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.

Warm up games for any group

Rutherford_Book-of-Games-a_978-1-84819-235-5_colourjpg-webThis extract from Leo Rutherford’s The Book of Games and Warm Ups for Group Leaders features games and exercises to get any group energised, comfortable with each other, and ready to work together. Many of the exercises are based on Shamanic principles and are suitable for workshops, martial arts groups, classes or any gathering of people looking to feel connected to each other.

Read the extract here…

Leo Rutherford has an MA in Holistic Psychology and runs Eagle’s Wing, a centre for contemporary Shamanism. He teaches Shamanic practice including the wisdom of the medicine wheel, Shamanic journeying and trance-dance, healing the inner child, sweatlodge, visionquest and other ceremonies, dance and playfulness. The Book of Games and Warm Ups for Group Leaders is available from the Singing Dragon website now.

‘This slim volume deserves savoring’—One reader’s review of Archetypal Imagery and the Spiritual Self

One reader’s review of Archetypal Imagery and the Spiritual Self: Techniques for Coaches and Therapists by Annabelle Nelson.

“This slim volume deserves savoring. What I mean is captured by these cherished words of a dying friend: ‘Must be present to win.’ Nelson’s book demands attention and rewards re-reading. She writes about intentionally seeking an expansive, wise mind. That search and its prize, she says, brings a fuller, quieting outlook on reality, access to previously locked energy, and greater capacity to perceive and achieve one’s highest goals. The method she advances is to thoughtfully select an archetype whose attributes or deeds appear somehow relevant to one’s current situation (a dilemma, perhaps, or a crisis). The next step is to bring the archetype to mind through imagination, using all of one’s senses and the guidance of a coach or therapist, the book’s intended readers as mentioned on the cover.

Our thoughts, feelings, judgments, and actions are already influenced by archetypes, Nelson says, but subconsciously, out of our awareness. They are denizens, one might say, of our hidden mind. Images and emotions are the language of this unconscious realm. When one engages the skills of imagining an archetype, that larger-than-life, mysterious, and possibly mythic being can become a focusing device to override the ego’s control of one’s rationality and open access to non-rational, even counterintuitive and frightening features of one’s psyche.

This coaching model assumes that humans have four bodies, the spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental, which is usually controlled by the ego. The ego is a positive part of human psychology, giving stability, organizing the personality and establishing a sense of self. But over time it becomes rigid, skewing perceptions and relegating uncomfortable thoughts and sensations to the unconscious. This is accomplished by eating up mental energy, and restricting both rational and intuitive thinking and emotional awareness. However, if one softens the ego and thereby the barrier to the other bodies, this in effect creates a more spacious mind. Information from the other bodies, emotional, physical and spiritual, can enter conscious awareness. (p. 182)

The tone of the book is both professional and personal; its material is presented as a synthesis of the understanding Nelson has derived from four decades as a psychologist, teacher, coach and spiritual seeker.

‘Looking at models of the mind both from Western psychology and Eastern religious philosophy gives some guideposts for understanding what happens when the conscious mind opens to the unconscious.’ (p. 28)

The result is a tapestry that shows as sometimes parallel, often coextensive, the paths to emotional health and to spiritual awakening. Nelson ignores conventions against treating in the same conversation these two subjects: one known through logic and the other through intuition. That is the power of this book. It is but an introduction—a handbook, even, for busy practitioners with clients to serve—to the idea that these knowledge fields share common ends and means.

Although I am interested in these subjects, I am unacquainted with present-day thinking and writing about them and am neither coach nor therapist. Nonetheless, I have gained greatly from the insights this book offers. It must be taken on its own terms. It abounds in metaphors. The proof is in the pudding. I have followed to surprisingly good effect the exercises and other aids Nelson provides. She makes no claims that her techniques produce overnight transformation. Anything but, really. As the stories she tells from her own life and the experiences of her clients illustrate, she’s all about the long term, about initially faint apprehensions ripening with familiarity into a new knowing.

In the creative process, the intuitive and rational are intertwined… The wise mind is spacious, allowing opposites to coexist. When logic is needed it can come to the foreground while intuition is in the background, or vice versa. Awareness keeps the space open for the interplay to happen. (p. 177)

Certainly, I carry from this reading a deeper respect for intuition and for using imagery to develop it. Another thing sure to be remembered from this book is the rich possibility of archetypes to reveal otherwise inexpressible truths.

