Friday, June 25, 2010

The Madeleine Syndrome: A Guest Post

Today I'm pleased to feature a guest post by Marian Van Eyk McCain, editor of the new anthology GreenSpirit: Path to New Consciousness from O Books. Her post speaks eloquently to the theme of interconnection and interdependence, and celebrates the sensual embodiment that characterizes our relationship to the natural world. Enjoy!

The Madeleine Syndrome
by Marian Van Eyk McCain

The wild honeysuckle flowers are out now in the hedges all around where I live. My garden has a rosebush and it, too, is flowering, its scent so exquisite that every time I pass it I get stuck there for a while, sniffing each one of its flowers in turn and thanking it, my whole being awash with sensory pleasure.

Marcel Proust’s description of the feelings evoked in him by smell has been quoted so many times that I always think of this connection between smell and emotion as ‘the Madeleine syndrome’: " soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me .... immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set to attach itself to the little pavilion opening on to the garden which had been built out behind it for my parents."[1]

Smell holds a privileged position among our senses, in that it has a hotline to the paleocortex, the deepest, most ancient part of the brain. Messages from nose to brain evoke memories, sensations, emotions so rapidly that our thinking function often takes some while to catch up — or even to identify the source. There are times when it never does. Some memories and associations evade capture altogether and yet they haunt us.

As I lean forward to touch my nose to the honeysuckle flower I see in the hedge and inhale its much-loved scent for the first time this summer, I breathe in joy. And I am flooded, once again, by a sense of connectedness with everything around me. For the air connects us all.

In my introduction to the fourth section of the new anthology I have edited: GreenSpirit: Path to New Consciousness, I included a beautiful piece of writing by Sharon McKinney. Sharon wrote:

On a spectacular morning, I am sitting on a bench looking out at the ocean enjoying the perfection of nature. Looking into the cloudless blue sky, I remember that the air we breathe is part of the whole history of our planet. Maybe that breath I just inhaled was previously inhaled by one of my great-great-grandmothers as she crossed the country in a covered wagon, or maybe it was breathed by a buffalo as he grazed across the vast wild prairie. I can let my imagination take that one breath back to the beginning of creation.

I will think about that every time I take a drink of water! Maybe a dinosaur drank this first, or it was part of the rain that floated Noah’s boat, or a whale spouted it into steam that became a cloud and snowed on a mountain, then became spring melt into a river, down to my faucet and is now in my morning coffee.

Today I will keep in mind that we are all living in a closed system and there are no new elements. I am praying for a conscious awareness of the need to care for our Mother Earth.

It is not just our intellectual knowing about the connectedness of all life on Earth that is important. It is our deep immersion in that life, through all our senses, that will make the difference. For it is out of a sense of belonging, a feeling of identification, and a direct, visceral awareness of our connectedness, that we shall be able to pull things back from the brink of destruction on which they are now hovering so dangerously.

Marian Van Eyk McCain is a deep green crone. She is also a columnist and free-lance writer who has published articles on many subjects, from mind/body/spirit and women's issues to environmental politics, organic growing and alternative technology. She is the author of three non-fiction books: Transformation through Menopause (Bergin & Garvey, 1991), Elderwoman (Findhorn Press, 2002) and The Lilypad List: 7 steps to the simple life (Findhorn Press, 2004), a primer for living simply and lightly on the planet. She has also written several works of fiction.

Long retired from her former career as a psychotherapist and wellness educator, Marian is on the Council of the GreenSpirit organization and Co-Editor of the GreenSpirit Journal. Her new book GreenSpirit: Path to New Consciousness (O Books, 2010) is an anthology of writings by thirty contributors[2] who all believe that a deep love of the Earth is necessary if we are to survive as a species and to live in a peaceful, sustainable world.

[1] Marcel Proust (1871-1922) Remembrance of Things Past
[2] Followers of this site may be interested to know that one of the contributors to the new book is Emma Restall Orr (‘Bobcat’) who leads the International Druid Network. Her chapter is entitled ‘On Devotion and Duty’.


  1. Love it...a must-read for me. Thank you. Jill

  2. Oh scent, yes, so evocative. The local tomato nursery at the back of one of my childhood homes (good, old-fashioned tomatoes with a heady scent and fruits bursting with flavour; I loved to eat them fresh off the vine when the nursery-man's back was turned). Roasting coffee from a cafe near the same childhood home. Shalimar by Guerlain, the first expensive perfume I ever received, 30 years ago, that takes me back to a certain red dress every time I catch a whiff of it. The magical spicy burst from brushing the leaves of a scarlet geranium.

    And yes that connectedness is very special, to each other, to the past and to the present. This book will help us connect to the future as well.

  3. Thanks for your comments, Jill and Tess. Lovely!