Rose and a journey through betrayal

Rose Rosa spp.

a materia medica by Natasha Clarke

Can we talk in confidence? Under the hanging rose? Can we talk with trust? Because really what I want to say, rather whisper, is that I don’t actually have any exciting new revelations about rose, rose who has been with us for thousands of years, the rose of Rumi and Shakespeare, the rose that has been sung and loved and nurtured and groomed, the rose which is part of our literal makeup, part of our cellular memory and multicultural imprint for some long time, the rose which is in our hearts. So shhhh because really, I just have some thorns in my side and petals clutched at my heart and some perfume on my lips.


But again, back to the present, here we are, sitting comfortably, not under a live rose, sub rosa, more likely that innocuous plaster square with the rose rounded in the middle, hopefully with earl grey and crumpets, having a little clandestine discourse, a small sharing, not quite the same as Linden's heart to heart, under the big tree, no indeed, rather a more piercing point that I'm attempting to make, about the most known, loved and revered, the divine rose. I want to confide in you about the flower of trust and the thorn of betrayal and the roots of community that holds the container.

Rose comes protected, guarded and shielded by a thicket of thorns that like to penetrate. The properties of the thorns are contrary, they can reach out in painful attack, and they also guard, protect and facilitate discernment. It could be that the knowledge of one is gained with the knowledge of other and it is this embrace that is the journey

Who has not been betrayed? That stab in the back, or fist in the womb? Who has not felt their face fall into mud as the boot of indifference presses down hard and most of all, without care? Betrayal is a cold cold element, none of the passion of vengeance or violence of hate. It burns as ice, through its very lack of intimacy, a wound that throbs invisible, in its very principle of how it completely deadens and hardens all the tissue it touches like Medusa’s stare, the worst of Narnia, all the beauty and joy froze over, the eternal underlying exhausting disappointment of a summer never to come, the fissures of ice slowly completing the absolute erosion of those pillars of humanity, hope, faith and trust.

Who has not been left simply cold, shattered and then watched as they are filled with bitterness, despair, anguish, bereft of the vitality of flow and function, bereft of even the ability to grieve but simply left dead inside? I imagine the heart like a vault, all shiny steel and antiquated black iron, triple locked, quadruple locked, Houdini bound with chains and intricacies and layers of protection. When living in betrayal I can't even see my heart inside, let alone feel for a pulse, just layers upon layers of guarding, a heavyweight for the pericardium, the hearts handmaid, stripped of all her impeccable duty and just left with servitude to wretchedness. How can we be human in this darkness, this shattered mirror, this deep forest of abandonment with wild beasts guarding the interior to ensure the status quo, the great freeze? Most of us turn upon ourselves, slice by dysfunctional slice in a last desperate gasp to protect those that we once were capable of loving, becoming even more exposed, exhausted, failed. 

Some say that it is this pain, this crisis, this sword in our side, that "Makes the Man". I say that it is the journey back, which makes us, which brings us into ourselves, I say that path be littered and strewn with petals and gentle guidance and love from the grace of rose.

However, the consequence of betrayal, whatever the specific trauma, is the swallowing of the thorn, the pricking of the finger, the annihilation of innocence, being stuck in the briar patch where every option is pain, knowing that, forever, there it is, inside you and there you are, forever changed. Forever after, we will walk, as the assaulted, the violated, the abandoned, the blindsided, the stricken. Now it is part of who we are, it cannot be changed out of, or transferred or dissolved. It is that which we carry, no matter how much we long to set it down, walk around, and it holds no escape, only the agony of embrace. This is the burden of trauma, the becoming through trauma and eventually the finding of the gifting that becomes us through trauma. The unwanted blessing wrapped in our sorrow and bound with our self-blame and shame.

I want to know

if you know

how to melt into that fierce heat of living

falling toward

the center of your longing.

I want to know

if you are willing

to live, day by day, with the consequence of love

(excerpt taken from Self-portrait by David Whyte)

Not only does rose tone and tonify with its astringing properties but its demulcent qualities and volatile aromatics also soften and relax, a contradiction that enables rose to address atrophy or stagnation with its gentle intelligence. While it softens, relaxes and penetrates the stuck tissue it can then add strength and tone to remediate the collapse.