The ‘spiritual self’ of the title has nothing to do with organized religion and none of the archetypes described are drawn from the Abrahamic traditions. Rather most of the illustrative archetypes pre-date and no doubt contributed to these traditions. Nelson invokes the Major Arcana from the Tarot (e.g., Fool, Magician, Chariot, Justice, Hermit) to speak of emotional development and ancient deities from Eastern mythology (e.g., Lilith, Isis, Gaia, Ganesha, Avalokiteshara) to explore spiritual development.

My favorite chapter is the final one, ‘What if Life Were Sweet?’ Of course its impact depends upon everything conveyed in the preceding chapters. Here is a brief excerpt:

Opening the mind to wisdom is not an easy task. It is a complex and simultaneously subtle endeavor. The ego’s hold on stability is sacrificed for the connection to spirit that brings peace and joy. The delusion of control and separation erodes to a softer, warmer and friendlier awareness. The sense of Self is not constricted to fragmented thoughts or overwhelming emotions. Trust doesn’t rest with control of the inner world, but with the sense of interconnection. Stability comes from a focus of attention, not from a defensive posture.

There is a theme in both the deity and tarot archetypes. Almost all of them face a crisis. Lilith is thrown out of Eden. Isis’ husband is taken and murdered. Avalokiteshvara loses his faith and his brain is shattered, while Ganesha’s head is cut off. These deities became powerful in the face of despair, pain, grief and rejection. The world they inhabited ended in some way, and survival depended on adaptation to tap the power inside to become wise. The unconscious not only contained their fears, but also hid their strengths. When the unconscious is opened, hidden strengths are apparent. An individual is essentially changed from the inside out since there is more energy and power. (p. 181)”—Michele Minnis, PhD

Michele Minnis, PhD, is retired from a career at the University of New Mexico, where she of taught legal and expository writing, did research on cross-disciplinary collaboration, and served on the founding faculty of a master’s degree program in water resources management. She and Annabelle went to graduate school together at the University of Kansas, Department of Human Development.

For more information or to purchase a copy of Archetypal Imagery and the Spiritual Self, click here.

VIDEO: The Spiritual Practice of Walking, Standing, Sitting and Lying Down with Cain Carroll

Cain Carroll, author of The Four Dignities, briefly talks about the power of Embodied Presence and the significance of approaching walking, standing, sitting and lying down as four interrelated methods of spiritual cultivation:

The Four Dignities

“Cain Carroll has produced a must-have book that is essential reading for any self-respecting person on the path of self-cultivation. A wonderful collection of wisdom from diverse traditions that serves to illuminate the simple universal truths at their heart. This book needs to be with you standing, walking, sitting or lying down.

Gordon Faulkner, Principal Instructor, Chanquanshu School of Daoist Arts and author of Managing Stress with Qigong

 

Master Zhongxian Wu provides an introduction into the history of the Dai Family Heart Mind Six Unions Martial Arts

Wu_XinYi-WuXing-He_978-1-84819-224-9_colourjpg-printIn this article for Tai Chi Chuan and Oriental Arts magazine, Master Zhongxian Wu provides an introduction to the Dai Family Internal Martial Arts by deconstructing the components of its traditional Chinese name and how each affects the spiritual practice.

He explains the traditional Chinese meaning of each component and how it effects the spiritual practice.

Read the article…

Master Zhongxian Wu’s DVDs ‘XinYi WuXing’ and ‘XinYi BaGua’ are available from the Singing Dragon website.

Request a copy of our 2014 Singing Dragon new and bestselling books

SD logo 300 x 300 pixelsOur brand new catalogue of books and resources from will be available soon.

Click here to sign up for a free copy.

Our new catalogue has essential new titles from Charles Buck (Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine: Roots of Modern Practice) and Clare Harvey (The Practitioner’s Encyclopedia of Flower Remedies).

This is a great opportunity for parents to get a hold of Damo Mitchell’s newest book, The Four Dragons as well as Ioannis Solos’ Developing Internal Energy for Effective Acupuncture Practice.

There are useful new resources for every practice like Getting Better at Getting People Better by Noah Karrasch, and the new fully updated edition of A Guide to Living with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (Hypermobility Type) by Isobel Knight.

To request a copy of the catalogue please click here.

Click this link to see more forthcoming books from Singing Dragon.

