Healing scent

my fragrant bouquet

I started putting mint and milkweed in my bouquets this year. I’ve never used these before but the peonies, that are usually in full bloom, did not do well. We’ve had so much rain that many of them actually turned moldy before they bloomed.  As I sat outside the other morning, almost overwhelmed with the scent from the milkweed that lines our front walkway, I thought, “Why haven’t I appreciated these before?” The scent was sweet and earthy and seemed to envelope me in a healing embrace.  It reminded me of an incredible story that I read a few years ago, and was so happy to find on-line to be able to share with you on this beautiful Sunday morning.

(from Lee Paton)
Several years ago in Seattle, Washington, there lived a 52-year-old Tibetan refugee. “Tenzin,” as I will call him, who was diagnosed with one of the more curable forms of lymphoma. He was admitted to the hospital and received his first dose of chemotherapy. But during the treatment, this usually gentle man became extremely angry and upset. He pulled the IV out of his arm and refused to cooperate. He shouted at the nurses and became argumentative with everyone who came near him. The doctors and nurses were baffled.

Then Tenzin’s wife spoke to the hospital staff. She told them Tenzin had been held as a political prisoner by the Chinese for 17 years. They killed his first wife and repeatedly tortured and brutalized him throughout his imprisonment. She told them that the hospital rules and regulations, coupled with the chemotherapy treatments, gave Tenzin horrible flashbacks of what had suffered at the hands of the Chinese. “I know you mean to help him,” she said, “but he feels tortured by your treatments. They are causing him to feel hatred inside – just like he felt toward the Chinese. He would rather die than have to live with the hatred he is now feeling. And, according to our belief, it is very bad to have hatred in your heart at the time of death. He needs to be able to pray and cleanse his heart.”

So the doctors discharged Tenzin and asked the hospice team to visit him in his home. I was the hospice nurse assigned to his care. I called a local representative from “Amnesty International” for advice. He told me that the only way to heal the damage from torture is to “talk it through.”

“This person has lost his trust in humanity and feels hope is impossible,” the man said. “If you are to help him, you must find a way to give him hope.” But when I encouraged Tenzin to talk about his experiences, he held up his hand and stopped me. He said, “I must learn to love again if I am to heal my soul. Your job is not to ask me questions. Your job is to teach me to love again.”

I took a deep breath. I asked him, “So, how can I help you love again?” Tenzin immediately replied, “Sit down, drink my tea and eat my cookies.” Tibetan tea is strong black tea laced with yak butter and salt. It isn’t easy to drink! But that is what I did. For several weeks, Tenzin, his wife, and I sat together, drinking tea. We also worked with his doctors to find ways to treat his physical pain. But it was his spiritual pain that seemed to be lessening. Each time I arrived, Tenzin was sitting cross-legged on his bed, reciting prayers from his books. As time went on, he and his wife hung more and more colorful “thankas,” Tibetan Buddhist banners, on the walls. The room was fast becoming a beautiful, religious shrine.

When the spring came, I asked Tenzin what Tibetans do when they are ill in the spring. He smiled brightly and said, “We sit downwind from flowers.” I thought he must be speaking poetically. But Tenzin’s words were quite literal. He told me Tibetans sit downwind so they can be dusted with the new blossoms’ pollen that floats on the spring breeze. They feel this new pollen is strong medicine. At first, finding enough blossoms seemed a bit daunting. Then, one of my friends suggested that Tenzin visit some of the local flower nurseries. I called the manager of one of the nurseries and explained the situation. The manager’s initial response was: “You want to do what?” But when I explained the request, the manager agreed.

So, the next weekend, I picked up Tenzin and his wife with their provisions for the afternoon: black tea, butter, salt, cups, cookies, prayer beads and prayer books. I dropped them off at the nursery and assured them I would return at 5:00. The following weekend, Tenzin and his wife visited another nursery. The third weekend, they went to yet another nursery. The fourth week, I began to get calls from the nurseries inviting Tenzin and his wife to come again. One of the managers said,”We’ve got a new shipment of nicotiana coming in and some wonderful fuchsias and oh, yes! Some great daphne. I know they would love the scent of that daphne! And I almost forgot! We have some new lawn furniture that Tenzin and his wife might enjoy.”

Later that day, I got a call from the second nursery saying that they had colorful wind socks that would help Tenzin predict where the wind was blowing. Pretty soon, the nurseries were competing for Tenzin’s visits. People began to know and care about the Tibetan couple.

The nursery employees started setting out the lawn furniture in the direction of the wind. Others would bring out fresh hot water for their tea. Some of the regular customers would leave their wagons of flowers near the two of them. At the end of the summer, Tenzin returned to his doctor for another CT scan to determine the extent of the spread of the cancer. But the doctor could find no evidence of cancer at all. He was dumbfounded. He told Tenzin that he just couldn’t explain it.

