FRAGRANCE AND BREATH
The sense of smell of fragrance is deft and immediate. Experts tell us that smell is the most faithful of all the senses in terms of memory. The smells of one’s childhood still remain within. It is incredible how a simple scent of a street or in a room can bring you back years to an experience you had long forgotten. Animals, of course, work wonderfully with the sense of smell. To take dogs for a walk is to realize how different they experience landscape. They are glued to trails of scent and enjoy a complete adventure, tracing invisible smell pathways everywhere. Each day we breathe twenty-three thousand and forty times; we have five million olfactory cells. A sheep dog has two hundred and twenty million such cells. The sense of smell is so powerful in the animal world because it assists survival by alerting the animal to danger. The sense of smell is vital to the sense of life.
Traditionally, the breath was understood as the pathway through which the soul entered the body. Breaths come in pairs except the first breath and the last breath. At the deepest level, breath is sister of spirit. One of the most ancient words for spirit is the Hebrew word ‘Ruah’; this is also the word for air or wind. ‘Ruah’ also denotes pathos, passion and emotion – a state of the soul. The word suggests that God was like breath and wind because of the incredible passion and pathos of divinity. In the Christian tradition, the understanding of the mystery of the Trinity also suggests that the Holy Spirit arises within the Trinity through the breathing of the Father and the Son; the technical term is spiratio. This ancient recognition links the wild creativity of the Spirit with the breath of the soul in the human person. Breath is also deeply appropriate as a metaphor because divinity, like breath, is invisible. The world of though resides in the air. All of our thoughts happen in the air element. Our greatest thoughts come to us from the generosity of the air. It is here that the idea of inspiration is rooted, you inspire or breathe in the thoughts concealed in the air element. Inspiration can never be programmed. You can prepare, making your self ready to be inspired, yet it is spontaneous and unpredictable. It breaks the patterns of repetition and expectation. Inspiration is always a surprising visitor.
To labour in the world of learning, research or in the artistic world of writing, one attempts again and again to refine one’s sense of readiness so that the great images or thoughts can approach and be received. The sense of smell includes the sensuality of fragrance, but the dynamic of breathing also takes in the deep world of prayer and meditation, where through the rhythm of the breath you come down into your own primordial level of soul. Through breath meditation, you begin to experience a place within you which is absolutely intimate with the divine ground. Your breathing and the rhythm of your breathing can return you to your ancient belonging, to the house, as Eckhart says, that you have never left, where you always live: the house of spiritual belonging.