The psychology of flowers and why they make us so happy
These days, as our lives go through ups and downs due to the changes we are living through, more self care is called for. We may need more exercise, a healthier diet or more sleep. We might find peace in moments wandering through nature or in meditative quiet time. And we might receive a much needed emotional lift from Flower Power.
In 2005, the Department of Psychology at Rutgers University conducted a 10 month behavioural study, looking for links between flowers and life-satisfaction. They found that “Flowers have immediate and long-term effects on emotional reactions, mood, social behaviors and even memory for both males and females.”
“What’s most exciting about this study is that it challenges established scientific beliefs about how people can manage their day-to-day moods in a healthy and natural way,” said Jeannette Haviland-Jones, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and lead researcher on the study.
In the study, subjects received deliveries of flowers and other gifts such as fruit, candles and pens. While most deliveries of gifts received a positive response, the highest response rates came from receiving flowers. The studies showed that these positive responses lasted two to three days.
But honestly, we didn’t need a scientific study to tell us what our bodies intuitively know (though confirmation is sometimes nice). According to the Rutger’s study, the presence of flowers:
Why do Flowers Make Us Happy?
Flowers are connected to the release of some seriously happy-forming hormones in our systems.
Dopamine, the feel-good neurochemical, helps regulate movement, learning, motivation, attention and emotional responses. It is released by the expectation of a reward. Flowers, back in the day, were a huge reward signal in our brains because they promised abundance after a hungry winter. While we may not link flowers so directly with food anymore, flowers can still trigger that sense of anticipated excitement.
Oxytocin is a neuro-chemical often called the “love hormone”. It creates feelings of social trust from mother-infant bonding, to romantic connection to group cohesion and belonging. These bonds are crucial not only to our survival as a species but also to our capacity to thrive and grow. When we give each other flowers, oxytocin is released. Flowers then serve as talismans, communicating the strength of our bonds, and our intention to invest in caring for the relationships that form them. Because of the evolutionary connection of flowers to physical survival, we are also underlining the importance of social connection to our well-being.
And then there’s serotonin, the neuro-chemical crucial to mood, well-being, happiness and our spiritual lives. Scientists have found that serotonin receptor activity in the brain correlates with a capacity for transcendence or bliss. From the lotus to the rose, lowers have long been associated with spiritual paths since ancient times. It is both the colour of the flowers AND their scent that trigger serotonin and lift the Spirit.
That brings us to the Chromotherapy and Aromatherapy. That’s part 2 of this blog post. Stay tuned. But in the meantime, here's a lovely bouquet to help your happy.
Reflections on the past year; reality check from Krista Tippett in conversation with clinical psychologist Christine Runyard; and imagining a future based on cooperation and care
Happy Vernal Equinox, 2021 everyone. In my culture, this is actually New Years Day, called Navroz. Traditionally, it’s a time for communal feasting, dancing and letting go of all the unnecessary and dark while calling in light, peace and prosperity for the new year. And Dancing...did I mention dancing? This year’s Navroz has gone slightly differently than in the past. All the feasting, dancing, letting go and calling in has been more contained, more personal “bubble” sized. Such is our current reality.
The other day I was reflecting on the past year and the pandemic situation, with my friend and artist, Norma Jean McCallan. One of her observations was that this year has felt like tiptoeing around an abusive relationship. In such a situation, we are in fight or flight and survival mode, rolling from one crisis to another until such time as we have a moment of relief to process, and make choices as to how we want to proceed.
One of those moments came for me in January of this year. While my head recognized that “normal” is not something I can (or want to) return to, the rest of me needed some time to catch up. I disappeared into a bit of Cave Time to deal with the depression feelings that seemed to overtake me after the holiday season. My physical energy was low, I slept a lot and tried to focus on facing the fears with some heart tools - like appreciation, grounding breath work and visualization.
It was more challenging than I thought it would be. Then last week I came across an interview with clinical psychologist Christine Runyan on Krista Tippett’s On Being podcast. Here’s the blurb that introduces the interview.
“The light at the end of the COVID tunnel is tenuously appearing — yet many of us feel as exhausted as at any time in the past year. Memory problems; short fuses; fractured productivity; sudden drops into despair. We’re at once excited and unnerved by the prospect of life opening up again. Clinical psychologist Christine Runyan explains the physiological effects of a year of pandemic and social isolation — what’s happened at the level of stress response and nervous system, the literal mind-body connection. And she offers simple strategies to regain our fullest capacities for the world ahead.”
Christine Runyan put words to what many of us around the globe have been feeling this past year. Her coping strategies are simple yet effective. It was a valuable hour spent. I realized that I use many of these strategies already, but it was really necessary for me to have them confirmed and validated. Equally important was the confirmation that I’m not crazy or alone in this experience. Naming it, talking about it and doing the work to come back to a grounded, balanced center, are crucial to moving forward.
It all comes down to the story we tell (meaning believe) about ourselves, each other, our world and our place in it. When I was at school, Science taught us a story about the earth and the relationships between all living beings. It was essentially that the earth is based on competition, the survival of the fittest, a win-lose story. If you think about it, this is the story upon which our world, our economies and our lifestyles have been crafted in the past few millennia. But we are seeing that story crumble around us as our impact on the Earth has exacerbated the climate; as our economies are slowly failing, as the nation state system created by conflict slowly falls apart.
Science is revising its approach. It is now saying that the earth and the relationships between all living things is cooperative. In this model, one that aboriginal peoples all over the world have known for millennia, we all survive, thrive and evolve when we cooperate and work together. Its a part of Nature, right down to our very cells. According to evolutionary biologists, without cooperation we wouldn’t be here.
It's easy to see how we might flourish in such an environment. The stresses we experience of survival and isolation just wouldn't be a thing. Within a cooperation model of human organization, our individual talents and gifts would have more chances to be expressed and flourish. See it as a group of intersecting circles, as in the Flower of Life design, as opposed to a pyramid scheme model. In the pyramid model, there is only one peak, one “best” of anything. But in the intersecting circles model, there would be more opportunities for sharing and collaborating. Every circle, or community, would have a possible place for your specific talents and gifts and many places and opportunities to be your best self in what you do.
Imagine a human world in which cooperation and care of self and others was the governing principle. Oh but wait! We’ve had glimpses of what that world could be this past year. Health professionals pulling together in crisis situations to help others, often at personal cost; entire cities of people following masking, distancing and other protocols to help flatten the virus curve; many people sharing their skills online to help others in various areas of self-care and personal growth--from online courses to exercise programs to Arts experiences; the growth of online communities that transcend borders; governments releasing funds to its citizens and cooperating on vaccination acquisition; communities of people doing the very difficult work of naming points of trauma that need healing in our society so that we can do the repair work needed to come together; the continued commitment of so many of us to repair the damage we have done to the Earth; and the Earth herself showing us it wouldn't take much time for her to repair, if we would only stop our destructive behaviours. There will always be those who have difficulty cooperating. As oceanographer Danny Grunbaum says, “Cooperation never means the absence of conflict of interest. It means a set of rules for negotiating conflicts of interest in a way that resolves them.” I would add, “for the highest good of everyone involved.”
