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Vie de Camille

Stay Sane With Self Compassion

By Sherika Tenaya

Is it just me or is it getting easier and easier to feel crappy about your life these days?


Thanks to the social media revolution, we’re constantly inundated with countless images and posts of so-and-so’s perfectly crafted home cooked meals, storybook in-love couples staring into each other’s eyes dreamily, the perfect body of that bendy yoga teacher friend of yours, and all those perfectly captured moments that everyone but you seems to be having.


I’m sure I’m not the only one that sometimes gets a sense of “what am I doing wrong” after a particularly extensive scroll-through. Don’t misunderstand, I’m a confident woman who finds happiness in others’ successes, but even I experience a sense of not-enoughness that is, at times, spiritually crippling.

The lure of comparison is a cruel and vindictive foe and, despite my highest intentions, more often than not I find myself Instagramming myself into Insta-Criticism OF myself.


And let’s face it, that’s just not healthy. What’s even MORE unhealthy is the negative mental pattern that happens afterward: beating myself up for not being perfect in every way like everyone else seems to be. I start TWEETing myself (get it?) like I’m the world’s biggest loser and worst decision maker, complete with an alarming lack of discipline coupled with a woefully inherent lapse in motivation.


And then I feel bad that I feel bad when I SHOULD feel happy for all my friends and family who are living their dreams. Sound familiar? Mmmmm-hmm.


So what’s the solution for the social media woebegone? Self-compassion.


Self-compassion, or SC, as defined in the fantastically articulated article “The Self-Compassion Solution” by Marina Krakovsky published in Scientific American Mind, is described as “treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would a friend.”

That same cutting inner voice that demands to know why my home cooked meals look like roadkill would never impose such ugly comments on my best friend. Yet SC, according to this article, has two other “indispensable elements” noted by psychologist Kristin D. Neff that make it a concept worth noting.


First, that one pay honest, accepting attention to one’s suffering/shortcomings in a mindful, nonobsessive way and secondly, that one recognize that one’s sufferings/frailties are a part of the human experience rather than unique to oneself.


So, yes, even those shiny superstars of Snapchat experience lows, they just don’t post about it.


Further, Neff found a way to measure SC in people using a simple, scalable survey and discovered that those who embodied it were less prone to anxiety and depression.


Why? For one, SC helps ease the emotional ups and downs of “contingent self-esteem”, where one’s valuation of oneself is based on outward approval from others. Additionally, when we hold ourselves to intense standards that invoke our Inner Critic, we focus all our emotional energy on how flawed we are and berating ourselves rather than putting that energy towards the real issue which might be, for example, that what we think we want and what we really want are two different things. SC, with its all-important mindfulness component, leads us to acknowledge and accept our reality without attaching an emotional judgment. This, in turn, allows for increased psychological resilience and an almost superhuman ability to regain emotional equilibrium after adversity.


That I can understand, but what about motivation? If I just accept myself as I am, couldn’t that be a trap of complacency that engenders mediocrity?


To this, Krakovsky describes a series of experiments done at the University of California, Berkeley by psychologist Juliana Breines in which she and her colleagues had 86 undergraduates take an uber-challenging vocabulary quiz. To see the effect of SC on study behavior, they divided the students into three categories: the first group, in the spirit of SC, were told that it was common to find the test difficult and not to be too hard on themselves; the second group got a self-esteem message “Try not to feel bad about yourself - you must be intelligent if you got into Berkeley”; the third group, as a control, received no statements at all. The researchers measured how long the students studied for a second, similarly difficult test. The SC group spent 33 percent more time studying for the second quiz than the self-esteem group and 51 percent longer than the control group.


So why the increase in motivation? Being kind, yet realistic, to yourself about your failure encourages you to try again and turns failure into a tool, not a personal trait.  

Another beautiful aspect of SC, unlike self-esteem, is that it is much easier to cultivate and increase as a regular practice because it’s entirely directed by you. Even if you have chronic low self-esteem, practicing SC can act as a buffer against it, taking away its power over your mental health.


If this idea resonates for you, there are a variety of ways to cultivate your own SC. Psychologist Kristin Neff offers a variety of workshops around the country designed for the public. If a workshop seems like a lot, you can also find specific exercises to do from the comfort of your own home on Neff’s website.


Judging yourself harshly for perceived inadequacies breeds discontent that can eventually foster denial in an attempt to spare your ego. Rather, examine yourself with unflinching honesty and lighthearted objectivity and, from there, you might reach higher next time. Be kind to yourself and embrace your struggle and journey, recognizing that we all struggle with our respective journeys, no matter how many “likes” we may have.

The Rise of Natural Perfuming as Industry

By Sherika Tenaya

While the seeds of perfumery were first sewn within the work of the alchemists and their discovery of distillation, it was some time yet before it began to take on the trappings of a business in its own right.

Mandy Aftel describes this early period in her book Essence & Alchemy, as a by-product of the glove industry. Perfumed gloves gained a great deal of popularity in sixteenth century France as a way to keep the skin soft, so much so that people wore gloves to bed. Aftel names René, none other than the perfumer of Catherine de Medici herself, as the first to open a perfume shop in Paris, though their liaison was not without its corruptions. Aftel writes, “When Catherine wished to get rid of her enemies, she turned to him for sorcery with effective results. Jeanne d’Albret, mother of Henry IV of France, was poisoned after she donned a pair of perfumed gloves presented to her by Catherine.”

