Saints, Sages and Ordinary People and Their Encounters with Aromatic Plants

An Invitation to Read: SEVEN SCENTS: Healing and the Aromatic Imagination by Dorothy Abram

     SEVEN SCENTS: Healing and the Aromatic Imagination is an invitation to enter the lives of individuals who have been transformed through their interaction with sacred fragrant plants.  I examine the historical lives of saints, sages, and ordinary people whose encounter with aromatic plants provided the means and method to heal the crisis of a divided mind.  Just as smell retrieves memories from the distant past, the power of the aromatic imagination constructs reality in the present.

The book begins by studying the origins of the repression of scent as an authentic source of knowing in Western society.  The consequences of that rejection for identity are tremendous: we live with this loss.  Echoing Western philosophy from Plato onwards, Freud claimed that, in fact, the evolutionary repression of the sense of smell was a necessary act that initiated our humanness.  Freud explained that by renouncing a four-footed stance in favor of a two-footed posture (that prioritized vision as the dominant sense for survival), humans repressed the sense of smell.

This profound absence continues to leave its trace in our lives today.  Yet, the sense of smell cannot be rejected in our pursuit of human wholeness. Questioning the emotional costs of such an act for contemporary society, this book proposes that reclaiming an aromatic imagination has the potential to heal this fundamental division in the senses.  Paying particular attention to the socio-economic setting that promotes such divisions within, this book seeks to locate and to elucidate the necessary attributes of an aromatic imagination.  Fragrant plants appear in cultural and historical settings worldwide and at various historical moments whereby we may pay witness to the power of reclaiming scent for contemporary consciousness.

Beyond theory, we must consider the lives and cultures that demonstrate the power of the aromatic imagination for what they may teach us.  In this way, we witness its power to unify and heal.  I examine seven fragrant plants and the people whose lives were transformed through their engagement with these fragrant sources.  These seven plants include:

  • Sandalwood (Santalum album)
  • Lotus (Nymphaea caerulea)
  • Neem (Azadirahcta indica)
  • Terebinth (Pistacia terebinthus)
  • Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum)
  • Spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi)
  • Jasmine (Jasminum officinale)

The chapter on sandalwood tells the story of a female sage in 19th century India who healed a problematic case of madness through her use of fragrant sandalwood.  We would not have known about this powerful aromatic healer had she not entered the life of the mad priest of Kali, Ramakrishna.  Her healing method reminds us that, in addition to the physical upset, illness is a story—a narrative—that is constructed to make sense of experience.  It is the aromatic imagination at work.  The narrative that this female sage offered Ramakrishna enabled him to reform his identity from mad priest to divinely inspired saint.  Because they lived in a culture that honored spiritual insight and religious experience, they were named great teachers and creative geniuses.

The chapter on lotus (blue water lily) examines a traditional biblical narrative from the perspective of shamanism.  This is an unusual framework with which to analyze the book of Job.  The focus on the lotus opens new approaches to understanding that are not available without taking the plant and its meaning in the narrative into account.  In fact, it enables the reader to recognize Job as a shaman; that is, as a healer of humankind who gains his expertise through his successful underworld journey and the power of magical plants.  Analysis of this scented water plant reveals the emotional significance of Job’s journey.

The study of the pungently scented neem tree offers a fascinating inquiry into ambivalent states of mind brought together through interaction, inhalation, and ingestion of the leaves of this sacred tree.  It offers powerful lessons in healing through states of mind that must accompany the botanical cures for true healing today.  Highlighting the smallpox epidemic in India and the goddess called Sitala Mata who was believed to be in charge, neem demonstrates the power of faith to bring about healing.   The aromatic imagination heals the divided mind.