At the start of this Solar Year, we are on the cusp of huge changes, which can be both exciting and scary. How we meet them will depend greatly on how we change the story we believe about ourselves, our relationship with the planet and with all living things. I, for one, hope we continue to choose the win-win options.
Why being grounded is so important right now and some Essential Oils that can help
A few days ago, an artist friend of mine posted on her social media wall, wondering how the rest of us were dealing with pandemic depression. Those that replied weighed in with helpful suggestions and loving support. In the current social distancing scenario, social media is serving as a window we can lean out of to talk to our neighbours and maintain some kind of human connection. That's a very good thing.
But social media is also the site of many fearful, traumatizing stories that can put us off balance. We are in such a deep transition, and it is not clear how it's going to turn out. Being mindful of our thoughts and feelings is important to our mental and emotional health right now. It's also useful to remember that thoughts and feelings become things. This is how we create our collective reality. Metaphysics for Life explains:
"Thoughts become things when they are given substance with feelings in the Mind.
Thoughts are the DNA of the Universe. They contain the information that gives form to our physical life experience. Without feeling or substance, we would not be able to perceive the thought-forms in our Mind.
The feelings we use to give substance to the thoughts in our Mind come from one of two sources: fear or Love."
Our thoughts and feelings affect our body's pathways, creating hormone release and affecting our energy flow. Fear thoughts will release stress and anxiety hormones and prolonged stress can lead to dis-ease. Love thoughts will release endorphins and happy hormones which leads to sustained health and well being.
The collective consciousness is also affected by the predominant thoughts and feelings of any group. Studies have shown that group meditation, for example, can do things like reduce crime rates and promote peace. How does this work? According to Thrive Global:
"An experiment conducted during the Lebanon war in the 1980s showed that when 1,000 people in Jerusalem meditated on world peace, war deaths in Lebanon went down by over 75%. Not only did war deaths go down, but crime and other destructive happenings also went down on the days the group meditated. There are many such experiments and given such huge positive social changes brought about by group meditation, it is very much possible that large meditation gatherings will become very popular very soon, just as meditation has become mainstream."
So for the good of ourselves, each other and the planet, choosing Love over Fear, following our hearts and inner guidance, seems critical at this time in our human history. Aromatherapy can play a huge role in helping us maintain our sense of rootedness on the earth in these winds of change.
WHY IS BEING GROUNDED SO IMPORTANT RIGHT NOW?
Being temporarily ungrounded is a pretty common experience these days, especially in our current, fast paced, rapidly changing world. We are constantly bombarded by fear thoughts, and feelings of depression or anxiety. We worry about what's going to happen in the future (anxiety); we miss how it used to be (depression). Yet we are all being called upon to dream a new future for ourselves and the planet, individually and as a species. In order to make the best choices for ourselves, we have to be able to hear our own inner voice, our own personal creative muse. This is where being grounded comes in. When we are, we are choosing to place our trust in something much older and wiser than our fears. We are choosing to love and honour our soul's journey and this beautiful planet we call home. She's been here a lot longer than we have; and this too shall pass
Being grounded refers to being physically, emotionally, mentally, energetically and/or spiritually rooted. This doesn't mean staying rigid or unchanging; it means that, like trees, embracing the flow of the breeze; following the sun and growing while being energetically connected to the earth. The emotion behind being grounded is Trust--in the unconditionally loving connection between ourselves and the earth. People who are grounded are fully present in the moment, alert and aware of their physical experience and boundaries. They tend to be solid, clear and comfortable in themselves. This is a useful way of being, especially in the face of the unknown. Aromatherapy is an effective tool for helping us get back into our bodies, anchoring us so that we can manifest our dreams for ourselves and our planet.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I'M GROUNDED?
It's my experience that our bodies have a way of telling us. Here's how you can get ready to listen. First, become present in your body. Take a deep, cleansing breath in. Fill up your lungs and hold it for 5 seconds; then exhale out. Take a couple more deep breaths and begin to notice sensations in your body. When you feel relaxed, pick up your essential oil bottle and bring it to your nose. Inhale. Hold your breath for a few seconds and notice any sensations you might be feeling, primarily in the your chakra system, from the base of your spine to the crown of your head. Grounding oils usually speak to your Root Chakra, found at the base of your spine. When you inhale, you might feel a drop in your lower pelvis area--that's your Root Chakra responding to the oils. Or you might be aware of an energy sensation running down your legs to your feet. You might also sense your feel feeling solid and firmly planted. These are all messages from your body that you are anchored in the present moment. If you don't feel the Root Chakra drop right away, inhale again deeply. Repeat until you feel grounding sensations in your body
Now take a minute to notice your feelings. If you are grounded, you will notice an overall feeling of calm and relief, as though you just put a big burden down. You might also notice some feelings of hope in the space between calm and relief. That is the feeling of trust taking root.
MY FAVOURITE GROUNDING ESSENTIAL OILS
My blog post, Aromatherapy, Memory and the Art of Creating Scents explains the science behind how aromatherapy works in your body. The entire process from the moment of breathing in the oil aroma to the corresponding gland secretion in your body, takes place in a matter of seconds. This is one reason why Aromatherapy can be so powerful in effecting change to your mental, emotional and physical state.
Essential oils that are grounding tend to be derived from tree bark, needles and resin. Or they come from the roots and rhizomes of herbaceous plants. No surprise here. Nature is wise that way, creating what we need to ground with her quickly, leaving clear clues for us to find it. She literally seems to be saying, "Make like a tree and get rooted."
Here are my favourite essential oils that provide grounding and the Free Lion Scents that holds each one
Cedarwood has been used traditionally by Native Americans for its spiritual energy. It is grounding and centering while also helping to open the upper chakras. The Druids believed Cedar to be a relative of the Tree of Life, holding an energy that is deep, ancient, and protective. Cedarwood essential oil brings forth feelings of safety, grounding, support, love, and comfort. Its fragrance is purifying and safeguarding. It powerfully facilitates deep connection to the wisdom and sacred truths of the earth.
I use this one a lot. You'll find it in our Rose Garden, Sandalwood, Citrus Cedarwood and Tofino Breeze blends as an anchoring base note.
Fern is a staple of Native American self-care preparations. Spiritually and energetically, Fern helps build an earth-sky connection between that in you which needs to soar free, and that which needs to stay anchored and stable so that you don't lose your way home.