Anne of Austria was another glove fanatic who was known for her beautiful hands and it was in her court that mouse skin gloves gained preeminence. It was Anne’s son, Louis XIV, who granted a charter to the guild of gantiers-parfumeurs in 1656.

Camille Beckman The Rise Natural Perfuming as Industry

Between the years 1500 and 1730, perfuming expanded greatly on its use of various natural ingredients and it was in 1725 that Johann Farina of Cologne introduced his famous Eau de Cologne, a mixture of citrus and herbal odors that drew upon and incorporated the discoveries of the previous centuries.

“Although distillation could be used on roses, the fragrances of other flowers, such as jasmine, tuberose, and orange flower, eluded that method.” Aftel imparts. That all changed in the nineteenth century when Jacques Passy, a Frenchman, developed the technique of enfleurage, described by Aftel thusly: “Flower petals render their fragrance into a fatty pomade, from which a powerfully scented oil can be derived.”

Catherine de Medici, despite her apparent character flaws, played a large role in developing a perfume industry in southeastern France and it was in Grasse that perfuming formed its center. “The climate and soil of the surrounding region proved hospitable to orange trees, acacia, roses, and jasmine.” Aftel explains. “Over time, distillation plants and other facilities for processing perfume materials grew up there; some of them are still operating today.”

Around this time, parallel perfuming entrepreneurs began springing up in other major European cities, including Mr. Perry of London. He combined the sale of medicines and cosmetics with that of perfume. Among his products, according to Aftel, was an oil of mustard seed that was “guaranteed to cure every disease under the sun.”

Despite such grandiose claims, no perfumer gained true celebrity until Charles Lillie happened upon the scene. He had the cleverness to place his shop in London’s Strand, the very epicenter of London’s literary and fashion scene. Aftel describes his popularity with a series of impressive name-drops: “He counted among his friends Jonathan Swift, Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, and Alexander Pope. Both Addison and Steele praised him copiously in print, and Steele went so far as to suggest that he ‘used the force of magical powers to add value to his wares.’”

Camille Beckman The Rise Natural Perfuming as Industry


Perhaps Lillie’s greatest contribution was the formation of his book The British Perfumer, in which he set the standards for the perfume business with the intention of educating the public on how to evaluate scented materials and products.

Aftel says Lillie’s book inspired a whole gamut of “how-to” perfume treatises that reached their pinnacle in the latter half of the nineteenth century, “Along with formulas for perfumes, these volumes include discourses on flower farming, ancient cultures and their rituals, recipes for hair dyes (often containing lead), remedies for ailments of man and beast (including opiates), and ruminations on society and woman’s place therein. The discourses are charming and odd, and the books are illustrated with lovely woodcuts depicting botanicals and extraction devices. But the perfume information itself is repeated almost verbatim from book to book, with only a small increment of new material, and the formulas themselves are generic; there is no sense in them of a creator’s unique signature.”

Aftel goes on to say that the the perfumes created in that time were lacking in complexity as perfumers’ formulas worked on the principle of layering analogous scents with each other, “combining a few intense and similarly scented florals to arrive at a single, sweet floral note, with perhaps a bit of vanilla for additional sweetness, and sometimes a drop of civet, ambergris or musk for staying power.”


Camille Beckman The Rise Natural Perfuming as Industry

Eugene Rimmel, one of the earliest manufacturers and marketers of cosmetics hailed such formulas as “the truly artistic part of perfumery, for it is done by studying the resemblances and affinities, and blending the shades of scent as a painter does the colors on his palette.”

It is clear, however, that Aftel couldn’t disagree more: “In truth [these formulas] exploited none of the range of contrast and intensity offered by the essential oils then available. So while each perfume vendor peddled his own Rondeletia or Eau de Cologne from his shop or cart, they all stayed within an extremely limited range. It was like being a painter and using only a quarter of the color wheel.”

Just as in life, society has a tendency to want to homogenize and worship sameness; yet it is the lovely, vibrant contrast - the exciting collision of diverse and incongruent parts - that creates true art and conveys an overall depiction of beauty, wonder and weirdness that captures the human imagination and embodies the very essence of sensual rapture.

The Shaping of Modern Day Perfumery

By Sherika Tenaya

The introduction of synthetics and the creative admixture of contrasting ingredients certainly reshaped and transformed the art of perfumery, but these were not the only elements that brought about the booming industry we know today. Several colorful characters of long ago made lasting contributions to perfuming that have remained long after their own lives ended. 

Perhaps none has left so impactful a legacy as Francois Coty, the man who understood the value of packaging perfumes in beautiful bottles. Born Frances Spoturno in 1876 in Corsica, he moved to France at an early age where he proceeded to befriend an apothecary that sold perfumes.

Mandy Aftel, author of Essence & Alchemy, describes in her book the simplistic and unexciting way perfume was packaged during Coty’s time, “Perfumes were purchased in plain glass apothecary bottles, brought home, and transferred to decorative flasks.”

Camille Beckman The Shaping of Modern Day Perfumery

Coty would have none of it, however. After a short stint in Grasse in which he worked at Chiris, one of the largest producers of flower essences at that time, he returned to Paris, borrowed money from his grandmother, and proceeded to open up a perfume lab in his apartment. His first perfume, La Rose Jacqueminot, was created in 1904. In 1908, he just so happened to open a shop on Place Vendome right next to the celebrated art-nouveau jeweler Rene Lalique. Coty had the ingenious idea of having Lalique design his perfume bottles and discovered he could mass produce them by using iron molds, which he did in adherence to his infamous adage that “a perfume could attract the eye as well as the nose.”

