Recently, I read about the remarkable work of a man (who for many years has spent all of his spare time without pay, and continues to do so) attempting to locate (both in ocean and jungle) the wreckage of World War II American aircraft as well as the remains of airmen who were aboard them. Those planes were shot down by occupying Japanese forces in a remote area of the western Pacific Ocean.
It has been seven decades since that fierce combat occurred. With the exception of military historians, those men and the battles they died in have been largely forgotten. To this day, the fate of hundreds of American airmen who died in battle with the Japanese remains a mystery. Their bodies and the aircrafts they were aboard have never been found. Declared as Missing In Action (MIA) seventy years ago or more, the families and comrades of these men have lived ever since in a limbo-state fostered by lack of certain knowledge and closure.
While the loss of a loved one sometimes elicits unbearable grief, not knowing with certainty where and how a loved one died elaborates a type of grief that is more nebulous and open-ended. Commonly, relatives of someone who has been kidnapped and murdered will agree to a lesser sentence regarding the vile perpetrator of those crimes in exchange for his revealing the location of the missing victim’s body. This is due in part to a driving conviction that one must bring a loved one home from the forsakenness of a postmortem exile in some unknown location. Another important factor is the primal human sense that the remains, regardless of the passage of time, will still be imbued with some artifact of the unique vital element that ensouled the body during its lifetime.
While finding the loved one’s remains and learning the details of his or her fate does not eliminate the pain of loss, it does ease the emptiness and end the subtly tortuous limbo referred to in psychology as a state of ambiguous loss. Dr. Pauline Boss, the principal theorist regarding the concept of ambiguous loss, fully describes its contours in her book Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief (Harvard University Press, 1999).
Ambiguous loss, sometimes referred to alternatively as frozen grief, is associated with a lack of closure or clear understanding of the circumstances of a person’s death or disappearance. Instead of the familiar form of grief which is characterized by the concrete certainty of loss and its ensuing consequences, ambiguous loss leaves family and friends perpetually searching for answers.
As regards the missing World War II airmen, it should be borne in mind that these were most likely very young men. The average age of a combat soldier in World War II was 26 years old. Many of these men were still living at home with their parents, or were newly married, when they left to fight for their country. When they disappeared, their rooms in their parents’ homes (the preserved habitat of recently graduated high school boys) often became shrines tended to by the parents for the rest of their lives. Often a young father (as part of his legacy) left behind a young child who would never gaze upon his face except in the haunting photograph of him in his dress uniform that his widow always kept nearby on her nightstand.
What happened to him? What emotions did he experience as the plane descended in flames into a jungle or ocean in a part of the world he had never heard of before the war? Is he lying near his comrades so that he isn’t totally alone? Was he taken prisoner? Could he have amnesia and still be alive?
Circumstances and Symptoms of Ambiguous Loss
The phenomenon of ambiguous loss is not restricted to the aftermath of disappearance and/or mysterious death. In fact, the experience of ambiguous loss is nearly universal. Some examples of other situations or events that activate the potentiality of ambiguous loss are: infertility; abortion or miscarriage; disappearance of a family member; desertion by, or long term incarceration of, a parent; adoption with the child wondering about her biological parents or, on the other hand, a biological parent unable to stop thinking about the child; death of a family member with whom one was once close, but became estranged from, many years before; death of a young sibling who passed away before her siblings were born or else were too young to remember her; a spouse or parent, who, though still alive, has disappeared into the dark vortex of Alzheimer’s disease or mental illness; two teen lovers, who, due to circumstances beyond their control (e.g., one moved away with his family to a different part of the country) rather than discord, separated, and even after marriage to others, each of the lovers wonders what became of the other, and grieves for their lost romance. The challenge for those who must live in the perpetual fog of frozen grief is to restore their resiliency of will and emotion despite this ongoing ambiguity.
