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Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Essential oils should be treated with the greatest respect, writes Liz Breslin.

Liz Breslin
Liz Breslin
I really love the smell of rosy posy something oil. It transports me to fictional places - kind grandmothers, hot tea, solid tables.

Red dust, Damascene skies. I'm not saying it's essential, to my wellbeing or otherwise, though that's what it claims on the bottle. But I do like to fool myself that diffusing non-essential smells around my household is an appropriate substitute for mindfulness and/or housework. So mood-enhancing! Such joy!

It is essential, of course, to understand that these oils are tools, not toys (as Father Christmas said to Peter Wolfsbane that one time in Narnia, except about swords) and, as such, must be treated with the greatest of respect. For example, when the recommended dose is three drops, only use three drops, even if the dropper is determined to drop them out in seventeens. Also, if the bottle, in tiny writing, suggests you don't dropper the contents into the bath without dissolving them first, listen to the fine print. Otherwise you will have a bath with random rust-coloured smudges evermore. Or so I've been told.

I've also been told that you should never, ever, ever leave an oil burner burning peppermint oil unattended. Yes, your room will smell nice. Yes, it might be lovely for your impending migraine. But imagine how bad your migraine is going to be when the smoke sensors call the fire brigade and your whole workplace has to be evacuated less than an hour before the Prime Minister is due to visit, while meanwhile the sirens make an international artist knock his rocks over and ruin an entire festival show.

I'm not saying this has happened. But it could. If you don't respect the oils.

Also good to know, if you find yourself at one of those talks where people are altruistically sharing their knowledge about the essentialness of oils, you might find yourself hearing phrases like this: ``And this is frankincense oil. Its properties are amazing. I'm not really allowed to talk about the research but there basically is research, you know, that it cures cancer.''

I am saying this bit has happened, because that is the exact sentence I heard and wrote down when I once went to one of those talks. For research. (Also free snacks and sample oils.)

This is the kind of predatory mindless mindfulness that also sees believers/deceivers turn up at the school gate, offering a whiff of wild orange to help your new entrant deal with separation anxiety. The kind of predatory mindlessness that needs regulating, or a decisive full stop.

I do believe our sense and sensitivity of smell can transport and transform. I also believe a little bit in Narnia too. But what I think we all need right now - a lot more than a tidy house, a mindful mind, a saviour lion or a rosy-coloured view - is the ability and support to figure out actual fact from false straws.

We're vulnerable people living in vulnerable times - we've screwed our contribution to the planet, we don't know how to talk to each other without shouting. It's all a bit broken and frankincense isn't going to fix it.

And yet, some of us, with all our privilege, are clutching to the idea that it just might.

If I knew how to make a difference, if I knew how to be the difference in the world, then how would I even know where to start? I could procrastinate about that and cover it up with a vapour trail, like the housework and the self-work. Everyone I know is fooling themselves with something - maybe that is the essentialness of human?




Did you get any presents on the First Christmas?

~ Oh, yes three Wise Men - I don't know how wise they were - brought gold, frankincense, and I believe, myrrh.

- George Carlin

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