It was Coty who also was the first to allow customers to sample perfumes before buying. No small contribution - as Aftel confirms when she declares, “The revolution in packaging techniques ushered in by Francois Coty completed the birth of the modern perfume age.”

However, other innovators also played a role in how perfume came to be marketed to the public. It was Paul Poiret, born 1879 - 1944, who was the first couturier to make perfumes. At his fashion shows, he would disperse heavily perfumed fans and purposefully kept all the windows closed, ensuring their use. The professional perfumer he hired also made a mark as the first to introduce exotic Oriental ingredients which were combined with heady florals.

Camille Beckman The Shaping of Modern Day Perfumery

When it came to exotic pomp, Poiret was trumped only by the infamous Ahmed Soliman (1906-1956), also dubbed “Cairo’s Perfume King”, who had a perfumery in Khan el Khalili Bazaar which Aftel says was Egypt’s “center of perfume since the time of the pharaohs.” While Egyptian women wanted only perfumes from France, Soliman made his substantial profits off American and European tourists, who loved his appropriately marketed perfume names: Flower of the Sahara, Secret of the Desert, Queen of Egypt and Harem to name a few. Interestingly, Aftel describes how the centerpiece of his shop was a statue of the pharaoh Ramses that “poured perfume from its mouth by virtue of a mechanism which had to be wound up every half hour.”

One thing that sets the establishment of the perfuming business apart was the way in which women took a leading role at a time when a woman’s opportunities were pared down to that of wife and mother only.

Perhaps none captures this so well as the inspiring story of Harriet Hubbard Ayers (1849-1903), the daughter of a prominent Chicago family who married a wealthy iron dealer at the tender age of 16. After the infamous Chicago fire of 1871 took the life of one of her children, she took off to Paris where she spent a year grieving and healing. Abruptly, she moved to New York with the powerful motivation to establish her independence and started a business selling a beauty cream called Recamier, which Aftel says “she claimed to have discovered in Paris, where it had been used by all the great beauties during the time of Napoleon. Genuine or not, it was an immediate success and Ayers soon added perfumes to her line with names like Dear Heart, Mes Fleurs, and Golden Chance.”

Harriet Hubbard Ayers

Aftel goes on to say that Ayer’s family conspired to take away her business and to commit her to a mental institution, but that she persevered to “eventually become America’s first beauty columnist and country’s best-paid, most popular female newspaper journalist.”

Following in Ayer’s footsteps was Lilly Dache (1893-1990), whom Aftel describes as “a Paris born milliner who arrived in New York City in 1924 with less than fifteen dollars to her name and in short order owned her own business, specializing in making fruited turbans for Carmen Miranda and one-of-a-kind hats for Jean Harlow and Marlene Dietrich. In an opulent green satin showroom, she sold perfumes with names like Drifting and Dashing along with the hats.”

The success of these women in the industry of beauty and perfumery, reflects our own story and passionate determination to see women empowered as entrepreneurs and leaders in their communities. A story, rippling through time, that goes far beyond the producing of hand creams and luxury scented items and touches the lives of many, as these lives lived out so long ago still touch ours today.

While the warp and weft of perfumery was co-created by many individuals spread across many countries with a variety of intentions and approaches, it still stands as one of the most bewitching and enticing examples of collaboration between humanity and the natural world. A poignant study of the inherent sensuality and concomitant provocative psyche of scent as it enhances not only the human imagination, but also, the trappings of everyday life.

At the Heart of Alchemy

By Sherika Tenaya

Much of this blog series has been based off the work of Mandy Aftel in her groundbreaking book Essence & Alchemy, and this blog is a tribute to her and the pivotal role she says alchemy played in the creation of perfumery.

In her words, “Perfume as we know it could not have taken shape without alchemy, the ancient art that undertook to convert raw matter, through a series of transformations, into a perfect and purified form.”

While little is universally understood about the practice of alchemy - famously secretive as its practitioners were - and how how avidly they jealously guarded their secrets; they seemed to be the bridge between the spiritual ministrations of the priests who characterized the practice of perfumery in ancient Egypt, and the world of science that benefited enormously from some of the alchemist’s more practical contributions to the world.

So what IS alchemy? Alchemy, from what I gather of Aftel’s poetic descriptions, appears to be a kind of fusion between self-realizing spirituality and incumbent chemistry; a sort of unsupervised priesthood, tempered by poignant philosophy, completed with a neurotic twist of God complex.

“Theirs was not a profession in the usual sense; it was a calling.” Aftel writes. “Alchemists can be said to have much in common with priests (albeit heretical ones), but it is more to the point to say that the distinctions between religion, medicine, science, art, and psychology were not nearly so absolute in their time as they are now. Nor was the boundary between matter and spirit so firm.”

It was this boundary between matter and spirit, or perhaps more accurately, the lack of it, that so thoroughly consumed the alchemists. According to Aftel, they believed in a sort of oneness of the cosmos: that there is a corresponding relationship between the physical world and that of the spiritual, and of utmost interest to them, “that the same laws operate in both realms.”

Aftel puts it succinctly when she says,The philosophy of alchemy expressed the conviction that the spark of divinity - the quinta essentia - could be discovered in matter....The ultimate goal was to reunite matter and spirit in a transformed state, a miraculous entity known as the Elixir of Life (sometimes called the Philosopher’s Stone).”