The passage of Abraham’s recuperation under the fragrant terebinth tree in the biblical book of Genesis sets the stage for a new look at the ancient tale and often studied story of the near sacrifice of Abraham’s son Isaac by the command of his God.  That is how we are often told this story: that the sacrifice was a God-given command to test Abraham’s faith.  However, by looking at the cultural context in which the act was nearly accomplished and by examining the Hebrew words used, the reader comes to a very different understanding that makes sense of this cruel request.  This evidence also demonstrates the quality of consciousness that Abraham achieved under the terebinth tree resulted in a compassionate ending to the episode.

Similarly, the chapter on fragrant tulsi narrates the specific qualities of plant, mind, and action that are required to bring about an altered state that expands consciousness.   Examining a maiden rite still held in India today, this chapter reveals the use of scents to describe emotional states of expression and achievement of unified consciousness.

Spikenard is well-known from the New Testament as the fragrant oil that Mary of Bethany used to “anoint” Jesus’ feet in the gospel of John.  By examining the original Greek text, we discover that Mary’s actions were directed toward Jesus, the man, in a profound and intimate gesture of relaxation and aromatic healing.

The chapter on jasmine examines this fragrant flower for use in healing epilepsy in the 19th century and in aromatherapy today.  In both situations and at both times, the scent of jasmine facilitated the physical control of symptoms and management of the disease.

In addition to their fragrant scents, all of these plants have psychoactive potencies that were employed in the healing practices described in this book.  But, it is the story that accompanies the botanical treatment by which healing is truly secured.  That story is different in each context where it appears.  However, in all the cultures and contexts that I examine in SEVEN SCENTS, the story pays witness to the achievement of a spiritual level of awareness.  That achievement is brought about through inhaling the scents of these sacred plants in a narrative cultural context.    Whereas the individuals in these chapters require healing from a conflict and crisis of consciousness—the divided mind—aromatic healing demonstrates a unification that is witnessed across cultures and historical eras.  This is the aromatic imagination.

Clearly, such diverse origins necessitate the location of a common underlying crisis; something that traces back to the origin of our shared humanity. I propose that the repressed sense of smell may finally have achieved its reappearance and vindication in the aromatic imagination.

We are healed with scent.

Jyotish: Extract

To mark the release of Andrew Mason’s book, Jyotish, we have released an extract from the book. In the extract, Mason discusses the background of astrology and introduces Jyotish.

Click here to read the extract.

To read more about Jyotish, please click here.

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More Titles by Andrew Mason

Vedic Palmistry

Compact and concise information on how to determine health implications and life events using palmistry and Vedic wisdom.With a discussion of introductory level astrology and its integration with palmistry, no prior knowledge is required. An essential guide for anyone interested in Vedic wisdom, Ayurveda or yoga.

Click here to read more about Vedic Palmistry.

 

Rasa Shastra

An authoritative account of Asian Medical Alchemy, this book explores the herbo-mineral-metal based medicines used in these ancient healing traditions. The first resource of its kind, it provides exhaustive insight into the history of alchemy’s search for immortality, the variety of minerals used, and production methods.

Click here to read more about Rasa Shastra.

A Feminine Approach to Bodywork?

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by Liz Kalinowska and Daška Hatton

A feminine approach to therapeutic bodywork has interested me since I took my first tentative steps along this path sometime in the mid 1990’s.  I noticed that in my field (Alexander Technique / Craniosacral Therapy) most of the practitioners are women and yet most of the courses and books on the subject are written by men.  The feminine viewpoint is and always has been different, with a distinctive voice and function.  Although a massive over-simplification, the masculine approach tends to focus on techniques and results, while the feminine may naturally relate more intuitively and compassionately. Continue reading

LESSONS FROM OUR MOTHERS

By Stephen Rath with Marcia Rath, certified Qigong instructors and writers of Qigong for Wellbeing in Dementia and Aging

Rath cover

The author Frank Herbert observed in Dune that when we ponder choices in the future we see doors, perhaps many; but when we peer into the past we see a long corridor. And so it seems with the journey that my wife, Marcia, and I took as we traveled through the corridor that led to the publication of Qigong for Wellbeing in Dementia and Aging. Continue reading

