Summer, like any of the seasons, elicits certain memories—in this case, of a summer past. A few weeks ago, a summer memory sprang unbidden out of the mists and into my view. After this one-reel movie ran its course in my mind, I wondered why this particular memory leapt out of the vault. While that wasn’t answerable, I knew that I could use it as a vehicle for teaching about essential oils and the miasms.
Brooklyn: Summer of 1963
The summer of 1963 in Brooklyn still carried a good deal of the DNA of the 1950s when life was slower, safer and more predictable. Of course, when a few months later JFK was assassinated, the lingering essence of the quiescent 50s evaporated like morning dew and 1963 was instantly transformed into the undiluted tumultuous 1960s. For America, John Kennedy’s death was the moment that changed all the rest. Shortly thereafter, the Beatles landed and the Vietnam War and racial unrest became the last shovels of soil thrown upon the grave of the 1950s.
However, this was July of 1963 and there were still lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer to be had for the taking, especially for a 13-year-old boy with nothing better to do than to hang out at the beach.
This was actually the first summer that my mother allowed me to go to the beach on my own. I grew up in the Canarsie neighborhood of Brooklyn, which, although located on the shores of Jamaica Bay, didn’t have any beaches that weren’t polluted. So I had to travel to a different part of Brooklyn to have access to a beach where you could actually go in the water without risking some complicated type of poisoning.
So, wearing my bathing suit under my dungarees, carrying a rolled up towel (with a bottle of Coppertone tanning oil sequestered within) under my arm and a few dollars in my pocket, I headed for the highway.
Why the highway? Well, I’d planned to hitchhike to the beach. Of course, if my mother had been aware of my intended mode of transportation (she assumed I was taking the bus), you can be sure I would have never made it out the door.
The day was what my mother and other Brooklyn adults of her generation described as a scorcher (pronounced “scawcha”): 90+ degrees and as humid as a rain forest. It was so hot that my sneakers stuck to the asphalt whenever I crossed the street.
Richie’s Method of Hitchhiking
I met up with my friend Bobby at the local entrance to the Belt Parkway, a highway that, for much of its course, runs alongside the shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean. We didn’t try to use the conventional hitchhiking method of thumbing a ride. Instead, we used a more efficient method taught to me a few weeks earlier by a boy named Richie.
Here’s how it worked: We waited by the stoplight at the entrance to the highway. When it turned red and the cars, with their right-turn signals blinking, lined up to turn on to the Belt Parkway, we went over to each car in turn and knocked on the front passenger-side window. If the driver rolled down the window, we’d ask for a ride. Using this method, it was my experience that you generally only had to knock on two or three windows at most before someone agreed to give you a lift. It worked like a charm every time, including this one.
RICHIE, The SYCOTIC MIASM AND CLOVE OIL
Richie, my hitchhiking teacher, was someone I had known since my early years of elementary school but never established a close friendship with. We played ball together in choose-up games in the schoolyard and spoke casually whenever we happened to run into each other in the neighborhood. He was a short, quiet, serious boy with glasses who had an easy sense of humor and a mischievous grin.
Though clearly brilliant, he had little interest in being an achiever in school. This was unusual for a Jewish child of my generation as, in general, we were indoctrinated by our parents to view school as the critical pathway to college and a rewarding profession. I was one of those who accepted this view, thus, throughout elementary school, Richie and I were never placed in the same class. (One’s class placement in New York City schools’ elementary and junior high classes depended upon performance level.)
In those days, very few of the kids I knew had parents who were divorced. Nowadays, single-parent households are as common as two-parent ones. Richie was one of those very few kids. He lived with his mother, a police officer. Of his father, I knew nothing. He never mentioned him and I never felt comfortable bringing it up. Divorce had a stigma about it back then and you couldn’t help but look at a child of divorced parents a bit differently, like you might look at someone who was handicapped. He was a latchkey kid and though he maintained a pleasant, witty persona, I could sense his deeply ingrained essence of aloneness.
As I said, though piercingly intelligent, he didn’t care much about school. He wasn’t looking for trouble so he did just enough schoolwork to get by with passing grades. When we were sophomores in high school, I can recall that he would sit in geometry class without taking any notes, and he never handed in any of the homework assignments. Nevertheless, he achieved a perfect score on all the exams. Of course, this baffled and frustrated the teacher.
