From childhood, I was always in the woods exploring and studying the plants, so my essences are very much about my 55 year relationship to those plants. I’ve lived in the Hudson Valley most my life. But I fell in love with the sea at Montauk and Provincetown. In 2011, I moved to Nantucket.
I was born in Brooklyn, but my parents moved me to northern Westchester county when I was a year old. I have no memory of the city at all. My earliest memories are of the woods, fields and hills. Of looking from my backyard across the valley to the barn at the foot of the next ridge, and the small freight train that chugged along what is now a popular rail-trail. I’m told one of the first words I spoke was “caboose” for the last red car in the line-up.
I learned much of my natural history through my own explorations. All I need do was run out the back door and down the path into the woods that led to thousands of unoccupied acres of woods, wetlands, streams and uplands. At the age of 11, I joined a Nature Explorer’s Club – a year-long course on local ecology for children – at a local county park. At the age of 12, I began to volunteer at the nature museum where the course was based.
The curator was a character. A Tibetan Buddhist and a specialist in local Native culture. He talked of both throughout my teen years as I continued to volunteer every Saturday. I got to befriend many local Native people and deepen my knowledge of the landscape. At the time, I felt I didn’t need organized spirituality. I was young and proud. To continue my training, I attended the State University of New York College at Purchase and attained a B.A. in environmental science. I continued to teach as a freelance naturalist, eventually expanding into Native Hudson Valley folklore and culture, storytelling and the authorship of several field guides to the Hudson Valley and environs.
The dairy farm and agricultural fields and orchards gave way to housing and development. The landscape changed along with the freedom to roam over it. After a career as a Hudson Valley naturalist annually teaching over 20,000 children and adults in schools and educational and cultural centers, I decided to concentrate on a spiritual path. I was ordained a Tibetan Buddhist nun in 1996, entered the traditional Three Year Retreat and remained for the next. After graduating from nearly 7 years in retreat, as a lama, I was asked to remain as the main caretaker and teacher for the next two retreats. In total, I lived in the women’s retreat compound at Kagyu Thubten Choling monastery in Wappingers Falls, under the direction of Lama Norlha Rinpoche, for 15 years.
But a darkness was growing in my mind. My meditation practice had led me deep into myself where I uncovered buried trauma. I began an inner journey that combined my Buddhist training with Western therapeutic methods. And one summer day, Joe-Pye weed called to me to come get it, to use it and rely on it. To make a flower essence of its virtues and power to carry with me. As I walked the grassy, field path to make this first essence, I felt deeply at peace with what seemed to me to be my true self more than at any other time in my life. I felt I was doing what I was meant to do.
I went on to wildcraft over 60 flower and sea essences using only native, indigenous species that called to me, traveling the Catskill Mountains, the Hudson Valley forests, the Cape Cod dunes, the shore of Montauk, and finally the beaches, moors, forests, fields, scrub and wetlands of fabulous Nantucket.
I first developed the essences for my own use. They worked. I wanted to share them with others. Now, especially, it seems so many are tragically wounded by trauma, abuse or loss, and suffer in isolation and silence. Daily, we are challenged to continue an inner path of truth and honesty amid an outer world of competition, ego and carelessness. I was taught the tools to emerge from that contraction, and undertook my own healing journey while relying upon the essences to aid me. I have joined my training in Buddhist meditation with my heartfelt connection to our native plants. I feel the old “me” died and the new me is alive and continues journeying. I still remember the locations and plants of my childhood and most every plant I have met since. They are special to my heart.
When I go out into the field, I feel the most like my true self, a deep connection of contentment and surety. As I walk and view the plants I know I am among friends and helpers. It is easy to make an essence. Some of these mother essences were made while I was still at the monastery.
When I wake in the morning, I often “see” inwardly an image of a particular plant or feel drawn to a certain location. This does not always coincide with the necessary sunny weather! As soon as possible, I go, either that morning or at the next available sunny day. When I arrive, I usually find the plant of which I must craft an essence at peak bloom. I have found the plant’s “place,” the spot where it is most vigorous and healthy. Since essences use a minimal amount of the plant, my harvesting makes scant and temporary impact.
I speak native Lenape words of thanks to the plant. As I gather the handful needed, I recite mantras, especially Om ah hung, the mantra of enlightened body, speech and mind, and Om mani peme hung, the mantra of compassion. I sit with the essence for a while. I confirm with the parent plants the spiritual use of their flowers. The clear glass bowl of well water or fresh sea water sits in the sun with the flowers and plant material for a minimum of three hours, and at some point I usually wander off to let the plant do its work.
More than just helping us cope with the arising emotion of the moment, I feel these plants are giving of themselves to affect transformation. My abbot, Lama Norlha Rinpoche, who is Tibetan, once said that Westerners and particularly Americans are stuck emotionally as teenagers their whole lives. I’ve thought on that. We do seem stuck at puberty here in the West. At puberty, the dark emotions come to the fore and, to grow, we meet them, hear what their message is, transform them as we work through them to maturity. For some reason, contemporary culture can halt this natural process. We are not supposed to have those feelings. They end up suppressed, held down, and then we are stuck as a teenager forever. We turn to drugs, alcohol, television, movies and other distractions for relief. As adults, we suffer, until life hits us with the need to mature. So many I know follow this pattern once their parents become elderly, get sick or die. As an adult, we need help to mature. Flower essences can supply that help, especially when coupled with therapeutic techniques or spiritual tools, whether physical or mental. The potential for healing is great.
The essences are my way of sharing the landscape, the valleys, the mountains, the forests and fields, and the ocean. I feel called to make the essences and share them. I am especially delighted by plants blooming in community in strength and diversity, the vitality of an entire ecosystem. The essences are made to help you do the inner work of facing and befriending yourself, of feeling, accepting, shifting and changing. In a word: transformation, for the greater benefit of all.
May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.
May all beings be free of suffering and the causes of suffering.
May all beings never be separate from the supreme bliss that is free from all suffering.
May all beings live in the Great Equanimity free of attachment and aversion.
– The Four Immeasurables
TEXT AND IMAGES COPYRIGHT © 2012 Peggy Turco ALL RIGHTS RESERVED