The words of sixteenth century doctor and alchemist, Paracelsus, corroborate the concept of quinta essentia when he wrote, “The quinta essentia is that which is extracted from a substance - from all plants and from everything which has life - then freed of all impurities and perishable parts, refined into highest purity and separated from all elements….the inherency of a thing, its nature, power, virtue, and curative efficacy, without any….foreign admixture….that is the quinta essentia.”

It makes a great deal of sense that, following this spiritual or scientific belief - pursuing the quinta essentia as it were - is precisely what led alchemists to make their greatest contribution to perfumery: distillation. “Indeed the alchemists deserve credit for refining the process of distillation,” Aftel imparts. “which was of enormous importance to the evolution of perfumery, not to mention wine-making, chemistry, and other branches of industry and science.”

Though alchemy eventually faded out of the human story, giving way to a more logic-based scientific approach, the lofty aspirations and impassioned conviction from which the alchemists operated continues to inform modern day science. “The practical legacy of the alchemists passed to the chemists,” Aftel concludes. “who put it in service of the effort to dissect and analyze the elements of the natural world. The spiritual legacy of the alchemists can be seen as having passed to the psychologists, who strive like alchemists to reconcile dualities.”

Perhaps humanity is still striving to reconcile those dualities, to pare down living matter to its pure and spiritual core and find the meaning therein; a worthy desire, that fueled arguably one of the most important discoveries in the perfumery world, distillation, a “philosopher’s stone” in its own right.

Perfumery of the Ancient Empires

By Sherika Tenaya

It is hard to say when exactly perfumery made the transition from spiritually significant item of ritual, medicine and survival - as used by indigenous peoples - to the body adornment and personal expression accessory we use today. Much of our human history has been lost to time or, more accurately, to conquering victors who didn’t care to pass on the stories or culture of those they defeated.

Therefore, what we know of the conception of perfumery begins, according to Mandy Aftel, world renowned perfumist and author of the highly engrossing book Essence & Alchemy, with ancient Egyptian priests who, “blended the juices expressed from succulent flowers and plants, the pulp of fruits, spices, resins and gums from trees, meal made from oleaginous seeds, wine, honey, and oils to make incense and unguents.”

Camille Beckman Perfumery of the Ancient Empires

It was in Egypt where the use of aromatic materials morphed into something more than religious ceremony and pomp: they were used as personal bodily adornment as well as a type of currency. Aftel remarks, “From Egyptian times, fragrant blends were used for bodily adornment and curative purposes as well as in religious ceremonies. ‘This will be the way of the king...and he will take your daughters to be perfumers,’ says the Bible (1 Sam. 8:11-13). The Jerusalem wall paintings reveal that the perfumers were indeed women, and that they were as likely to serve the court as the temple. Moreover, aromatic substances, being rare, precious and easily transported by caravan, were used for barter - costus, sandalwood, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and most especially, frankincense and myrrh. These ingredients were so important and so difficult to obtain that the Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut sent a fleet of ships to Punt (Somalia) to bring back myrrh seedlings to plant in her temple.”

In a very colorful rendition of ancient Egypt at the time of Cleopatra’s reign, Stacy Schiff, pulitzer prize winning author of the captivating book Cleopatra: A Life, brings to life the city of Alexandria, which she describes as the “Paris of the ancient world” and enumerates, in detail, how they used scent to create opulence during their festivities,

Camille Beckman Perfumery of the Ancient Empires - Egypt

“At banquets those intricacies [of elaborate floor mosaics] vanished under lush carpets of lilies and roses, with which Egypt was abundantly supplied. ‘The general rule,’ gushed one chronicler, ‘is that no flower, including roses, snowdrops, or anything else, ever completely stops blooming.’ Strewn in heaps over the floors, they lent the impression of a country meadow, if one littered at meal’s end by oyster shells, lobster claws, and peach pits. There was nothing rare about a banquet order for three hundred crowns of roses, or for as many braided garlands. (Roses were crucial, their fragrance believed to prevent intoxication.) Perfumes and unguents were Alexandrian specialties; attendants sprinkled cinnamon and cardamom and balsam perfumes on banqueters’ crowns as musicians played or storytellers performed.”

Egypt seemed to have something of a lasting influence on the differing peoples that became enmeshed in their long history. The Jews, for example, seemed to carry on the practice of using unguents and aromatic oils on their bodies. Indeed, Moses, the leader of the Hebrews who famously fled from Egyptian oppression in the book of Exodus in the Bible, was commanded by the Lord to create a holy oil from olive oil and fragrant spices.

Camille Beckman Perfumery of the Ancient Empires - White Cloves

Furthermore, Aftel describes the fascinating discovery of a perfume workshop found in some old ruins in Jerusalem, “In the basement of a house in Jerusalem that dates from the first century B.C., archaeologists have uncovered evidence - ovens, cooking pots, and mortars - of a perfume workshop for the nearby temple. Wall carvings and paintings from the period document the process of perfume-making in detail.”

Even the Romans were not left totally untouched by the Egyptian preoccupation with fragrance and seemed to take the obsession a few shades beyond overboard. “Wealthy Romans used scented doves to perfume the air at feasts, rubbed dogs and horses with unguents, brushed walls with aromatics, and sprinkled floors with flower petals.” Aftel writes, before hilariously documenting the antics of what can only be described as the neurotic tendencies of the emperor Nero who, “Was reported to have had Lake Lucina covered in rose petals when he threw a feast there, and he was said to sleep on a bed of petals. (Supposedly, he suffered insomnia if even of them happened to be curled.)”