As a medicine of our time, a claim that is not my own, and from far wiser persons, it is in the power of the gentle, the nourishing and the restorative, that do the work and rose fills that space with all the deliciousness of their beauty and dance. This easing into pain is what rose excels at, whether it be through relief from arthritis or the slow diminishment of the despair from violation. Rose can gently move us into the long view,  rose can start that slow process of nourishment, that slow journey back into the forever changed but same space of who we are, that steady fall, back into the centers of our longing.  And gently, in our own time, the essence slips silently through and around all the chains and keys and locks and begins to say I see you, I know you, I love you. Begins to feel back into trusting self. Rose works a different path from the cortisol fueled adrenaline driven quick fix that seems to have become as mainstay as fast food, cars, and many of the staples that drive life. A slower path, to engage in this dance of trust, a trust of self, a trust of others that can lead us eventually into seeking supported spaces, that can enable us one day to hold again a generosity of spirit to look at other without hatred or shame or judgement but curiosity and care.

The perfume is the medicine I seek most for my softening. And not just jinn like, captured timelessly in a bottle but in all its forms. The volatile oils, their sweetness and soft slightly bitter taste of the petal has the ability to linger and diffuse and can be folded into honey, waters, oils, potions and elixirs and stay vibrant for years, waiting with their gifts, to hold, soften and open, becoming the fissures to create those cracks in the ice, bringing Mr Tumnus to tea. 

When I was in Moscow, just shy a year after the great fall of communism, hanging with my Russian amour, riding the wave of chaos and opportunity that comes with such a shearing I would ask the Russians I met, mostly bohemians and outliers, why they thought communism had fallen. A fun conversation to be had and words that summed it up was often “lack of convenience” but then there was this story from a young man that stuck in my head, about varenye, a Russian staple, to be taken with tea, a simple syrup thick with fruit or herbs, a preserve that was a mainstay in all echelons of that classless society. On posing the question he tipped his head to one side and thought before speaking, digging down for what felt like truth. "I remember that one time," he says, a smile starting to creep in "when all we could buy in the stores, all the stores, all that was available was damn rose petal varenye. That's it. Just shelves filled with cans of the stuff. After 3 weeks of that, well that's when the things changed".  A sweet story indeed and it seemed to simply echo that monotony of impoverishment and I really thought no longer upon it until here I am, 25 years later, wandering through the briar rose bushes, that swath of entanglement and riches, in my favourite wild rose field that lies perched on the edge of a Salish Sea inlet, where the bite of salt and scent carry on the breeze. And decades after that fleeting conversation I find myself picking the rose petals, feeling myself open, so gently slipping in, slowly, feeling the drift, the sweetness, as the hours pass and the cloud of perfume envelopes my being and I am in that extreme state of grace and beauty when I am of both deep attention and self-forgetting, when I enter into the territory, as David Whyte would say " that fearful frontier between what we think makes us and what we think makes the world" that contradiction of the trauma and the gift, the symmetry and asymmetry and as I start to waft and weave in the miasma of otherworldly aromatics, as I start to let go and also sink into self, as I start to feel the awareness and gentle trust of more than myself, as I am held, it is then I remember the young mans tale and then I suddenly realize that yes, of course, quite possibly this perfume, these roses, this magic could bring down the regime. For how else does the world work.

Rose is a nourishing tonic and has an underlying ability, or knowledge, to influence the flow of fluids, blood or otherwise throughout the body.  As a circulatory tonic, it enhances the integrity of the cardiovascular system leading it to effect calm, and sedate excitation, resolving inflation.

The resurrection from the ashes, cinder biters all, can become a journey into grace, so it is not surprising that rose is the medicine of this path, the embodiment of how to stay vulnerable, how to be open and yet guarded, wise to what could most hurt us, wise to the detrimental patterns that we mask as safe. It is no surprise that rose has inherent abilities in movement, is a worker of the flow. It is in this present that we are slowly able to unbind ourselves from shame and ego and blame, to start the slow unpacking of our unwelcome gifts that only shift upon acceptance. Allowing things to move can be so unbearably painful and again this is where rose can share in the burden of uncoiling, the grappling with forgiveness, the reawakening into trust that starts to lessen the rigidity of atrophy, relaxing the constriction, or lending tone to torpor, all states of which can be so detrimental to regaining one’s strength, when crawling towards trust after betrayal. 