It's a much lighter scent, leafy and herbaceous. a "green" sort of smell. I use it in our Namika scent blend to give some grounding depth to green tea and jasmine.
Juniper Berry is the oil of transitions and new beginnings. Its warm and comforting smell evokes feelings of safety and security, like being in the presence of tall trees standing guard. Juniper berry is a powerful tool to purify, cleanse and detoxify the body, mind, spirit and environment. It supports us during times of stress, works to calm negative emotions and facilitates communication between the heart and mind.
It has a slightly fruity note to its otherwise woody smell, giving it a gentler presence. You'll find it in our Rain City and dancing with the citrus notes in our Citrus Cedarwood
Pine instantly connects on the deepest level with hundreds of years of tree wisdom with its restorative assistance and present-time perfection. Revered by Native Americans as the "Tree of Peace," this nourishing oil expands the chest as you inhale the fresh scent of revitalizing evergreen. I use it in our Rain City blend.
Frankincense is said to hold the wisdom of the universe, reconnecting you with spirit. It is elevating yet calming and grounding. It helps remove blocks and negativity to support faith and trust, creative vision and concentration. Frankincense was used by the ancient Egyptians and Greeks as an offering to the gods. It is said that it was gifted to Jesus by one of the three wise men.
The scent is less woody and more resinous. You'll find it in our Citrus Cedarwood and gently grounding the sweet, warm tones in our Mombasa.
Oak Moss evokes the scent of the wet forest, truly connecting you with the earth. It helps us connect with the earth plane, and to realize that we are on earth for a reason. I use it in our Tofino Breeze.
OUD or AGARWOOD
Oud or Agarwood is known for its spiritual and calming properties. It is used to clear the negative and destructive energies that surround the human aura, while increasing mental functionality, and a feeling of harmony and contentment.
I have a huge attachment to the smell of Oud. It reminds me of sacred ceremony. You'll find it in our Mombasa, in a sacred dance with Frankincense.
Patchouli has a comforting yet stimulating scent that supports both creativity and sensuality. It is both balancing and grounding, helping with manifestation of earthly matters. Basically, it helps you ground your creative intention. You might be able to feel this one in your Sacral Chakra too, just below your belly button. You'll find it in our Sandalwood blend.
Sandalwood evokes sacred, wise energy. Both grounding and spiritual, it is a wonderful aid in mediation or to create a sacred space. Sandalwood is an aroma that is said to stretch out into the universe, into the hallowed space between heaven and earth, connecting you with your divine presence. What a way to meet your inner voice! You'll find it in our Sandalwood blend
What are your favourite Essential Oils to use for Grounding?
Resmaa Menakem on healing black and white trauma; Austin Channing Brown and Brené Brown on the humanist work of anti-racism; Brené Brown on shame and accountability
This week has been a bit of a roller coaster ride--again--as our human story unfolds. Things are opening up a little as we venture into Phase 2 of the COVID response plan. As expected, new case numbers have spiked in various locations, causing adjustments in the plan. I am grateful to be living in BC where Dr. Bonnie Henry has been so pro-active about maintaining our health protocols.
Truthfully, I have enjoyed the "sheltering at home" period, the quietness in the world, the songs of the birds being so audible in the city, the decrease in traffic and road rage, the care people have shown for one another. This pace feels "normal" to me, what life should be like so that we can stay grounded, connected and not lose our minds in stress frenzies. My neighbours have been echoing much the same and are not eager to return to how things were. They've enjoyed the experience of being at home with their families; homeschooling; taking classes online; working from home; having the Canadian governments use taxpayer money to bail Us, the citizens, out (for a change). They, like me, are wanting a revisioned new normal.
Ignited by the anti-racism protests currently occurring all over the world, my desire also extends to wanting to write racism (and every other divisive "ism") out of our new normal. As a person of colour, anti-racism work, in all its complex nuances, has been a part of my life since childhood. It hasn’t been easy or fun. It’s actually been exhausting--but necessary. Without standing up for myself as often as I have, I'm not sure I would still be here, self-value more or less in tact. Along the way, I have met amazing people of colour who have been willing to do the hard work of standing up against relentless systemic behemoths, only to be beaten down time and time again, but relentlessly rise up and do it again; and white people, who have been willing to do the hard work to unlearn racism and become an ally, standing in that interstitial space between the oppressor and the oppressed.
In my walk so far, I have found that we are more alike than different. We are a human family, as Dr. Maya Angelou has said, albeit a dysfunctional one. But as in all dysfunctional families, repair is possible with a lot of hard work. It seems to me that in order to revision a new normal, we’re going to have to dismantle the old one, its inequities and systemic abuses. Its going to take a lot of honest introspection and perspective shifting grounded in a vision of unity, equity and love. For in the end, fear isolates; Love liberates.
1. Resmaa Menakem: Notice the Rage; Notice the Silence
First, a perspective-shifting interview with Resmaa Menakem, trauma specialist and author of My Grand Mother’s Hands. In his examination of why anti-racism work hasn’t taken root, so to speak in the last 20 years of equity movements, he speaks about the trauma of Racism as it lives in both the oppressor and the oppressed. I’d never thought about it this way before but as soon as he said it, I thought, “Of course, it makes sense.”
Trauma, he tells us, is stored in the DNA for generations, it’s role being to inform our survival reactions in the here and now. So a trauma that might have terrified an ancestor becomes recorded in our DNA which, in turn, triggers our own survival mechanisms. In order for us to heal division in our human family, we have to heal that trauma that signals danger, causing us to fight or flight. Resmaa Menakem is working with old wisdom and very new science about our bodies, our nervous systems, and all that we condense into the word “race" to offer us the possibility of change, beginning at a cellular level.
Using a gradual process, we can learn to take our survival reactions off autopilot by observing and noticing the trauma reaction, moving the body itself to unlock stored trauma, and then choosing to replace the trauma reaction with mindful, loving responses (not reactions) that fall in the realm of what Angel Davis calls Radical Self Care. Menakem shows us the possibility of being able to change and let go of our collective traumas.
Having been through trauma recovery counselling myself, I can tell you that this method--slowing down, noticing and then making a choice to respond rather than react on the survival fight or flight autopilot--is crucial to transforming traumatic experience into lived wisdom. It takes time, but once it's done, the effects are far reaching and profound. And without diffusing trauma reactions, we will have trouble hearing each other rationally.
2. Brené Brown with Austin Channing Brown on I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness
Brené Brown’s podcast interview with Austin Channing Brown, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, is an exercise of witnessing one way in which hearing each other across the race divide gets done. Austin Channing Brown is a writer, speaker, media producer, thought leader on racial justice in America is invited to share the Brené Brown mike. They have worked together on the issue of race before and have a lovely back-and-forth banter.