In many ways, our entanglement with the sensual nature of aroma, while changed and transformed through the ages, still manages to hold the same sway over us. Charging us with passion, inciting obsession, suffusing our rituals with meaning and overpowering our reason - in much the same manner as love - it’s no wonder we become so easily ensnared by both.

The Poignancy of  Perfume in Literature

By Sherika Tenaya

From the times of our earliest ancestors, we have been enraptured by scent in all its various forms. That love affair, while somewhat lessened in modern day man due to all his “civilizing”, has nevertheless been perfectly captured in the words of our most highly revered poets, philosophers, writers and cultural thinkers in their various literary works. Here we will explore the works of some of those cultural titans and discern humanity’s relationship with scent and perfume, in all its various forms, through the ages.

Perhaps no other writer captures the overwhelmingly powerful, potently raw influencer that is scent on the psyche more than Patrick Suskind in his work Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, when he writes, “Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odor cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.”

To some degree, scent has the ability to overcoat our mind, shift our mood, transcend the present moment and many writers have oft pondered the deeper relationship scent has on all aspects of our being. Oscar Wilde captures this well when he writes in The Picture of Dorian Gray,

“And so he would now study perfumes, and the secrets of their manufacture, distilling heavily-scented oils, and burning odorous gums from the East. He saw that there was no mood of the mind that had not its counterpart in the sensuous life, and set himself to discover their true relations, wondering what there was in frankincense that made one mystical, and in ambergris that stirred one’s passions, and in violets that woke the memory of dead romances, and in musk that troubled the brain, and in champak that stained the imagination; and seeking often to elaborate a real psychology of perfumes, and to estimate the several influences of sweet-smelling roots, and scented pollen-laden flower, of aromatic balms, and of dark and fragrant woods, of spikenard that sickens, of hovenia that makes men mad, and of aloes that are said to be able to expel melancholy from the soul.”

Yes, scent does play a vibrant role in stirring our psyches, our passions, and our creativity, particularly when it is experienced in context of synaesthesia, a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sense, say a color, gets intermingled with a secondary sense, such as a smell. For example, someone may be able to “smell” the color yellow, or discern the “taste” of lavender oil without ingesting it.

In writing, synaesthesia is considered to be a necessary component to creativity, allowing the author to paint a vibrant scene by cleverly suffusing the senses together, as Charles Baudelaire infamously does in his Les Fleurs du Mal, “Perfumes there are as sweet as the oboe's sound, green as the prairies, fresh as a child's caress – and there are others, rich, corrupt, profound.”

Scent associations can also transport us to other places, fueling creative imagination, as poignantly depicted by Henry Miller in Tropic of Cancer, “But about the smell of rancid butter... there are good associations too. When I think of this rancid butter I see myself standing in a little, old world courtyard, a very smelly, very dreary courtyard. Through the cracks in the shutters strange figures peer out at me.”

Scent associations can even transport us across time, reawakening old memories and vivifying long past emotional experiences, as Helen Keller passionately infers, “Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived. The odors of fruits waft me to my southern home, to my childhood frolics in the peach orchard. Other odors, instantaneous and fleeting, cause my heart to dilate joyously or contract with remembered grief. Even as I think of smells, my nose is full of scents that start awake sweet memories of summers gone and ripening fields far away.”

The connection between scent and emotion is equally evocative, allowing such distinguished writers like Mark Twain to bring to clarity the emotional experience that is forgiveness by tying it to a scent, “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” Poignant, stirring, beautiful and somehow perfect.

Look no further than the literary artists who successfully capture not only the stirrings of the human heart and mind but also the authenticity of the the human condition, to appreciate scent and its inherent power to work with us, on us, and through us in all aspects of our personhood, both collective and individual.

A Natural History of Perfume - The Primordial Approach to Scent

By Sherika Tenaya

Considering perfume has been a part of the human story since the human story first began, it comes as no surprise that there is a rich and vibrant history, a tapestry of sorts, sewn together from a wide array of different cultural cloths all colluding to inspire and inform our ever-changing relationship with our sense of smell.

In my previous blog, I mentioned how our sense of smell alone has a direct connection with the brain that bypasses the thalamus, through which all other sensory input must first go to be processed. Rather, our sense of smell gets processed in the limbic lobe - said to be one of the oldest parts of the brain - the same place from which arises our sexual and emotional impulses.

Camille Beckman - Primordial Approach to Scent

Our primal ancestors were thought to walk on four legs with noses close to the ground, and scientists speculate that our sense of smell was the most prevalent, enabling us to ascertain information about gender, sexual maturity, availability and bodily health. Freud theorized that as we began to walk upright, bringing our noses further away from scent trails, our relationship with olfactory information altered irrevocably, and evolution began to cultivate a precedence from smell to an ever-expanding visual field. Over time, it comes as no surprise that our sense of smell lost some of that primal acuity.

Interestingly enough, we can still see quite a bit of evidence of the importance scent carries for the world’s oldest cultures and indigenous societies. To this day, scent can play a fundamental role in healing, hunting and religious life and therefore be markedly stronger in these cultures than we would ever believe possible. Paolo Rovesti writes in his treatise In Search of Perfumes Lost, of a group of remote people called the Orissa who lived in India and were left untouched by civilization, purportedly living naked in the mountains:

“We were still out of sight of the crest of their plateau and separated from them by a dense jungle, when we heard a clamor of festive cries. ‘They have smelt us coming. They have smelt our odor,’ the guide explained to us. We were still more than one hundred yards of jungle away from them. Moreover, a loud waterfall nearby would have made it impossible for them to have heard us. The realization on various occasions that these primitive people had olfactory capacities as sharp as those given to original man, as acutely sensitive as that of many animals, never ceased to amaze and surprise us.”

