1st in a series venturing beyond the veil of the obvious. Read this for orientation.
Around my 39th year I began studying the medicinal qualities of some flowers with keen interest. This bore no relationship to my vocation, which involved software development at the time, yet it was consuming a great proportion of my free time. There were three separate modalities I was focused upon: physical herbs, homeopathic medicines, and a new, to me, but extremely interesting preparation known as a Bach Flower remedy. I would sometimes compare the same botanical, say violets for example, across all three of these modalities to study how their recommended symptom pictures and methods of manufacture differed. Herbal medicinals utilize actual physical parts of the source plant, leaves, flowers or roots for instance. The other two types are referred to as energy medicines because they employ little or even none of the physical plant material within the final medication. I have interesting thoughts concerning homeopathic medicine, but not today, so let us leave them aside for the moment.
Dr. Edward Bach (1886-1936)
Edward Bach was a successful and well-regarded physician maintaining a practice in London early in the 20th century. He also operated a research lab, achieving worthwhile results in the area of internal medicine of the digestive system. By all accounts Bach was deeply invested in the suffering and healing of his clientele, taking a personal interest in the emotional lives of many of them. At the age of 43 Bach answered an extremely unusual calling and closed down his medical practice, retiring to the Welsh countryside to devote himself to a search for what he intuited to be a pure, simple, and effective ‘medicine of the future’ which would be capable of helping any situation. It’s a fascinating and puzzling story about how Bach proceeded, one I heartily recommend reading about; but this is not the subject at hand. Suffice it to say that after a few short years Bach had completed his “system”, his primary legacy really, a series of 38 remedies created from various wildflowers.
Each remedy had the property of being prescribed entirely upon the basis of the emotional inner state of the afflicted patient. No attention whatsoever was given to any physical diagnosis; nor was any effort expended to identify a specific disease or malady. Bach claimed that the healing, given the right flower remedy, would initiate at the inner psychic levels of an individual and eventually correct any physical issues as well, which he considered secondary. He tried all thirty-eight of his remedies on himself carefully noting the emotional effects produced and claimed to have located many of the appropriate flowers in the wild by intuiting their emotional qualities. Further, he insisted that his precise collection of 38 flowers constituted a complete system able to address any patient’s picture and that no further need existed to seek out additional flower remedies. Bach spent the rest of his life making fresh batches of remedies, treating patients formally and informally, writing a few books describing his system, and training two assistants. To them he passed on all he knew about locating the most potent plants, manufacturing the remedies, diagnosing a case, and treating people. Needless to say, his reputation within the professional community took a nosedive, while as a simple country healer he became dearly loved.
[ A star of Bethlehem wildflower ; Dr. Edward Bach (1886-1936) ; Gentian Bach Flower remedy — Bach had the following to say about the Gentian personality: “Those who are easily discouraged. They may be progressing well in illness, or in the affairs of their daily life, but any small delay or hindrance to progress causes doubt and soon disheartens them.” ; Remedy preparation using the suncooking method ]
How Remedies Are Made
The remedies have been utilized worldwide since the days of Edward Bach in various ‘alternative’ circles. Most decent health food stores carry them; they are very affordable. The original center which Bach’s assistants set up in England had been the sole source of the medical tinctures up until 1993, when the manufacturing effort was sold off to a reputable company so that the original center could continue their focus on research and training. I want to describe the process used to make a remedy in some detail so it is well understood what these medicines consist of.
Let’s take Star of Bethlehem, a flower used to help persons suffering from a feeling of emptiness, or a state of shock after an unexpected loss. These are delicate, small white flowers with six petals arranged around a yellow center. Blossoms, only, are gathered in the morning of a sunny clear day — it is considered ideal if there is still some dew present on the petals. The blossoms must be just at the peak of their glory, after the budding stage when they still may not open fully to sunlight, but before any decay or degradation of form or color has begun. The blossoms are then placed, as near as possible to the outdoor location where picked, in a clear round glass bowl filled to the brim with pure spring water (also ideally local). This bowl must be placed in full sunlight such that no foliage shades it for at least three hours while the sun is approaching it’s zenith. The spot must be watched to verify that no clouding over occurs during the entire time the sunlight is ‘cooking’ the flower remedy in the water. The blossoms are then carefully removed from the top of the water and discarded. The now ‘energized’ water is then preserved by mixing it with brandy (made of grapes) in a solution of 50% water and 50% brandy. This stage of the remedy preparation is known as the mother tincture. Two drops of this tincture are then placed into 30ml of more brandy in a darkened small bottle with a medicine dropper cap. These are the so-called stock bottles which are sold in health shops.