It is beyond a personal experience, this knowledge of betrayal, which strips us of our ability to actually care. We are all at present witness to the increase of hatred, judgment, repulsion and divisiveness that is the collective scream of pain, internal and external as we all engage daily in an incomprehensible world where our culture supports systems of constant oppression. Where being busy with "jobs" to support an economy which has its backbone riding on a killing machine that is keeping us "safe". Where the accumulation of wealth, which has nothing to do with the wealth of our hearts, is the guidepost of our success, our humanness reduced to GDP's and devoid of anything wild. The crux here is terror, for when we are frozen, when we are struck down, when we are retching in the betrayal of an alarming culture which does not nurture, we have no ability for the curious mind that allows other to exist. When we are constantly protecting ourselves, we are the trapped, caged by our own fear.

The fruit of the rose is rich in vitamin c, integral for the integrity of our connective tissue as well as being full of flavonoids that support the immune system and calm the stress response. The hips are also high in pectin, with its ionic action which helps draw and hold environmental toxins, facilitating the process of assimilation and elimination.

As I move through the briar patch with the turning of the seasons, the stark grey thorns on the skeletal branches, black hips like dead heads, the deep purple shoots in early spring leading to the first sweet breath of cloud pink buds, the five-petalled flowers waving to me like a thousand small hands and then the young hips slowly turning to glow deep crimson amber as the light begins to fade, becoming rosy illuminated lamp in the waning dusk, I am always struck by the absolute reassurance of abundance that is offered from the rose, the clear acknowledgement of enough. I am enough, I have enough, we are enough for each other, we can love enough, there is enough. This is the call of the united, not the lone howl of the wolf. This is community medicine, that can help us move through that claustrophobia of other, that energetic exchange, teach us to hold our own boundaries of discernment and protection, to be generous in our beauty and nourishing with our fruits of knowledge amongst ourselves, amongst each other.

When picking rose roots to make into an astringing tincture or syrup I am not moving into the heroic. I don’t attempt to hoist up the biggest bush in its patch, this is not a herculean feet of dislodging balsamorhiza sagittata or wresting forth ceanothus or grappling blindly with nymphaea. Instead, I stick to the sandy side of the thicket where it becomes a quick whistle of motion for my hori-hori to slide in, dislodge the root of a small sideline sapling that peppers the outlines, and then cut the umbilical of the rhizome from the whole. I can gather 10 or twenty young roots that way, the bark a slightly citrus sharply astringent flavor which feels penetrating as if moving systemically into my body. I harvest in the fall from the shoots that have no fruit and seem to beckon me towards them, a constant question and experiment in medicine making. As I pull from the outskirts of the great briar patch whose center I can never penetrate, whose boundaries of what is a sustainable harvest are obvious from the onset, I am in awe of the magnitude of this entity, this entire generational family that provides my healing. Wild roses hardly go anywhere without their community and even though they are great travelers, they tend to caravan around the world. As I cut these little offspring on the edges of the great throng I wonder on the shape of the mother nest which lays underground and just how big this being is that I'm interfacing with. The roses cover a good 20 acres with great swaths and then smaller enclaves dispersed throughout the land which it shares with an old gnarled crabapple grove and slues of inlet bound salty water moving into large bogs of rush and grasses outlined with madronas, brambles, hawthorn and elder.  How old is the heartbeat of this interwoven mesh that exists so exuberantly in the salty sandy soil? How much does it know of itself, as it holds the earth together, bringing up thousands of thorny shoots that unravel in a timeless song of abundance? This great offering of a community, each plant alone but part of a whole, each plant coherent and an integral part of its environment, in communication, in connection, is a well-regarded teacher of my heart, one that I visit weekly and one that I am honoured to be able to talk about, in confidence, with you.

This article was shaped thanks to the wisdom and words of David Whyte, Sinead O’Conner, Kiva Rose, Christa Sinadinos, and lastly Joyce.

This was first written with much love for the Plant Healer Magazine and then taught at the Good Medicine Confluence 2019