Healing Soul and Spirit
with Flower Essences:

An interview with Sister Bernadette Heslin
and Sister Mercedes Reygadas

by T. M. D'illon

 

SISTER MERCEDES REYGADAS was born and raised in Mexico City. She came to the United States in 1943 when she joined the Society of Helpers, an international religious community. She has served in California, Alaska, France and Mexico. She presently resides in San Francisco, CA. Sister became aquainted with the flower essences of Dr. Bach and of Nevada City in 1995 through a Mexican sister of her community who was familiar with their use among the poor. In San Francisco she contacted Lisa Di Placido who guided her through the first months of study. She has worked collaboratively with Bernadette Heslin, a Sister of Mercy and psychotherapist.

Her ministry has involved working with youth, couples, families, the sick, and in particular persons suffering from AIDS, since 1983. She serves in the AIDS Dementia Unit at Kaiser Hospital in San Francisco. "I deal with so many people who tell me their stories, and I usually see the underlying cause. Why are they fearful? Why are they angry? After I identify the cause, I apply the formula that in the past helped others who suffered in the same way. It's that simple."

SISTER BERNADETTE HESLIN is a Sister of Mercy with Masters Degrees in Education and Clinical Psychology. For many years Bernadette worked with multi-cultural populations as a teacher and school administrator. Since 1982 she has worked as a psychotherapist at McAuley Institute and in private practice in San Francisco where she became acquainted with flower essences through Sister Mercedes Reygadas. Bernadette has taken advantage of the current strong interest in complementary healing methods to encourage those who consult her to consider flower essences in lieu of, or in addition to traditional psychiatric medicines.

"My training in psychology is basically psychodynamics, but because of my interest in spirituality I tend to be much more eclectic. I pull from many different disciplines when working with people depending upon who I am working with. I try to be as holistic in my approach to people as possible."


Sister Mercedes Reygadas and Sister Bernadette Heslin

FES
From your professional point of view, Sister, how do you see the role of flower essences in healing?

BERNADETTE
I think the flower essences address the deeper, more spiritual needs of people. Essences go below the level of day-to-day conflicts and touch deeper emotional and spiritual conflicts, which I believe need to be healed if people are ever going to get well. The role of psychotherapy is largely geared towards the importance of insights, and I am somebody who values insight a great deal. But all the insight in the world won't heal if we don't address the underlying issues which have been there beforehand.

FES
What would be an example of a deeper, spiritual need?

BERNADETTE
Forgiveness, for instance. I see many people today, especially young people, with no spirituality in their lives. Their attitudes are geared toward materialism. I read of young people today with deep spiritual leanings but my own experience in San Francisco has been that most people who come to psychotherapy are in a lot of pain and have had no spiritual tradition of any kind. It is a great lack in their lives.

FES
Could you cite a specific case which illuminates this, and how flower essences affected it?

BERNADETTE
One young woman I have been working with for several years is in healthcare. She has a history of sexual abuse, and has struggled profoundly with depression and anger — not only at her abuser, but with her parents as well, who were unaware of the abuse. There has been no spiritual tradition in her life. The parents are good, hard-working people and their values in life revolve around hard work and responsibility, but nothing more.

She tends to be psychosomatic. She has been quite depressed at times, even suicidal. She and her husband never wanted to have children, their attitude being to live for yourself, now and today. Over the last two years we used a number of flower essence combinations to help her get to a place where she could even think about the concept of forgiveness.

We worked on her depression first, as it was almost an emergency. The last nine months we concentrated on the concept of forgiveness. A great freeing up has occurred inside her as she has forgiven this abuser. She has more energy, she feels better, and she told me on the phone yesterday she is pregnant and is very happy. It's an amazing story.

FES
What were some of the combinations you used?