Note some exceptions to this procedure. Flowers from woodier plants, especially those derived from trees, like chestnut bud or larch are boiled in their water instead. These flowers are distinguished by the fact that they tend to blossom when the sunlight is weaker and less direct. Also, in recent decades, some vendors have introduced non-alcoholic preservative methods. (For those concerned, the usual grape brandy used is a 27% alcohol dilution. The alternate method developed relies upon a glycerin-based preservative derived from sunflowers.)
The point to take away from this recipe description, for our present purposes, is just how little, if any, of the original physical substance of the flower or plant is present within the final remedy product. But even further dilution, or what energy medicine afficinados call ‘potentization’, occurs before ingestion of the remedy. The Bach Flower center and most guide literature indicate the protocol of taking only 2-3 drops, using the medicine dropper cap, from the stock bottle into a small glass of water and gently shaking it before sipping. Beyond this, most practitioners, including the one I visited during my research, recommend an even further dilution of the glass of water so produced, such that a second medicine dropper (expressly purchased for only this purpose) takes 2-3 drops of this solution into a different small glass of water. And then only this second concoction is sipped as the remedy throughout the day. Reviewing the physical or chemical situation then: we have flowers placed in sunlit water for several hours then removed, and the water minus all obvious physical traces of the plant is then blended with an equal part of grape brandy, and this liquid is then followed by up to three further levels of dilution with brandy and water before medicinal usage. How many atoms or molecules of the original flower are in what is consumed, do you figure?
[ Mechthild Scheffer, one of the leading Bach Flower therapists in Europe ; Preparing a flower tincture ; Scheffer’s landmark 1986 book ; Tender Star of Bethlehem buds ]
Psychological Profiles and Case-Taking
Another interesting aspect of Bach’s system is that it’s designed to permit interested users to self-diagnose and select their own remedies and obtain them without the need for prescriptions. All sorts of simple informative pamphlets exist for helping the uninitiated puzzle through the thirty-eight possible choices. Experienced practitioners exist also, those who have specialized in refining their psychological observations of prospective remedy users and helping them in the selection process. Usually, for non-trivial ‘clinical’ situations (i.e. chronic crises) a melange of five Bach flower remedies end up being prescribed, as many remedies complement one another. What really propelled my interest in the Bach Flower healing modality beyond the curiosity stage was reading the 1986 book by Mechthild Scheffer1. It contained deeply thought-provoking descriptions of each of the remedies’ personality states, commentary about many actual cases, and psychological observations about transformative changes in the patient’s outlook when a prescription was successful. It’s an impressively meticulous work, a labor of love. Much of it can be returned to meditatively years after while pondering some soul quandary or other, be it one’s own or that of a friend. Scheffer’s book, in combination with all the lore I had accumulated in studying the flowers and Bach’s own writings and biography, finally moved me over the precipice towards deciding to experiment with the remedy system myself. And the lucid quality of Scheffer’s thinking decided me upon seeking out an experienced practitioner to consult with.
In truth my study of these matters was not entirely motivated by an academic, objective interest. At the time, I also had my own inner development issues as background noise. I was at the age where one, perhaps particularly males during that cultural moment, is on the cusp of what is spoken of as ‘mid-life crisis’ mentality, and could sense it’s dull but constant foreboding as a cloud on my horizons. Questions and confusion about my relationship and about how my vocational calling could be clarified and perhaps transformed were swirling around in my being. I had the feeling of not operating with full thrusters much of the time due to my own contradictory inner tendencies. I had tried a short stint of psychotherapy, but found it too meandering and even superficial at times. I also was looking into numerous self-help mechanisms, which were in plentiful supply for those inclined to seek out such things. My intuition grew stronger that the Bach system would be a good match for me. After digging around I located what seemed to be a competent and suitable flower remedy consultant with an office about 45 minutes away from where I lived. Let’s agree to call her Patricia. A brief phone conversation during which we both felt each other out led to an appointment two weeks down the road.
Patricia’s office was informal but inviting; it occupied two or three rooms on the ground floor of her surburban home in northern New Jersey. Her practice’s motto was ‘Health is an Inside Job’, which was displayed in her waiting room and also prominently atop all of her various freebie pamphlets. She was older than me by a decade or so, a friendly portly lady with long hair, large direct brown eyes with glasses, and a no-nonsense demeanor. While conversing with her, one got the feeling she was collecting impressions about you in an efficient but non-invasive manner. I liked her right away, as well as the prospect of working with her.
