Love. Empathy for all beings. Godly, or the Highest form of Love.

Three other forms were also identified, two of which are expressions of imbalance in the elements;

Pragma = A Deep understanding and harmony between two people. Long-lasting love. Really a combination of Storge, Philia, and Agape, that develops out of Eros and Ludos.

Mania = Obsessive love. Stalking, jealousy, co-dependency. Unbalanced Eros.

Philautia = Love for oneself, taking care of oneself. If not kept in check, can lead to narcissism.

Let’s focus on the foundational concept of the Quintessence, the Vital Force that expresses itself through these bodies of ours, and enables us to function in the world. This is manifest in the Agape type of love. It is foundational, because we ALL need it, the world as we know it REALLY needs it. I believe, to that end, that it also represents the goal of optimum wellbeing – to have love for everyone, to have compassion on all living beings. I think, perhaps, that it should permeate all of the other types of love that we express and receive, keeping their elements in balance so we don’t become manic/obsessive or narcissistic, or led astray by lust. We become whole when we become Love. So let’s look at what that is, and what it isn’t. Some of you may recognise these.

Love is patient.

Love is kind.

Love is peace.

Love is joy.

Love is gentle.

Love is faithful.

Love isn’t envious.

Love is not proud.

Love is not full of itself.

Love does not behave indecently.

Love doesn’t seek things for itself.

Love is not provoked.

Love does not reckon with evil.

Love rejoices in truth.

Love covers all, believes all, expects all, endures all.

Love never fails.

Love does not murder.

Love does not have extra-covenantal/commitment affairs.

Love does not steal.

Love does not lie.

Love doesn’t want what someone else owns.

Love sets us free.

Love is merciful and forgiving.

Love makes recompense.

Love is fair toward both poor and rich, treating them both equally.

Love is hospitable to the native as well as the foreigner.

Love does not slander, or gossip.

Love does not take vengeance.

Love cares for the poor and the stranger.

Love is grateful.

Love picks up a wounded enemy out of the ditch and cares for them.

Love is dignified.

Love is integrity.

Love is humble.

Love is wise.

Love listens.

Love feels.

Love hears the still, small Voice inside.

Love heals.

Love is not confusing.

Love is uplifting.

Love is discerning, but does not discriminate.

Love is not idle.

Love is fruitful.

Love is laying down one’s life for a friend..

..…as well as for one’s enemy.

 

Love, agape love, is true love. It is the yardstick by which we should measure our relationships with others. It brought the universe into being, and it sustains it. Being born of it, we can access it if we turn back to it’s Source, and we can then work to cultivate it within ourselves, for ourselves and toward each other. The world doesn’t seem to know this love very well, but it really really needs it, so maybe we should start to focus on being that change we want to see in the world. Maybe we should put down our weapons, tone down our voices, stop listening to those that divide us, lift up our hearts and begin to simply be Love. Are you with me?