It was once believed that a child does not experience a sense of loss regarding separation from a birth family he or she had never known. It is now an accepted fact that adopted children often grieve over the loss of relationship with their birth families. It has been found that adopted children who are able to discuss their conflicted feelings (about the “whys” concerning their birth parents) with their adoptive parents present with less, or milder, symptoms of ambiguous loss than do those children whose adoptive families are resistant to discussion of the birth parents along with the circumstances that led to the child being put up for adoption. (Powell, K. A., & Afifi, T. D. (2005). Uncertainty management and adoptees’ ambiguous loss of their birth parents. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 22, 129–151.) According to Dr. Boss: “The greater the ambiguity surrounding one’s loss, the more difficult it is to master [the loss] and the greater one’s depression, anxiety, and family conflict.”
Ambiguous loss may overlap with trauma, and symptoms may be similar to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A person experiencing ambiguous loss may: have difficulty with transition or change; be trapped in a state of decision-paralysis wherein they feel nearly overwhelmed when having to make important choices that will affect the course of their lives; demonstrate decreased capacity to cope with routine childhood or adolescent losses; exist in a state of stuckness wherein he is unable to accept disappointment or loss and move on; experience chronic feelings of: helplessness, hopelessness, depression, anxiety, guilt.
Factors associated with the activation of the archetypal theme of ambiguous loss include: inability to resolve grief because of uncertainty regarding whether the loss is transient or permanent; uncertainty about the loss inhibits reorganization of roles and relationships within the family structure and society in general; lack of clear symbolic ritual such as a funeral; their loss is often hidden from, rather than shared with, others.
Ambiguous Loss: An Archetypal Theme
Ambiguous loss not only delays the process of grieving, but often results in an unresolved, somewhat intangible grief that is transmitted from one generation to the next. This potential to be an inter-generational theme lends ambiguous loss an archetypal quality. Carl Jung defines archetypes as spiritual forms or potentialities that serve as structural elements within the psyche. An archetype is not a potentiality unique to one individual but rather a universal one that exists beyond time and space – in other words in the higher realm.
In Spiritual PhytoEssencing, the term archetype refers to a unique intangible construct of the soul that generates a pattern of characteristic potentials. Accordingly, particular identifiable patterns of emotions and physical predispositions are viewed as tangible expressions of underlying psychospiritual archetypes. In turn, these expressions are considered to be archetypal images.
In Jungian psychology, archetypes are considered to be inherited patterns of thought or symbolic imagery, present in the individual unconscious, which derive from the infinite inventory of past experiences stored within the collective unconscious.
Jung writes (from The Freud/Jung Letters edited by William McGuire; 1974): [An archetype] is that in which all individual psyches are identical with each other [i.e., it is a universal psychical structural element, not the product of an individual psyche], and they [the archetypes collectively] function as if they were the one undivided Psyche the ancients called the psyche tou kosmou – the common psyche. In our ordinary minds we are in the worlds of time and space within the individual psyche. In the state of the archetype we are in the collective psyche, in a [higher] world-system whose space-time categories are relatively or absolutely abolished.”
Archetypes, while components of the collective unconscious upon which an individual psyche draws, serve as the wellheads of potential within the higher world that give rise to all the tangible manifestations of human behavior in the material world. As noted above, the outward manifestations of archetypes (which in and of themselves are beyond the intellect and senses) are referred to as archetypal images. It can be argued that the phenomenon of ambiguous loss, which over the ages of human existence has been so common an experience, is archetypal, and the various feelings and thoughts it evokes are its archetypal images.
As ambiguous loss has an amorphous quality that doesn’t quite conform to the conventional concept of an archetype, I refer to it as an archetypal theme.
Intergenerational Transference of Ambiguous Loss
One of the qualities that ambiguous loss shares is another archetypal form called a miasm (e.g., Cancer miasm, Tubercular miasm, etc.), which can be transmitted inter-generationally through some non-genetic transference mechanism.
