This week is mental health week and we have all had plenty of time to reflect on our mental wellbeing and on our own personal struggles over the past few months. As an authorised meditation instructor, I thought that I would be well prepared and adapted to spending time in isolation and maintaining a sense of calm and relaxation throughout the lockdown. But by the middle of May in London, I was beginning to suffer from ‘cabin fever’: an ever- encroaching sense of claustrophobia and city-phobia. I could see how my mental state was changing from one of positive optimism to a sinking sense of despondency and a kind of ‘dead end’ mentality. Something needed to shift, and when my daughter said ‘why don’t you come to the sea with me?’ I found that the very idea of seeing a wide sky and a vast ocean landscape already helped to lift my spirits. And it was true ... simply walking by the seashore, hearing the sound of the waves, smelling the seaweed drying on the chalky rocks and watching the sun set across the sea in a ruby blaze, was what my spirit needed to make me feel at ease again. It is well known that nature is a great healer: it feeds the soul in a way that few other experiences can. There is no contrived idea or philosophical thesis involved in what the natural world offers: it simply conveys the purity of ‘just being’.

In a short essay by Dr Kathleen Allen entitled ‘Water always finds a Way - and we should too’ she gives a clue as to how we can extricate ourselves from ‘dead-end’ mental states by trusting our intuition and allowing our life to flow on seamlessly to new experiences, by trusting our subconscious rather than our rational reasoning:

“Water always finds a way to move from its starting point toward sea level. It doesn’t have consciousness or emotional reactions to changing geography that cause it to stop its adaptive cycle. Instead it continuously releases one form to launch another as it moves toward its true purpose. If we could learn organizational lessons from water … and use our adaptive capacity in an infinite, water-like way, we would tap into a powerful ability to innovate and seamlessly adapt to a more natural, more successful way of being.”

Our mental health is also nourished by uplifting experiences which come through our senses: vision, hearing, taste, touch and our through our sense of smell. Scent is one of the most direct sensory doorways that we have to our subconscious mind, since our sense of smell is processed by our ‘primitive brain’, which deals with survival, drive and instinct rather than by our so-called ‘modern brain’ which is responsible for problem solving and rational thought. While exploring the countryside on the outskirts of Margate, my daughter and I came across a magical garden called the ‘Garden Gate Project’ (thegardengateproject.co.uk) that actively supports those members of the local community who suffer from mental health problems or learning disabilities. It is a project which aims to improve mental well being in the context of a beautiful and sensory garden environment, running courses on horticultural therapy as well as arts and crafts activities.

The garden was officially shut when we arrived, but the Director happened to be nearby as we peered through the gate, and she kindly offered us a ‘private view’, whilst maintaining social distancing of course! The whole garden seemed to literally glow with a sense joy and abundance and the plants all seemed to be thriving … like the oversized lettuce that we were generously given as a parting gift! But what also struck me was the sensory delight that the garden offered: a mix of vegetables in neat rows, some very beautiful mature trees and shrubs, cottage garden multi- coloured flowers and some tender specimens in polytunnels, including orchids, birds of paradise flowers and some banana trees! But what also captured my imagination was the scent within the garden because it was enclosed by high walls and hedges: here, the fragrance of old roses mingled with the warm-spicy scent of wallflowers and heady lilac blossom in a sensual blend.

It is well-known that scent can transport us to places we remember from our childhood, but we can also use scent as an imaginative tool to transport us to places that we wish to go. For example, the scent of rose maroc always transports me to a rose garden as if on a magic carpet; the scent of neroli takes me to the orange orchards of Majorca with a pervading scent of orange blossom on the warm breeze; the fragrance of jasmine evokes Indian temple courtyards, while the aroma of wild thyme takes me to the rugged mountain slopes of Tuscany or Sardinia. When we choose an essential oil to use as a perfume or room fragrance it is good to trust our intuition and the wisdom of our senses as a guide. When I was suffering from depression I was drawn to bergamot oil which is very uplifting in character, but after a while this changed and instead I was drawn to oriental style perfumes, such as frankincense, vetivert and sandalwood which are calming and encourage inner reflection. This phase lasted a few years, but then my preference moved on again. Right now I can say I am enamoured by a unique, fresh and alluring organic rose otto that I am testing for inclusion into a new Aqua Oleum autumn range. Since scent is a gateway to our subconscious, it can be very liberating to open that door and see where it takes us.