Preface to Il grande libro dei fiori californiani
Drs. Roberto Pagnanelli and Cristina Orel have written a significant book illustrating how the art of healing with flower essences can transform the suffering of patients and open new possibilities for their lives.
The Art of Healing and the Practice of Medicine
What is this art of healing, and how does it differ from the conventional concept of the practice of medicine?
Conventional medicine (otherwise known as allopathic medicine) is based primarily on biochemical and surgical interventions into the mechanisms of life in order to control symptoms, repair damage, and manage illness. Such intervention is at times necessary, but it falls short of true healing. By contrast, a healing art such as flower essence therapy is fundamentally about a journey of transformation. Symptoms are not simply annoyances to be eradicated, but rather challenges to learn a life lesson, to make necessary changes, to free suppressed abilities and to develop new capacities.
As Dr. Edward Bach wrote in his seminal work, Heal Thyself,
"Suffering is a corrective to point out a lesson which by other means we have failed to grasp, and never can it be eradicated until that lesson is learnt."
Furthermore, the art of healing recognizes that the human being is not merely a machine that needs to be repaired, nor is it a computer that needs re-programming. A holistic perspective recognizes not only physiology, the complex human physical systems, but also psychology, the animating qualities of the “psyche,” the human soul, and spirituality—that which connects us to a larger reality and ultimate values.
As Dr. Bach wrote (Heal Thyself):
"The medical school of the future will not particularly interest itself in the ultimate results and products of disease, nor will it pay so much attention to actual physical lesions, or administer drugs and chemicals merely for the sake of palliating our symptoms, but knowing the true cause of sickness and aware that the obvious physical results are merely secondary, it will concentrate its efforts upon bringing about the harmony between body, mind and soul, which results in the relief and cure of disease.”
The Healing Journey of Flower Essence Therapy
It is significant that Pagnanelli and Orel present the flower essences not only with a list of symptomatic indications. Rather, their flower essence descriptions are enlivened with vignettes of their own patients. It is in these stories of changed lives that the true significance of flower essence therapy comes to expression.
For example, the authors describe how Ned, the dreamy, unaccomplished son of a rich family, is determined to do something with his life. After working with the Blackberry flower essence, he found his resolve and became a successful journalist in London.
Had this young man been treated by a conventional psychiatrist, he may have been given an anti-depressant for the despondency about his life situation. Manipulation of his neurotransmitters might have given his mood a temporary boost and masked some uncomfortable feelings, but the fundamental cause of his despair would have been neglected. He needed to connect with his inner sense of purpose in life, and develop the forces of will to act on his own to overcome the indulgence of his early life of ease. The flower essence acted as a catalyst so he fully realized his own creative potential.
Another example from the book involves Mara, the daughter of a doctor who had expected her to follow his profession. After working with the Goldenrod essence, she developed the inner strength to follow her own chosen path, and studied painting despite her father’s anger at her choice.
These stories illustrate one of the fundamental principles of Dr. Bach’s healing philosophy, that connecting with a sense of life purpose and relationship to the larger world are keys to vibrant health. It is also a fundamental principle of the field of humanistic and transpersonal psychology. We can cite two 20th century pioneers with a similar understanding. The American psychologist Abraham Maslow championed the idea of self-actualization beyond meeting basic needs. The Italian psychologist Roberto Assagioli, the founder of the school of Psychosynthesis, understood healing as a search for the authentic Self, which can then relate to the larger world.
The healing journey of transformation can take some time, and often involves re-awakening painful memories of past experience, so that one can be free to move ahead in life. The authors recount the story of Anita, a chronically depressed woman, who seemed so stuck and immobilized. They reveal that she had a history of deep trauma, great losses in the Friuli earthquake many years ago, and unresolved grief at the death of her parents. Taking the Yerba Santa flower essence, she regained the ability to feel, and to have the will to live.
Typically, such cases involved a period of time when suppressed painful feelings and memories are allowed to surface, an experience that can cause great discomfort, and even a feeling of regression. (“I thought these flower essences were supposed to make me feeling better, not worse!”) A similar process often occurs in homeopathic treatments when repressed symptoms resurface so they can be cleared from the organism.
Knowing that this “awareness process” is part of the healing journey, we can guide the patient across the raging river. Having arrived on the other shore, what was once a source of suffering can become a new strength and a way to serve others.
For more insight into the healing journey that is possible with flower essence therapy, please see our essay, “The Four R's of Flower Essence Response.”
The Healing Language of Flowers
When we began this work four decades ago inspired by the pioneering work of Dr. Bach in the 1930s, we began by asking the question, “What is it in the plant that expresses itself with such healing power in these flower essences?” The quest for answers led us to the fields and meadows, where we encountered the wildflowers and developed a relationship with them. Observing the flower of a plant is much like encountering the face of a human being. There is something in our being that recognizes the beingness of the other as expressed in the face, telling us about who it is that we are encountering. Similarly in the flower, the plant expresses its personality, its soul we can say, albeit on a species rather than an individual level.