Knowing Richie, I wasn’t the least bit surprised. However, I couldn’t grasp why someone with such great potential seemed determined to ignore the pathway to success, preferring to head down a dead-end road. Having observed the financial tightrope my parents had to judiciously walk to make sure their children were well provided for, the thought that someone would, at so young an age, decide to work without a net stirred a feeling of anxiety within me.
By the time we reached our teen years, Richie had evolved into an avant-garde type of guy. He was listening to Bob Dylan and memorizing some of the singer’s more perceptive, sagacious lyrics before the rest of us had even heard of him. I remember his using a line from Dylan’s Ballad Of A Thin Man to express his frustration with someone who just wasn’t grasping the import of something he was trying to communicate. Here’s an excerpt from the song to give you a feel for it and why Richie was drawn to its implications.
You raise up your head
And you ask, “Is this where it is ?”
And somebody points to you and says
And you says, “What’s mine ?”
And somebody else says, “Where what is ?”
And you say, “Oh my God
Am I here all alone ?”
But something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones ?
You hand in your ticket
And you go watch the geek
Who immediately walks up to you
When he hears you speak
And says, “How does it feel
To be such a freak ?”
And you say, “Impossible”
As he hands you a bone.
When Richie was trying to make a point to encourage someone to look below the surface and perceive deeper meaning, and the person he was conversing with would respond in some closed-minded, clueless way, Richie would look up to the sky and say: “Oh my God, am I here all alone?”
I believe that this was more than just a rhetorical expression of dismay, it was also a concise summary of the central issue of his life as he experienced it on a number of levels.
He was the lonely latchkey kid who, surrounded in elementary school by intent strivers, cared nothing about college and success. Now as a young teen, he was a precociously mature seeker of understanding. With his longish hair, suede jacket, cool shirts, belt buckles and boots, he was hanging out in the folk music-filled coffee houses of Greenwich Village while the rest of us were still playing ball in the streets and arguing loudly about whether a ball we hit was fair or foul. Richie was the lone, knowing hipster keeping to the edge of the herd of boys he grew up with who were all still mired in the naivet of adolescence.
Eventually, the 1960s caught up with the other members of the herd. We matured but could not catch up with Richie who had climbed way out on the limb of youthful abandon. By the time we were 15, Richie was already immersed in the drug culture of that time of ferment, rebelliousness and inner questing.
The last time I saw Richie was on a cold, gray winter’s day when we were 16. Brooklyn can be oppressively hot and muggy in summer and brutally cold in winter. I was walking home along Flatlands Avenue, a main Canarsie thoroughfare, with my hands plunged deep into the pockets of my winter coat, collar up around my ears, body tensed against the chill.
Richie was walking in my direction on the other side of the street when he spotted me. I watched and waited while he wove quickly through the traffic like a football player evading tacklers. When he arrived, we did the thumb-to-thumb 1960s handshake and asked each other “How’s it going?”
Now that he was standing in front of me, I noticed that his eyes were more veiled and distant than usual and he was paradoxically restless as he simultaneously seemed to have nowhere to go and somewhere he had to get to in a hurry. As always, he was casually underdressed for the weather, hands stuffed in the pockets of an open London fog raincoat with a long scarf curling loosely around his neck, even though the ruddiness of his cheeks betrayed the effect the cold was having on him. He shifted from foot to foot as we spoke and had a record album tucked under his arm.
“Do you want to buy this album?” he asked.
It was a recording of traditional Russian folk songs. I was perplexed. First, why did he think I would want to listen to Russian folk songs? Secondly, what in the world was he doing with it? Even Richie wasn’t that avant-garde. Maybe he had shoplifted it.
“I’ll sell it to you for only a dollar” he offered.
Now a dollar doesn’t sound like much these days, but back then to a 16-year-old earning $1.15 an hour at an arduous after-school part-time job, it was a dollar more than I was willing to spend for an album of Russian folk music.
I shook my head, “No Richie, I’m going to pass on it.”
“You sure? It’s really cool music.”
“Maybe so, but not my kind of music.”
He nodded his head, acknowledging that he understood and was okay with it. We talked about other things for a few more minutes, bid each other “see you around,” turned back into the cold and went our separate ways.