Giuliana Fenwick on her book, ‘Indian Head Massage for Special Needs’

As a new author to Singing Dragon, Giuliana Fenwick’s first book, Indian Head Massage For Special Needs, sees the pinnacle of her work so far in a very short space of time. However, it is very much the beginning of the platform as she continues work as an author, public speaker and fundraiser for special needs, helping to give a voice to those who so often do not have one. Hear her story below…
Continue reading

Breathing is the rhythm of life: breathing into Autumn

The following article is adapted from the book Qigong Through the Seasons by Ronald H. Davis.

The practice of Qigong Through the Seasons is designed to harmonize the health of your internal organs with the seasonal energetic changes of nature.
Autumn is the time to give special attention to the Lungs. Breathing is the most important thing you do from moment to moment and yet most of us are unaware of how we breathe and have lost our innate connection to the breath cycle. We, therefore, often fail to completely benefit from the power of correct breathing.

The Source of Qi
Breathing stands out as our quintessential rhythmic interaction with the world; lungs function as a permeable interface between each of us and everything else. The lungs are yin organs that receive air from the outside world, extract its healthy components and send them downward to the lower dan tian, the primary energy center of the abdomen, to be combined with the nutrients of food. That fusion of air’s vitality and food’s energy produces our greatest quantity of qi. In ancient times, the word ‘qi’ primarily had the meaning of ‘vital breath’ emphasizing that our indispensable energy comes from breathing.

Astonishingly, the lungs eliminate seventy percent of the body’s waste products. This makes exhalation a hugely significant detoxifying activity. We must completely exhale so that the respiratory system can flush out toxins and debris; only then can we receive a full complement of fresh air on the next inhalation. Stress, fear, anger, and doubt are the main emotional states that interfere with a healthy exhalation. Many people subconsciously don’t let go of the breath—they feel like they must hold on to that last bit of air, otherwise they may expire. The ability to completely let go of the breath often relates to issues of trust and relaxation.

The correct practice of qigong creates mental tranquility and thus will profoundly enhance healthy breathing by relaxing the lungs and allowing them to freely function. The following exercise, White Healing Mist, is the most important qigong exercise to do during the autumn season. It uses mental intention, body movement, and regulated breathing to purify and strengthen the lungs.

White Healing Mist Exercise
This graceful neigong (internal qigong) exercise fills the lungs with fresh qi while cleansing them of turbid qi. The intent of the mind uses detailed imagery of pure and impure qi. The movement of the hands leads the qi into and out of each lung. The ‘white healing mist’ can be any personal image that conveys a sense of purity, freshness, tranquility and healing. The ‘toxins’ can be not only respiratory debris but also cloudy, unhealthy thoughts. As the interface between internal and external worlds, the lungs command our self-defense system. When doing this practice, you may want to identify those healthy and unhealthy aspects of your life. Then you can nurture the good with the white mist, and purge the bad along with the toxins. Do this exercise slowly with focused concentration on one lung at a time. The unilateral emphasis is unusual since most qigong exercises are done for both lungs simultaneously, but that special concentration on one lung at a time increases the concentration of qi, which makes this a very powerful healing exercise. You can do this for the common chest cold and for all serious diseases of the lungs.
Begin with feet close together, hands crossed and touching the chest over the lungs. The right hand is over the left lung and the left hand is over the right lung.

Take a slow, relaxed breath and think of your lungs there under your hands. Make a mental connection between your hands and your lungs.

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Step to the side with the left foot.

Inhale, shift weight to the left leg so that the left lung is lined up over the left knee. At the same time, open the arms and slowly, swing the hands forward and then laterally out until the arms are extended to the side with fingers up and the palms facing away from the body. Left knee is bent, right knee is straight.

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Think of inhaling a white healing mist into the left lung only.