In this work, we were much inspired by the holistic botanical science of Johann von Goethe, as further developed by Rudolf Steiner. Goethe brought an artist’s eye for the seeing patterns and “gesture” in observing plant life. His observations were greatly quickened during his famous Italian journey as a young man (as recounted in his book Italienische Reise), when he sought the archetypal plant form (Urphlanze), which expressed itself in the myriad variations of plants he observed.
In our flower essence work, we have further developed this style of plant observation into a science of flower essence plant language, including growth pattern, color, fragrance, botanical relationships and more. For further detail see our essay, “The Twelve Windows of Plant Perception.”
For example, the Blackberry bramble plant that is the source of the flower essence that helped Ned activate his will, is known to any gardener to be fast spreading, and almost impossible to eradicate. It is so filled with vitality that even a small piece of root left in the ground will spring back to life. The branches of the bramble spread out horizontally, and will root again where they touch the ground. They embody the very quality that a person such as Ned lacks, the ability to put force into the limbs and manifest one’s intention, while remaining firmly rooted in the practical reality of earth. Like their botanical relatives the Roses, Blackberry flowers are five-petaled, forming the same pentagram shape associated with the incarnation of the human being into form, as illustrated by Da Vinci’s famous drawing of “L'Uomo Vitruviano,” showing the sacred proportions of the human body.
The Goldenrod flower, which helped Mara find her own identity, is a composite flower in the plant family of Asteraceae, which also includes the Daisy and Sunflower. Each flower is made up of a series of central disk florets and radial petal-like ray florets forming a unified composite flower head. We find that Asteraceae flower essences all work with the theme of the integration of the Self. (This is very similar to Assagioli’s work with Psychosynthesis.) Unlike the Sunflower or Daisy with their solitary flowers, however, the Goldenrod has large clusters of composite flowers arranged densely on vertical stems. The plant also forms a large community, spreading widely across open fields. Thus the Goldenrod embodies polarities of the vertical and horizontal, of the individual and collective. The essence deals with those polarities in the human soul. How can we be true to ourselves, our unique individuality, and yet honor our relationship to the collective, to family and society?
The Yerba Santa flower essence that helped Anita release her heavy feelings of grief and depression is a native North American herb that has been widely used for respiratory ailments to expel phlegm, and free up the breathing. As a flower essence it works in the same heart-lung region to help the person “breathe out” deeply held emotion.
The great medieval alchemical physician Paracelsus, whose work inspired Dr. Bach, wrote that, “Just as the flowers grow from the earth, so does the remedy grow in the hands of the physician....The remedy is nothing but a seed which you must develop into that which it is destined to be.”
The seed thoughts that we develop from our plant studies by “reading the book of Nature,” grow and blossom into a fuller understanding through our conversations with the healers and patients using the flower essences. That is why the Flower Essence Society has collected many case studies and interviewed flower essence practitioners from numerous countries, in order to corroborate and refine our understandings of the healing messages of the flower essences.
We thus warmly welcome this work by Pagnanelli and Orel, and similar contributions, which are based on an active therapeutic practice and observation of the real experiences of people being helped by flower essences. We also invite readers to report their flower essence experiences and cases to expand our research database, and help build the professional basis for flower essence therapy.
It is our work as flower essence therapists to take the healing language of the flowers we receive from the soul of Nature and translate these messages into words that speak to the human soul. We do this in our counseling work, and by encouraging our clients to work with affirmations, journaling, dreams and art. In this way, there is established a kind of conversation between the flower remedy and the patient, which enhances the dialogue between therapist and patient.
To facilitate the healing relationship of the patient and the remedy, the therapist must engage the patient not simply as a collection of symptoms, but rather in his/her full humanity, with a history and a destiny. It is also important that the therapist know the remedies, not only to memorize their indications, but as much as possible to have them live as archetypal forces from Nature. The descriptions of the essence plants, both in word and image as are presented in this book, facilitate this vital part of the healing conversation.
In summary, we have observed there are three healing dialogues involved in flower essence therapy, forming a “trialogue” of therapist, patient and remedy.
Ultimately, flower essences foster a conversation with our own spiritual essence, or Higher Self, orienting us toward our purpose in life and giving us the inspiration and strength to work through the obstacles and lessons that we face on that journey.
As Dr. Bach stated in his lecture Ye Suffer from Yourselves in 1931:
The action of these remedies is to raise our vibrations and open up our channels for the reception of our Spiritual Self, to flood our natures with the particular virtue we need, and wash out from us the fault which is causing harm. They are able, like beautiful music, or any gloriously uplifting thing that gives us inspiration, to raise our very natures, and bring us nearer to our Souls: and by that very act, to bring us peace, and relieve our sufferings.
Richard Katz and Patricia Kaminski
Nevada City, California