I moved to New Mexico from France nearly two years ago now. Four days after arriving in this new life, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. The journey since then has been deep, intense, difficult and beautiful. I have ached, grieved, raged, cried, laughed and above all healed.
In my naivete, I somehow believed that the cancer journey began when I was diagnosed and would end with a hysterectomy. In hindsight, I now realize that the journey began with multiple traumas during childhood and probably never fully ends. The ‘real healing’ however, has been going on since the hysterectomy. Only when the diseased body part was removed, the real work of healing began.
So for the last two years, I have been digging deeply inside myself. Since I moved to New Mexico, I feel very lucky, as this inner work has coincided with my professional work also taking a turn in a slightly different direction.
A herbalist and aromatherapist, I had been teaching both for many years and was honored to share my experience with French aromatherapy in the States through conferences, classes and the online class that I wrote with Jade Shutes. Each of us have our own, individual strengths and weaknesses, interests and natural leanings. Throughout my career as a herbalist and aromatherapist, I have always been pulled towards developing relationship with the plants and nature. I was also always looking for the deeper, hidden patterns and reasons underlying physical symptoms.
Meeting and marrying Florian Birkmayer MD, was not only a beautiful story of finding my soulmate but also my workmate. Florian’s experience as a psychiatrist, aromatherapist and his interest in the work of Carl Jung, coupled with my connection with plants and nature and intense enthusiasm for the soul’s journey led us on an exciting—albeit intense—exploration of ourselves. At the same time, no coincidence, we were deeply exploring the role of aroma within the context of the inner alchemical journey. We are excited to have created our own framework for working with plants and aromatics in healing the soul and finding one’s personal myth. This work has culminated in our online class “Aromatherapy & The Medicine of the Soul: The Wounded Healer, The Alchemical Journey and the Sacred Union” that is being launched at ‘The School of Aromatic Studies’ (aromaticstudies.com).
As our work continues, I am realizing what a powerful framework we have created. We could not have done this without the pioneering work of Carl Jung on alchemy and the living wisdom of plants, of course. I am excited to see that the basic structure of this work is now leading us further and giving us the means to put it into practice and explore specific applications. I am currently working on the alchemy of Menopause and we plan to develop classes on ‘The Alchemical Couple’ (both the inner and outer couple) and ‘The Wounded Healer.’ Plants and aromas have up until now been the main signposts and allies in this work but as the depth and possibilities reveal themselves we will be adding other tools and allies such as runic symbols and spirit animals and healing through relationship with animals.
A few weeks ago, I was approached by a book publishing company to write a book about French aromatherapy. They asked me to submit an outline, which I did. They enthusiastically accepted it and asked me to sign a contract. At first, my ego was pleased with the prospect and forged onwards, deciding not to listen to the at first barely audible voice of my soul that was needing to ask myself some questions. It didn’t listen until my soul began to talk louder through feelings and apprehensions.
I am very grateful to have studied aromatherapy in France. It has given me a solid grounding in the use of essential oils as part of my plant medicine tool box. I enjoyed learning and applying the work of Pierre Franchomme, Dr. Daniel Peneol and my aromatherapy teachers, pharmacists, herbalists and aromatherapists Gilles Corjon and Patrice de Bonneval from “L’Ecole Lyonnaise de Plantes Medicinales’ in my practice and in my teachings. I was excited and honored in 2013 to write the book ‘Aromatic Medicine’ with Patrice de Bonneval and then to apply my knowledge in writing the online French aromatherapy class with Jade Shutes.
The offer by the publisher, resulting in the thought of writing a book about French aromatherapy, has lead me to a crossroads where I am being challenged to be honest with myself and make a decision based on my soul’s calling. When I think about it, I have already co-written a book that is based on the French approach to aromatherapy and written a class about it. What more is there for me to add?
Plus, I have to say the modern French approach is merely a system of using essential oils that I learnt and applied. It’s a system proposed largely by the above mentioned Franchomme and Peneol in the 1970’s – It’s a good beginning, but it never really evolved from there. But what is next?
It seems to me that in the world of aromatherapy today the same old information from the 1970’s, the same old discussions, the same old approaches are being turned round and around. Do we really know all there is to know about the actions of each and every essential oil or are we getting stuck in an outdated, stagnant and erroneous system?
The chemistry of each essential oil is highly complex. Can we really be satisfied by reducing the way we understand its actions to its grosser constituents, ignoring its unique and complicated synergy and living intelligence? Can we continue to trick ourselves into believing that it is ok to refer to this aspect of plant medicine as an ‘industry’? Is it acceptable that multi-national companies have created a pyramidal form of prostituting plant essences solely for financial gain? is it ok that people seem to spend more time arguing with each other about their different views of essential oil use than actually providing opportunities for healing?
At the moment my soul is asking me to be coherent. I have therefore decided not to write a book about French aromatherapy. Instead I intend to focus my creative energy on what I have to offer in the world of aroma, not what comes from re-cycling already tired information. I will focus and base this on only what comes from direct and authentic experience.
The work that Florian and I are doing is linked to aromatherapy in the sense that we use, amongst other things, essential oils. However, we also use relationship with plants, relationship with animals, writing, drumming, singing bowls, artwork and any other medium that will help on the healing journey. As we are working with mind and emotions, a sniff is all that is needed for a powerful effect. This is much more sustainable and respectable to the plants. The power of scent and these molecules of connectedness is what interests us. Healing the separation within ourselves and journeying towards wholeness, within ourselves and as part of a greater whole, Nature. Ours is just one way. It’s only one possibility for healing with aromas.
The more I think about it, the more I believe that we need new, innovative, authentic work and studies in all aspects of essential oil use, including chemistry, but much more importantly beyond (e.g. in ecopsychology). It is not enough to sit back and rely on the work of the past. Each one of us teachers, researchers, health system workers, aromatherapists, healers, shamanic workers, herbalists etc. working with essential oils in any way, should be prepared to listen to ourselves, out soul’s wisdom. We must also listen to the plants and dare to follow wherever that may lead us, however frightening that may feel at first. We need to explore, to experience, to work with the plants, to take the research in each of our areas of expertise further.
As I finish this difficult–to–put–into–words article, I am realizing that this two year cycle through the alchemical stages that began with a cancer diagnosis is finally coming to completion. What have I learnt? Where is the healing? I believe the core of the healing comes at this crossroads. It’s the choice between deciding to be true to myself and to believe in my own work or continue to reiterate and fit into an old, outdated system. As the microcosm and macrocosm reflect each other, I am also realizing that perhaps this obligation to ourselves and to our creativity is a requirement in all aspects of the world at the moment. In order to evolve and create a world that is in harmony with itself, we need to listen deeply to our souls and re-imagine all the outdated systems—education, health, finance, agriculture, legal, political. Is it not by listening to our own souls that we can communicate and build authentic relationships with other souls—including those from different species?
The incredible power of scent and aromatic plants have been one of the many teachers on this journey. Like all the other species on this planet, except man, they are experts at listening to their souls. Let the plants lead the way.
“It is the soul’s duty to listen to its own desires and abandon itself to its master passion” Rebecca West (from Something More by Sarah Ban Breathnach)