Exhale, step back to center with the left foot, straighten knees, the hands return to the chest, cross them so that the right hand is touching over the left lung. The left hand touches over the right lung.

Think of exhaling grey smoky toxins from the left lung only. Although both hands are touching your chest, your focused intention goes to the left lung only.

Repeat for the right lung by stepping to the right, etc. Do 8 repetitions, alternating left and right.

The complete set of Autumn Qigong exercises, along with suggested foods and herbs for seasonal health, are fully described and illustrated in chapter 8 of Qigong Through The Seasons.

Ronald H. Davis is an acupuncturist and chiropractor. He has been practicing Qigong since 1986 and is the founder of The Health Movement, a group of classes and educational materials designed to improve a person’s wellbeing through the use of traditional and complementary healthcare methods. Ronald offers classes in Qigong, Taiji and spinal healthcare and lives in Bozeman, Montana, USA.

 

Request a copy of the new US Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine Catalog

Our brand new US Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine Catalog is about to mail. If you’d like to receive a free copy, please sign-up for our mailing list and we’ll send a copy ASAP.

Take advantage of this opportunity to see Singing Dragon’s ever expanding list of authoritative books and resources. Acupuncture 2015 catalog 2Guohui Liu, M.Med., L.Ac.’s major new translation of the classic Shang Han Lun, Discussion of Cold Damage (Shang Han Lun): Commentaries and Clinical Applications, makes the foundational text fully accessible to English speaking clinicians for the first time. Rainy Hutchinson, an acupuncturist who runs her own clinic in Sheffield, UK, invites students to color and doodle their way through the sequence of images on each channel in her new book, The Acupuncture Points Functions Colouring Book. Longtime Singing Dragon author, Dr. David Twicken DOM, LAc provides a complete exploration of the theories and clinical applications of the Luo Collaterals, and the Shen and the five Shen in his newest book, The Luo Collaterals: A Handbook for Clinical Practice and Treating Emotions and the Shen and The Six Healing Sounds.

Click this link to sign-up to our mailing list and receive a catalog which features the above books and more.

For more information on Singing Dragon or to see our complete list of books and resources, please visit: www.singingdragon.com.

 

Summer energy urges us to get moving

Summer begins in early May according to the lunisolar calendar. Both the lunar phases and the solar year are combined in this traditional calendar used in many Asian cultures. Seasons are determined by the amount of sunlight striking a particular region of the earth. The months of May, June and July have the greatest amount of solar radiation in the northern hemisphere with the summer solstice being the midpoint of the season. Therefore, to get maximum benefit, we should begin our summer qigong practice in early May 2015.

Excerpt from Qigong Through The Seasons by Ronald H. Davis:

“Summer energy urges us to get moving. We want to be outside more often, we wear fewer clothes, and are in closer contact with nature. We like to spend time in joyful physical recreation and gatherings with friends. Summer stimulates creativity, which we may express with building projects, designing gardens, making music, art objects, and party decorations—anything that gives us warm pleasurable connections to people and outdoors adventures. During this season of splendor and shining fire, the energy of nature grows outward with color, warmth, and radiance. Now our Spirit comes alive with expansive awareness; it wants to make intimate contact with all the elements of heaven and Earth.

During the Fire Phase we feel that our Heart Qi, which was fueled by the Rising Yang Qi of spring, has come into full bloom with expressions of joy, compassion and a mysterious yearning for divine contact. The exuberance of fire, when controlled and cultivated, can be refined and directed toward the ultimate purpose of being human: spiritual awakening. However—if not properly harnessed—the great blazing of summer’s Supreme Yang Qi can scorch our Heart and mind. Summer Qigong practice will show you how to feed the Heart Network without getting burned.”

Qigong Through The Seasons presents a complete program of qigong exercises, specific meditations, foods, and tonic herbs that will keep you naturally healthy during the exciting summer season. Based on the author’s thirty years of clinical practice, personal training, and public teaching, this fully illustrated book will show you how to harmonize with the ever-changing energy of the natural world.