It wasn’t until I had walked a few blocks that it occurred to me that Richie was really down and out and doing small time hustles like this just to get by. I felt sorrow remembering him as the bright, easy-going boy I knew in elementary school not that long before. It’s been more than 40 years since that day, and I still wish I had given him the dollar. Who knows, I might have even liked the album.
A few months later, I ran into a friend of mine who asked: “Did you hear about Richie?”
I shook my head. “No, what?”
I was stunned. Richie’s sixth grade class had been right next to mine. He was a really nice guy who never lorded his superior coolness over anyone. Someone you could sit down with and have a serious conversation, and he was always willing to listen to your problems and offer thoughtful advice. Besides all that, he was only 16-years-old. I learned more than just a unique method of hitchhiking from him. He taught me something about searching for the substance hidden beneath life’s masquerade and something about aloneness.
“What happened?” I asked.
“He took a bunch of Quaaludes and Seconals, got really stoned and decided to take a bath. He slipped in the tub and hit his head. His mother found him lying there when she got home.”
I still change the channel in my mind whenever the vivid image of that scene appears on its screen. The way his life ended answered his question: he was, after all, here all alone.
A miasm is the homeopathic concept (which I have adapted into Spiritual PhytoEssencing) of a constitutional reactional mode, transmitted from generation to generation bioenergetically rather than genetically. It is my belief that miasms can also be transmitted from one incarnation to the next within the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. The miasm is not an actual disease state, but rather, a complex of constitutional characteristics and reactional tendencies that resemble the thematic pattern of the disease for which it is named.
Accordingly, each of the miasms has characteristic physical and emotional symptoms which, in conjunction, announce its presence. Similarly, many homeopathic remedies, based upon the nature of the symptoms for which they are specific, are seen as having a special affinity for one or more of the miasms. Like homeopathic remedies, essential oils are traditionally described in relation to certain physical, psychological and spiritual symptoms upon which they have been observed to have potential to exert an ameliorating action. It is likewise possible to clearly delineate specific essential oil/miasm affinities through careful study of the symptoms for which an essential oil has been noted to be of potential benefit, and subsequent correlation of those symptoms with the oil’s dynamic properties.
The identification of an individual’s prominent miasmatic influences, and specific essential oil responses to them, helps in differential diagnosis regarding essential oil selection. Also, it opens up a new, heretofore unexplored, dynamic in work with essential oils which enables the practitioner to more effectively penetrate the layers of superficial symptoms in a case and gain access to the germinal, central disturbance on the psycho-spiritual plane.
Constitutionally, everyone is a composite of a variety of miasms, with some being very prominent and others recessive. When I plumb my memories about Richie, I can discern elements of the Psoric and Tubercular miasms. However, the one that is most prominent is the Sycotic miasm.
The name “Sycotic” derives from the word sycosis, an archaic medical synonym for gonorrhea. Some keynote characteristics of the Sycotic miasm are: tendency to make a secret of anything; suspicious; tendency to brood; restricted expression; mental fixation. The Sycotic individual is secretive and is always trying to hide his weaknesses. The constant effort required to cover up a hidden weakness makes everyday life stressful. There is the feeling that this weakness can never be overcome, so covering it up is the only option which leads to the development of fixed habits, traits and ideas.
The need to protect a secret can lead to restlessness, irritability and a brooding quality. The individual may become subject to self-condemnation and so distrustful as to not even trust himself. The Sycotic individual may be ostentatious, hasty, excessive and have a persistent desire to escape or hide—all outgrowths of the stress of preserving a secret. He is subject to abundant, restless thoughts, even to the point of hallucination and is often addicted to fantasies. He is always working toward something and doggedly pursuing it, leading to overhaste and careless error.
The very hidden and expert Sycotics may not visibly manifest some of these more unappealing personality traits; they appear to have a deliberate and calibrated nature and their sentiments seem to be slowly aroused. However, this is a facade which, under stress, begins to come apart: when angered, he may scream or shout.
Of the various essential oils associated with the Sycotic miasm, the one that comes to my mind first regarding Richie is clove oil (celery seed oil is also a front-runner). On a psycho-spiritual level, clove oil is thought to cleanse the aura, encourage contentment through self-awareness and expanded inner knowledge, stimulate creativity, intuition and creative expression of feelings, and to help free the mind of negative thoughts.