Thus, miasm is the homeopathic concept that I have adapted into Spiritual PhytoEssencing. A miasm is a constitutional pattern of emotional and physical tendencies that is transmitted from generation to generation bioenergetically rather than genetically. In Spiritual PhytoEssencing, it is believed that miasms can also be transmitted from one incarnation to the next along the cycle of birth, death and rebirth.
Similarly, regarding the archetypal theme of ambiguous loss: Even after all of those who, for instance, had a relationship with one of the long-dead airman (e.g., parent, sibling, etc.) have themselves passed on, succeeding generations (e.g., grandchildren) inherit the legacy of that ambiguous loss and continue to wonder about and grieve for (meaning the experience of a difficult-to-describe feeling of loss) a young man who may have died before they were born.
Spiritual PhytoEssencing’s assertion that past lives, as well as Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious, are primary sources of influential archetypes, extends to the archetypal theme of ambiguous loss. Accordingly, a lifelong, persistent, yet undefinable feeling of ambiguous loss may be linked to an event in a past life, such as the disappearance of a child or forced separation from a lover. Sometimes this past life seed of ambiguous loss serves as an organizing nucleus for experiences of ambiguous loss in this life, thus amplifying this archetypal theme’s influence over one’s journey on this mortal plane of existence.
Identifying the Inner Nature of Essential Oils via “Synchronicities”
Carl Jung coined the term “synchronicity,” referring to thoughts and events that are connected in ways other than causally (i.e., by the law of cause and effect). In Carl Jung: Wounded Healer Of The Soul, Clair Dunne writes: “Jung called synchronicity ‘acausal [without rationally explicable cause] orderedness’, a principle not contradicting the scientific time, space, and causality modes of Western thinking, but rather a complementary addition to it…Synchronicities are hard to verify objectively, but they are subjectively meaningful.”
In the classic example from his own work, Jung, while listening to a patient recount a dream about a scarab (a type of beetle), heard a light tapping on his office window. When he went to investigate the sound, he saw a brilliantly colored beetle just outside the window. This uncanny coincidence made him wonder about the meaning of such “synchronicities.”
Synchronicities play a major role in my elaboration of the unique soul-nature of each essential oil. In the discussion below of Roman chamomile, you will see how I employ synchronicities to move beyond the oil’s surface-identity as a pleasant scented complex of clinically useful biochemicals to a far more dynamic view of the oil’s inner soul-nature.
Plants, like human beings and all other animals, are alive and everything that is alive is ensouled. In the same way that one cannot really know another person without developing relation with his or her authentic self (that aspect of the self-structure which has never disengaged from spirit), one cannot truly know an essential oil without developing soul-to-soul relation with its innermost realm. This cannot be achieved solely through study of the biochemical profile and therapeutic actions of an oil. Those are archetypal images that represent just a fraction of the archetypal fabric of the oil.
An essential oil is the most concentrated carrier of the soul of the plant. Thus, to truly know an oil, we must endeavor to reveal to our conscious awareness the unique archetypal pattern of its soul structure. In Spiritual PhytoEssencing, this is accomplished through the identification, and subsequent inter-correlation, of synchronicities. Being a naturopath, classical homeopath and master herbalist, who for many years has also studied and included in my work gemstone healing, Chinese medicine, anthroposophy and Kabbalah, the synchronicities I identify and draw upon (when developing profiles of the inner nature of essential oils) derive from those frames of reference.
As regards the discussion of Roman chamomile presented below, the “composite Roman chamomile picture” includes not only the healing properties of Roman chamomile noted in herbal medicine, aromatherapy and homeopathy (the homeopathic remedy Anthemis nobilis is prepared from a tincture of Roman chamomile) but also certain symptoms and qualities drawn from the synchronicities that Roman chamomile oil has with the homeopathic remedies Asterias rubens (prepared from a variety of red starfish) and Aurum arsenicum (prepared from gold arsenate) as well as with the gemstone heliodor (a type of golden beryl).