June Wood Element activities for children – by Karin Kalbantner-Wernicke and Bettye Jo Wray-Fears

In our previous blog we introduced the element Wood through a visualization exercise to help children begin to feel the Element in themselves and the environment.  The focus was on the imagination and creativity qualities that Wood Element offers in life. We will continue with Wood in this blog and expand on the way it supports child development.

Beside creativity and imagination, the Wood Element gives us two other important gifts, our physical mobility and flexibility. Here we want to emphasize that the development of flexibility happens as strongly in the mental capacity as in the physical. A good analogy of a flexible nature in someone can be seen in a bamboo tree. No matter which direction the wind blows, bamboo will stand upright over and over again. The following exercise is an example of how you can bring this experience to a family or small group of children. It creates a lot of movement involving rolling, turning and stretching that is good for everyone. Above all, it is really fun and brings laughter and play into the dynamics of any group.

June Wood imageThe World is Coloured

Particularly in springtime we experience a large variety of colours in nature. Everything blossoms, budding fresh green leaves and flowers of every hue.  Everywhere you look nature is full of energy and joy for life. The following exercise can bring all of these qualities to everyone in the family or group.

The family members sit down on a big towel of their own, and are told it is a large tub full of different colours, whatever they imagine. Everyone chooses one particular colour that they are sitting in and shares which colour they selected.  Each can say the special reason why the colour they picked is their colour for today. 

Then everybody should “paint himself” –if possible everywhere- with his favourite colour, by turning on his towel, rolling and lolling about. Encourage each to try all the movements possible in their tub.

Then ask, “Is your body totally covered with colour? Well, now let’s paint the floor!“

Everybody rolls and rolls throughout the space. There are obstacles everywhere! If another person is touched, their colours mix. What colour is it now?

After a few minutes everybody sits up.

 “So, now let’s paint the soles of each other’s feet – pick a partner and ask your partner which colour he would like.  Apply the colour firmly on your partner’s soles. When you are done, everybody stand up and make footprints with big or small steps in the whole room! Now, try to walk in the footprints of another person and see what it feels like to walk in their steps.”

Everybody has to go under a shower afterwards. Everyone searches for a place in the room for himself/herself and shakes the colours off vigorously under their shower.

To end, everyone must hop until they are dry!

The physical activity of this exercise allows the Wood Element’s need for large movements, imagination, loud noises, and stretching for everyone.  Allow the dynamics of the group to unfold. There might be natural directors that appear as others ideas and creativity come and go. Give room for each to experience and work out what might be difficult or easy in the interactions and instructions. Experiencing any difficulty is as important as experiencing the ease in all of the Five Element exercises, as participants have the opportunity to try out new solutions.

If anger appears, allow this. Anger is the natural response to frustration and the emotion expressed in the Wood Element. Activities that give children permission to experiment with anger, supports healthy development as they learn how to manage this strong energy. For those that struggle moving through this emotion, the following exercise can be added:

Lightning Power

Kalbantner-Wern_Children-at-The_978-1-84819-118-1_colourjpg-webSit without shoes on a chair.  Cling your toes into the floor and tense all the muscles of your feet.

Now imagine a lightning bolt which sends the anger down into the floor. If the child likes he/she can also clench the hands and make a grimace with the face.

After a while relax and enjoy how much lighter everything feels now.

We invite you to look for what comes next month as we enter into the Fire Element and season of summer. This article can be downloaded in a pdf format by clicking on this link so that you can start creating a notebook of Five Element exercises that will be offered each month. You can find more information and examples of how the Five Elements support development in children in the book, Children at Their Best: Understanding and Using the Five Elements to Develop Children’s Full Potential for Parents, Teachers, and Therapists, published by Singing Dragon.

NEXT: July Fire Element Activities – nicking socks and making faces

 

The Search for Meaning – extract from Chasing the Phantom

Fischer_Chasing-the-Pha_978-1-84819-172-3_colourjpg-webAfter first visiting the Trans-Himalayan region of Ladakh in 1985, Eduard Fischer returned again and again, seeking to catch a glimpse of the phantom of the Himalayas – the elusive snow leopard. During these visits he became enthralled with the unique culture of this ancient mountain kingdom, one of the oldest enclaves of Buddhism.

Chasing the Phantom is an account of adventure and deep reflection. In this extract the author discusses the reason we climb mountains, search for the Higgs particle, or try to photograph snow leopards – because they’re there.

