Aroma Drumming

By: Bonnie D. Harr MSN, MS, RN 

Rarely do we notice our smelling, for it largely takes place at a subconscious level UNTIL we are offended or assaulted by stench! This most primitive, yet highly refined sense, is tied to both our memories and our emotions. Because of this, we can draw experiences we've already had back into memory through smells, and we can likewise structure the eventuality of experiences we desire or anticipate, through smells! It is in this powerful capacity for evoking something remembered, or intentionally and pleasantly stimulating something anticipated or needed, that the beauty and the unique functionality of the Aroma Drum lies? 

Let's think together for a moment . . . Can you recall the smell of your mother's apron or perfume? How about your favorite food cooking in the kitchen? An ocean breeze? The warmed skin of a lover? Newly folded laundry blown dry in the wind? Pine oils fragrant at holiday time? Rain-soaked earth? What about vomit? Ammonia? Wet-rusted metal? How easy it is to evoke a reaction to any, or possibly all, of these verbal descriptions of smells! 

Our sense of smell is the only one of the five senses that has a direct route to the brain, and so, one might say that we are directly affected by smells. Once there, not only will odors cause the brain to differentiate and identify the smells (think of the many and varied smells of Thanksgiving dinner), but it will also partner with the memory of the time the smell was perceived! This latter capability is linked to the limbic brain, sometimes referred to as the "emotional brain" or "smell brain". The limbic system, consisting of the thalamus, hypothalamus, amygdala and the hippocampus, regulates emotions, motivation, mood states, sexual behavior, spatial relationships, memory, circadian rhythms and homeostasis, among other things. In the vast treasure trove of the functioning of the limbic system, are pearls and gems that can guide a practitioner in directly intervening with patients. Tools specifically designed for evoking memory, offering hope or creating a change in mood state, have been around for quite some time! The Aroma Drum, however, is quite new! 

When invited to 'experience' the Aroma Drum Firsthand, I immediately responded, "Bring it on!" Looking back, I am aware that my immediate positive response to this healing interventional tool was largely based in both the nursing theories I've grounded my individual practice of holistic nursing upon, and the multi-dimensional nature of the clinical practice I've been privileged to engage in over the years! It also helped that I had successfully jumped the "drumming hurdle" long ago, through my opportunities to learn about and experience both the research and power of HealthRHYTHMS drumming circles -- first as a participant, and eventually as an enthusiastic Endorsed HealthRHYTHMS Facilitator! I have thus woven therapeutic drumming throughout my life's work. For me, then, the Aroma Drum was one small step to one large, continuing dream of impacting care for patients and care-givers alike. 

While it has multiple uses and was initially offered as a stress-reduction tool, to date, I have used the Aroma Drum? with chronically ill and / or dying patients (1) to fragrantly echo back the soft sounds of each heart beating in a circle of care; (2) as a 'talking stick', thereby inviting expression of feelings, facts and the depths of largely inexpressible truths, (3) for rhythmically pulsing shared unity of a group bound together in behalf of a patient or loved one who is chronically ill or dying; (4) to emit fragrances of healing and/or evoke memories of hope and wholeness (note: more will be offered in this regard in subsequent writings and learning opportunities); (5) to provide ethereal images of 'beyond now' for guided reflections in the three dimensions of past, present and future; and (6) to simply create softer borders and boundaries between 'here and there' on life's journey. 

I find, always, that the Aroma Drum invites me, as facilitator, to a different creativity. Through becoming an intentional architect of sight, sound, touch, fragrance and experience, interior movement of the very soul seems to occur and allow for the recollection of spirit beyond the reach of the fragile human shell. Leading others to that same place is such an honor and a calling. . . It is as though in the whirls and swirls of the individual's formation in the biologic life now emptying, or the poverty of the soul now being enriched, there is a pattern of forward movement that ebbs and flows and is as timeless as the sea itself. In the fragrant drumming is a gentle invitation to return home to a far celestial shore. This returning home can be as profound as new life beyond death, or as amazing as a new mood state beyond the one that initially prompted the "yes" response to such drumming. 

The Aroma Drum, and the many creative ways in which it can be used, allows for uncommon beauty, unmatched simplicity and transcendent bonding. Patients can be assisted in transitioning from this life forward, and family members and friends can embark upon serene, aromatic waters to lovingly and respectfully loosen the earthly ties to their beloved relative and sojourner. In the end, the joy of celebrating life and experiencing unsurpassed unity can be realized.