World famous perfumer Mandy Aftel also colorfully describes the relationship other indigenous groups have with certain aromatic materials in her book Essence & Alchemy when she writes, “Umeda hunters in New Guinea were reported to sleep with bundles of herbs under their pillows in order to inspire dreams of a successful hunt that they could follow, like a map, when they awoke the next day. The Berbers of Morocco were known to inhale the fragrant smoke of pennyroyal, thyme, rosemary, and laurel as a cure for headaches and fever. They believed that smelling a narcissus flower could protect them from syphilis, and that malicious spirits could be forced from the body by the scent of burning benzoin mixed with rue, and consumed in the aromatic fires.”

David Howes, Professor of Anthropology at Concordia University in Montreal and Director of the Concordia Sensoria Research Team, mentions the Warao people of Venezuela, said to be the original aromatherapists among us, when he writes, “Among the Warao, the inside of the body is conceived as a kind of gas pressure chamber, where all sorts of olfactory reactions take place. Diagnosis is by smell rather than x-rays or the chemical analysis of blood samples, such as one finds in biomedicine, and treatment is by the application of scents.”

Camille Beckman Primordial Approach to Scent

Howes goes on to explain that sometimes cultures will use scent to distinguish themselves from another group, such as in the case of the Dassanetch, East African pastoralists who “smear themselves with cattle products to give themselves a bovine scent, which differentiates them as a people from neighboring fisherman.” While that is a rather unsettling visual, prompting the ungentle question of what constitutes “cattle products”, it is nevertheless fascinating the variety of ways in which scent is used by these societies.

In the example of the Desana, a Tukano group in the Vaupes River area of the Colombian portion of the northwest Amazon, scent is used as a type of currency in rituals of exchange, in which they trade ants of differing odors.

Spirituality, and subsequently moral conduct, is also highly influenced by scents in cultures such as the Wamira of New Guinea, who attribute the power of olfaction to plants, or the Batek Negrito of Malaysia, who believe a particularly sensitive nose is a gift direct from the gods. Misfortunes, according to Howes, are explained in terms of the aforementioned plants and gods “taking offence at the mixing of odors which results from people engaging in forbidden activities.”

Though not yet in the realm of perfume, scent certainly carried a weighty impact with our forebears as well as those who still carry on the oldest of traditions living in the world today. From matters of the spirit to matters of survival, scent has shaped who we are, culturally and globally, and continues to do so today.

Space Making Manifesto

By: Sherika Tenaya

In one of our earlier blogs, we discussed the importance of making space in one’s life as a necessary prerequisite to creating true, lasting, sustainable change that can realistically be integrated into one’s lifestyle.

Yet this idea begs the question, what exactly does making this kind of healthy space look like? This blog aims to give you concrete ideas for opening up your life in all its various facets: physical, emotional, spiritual, financial and connective.


Take the time to clean and organize all of the spaces you occupy: your home, your car, your work space. Clutter is widely understood to strongly affect one’s psyche and even willpower, whereas the act of decluttering results in almost therapeutic psychological benefits. In addition, organizing puts you in touch with all the things you own, giving you a chance to assess what you really need and letting go of the inessential.

Camille Beckman Space Making Manifesto Physical

If clutter isn’t an issue, perhaps freshening up your space in accordance with the guidelines of Feng shui is your way of inviting in the new. Feng shui, translated as "wind and water”, is the ancient Chinese art of placement. “The goal is to enhance the flow of chi (life force or spiritual energy),” writes Leah Hennen in her article for HGTV, “and to create harmonious environments that support health, beckon wealth and invite happiness.”

For a few easily digestible tidbits on how to feng shui your home, check out this helpful article by Real Simple magazine, complete with photos.


A journal is a perfect emotional space in which you can work to untangle your thoughts and feelings so as to elucidate your true priorities in life. All the while, the journal serves a dual purpose as a log, or documentation, of your journey towards your goals, in all its ups and downs.

Camille Beckman Space Making Manifesto Emotional

If you’re not one for daily journaling, perhaps consider using the journal as a dream diary. While conventional science doesn’t claim to know the purpose or meaning behind our dream lives, some people believe that dreams are creative manifestations of our emotions as projected by our subconscious mind. By tracking one’s dreams, one may gain some insight into what’s happening at the deepest layers of one’s psyche.  

If you find you’re not much of a writer, simply acquire a voice recorder to speak into, perhaps listening later to identify patterns and belief systems.



Sometimes the changes we wish to see in our lives are indicative of a desire to connect with our deeper, innermost selves, that is to say, our spiritual nature. How to go about this is as individual as one’s own fingerprint and many different people will go about it many different ways.

Camille Beckman Space Making Manifesto Spiritual

At times, this requires cultivating a physical space, such as an altar, upon which meaningful momentos of one’s life or cherished, personal treasures can be stored. Sometimes it can be as simple as sitting in silence for 10 minutes at the start of one’s day.

For many, making spiritual space means taking the time to go out and connect with nature, taking long solitary hikes or fishing. And still others make spiritual space by connecting with their body in movement practices such as martial arts, yoga or Qi Gong.  


Making financial space in one’s life can actually be much easier than one might think. We are conditioned into a life of spending excess, where far too many of us are living paycheck to paycheck with no savings to speak of. Poor or wealthy, accumulating too much stuff is often a sign of an emotional or spiritual need that is being left unconfronted.