Her deal was this. An initial consultation was $80 and mostly instructional in nature to lay out how things would happen during the actual working sessions to occur later. You had to bring a 2-3 paragraph writeup describing your present situation as you saw it, including what you wanted to work on. There was also a mandatory iridology exam Patricia performed using an exotic specialized camera which rendered very high resolution images of your iris. Patricia claimed she used this to get a picture of the interior healthiness and vitality of your organs. I felt she was just beginning with this modality, and likely using her clients to gain more practice. I didn’t mind as it was an interesting idea, and also quite fascinating to look at a large detailed image of my own eye while she made selective remarks about what it told about the pancreas or kidneys for example. She then set up the first real consultation, 90 minutes for $120, which was to take place a week later, during which she would perform the bulk of her dianostic and prescriptive work. In the meanwhile, we each had take-home tasks. Patricia would spend some time meditating about me as an individual, taking into account impressions gathered during our meeting, my personal writeup, and the images of my iris. I, on the other hand, would take home a “Health is an Inside Job” pamphlet about all 38 Bach Flower remedies and peruse them to propose five or six of the remedies which seemed to appeal to me as being warranted by my present life circumstances. Any follow-up consultations, which she considered as basically fine tuning, would be shorter, half an hour, take place after at least 2-3 weeks (to allow the remedies to work their magic), and be charged at the rate of $50.
[ A high resolution iridology photograph ; A beautiful clematis flower — this Bach remedy is best for those “suffering from insufficient interest in their present circumstances” ; Iridology chart bodymap used for analyses ; Iris of a young adult depicting healthily functioning inner organs ]
I went home and prepared with gusto, being enthused by my meeting with Patricia and reinvigorated by the prospect of deepening my study of Bach flowers with the most intimate of subjects possible, namely myself. To gain an approximate idea about the descriptive materials Patricia had armed me with, take a look at this short breakdown of the 38 remedies. It both groups the remedies according to function and gives some basic distinguishing factors between them. Part of the process of taking a Bach Flower case is learning how to form subtle distinctions between personality types and associating intuitions about a person with experience and knowledge about the individual remedies. Keep in mind though, that being obsessed with the subject, I had, as is my wont, gone fairly thoroughly into the subject with every resource I could find. I prepared a quick little study, in alphabetical order, of all 38 remedies, writing down three or four sentences about my opinions of each one. Sometimes I decided a flower bore no relationship to my situation whatsoever. Others seemed like just what the doctor ordered, and I wrote down why. For quite a few the matter was in question, and I tried to remain open, giving a few pro and con thoughts and impressions. I even noticed a few remedies which seemed tailor-made for the current situation of my girlfriend, whom we’ll agree to call Alisha. After taking a day off, I returned to the matter and produced a detailed drawing of a ‘bouquet’ of five or six flowers. I used colored pencils and some shading to dramatize the image. In the center I placed wild oat, conceiving it as sort of the core picture of my current status. Around this, I placed satellite remedies, and for each one I wrote down a few pertinent adjectives. I felt ready. To be honest, in my heart of hearts I considered that probably the bulk of the work and the ‘healing’ would arise as a consequence of just this sort of intense inner scrutinizing, and that the actual taking of the remedies would simply be a supportive measure, perhaps helping me to focus my energy and daily intentions upon my chosen directions of self improvement. A bit like a healing ritual.
Patricia was encouraging. She liked my energy, remarking after a few minutes that I was leaning forward in my seat during the conversation with her, indicating my invested engagement with the process. Many of her clients were withdrawn and ensconced against the back cushion of their chair during consultations. She was delighted by the bouquet metaphor and my diagram and the work I put in, and bemused by my side diagnoses for Alisha. She paused and asked me to spend some minutes describing my biography, touching on the emotional highlights. During this, she mostly listened intently, but occasionally she would interrupt and ask a question to clarify something, She wrote down ideas while I spoke. This lasted about 20 minutes. Then we began discussing specific remedies, in a noncommittal fashion at first. She had taken training courses in England at the Bach Center and appeared to have an active grasp of what each flower ‘looked like’ within the context of a case, beyond the scope of a purely theoretical understanding which is what I had.