Their conversation raised a crucial point for my exhausted Social Justice worker self: The work of un-learning Racism is about being a better human. That’s it, plain and simple, period. It’s not about shaming or blaming or maiming. It is simply about the will and desire to be a better human being and to make sure that everybody, regardless of colour, has the space to experience and just be without fear, dignity and self-worth in tact.
3. Brené Brown on Shame and Accountability
In another podcast about unlearning racism directed mainly at her white audience, Brené Brown continues on, examining the role that Shame plays in accountability, through examples from her own life. One of the main nuggets is that being held accountable or called out on Racism is not the same as being shamed, even though one’s ego’s survival self-defense mechanism might get triggered. As a shame expert, she unpacks this part of the human psyche in a way that is succinct and easy to follow; and she shares her strategies for bringing her thinking brain back on line after a survival trigger has gone off. She's also echoing much of what Resmaa Menakem is saying about defusing trauma reactions.
I share these resources because they put into words some important tools that can help us navigate times of flux and change. For it’s not just racism that is falling apart as a system of control right now. All other "isms" are up for review too: sexism, homophobia, trans-phobia, casteism, cultural phobias, and the list goes on. In short, any difference that has been exploited by power hegemonies to ostracize, divide, conquer and control segments of the human family. My hope is that if we can actually transform some of this division trauma in ourselves, we might actually be in a place to collaboratively revision and reinvent our world from a place of love and not fear, a place where there is enough for everyone, where the dogs no longer have to eat dogs. The new normal.
How’s your week been?
Sherazad Jamal, Free Lion Team
THE BEST PARENTING STYLE FOR HOMESCHOOLING SUCCESS
I was gifted two precocious and intelligent children. When they were younger, school was important to them primarily for social reasons. In the learning department, they were both bored out of their heads. My eldest was on the gifted learning spectrum. My youngest tested as “bright”. In order to help facilitate their learning needs, I part-time home schooled them through the lower grades of elementary school. They are now 27 and 23. I can honestly say that homeschooling has made a difference to their lateral and critical thinking abilities, depth of empathy, and desire to collaborate with others in meaningful ways.
I know many of you are facing the homeschooling challenge right now. I encourage you to not be daunted. It’s not as difficult as it might seem, because you are actually your child’s first teacher. Your child learned how to eat, walk, talk and navigate the world from you. So you’ve actually been homeschooling from the moment your child was born. In short, you’ve got this.
Don’t think that you have to replicate the classroom in your home. See it more as an opportunity to bond with your kids and teach them not just classroom curriculum but a model a set of values, ethics and tools that they can carry with them all life long. See it also as a opportunity to re-evaluate and hone your own way of being, life tools and parenting style. This is actually a great time to decide what is most important to you and your family, how you want to be in the world.
AUTHORITATIVE PARENTING FOR THE HOMESCHOOLING WIN-WIN
Homeschooling is a little different than conventional schooling. While schools set curricula and have expectations about children completing learning modules, these can be incorporated into a homeschooling method. But is not at the heart of it. At the heart is your child growing and learning how to be in the world. Homeschooling becomes a testing ground for his or her capacities, skills and talents, explorations guided and facilitated by you in a loving, safe environment.
Homeschooling as a methodology is based on a concept called “child-led learning”. What that means, practically, is that the course of learning is set by your child’s interests. The method of delivery is set by your child’s learning style. And you work with your child to determine areas of interest and corresponding projects. There are a lot of differing educational theories out there, to be sure. But I will say from experience that if your child is interested in the subject, and has a feeling of ownership of it, he or she is going to be more invested and inclined to stay with it. It is a really effective way to cut the boredom factor off at the knees.
So what does that have to do with your parenting style? Well, in order to really understand your child’s needs and interests, you have to be able to hear them, observe, and then problem solve with them. The way you parent will affect your ability to do this effectively. I’ve learned that one from experience.
According to Bright Horizons, there are 4 main parenting styles. As a side note, their website mentions that their research is based on North American culture. Having been raised in North America by Muslim parents, I can say that these styles are cross-cultural with differences in expression. While authoritarian parenting, for example, may look one way in North America and another way in Africa, the essence of the attitude and goal behind the parenting style remain the same.
If you’re not sure what your parenting style is, click the link to get to know parenting styles. Most of us parent in combinations of these styles. There’s an ebb and flow to it that depends on so many things. The challenge is to maintain balance between allowing your children to explore, learn and grow while providing a safe, non-judgemental space in which to do so.
From my experience, I would say the Authoritative parenting style is the Gold Standard in homeschooling. Authoritative parents are reasonable and nurturing, and set clear expectations for their children. The parenting goal is for children to be the best they can be, to thrive, grow and expand with all the support they need to do so. It’s parenting that comes from love and trust, rather than fear, guilt or punishment. In this style, children are seen as people who need care and guidance to grow into their fullest and best selves. Children with parents who demonstrate this style tend to be self-disciplined and think for themselves. And it’s thought to be most beneficial to children.
The Authoritative parent:
You don’t have to know everything there is to know in order to facilitate your child’s learning. You’re not expected to be a genius or an expert in every subject your child studies. But being a parent who observes, nurtures and responds to your child, who can communicate with them eye to eye, at a level they can understand, who sets boundaries consistently, who sets realistic goals and problem-solves with your child, and who engages in self care so that you can be calm and present for your child is a definite set up for success in both parenting and homeschooling.
Remember, You’ve Got This!
These Homeschooling blogs contain my experience and opinions. They are not meant as professional advice.
CHOOSE CALM AND CONNECTED THROUGH COVID19
As the COVID19 story unfolds, many of us are feeling a little stressed out and scared. The words "lock down" have a decidedly negative, trapped feel to them. I came across a wonderful, positive alternative today in my internet travels: Safe Harbour. We are currently anchored in the safe harbour of our homes until the storm passes.
Humanity has an amazing ability to rise above adversity and be our best selves. I see so many examples out there of people pulling together and reaching out in different ways to help and support each other, often without even being in the same room. I’m feeling hopeful.
Here are a few some resources to help you and your loved ones keep stress levels down and some feel good articles to keep your spirits up.
TURN OFF THE NEWS FOR A WHILE
Words illicit feelings which in turn affect our bodies and frame of mind. So in a time such as this one, it can be a good idea to download less negative information and open yourself up to more positive messages. Happiness hormones really help us on the health front. So turn off the news for a while. That doesn’t mean you have to completely ignore what’s going on in the world. It just means give yourself a break from stressful mass media messages. Check in once a day for a short period of time just to be updated and then get on with the rest of your day.
