Smudge. What a funny word. Quirky. I like to smudge. I am smudged. I smudged him. I am smudging. The more I hear it, the sillier it sounds. Yet some folks are afraid of it. They think it's something other religions or those new-agers do, and that would mean it's bad.
Native Americans smudge when they pray, or are in a sweat lodge, or when they just want to clean out negative energy in a room. Some make a statement with it in a ceremony, as one might put hand on heart when saying a pledge, light a candle for an oncore performance, salute an authority or bow/curtsy to a dignitary, even leave cookies out for Santa - but mostly, it's to purify or cleanse.
Some people spray Glade air freshener. Sure, strikingly different, but they do share purpose. To renew the immediate environment, and shift the experience of the place they're in.
Spraying commercial air freshener covers up the smell in a room, is made primarily from chemicals, and done without intention. Smudging is a practice. A practice with sacred intention, while being a direct by-product of nature, rooted in the earth. There's a difference.
I first began smudging when I traveled around the country with friends to drum, meditate and explore a spiritual path out west. It was the land of sagebrush, after all, and there wasn't much else you could do with sagebrush. Heck, it didn't even make good campfire material. Although it sure burns hot in an August forest fire on the high desert range.
We often spent time with tribal members, or mimiced some of their ceremonies. It was a ritual to clear away thoughts that didn't serve us, or release negative emotions like anger, jealousy, or hate. When smudging ourselves, we'd pass the smoke over our throat to remind us to speak with kindness; over our ears to remind us to genuinely listen with our whole self; to our core to connect us to the earth; around our head, to open us to the Spirit, and so on. It set an intention of releasing what imprisons us. Some burn it to remedy depression or low energy too. We performed a smudging ritual as a group when centering. It was offered to the four directions to demonstrate wholeness and unity, as we called in (asked for) blessing and protection before a ritual, sweat lodge, or a vision quest.
Many people do it to purify a new house or apartment too. I don't know if they find it effective or not, but I do know the ritual awakens our consciousness, allowing us to shift our own beliefs or ideas about the space to a higher one. Rituals like this, that integrate movement, aroma, thought, and intention will compound the experience of the senses. This draws us toward the Divine and the higher self. It validates and affirms our desire to shift our energy to the higher self - and facilitates change. There is power in that. It is often called prayer.
This was the eve of our first event at an old factory a group of us are working to bring back to new life in New Jersey. The Bodhi Tree crowd, a local coffee house, gathered here for their weekly Friday night spiritual meeting. As I prepared to leave, I recalled a smudge stick I picked up in Santa Fe last winter was in my bag. I decided to walk around and smudge the factory before the next day's big event. Just in case.
As it burned, I was struck by the comfort it gave me. The aroma of sagebrush and sweet grass infiltrated the air. I missed that smell. It had enveloped me on the open range. It was the same aroma that released itself as each hoof hit the ground when atop my horse in that high mountain country. I love that place - and this aroma took me back to life there.
Now it surronded me inside an old, shirt factory we were bringing new life to. I wondered how this ritual might be more meaningful at that moment. It was different without my friends, the mountains, and a flaming firepit nearby. Community and a sacred awareness had always accompanied this ritual.
I shifted my intent. I didn't sense a negative spirit here, but the building had sat empty for years, probably holding many memories and stories. It had also closed - which meant there was a death of sorts. I wanted to heal it, and free any negative attachment I might be holding on to as well in this space. Who knows if something undesirable might be alive in this once upon a time factory.
I set my heart and mind upon God. Something I often do in other rituals like Holy Communion. I found myself in a ceremonial prayer. A beautiful contemplative prayer directed towards the people I'd come to know in this space, and those who would walk through its doors the following morning. This building was healing me through the people and the work we were doing here, in ways I couldn't have imagined. My heart opened to God as I understand God, and my soul came fully present into the love that surfaced, partnered by the aroma of sagebrush and the slow, intentioned movement of my arm as I spread the smoke around as if stroking the face of someone I love.
This ritual took me directly into the heart of what it is to be Christian, just as a Buddhist or practitioner of any other religion might've experienced it. Not only was it's aroma a geographic reminder of place, a place that had fed me in various ways for many years - it was also a spiritual reminder that God is in everything, sagebrush too. God's manifestation in sage and sweet grass had taken me directly to the place within where God and I meet. It's the same place you and God meet too.
My spirit was more awake, my heart more open. When I finished walking the thousands of square feet inside the building, I handed the burning sage to those who sat in the circle of the coffee house to continue the prayer in their way, which they did. Community was part of my prayer after all.
This connected us as one people, even if we use different words or imagery in our connection to the divine.
This is the power of ritual. And the power of intention. And the power of love.
Smudge away my friends. And if you choose, close your eyes and imagine yourself on a galloping horse in the Idaho mountains. Now you're stepping into my world. But, more likely, you'll feel the presence by simply allowing your heart to open. Take the time to walk slowly with this fiery bundle of brush, and let your mind still while your senses experience the aroma and the texture of this plant from the earth in your hand, allow your body to move with the rhythm of your soul, let your mind and heart set itself on God and your prayer. Feel yourself in presence and creation and humanity and beauty and intention and love. That's what it's all about in my experience. What about you?