Sometimes the medicine of a plant is delivered by its mere presence:
Coming across a Pink Lady's Slipper in the forest there is a sharp, involuntary intake of breath and a sudden warmth that begins in the chest and spreads out throughout the body.
There is the awe of the presence of the sacred -- but something else as well:
an ecstasy tinged with astonishment felt not just by the spirit but by the body too.
At once. One and the same. A bliss of the embodied spirit taking pure delight in the sensual pleasure of the gorgeousness of the flower.
The experience is erotic in the truest, purest sense of the word. Terry Tempest Williams writes:
"Erotic means 'in relation.' Erotic is what those deep relations are and can be that engage the whole body - our heart, our mind, our spirit, our flesh. It is that moment of being exquisitely present."
Precisely the kind of engagement and presence we are jolted into by the haunting beauty of this delicate orchid blossoming in the New England forest in May.
And this is the response which the flower evolved to elicit.
The beauty of the flower exists for the purpose of seduction -- drawing in bees whose wings and bodies are dusted with the pollen of another Lady's Slipper, that will fertilize the ovum that will become the seed in autumn.
Our biology is not that different from that of the bees. We too are seduced by pink blossoms in the forest, and are ravenous in the presence of beauty -- held back from consuming it only by our reverence and awe.
Kate Gilday writes that Pink Lady's Slipper flower essence aids us in "Releasing shame" and finding "delight in our sexuality, opening one to a deeper level of intimacy."
I believe that it accomplishes this by bringing us in direct contact with our sexuality in a way that is unmediated by the language and stories of our culture. Aspects of our sexuality that predate the evolution of mammals.
The human female reproductive system is a variation on a flower. Vaginal fluids are a kind of nectar, that keeps the petals moist and draws in the tongue of the lover with its scent and taste.
The human male reproductive system is a further variation on the same theme -- and our misnamed "semen" is akin to pollen. Stephen Harrod Buhner writes:
"Semen is Latin
for a dormant, fertilized
plant ovum --
is chemically more akin
it is really
to call it
"To call it semen
is to thrust
deep inside our culture:
that men plow women
and plant their seed
when in fact
what they are doing
Present to beauty we can't contain in words, we move outside the lies contained in our language, beyond metaphor and back into visceral memory.
To the place where our erotic desire is as innocent as the desire of the bee for the Lady's Slipper.
Knowing that truth doesn't undo the lifetimes of trauma endured in a society where sex has become a weapon. And it doesn't in an instant erase all the lies we have believed about our own sexuality.
But it points us in the direction of possibility, allowing the healing to begin.