MERCEDES
We began addressing her depression with Gentian. Then some cleansing with Crab Apple, Pretty Face, Hibiscus and Alpine Lily. After a time she began to have this allergy, which I thought was a manifestation of her inner turmoil. I gave her Self Heal Cream with Mountain Pennyroyal, Yarrow Special Formula and Angelica. Later I made her another with Sticky Monkeyflower and Pink Monkeyflower. To address her horror for sex, her feeling unclean, we gave her White Trumpet (Easter) Lily, Mariposa Lily, Angelica and Glassy Hyacinth. In the cream I added some Rue afterward, and it really seemed to help. I think Angelica had a lot to do with her own disposition and readiness to forgive. Angelica and Holly. She discovered once you forgive and let go, you are free to address other aspects of your own self.

BERNADETTE
One of the things I've learned as a psychotherapist is that forgiveness, the need to be forgiven and the need to forgive others, has incredible healing effects.

FES
Do you have parallel cases you could share?

BERNADETTE
I've been working with another young woman whose case is similar — she was not sexually abused, but she is also a young, bright, good-looking woman working in the healthcare field. She also has no spiritual tradition. She's married to a well-to-do man from a wealthy family from back East. She borrowed a lot of her self-esteem from the prestige of being married to such a man of background and wealth.

Shortly after marriage, she found his prestige was really just symbolic with very little substance to it. He actually was "faking" his attitudes and sensibilities to get along in the world of wealth. He was acting wealthy outwardly while carrying an inner life of lies and half-truths. This discovery shocked and devastated her.

In her family, once one made a mistake, you punished them, cut them off, condemned them, and never hear from them again. Hers were very rigid, upper-middle-class professional parents with absolutely no subtlety about anything. When she began to learn of some of the incredible fabrications in her husband's life, we started her very quickly with the flower essences. Her first inclination was to tell everyone about it and divorce him. But it was such a premature decision to make. I wanted her to wait for the dust to clear and not just act out of impulse in the way she had been trained by her upbringing.

MERCEDES
This is a very honest and judgmental woman and she wanted to see me. At the beginning she was very panicky. Five Flower Formula helped. Then she went through other transitions such as depression, inner weakness. We gave her a combination of Gentian, Larch, Elm and Walnut. Later she said she was "putting on fronts" and we added Agrimony to the combination. She is a very fearful person who often feels her safety at risk but she never had a chance to talk about her fears and confront them. We gave her a combination of Mimulus, Gentian, Star of Bethlehem and Angelica, which helped her greatly. Later, when she saw her marriage on the rocks and other personal issues, she, herself, chose Yerba Santa, Love Lies Bleeding, Borage and Walnut. With people who are not too spiritual I have a tendency of putting in a drop of the Angelica, and I do that with a lot of faith and have had great success.

Presently she is dealing with the issues of fear and anger. She mentioned that her anger comes from a fear of death, because she sees a lot of death where she works. For these issues she chose Aspen, Crysthanthemum, Beech, Angel's Trumpet and Angelica. She has made great progress.

BERNADETTE
I see both her and her husband. They are still married, and are communicating much more honestly and on a much higher level than ever before. The essences have definitely helped them confront and deal with their major issues. Deep issues. I think they will end up having a very strong marriage. They aren't out of the woods yet. But they are spending quality time together, making good use of the spiritual outlets available to them such as meditation and prayer.

FES
Is this what you mean by applying a more eclectic or holistic approach to psychodynamics?

BERNADETTE
Somebody who does strict psychodynamic work would never suggest meditation, or centering exercises or flower essences.

FES
And you feel the flower essences provide a positive influence on these treatments?

BERNADETTE
I see it as a collaborative process. I don't give anyone flower essences without first giving them the opportunity to talk about their issues. I see them as an important support that helps keep people on that deeper level, when the pain of dealing with conflicts can cause a client to run away, to deflect the conflict. I believe flower essences helps to keep the client in that difficult spot long enough to face it, deal with it, and heal it.

MERCEDES
The important thing to remember here is the people Bernie and I see and treat have faith in the flower essences, and that has a lot to do with it. They request them, they want them, they report their progress...it's an important dimension. These people DO want to be healed.

