When I was sixteen, I had a friend who burned incense in her car. My parents were convinced that she was covering something up, like drugs or alcohol, but honestly, she just liked the smell of it. So did I. To me, its musky smoke hinted at faraway things that were beyond the realm of our understanding. Things like fairies and magick and mysticism and secret messages from the universe. I don’t know why it conjured such thoughts and images, but it did and I started burning it in my bedroom at night. Of course, my little brothers (who at that time would die a slow and torturous death before they’d see me happy) staged elaborate coughing fits until my parents finally ordered me to stop. My fascination with incense lived a short life under that roof.
Years later, after college, I entered a somewhat tumultuous time in my life. I was unhappy, but beyond the obvious things that keep people up at night, I couldn’t quite figure out the root issue. I just knew that there was something else — something I hadn’t yet explored enough to identify, to name, to face, and to work through.
And then… it hit me. I had let all the creativity leak out of my life.
After nearly a decade of keeping a journal, I had completely stopped writing. Wasn’t reading much. My job was of the automatonish, soul-sucking nature, and my commute stole hours from my day. I was in a bad relationship. Money was problematic. And I just didn’t know what to do about any of it. I felt trapped, alone, afraid, and utterly blank… though I never admitted it to my friends or family.
During those years, I made several trips to a friend’s house in the woods outside of Woodstock, NY. I remember it being mostly in the fall, when the air was crisp as an apple and the sun bright. The dried leaves and sticks crunched under our feet. There were animals about the property — horses and emu and others — and at night, their breath turned white like steam from a kettle. I could smell the wood of stove fires and inside, the air was infused with incense and music and the cooking of fresh things. In the town of Woodstock itself, there was more incense. In the book store and gift store and other unique little shops and outdoor booths. The sky was sapphire blue and the trees were on fire with autumn’s reds and oranges and during those weekends, those brief respites from life in the city, I’d unwind and let the universe speak to me. Somehow, I came at first to hope, and then finally to believe, that whatever was holding me back, I’d hunt it down and break it. I didn’t know how or when, but change was coming. I was on the edge of something new and frightening and amazing and quite possibly great. And amidst all those thoughts, there was always the sweet smokiness of burning incense and all of the faraway pictures it drew in my mind.
Eventually, I did break it, that thing holding me back, and a lot of stuff happened after that — really awesome stuff. It was ten years ago.
My friend no longer has that place in the woods, but I guess I no longer need it — not in the same way. Still, the smell of incense takes me there, right back to Woodstock and the way I felt when I breathed in the chilly air and prepared for something new.
Now, incense reminds me of the potential for great things, and how each of us lives always on the precipice of possibility. I burn it when I write at home to find that feeling again, even subconsciously — the feeling that something different and frightening and amazing is right around the corner, waiting to be discovered and explored through creativity. I just picked up a few new packs from a candle maker at the Elmwood Art Festival in my neighborhood last weekend. I don’t have little brothers in my house anymore. I can burn it whenever I want. 🙂
What about you? Do you have any special rituals or objects that bring out your creativity or inspire you to do something great?