The Essential Ingredient
My wife and I watched the boiling water in her new glass distiller, which was sending its steam through five liters of freshly picked white-yellow chamomile flowers. Quite soon the distiller yielded a nice amount of chamomile hydrosol. The real magic, however, appeared a little later, as a few drops of enchanting blue chamomile essential oil slowly emerged.
The oil seemed to be a completely new substance. It was pure of any vestige of its former flower parts, as those reduce its quality. The chamomile’s essence was hidden within itself, and although the flower has a fragrance, a drop of the oil held a much more powerful aroma. This essential oil, we could say, was the sum of the flower’s principal, unchanging characteristics.
Bringing out the essence of a substance is an active process, and, like turning grapes into wine, it needs the intervention of man. The process requires raw material at its peak of development, or the essence product will be unusable. It also requires large amounts of this material, most of which will be discarded when the essence has been extracted. The process does not stop there, however; in order to make the most of the essential oil it must be used or applied to something, or it will lose its purity or even become corrupted.
We, too, carry an essence within us, and bringing it out and connecting with it allows it to be used. It reminds me of the stories of the fountain of youth, which is sought—at great cost—by a powerful knight or a great explorer. The question comes to mind, why do they look for it? Why would they want to return to their youth, losing all that they have gained externally over their lifetime? We can answer that one of those things they gained during life was the understanding that they must rediscover their essence, their inner child, in order to have more enduring internal achievements.
We are knights and explorers, seeking the fountain of youth within ourselves. The child within can grow to a certain point through external experiences we have in life, but further development requires a different effort; like the wine and the oil, our essence must be purified, freed from false personality. This refined essence is composed of fine energies and so can connect with the essence of everything around it. It can be present to the moment.
When we watch children at play we see the simple state they are in. For the child, all is acceptable and all is possible. As we make our internal and inconspicuous efforts to be present, we allow our own essence to emerge again, and in this state we are free of the contradictions and opinions that ordinarily plague us. Like children, we are what we are, and we can absorb the moment simply for what it is, bringing our awareness to every small detail of it and of us within it. We are making this moment real, making it our own, and through this experience our essence continues to grow.
Essence is a bridge that can carry us to our destination—the present, the simplest place there is. To cross that bridge we first have to pass our scattered attention through our distiller, that is, our steward and its work ‘I’s. This distilled attention takes us to the fountain of youth, to our essence, so that our own inner child can be present to itself, and through this process we make our essence present.
Rainer Maria Rilke