After some back and forth, including a lively discussion about my present situation, she proposed five flowers to me. Three of them were in agreement with what I had self-diagnosed. These were clematis, the delightfully-named scleranthus, and wild oat. The other two seemed to come out of left field and had not occurred to me as particularly relevant: pine and rock water. Some discussion ensued about the flowers we were in disagreement over. She was open and listened to me, but in the end she stood her ground and gently insisted that her intuition was right, and I decided to go with her vision. She complimented me upon having arrived at three ‘correct’ flowers, mentioning that in the majority of her cases clients had not much clue about their personal remedy needs; it required cultivating a certain degree of inner objectivity and familiarity with both the flowers and one’s emotional states. The remainder of the time was spent with her explaining to me details about how to prepare and take the remedies, including some mental steps I should take to get in the right frame of mind. There were some useful one-sentence affirmations associated with each flower taken from the Scheffer book which I could also incorporate into the process. I was to take the the remedies three times per day, but most importantly upon awaking and before bed, until all the drops were gone or until I felt some reason to stop. The stock bottles should last about three weeks. She sold them to me in attractive dark brown glass vials, between two and three inches tall, with pink rubber medicine dropper caps. They looked like old apothecary preparations as I imagined you would obtain from the village chemist many decades ago. Each one cost about ten dollars. I went home with optimism.
About ten days later it was a Sunday afternoon, and I decided to stay at home and watch a football game between my favored New York Giants and the quite hated Philadelphia Eagles. (Sometimes I chided myself about this silly attachment.) I’d been taking the remedies for close to one week now after spending a few days in preparation. It was proceeding as I kind of expected: a gently growing positive mood was developing which seemed chiefly to be a consequence of the mental work I had described. On a good day, I exerted a special attentiveness while diluting the drops into my glass of water, I would try to ‘feel’ the quality of the remedy and sensed a spreading calm and assuredness. Nothing unusual, mildly beneficial. On average days I went about things more mechanically, perhaps rushing towards the next activity like driving to work. The autumn was moving along and deepening now, it was windy out, probably November.
On this particular day I was intending to include the midday round of remedies. In truth, I had become slightly disappointed, having hoped for a more dramatic sense of progress, something like an inner revelation. But I recalled something of interest while thinking about things. Patricia had told me to make a second dilution of the remedies once I had carefully and thoughtfully placed all five kinds of drops into a glass of water from the stock bottles. I had gotten a special additional medicine dropper for this purpose but had more or less forgotten about doing it, not really attributing much importance to the second level of potentizing the remedies. Perhaps I bowed to a kind of prejudice thinking that already I was taking such a reduced physical amount of the original flowers into my system, so how could diluting them even further really matter? Besides it would require using a second glass of water and so on. But today I remembered this and thought I should take my preferences out of the process and make an effort to adhere to what had been recommended. I was more careful. I took the extra medicine dropper and after gently allowing the mixed five remedies to blend while shaking the glass in my hand, I placed three of these drops into a pristine second glass of water. I shook this glass very gently, settled myself, and sipped. A certain warmness pervaded my feelings.
Right before the game I did this. Directly upon taking the remedies I concluded my meditative mood and I sat down in my living room and turned on the television, quickly becoming absorbed into the football contest and forgetting about Bach flowers. The Giants always had trouble with the Eagles in those days. Even though the Giants normally finished with a better record, the Eagles would often defeat them and frustrate their strategies with disruptive defense. About 20 minutes into the game a certain incident occurred in which a Giant defender executed a difficult interception of an Eagle pass into the endzone resulting in a brilliant reversal of fortune for the Giants, for the Eagles seemed surely on the verge of scoring and extending their lead. I reacted with an impulsive burst of aggressive emotion, thrusting my fist forward and exhorting loudly ‘YES’ without the slightest inhibition which likely would have been present had I not been alone. Felt good! For one half of one second.
