By Paul Bergner, NAIMH Director & CSCH Faculty
During the early 1980s, practicing in New Haven CT, I began to study and eventually to teach Bach Flower Remedies. In my practice at the time, I was running into a wall, with clients, family members, and also myself. What is going on when someone is suffering, and they positively know what will relieve that suffering, but they cannot do what is necessary? This is “karma,” “maya” and a recognized spiritual problem throughout all spiritual disciplines. Something is fixed or stubbornly stuck in the unconscious habits such that an individual cannot overcome it with their knowledge, or cannot even make the intention to do what is necessary. I found with such stuck cases that the flower essences could often clear these unconscious obstructions, and then and the healing and behavioral changes would follow. I then shifted my practice and spent more than a year only using flower essences, with cases, and in teaching situations in classes. I found that by leading with this level of work, the rest of the elements necessary for cure would often follow on their own with a bit of education and coaching.
Soon after this I went to naturopathic medical school, and Cascade Anderson Geller, the herbal teacher there, knew I was most interested in case-based learning, an she gave me access to a file drawer full of something like 300 case write-ups that were done by her clinical students as homework, real cases from a medical setting. I found that the style of therapeutics taught at the school at the time, evident in virtually every case on the first visit, was to:
- Give something nutritional (usually a supplement),
- Give something herbal (often a commercial formula of some sort, and
- Give something homeopathic, with the homeopathy addressing the same psychospiritual level as the flower essences.
The synergy of this three-legged model is profound. I expanded this in my personal practice for the nutritional thing usually to be the addition of a positive dietary habit, such as a high-protein breakfast. I also emphasized nutrient-rich strong decoctions of nutritive herbs, which covers another spectrum of nutrition, and sometimes basic supplements for the most common deficiencies. To this is added the herbal component, a focused tincture on a function, tissue, or organ, with attention to energetics and humoral properties. And the third leg is a flower essence. Thus with the curriculum I developed at my school, now the Colorado School of Clinical Herbalism, the student can get certified in three roles, as an herbalist, a clinical nutritionist, and/or a flower essence practitioner, and most of the cases in our teaching clinic involve all three. This is the general model, but then also you have to see which way the client’s motivation is headed. I cannot count the times that an individual leads off the interviewing saying they do not want to make any dietary changes. They usually mean they do not want to cut anything out. Or they say they do not have time to make a tea. Or they are opposed to supplements. The principle in Vitalist healing is always to “support the resistance.” For the person who refuses to do something, you recognize that refusal as an expression of their vital force. You support their ability to say “no” which is a good thing. And then you explore. This is where clinical skills come in. Such as “would you be willing to eat a better breakfast” or “I understand you do not want to make a tea. I could give you a tincture, but we find that teas and powders deliver more herbal material and often work better for the digestive system. If I gave you the herbs powdered, would you be willing to take them that way, stirring a spoonful of the powder into a little water and gulping it down?” Or the other path sometimes is “what would you like to work with,” and then you may find their actual motivation which you did not accurately assess originally. If they do not have a clue, you can start “Are you familiar with flower essences?” And if not, explain them. I cannot count the number of resistant, recalcitrant clients who then eagerly helped select their own flower essences, and for whom this got the ball rolling on their transformation, and soon they were asking for dietary changes, or making positive lifestyle changes on their own.
This phenomenon may be understood by looking at a model of levels of suppression of vitality described by classical Homeopath George Vithoulkas in his book The Science of Homeopathy. As he describes it, vital suppression goes from the outside in. The first suppression is physical, the person looks well physically, (“never been sick a day in their life”) but is in emotional turmoil. The center of gravity of their disease is suppressed to the emotional/mental level. When this is further suppressed, by medications, addictions, or the adrenalin rush of repeated exposure to food intolerances, the center of gravity moves to a yet deeper spiritual level. Now the person may have no dramatic physical symptoms, be emotionally flat, and be a couch potato, with no sense of purpose, calling, no creativity, and a spiritual sense of confinement rather than freedom. So you see the Vital Force of the individual with deep suppression, may be crying out for healing at that deeper level, at the level of spiritual suppression, of mental and emotional obstacles to cure, and the essences can affect that level. Then, as that level begins to be cleared, you see an emotional healing crisis, as the vital force begins to stir things up there. With clearing of the emotional level, you see a physical healing crisis. You can also bring about this cascade of vital healing by simply stopping the suppressive habits, the medications, the addictions, etc., and that is why those withdrawals can be so difficult: the whole “vital onion” starts throwing things off from the deeper to the outer layers of it, often with painful emotions and the reappearance of old symptoms. During the early 1990s, I came up with the observation that during my lifetime and practice, the general level of vital health in the US in the 1960s was at the emotional level, and that during the 1980s, the general center of gravity moved deeper to the spiritual level. We had become a nation of unmotivated couch potatoes severed from our purpose in life, and consuming ever larger tonnages of pharmaceutical drugs. Wondering if this was just my personal experience with my clients, or my own personal negativity, I asked the grey-haired elders of the naturopathic profession, and some homeopaths, if they saw this, and every single one of them, said “yes”, and said that the methods and remedies they had commonly used in the 1960 and early 1970s did not work well any more. And the crises they witnessed in the healing process were more often emotional than physical as a first response to the increased vitality.
The last piece of this experience purely at the level of spiritual practice. During the late 1980s, I went with a friend to meet a Tibetan master. It was a large crowd, but before I realized it, I had been initiated into the practice of the Medicine Buddha. I didn’t actively follow the practice for more than a few weeks. About a decade later, however, I had been running the teaching clinic and clinical round tables for about 5 years, and I was hitting my own walls of faith and “karma.” I was working constantly with some of the most hidden and painful material of both clients and students, and had to function and be psycho-spiritually fluent at that level. I was troubled by the apparently hopeless client, as described in the opening of this article, the client where we both I know what is necessary to heal them but they cannot do it. I was having my own “healer’s crisis” and burnout. I got up one morning, and Spirit said to me “Why don’t you go downtown today and buy a scarf.” Strange as this suggestion sounds, I did follow it, and got a great wool Afghani scarf, very warm and large for winter that could be wrapped around like a hat, or used as a layer around the neck or trunk, which served me well in cold weather the back country for years after this. Then, as I walked out of the store, right next door was a Tibetan store, and there in the window was a huge poster of the Medicine Buddha. Then I got it. I had it framed and put on my clinic wall, and it became who I would turn my hopeless cases over to. When I had done my best, and worked my hardest, and done everything I could figure out to do, and the case seemed hopeless, rather than retreating into cynicism, or projecting hopelessness toward the client, I just offered them to the Medicine Buddha. This way I could release my personal responsibility to do anything other than my best work, and not carry the responsibility for the client to get better or to become free or their own powerful unconscious patterns. This also acknowledged my limits, not the client’s limits, and left open healing from the spiritual planes or other ways of nature to heal the client’s deepest patterns. Without this I would not have been able to continue my career and practice. I know for others, and for myself sometimes, it is not necessarily one “deity” or another, for me sometimes it is the ancient presence of Imhotep/Asclepias of the Egyptian/Greek Four Humors traditions. One of my teachers would offer her clients and their stuff to her Garden. But for someone engaged ongoing in healing practice, and perhaps especially teaching such practice, I think we have to find some benevolent and powerful and personal higher power to turn the client over to, who can guide the client out of the traps of maya and karma they are locked into and release the responsibility which was never ours in the first place.