Incense Smoke

Photo by Joe P Rogan on Flickr

The image of smoke swirling through the air, catching the light as it dances upwards, can be absolutely breathtaking. In a dark room with a single stick of incense, you can follow the threads of smoke as they weave about, reacting to your every breath.

Here’s the exercise. You will need: incense, a  candle, and materials for getting high (not strictly necessary, but cannabis amplifies the imagination in my experience). This works best indoors.

Turn off all the lights except for a single candle. I mean all of them — if you have so much as a dim nightlight on, the effect will be diminished. Light some incense and place it next to the burning candle. Arrange it so the smoke passes over the light of the candle. Put on some relaxing music — something tribal or mysterious if you have it. Absolute silence is also good.

Now forget everything but the smoke. Focus above the candle, where the smoke is most illuminated, and watch the ribbons of smoke rise and curl. Let your imagination roam, and soon you can make out the wispy forms of ravenous poltergeists, ancestral visages, and transparent jellyfish, each lasting only seconds as it turns in the air. The flickering of the candle heightens the effect, contributing its own umbilicus of smoke while casting a warm, pulsing glow.

Candle smoke

Photo by Joe P Rogan on Flickr

Contemplate the mysteries of existence as you stare at the visions that unfold. Try conjuring new creatures and dimensions by focusing on nothing else. Empty your mind of worries. Loosen the tether of regular consciousness, meditating silently on the forms in the smoke. Observe the shapes that emerge, and how they are effortlessly perfect with all their imperfections.

You can be as close to the smoke as you want. If it tends to drift in a certain direction, put your face right in it. The loops of smoke will approach and envelop you, as though you are traversing an astral tunnel, or riding along the skeleton of a cosmic serpent like some kind of roller coaster.

Humans have danced with smoke for as long as we have had the knowledge of fire-making. It’s as mesmerizing now as it always was.

If you’re not already high, now’s a good time. I always recommend a vaporizer for efficiency, but in this case something that produces smoke can be beneficial. As you exhale the smoke, watch it mingle with the wisps rising from the incense. Three streams merge into one braid of particles—incense, candle, and breath.

Your breathing will affect the smoke, tying it into knots and then teasing the strands apart. The smoke seems to have a mind of its own, yet it reacts to your breath—a primeval dance of great subtlety. Remember your forebears, stretching eons into the past, circling the great bonfire. Humans have danced with smoke for as long as we have had the knowledge of fire-making. It’s as mesmerizing now as it always was.

Smoke and stars

Photo by Joe P Rogan on Flickr

Look closely. Is that an ancient shaman that you see in the smoke, gazing at you with piercing eyes? Someone in another place and time, performing the same rite as you, dancing with the smoke? Yes, yes—but can he see you as well? Perhaps your face appears, quivering for the briefest moment, above some ceremonial fire in the distant past.

Fire is the symbol of mankind’s ever-growing knowledge, a trick stolen from the gods and passed down through the generations. Maybe smoke, its inevitable consequent, is a communal tool, allowing us to forge of network of souls that transcends time and space. An amorphous scrying glass that shows us ourselves. Can you peer into the future as well?

Quieted, solitary, and freed from the tyranny of distraction and desire, your imagination can entertain the most outlandish thoughts. Far-fetched, yes, but that’s the fun of it! Let the smoke take you out into the cosmos; you might even witness the birth of a nebula.

After you’ve meditated with the ribbons of smoke for a while, try some experiments. If you have a mirror, set the incense and candle between you and the mirror and stare into your own face as the smoke surrounds it. The bathroom is a good place for this—your housemates or family may raise their eyebrows, but if you’re a seasoned psychonaut they will be accustomed to your antics.

The idea is to take ordinary materials to craft an extraordinary mental experience.

The only light in the room is the candle, and through the smoke you can make out some of your features. Only it isn’t your normal face… In the darkness, it morphs into something quite alien. This is a great way to “mirror trip” without taking any psychedelics. Of course, as with the rest of this exercise, psychedelics amplify the effect tremendously.

Keep experimenting. Point a laser through the smoke and examine the beam, observing its every collision with particulates of smoke. Use an Optrixx “looking eye”, Future Eyes glasses, a prism, or other kaleidoscopic toy to refract the smoke into numerous copies of itself. Fill a bottle with smoke and shine a light through it. Use your imagination! The idea is to take ordinary materials to craft an extraordinary mental experience.

Tea steam

A cup of hot tea also works, but provides a different experience than smoke because the appearance is of discrete particles rather than a continuous form. You may be surprised to find that you can perceive individual droplets of water as they waft through the air. Thousands of individual specks move with one mind, migrating and coalescing like a flock of miniature birds. Strange, how you never really gave it much thought before. It’s captivating.

This is all just smoke and steam. What else that we dismiss as everyday phenomena is bursting with untold beauty?

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