Breathe in, Breathe out

The practice of yoga has many forms—postures practiced on a mat, intentionally shaping our thoughts and words and actions in ways that are beneficial to us and others, breathing fully most of the time, and working at being our best selves, which is sometimes harder than it may seem. How you create, share, make your space, live, and express yourself on a daily basis, is at the center of the practice of yoga.

By slowing down our breath and observing how we feel (our body, our energy, our state of mind), we can influence how we experience what is happening to us, around us, and discern our role within it. Good, bad, and gray in-between spaces have the potential to become something quite different, depending upon how we perceive them and view them in our mind’s eye, which most often emanates from how we are already feeling (on the inside). Ever notice when you are in a bad mood, it seems like you come in contact with nasty seeming people and other hindrances to your positive progression? Likewise, when you are feeling good, do you notice more people smiling at you when your eyes meet? Are you more aware of the happy coincidences that seem to fall like mountains at your feet?

Have you noticed what happens to your breathing when you are emotionally disturbed—upset, frightened, surprised, unhinged, sad? Often it gets shallow, short, and it can feel like you are inhaling and exhaling jagged puffs of air. Sometimes for a moment or two, you might stop breathing all together, like when you are concentrating deeply or taken by surprise. How do you breathe when you feel restful, relaxed, and carefree? It almost feels like there is an endless supply of air that flows like a gift, like mystery, in and out of your lungs, in and out of your body. Your breath might be slow and long, it might even undulate your belly gently.

When you are distracted or disconnected from yourself—who you perceive yourself to be within your roles, relationships, and responsibilities—there is no way you can relax, get calm, or feel peaceful. At its core, your yoga practice has the potential to connect you more fully to the stillness always inside of you.

Right now, where you are, begin to practice yoga by watching your breath for a few rounds of breathing: inhale, exhale, breathe in, breathe out. Where does your breath move in your torso, your chest, your rib cage, your belly? How does your breath feel as it flows in and out of your lungs? Are you consciously making yourself breathe or does it feel like your body is breathing you? Spend some quality time with your inhalation and exhalation; can you climb on them as they go up and down, can you lift lighter and fly freer?

Now that you’ve spent time observing how you breathe, deepen your breath practice. Try to regulate how your breath flows, affects, and strengthens you with this Three-Part Breathing exercise from Yoga Girls’ Club: Do Yoga, Make Art, Be You.

Three-Part Breathing

  • You will divide your breath into three parts as you breathe into your belly (the bottom of your lungs), into your rib cage (the middle of your lungs), and into your chest (the very top of your lungs). This is a calming breath that you can practice anyplace, anytime.
  • Inflate your belly with breath, count: one, two. With the same breath, expand your rib cage, count: one, two. Same breath, fill (and feel) your chest with breath, count: one, two. Hold your breath in for a count of two.
  • Breathe out from the space of your chest count: one, two. Same breath, knit your ribs together as you empty them of air, count: one, two. Same breath, deflate your belly as you empty your lungs completely: one, two. Hold your breath out for a count of two.
  • For nine rounds of breathing, swell and deflate your belly like a balloon, feel your ribs expand and contract like an accordion, and experience your chest rising and falling like waves in the sea.

Release your influence on your breathing and return to your normal inhale and exhale. Watch your breath (in and out) for a few rounds. How do you feel now; your body, your energy, your mindset? As you practice being in the space of your breath, noticing how it feels, you are nourishing your body and quieting your mind, nothing outside of this space within you is necessary for you to relax, release, and create space for ‘you.’

Tiffani Bryant, PhD, is the author of Yoga Girls’ Club: Do Yoga, Make Art, Be You, an interactive workbook filled with easy-to-follow yoga postures, breathing practices, meditation techniques, and opportunities for self-reflection through making stuff that matters.