Camille Beckman Space Making Manifesto FinancialFinancial space means teaching ourselves to live without, an idea gaining popularity as indicated by the success of films such as Minimalism: A Documentary about Important Things and even financial independence websites such as the wildly successful Mr. Money Mustache blog; a how-to manifesto for everyday people to retire at an unheard of early age by living scrupulously cheap lifestyles and investing one’s resultant savings wisely.

Honestly ask yourself: what can I live without? How can I simplify and differentiate between what I really need and what I believe I want? Where does the desire for fill-in-the-blank-item REALLY stem from?

Generally speaking, there is a tradeoff between time and money. In order to make more money, one must sacrifice one’s time. In order to have more time, one must adapt to living on less money. On what would you spend your time, arguably the most valuable of all currencies, if you freed yourself from excess spending?



In a culture focused on the financial, we often forget the number of studies and wise words of our elders that proclaim that it is our connections to those we love that provides true happiness lasting into old age. So when space is created in your schedule by releasing financial ties, you inherently invite in more time for those you love.

Camille Beckman Space Making Manifesto

Making space for your connections could mean taking out the family calendar and planning ahead: establish your vacation time early, plan life-enriching events with your kids or spouse, schedule some social justice activism or community organization to shape your community into what you want it to be.

This year, focus on what’s most important to you in the big picture. Make the space you need and watch the year unfold as it never has before.

Learn New Things for a Better Brain

by: Sherika Tenaya

From a very young age, precipitated by our entry into school, we condition ourselves to a life of sameness. Whether you are at school or at work, we learn to live our lives by habituated scheduling which we rarely deviate from and which often lulls us into a feeling of security or comfortability.

Some consider this to be an ideal way of living life, to always know what’s coming next around the riverbend, to be able to depend with certainty on one’s own expectations of where life is going. Others find it stifling, wishing to break free from the constraints of the repetitive, eagerly looking forward to that two week vacation which never quite seems long enough.

Camille Beckman Learn New Things for a Better Brain

Regardless of which side of the fence you lie on, our brains are collectively hardwired to benefit, and even flourish, from novelty. Our ancestors lived lives of constant uncertainty: vulnerable to the ever-changing forces of nature such as weather, encounters with predatory animals, and continually plagued with the unknown of where to find the next meal or water.

Nothing was certain for them and so our brains adapted to learn from novel experiences, to be intrigued and inspired by coming across new objects in our environment, which in turn, triggered a highly motivated exploration of our environment.

In a highly intriguing study, researchers Bunzeck and Düzel examined the relationship of a particular region of the midbrain that is responsible for regulating our motivation and rewards-processing, and how that interplays with novel stimuli.

Camille Beckman Learn New Things for a Better Brain

In the words of Dr. Emrah Düzel, “When we see something new, we see it has a potential for rewarding us in some way. This potential that lies in new things motivates us to explore our environment for rewards. The brain learns that the stimulus, once familiar, has no reward associated with it and so it loses its potential. For this reason, only completely new objects activate the midbrain area and increase our levels of dopamine.”

When it comes to learning, we learn best when we mix in newness to our endeavors. Kelly Howell, co-author of Brain Power: Improve Your Mind as You Age, writes, “Newness and novelty excite the brain and create a stronger connection between neurons. Every time you have a new experience, a new synaptic connection forms. The more you use that connection, the stronger it gets. If you stop using the connection, the neurons are pruned away.”

Camille Beckman Learn New Things for a Better Brain

Engaging in new activities can keep the brain engaged, motivated, and even strengthen its neuronal connections. However, not all new activities pack quite the same punch.

In this fascinating article, cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman distinguishes between the efficacy of “brain games”, gaining popularity in the media and sold as harbingers of salvation for the diminishing mind, and actually learning a new and challenging skill when he states, “While brain games improve a limited aspect of short-term memory, challenging activities strengthen entire networks in the brain.”  

It is important to note that these benefits affect long lasting brain health no matter what age you are. Whether young or old, your brain has an amazing capacity to continually grow and renew itself - even until the day you die.

So begin today by turning off social media , stepping out of your comfort zone, and focusing on a new activity or skill to engage in. Not only will this excite and stimulate your brain, but you will receive residual benefits by meeting new people and broadening your social circle, which invites the same novelty as the activity itself.  

Scent & Sensuality: Stories, Myths & Legends of Scent through the Ages

By: Sherika Tenaya

In my last blog, I described the power of scent and how potent a hold it has over the human psyche - coloring all aspects of our lives: from memory recall to sexual intimacy to conduit between human and the divine.  

In my research for that blog, I came across quite a few astonishing and enthralling stories that demonstrate just how powerful a role scent has played in the drama that is human history, as well as its characterization in our myths and legends. Many, though not all, of these stories were pulled from the highly engrossing and superbly well written book Essence and Alchemy by Mandy Aftel. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

In many cases, much of the mystique surrounding certain scents or essences was the way in which they were harvested - with the same care, concern and ritual as priceless religious artifacts. Like the story of frankincense, as told by Pliny in his Natural History treatise in which he stated that it could be found only in Saba, a nearly inaccessible part of Arabia due to the surrounding treacherous mountains.

Scent & Sensuality Frankincense

Harvesting frankincense was a hereditary privilege, passed down through male members of certain families who were considered holy in their own right. While making their small incisions in the trees to harvest this precious material, these men were forbidden from having sex with women or attending funerals. The collected frankincense would then make its way to the town of Sabota on camel where it could only enter the city through one gate where priests would take one-tenth of the harvest for the god Sabin. To do anything else with the frankincense before the priests received their share was punishable by death.

