Memory is the diary we all carry about with us.Oscar Wilde
Our sense of smell is governed by our ancient limbic system, which also is in charge of our memory, mood, and motivation, along with other things. Literature is rife with references to scent. It’s often one of our first tools to explore in beginning writers’ workshop because it accomplishes an important emotional texture in a scene that prose stumbles to do. An old Midwesterner knows by scent alone that rain is on its way before thunder shakes it loose from those dark clouds that are still miles away. Plants communicate by scent for their survival. We used to, before the world became so smart. Now, if you have the luxury of checking the weather on your phone rather than stepping outside your front door, scent is just something you could pay attention to if you felt like it.
Scent has always been a special influence to me, but it was recently when I was reminded of just how precious it is. I offered Reiki to an artist who had lost their sense of smell to COVID. As I sprayed a blend I created on my hands to help me in my work, I noticed my client was in tears. She expressed that scent and flavor were ghosts to her now (her words). I felt awful that I didn’t anticipate her feelings more mindfully and that the lack of being able to perceive scent is just as powerful as the gift of smelling. I thought of Beethoven grasping to hold his fleeting notes to paper and wondered how those phantom melodies revealed themselves, instead, in his imagination – the anguish he must have felt not being able to hear the volume of his work.
When we inhale the invisible, volatile vapor of an essential oil, we are breathing in molecules carrying potentially thousands of constituents that create the scent and therapeutic benefit of rose, lavender, chamomile, or pine. These molecules are so small, they are said to travel in the interstitial fluid our cells travel through. These molecules don’t travel just straight from our nose to our brain but swim in our blood stream, connecting with scent receptors throughout our whole body. I learned in my coursework for Aromatherapy: Medicine of the Soul with AromaGnosis, that even our organs have scent receptors. Dr. Florian Birkmayer, MD, stated, “When we are touched by an aromatic molecule, the molecule literally binds to the specific receptor in our body. Not just in our nose. We have olfactory receptors, of different subtypes, in virtually every tissue of our body. We don’t just smell with our nose, we smell with every organ, with our skin, with our kidney, with our heart.” We don’t feel our various organs’ delight at the scent of something that conjures a pleasant memory, but an important transmittal of chemical information is still happening.
I was asked once to create an intuitive blend for a client with anosmia, the inability to perceive scent due, usually, to extreme inflammation of the nasal mucosa. She didn’t want a blend in a bottle, but a blend on paper. I asked if she was quite sure. She was adamant that the power of the word, and perhaps the memory of scent, was just as helpful. And so I did. One by one, the botanicals revealed themselves as helpful guides for this individual, which I recorded and, for which, she was grateful.
We hear the word “embodiment” often in our New Age world. It isn’t so esoteric or intellectual. It simply means “a tangible or visible form of an idea, quality, or feeling.” Dr. Birkmayer explained it as experience meeting wisdom. When we embody love, it is felt by those around us through countenance, gesture, and, I believe, our energy. Likewise, if we were to embody a lower emotion, in a chronic sense, those around us would feel that, too. Plants are no different.
Though I work with essential oils and create tangible goods for people, the large part of my work entails things I can’t touch. Rather, I see them with my mind’s eye and feel other things in my emotional heart. This communication is direct, to the point, and sometimes powerfully felt. It’s just information I report. A rose garden in the ether or in a dream is no less powerful or symbolic than a rose garden you might stop to admire and smell on a walk. A painting you might see in a museum is just as moving as a work of art you’ve seen in a dream. Being with a loved one in the flesh is just as meaningful as our memories of them.
When we finish writing or reading a poem, we are left with an imprint of distilled emotion from either our or the poet’s memory. A ghost of an experience.
And it becomes memory.