Clove has a relationship with the indigo ray. The indigo ray is considered to be the symbol of the mystic borderland of spiritual attainment, self-mastery, knowledge with understanding, intuition, purification and saintliness. This color helps raise our consciousness so that we can perceive sacredness, and it can be used therapeutically to relieve deep pain and purify mind and body.
Clove is also associated with the gemstone tourmaline, specifically indicolite tourmaline. Astrologically, indicolite is linked to Saturn and Venus, which represent law and love, respectively. Disharmony between these two qualities can lead to self-enforced isolationism. Given its identity as the October birthstone, tourmaline is considered to carry the energy of Libra, the seventh sign of the zodiac. Its symbol, the scales, highlights the Libran need for balance in life and in his consciousness. It also points to the Libran focus upon judgment and justice. The need to carefully weigh alternatives can lead to either well-considered conclusions or indecision and procrastination. Although the Libran has a need for harmony and is naturally generous and sympathetic, he can also be self-absorbed and determined to proceed in his own way. Libras demand adequate breathing space and feel anxious or oppressed when pressured or crowded.
The clove type has a Sycotic miasm-related proneness to addictive behavior regarding relaxant substances such as alcohol, tobacco and marijuana. In this reference, cloves are commonly used as a flavoring in liqueurs and warm, alcoholic drinks. In keeping with clove’s anesthetic property and with the clove type’s introverted, loner tendency, the clove type drinks alcohol or smokes marijuana to “numb” his nerves and create a quiet, calm place that permits deep introspection.
The clove individual’s loner nature makes him covet independence, and he likes to appear confident and self-sufficient. However, underneath this confidence and self-sufficiency lurks a type of moody loneliness, a sense of separation and lack of personal fulfillment. Nevertheless, because of his sense of vulnerability, he prefers to keep people at a distance and to stubbornly navigate the waters of his inner feelings independently.
THAT 1963 DAY AT THE BEACH: PSORIC MIASM And ANISE OIL
Our ride dropped us off a few blocks from the beach. Ostensibly, I was there to cool off in the water, but being a teenaged boy, I was on the lookout for girls. Girls my age sat here and there on the patchwork of blankets, and one let me join her on hers. We talked quietly while breathing in the scent of suntan lotion wafting like incense on the ocean air. Transistor radios played the sounds of the Temptations, Dion And The Belmonts and the Shirelles, accompanied by the rhythmic percussion of breaking waves.
This anecdote about nascent teen summer romance can serve as an object lesson about the Psoric miasm and anise oil. (The word “psoric” derives from psora, an archaic medical term for scabies.) The Psoric miasm carries the influence of youth into old age. The major themes of this miasm are: the problem is solvable; hopefulness and optimism; an effort is required but the goal is within my capacity to achieve.
The successful compensated state of this miasm is characterized by making the effort, getting it done and the feeling that failure is not a final outcome—another opportunity to get it right will come along. The failed compensated state is characterized by giving up easily, despair of recovery and loss of self-confidence. Chronologically, the pure Psoric miasm state is characteristic of the teenage years.
The Psoric miasm personality is subject to: highs and lows; struggles with the outside world; lack of confidence in facing a situation—a feeling that he may not be able to do it; constant anxiety which is exacerbated by various challenges that must be confronted; anticipatory anxiety; internal restlessness; insecurity; dissatisfaction; anxiety about the future.
I first spotted the girl sitting on a blanket a few yards away, and I was immediately attracted to her in the acute onset way of teenagers. I pointed her out to Bobby. She had glanced my way as well and her gaze had lingered for a few seconds.
Bobby said, “Why don’t you go over and talk to her?”
“I don’t know man, I don’t want to make a fool of myself.”
“Come on Berkowsky, don’t be such a punk. All she can do is tell you to get lost. You’re not going to die.”
For a young teenage boy, a pretty girl has the innate power of evoking a remarkably low level of self-esteem in a prospective suitor. I was experiencing both fear of rejection and fear of humiliation.
Growing up on the streets of Brooklyn, I was not one of the hard guys that everyone makes wide circles around, but I was no pushover either. Nevertheless, there I sat paralyzed with trepidation about introducing myself to a girl. This type of irrational fear is consistent with the failed state of anise oil.
