Listening to Smoke - A New Online Course Dedicated to Incense Appreciation

Listening to Smoke - A New Online Course Dedicated to Incense Appreciation
Burning incense on its own is an art form. Knowing when, how and what to burn in the precise quantities, and which technique is most suitable for a certain raw material is a pre-requisite for any incense-maker's traning, as well as to fragrance aficionado and incense lovers. This will help you understand the pyrotechnic aspects, and enable you to know which material is appropriate for which incense burning (and making) techniques.  
Last but not least, in this course we will learn how to burn, explore and appreciate  individual incense raw materials from the natural world, including fragrant woods, resins, spices, flowers, seeds, fruits and peels of fragrant botanicals and animal ingredients used for incense and rituals from time immemorial. 

In this fun online course, we'll learn about:
1) Types of incense 
2) How to explore and observe the raw materials
3) How to burn incense using several incense burning techniques
4) Exploring and observing the raw materials of incense 
5) Energetics of incense materials
6) Healing potential of incense burning
7) Incense and its role for mindfulness and emotional well-being
The Listening to Smoke online program includes a kit of key incense materials and tools that we will evaluate during the course and live sessions. 
The program is built from 6 sessions, that will take place over the summer on Thursdays, July 15th through September, from 8:00-9:00am Israel time. 
Introductory rate for students who sign up for the pilot program, please sign up no later than July 14th. 

Tree of Life Incense

Tree of Life Incense

On my first day ever in the creek I've had a magical encounter with a Persian fallow deer (a very rare sight!), and since then, I've roamed the creek for two summers, and spent hours mediating nestled among the Plane Tree roots and branches, and on rocks in the middle of the stream, surrounded by shiny dragonflies. I've learned so much from this tree, about life and love, letting go and staying strong and present.

The vegetation in Kziv Creek - one of the very few running creeks in the Western Galilee - has a sweet, balsamic aroma of fallen leaves and resin that opens the heart. Set against the cool, moist pebbles their combined scent is that of a harmonious contrast.

This particular tree reminds me of the tree Innana planted on the banks of the Euphrates. I've learned so much from the Eastern Plane Tree there. Rooted in the emotional realm of water -  sometimes rushing, reddish-brown from soil that washes in the winter floods, and in summertime, lazily crawling and giving roaming grounds to magical dragonflies. Sometimes the water is shallow and comes to a near stand-still with rotten leaves and fish providing nutrients to the water-exposed rootlets of the tree.
The tree trunk is strong and present, showing its scars and many winding paths of finding light and love; and its branches reaching the sky and the wind.

Similarly to the Sacred Banyen Tree, the Eastern Plane Tree has a way of merging roots and branches. It constantly connects to its surrounding trees, and interconnects to itself, building intricate shapes and hollows in its trunk and branches. A particular tree in the creek is my one-legged companion and teacher, with a triangle formation and many scars from past seasons, and new shoots promising the future. It not only sheds its leaves, but also a thin outer bark, which makes him look utterly naked in winter.

Everything I learned I distilled into a very personal incense blend, both in Kyphi form and as cones, which brings sweetness and those powerful presence of the tree and the whole spiritual essence of the creek into my space. And I'd like to share some of this beauty and magic with you.

Moss Meditation

Wake up to the sunrise caressing your tent's screened window.  Crawl out of the tent quietly. Don't bother with the shoes. Tiptoe under the canopy of trees. Walk softly on the moss-covered forest floor. Slowly and softly place each foot on the ground. Feel the moss tickling your heels and foot arches and toes, then slowly yielding to your weight, then remove each foot slowly from the ground. Look back. Have you left a footstep? How long till the moss recovered its original density?

Droplets of dew may tickle your feet and cool them down. Don't let the chill stop you from taking another step and another step. Try not to break any branches. Listen to the birds that have already woken up. Can you see any of them?

Find a moss-covered log and walk on it, placing heel in front of toe in front of heel. See how far you can go walking only on moss-covered logs. When you've given up,  collapse on the moss, looking up at the canopy. Burn a little cedar wood chip or spruce bough as a morning incense. An offering of gratitude.

Moss meditation

My Rose Garden

The Bench

There is still no rose in site, but this is my soon-to-be rose garden.
It has a bench, so what else does it need (well, a few roses wouldn't hurt).
But firs I must do some research and find the exact roses I wish to plant here. First and foremost I am on the hunt for those used extensively in perfumery: Rosa damascena and Rosa centifolia. Then I must find some hardy hybrid tea roses and old English roses that would withstand the hot and dry climate here. And they must smell amazing and also have impressive looks. I would rather wait till I find the right ones rather than plant the wrong ones and waste precious plot space...

The area for the rose garden used to be an enclosed area where some of my tenants (without any permission) built for a little herd of goats. It looked like a disaster when they lived here, and it was hard to kick them out. The tenants that followed were super nice, stayed for many years, and took advange of the freshly fertilized soil to make a little vegetable garden. It only has  two small plots, and is sitting too far behind the house to be practical for a vegetable garden, in my humble opinion. So I planted a vegetable garden right next to my house (on the sunny east side next to the Pilates studio). And these two plots I'm planning to fill with at least six rose bushes. Then I will also add a bird bath or a sundial (or both), and climber roses in all corners. It makes the perfect, hidden, romantic spot to sit on; but also my preferred spot for  for sitting and meditating, burning incense, and enjoying a few hours of shade in the hot summer mornings, and quiet reflection in the evening. Maybe even a moon garden if I find the right mix of plants that won't overshadow the rosiness during the day.

