Happy New Year! Goodbye 2018! With the new year comes a fresh start. I think we can all agree this year was intense, with the constant bombardment of bad news around the world–from natural disasters to our current political climate. Even if we do our best to focus on our new year’s goals, take media breaks or fill our days with good people and positive experiences, we can still take on negative energy from the world around us.
And sometimes, no matter what you do, you can feel the negative energy cling to you like a wet blanket. Or, more likely, to the spaces that you’re occupying. Enter, on a gust of sweet-smelling calming wind, palo santo, a wild tree native to the Yucatan peninsula and the Gran Chaco region of South America, and related to the biblical frankincense and myrrh.
Palo santo literally means “wood of the saints” or “sacred wood,” and indeed, when you burn it for just a short amount of time, you’ll notice that your surroundings will start to seem more at peace, your place in the order of things a little more secure, the air around you more serene, and yes, sacred. If you’ve been to my office you have smelled the sweet earthy smell of palo santo as I use it daily to clear negative energy away.
The history of palo santo goes all the way back to the Incan Empire. It was (and continues to be) used by shamans and healers in ritual prayer and ceremonies. Its sweet smoke keeps mosquitos and other insects away, and, according to Sacred Wood Essence, it “raises your vibration in preparation for meditation and allows for a deeper connection to the Source of all creation.” It is also thought to boost creativity for those who are “open to its magic.”
This may sound pretty “out there,” but it is a fact that scent is strongly connected to our emotional and mental states. “The Hidden Force of Fragrance,” an article in Psychology Today, reports that the “capacities for both smell and emotion are rooted in the same network of brain structures, the limbic system.” In fact, there is even growing evidence that those who have lost their sense of smell are more likely to be depressed, and conversely, those already diagnosed with severe depression have a weakened sense of smell. The article also explains that the olfactory center interacts directly with the hippocampus, which is partly responsible for forming new memories, and that none of our other senses has such deep access to these parts of the brain. So you may be able to recall information, prompt a memory, evoke a loved one, or bring about a certain mental state by simply smelling something. Almost everyone has experienced the phenomenon of smelling something from childhood and instantly being transported back to that moment in time, no matter how long it’s been since you smelled it, and how deeply buried it was in your psyche. Scent is that powerful!
But first, you have to set the stage well for these first encounters with a smell: if you are using palo santo for the first time, for example, pick a time when you know you won’t have many interruptions or stressful disturbances; perhaps you want to dim the lights, light some candles, and prepare a comfortable cushion or chair in an area of your bedroom, office, or whatever room you have chosen that you already have good associations with, but that, for whatever reason, you feel needs a breath of new energy.
Then use a match or a lighter to ignite your stick. You will want to hold the stick at a diagonal, pointing the tip down toward the flame. Let it burn for around 1 minute and then blow it out, moving about your space with it. When finished, place the stick in a fire-proof bowl of metal, glass or clay. Then you can meditate, create, read, or simply relax–but make sure to do something that will forge positive associations with the palo santo scent. The glow will end on its own unless you blow on the ember, which will keep the smoke going.
Although I have been using palo santo for years, it is currently enjoying a renaissance in the mainstream, which means it is easier than ever to find–whether in the form of essential oil, fragrant stick, or scented candle. But remember to really notice it and take it in whenever you smell it: make sure you are allowing yourself to form those powerful associations between mind, body, heart and environment.
Check out a few of my favorite palo santo essentials.
Luna Sundara Palo Santo Smudging Sticks High Resin Palo Santo from Ecuador – Wild Harvested Smudging Sticks
Na Nin Palo Santo/Cedarwood Home Fragrance Spray
Copper Palo Santo Holder