SING, SING OUT LOUD
According to Uplift Connect, “The neuroscience of singing shows that when we sing our neurotransmitters connect in new and different ways. It fires up the right temporal lobe of our brain, releasing endorphins that make us smarter, healthier, happier and more creative. When we sing with other people this effect is amplified”.
People in Europe know the score on this one. Here are some feel-good stories from Europe of people joining in song together. In Italy, people have been singing or jamming together across balconies. In Milan, a DJ played music for the neighbourhood, while in Florence, a tenor gave a beautifully moving concert of Nessim Dorma.
Inspired by the singing in Italy, Bono has written a new song called Let Your Love Be Known. The song was released on St. Patrick’s Day so that people could continue celebrating despite not being able to gather in the same room. It was posted on U2’s Instagram page.
SHAKE YOUR GROOVE THING
Get yourself and the kids moving. Random acts of dancing (my go-to) can be really helpful in times of stress. From Arthur Murray Dance Centers, “...dance has the ability to act as a stress reliever stems from the idea that when the body feels good, the mind does, too. Any type of physical activity releases neurotransmitters and endorphins which serve to alleviate stress. Neurotransmitters are chemicals within the brain that help communicate messages throughout the body. Endorphins are the body’s natural painkiller to reduce stress and improve the mind’s perception of the world. Thus, after a good workout the endorphins cause the body to feel calm and optimistic. The endorphins also aid in improving the quality of sleep, so that a few sleepless nights due to stress can be avoided after dancing!” So put your favourite tunes on and let ‘er rip!
In Seville, Spain, a fitness instructor led a workout for quarantined citizens. Closer to home in Vancouver, Canada, VYVE is hosting a virtual dance party on March 20. Turn up the tunes and have a romp around the living room.
PRACTICE PEACE, GET GRATEFUL AND HELP WHERE YOU CAN
Meditation and deep breathing techniques are really useful right now. These are practices that allow us to connect with our intuition and inner knowledge. It also helps keep us calm. This would be a great time to teach these tools to your kids. According to the Chopra Center, meditation gives “…kids the tools to help them fend off negative thoughts and behaviors, build self-confidence, focus, and treat others and themselves with respect and appreciation is a gift they will have for the rest of their lives.” They offer three kid-friendly meditations to try.
Practicing gratitude in times of uncertainty is a really great way to stay focused on the positive. Try journaling, writing down all the people and things in your life you are grateful for. Take the time to expand your list with why you are grateful for them. When you feel anxiety, return to your list to remind yourself of what’s most important to you. And when its possible, share your gratitude. Let people know what you appreciate most about them.
In Spain, people felt it important to express their gratitude for their hardworking, dedicated health professionals. They came out collectively onto their balconies at 10pm to applaud and thank them.
There are many of us coming together in the community to help each other out. In Vancouver, Canada, a FaceBook group, Caremongering YVR - Vancouver Community Response to COVID19, offers a place for people to connect and help each other. A similar one has been set up in North Vancouver, COVID19 Coming Together. Look for similar groups in your neighbourhood. I’m sure they are out there. Because kind and giving is just who most of us really are!
Don't feel like you have to help in a big way right now, unless you feel called to do so. Every little thing helps, like calling your friends and family and checking in with them; and observing self-isolation protocols and your self-care rituals. Don't let fear over take you, even in the grocery aisle. Take only what you need and leave some things for others, even the toilet paper! Be as considerate and loving as you can.
As for me, I’m at home looking after my loved ones, checking in with family, friends and neighbours and helping where and how I can. At home, we’ve divided up chores and responsibilities and we’re doing a lot more cooking (also a time for Kitchen Dance Party and Sing A Long). Davida and Zak just made a most beautiful, tasty braided cheesy garlic and herb bread. Thom and I are spending time in the garden. He needs those Vitamin D rays; I’m getting ready for planting season. I find it reassuring that despite all this, Mother Earth just keeps going. If you pull the camera out a bit, you might see a silver lining: all of us staying at home is giving the Earth some space to clear up some of our mess. Let's not get in her way.
I wrote a poem that I want to share with you, if you don’t mind.
Birds have come to life in Wuhan
Singing the earth back into health
Swans and the dolphins frolic in the canals
loving the earth with their joy
Smog rolls away in Shanghai
Letting the light back in
Neighbours sing to each other from balconies
Reminding us that we are in this together
Families dance around the living room
Snatching fears back from the unknown
This love that powers our planet
This is who we truly are.
Stay healthy, stay calm and keep singing! We are in this together.
Sherazad Jamal, Free Lion Team
SEVEN THOUGHTS ON BEAUTY
I've been thinking about the word Beauty recently. Not a big surprise, given what I do for a living. What does it mean exactly? Is it a noun, a person place or thing? Is it a feeling? An action? Is it learned? Why is it important anyway? And what does it mean to me, as an artisan and a formulator of natural skin care products? Okay, I know, too many questions. But it's how I figure things out for myself. Ask, and ye shall perceive.
BEAUTY, THE THING
Physical Beauty is a thing, I suppose, a phenomenon viewed objectively, almost instinctually. How do we humans know what is beautiful? Funnily enough, this one comes down to math. Yep. Math. And geometry.
Geometry is at the core of all things natural, from flowers to fauna and beyond. Humans were quick on the artistic uptake and have been using geometry for proportion and beauty in art and architecture for centuries. Studies show that humans consider a person to be beautiful based on how perfectly symmetrical the face is. Itâs an innate thing, something evolutionary we have encoded within us, that seems to transcend training or opinion.
Leonardo Da Vinci believed that all creation was part of a universal plan. He ambitiously aimed to embrace the whole universe in his a life-long study to discover its rules and mathematical principles. Drawing and painting were the means to an end, his method of communicating his findings. Remember his Vitruvian Man? It is a symbol that depicts balance and harmony as represented in the symmetry and ratios coded within the human form. To me, it's more than that: it's a metaphorical map of how to live a harmonious and balanced life, in alignment with nature's blueprint for continued growth and evolution. It indicates the need to consider all of ourselves--mind, body and spirit-- in this equation.
BEAUTY, THE FEELING
What does it mean to âfeel Beautifulâ? Ever looked in the mirror and had that moment of âyouâre beautiful?â Did you track your thoughts before you had the beautiful moment? Often the thoughts and feelings that precede are loving, joyful or compassionate ones. You could have been thinking about someone you love, or have just come back from a great hike through the forest or had a fulfilling interchange with someone.
Human experience is messy and physical beauty fleeting. Qualities of the heart, mind and soul come through the face, enhancing beauty. These include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-command. They also include curiosity, excitement, challenge, growth.
Inner beauty is reflected in many ways--through our thoughts, compassion, friendship, giving to others and ourselves, and the very choice to engage our lives, full-on. I think this is what it means to be beautiful from the inside out. When one feels engaged and fulfilled, it sparkles in the eyes. It shows on the face in a radiance that face make-up just canât approximate. It is the flush of happiness, the excitement of adventure. It's the glow of a life well lived.
