What is smudging?

Burning pleasant smelling plants in the form of resins or incense is common to almost all cultures and religions.  Incense has been burnt for thousands of years in all the worlds scared places, from churches to temples, synagogues and mosques.  

Although the different specific uses of incense, depending on the religion and depending on the particular ritual, are too numerous to go into here, there are some common aspects to the use of incense.  

Firstly, of course, there is the fact that incense smells nice.  It takes away any bad smells and replaces them with good smells, helping to making a sacred space more sacred.  This is especially evident if you put it into a historical context when we had less good sewage and sanitation systems and the outside areas of these sacred spaces must have smelt pretty bad.

Smoke is also very symbolic.  It ascends upwards towards heaven, it floats and climbs like an uplifted spirit.  Like the falling cherry petals in Japanese culture smoke is transient and fleeting, and if the falling cherry petals analogy is continued there's a certain poignancy to that transience, like there is to youth, to beauty, to spring and ultimately to our lives.

Scent has powerful associations.  You may have caught the smell of coffee in the morning, fresh baked bread or fresh cut grass and felt your mood instantly change.  Your mind may have been transported back to another time when you smelt that smell, and to the people you were with or the place where you smelt it.  Incense and resins are associated with religion and spirituality, therefore when you smell them you feel religious and spiritual.  If your church or temple always smells of a particular incense when you smell that incense elsewhere you will be transported back to the sacred place and how you feel when you are there.

Smudging is a little different from burning incense.  It comes from the Native American tradition.  There are many different versions of smudging ritual depending on the particular culture of the tribe that ritual comes from.  Similarly there are many different herbs and plants used for each ritual.  The most widely known smudging herb is white sage, but that is by no means the only smudging plant.  

If you come from a North American tradition or have been taught a particular smudging ritual that is great.  If not smudging is still very effective and accessible.

The practice involves burning a smudging herb, and wafting the smoke using a feather or just your hands over the person or place that is being smudged.  It is thought that the smoke will lift away negative energies, replacing them instead with balance and a sense of well being.  It's sort of like a spiritual bath.  

Many people use smudging as a prelude to meditation practice.  If you concentrate hard on the smudging process you should be able to rid your mind of the general day to day chatter that goes on inside it.  By doing this you will be more prepared for meditation and able to go into your practice more quickly and to a deeper level.

Smudging can also be a great opportunity for mindfulness.  Try concentrating on all the details of the process, the feel of the smudge in you hand, the flame as you light it, the smoke rising up in the air, the scent of the smoke.  It's a very sensual experience and as such allows you to be very present.

In many ways the most important aspect to smudging, like any spiritual practice, is your intention when you are doing it.  Be present and  look forward to smudging as a moment of positivity for yourself.  Give yourself the opportunity to feel good.


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