The Dirt: Jacqui Bushell
It’s seven am on an autumn morning and there’s a twinkle in Jacqui Bushell’s eye. She has spotted some chickweed. ‘Oh, here you are, beloved!’ she says, addressing the plant. She is collecting it for use in an infused oil mixture, tea, and also for a body cream. Before harvesting she asks permission; ‘ I always ask a plant whether it is willing to give up its leaves. They usually absolutely love it. One of the strongest messages I ever got was ‘thank god you’re picking us, at last we’re being used!’
Jacqui Bushell is a true woman of plants. She is a herbalist, energetic therapist, and teacher, working with people to help them rekindle their relationship with the natural world and, through this, their true nature. I spent a morning with Jacqui, wandering through the Field of Mars reserve in East Ryde, Sydney. We spent most of our time squatting down examining various plants and discussing their uses, energy, and stories. It was such a refreshing experience – Jacqui approaches the natural world in such a unique and passionate way.
Jacqui grew up in a small town in country Victoria and spent much of her childhood outdoors.
As I grew up my best friend was a peppercorn tree. I spent days in it. I would take the dog, a daschund, and a big box of books and food and climb the tree. I would only return home when it got dark.
Going to university in Melbourne was a real eye opener for her – she learned about exotic foods like zucchini, joined radical environmentalist groups, became a vegan and ‘suddenly thought I knew everything.’
It was during her university years that she had a life changing experience at a women’s retreat in the bush, in central Victoria. She says ‘Really late during the first night of the retreat the door of the house blew open and an older woman with long grey hair walked in. She had come from near Adelaide and had been living in a cave for five years talking to dolphins. She walked in and said I’m a woman warrior and I’m here to teach you’.…. She had no idea the camp was on, she had just followed her guides and intuition and arrived there that night. I had never heard of anything like that before. I suddenly realised I knew nothing.’
From that point onwards Jacqui decided to explore the idea of living an unlimited life. To her, this meant ‘following my instincts through the world, exploring the concept of coming home to myself.’
The concept of coming home seems to be an underlying theme throughout all of Jacqui’s work. What this means, I think, is helping people understand and feel the interconnectedness of all living things. Of embracing the wildness of their own nature, and finding a sense of groundedness within themselves, nurtured by their awareness of and connection with the world around them. ‘What we do as humans is we look at everything in relation to us’ Jacqui says. ‘I like to start trying to break down that barrier. Everything is dancing in relation to everything else. Everything is just pattern.’
People come to Jacqui for many reasons, often during a period of transformation. How she works with clients varies but it often starts off by simply encouraging them to notice things. Jacqui sends people outside to notice what plants draw them in, what feelings arise within different spaces, and what responses they have to them. This then forms the basis of the person’s learning. Often though, according to Jacqui, the humans aren’t the only ones doing the noticing.
I encourage people to notice what notices them and to then observe their response to that. If you connect with a plant, what happens is you sit with it and meditate with it and discover how to work with it. It will offer you something’, she says.
What I notice about Jacqui during our walk is that she notices everything! She wanders through the bush, squatting down every few meters or so to say hello to an old friend; gallium here, sarsaparilla there. All are greeted with a touch and a smile, and plenty of enthusiasm.
‘If you ever want more vitality or know how to extend yourself, take an essence of morning glory. Look how it covers everything!’ Jacqui says, as we wander past a tree dripping with the plant. I had plans to grab a bunch of leaves and make an essence, I reckon could do with some more vitality. Surely, it’s just about putting the leaves in some hot water or something? Apparently not. It can take years to make a plant essence, according to Jacqui, as you need to deeply connect to the plant and understand the learning that particular plant has for you. ‘I can only make an essence when I can embody what it is the plant is teaching me’ she says.
Jacqui has been to all sorts of places around the world to commune with plants, and eventually create an essence from them. She has created essences in Greenland, the desert of central Australia, and many other places. The plants call to her, so she goes. Her essences are deeply personal, and she sees them as an offering from the plant. ‘They’re like an invitation to step into a dialogue with the pattern of consciousness of the plant’, she says. According to Jacqui, essences can support us awakening dormant qualities within ourselves, bringing us back into our body and helping us embrace our sensory nature.
Again, this idea of connection pops up in my head. I guess tapping into the energy of a plant through the creation and use of its essence is just another way of helping people learn how to come home to themselves; to reconnect with their innate wisdom and humanity, through connecting with the natural world.
Spending time in nature, whether meditating with morning glory, distilling its essence, noticing the tiniest of flowers, or being noticed by the tallest tree is medicine for the head, heart, and soul. Whilst Jacqui’s approach to connecting with the natural world may not suit everyone, her message of acknowledging, celebrating, and exploring the depths of the connections between all living things is hugely important and valuable.
It’s like walking within the landscape rather than just on it’, she says. ‘There’s a level of participation going on which means there’s always a level of support. When you’re walking with the world you’re always being held by the world. You’re not isolated.
I have never met anyone quite like Jacqui Bushell before. She seems to approach all living things, whether they’re plant or animal with the same genuine warmth, enthusiasm, and generosity. Her world is one of joy, exploration, and openness. And, I have rarely been on a bushwalk with person who was equally or even more excited about the various plants and trees as I am. Usually, I have to tone it down a bit, but with Jacqui I was in good company!