BEAUTY AS SELF-CARE
I know that when I am tired, stressed, anxious, angry, depressed, these all show on my face in dark, scowling brooding measure. So, not a moment when Iâm inclined to say, âHey, youâre beautifulâ to my mirrored reflection. This is why balanced self-care is such an important thing.
All that wisdom you hear about eating healthy, exercising, not bottling up negative emotions, experiencing gratitude, setting healthy boundaries? These are some of the actions that precede feelings of love, joy, oneness that become expressed in your face as beauty. Hokey as it sounds, beauty seems to rest deeply in the act of loving yourself. Being loved in return is a residual benefit!
BEAUTY AS CREATIVE PROCESS
Then there is the creative process, a source of beauty all its own. It requires you to have a connection to your spirit, a sense of purpose and a desire to express your Self. Okay, I know that's centuries of Art Theory distilled down into one sentence, but I've been thinking about this for a long time!
The urge to create is like a compulsion or a calling that flows through your being, pushing you to make, write, paint, compose, garden or whatever your art medium asks of you. It is a playground on which mind, body and spirit meet to play. In this case, the product of that meeting is secondary to the sheer will and audacity to put yourself out there, to say, "I am here and this is how I experience my world." Creating a beautiful object becomes the happy by-product of this beautiful act.
Weâve been trained by Big Beauty, by way of fashion magazines, movies and a myriad of other media to understand beauty as something that is physical, young, thin, with perfect skin, perfect curves, perfect you-fill-in-the-blank. As a woman who turned 55 this year, I no longer fit that stereotype. In fact Iâm not sure I ever did.
Iâve had sensitive skin for most of my life. In my twenties, I experimented with make-up, as many of us do. The killer for me was foundation. It clogged my pores, choking and irritating my skin. The matte finish felt fake, muting my natural skin glow. So despite the best efforts of many advertising executives, foundation was not a staple in my make up bag.
Mascara was quick to follow. It made my eyes go into watering overdrive. Eyeshadow became something only for special occasions, as it would dry out my eyelids, making them itchy. The only things that worked for daily wear were eyeliner and lipstick. So be it.
My Big Beauty training in âthe lookâ was irreparably interrupted by my body just saying NO. It was a call I had to hear and so I found myself looking for natural solutions, way before it was trendy to do so. And I learned to love my look, no matter what magazine covers screamed at me from the grocery checkout line!
WHAT BEAUTY MEANS TO ME AS A NATURAL SKIN CARE FORMULATOR
Beauty, to me. is about what emanates from within. It's in the glow of the skin, the sparkle of the eye, and the joy in the heart. How could i possibly bottle that? I canât. But what I can do is formulate natural blends that will help support your skin and self-care rituals. And if you feel even a little happier using something natural and non-toxic on your skin, thatâs going to show in your glow! If I can help you achieve that, then my job is done here.
WHY IS BEAUTY IMPORTANT?
Quite simply, its an external indicator of your overall health and wellness in mind, body and spirit. If youâre feeling beautiful, it means youâve likely been taking some good care of yourself, having some loving thoughts and feelings about yourself and others, setting healthy boundaries, nurturing yourself inside and out, exercising, believing in yourself, feeling your fears and doing it anyway. Youâve likely been walking in your own authentic natural self. Now THATâS beautiful!
Sherazad Jamal, Free Lion Body Care
What are your thoughts about Beauty? What makes you feel Beautiful?
THROW OUT THOSE LIMITING BELIEFS THAT NO LONGER FIT
Spring is finally here! I look forward to this time of year, like most people who live in northern climates. The snows thaw, temperatures warm and nature begins to come back to life. It’s time for the fresh and the new; and it’s also time to let some old things go. Yep, Spring Cleaning time! Pull out, dust out, clean out, throw out. Works great for our outer stuff. But what about our inner stuff?
Our inner worlds are also cluttered with old emotional habits and patterns that no longer fit. If we were to analyze our negative internal dialogue, for example, we would likely find that underneath all its layers lies a fear of some kind that holds us back from being or expressing our most awesome selves. The question is: how do you throw that fear stuff out?
STEP ONE: RECOGNIZE YOUR FEAR AND HOW IT EXPRESSES ITSELF
That’s not always an easy thing. The tell-tale, fear red flags are anxiety or worry. Our bodies are really good at carrying these signs. You might feel your stomach turning or butterflying; you might have a headache; you might feel down or like you’re carrying a heavy weight; your heart might literally ache a little or be beating a little too fast. These physical sensations are usually quickly followed by some self-talk, usually judgemental, mean and self-deprecating. Yep. That be Fear going on inside you.
Here’s a little story from my Life’s Safari to help illustrate. When I began Free Lion, I was making Vegan Leather bags (available through my Etsy Store. I still make them to order). After graduating from Architecture school, I had been a stay-at-home and then part-time working Mom. After my divorce, I had to focus on making a full-time living. I had always wanted to work for myself as an artist/artisan, selling what I made. But, I was broke and terrified, with no real confidence that I could run my own business.
When I sat to work at the sewing machine. I would feel that knot in my stomach and my heart would race a little. Then the thoughts would start. “You’ll never succeed. You think that’s even good enough? No one is going to buy that! Everyone is going to see you have no talent.”
I would argue with those voices in my head to hold them at bay while I sewed. This went on until I noticed that it was taking me forever to make a bag because I was spending more energy and time focused on fighting with the voices than on sewing. That was the day that I started questioning the voices in my head.
STEP TWO: QUESTION THE VOICES IN YOUR HEAD
I was working with a counsellor at the time who introduced me to Byron Katie and The Work, a meditative approach to opening to your heart’s voice and your personal truths. The goal is to be who you ARE, not what others think you SHOULD be. The process is not to simply replace a negative thought with a positive affirmation, a la Louise Hay or The Secret. It goes much deeper than that. It helps you become mindfully aware of your thoughts and the effect they have on you, so that you can change your relationship with them.
Most of us react in situations on auto-pilot, using stress survival habits we learned as children. Katie lays out 4 questions to ask yourself in the face of negative thoughts or fear feelings. My counsellor added one more, which helped me to stop taking on other people’s stuff by identifying which beliefs/thoughts were mine and which belonged elsewhere. Asking yourself the questions gives you a moment to slow down, witness, analyze, evaluate and choose how to respond. It takes you from reacting on auto-pilot to responsively using your own agency.
Here are Katie’s questions, plus the one more from my counselor. Sit with each question one at a time, in order. Go inside and listen for the answers that come up, paying attention to your internal dialogue, body sensations, etc. As in, "What comes up for you?" I found it useful to record my answers in a journal so that I could go back over them, analyze and re-evaluate.
