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Aromatherapy for the Soul
Healing the Spirit with Fragrance and Essential Oils
By Valerie Ann Worwood
New World LibraryCopyright © 1999 Valerie Ann Worwood
All rights reserved.
Let There Be Light: Plants and Their Spiritual Nature
As each day dawns, pure sunlight sparkles in dewdrops, shimmering on the grass, and on the leaves and flowers of the world. As we walk through the woods, light filters through the leaves, creating a green haven of peace. The plant world is just full of beautiful sights; there isn't a tree or flower that doesn't radiate beauty.
However, providing aesthetic pleasure is not the most important function of plants. By taking carbon dioxide and water from the air and, with light, converting it into carbohydrates, plants are the ultimate production machine, purifying the air and providing food and medicine for humans and animals, even ultimately for carnivores. Plants are both the lungs and the larder of the earth. They are the conduit between the light of the heavens and the dark of the earth, channeling energy from the sky above into the crystalline structures of Mother Earth.
Plants are magnificent. The tallest tree in Redwood National Park, California, is over 368 feet high; redwoods can live to be almost four thousand years old. The size and longevity of these masterpieces of creation are humbling, but to actually walk among the immense trees of an ancient forest is more humbling still. The smallest seed is awesome in its capacity to create another plant, perfect in every detail, including providing more seeds for future generations. Plant seeds that have been found in archaeological sites and grown, thousands of years after they were dropped there, are a testament to the monumental capacity of tiny seeds to hold life.
Most of us live in a concrete jungle, not a living, breathing one. Essential oils can restore this balance somewhat, bringing the essence of plants into our homes. To understand them fully we need to reacquaint ourselves with their heritage, their source — plants in their natural habitat.
THE SINGING FOREST
The trees are the teachers of the law. — Brooke Medicine Eagle
In the 1950s something happened in an ancient North American forest. It was so poignant it went down in folklore, but, due to the "Chinese whispers" effect over the years, there are now two versions of the story. In one, the central character is a U.S. Forest Service employee, and in the other version he is a PhD student conducting research for his thesis on the age of trees in a bristlecone pine forest. The story goes something like this ...
The man walked deep into the forest for many days until he found a tree he thought might be the oldest. He planned to extract a sample using a core drill so he could count its rings and date it, but the drill didn't work. For some days he tried to fix it, without success. He also had a saw. He looked at the saw and he looked at the tree. He thought about the long walk back to get another core drill and about the importance of his research. He cut down the tree and dated it. It was four thousand years old — old enough to have lived through most of known human history. When Moses was a baby, this tree was already five hundred years old.
People have different relationships with nature. Some, like the man in this story, don't treat it with the respect it deserves, making it a sacrifice to the human ego. Others claim that plants have intelligence, soul, and the capacity to communicate, and would no more cut down an ancient tree than cut down a grandmother. Attitudes differ. Some people hear the forest sing, some don't.
One hundred forty million years ago, most of the Northern Hemisphere was covered in redwood and other trees. Human beings made their appearance maybe two hundred thousand years ago and have, especially in the last two hundred years, remorselessly cut the forest down. As early as 1905, American congressman William Kent and his wife, Elizabeth, recognized the potential ecological danger, and bought 295 acres of redwood forest in California and named it Muir Woods, after the conservationist John Muir. He wrote to the Kents, "You have done me great honor, and I am proud of it." To them all, we owe thanks because today Muir Woods is one of the few remaining enclaves where you can stand among these magnificent trees without hearing the sound of a distant saw, indicating that clear-cut logging is heading your way.
It is a humbling experience to stand under ancient redwood trees. In Muir Woods, I felt like a three-year-old in the presence of very large, old, and wise men with long white beards — in awe yet certain I would be completely protected. I did not want to leave their presence. Leaning on a redwood that extended too high into the sky for me to see, I felt the energy flooding into me, a cosmic river of refreshment for the soul.
I heard the drone of a distant saw, but knew in this protected forest island it must only be someone cutting deadwood and undergrowth to clear the ground. Even so, it reminded me of other areas of the world where international logging consortiums are destroying huge areas of precious forest, and I felt the overwhelming emotions of sadness and guilt. I apologized to the trees on behalf of human beings. Strange as it may seem, the trees spoke to me, directly, without voice, from their heart to mine. They conveyed to me their resignation, deep sadness, and incomprehension as to why we should want to do such things.
Having a conversation with a tree might seem like a strange thing to do, especially when you live in a large city, a long way away from trees. But when actually out among them, it seems like the most natural thing in the world to do. I can fully understand why traditional Native Americans, when planning to cut down a tree to make a totem pole or boat, asked permission and gave thanks directly to the tree making the sacrifice.
