Sweet Smoke

Incense sticks in pagoda

Incense prayer sticks in Thien Hau Pagoda Hochi Minh Vietnam, via Buddha Weekly. Click here to read about recent studies on the positive influence of incense on mental health.

Another thing that I have just rediscovered is how much I love incense. The first memory I have of incense is in early high school, going to my first proper vintage shop, somewhere around Jacksonville, NC. It was the late 90s, and I was obsessed with the late 60s – music, clothing, culture, politics, I read everything that I could get my hands on. I dressed primarily in vintage duds, though everything I owned came from the thrift store in my town, and cost pennies compared to the stuff in this fancy vintage shop. But what my local thrift store didn’t have was ambiance – and this place was swimming in it.

I remember that there were lava lamps, and beaded curtains, and even one of those chairs that looks like a giant hand. The whole store felt like it fell off the stage of the Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour. Even though everything was priced far beyond my reach, they had some very nice things – tiny mod dresses, genuine go go boots, a threadbare original Chicago t-shirt. But most important for this story, they were burning Nag Champa, and a lot of it. The air was thick with smoke. I was with my dad, and as soon as we walked into the store, he gagged a little. Meanwhile, I swooned with happiness. I don’t remember buying my first box of Nag Champa, but it couldn’t have been long after that. I burned a stick of it as often as I could, though my mom would usually complain that it bothered her sinuses.

When I burn incense, I want several sticks burning in every room. I want the smoke to hang in the air, to permeate my clothes, to fill my lungs with its heavy sweetness. My dream of incense is of Buddhist temples, with hundreds upon thousands of fragrant sticks, all burning at once, 24-hours a day. I want my life to be littered with beeswax candles made by monks, and giant, sappy sticks of incense, with singing bowls and velvet curtains, embroidered in gold. I want quiet afternoons, dappled sun dancing over my cats’ sleepy faces as they lounge on the porch, inspecting the crows who scold them from the yard. I want the mountains in the distance, the magic words always at the tip of my tongue.

I love incense, and yet I don’t burn it the way I want to. Or I haven’t been burning it the way I want to, anyway. It’s another one of those things that I just gradually put aside so as not to offend, just like my cinnamon toothpaste. It’s always too much for people. There’s always the excuse of sensitive sinuses, or an aversion to scent, or just plain disliking the idea of incense. And yes, I adore going overboard. But so fucking what? Why don’t I get to have what I want to have? And now that I am alone, just myself and three cats, we have our nighttime ritual – three sticks of incense, two candles, and a nice, long, one lady three cat cuddle fest.

Aside from my insane work schedule, life is pretty awesome right now.

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3 thoughts on “Sweet Smoke

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