Read the extract…

Chasing the Phantom by Eduard Fischer is available to buy from the Singing Dragon website.

Springtime Wood Element activities for children – by Karin Kalbantner-Wernicke and Bettye Jo Wray-Fears

This blog is an invitation to parents, teachers, therapists and mentors of children to join us in having fun with a seasonal series of stimulating Five Element activities that can support development in all ages!  These entries can be downloaded and printed off in pdf format by clicking this link so that you can enjoy making your own notebook of Five Element exercises for each month and season of the year.  We hope you have as much fun being creative with these ideas and projects as we have with many children and families.

May Wood imageSince we are beginning this series in springtime we will start with the Wood Element, the perfect place to start any activity with children. Wood Element marks the time of new beginnings and all the bursting energy of creativity and expanding growth like the first spring flowers breaking through the ground and fresh green buds on the trees and bushes. If you have lived in a place that has long, cold winters, you know the antsy feeling of wanting to move, jump, and stretch in every direction to greet the sun and warm air of the coming spring! This is exactly what children feel physically as they are developing gross and fine motor skills and testing them out for the first time, or emotionally and cognitively as they are learning new activities and seeing the possibilities of what they can do next from their new development!

The following exercises can be used with a family, classroom, or group of children to experience qualities of Wood:

 A Tree in the Forest

Have the group of participants get comfortable and read the visualization below.

Imagine you are a seedling of your favorite tree or plant in the earth. You can feel other seedlings around you nestled in the soil tucked up tight with the earth and each other to keep warm from the cold of winter.  But now the earth is getting warmer.  You feel something growing bigger inside you day by day.  You feel itchy and antsy to let it out, until finally the energy gets so strong that it bursts out in every direction!  Your roots shoot down into the soil, and your trunk, branches, and leaves up and out towards the sun.  You feel the roots of the other trees around you and playfully you all race each other toward the sun and sky!  Feel how strong, fresh and new you feel in the freedom to grow!

When finished have everyone draw a picture of what they saw themselves as in a forest with each other. Pick a wall or board to have everyone create the forest with their pictures hanging together.

A Family/Group Springtime Walk

Talk about springtime and get ideas from the group about what they notice with the plants, animals, and colours in nature.  What does their body and air feel like in the room when they talk about this? Wood Element brings the development of imagination, movement, planning and creativity. Allow all ideas, there are no right or wrong answers.  Let them express how they experience and relate this time of year to themselves.  After everyone has a chance to share, get ready for a walk outside and invite all to pick one item up from nature that reminds them of spring.  When you get back from the walk, place all the items found on a table or cloth for everyone to touch and admire. This can be left on a season table somewhere in the room or house, and the children can be invited to continue to add items and be creative with the table throughout the season. Remember, that it is not about looking perfect to the adult eyes!  Let the children find all the awkward and balanced expressions of Wood Element and have fun seeing what they create. Permission to play and express is the key to growth.

Splitting the Tree

Every Element has an emotion associated with its development. The creative energy of the Wood Element brings emotions of frustration and anger when this dynamic desire cannot Kalbantner-Wern_Children-at-The_978-1-84819-118-1_colourjpg-webmove. This last exercise we offer is to support the healthy movement of anger. Use pillows, plastic bat, cardboard tube, anything safe to allow a child to get as physically active as she/he needs to express their emotion.

Imagine a big trunk of a tree on the floor in front of you. With an axe, you want to use all your power to split the trunk. But it is so hard to do that you get really angry! Take all your energy and power and keep striking the trunk until you feel tired and can rest, feeling calm.

For more information about the Five Elements and the way they can support child development, read Children at Their Best: Understanding and Using the Five Elements to Develop Children’s Full Potential for Parents, Teachers, and Therapists released in April 2014 with Singing Dragon.

NEXT: June Wood Element activities – a colourful world and lightning power!

Singing Dragon complete 2014

This fully interactive brochure has all of the new Singing Dragon titles for the spring and summer of 2014 as well as our complete backlist. In here you will find books on Chinese medicine, complementary therapies, martial arts, nutrition, yoga, ayurveda, qigong, Daoism, aromatherapy, and many more alternative therapies and ancient wisdom traditions.

Click on the covers or titles to be taken to the book’s page on the Singing Dragon website. If you would like to request hard copies please email hello@singingdragon.com with your details and the number of copies you would like.