Across the river from ourselves

“There was a troubled man who came to see your grandad, he was an alcoholic. As he talked to your grandad about his problems, he would grab the cross around his neck and say, “This is saving me!” He was insistent. And your grandad took the necklace off his neck and said, “No, you save you.”

This was one of the stories I’d heard often from my grandma about the man and the cross and my grandad, an Episcopal minister. I don’t know what happened to the man, but from the sound of the story, as my grandma told it, my granddad did not mince words about who was in control of this man’s life.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the first alchemical stage of transformation – the purifying fires of Calcinatio – that which burns away whatever isn’t meant to endure and fortifies what remains. This week, I’d like to explore the second stage, Solutio – the dissolving away of the activated energy leftover from Calcinatio, as I understand it. Again, this is a creative exploration inspired by the coursework I’m taking through AromaGnosis. It’s my interpretation of the collective material, a small snapshot of a larger picture that’s still developing for me. This writing should not be substituted for medical/mental health advice.

In essence, Solutio represents the experience of the ego dissolving. Of letting go of rigid lakestructures and going with the flow. Here, you may dissolve into joy and bliss or dissolve into to tears of release. In a sense, we may experience it as a suspension of time in which we experience some sort of supposed relief. Whatever arises is correct and brings us to a temporary state of oneness, regardless of how it manifests. Maybe it comes about during a profound experience on a weekend retreat, a walk in the woods, or an enlightening conversation. It feels like good medicine and we may wish we spent all our time in this feeling. But as Dr. Birkmayer notes, and I paraphrase, the desire to linger here in this ego-less state and not go back to the material world is strong, but therein lies the danger. He reminds us of how the sirens and water spirits in fairy tales would attempt to lure humans into their watery world below, but of course, humans realized they could only survive for a few minutes at most in the depths despite their initial feelings of bliss and oneness. Eventually, they must come up for air. And we must carry on and work with what we learned during this stage.

To the extreme, Dr. Birkmayer gives the example of someone who is in the throes of a personal crisis and finds the “thing” that seems like the answer to all their problems. Maybe this is yoga, or a fitness routine, a place of worship, self-help books, essential oils, herbal supplements, diets, food, a relationship, etc. – none of which are “bad” things. On the darker side, maybe this is alcohol, drugs, and other destructive substances, relationships, or behaviors. The result of our relentless attachment to the “thing” – note, not the thing itself – is the same. Escape from bearing “it.” Birkmayer states, “Because this stage is so pleasurable and seductive, at least sometimes, it’s hard to cultivate enough self-awareness to be both fully emotionally immersed in the stage and to remember that it’s a stage we need to go through and beyond.”

Jungian psychologist Marion Woodman discusses in an interview with Parabola Magazine (Worshipping Illusions: An Interview with Marion Woodman, April 13, 2019), the rage of our “inner civil war” and the ways we try to block the feelings rising from our subconscious. Our challenge, she states, is to try to figure out what these addictions symbolize in our inner world. The need for alcohol, as she states, is really a need for Spirit, “the longing for the light,” which may have been the case with the man and the cross from the story above. What is it we’re really after? What do we feel the “thing” is offering us? Why do we need more of it? What is it we’re trying to escape from? As most every sage, spiritual leader, and psychologist has said, that which we run from is bound to meet us again and again on our path until we look it in the eye and make our peace with it.

In my own healing from trauma, I spent an abundance of time reading and walking in leafnature. Practicing aromatherapy was a way to notice how the essential oils I worked with felt in the body and how their subtle energies brought to form memories, thoughts, breakthroughs, comfort, and helpful reminders. Ultimately, though, I had to do the work to recognize, spend time with, and lovingly make peace with whatever was bubbling up from my subconscious. This process was rarely pretty, it has taken years, and I’m still learning. I had a lot of help from family, friends, teachers, and a good therapist. Though the healing transformation is ultimately up to us, and though there are many dark and lonely days, we were never meant to go it alone. We are always fully supported, even when we can’t see or understand the structures supporting us. In this way, we save ourselves.

Solutio is associated with the element of water, representing our emotional world. Just as we might find tears to express our grief and sorrow, so too are they joy manifested. And just as we might linger for a time in rivers of grief and sorrow, so too will we find ourselves warm, content, wiser, and drying on the riverbank across from where we began.

Essential Oils for Your Journey

Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens): Most often noted for its affinity with womens’ reproductive health as well as circulatory health, geranium’s comforting aroma and properties help fortify a sense of calm centeredness. It reminds us to go with the flow.

Ravensara (Ravensara aromatica): Most helpful in addressing upper respiratory complaints, Ravensara stimulates our senses and helps us open to awareness, open to what expands us.

Sweet Marjoram (Origanum majorana): Noted for its use throughout the ages to help calm the nerves and quiet the mind during the day and before sleep, Valerie Ann Worwood writes in Aromatherapy for the Soul, sweet marjoram helps promote forgiveness. “…forgive without judgement, without criticism, and for no other reason than to have a clear, untroubled heart.”

The more we welcome personal awareness as a kind teacher instead of something scary, dark, and painful from which we try to avoid at all costs, the more we’re able to live in the space of forgiveness for ourselves and for others, the less we grasp onto the things or people we think will save us.

You save you.


As always, when working with essential oils, check each oil’s safety precautions or contraindications before use. Always follow essential oil safety best practices. Never ingest essential oils and avoid contact around mucus membranes. This post is for educational and inspirational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or mitigate illness. Please see your physician for questions and concerns. The statements above relating to essential oils are not FDA approved.

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