That place of true healing is a fierce place. It’s a giant place. It’s a place of monstrous beauty and endless dark and glimmering light. And you have to work really, really, really hard to get there, but you can do it.Cheryl Strayed
When I think of strong humans, people I admire, I think of people who show up and do the hard work of healing. I especially think of women who carry so many loads that aren’t theirs to hold but somehow feel responsible for not breaking anything in their presumed care. I think of the transitional moment when they realize this other load was never theirs to carry and finally put that shit down. I think of their relief and power. I think of those women who are so moved by the inertia of some last spark of will, by the murmur of their broken, beating heart, by the seemingly incredible hope to one day rise, they find some buried wellspring of courage to show up and let that be enough.
It is enough. And it’s called love.
But as Meggan Watterson reminds in Mary Magdalene Revealed (Hay House, 2019), though we may show up, we never “get there.” And this is good news, she promises. “We never get there. That’s the whole point of being human. The point is to constantly arrive. For some of us with each breath. We constantly return to love. This is the good news; that we can. That it’s set up that way. That no matter who we are or how long we’ve been separated from feeling the presence of love, that it’s right here. Within.”
I learned from my wonderful herbalist, a few of my yoga teachers, and an intuitive, (all women I admire), Healing, with a capital, sparkly, purple H! is a myth, in some respects. Rather, we find the place that’s sore and witness. We adjust. We offer our bodies nurturance in order for our organs and blood to gather their strength and regulate. We notice what draws energy away from us and what infuses us with warm light. What feels like home. This is not a one and done gig. This is the life for which we have arrived. And it’s called love.
Aromatherapy for Arriving
A note: Each essential oil has its special use within the body and mind, that is to say they each have an affinity for certain organs, systems, and parts of the brain. So, when we talk about how an oil has a psychological effect, it’s because they have been proven through study to work with certain parts of the brain. Just as important, their spiritual applications and reported effects have been experienced and passed down through the ages since ancient times. If you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend Peter Holmes’ two volume series, Aromatica: A Clinical Guide to Essential Oil Therapeutics (Singing Dragon, 2019), which I reference here.
Atlas Cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica)
“It’s simple,” they say, “and you too have come into the world to do this,” Mary Oliver translates the soul of a tree in her poem When I Am Among the Trees. Essential oils from trees, especially within the conifer family, are known for their medicinal and spiritual offerings of strength, vitality, and endurance. Atlas cedar is no exception. It reminds us that, we too, can do this.
Aromatherapist and medical herbalist, Peter Holmes, LAC, MH, writes in Aromatica: A Clinical Guide to Essential Oil Therapeutics, that atlas cedarwood possibly helps to stabilize emotional instability, fearful/anxious thoughts, agitation as well as address feelings of disconnect and oversensitivity. And, like most of the conifers, atlas cedarwood helps to address feelings of insecurity, loss of safety, and vulnerability.
Holmes goes on to express, “From a larger perspective, Atlas cedarwood’s bracing centering energetic effect can help us come to terms with reality just as it is, not as we may wish it to be.” Atlas’s scent and energy definitely stand apart from the other conifers. We smell the familiar fresh, balsamic notes from the forest, but there is a sweetness, almost a sunniness, to this oil unlike what is offered in the other conifers. It reminds us to hold steadfastly to the truth of our being and invites us, as Holmes notes, to find our core strength and endurance in the face of adversity.
Neroli (Citrus aurantium var. amara)
Our floral friends are natural go-tos when we need some emotional stability, renewal and revival. Of course, their distinct fragrance is as multifaceted as their special gifts. While lavender is used to soothe and transmute, rose calms and restores, the flower of the bitter orange tree, neroli, is invited when the work of gentle transformation via embodiment is needed.
Holmes notes that neroli helps promote emotional stability, promotes optimism and insight, and resolves shock and trauma. What’s important to keep in mind when working with oils, however, is that while one might notice a sense of calm flood the body within seconds of inhaling the vapors of an oil, addressing the symptom, the work that strengthens and transforms waits for us for when we’re ready.