Anise oil is actually associated with both the Psoric and Sycotic miasms, but this particular anecdote is mostly a reflection of the former. In aromatherapy, anise oil is considered potentially useful for: low self-esteem; hesitancy to act; trepidations about, or lack of connection to, touch and tactile pleasure; difficulty sharing within a relationship. In Spiritual PhytoEssencing, anise oil is considered to be suited for sensitive, timid, excitable people who present with the following symptoms: brooding; apprehension; lack of courage; fear of: falling, losing control, ordeals; stage fright; lack of will power; cannot cope; gives up and just hangs around.
Of course, if these qualities are representative of a fixed sense of weakness, then they would be an expression of a Sycotic nature. However, in this case, my fear was associated with the Psoric miasm theme: lack of confidence in facing a situation—a transient feeling that I might not be able to do it. In contrast, the Sycotic miasm feeling would be a reflection of a fixed conviction that I simply was not capable of doing it.
Psoric miasm fears are not as deeply ingrained as those of the Sycotic miasm. The Psoric feeling of trepidation is counterbalanced by the feeling that while an effort is required, there is the possibility that the goal is achievable.
Anise oil can prove of value when dealing with both the transient self-confidence lapses and timidity characteristic of the Psoric miasm, or the entrenched introversion and timidity which is the outgrowth of the Sycotic miasm’s fixed sense of inadequacy.
I said to Bobby: “All right, give me a minute and I’ll go over.”
Bobby gave a “yeah right” look, judging me to be precisely what I was at that moment in time: pitiful.
He said: “If you don’t get going right now, then I’m going over to talk to her.”
That threat worked like magic. A few seconds later, I was on my feet and walking toward the girl’s blanket like a condemned man approaching the gallows. To my surprise and immense relief, she smiled and invited me to sit next to her. My spirits soared and the failed state of anise oil, in which I had been bound, instantly disappeared as if by sleight of hand.
For the next few hours we talked, walked in the wet cool sand by the water and bobbed up and down on the swells. Then, it was time for me to head for home. I asked my new companion for her telephone number; she wrote it in the neat handwriting of girls and handed it to me. I was in love.
I put on my shirt and experienced the singularly unpleasant sensation of fabric rubbing sand into burned skin. I knew this was going to be a restless, sunburned, hot and muggy night. I said I’d call soon, and then did the fire-walk across the hot sand to the paved promenade where I sat down and emptied the sand from my sneakers and laced them on. I found Bobby watching a basketball game through the chain-link fence that surrounded the courts, and the two of us made our way back to the highway.
It was late afternoon now but the air was still set on bake. I was out of money, tired, hungry and eager to get home. We positioned ourselves at the stoplight by the highway entrance. I knocked on the passenger window of an idling car and the driver turned my way. “Can you give us a lift to Canarsie?” I asked. He thought about it a moment and replied: “Sure, get in.”
Miasms, Maybes and Mom
I can’t begin to understand the complexities of karma that would explain why Richie died at 16 while I’m still standing at nearly 60. Maybe it’s because his Sycotic miasm state took deep hold at a very young age. Young people, even those with perilous home lives, often ride the wave of the Psoric miasm into adulthood. For many, life’s brute force eventually beats the positivism of the Psoric miasm into submission, and the Sycotic miasm, with its feeling of not being enough, rises to the fore to fill the vacuum.
Perhaps if I had actually taken the bus, I never would have gone over to speak with that girl on that long ago day at the beach. The bus that day would have been filled with sweating middle-aged people carrying shopping bags and staring blankly as the vehicle belched its exhaust in through the windows. The ride wouldn’t have done anything to enhance my self-esteem.
In my mind, instead of being a bus-riding bar mitzvah boy that day, I was a cool, hitchhiking dude, a 13-year-old James Dean acolyte. What little swagger I could muster when I walked over to talk with that girl on the beach, I owed to how I’d traveled there. That’s why Richie is as much a part of that memory as the sweetness of summer romance.
By the way, it didn’t take my mother very long to figure out that I hadn’t taken the bus. My mother was very hip to my shtick. She intercepted me before I had made it halfway to the shower, and in no time at all, James Dean had morphed back into the bar mitzvah boy.