BERNADETTE
Many of them, I think, are surprised when they find the value of the essences and spirituality. So many have been raised with a completely materialistic philosophy.

MERCEDES
Also I think they are surprised at the power of the flowers, that such a simple and gentle remedy can have such a profound impact on them. We have so much positive feedback and progress reports from so many regarding so many different issues.

BERNADETTE
I'll share with you a striking case. A nurse who had taken care of my father while he was in the hospital came to see Mercedes and me. She had a number of psychosomatic problems, and they were running tests for neurological disorders. She was having headaches. There was weakness and tingling in her arms. She saw some of the very best doctors in San Francisco. They told her there was nothing wrong with her, neurologically speaking, and suggested she look at other factors that could be causing the symptoms.

She is a person who has had a lifetime of insecurities. She was raised by very demanding and strict parents who insisted all their children get first class educations. They did--but all of their children also have deep insecurities and emotional issues as adults.

Part of this RN's job is to be involved in frequent family and staff conferences. She felt she couldn't speak at these conferences because she was too stupid. She suffered panic attacks when these opportunities arose. She got into a pattern of taking the day off whenever confronted with having to speak at a conference. She is nearing retirement, and cannot take any extended leave of absence.

MERCEDES
The change in this woman was quite dramatic. We advised her to take a glass of water with the Five Flower Formula in it whenever she had to go to a patient, family or staff conference. Also we gave her a combination of Golden Yarrow, Chamomile, Mimulus and Sunflower. I find Chamomile addresses the issue of anxiety in the chest area very well. The doctors cannot believe the change in her composure and confidence. She keeps Five Flower Formula with her, but sometimes doesn't even use it.

BERNADETTE
She says her colleagues, whom she has worked with for years, say to her "Wow, look what counseling has done for you! It's a miracle!" I used to see her weekly, but now only once a month. She is like a different person.

MERCEDES
Another area where Bernadette has seen the flower essences help is with Attention Deficit Disorder. A formula we have found to be very successful is Cosmos, Peppermint, Rosemary, Rabbitbrush, and Shasta Daisy, because many of these patients are taking Ritalin or some other medication.

BERNADETTE
One of the most successful cases using this formula is a woman who has two graduate degrees. She is in her late 50's. She had a reputation of being a "dingbat." Her co-workers said she couldn't remember to take the mail and her car keys when going to the Post Office. She was too anxious to do math problems. She also had a very strange, staccato style of speech that I first believed was a sign of a neurological disorder. She was tested, and saw a psychiatrist. She was diagnosed with a mild case of ADD, and put on Ritalin. The Ritalin helped her.

I told her about a flower essence formula that could help with concentration and focus. and she agreed to try it. This story is actually incredible. She stopped taking the Ritalin, yet continued to receive its benefits. She came in one day and showed me her hands and arms, explaining all her life she had suffered from eczema, and now it was gone. The patient said it was only after taking the flower essences that the eczema had disappeared. I think the essences addressed the underlying anxiety that is common to ADD and eczema.

FES
Was that the same formula you mentioned before?

MERCEDES
The same one, the Cosmos, Peppermint, Rosemary, Rabbitbrush and Shasta Daisy. This woman stopped taking the formula, to see if the eczema would come back, and after a few days, it did come back. But she renewed the formula and the eczema left again.

FES
And her work performance?

BERNADETTE
Much, much better. No more Post Office and car key jokes. She says she can actually remember five things at the same time, and people at work are amazed. They don't have to cover up for her anymore.

MERCEDES
I have used this formula for a number of people. It really works wonders. I have people asking me for it.

For more details and information on Sister Mercedes Reygadas and her healing work, see the articles on pp 7-9 of the Spring, 2000 Flower Essence Society Newsletter (available to Flower Essence Society members). Also, be sure to check this site periodically, as we will be adding new cases from the Sisters in the future!

 

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