Roman Chamomile and the Theme of Ambiguous Loss
Roman chamomile, a member of the Compositae (also referred to as the Asteraceae) family, is a low-growing, evergreen, perennial herb. The ancient Egyptians held that Roman chamomile was sacred to the sun god Ra, and used the essential oil to anoint the body for rituals in their god’s honor. To the ancient Egyptians, the ability of Roman chamomile to restore wholeness to the Self represented the omnipotence of Ra.
One of Roman chamomile’s key signatures is its reputation in earlier eras as the “Plant’s Physician.” Mrs. M. Grieve in her book: A Modern Herbal writes of Roman chamomile: “Nothing contributes so much to the health of a garden as a number of Roman chamomile herbs dispersed about it, and that if another plant is drooping and sickly, in nine cases out of ten, it will recover if you place Roman chamomile near it.”
Symptoms from the composite Roman chamomile picture relevant regarding the theme of ambiguous loss include: nervous exhaustion; extreme susceptibility to pain; hypersensitivity; depression; post-partum depression; depression and restlessness, worse at night; despair; loneliness; tearfulness; weeping from least emotion; the slightest cause moves her to tears; grief; from silent grief; emotional withdrawal; self-blame; addiction; suicidal; sensitive to voices; delusions of hearing voices; sense of impending misfortune; delusions of smell; delusion he is under the control of strangers; anguish; fear of death; lamenting; loathing of life; amnesia; absent-minded; critical of himself and of others; self-blame; anger directed at himself; insecurity; dreams of dead people; dreams of death; frightful, vivid dreams; amorous dreams; anxious dreams.
On the other hand, as noted above, the ancient Egyptians revered the herb and dedicated it to Ra, their sun god. Roman chamomile flowers are also heliotropic: eagerly turning their faces to the sun. The daisy-like flowers with their yellow centers and surrounding white rays resemble primitive representations of the sun. Roman chamomile is a member of the Asteraceae (meaning resemblance to a star) family; and the sun, of course, is a star.
Roman chamomile flowers not only have yellow centers, but, unlike blue chamomile whose distilled oil remains a deep blue, Roman chamomile oil changes from blue to yellow on storage. Exciting and uplifting, yellow is the color of the sun. It is the symbol of mind and intellect and the premier color in the spectrum regarding brightness and luminosity. In color therapy, yellow relates to the solar plexus center. Accordingly, it elaborates true wisdom via interaction among the brain, nervous system and heart spirit center. Yellow also has affinity for the left-brain, and so, supports visualization, logic, memory, language skills and the memory processes of logic and organization. Yellow also interacts with the ego and the subjective thought-processes which develop and accrue various fears, worries and anxieties. Yellow is useful in helping to let go of fear and thus be able to develop personal power.
On a psycho-spiritual level, the gemstone heliodor (which derives from the Greek, meaning “gift from the sun”), Roman chamomile’s most prominent gemstone synchronicity: increases the power of the solar plexus chakra to channel spiritual energies into his or her material reality; brings a sense of optimism and possibility to the psyche; promotes compassionate understanding; boosts mental cogency and communication skills; helps one identify the purpose within the scheme of creation of one’s unique soul; helps one overcome a state of decision-paralysis caused by fear of error; aligns personal will with Divine will; counteracts inertial idleness; reduces despair in certain situations by empowering the individual to refocus and assert control; assists in the discharge of toxic emotional debris; relieves the sense of being heavily burdened.
Roman Chamomile and a Sense of Guilt, Self-Blame and Loss of Higher Connection
Many different essential oils (including, among others: angelica, black spruce, blue chamomile, galbanum, juniper, lavender, marjoram, muhuhu, myrrh, neroli, niaouli, Peru balsam, pine and violet leaf) are relevant regarding the theme of ambiguous loss. However, each essential oil is potentially useful in this reference only in regard to a particular context of ambiguous loss. For instance, a given oil may have relevance regarding ambiguous loss involving the disappearance of a loved one, but have no particular relevance for ambiguous loss related to miscarriage or a spouse who develops Alzheimer’s disease.