My love of trees started when I lived in Switzerland and used to take my dog for a walk in the forest late at night. When the moon and stars illuminated our path we walked on and on, for my pleasure rather than the dog's convenience, as the silence and majesty of the forest filled me with feelings of reassurance and gratitude. It was there, high in the mountains, that I first sensed the living connection between the night sky, the trees, and the earth. Many years later, in ancient redwood and cedar forests in North America, this impression was reinforced. Standing under a thick canopy of stars illuminating the sky, I sensed that trees, particularly very tall, ancient trees, in some way act as planetary antennae. The very tops of the trees seem to attract starlight and other cosmic energies to them, "earthing" those energies as they travel down through the trunks, into the roots, and earth. I also wonder if the trees don't also transmit information back into the sky, sending vibrational energy, including human thought energy, out into the cosmos. I have no scientific proof, of course, but the thought remains: These giant trees are receivers and transmitters of energy, crucial even to cosmic balance and human spiritual growth.
Anyone who studies trees knows that there is still a great deal to learn about them, especially in terms of energy and communication. Even in terms of mechanics and chemistry, an area we think we know so much about, new discoveries are being made all the time. Scientists of the British Columbia Ministry of Forests only recently found that certain tree species can share resources using an underground network of fungal threads. Seedlings of Douglas fir, paper birch, and western red cedar were subjected to carbon dioxide containing different carbon isotopes. Two years later, 10 percent of the carbon-type fed to the birch was found in the fir. Both species share a mycorrhizal fungi that created the network of threads between them, and the carbon traveled along this complex connection. Because this same fungi does not connect with cedar, its particular experimental carbon composition was unaffected. Meanwhile, in Kenya, scientists have discovered that, as well as sucking water up from the deep earth, a "substantial" amount of water is transported downward by trees, to the dry subsurface. These are fundamental discoveries about the mechanical workings of trees, an area we thought we already understood.
In British Columbia, Canada, the drive to harvest large-dimension lumber is in full gear, as logging companies race to bring down the last remaining trees before politicians accept what environmentalists have been telling them for years, and bring the harvest to an end. Standing in these forests is scary. You can hear the drone of mechanical saws and know you're standing among doomed giants. Here are these magnificent trees, silently performing crucial ecological tasks for the whole living planet, trees that have lived through so much of human history yet are helpless to stop our saws from cutting through their bases. This helplessness, coming from such powerful, massive living things, is infinitely sad. Strangely, the trees are not angry. Perhaps they mumble to themselves, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do."
With my experience of ancient and wise trees, I was intrigued when I heard about a woman living deep in a forest in British Columbia who claims to have heard the forest sing. Where the loggers cut one-thousand-year-old trees, Gladys McIntyre earns a living planting seedling trees. In June 1990, in a part of the cedarwood forest called Howser Creek, Gladys found herself thinking about the "immense verticality" of the trees when "a profound vertical alignment took place in me in response; and suddenly I felt about twelve feet tall. I wondered for a moment if this was soulic consciousness, then I was struck in my solar plexus by an impact of sound. It grew to an upwelling, crescendoing symphony of sound, in range and tone unlike anything I had ever heard before! Emanating from the forested hillsides across the valley, it was unquestionably a great hymn of adoration, of joy in creation and praise to the creator! Words cannot possibly express the magnitude of this joyous sound, nor my absolute awe at witnessing it."
But from being a song in praise of the Creator, the song abruptly changed from "overwhelming joy to abject sorrow." Gladys writes, "My cognitive mental faculty seemed to be translating information received by my soul from that incredible presence at worship over there." It said, "Oh noble and worthy, exploiters and conquerors, have mercy, have mercy, do not end our singing, which allows the conditions necessary to all life on the planet as you know it."
Reports as powerful as this can easily be dismissed as the workings of an overactive imagination, so I went to visit Gladys to try to get closer to the truth. I found her living with her husband, Vince, deep in the forest. They grow vegetables that are exquisitely formed, massive, with a delicious, vibrant taste. Those vegetables were like something out of a Walt Disney movie! They positively vibrated and shone in pure, verdant, colorful perfection, well loved and content. Gladys is a person clearly in touch with the laws of nature, and as sane as you or I.