The harvesting of sandalwood is also rather involved as the sandalwood tree is considered a hemiparasite, meaning it gets some nutrients from photosynthesis and the rest of its nutritional needs are gained by siphoning from the roots of its neighboring trees, who, in return for their unwilling donations, are gifted with a slow death.

The essential oil of sandalwood does not appear until the tree is at least twenty-five years old, so the tree must be at least thirty before any harvesting can be done. One cannot simply chop the tree down at this point because the precious oil is just as much in the roots as the trunk and branches. Instead, the tree must be wholly unearthed and the help of white ants enlisted to eat away the sapwood and bark. The ants very congenially leave the heartwood, where the oil is, untouched. The heartwood is then coarsely powdered and steam-distilled.

Camille Beckman Scent & Sensuality Sandalwood

Sometimes certain scents capture our imaginations because figures in history gain almost comical attachments to them. For example, musk - an aphrodisiac of legendary proportions, was so well loved by the empress Josephine, that she filled her dressing room with it despite Napoleon’s indignant protestations. Forty years after her death, after multiple washings and coats of paint, the scent still remained.

The Arab love for roses is well renowned. According to Aftel, “They preserved them by gathering the buds and placing them in earthenware jars that they sealed with clay and buried in the earth. When roses were required, they dug up the jar, sprinkled the buds with water, and left them to air until the petals opened.” She even mentions a sultan who was so enamored with roses, that he forbade anyone else to grow them, as a jealous lover. He purportedly dressed in pink in their honor and had his rugs continually sprinkled with rosewater.

Perhaps one of the most famous historical figures whose love for scent was well known was the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra. While everything we know of her and her story is given to us through the secondhand writings of men who hardly, if at all, knew her, and who were on the side of her enemies; her love for perfume and opulent taste in her immediate surroundings withstands.

Egypt was easily the richest country in the world at the time she lived and Egyptian women in general enjoyed a great deal of personal liberty that many of our history books ignore or fail to mention. Perhaps it is no surprise then that Cleopatra was said to have her own perfume workshop and was known to rub her mouth with solid perfume before kissing a lover so that “the scent would force him to think of her after they parted.” She even had the sails of the barge upon which she received Mark Antony, an incredibly important political meeting for her at the time, drenched in perfume. Later, she held court in a room with a carpet of rose petals, said to be several feet thick, that were fixed in place by nets fastened to the walls.    

Camille Beckman Ancient Fragrances Scent & Sensuality

Even well after her infamous death, Cleopatra’s love for perfume touched the lives of two Hungarian brothers as late as 1923. Laszlo Lengyel was a major figure in dispensing “love potions” and other products, very popular at the time, that were said to enhance sexual desire and performance. Lengyel and his brother, inspired by the recent discovery of King Tut’s tomb, produced a perfume they said was based on a formula of Cleopatra’s that had been found in the tomb. Interestingly enough, the two brothers promptly developed serious illnesses, in accordance with the vengeful legends of what happened to those who disturbed such tombs, and only regained their health when they withdrew their new perfume off the market.  

The power of scent was so remarkable that certain prudish governmental bodies attempted to impose legislation criminalizing the stuff. In England in the year 1770, an act of Parliament decreed: “all women, of whatever age, rank, profession, or degree, whether virgins, maids, or widows, that shall, from and after such Act, impose upon, seduce and betray into matrimony, any of His Majesty’s subjects, by the scents, paints, cosmetic washes, artificial teeth, false hair, Spanish wool, iron stays, hoops, high-heeled shoes, bolstered hips, shall incur the penalty of the law now in force against witchcraft and like misdemeanors, and that the marriage, upon conviction, shall stand null and void.”

Camille Beckman - Scent & Sensuality

Of course, such a thing was impossible to enforce for long. The following year in London, a man named James Graham gained national acclaim by setting up a business that aimed to help childless couples conceive. According to Aftel, this featured a “Celestial Bed” supported on a series of elaborately carved and colored pillars that Graham claimed to possess “magical influences which are now celebrated from pole to pole and from the rising to the setting sun.” The bed was the appetizer to the perfumed entree. Atop the bed was a dome that wafted “odoriferous and balmy spells and essences” that were said to enliven and vivify. The mattress was stuffed, not with the customary feathers, but with “sweet new wheat or oatstraw mingled with balm, rose leaves, lavender flowers and oriental spices.” To complete this scent-saturated experience of celestial lovemaking, the sheets themselves were scented with resins and balsams.

Across the world, scent is used as the tinder to fan the fire of desire. “In the highlands of New Guinea,” Aftel writes, “shamans say incantations over ginger leaves, which are thought to lend allure to the man who rubs them on his face and body. In the Amazon, Yanomamo men carry sachets of fragrant powders that are supposed to make attractive women tumble into their arms.”

Even Sigmund Freud, well known for his sexually-focused, if not obsessed, theories on human psychological development, suspected that the nose was related to the sexual organs and he therefore considered the repression of smell to be a major cause of mental illness.

When it comes to scent and the role it has played in our growth and development as a species, this blog is barely scratching the surface of what is out there, yet even so, fully captures the obsession - some might call it the possession - of scent upon our imaginations. So the next time you are rubbing your favorite scented bath product on your skin, remember the stories of old and immerse yourself in the delicious madness, the sensual grandness that scent has carried through the ages.

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