Discovery between the pines
Photo by Heather Hall Photography

How sense-luscious the world is. In the summer, we can be decoyed out of bed by the sweet smell of the air sloughing through our bedroom window. The sun playing across the tulle curtains gives them a moiré effect, and they seem to shudder with light. In the winter, someone might hear the dawn sound of a cardinal hurling itself against its reflection in a bedroom windowpane and, though asleep, she makes sense enough of that sound to understand what it is, shake her head in despair, get out of bed, go to her study, and draw the outline of an owl or some other predator on a piece of paper, then tape it up on the window before going to the kitchen and brewing a pot of fragrant, slightly acrid coffee.

Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses

What a wonderful and curious thing it is to make sense of our world, our own personal myths, by gathering, sorting, and examining what we know and intuit through touch, taste, sight, sound, and scent. It’s the stuff of fairy tales, really. And, of course, biology. Mating and safety. But also a practice that wraps comfort around our shoulders like an old, soft quilt. The way a beloved song vibrates in our throats and against the door of our lips when we hum it, the memories and feeling that brings, the way the light at dusk in January reminds us to resign our big energy this time of year, the way the scent of rain often precedes a drop in temperature and a mighty stir of dark clouds here in the Midwest.

These sensory experiences become our memories, the mise en scène of our journey myths.

Looking back at my experiences with own aromatherapy practice, I recall the passages of time when I felt most comforted by the florals, geranium, rose, and neroli. The woods, sandalwood, pine, and atlas cedar. And the more herbaceous, helichrysum, sweet marjoram, and clary sage. I wanted to learn about their therapeutic and metaphysical offerings as much as I wanted to be touched by their reassuring fragrance. And so I got to know them and wonder and discover how they play together. My partner claims there is a common thread running through most of my blends and I’ve tried to pinpoint what that might be. Rose absolute? Clary sage? Sandalwood? I blend frequently with those (and those listed earlier). I’m not certain, but perhaps what he’s smelling is a variation of a running theme these past few years, a culmination of practice and a certain care with the approach and blending of the ingredients. I felt the same way about my grandma’s baking, there being a common thread. I’d like to think my sisters and I could easily distinguish her scones and currant squares from another baker’s. There’s a way we go about cultivating the expression of our sensory experiences, inspired by so many things in our interior world. My blends were a response for a deep need of comfort, courage, and love.

And, with the passage of each chapter in our lives, perhaps a new element is added, replacing what no longer is needed but will remain a beloved memory in our story.

“Myths tell the stories of the unseen beings of how everything fits together and works harmoniously and what we need to do when the harmony is disrupted, and inevitably happens as we evolve. Modern humanity no longer has living myths that feed the connection to everything around them,” expressed Jungian psychologist, Dr. Florian Birkmayer in Alchemy: Medicine of the Soul, a course I took with AromaGnosis.

Ancient cultures told stories around fires to teach. It’s said storytelling culture is dead. But have we moved beyond a storytelling culture or has the delivery of the story, the teaching myth, just shape shifted? We’re still very much drawn to story, I believe. We can learn so much about ourselves and each other if we choose to pay attention in wonder. While no new archetypes may exist, no new myths to learn from, as Dr. Birkmayer suggests, the sensory experiences that have shaped our world have provided all the education we need, if we approach them with curiosity and care over fear. And don’t we share these stories with our friends and family? Even just the retelling of the way our mother’s hands worked? Aren’t we still learning? Doesn’t this collection of material and experience inspire our next steps?

I am very curious about exploring several essential oils beyond my typical repertoire as well as incorporating fragrances not typically classified as “therapeutic” but are natural, nonetheless. This fills my chest with new breath and ignites my mind. It’s time to move forward. I’m grateful to have been a student of those plant allies I’ve spent so much time with these past five years in my practice. I feel I can share their and our collective story better.

Photography by Heather Hall