As sentient beings we experience the world through our senses. Evolution has perfected each of our organs of perception not only for survival, but also for the experience of pleasure. Seeking pleasure, or, in Aristotle's words, 'the pursuit of happiness' is one of the most primary motivations of human psychology. However, the paradigms that define what exactly constitutes happiness have changed quite dramatically over time. Aristotle saw virtue as the path to achieving happiness, which to him meant total fulfilment. But others have interpreted the pursuit of happiness as the quest for ever more refined sensory pleasures: seductive scents, exotic epicurean delights, erotic thrills...anything to titillate the senses.
Over the centuries wo/mankind has shown considerable inventiveness and imagination with regard to developing novel methods and strategies to that end. Plants, more than anything have played a significant role in that quest. Flowers beautify our world. Their scents often arouse deep feelings, too primordial to put into words, while herbs and spices can transform an ordinary meal into an explosion of flavours that enthral the palate - and more.
Plants are complex beings with a highly diverse biochemistry that interacts with our own in innumerable and intricate ways. The division between plants that nourish and plants that heal, stimulate or intoxicate is quite arbitrary - nature does not often comply with the compartmentalizing conceptions we project on it for the sake of our own convenience.
Essential oils, for example, present in numerous culinary and healing herbs, may exert a powerful effect on the digestive system by stimulating the appetite and the production of gastric juices. They may also kill potential pathogens. But most importantly from a gourmand's the point of view is their alluring power of seduction and enchantment. The old adage, 'love goes through the stomach' holds true to some degree, but before the enticing morsel is allowed passage down the hatch, it has to pass the olfactory gateway.
Essential oils also affect the nervous system and in turn just about every part of the body. They can relax, arouse, or invigorate, relieve tension and anxiety, or 'energize the chakras', and thus enhance the capacity for emotional experiences, not only with regard to the food in front of us, but also of that which may follow after dinner. A skilled chef knows how to make the most of the nutritional and sensory qualities of their ingredients to create a veritable 'feast for the senses'.
The perfume industry also knows the powerful potential of essential oils and makes ample use of them in their alluring potions. However, more than just picking the sweetest and delightful scents they mix in subliminal amounts of quite unpalatable substances such as musk and civet that affect human physiology through subtle signal substances called pheromones. Human beings as well as animals produce such substances in their sweat glands. They constitute an invisible, but powerful signal that bypasses the rational mind. Some plants also produce such substances and these have long been used as ingredients in seductive love philtres and perfumes.
While chemical signals can go a long way to arouse hitherto sleeping desires, they are not fail-safe. Every nose is unique and responds differently to different stimuli. And just as well. As a very clever evolutionary adaptation nature has bestowed on us a certain degree of individual response when it comes to taste and the effect of biochemical messengers. Although it is sometimes hard to believe, human beings did actually evolve as a cooperative, social species, and the best means to ensure peace and harmony was to personalize tastes and responses to said pheromones.
However, virility and allure are not the only components in the volatile mix of passion. Another, equally important ingredient is MOOD. Mood is a highly subjective and individual emotional response and a myriad of external and internal factors can influence this elusive 'vibe'. Mood is a crucial factor in the enjoyment of just about anything in life. The crème de la crème of no-matter-what can be experienced as mediocre or boring if one is not in the mood. Thus, 'more' or 'bigger' is not necessarily better. Instead of relying on direct sensory stimulation, cleansing the doors of perception and nourishing the very organs of sense perception is a much more vital task for those who wish to enhance their sensory experiences. This is the rationale behind the practice of sensory deprivation. The 21st century has brought an unprecedented flood of sensory stimulation in all shapes, smells, colours and sizes and yet, people are bored, a phenomenon especially pronounced among the young. The problem is not a lack of stimulation, but overstimulation and a corresponding inability to respond. The senses have become numb. Anyone who has been on a fast or experienced seclusion and sensory deprivation can attest that upon re-introducing foods or other sensory experiences the flood of impressions induced by the simplest things can be quite overwhelming.
Sensory perception is governed by the nervous system. Stress, with its direct and devastating effect on the nervous system is a major killer - even if it does not kill outright (though it often does), it has the potential to destroy the joy of life by numbing the senses, destroying libido, depressing virility and making the body and heart tighten up to such an extend that subtle sensory pleasures simply no longer register. Plants can go a long way to enhance mood and to intensify sensual experiences, but they are best used as part of a holistic approach to alleviate symptoms of stress, align body, mind and soul and open the heart to ecstatic bliss.
"Let My worship be in the heart that rejoices, for behold,
all acts of love and pleasure are My rituals."
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