Neroli, like many of the florals, work to help regulate deep limbic system hyperfunctioning, as Holmes notes, but its special gift is in harmonizing and integration. Holmes writes, “Certainly, practitioners often value neroli for helping resolve distressed emotions such as anger, bitterness, jealousy, and resentment; it is also one of the key oils for treating unresolved sexual trauma and its sticky residue of shame. Here, neroli’s well-established euphoric, mood-elevating effect creates a true enlightening effect, lightening the emotional darkness and intensity, and promoting hope and true optimism.”
Neroli gently encourages us to step out of shame and into beauty, our own and that around us. She reminds us that life really is beautiful and holds our hand until we can see that and feel that in the body again.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Yarrow, symbolic of the wounded healer, does not mess around. Though gentle in spirit, its protection and guidance is strong. As I have experienced in my coursework through AromaGnosis (Alchemy: The Medicine of the Soul (formerly called Aromatherapy and Medicine of the Soul)), and witnessed in others in my own workshop, sitting with yarrow takes courage.
The brilliant blue hue of yarrow, thanks to its chamazule content, signifies the oils’s ability to help promote healthy levels of inflammation. Also, yarrow’s other actions include but are definitely not limited to: styptic (stops bleeding); hepatic (works with the liver); and vulnerary (wound healing) (Aromatherapy Materia Medica, American College of Healthcare Sciences, 2015).
Though I haven’t formally studied TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), both Holmes and Gabriel Mojay, another aromatherapist and herbalist I frequently reference, practice aromatherapy through a TCM lens. My herbalist friends, who have learned through this same lens tell me various emotions have “homes” in specific organs. Anger can sometimes find a home, so to speak, in the liver, if not addressed (correct me if I’m wrong, herbalists). So let’s back up to the phrase “if not addressed.” We know how it feels to experience a quick reaction of anger. Maybe someone’s rudeness or ignorance fire up our emotions, our sense of right and wrong. The moment passes, we let it go, we move on with our day. But what if we hold on to that sense of wrongdoing? Or, what if we are continually finding ourselves stuck in a place where we feel wronged or taken advantage of and push those feelings down or away? What does this feel like in the body?
Holmes writes of yarrow, “With it’s gentle but persistent energy of renewal and forward impetus, the oil is especially effective in helping resolve long-held stagnant emotional patterns with their attendant distressed feelings, including suppressed anger, negativity, and shame.” Similarly, Gabriel Mojay writes in Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit (The Healing Arts Press, 1997), “Yarrow is most appropriate for those in whom feelings of anger or rage are linked to subconsciously with emotional wounding and vulnerability.”
While yarrow helps address our physical symptoms of pain and inflammation, it invites us in no small way to get to know the patterns we may have created in order to treat the blood of our emotional wounds. Jungian therapist Marion Woodman enlightens, “Hold that place, that stillpoint between the tension of opposites. It’s the central core that holds the spiritual power. You never, never come back to the same place. Avoid compulsive repetition. Life is not a circle but a spiral around a central place, and we are working our way up and down. Bad times give us strength to move into good times with a whole new vision of what life is about.”
Arriving means to come as you are and do the hard, beautiful work when you are ready. This is love. And that is the good news.
For your practice
Sit with your oil of choice, a notebook, and writing utensil. If you have a scent strip, use them, or you may use any type of paper with thickness. Place a drop of essential oil on the tip of the blotter or paper. Notice the speed at which it drops from the bottle and notice the color and the speed at which it absorbs into the paper. Then, inhale the scent from the strip. Record in your journal your initial reactions moving from the concrete, what you may know about the oil, to where you feel it “land” in the body. Notice what memories it brings to the surface. Notice what emotions it invites you to experience. Nothing is good or bad here, it just is. Allow it and journal it.
Sometimes working with scent can bring up overwhelming emotions, so keep a “palate cleanser” scent nearby. I like to use lavender for its soothing properties. If you feel overwhelmed by emotion after your experience, please reach out to a friend, spiritual leader, or mental health professional for additional support.
This blog is intended for educational and/or inspirational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or mitigate disease or mental illness. No statements made in this blog are approved by the FDA. Please see your licensed physician or mental healthcare practitioner for chronic questions and concerns. Always research essential oils before use, practice essential oil safety best practices, and never ingest essential oils.