Smell is so wonderfully raw and wild! I’ve had an enhanced sense of smell as long as I can remember. Doctors tell me it’s genetic. Consequently I have a ridiculously lavish memory, as smell is tightly woven into the part of our brain that recalls experience.
Scientists calculate that we can remember as many as ten thousand different odors! Usually each one will have more than one experience we associate it with, either consciously or unconsciously. And, as smell engages the limbic system in our brain, they will most likely be emotionally charged experiences. So trust me when I tell you that nothing triggers memories of a beloved as luxuriously as a fragrance!
Eight hundred agonizingly long miles separate me from my beloved. It takes either one of us an entire day of driving just to be in each other’s arms again. Friends and relatives marvel at how we’ve managed to maintain a long distance relationship for so long. How do you do it? They all ask. Well, there’s the obvious calling, and texting, and video skyping, of course. But our real secret is tucked into scents. We fuel our long-distance love through our sense of smell.
I take careful care to inject into the time I spend with my beloved particular scents I can access long after his dreaded departure: the fresh basil we tossed on our salads, the sandalwood incense that twirled with sweet melodies flowing from his classical guitar, the chamomile shampoo he uses on his hair, the French lavender bouquet on the table, the jasmine soap he gave me. When I find myself missing him so much that inhaling itself feels laborious, I just open a little bottle of fragrance under my nostrils, and suddenly my breaths are long, and deep, and lusty for life. I want to breathe him into me as deeply as I can! I feel calm. I feel safe. I feel alive!
Our very life-breath and smelling are so intimately linked. So much of the survival of our species was dependant on our sense of smell. We have evolved from an aromatic antiquity in which people were more attuned to, and interactive with nature through their sense of smell. Not locked indoors inhaling stale air, but running barefoot over moist earth breathing in all her scented glory. For tribal people, smell acted like an informant of fire, of approaching storms, of decay or growth, of fertile mates even!
Smell is about our origins. It’s how an infant identifies its mother. Guiding us to our source of nourishment, smell is our first means of survival. It is the most primal way we experience the world around us. If blindfolded, most of us could easily identify a garment worn by our beloved just by it’s smell. It’s almost as if our sense of smell is giving us the message that love is as essential to the survival of our species as physical nourishment is. And how passionately we’ve all longed to be in a loving relationship with another person! I think perhaps there is a kind of primitive survival safety in this. Nothing calms us like taking a deep breath of our lover’s neck. Feeling secure in our relationships is essential to our own development.
In the East they connect smell with ultimate security. It is symbolized as the earth element. It is safe, grounding, stable. It is what we reach our roots into to feel supported. Like the infant breathing in her mother’s scent, our sense of smell was designed by nature to be engaged with mother earth in an interdependent relationship of sustenance: We honor the earth and she nourishes us. It represents our source, where life begins, the soil from which roots draw food, and the horizon that births the sun.
There is nothing like the fragrance of the earth during a summer sunrise! As the first rays of heat begin to warm everything around them they explosively release odor molecules into the air for our olfactory pleasure. I experienced many such fragrant sunrises during my first trip to rural India. I was bombarded with mingling bursts of earthy clay, juicy dates, sweet mangos, drying cow dung, burning camphor, and faint traces of receding jasmine from the night before, just to name a few of the arresting aromas.
Yogis connect the olfactory realm to the red colors in a sunrise and the root chakra, Muladhara. This is the first vortex of energy at the base of our spine, providing a firm foundation. Our sense of smell is the only one they attach to this vital sense of security. When strong, they say, this energy flows the color of the blood in our veins.
Love is like blood. It is the substance of life. When I feel separation from my beloved, and months have passed since we’ve seen each other, my root chakra can begin to feel a bit challenged. Insecurities might seep in. Confidence might wane. Gradually the rising sun is obscured and love’s foundation feels like it is shaking. This emotional insecurity can eventually manifest as toxins in the blood, as living becomes strained in the absence of one’s beloved. A longing heart affects all our cells, and will even impact our personal scent. In fact, every emotion does.
When we begin to feel ungrounded, scent has the fantastic potential to root us back into our own sense of primal security. It works like magic! Give it a try! When used deliberately for this purpose, scents return us to our original self: strong, confident, secure, safe, loved. Scents can uncover our most natural state in all its sensual savagery! More than any other sensual stimulant, fragrance is designed by nature to affect our sense of self. Psychologically, odors are believed to be powerful identity chisels. Who we are and what we identify with is said to be strongly connected to what we’ve smelled in life.
Smell flows into us with every single breath we take and slithers it’s way into the deepest recesses of our psyche, playing delightful games with who we are. It’s rather mischievous that way! To me this makes perfect sense, as I’ll sometimes use fragrance as an enhancer for my art, which dedicates itself entirely to a study of the self. In my self-portraits, I use the aid of aromas to revive emotions that then produce imagery I create in my photographs. Aromas aid me in expressing myself. I breathe them in and I exhale myself in my art. My beloved then breathes me in through my images.
Anyone who is in love can’t get enough of their lover’s scent! It’s almost as if our very existence is sustained by the scent our beloved emits. Along the Gambia River in West Africa the words ‘smell’ and ‘kiss’ are synonymous, because it is wisely recognized there that smelling is a huge part of smooching. Ah! The relationship between love and our sense of smell is a long and luxurious one indeed!
So when my heart is aching in his absence, and this long distance relationship tests my endurance, I produce a little bottle of fragrance I know my mind will link with him: Essential oils we have used together, perfumes he gave me, scented candles we burned. I just close my eyes and breathe in, and all the memories of our times together are roused like flowers in the sun, soothing me with their fragrances, reminding me of how loved I am. That’s my little trick to thriving in a long distance relationship. It’s all about how I scent the air I breathe. Then all I have to do is inhale! I invite you to try it.
Thank you to the creative and inspired perfumers: Monica Skye Miller of of Skye Botanicals, Amanda Feeley of Esscentual Alchemy, Alexis Karl and Maria Mcelroy of Cherry Bomb Killer Perfume , and Lisa Kasper of Blue Moon Candles , whose delicious fragrances are my newest discoveries.