My very first Aromancy Session, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil, Ca. 2011
Bowen Wei was born in Japan as the last of 8 siblings of Chinese/Japanese parents. He left home when he was 16 and wondered around the world for 40 years learning languages, cultures, and human behaviors. After graduating form an art college, he moved to New York and worked for several years in the advertising field for a few years, then moved to Hawaii. There he met a group of people who were student of Osho. He became interested in Indian Vedantic philosophy, Amazonian shamanism, and various spiritual traditions. He worked as a bodyworker and eventually studied acupuncture form a Taoist master and received Master's degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
My initiation into the world of aromatic oils was almost twenty years ago, by a chance encounter with a street vendor during my second trip to India.
Just before this fateful journey began, I was reading Tom Robbin’s cult classic “Jitterbug Perfume” - A saga in which two unlikely (one is a Russian prince, the other a daughter of Indian rope maker) souls meet, fall in love, go on a spiritual journey, attain eternal life, lose each other, then try to reconnect through olfactory memory of a long lost perfume.
Varanasi today is an overgrown, dusty and chaotic city just like all the other, but still retains an old section by the bank of mother Ganga. It is one of the holiest city, and it is a life well lived for Hindus if they can die here. But only a wealthy few can afford to be cremated at a burning ghat, and the rest will simply flow down the river to return to the ocean. Life and death are so intensely intimate with one another. Just a few hundred meters down the river, thousands gather each day at a bathing ghat to perform ritual cleansing.
Behind the ghats that line the left bank of Ganga is the small slit of the old town. On both sides of streets which not even a rickshaw can pass freely (because a holy cow is blocking the way!), you will find shops of all kinds that look like they have been there for hundreds of years unchanged. In dark little workshops where men are weaving, curving, smelting, crafting exquisite works with traditional tools and infinite patience. While others sipping chai and savoring pakoras, all in the open-air mixed with burning incense and sometimes the holy excrement.
There on a narrow, dusty street stood a man by his beat-up bike. Mounted on the rear was a mobile showcase constructed of weathered wood painted fashionably distressed, holding tiny bottles of made of glass and ceramic in assorted shapes and colors, leaking out a conglomerate of scents that stood out even in this aroma rich old city.
I was never a type to wear cologne or even to use a deodorant. This is in part due to my hypersensitivity to chemicals which I developed after long exposure to flea shampoo from working in an animal hospital.
His drab polyester appearance was utterly unimpressive, but his gentle presence somehow intrigued me. Feeling at ease for not having to enter the confines of a shop, I approached him and asked what he was selling. He told me that he worked for an oil distillery and these were some of his oils. Afraid to touch or pick them up, because the bike, the showcase, and all those bottles look like they can disintegrate at any moment, I just asked him to give me something, say, one to make me hot and one to make me cool.
With a nod and a smile he proceeded to concoct my request by mixing some from this, and some from that, just with his eyes, into an empty glass bottle. The resulting products were beyond my exceptions. One was floral, yet not overly so that only women can wear, and it definitely raised my body temperature up. The other one came from a single bottle. It had a more earthy tone, yet it provoked the image of water - soft, round, and cooling.
My innocent request to him, as it turned out, was brilliant. The language I used was simple but profound. He not only succeeded in causing my physical and emotional body to respond accordingly but with it, I gained an appreciation to the world of perfumery just like classical music, which, until then, would not be possible until you are versed in at least an instrument.
Upon returning home, I began randomly collecting essential oils, even though I had no idea what to do with them. I just liked to smell them and found it interesting that scents can provoke different emotions, finding myself being unusually poetic with each experience.
The birth of Aromancy was accidental. I had an opportunity to teach a course in “subtle touch”, which necessitated a brief introduction to the basics of Oriental Medicine. It was a task to summarise something that took me two whole years to absorb into 15 minutes of meaningful and memorable speech. My simple goal was not to put anyone to sleep!
I figured that if I let them play with a tangible tool that they can sense, my verbal discussion would be heard.
So I gathered my randomly collected essential oils on the table, put five-colored papers, red, white, blue, green and yellow, each representing an element, and began to assign each essential oil to a place. This exercise was done initially by intuition; meaning, smelling it and simply deciding where it belongs and later confirming, (or doubting) my intuition by comparing it with known efficacy and use (in aromatherapy, natural cosmetics, and perfumery etc.) are also in line with the five-element concept.
Armed with my new idea, I began my lecture of the oriental medicine concepts. Sitting across at the table with my aromatic treasures in full display, my curious students intuitively trusted the medicinal potential in these plant essences, and instantly opened up and shared their challenges and desires in life. The lecture progressed into a series of consultations.
Impromptu! Aromancy was born. As I realized that this work has the potential to become the catalyst in people’s lives to the path of healing, my first reaction was, Yes! I like the experience, but is it really? And if I enjoy so much shouldn’t I teach as well? I would like to bring peace to people’s life. People are happier when they feel connected. So it began the next phase of developing and introducing Aromancy to the world.
I would like to borrow this space to thank all my friends, clients and supporters from the earliest days of Aromancy project. Aromancy survives because of your curiosity, intuition, and trust for what I may have to offer, and your sharing stories to be analyzed and allowing your olfactory senses to be challenged.
I would like also to thank those who offered and posted images of plants in Wikimedia Commons and social media. Without them, this book and my video will be utterly plain, and I hope that you understand images are for common good and not for personal profit.
I also like to thank farmers who nurture and cultivate those plants, distillers for the mastery of extracting the precious life force.
I thank the sun for giving us the primal energy. I thank the moon for giving us the rhythm. I thank the earth, for the roots we spread. I thank the water to give moisture and carry the nourishment. I thank the wind to carry our seeds. Last but not least, I am forever indebted to plant spirits who (perhaps not in their best interest) gave up their lives to the betterment of mankind. You have housed, clothed, nourished us, and generously shared your wisdom survive which we call “medicine”
I offer concern for the wellness of all life form on this planet. While modern technology is allowing us to experience these aromatic treasures from all around the world, it is causing environmental stress beyond repair. I pray for the survival of all the plants who give us such profound pleasure and connection. I can not fault our desire to share these treasures, but each of us has an interest in preserving what we receive. Therefore I call to promote the minimal use of these precious liquids so that more of us will benefit from experiencing these plant wisdom.
Bowen Wei, November 2018