So back to the story of me struggling at the sewing machine with vinyl and voices in my head. Care to walk through the Katie questions with me? Ok. Close eyes. Deep Breath. And then another one. And one more. Blow it all out. Now, take one more. Breathe.
The Statement under question,
"You’ll never succeed."
1. Is it true?
Hmmm. I don’t know. I’ve never run my own business before and actually, I’m just fricking scared right now.
2. Can you absolutely know it’s true?
Meaning do I have Actual Factual, tangible evidence that it’s true, that I won't succeed? Uh, well no. I guess i don't. I haven’t done it before so i have no concrete experience or numbers to prove I won't succeed. So it might be possible, right? I might actually be able to do this.
3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
I feel sick, my stomach turns; i feel anxious, scared, like a loser, helpless, crippled, disempowered, unworthy, alone, kinda abandoned. Yeah. This sucks.
4. Where did you learn this idea?
Hmmm. My dad, rest his soul. He was a talented artist who wanted to be a graphic designer. In fact, in 1964 he was all set to start a job with an advertising firm in Nairobi, Kenya. Due to family circumstances, he had to join the family restaurant business. He quietly set aside his dreams, and never talked much about his own disappointment, or how he lived with it. He was, however, the voice of doom in all of our own career explorations. Sadly, Dad didn’t have a Byron Katie to help him out. But I do.
Ok, so this isn’t my own belief at all. I learned it from Dad. It's a limiting belief that comes from his experiences and fears. His idea of success was a professional career, not one based on craft or manual labour. I have professional credentials, but I haven't worked in architecture for 11 years. I'm behind on the career track. and the industry has become computerized. I would have to retrain, something I don't have time for. Besides, I would rather run my own business, designing, making and selling my own work.
I am not my father. I don’t have to listen to his fears and values anymore. I don't have to let them hold me back. "Thanks for worrying about me, Dad but I'm not a lesser person for enjoying designing and working with my hands. I am not a lesser person for not meeting your expectations."
This is huge! I can give myself permission to make another choice. I can work at wiping Dad’s broken dream from my inner dialogue, without shame or guilt; I can listen to my heart’s truth; I can shift my perspective; I can focus on bringing my own dream to life, one step at a time. And if I get stuck, I can ask for help. Hell Ya! A hallelujah door just opened up in the sky (cue choir of Angels)!
5. What happens when you believe something else?
When I believe that success is possible, the way that feels true to me, I feel more relaxed, grounded, capable, determined. While I am looking at a mountain to climb, I feel scared yet excited, hopeful. Maybe I WILL be able to do this after all. Woohoo!
STEP THREE: CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
The beauty of this process is that you can CHOOSE your own beliefs, your own feelings, your own adventure. You do not have to be weighed down by beliefs that are the projections of someone else’s broken dreams or expectations. Nor do you have to be wracked with guilt for not living up to them. It doesn’t mean that you won’t ever feel fear or have limiting beliefs ever again--you will. But now you’ll have a method to face each one, break it down, shift your perspective and choose something else.
Did you notice that the answer to the question involving my Dad was the longest of all the answers? That’s not an accident. The stuff that we inherit from childhood is actually the most complex stuff to dismantle and throw out. But it is possible to do. Just go slowly, layer by layer. And be kind with yourself.
Just remember that you were born with abilities, predispositions and talents written right into your DNA. That’s your nature. How you are raised and taught (that's Nurture) can sometimes wreak havoc with your inner balance. So, it’s down to you to honour your own nature and nurture yourself back into wholeness
STEP FOUR: FLY!
Sherazad Jamal, Free Lion Team
How do you overcome fears? Do you have a process that works for you?
MINDFUL EATING: RECLAIMING YOUR FOOD JOY
I live a pretty stressful life, like many of us on this planet. I can be found rushing around, to do list and iPhone calendar in hand, doing all the things I need to do to make a living, run a house, care-take my loved ones. I'm a big culprit of multi-tasking, even on Down Time. Yep, I'm that girl who would read or watch TV while she ate. Until I met the concept of Mindful Awareness and its cousin, Mindful Eating.
About Mindful Awareness. What is that? It is deliberately paying attention, being fully aware of what is happening both inside yourself - in your body, heart and mind; and outside yourself - in your environment, the Actual Factuals around you. Mindfulness is awareness without criticism or judgement. The last sentence is very important. Mindfulness is not about comparing yourself to anyone else or judging yourself or others. You are simply witnessing the many sensations and thoughts that come up as you move through life.
Why is Mindfulness important? When you practice mindfulness, you stay in the present moment; you aren’t anxious about the future or depressed about the past. You aren’t swallowed up by the insatiable dragon of self-doubt. You don't take everything that happens personally. Mindfulness helps you develop appreciation, for yourself and others and the world around you. And most important of all, for your own connection to yourself, your own inner knowing. Some would argue that it’s the direct hotline to the Soul!
SO WHAT IS MINDFUL EATING?
After my second son was born, I hit the Weight Watcher scale and lost pounds all the way to a gold membership. Triumphantly, I accepted my goal achievement award with pride and a sense of accomplishment. I did not expect the hollow, sinking feeling that came in the weeks to follow. “Is this it?” I thought. “Am I going to have to keep thinking about food, weighing it, measuring it, craving it for the rest of my life?” Rather than feeling free, I felt trapped, handcuffed to a scale. There had to be a better way.
Which is when I met Mindful Eating. Mindful eating involves paying full attention to the experience of eating and drinking, both inside and outside the body. It’s about slowing down and tuning out the voice in your head long enough to pay attention to the colors, smells, textures, flavors, temperatures, and even the sounds of your food. It’s about being present in the sensual experience your body is having. Where in the body do you feel hunger? Where do you feel satisfaction? What does half-full feel like, or three quarters full? Eating slowly keeps you from overeating because your body has enough time to register “fullness”. It relays that important message to your brain, which will then tell you it's time to put the fork down.
When eating mindfully, you’re also observing the voice in your head with its judgements or criticisms. It's about disentangling from this internal drama to pay attention to what your body is experiencing. When your mind gets distracted, pulling away from full attention to what you are eating or drinking, or you have an impulses to grab a book, or check your FaceBook, witness the impulse and return your attention to eating, the tastes, the sounds. This actually, eventually, turns eating into a calming, meditative process.
The more you practice mindful eating, the more aware you become of your relationship to food. You begin to notice how eating affects your mood and how your emotions, like anxiety or loneliness, influence your eating. You can begin to make more conscious choices--about food, your thoughts and your beliefs about yourself. The goal is to gradually regain the sense of joy, ease and freedom with eating that you had in childhood. It is your natural birthright.