I came away thinking that if the forest does communicate, Gladys is the right person to hear it. But she is not the only one. In another ancient forest, a young woman and her boyfriend went to sit on a splendid mountain ridge to admire the forest view. But instead of feeling glad to be in the splendor, the girl became overcome with the feeling of panic and fear coming from the forest. Sick with anguish, she had to return home. Days passed but the sadness wouldn't leave her. The girl felt driven to return to that part of the forest, to try to understand why she had been so affected. She was horrified and stunned to discover the whole area had been clear-cut to the ground.
Although to "civilized" people, communicating with trees may sound bizarre, it's something that's been going on a very long time. Indeed, trees have long been central to spiritual culture. In ancient Egypt, the "world tree" was associated with a "sycamore," possibly the sycamore fig that gave shade to the goddess worshippers in their groves. Kabbalah, the mystical aspect of Judaism, with its Tree of Life, has traditionally been taught to men over forty while they sat under trees. In the last book of the New Testament, Revelation 22:2, we hear that the Tree of Life is in "the midst of the street" in heaven. Buddha received enlightenment while sitting under a tree. The ancient Assyrians had many tree cults, with the Tree of Life sometimes being depicted as a cedar, fir, date, or pomegranate. The Chinese associated the Tree of Life with the peach, and in later times the cassia, while in Norse mythology it was the ash. A Polynesian legend says, "Out of this magic bread-fruit tree a great goddess was made." The sacredness of trees is universal, and this may not simply be because they routinely offer up their bounty, but because they have a spirit we can feel.
PLANTS THAT FEEL AND SPEAK
When we suddenly remember to water our plants, is it because the plants send us a message across the room, "Hey, don't forget about us!" Why shouldn't they talk to us? We talk to them. People in their high-rise apartments, or in their gardens, say to their plants, "You look lovely today," or "What's up, you're looking a bit off-color," and then fuss around them, administering love and fertilizer — organic, of course. Chatting to plants is a regular occurrence, even for royalty, and some plant aficionados play them music, taking care to choose something they like.
Edward Bach, the man who invented Bach Flower Remedies, attributed certain medicinal qualities to plants because the plants themselves told him what they were. An entire Western healing system is thus based on plant communication, and it has gone on to inspire much more plant-human exploration. Meanwhile, in many indigenous cultures, it is considered wrong to become a healer without first having dreams or visions relating to the plants used to heal. In other words, the spiritual realm is seen as the source of accurate information. Cultures that are very much in touch with the earth and all that grows on it believe totally that plants have a spirit. Obviously a plant doesn't have a voice box and mouth with which to chat, so to communicate we have to get into the common space we share, the spiritual one. If you want to know what a plant can do, go to the source and ask it. To indigenous peoples, that's the logical thing to do. There are variations on this cultural theme: some people believe the spirit of the individual plant conveys the information; some believe each species of plant has a kind of overall spirit that communicates; some believe there are a variety of nature spirits; others believe it is the voice of the Creator who speaks. These are all variations on a theme: you can speak to, or through, a plant.
The Yaqui people of northwestern Mexico have an oral tradition going back four thousand years, to 2000 BCE. Around 1500 CE, because of the oppressive actions of the Spanish conquistadors, the sacred traditions had to become secret. Seven lineages were chosen to preserve them, through sacred oral and family traditions. Through many generations the sacred way of the Yaqui was kept underground, as the bullets flew overhead. Now that we are older and wiser, hopefully, the knowledge can be revealed. Indeed, it is time for us to know it.
A man who carries this knowledge, passed to him by his father and mother, is Yaqui traditional healer Cachora Guitemea, a highly respected Native American elder. It was, then, a great privilege for me to be invited to spend a few days in the Mexican desert with Cachora to learn about sacred plant medicine. We were accompanied by both our daughters and the mutual friend who introduced us. Although Cachora is more than eighty years old and has white hair, you would never guess his age — either from his appearance or from his extraordinary energy. His face is lit up with a joy that defies time. And despite his boyish love of jokes, you never forget that you are in the presence of great wisdom and positive intent.
Cachora teaches that we must respect plants. Permission must be sought from the plant before picking it, and if the plant is required for ceremonial purposes, sacred chants and mantras are said aloud, in honor of the plant or tree. All plants have souls and spirits that guard and protect the species. It is not that every individual plant has its own, but that there is a species-spirit that has a place within plant hierarchy, depending on the sacredness of the purpose the plant is put to.
Many plants also have animal spirits attached to them, says Cachora. The connection may be derived from the fact that an animal eats from the plants and thus distributes the seeds, because the animal eats smaller animal pests upon the plants, or because the animal uses the plants as food and medicine.
Excerpted from Aromatherapy for the Soul by Valerie Ann Worwood. Copyright © 1999 Valerie Ann Worwood. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
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