Roman chamomile has specificity for a number of varieties of ambiguous loss involving some feeling of guilt, difficult choices and conflicted personal leadership. We can see this pattern in the symptoms and qualities listed above, including: self-blame; critical of himself; anger directed at himself; insecurity; anxious dreams; helps one overcome a state of decision-paralysis caused by fear of error; aligns personal will with Divine will; counteracts inertial idleness; relieves the sense of being heavily burdened.
Due to the apple-like scent of the plant, the common name chamomile derives from the Greek composite word chamaimēlon, meaning “earth-apple”, constructed from chamai, meaning “on the ground” and mēlon, meaning “apple.” The Spanish name for Roman chamomile is manzanilla, or “little apple,” and Spain produces a sherry with the same name which is flavored with the herb.
Interestingly, both Roman chamomile and the apple are referred to as a “physician.” The former is the “plant physician,” and regarding the latter, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Similarly, both the apple-like scent of Roman chamomile and the scent of apples are also considered to have healing properties. The Roman physician Pliny described a mythological race of small people in India who “eat naught and live by the smell of apples.” Centuries ago, the English physician Dr. John Caius advised his patients to “smell a ripe, sweet apple” in order to recover their strength.
Regarding the mythological Garden of Eden, the popular theological view holds that the apple was the fruit plucked by Adam from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and subsequently eaten by Eve and him. Although the identity of this highly symbolic fruit is a subject of dispute among biblical scholars, it cannot be argued that in the popular consciousness it is considered to have been an apple.
The fact that the apple has so tenaciously held to its legendary role as the forbidden fruit in and of itself is very significant, even if the original telling of the story actually referred to some other variety of fruit. The act of eating the “apple” has long been characterized as a sin, although this is highly debatable.
If in fact, all aspects of creation originate in God and via the offices of divine will, then it is illogical to assert that an act which facilitated the full elaboration of individualized soul life was a “sin.” Instead, Eve, rather than being the easily swayed temptress she is commonly portrayed to be, was actually an instrument of divine will. She is essentially the symbolic “mother” that activated the potential to connect to spirit voluntarily via a unique, individuated soul rather than automatically, like a dependent child who lacks mature responsibilities and has no say in the matter.
Bear in mind that independent soul existence is required for the capacities for faith in God and the desire to receive divine light for the purpose of sharing with others as well as reflection back upward to the ground of all being. Thus, the action of Eve, a mythological cosmic mother, allegorically represents the moment of ignition of the evolution of human soul existence. If not, then all of human existence, in all its complexity, must be dismissed as the meaningless consequence of a reckless impulse.
However, setting all that aside, there is no question that the generally held view by those who accept the authority of the Bible is that Eve committed an error that destroyed the seamless connection between God and mankind and set the stage for the perpetually flawed historical journey of the human race. Within this perspective we clearly see the themes of poor judgment, error, personal responsibility, guilt and loss of connection to spirit, an ill-considered choice one made that became the moment that changed all the rest. Accordingly, the ensuing sense of ambiguous loss would largely be the outgrowth of “paradise lost.”
As a counterpoint to this, the following heliodor actions provide a glimpse of the potential of Roman chamomile regarding this particular manifestation of the archetypal theme of archetypal loss: increases the power of the solar plexus chakra to channel spiritual energies into his or her material reality; illuminates higher wisdom; stimulates the higher mind; encourages nobility and selfless leadership; builds self-confidence and self-trust; brings a sense of optimism and possibility to the psyche; helps one identify the purpose within the scheme of creation of one’s unique soul; supports decision-making that is based on thoughtful reflection rather than emotional impulse; helps one overcome a state of decision-paralysis caused by fear of error; boosts drive and determination to succeed despite the inhibiting influence of others; aligns personal will with Divine will; aids in the exertion of personal will in response to the challenges encountered during the course of one’s life; promotes sincerity and sympathy; relieves the sense of being heavily burdened and pressured.