Something happened, instantly. Faster than instantly. I doubled over in pain involuntarily. I instinctively crashed and stumbled through a half open doorway into my bedroom which adjoined the living room. Even though the door was not closed I could no longer hear the football game. I was locked within my own bubble of awareness. The pain was of an intensity I had never experienced except for one time when I’d dropped a cinder block on my finger while slipping on ice many years before. But this was a different kind of pain; it was interior, deep, and strangely, it was not entirely physical. I could not restrain myself from beginning to weep with deep heaving cries as though from the region of my intestines. Nor did I want to restrain myself. For at the same time I was feeling the vivid tragedy and anguish of this experience I was also aware of something intensely good and healing about it. It was akin to nothing I was previously aware of. It seemed to go on about three or four minutes, gradually diminishing in force. It was as though some deeply unconscious emotional sorrows were being purged from me (and shown to me) via the agency of very strong repeated physical heaving. I had no choice but to undergo this. When it finished it was not as though I had some new conscious understanding about any of my psychological ‘stuff’; I simply felt purer, better, cleaner within. On an uphill path, but healing. The whole thing was strangely physical, like some sort of Star Trek tricorder energy cure from the future. My body came back to my control. I became relaxed and profoundly affected. The game seemed to hold no interest for me. Needless to say I continued with the secondary dilutions over the rest of my treatments. But the core transformation had already been seeded in me. What took place that afternoon, which I feel I have inadequately expressed here, represents one of the most profoundly personal episodes of my life. It was as though I’d briefly entered into a region of deeper authenticity for a short period, and by simply residing there temporarily a healing transformation took germination which would unleash its effects over the remainder of my life. If forced to compare, I would nominate a moment such as this as being more real than any of the usual conventional multitude of moments in a lifetime. I was completely sober and uncompromisingly self-aware throughout it. No imagination or fantasy took place. At no point was it accompanied by fear. Though I could not fully grasp what took place, I was absolutely certain that it was beneficial.
Only once, five or six days later, did I have similar reaction to the remedies. It was milder; I would say it was about 30% or 40% as powerful as the first time, a kind of gentle reiterating. It featured the same peculiar heaving emanating from my navel, which I’d never felt before or since, and the same curious mixture of intense discomfort and sadness with a sense of goodness and inner certainty about healing. I had no further need to meet with Patricia.
I want to emphasize first off that my experience is not typical of a Bach Flower episode. It is normally a very gentle sort of experience, and usually quite subtle. But some individuals are very sensitive to these remedies. Much depends, I suspect, upon the inner readiness of the person to experience something like this and there is little in the way of deliberate preparation one can make. Life prepares one, at the appropriate time.
But the main thing I want to draw attention to is the absence of any physical trigger for such an experience. It is not as though any of these flowers are potent poisons or hallucinogenic agents. And crucially, how exactly would any purely physical cause and effect be transferred between the flowers and the individual? Remember. We have sunlight radiating upon water in which a handful of fresh blossoms are floating. Then, after separating the blossoms from the water we continue through several iterations of dilution with brandy and more water.
How does it cause a physical effect? How can it work? And what does this say about the natural world?
Thanks for reading about my supernatural adventure. The raison d’etre for this series of articles is explained here. A further adventure can be read about here. May you be open to your own supernatural adventures, while taking care to retain your clear-eyed reason and mental sobriety, to protect yourself from delusion.
1) Here are selected excerpts from Scheffer’s chapter on the Chestnut Bud flower remedy to afford a glimpse at the quality of her observations:
Principle. Chestnut Bud relates to the soul potentials of learning capacity and of materialization. In the negative Chestnut Bud state, there are problems in finding the right way to coordinate the inner thought world with daily physical reality… such a person tends to repeat the same mistakes, and in the eyes of those around him never learns from experience… it is difficult for such a person to make interim assessments of a situation and really utilize experiences so they will profit him in the future. Instead he has the urge to enter into ever new adventures on a trial-and-error basis… not particularly unhappy with their situation as a rule. Experiences are not really digested… When in this state, we need to learn to move ahead with the other fish in our shoal in the river, rather than to keep swimming to and fro in the middle of the river, as though in our own personal aquarium. We need to grasp that we cannot flee from the past into the future, for the future is always a mirror of the past… Chestnut Bud helps him gain distance from himself, enabling him to see himself as others see him.
Symptoms due to energy blockage. Same mistakes repeated over again, same arguments, same accidents, etc. Slow to learn from life, be it due to lack of interest or indifference, inner haste, or lack of observation. Events not reconsidered at sufficient depth. Wants to forget unpleasant experiences as quickly as possible. Never thinks to learn from experience of others. Can seem naive, awkward, inattentive. Physical illness appears regularly, without apparent reason.
Potential after transformation. Mentally flexible, good at learning, especially internal things. Follows life events, especially taking note of own errors with attention. Improved focus on present; every experience an inner gain. Able to see oneself and one’s faults from a distance.
Supportive Measures. Hobbies which are ‘grounding’ such as gardening or pottery. Evening review of the day that passed to decide: “What new things have I learned? What shall I do differently next time, and how?”
Helpful Affirmations. Inner calmness is holding me in the present moment. Earlier and earlier, I am realizing what is coming towards me, and forseeing possible errors and consequence.
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