We are facing a mental health crisis today due to the covid pandemic. Anxiety, stress & fear are all around: many of us have suffered panic attacks, grief, loss, separation and a sense of loneliness or despair over the past year. At such times it becomes very clear that we are social creatures and we feel isolated if we are not in human contact with others for prolonged periods of time. Children and young people especially have been denied the fun and playfulness of youth and the normal types of social interaction that later prepare them for becoming well-balanced adults. Yet change is inevitable - nothing lasts forever - not even covid! Now we need to find ways to see the light at the end of tunnel in order to survive and get through these dark times.

The months of lockdown have presented more time for self-reflection and the need to find inner resources in times of crisis. Meditation can be a useful tool for furthering this aim and is also one of the reasons why the ‘mindfulness movement’ has gained such great popularity in recent years – an approach that is largely based on ancient Buddhist principles. We could say that Buddhist meditation is essentially a ‘mind training’ or a tool for self–discovery, rather than a religion. On the one hand it is a tried and tested method of ‘research’ into one’s own psyche – or one’s own mind. A way of getting to know oneself better! On the other hand, it is also a valuable and practical tool for equipping us for everyday life! For example, it has been shown scientifically that regular meditation can help to reduce our anxiety and fears, help to bring about a greater sense of calm and more peace of mind… even in the midst of our daily difficulties and problems. The way to freedom of mind - from all the anxiety and stress that we suffer on a regular basis - is through first getting to know our own minds, by becoming more aware and present of what is going on inside us and how we are conditioned by our habitual thoughts and emotional patterns. So the first step is to observe ourselves - in all our different aspects - so then we can work with ourselves to start overcoming our problems.

We can describe our human condition as having three aspects, or three ways by which we as individuals interact with the surrounding world: our body, our energy (or our emotions) and our mind. From a Buddhist perspective, however, our mind is described as the governing factor of these three aspects, although all three are inter-related and inter-dependent, another words: mind has power over matter. We are all familiar with the ‘placebo effect’ in controlled experiments where subjects believe that they have been given a life-enhancing substance when in fact it turns out to only be water or a chalk-based pill! Yet somehow our body responds to the placebo as it as if was a powerfully active remedy. Thus, it is easy to understand how the power of our own mind or beliefs can dramatically dominate or influence our experience of reality. Most people have had some first hand experience of this kind at some point in their lives.

If we look at the ways in which essential oils interact with these three aspects, our body, emotions and our mind, we discover something quite unusual or remarkable: they are able to interact with all of these three simultaneously. This is quite unique! As Jennifer Pease Rhind comments in her excellent and well-researched book ‘Essential Oils: A Handbook for Aromatherapy’:

“ Essential oils are very interesting therapeutic agents, in that they not only exert their effects on physical, physiological and psychological levels but also on emotional and spiritual levels by absorption and via the olfactory tract – the sense of smell and the limbic system”

If we compare this multi-faceted effect with taking a standard herbal medicine, such as a valerian tincture for example, this certainly influences our physical body and physiology directly… but we cannot say that it influences our mind and emotions in a direct way, as essential oils are able to do. However, if we inhale valerian essential oil, it will not only have a powerful sedative effect on our body, it will automatically also relax our mind and calm our emotional disposition, especially when used as part of a blend. This is the basis of the formulation for our Aqua Oleum Diffusion Blend ‘Deep Sleep’ being based on valerian oil, yet blended with other relaxing oils, so as to produce an overall soothing effect on our body, emotions and mind simultaneously. All our Diffusion Blends function in this way: ‘Sacred Space’, ‘Defence’, Mountain Air’, ‘Serenity’, ‘Brighten’, ‘Clear Head’ and ‘Festive’ are all formulated to have a multi-levelled effect where the physiological, emotional and psychological effects support and enhance each other.

Moreover, essential oils are able to influence our emotions, mood and mind through our sense of smell subliminally, via our limbic system – our so-called primitive part of our brain, which cannot be conditioned by rational thought. Scents therefore can be said to communicate on an instinctual or unconscious level: the reason why in early civilizations incense was known as ‘the messenger of the gods’ and why it is still used in many ritual practices to the present day. Recent research has shown that we are almost totally governed in our behaviour, attitudes and our choices by our unconscious rather than by our conscious mind: what this means, is that fragrance can influence and help us without our even being aware of it.

In meditation, a distinction is made between our busy, ‘thinking mind’ and our underlying ‘nature of mind’, which is naturally clear and empty, much like a mirror reflecting our every experience. This is the aspect of our mind that we access in meditation practise, the seat of our pure consciousness, which can remain present and aware, without letting our mind drift away into past memories or future preconceptions. Incense and essential oils have been used to influence these deeper recesses of the mind and psyche from ancient times, especially in the context of spiritual practise. Frankincense, myrrh, amyris, cypress, juniper, copaiba and sandalwood are just a few of the many natural aromatics which have been used since antiquity to alter our consciousness, relax our breathing and have a calm mind which is not only conducive to contemplative practise but also for copying with the inevitable ups and downs of daily life.