Ok. There’s a new oil in town, and you’re not sure why, but you feel attracted to it. Maybe it is the aroma, maybe the name, where it’s from, or you’ve had a look at the main chemical compounds. Whatever it is, there’s something about it that intrigues you and you want to find out about it.
So what is the best way to get to know a new oil? Where to start?
The intellectual approach: One thing we could do is to reach for the nearest textbook (or start browsing the web) and quickly discover what other people have said about it: that it is antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, cicatrisant. Then you need to make sure that you remember correctly what ‘cicatrisant’ means so you go off to check. You come back and your brain is full of information … but how much do you really know the oil?
The experiential approach: An alternative could be to find a quiet comfortable place, turn down the lights, turn the phone off and really bed down with the oil. Give yourself two minutes (yes, time it) inhaling the oil ideally from a fragrance stick. Be quiet while you do this, have your eyes closed, no expectations, just enjoy the experience without trying to understand too much. In this way you will start to develop a deep personal relationship with the oil and find out what it means to you: how it interacts with your body, your thoughts, your Being, your consciousness.
You can repeat this a few times a day for a few days. You can additionally diffuse the oil in your room. You may want to put a couple of drops in the palms of your hands, rub them together, and pass your hands gently around your body, not touching the skin or clothes. You may be surprised at the effect this has. (Especially try this with Palo Santo.)
In this way you will get more of a ‘feeling’ for what it is about. If you can, experience the plant too, or at least look at some pictures of it.
Important safety notice here: Some people are very sensitive to oils. You will almost certainly know if this describes you, so always proceed with caution here, and if you know that you are up at the sensitive end of the spectrum, go carefully and gently. Notwithstanding this, some oils are anyway very powerful. So there can be quite potent reactions, depending on the interraction of the oil and the person. Be aware of this and please get to know the oil with respect, and with reverence but also with informed caution.
Malte Hozzel talks about how to experience a plant and its essential oil.
So which approach is better? Obviously isn’t an ‘either/or’ situation, we really want both. But what I am saying is that although the information about the oil is incredibly important, it should always be there to supplement your direct experience and never overtake it. Practise being ‘Self Referral’.
On the information side it is particularly instructive to become a little familiar with essential oil chemistry. This may seem like a daunting task, but it need have nothing to do with diagrams of molecules, only about recognising the main biochemical compounds and their properties. Experience the whole and understand the parts. But be careful not to lose the wholeness in the study of the parts.
Just how powerful can the experience be?
Here’s a beautifully written account of a life-changing aromatic experience:
‘The early memories come wrapped in heat. The beauty of something unseen fills my body and makes me glad to be alive. So it was that my first rose came to me by scent in the beginning of the hot time when the rose bushes burst into bloom. I did not see its form, not then……for something else had been awakened Ð a longing that would fill my heart.
‘Do you know that the essences of plants are like the gentle touches of an angelÔs wings? It is up to you whether or not you turn to see their beauty.
‘I linger with many fragrances Ñ with clove, myrrh, frankincense, orange flower, rose Ñ and so many others. These are my friends, and they will help you as well, if you open your heart to them.
‘Sometimes as I pass my hands over the many perfumes that now dwell near me, I feel the rose blooming again in the chamber of my memory. I pray that I may never forget until the longing in my heart has finally brought me face-to-face with the Highest……..
‘For you see, the hidden hand of healing that brings relief from the pains of this world comes from a world beyond. It comes as an aroma on the winds of the soul.’
Ñ David La Chapelle, Navigating the Tides of Change, p. 163-65
To finish, here is a story about the First Earl of Birkenhead which illustrates the difference between wisdom and information. ‘FE’ was a barrister and a politician in the early 20th Century. He was a great wit, and was renowned for his long speeches in court. After one closing speech which went on for over an hour the judge said to him, ‘I’ve listened to you for an hour and I’m none the wiser.’ To which FE replied, ‘None the wiser, perhaps my lord, but certainly better informed!’
History does not record whether he won the case or not …