Practice, (Continued)

Fats Domino's Piano, Post Katrina

"One doesn't have to be good at meditation, achieve anything or look for any particular results. As with any skill, only practice leads to improvement. And improvement is not even the point. The only point is the practice"
According the Meriam-Webster's dictionary:

verb prac·tice \ˈprak-təs\

: to do something again and again in order to become better at it

: to do (something) regularly or constantly as an ordinary part of your life

: to live according to the customs and teachings of (a religion)

Further meditation on the concept of practice: it can take different roles in your life. It could be something you do over and over again towards achieving the goal of mastery. Or it can just become an integral part of your life. In the first instance (or approach, if you will), the ego can easily get in the way: "I want to be better than anyone else", it will tell you. Or: "Be as good/famous/successful as this role model". This is what would only cause you to procrastinate at best, if not completely abandon any practice at all. Make it a part of your life, integrate the practice in your daily, mundane schedule, without worrying about what everyone else will say - and your world will shift entirely. All of a sudden, instead of trying to get from point A (ignorance, or low skill level) to point B (knowledge and mastery) - your goal is to be in the present. The goal is the practice itself. Or, if you wish to attribute an even richer spiritual perspective, it's akin to the Jewish approach of "... for the reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah" (Avot 4:2).

The full definition of practice (same dictionary):

transitive verb
1 a :  carry out, apply 
b :  to do or perform often, customarily, or habitually 
c :  to be professionally engaged in 

2 a :  to perform or work at repeatedly so as to become proficient 
b :  to train by repeated exercises 

3 obsolete :  plot

Here we see that it is the action of applying the knowledge, not just talking or thinking about it, that matters. This frequent performance or repeated action is what will bring one to the level of mastery and professionalism (if that's desired), in which the action itself becomes the way of life. A life of action and doing. A creative and fertile life.

intransitive verb
1 :  to do repeated exercises for proficiency
2 :  to pursue a profession actively
3 archaic :  intrigue
4 :  to do something customarily
5 :  to take advantage of someone 

Interestingly, here's where the double-edged sword of automation is fully expressed. Practice can be a repeated action with the goal of proficiency. Like studying the moves in a dance routine until "muscle memory" is achieved. This is not a very high level of mastery, but a necessary step in the process. However, one can be easily stuck in the mechanical, technical aspect, and be paralyzed by it. I've experienced this time and again in all of the creative mediums I've been engaged in throughout my life. Once the initial novelty of the new medium has worn off, I've been often left with an overwhelming sensation of inadequacy. And I've been led to believe that the only solution for that is achieving proficiency. Now, as my recent dancing classes under different instructors have proven: it's great to do some drilling , break down some moves that are complex or challenging, in order to integrate them into your muscle memory. But ultimately, what's most important for dancing (both from the dancer and audience's perspective) is the soul. A dance without soul is lifeless, boring and an eyesore to watch. Or at best an amusing entertainment in which you can see that drilling does hammer certain dance into a body to the point that they can move without belabouring them. But that does not make it an artful or expressive thing. And it misses the point of practice entirely. Ideally, one should move from "exercising" to incorporating the practice into one's life. Rather than doing things "customarily" with a mundane, yawn-inducing attitude - integrating the practice into one's life, and give it the space and time it needs to become soulful, to become an art.


1 :  the act of doing something again and again in order to learn or improve 
2 :  a regular event at which something is done again and again to increase skill 
3 :  actual performance :  use 
4 :  a usual way of doing something 
5 :  continuous work in a profession 

Throughout my childhood, I've been studying music - my piano lessons began in elementary school, even though I had no piano at home. I practiced wherever there was a piano and whenever I had time (i.e.: lunch breaks), at the underground bomb shelter at school, at our neighbour's homes all over the village, and finally at my own home once my parents finally realized I was serious enough to invest in a piano (not to mention make room for it in a very tiny home).

By high school I shifted my focus on classical singing, which was a most profound way of self-expression, with no restrictive intermediaries such as keyboards and piano room scheduling. I could sing anywhere, but preferably where there was an empty space with decent acoustics and no one listening. Of course I will have my weekly lessons where I had to perform in front of my teacher, and there was choir practice and what not. But the most ideal situation was somewhere where the only witnesses would be blind bats and deaf lizards. While I had my fair share of limelight glamour in those highs school days, in a way having an audience was actually detrimental to my self-expression. Especially if the audience was judgemental or critical. Such environment would immediately choke my "instrument". Looking back at those times, I now know that it was precisely those times of practice where the best things were happening. Not everyone is cut to be a performance artists, but that does not mean that when they sing or play or dance at the private of their own home, they are not creating art.

Contrary to the definition of art as we were taught it in the advanced music classes in high school - I do not believe that art is about the audience at all. Art is an internal process that takes place in the creator's psyche, and often in private - in a studio, or in nature, or just at a writer's bedside where they write their day's thought. The audience is only privy to the finished result, which, granted, can be beautiful. But as beautiful and interesting as it may be - it pales in comparison to the process of creation. When you hear an opera singer performing a polished aria in a concert hall - you hear only the result of hours and hours of practice. Hours of many different phases, including just straight forward solfège, diction and technical drilling of the music from one hand; and spilling out raw emotions, perhaps even bursting into real tears and singing in a choked-up voice - that are usually deemed inappropriate to deliver for a larger audience. But they are all part

Once again, we see that the importance of practice is in the act itself. In other words: "Just do it". Don't say that you want to paint, draw or write, run, dance or swim - or whichever practice your soul is hungering for. There is a reason why you're attracted to a certain discipline or another. It's your calling. Listen to it. Act on it. Practice it. Just do it!

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