Tenzin lifted his finger and said, “I know why the cancer has gone away. It could no longer live in a body that is filled with love. When I began to feel all the compassion from the hospice people, from the nursery employees, and all those people who wanted to know about me, I started to change inside. Now, I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to heal in this way. Doctor, please don’t think that your medicine is the only cure. Sometimes compassion can cure cancer, as well.”

26 thoughts on “Healing scent”

  1. I have enjoyed the scent of Milkweed since we moved to Leicester in 1984. We have a field of it that I love to walk through on a sunny morning (!) when the scent is rising. The Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on it, and their caterpillars are a pleasure to watch. I won’t allow mowing till they are morphed and have departed. Shelagh.

  2. This is a great story. I used to drive a garbage truck and at the end of the day i would find i was usually angry or just not feel quite right. I never thought of how smells effect us at the time but looking back i compare that to the times i remember the good smells and how they made me feel, Happy, relaxed and at peace. We have a beautiful lilac bush that blooms outside the window where we often drink our morning coffee. That spot is so peaceful and relaxing , i believe you are right and this is one of God’s ways of calming and relaxing his children and bringing us closer to him. When life is kicking your butt, relax and smell the flowers.

    1. I love what you said, “When life is kicking your butt, relax and smell the flowers!”..

  3. Where love is, evil cannot stay. Let us all forgive and fill our hearts with love for ourselves and others. Forgiveness is very important in our spiritual journey.
    The Lord’s prayer says it best…..”forgive us our trepasses AS we forgive those that trespass against us.

    May we all sit downwind of flowers… spring, summer, fall, and winter.

    One of your best of , Mary.


  4. A beautiful story with a wonderful truth… Love, hope, and faith: but the greatest of these is Love!

  5. This is an incrediblybeautiful story!! My Aunt Nettie, who was my only “grandparent”, believed that working in the “earth” / garden was very healing. Whenever she was ill, Aunt Nettie sought treatment from a doctor, but would get to work as soon as she could in the garden. She passed at 106 years old.

  6. Good Morning, This is so moving I’m writing through my tears. A beautiful story and your flower arrangement is lovely. Thank you!

  7. Hi Mary! This is one of the most beautiful stories, AND one of the most important posts, you have given us all. Another lesson in what nature holds for us if we will just open up. Thank you.

  8. What a wonderful event! I shall surely pass this on to others. Thank you for sharing and bringing back truths of the wonder of life!

  9. Love this story!! Flowers are my passion. It is so nice to be reminded of their healing powers!

  10. The smell of milkweed, actually breaking open the leaf to see and smell the drop of milk, takes me back to childhood summers in Michigan. We three sisters loved to watch the metamorphosis of caterpillar (we called them stripies for their yellow and black stripes) to monarch butterflies. We would carefully cut the milkweed stalks upon which the caterpillar was already grazing, and put them upright in a coffee can – and within days witness the true miracle of the caterpillar spinning the cocoon, the beautiful light green crysallis dotted with gold and black, then days later, the emergence of the wet butterfly. She would take hours slowly fanning her wings, drying them carefully, until she was ready to fly away. Milkweed, miracles, love, healing. What a beautiful post for a Sunday morning! Thank you Mary.

  11. Mary, thank you so much for sharing this story with us. It is just beautiful! I love my flower gardens and find that when I’m a little out of sorts, a little time in my garden is healing. I was a hospice nurse for 10 years and loved it very much. It is stories such as these that make me wonder why I left, when people would ask me how I did what I did, I always said I recieved so much more than I gave. Hospice work was and still is one of my greatest teachers. Love to all

  12. Mary,
    Thank you for your wonderful post today. It is a beautiful story and so very true, that our thoughts can control our health.

  13. Oh god Mary. I am totally awed and speechless from this story. Can’t move. Can’t write. Thank you for another miracle today in a day full of miracles.

  14. OMGoodness Mary, this is such a lovely story. I love how the people at the nurseries looked forward to Tenzen and his wife’s visit…..you truly helped him and he gave you the gift of this wonderful experience to share with all of us. I’m sure all that tea with antioxidants helped him a lot too….thank you for telling us this.

  15. My mom, who has always been a great gardener, is in a nursing home now, but twice a week, I bring her whatever flowers are blooming in our garden. Even though at 96, she gets confused about other things, she still remembers exactly what flowers are going to bloom in the order that they appear. She’s been asking me if the day lilies are open yet, and this weekend, I brought her a big bunch of them. It lights her up when she sees them. Tenzen’s story is very powerful, especially for the effect he had on the people around him. Thanks for opening us up to it. I’m going to try to live my life downwind of the flowers.

  16. Thank you Mary for this inspiring blog. As I pass by my wild roses, the scent is marvelous and now I shall forever think of the healing aspects of the ‘downwind of flowers.’

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