I continue to work on this one...mindfully, of course! When I first started, I experienced a lot of resistance. I just didn't want to do it. I noticed self-deprecating thoughts, and feelings of loneliness, boredom and anxiety come up. All I wanted to do was escape into a book like I did when I was a child/teen, so that I wouldn't have to listen to those thoughts or feel those feelings. In practicing observing and just letting the feelings pass through me, some days I really had to force myself to sit through just eating. I did my best to focus on the food, how good it tasted, what foods I truly enjoyed, what foods made me feel heavy and yuck.
Eventually, I started to listen to my body’s idea of appropriate foods for me. Gone were the endless authoritative eat lists from Weight Watchers. When my mind started telling me I was a loser because I was a Weight Watchers Fail, I would tell it, “ Dude, hold that thought. I'm a little busy right now,” and go back to savouring my salad and barbecued chicken tikka, made to order, just the way my body liked it. When I felt lonely or sad and reached for Netflix and snacks, I’d give my emotions a hug and tell them, “This sucks, but it will pass. We’re stronger than this.” Then l’d listen to my body, choosing its Viewing Snack of choice: raw sunflower seeds in shell (a slow eat, full of nutrients for my skin, gut and brain) and a tall bottle of water. Occasionally, some chocolate. Yes, I was multi-tasking while eating, but in a way that honoured my body.
The tide truly turned when I started to reframe some self-perceptions about my worth, likeability and attractiveness. Soon I was able to disengage thoughts and emotions from food. Food was not about filling emotional emptiness or distracting from boredom. It was about self-nurturing, self-appreciation, pleasure and enjoyment. Too much food was not the thing that made me judge myself harshly as fat and ugly. Those critiques came from the judgements and standards of others that i accepted as more authoritative than my own voice. Now, I choose to believe something different: that my body knows it's ideal healthy weight and eating preferences; that I am one of a long line of curvy lovelies; that my worth comes from what I do, not what I look like; that I like myself just as I am. This award has been a long time coming--20 years to be exact. I am proud to have earned it and thankful to claim it as my own.
SOME MINDFUL EATING HOMEWORK
My partner, Thom, lives with MS and needs help to eat. We usually graze from the same plate, alternating forkfuls, as we have done from our first date on. I can't tell you how much this simple daily practice does for our intimacy and connection, on every level. ?
Here are some mindful eating exercises, if you feel so inclined.
(1) Try taking the first four sips of a cup of hot tea or coffee with full attention. Savour the flavours; notice temperature and the sensations on your tongue; pay attention to the movement in your throat as your swallow; follow the swallow down to your stomach and notice when your start to feel full or satisfied.
(2) If you are a reader and eater, like me, try alternating these activities, not doing both at once. Read a page, then put the book down and eat a few bites, savoring the tastes, the textures, the sounds of your food, then read another page, and so on. Mix it up, observe what feels right to you, and do that.
(3) Try eating one meal a week mindfully, alone and in silence. Be creative. For example, could you eat a picnic in the woods; or savour a latte while sitting at the beach. Be present, observe sights, sounds, smells, tastes. Connect with Joy.
(4) Make meals social. Put away the tech. Connect with other humans, eat, converse, engage and laugh. A lot.
Sherazad Jamal, Free Lion
The science behind Aromatherapy; How we use it to create our signature scents
You know what I mean. You’re walking along somewhere and you smell something that transports you back to another time when you smelt it before, feeling all the emotions you felt then. It’s known as “odor-evoked autobiographical memory” or the Proust Phenomenon, after French writer Marcel Proust. In his novel, Swann’s Way, the narrator does just that—transports through time and memory triggered by the smell of a Madeline cake dipped in tea.
For me, its the smell of chicken curry that does it, taking me back to a memory of comfortably sitting on my mother’s lap and being fed, her fingers forming balls of rice and curry then lovingly depositing them in my mouth, Mama Bird to Baby Bird. It brings up feelings of safety, nurturing and care. Chicken curry and rice is indeed one of my comfort foods and needless to say, being fed by someone has formed a core phrase in my learned language of love!
Smells can take us sentimentally, happily wandering though positive memories. Or they can also be potent triggers of negative emotions. In studies of people with post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), a smell can trigger disturbing memories, feelings of guilt, fear, nausea or helplessness. With one whiff, you can suddenly be back in your own private hell.
WHY DOES SCENT TRIGGER MEMORY? THE SCIENCE BEHIND IT
The response to smell stimulus is fast and non-verbal. In a nano-second you can experience powerful emotions that can leave you smiling or crying. But why does scent trigger memory? And how does it trigger such strong emotions? The answer is literally all in your head, in the brain’s anatomy. When we get an incoming smell, its first processed by the olfactory system, which starts inside the nose and runs along the bottom of the brain, directly connecting to the Limbic System, a v-shaped structure that sits on top of the brain stem. It is made up of the hippocampus, amygdala, part of the thalamus and the hypothalamus and several regions of the cerebral cortex. This is the zone that manages the interface between emotion and memory. It’s also the oldest part of the brain where our basic drives, needs, instincts and fears live. The limbic system also plays an important role in selecting and transmitting information between short and long-term memories, which explains why a short-term experience (like smelling a baking pumpkin pie) can trigger a long-term memory and corresponding emotions (like happy family feasts at Thanksgiving).
THE ART OF CREATING FREE LION SCENT BLENDS
When we get into the Free Lion Lab (ok, kitchen) to blend scents, we’re definitely influenced by our own scent memories. There are smells that remind us of where we’ve been and happy memories associated with them. Like Tofino Breeze. This one was named for Tofino, a place on the Pacific Ocean where our young family vacationed. It is a place of windswept beaches and fine sand where the crashing waves are large enough to put Tofino on the world surfing map. It is also where both my sons learned to surf and where we spent many relaxing hours playing on the beach and exploring tidal pools and caves. When I was a child, Rose water would be splashed on individuals and crowds during celebrations—births, weddings, holidays. Rose Garden came from these memories with a desire to ground them more in the everyday happiness of kicking back in the garden.
I would say our creative process is part intuitive art, part measured chemistry. When we blend, we look to create a balance between aromas, with base, middle and high notes. This is the more rote part of scent blend development, where we experiment from a base recipe and sometimes using advice from more experienced formulators.
But then there’s “the Nose”—that ephemeral knowing you’ve nailed it but you can’t say why in words. I know we’ve hit it when I take in a full nose bouquet of a blended scent, close my eyes and feel my body’s “Ahhhh!” response. The body is wise—must be the hypothalamus and the way it communicates with the pituitary gland via neural and chemical pathways to release hormones into the body. Its also the art of, “it just feels right”!
Sherazad Jamal, The Free Lion Team