I don’t recall if it was through reading Joseph Campbell or Pema Chödrön that introduced me to the work of Thomas Merton, but after pushing away several intriguing references to this mystic Trappist Monk, I finally submitted upon seeing a solo copy of A Seven Storey Mountain in a small office supply/bookstore in Northern Idaho. Purchased at 50% off, no less! It would take me over two years to finally read this autobiography of faith in it’s entirety after regularly putting it down, avoiding my own 20+ years of spiritual/religious inner turmoil.
Merton, well-attuned to the tempo of classic literature, unfolds his story deliberately and with care. It wasn’t until the following lines concluding the first part of his autobiography where he grabbed my full attention and heart, at last. “I had come very far to find myself in this blind-alley; but the very anguish and helplessness of my position was something to which I rapidly succumbed. And it was my defeat that was to be the occasion of my rescue.”
The anguish and helplessness Merton eludes to might be interpreted as a culmination of personal and, maybe, inherited choices that led him to somewhat of a nervous breakdown; one that would lead him to an entirely new way of being, which proved to take years, though his revolutionary work was left incomplete due to an untimely death in 1968.
A new way of being. That phrase promises so much and we expect so much from it! It certainly sells a lot of books, programs, and classes. I wonder if Merton would say instead, a more integrated way of being. Through much of his writing, he encourages us to grow by recognizing the difference between our true and false selves. The true being who we really are, of course, and the false being who we pretend to be, a persona. “We are at liberty to be real, or to be unreal. We may be true or false, the choice is ours. We may wear now one mask and now another, and never, if we so desire, appear with our own true face. But we cannot make these choices with impunity. Causes have effects, and if we lie to ourselves and to others, then we cannot expect to find truth and reality whenever we happen to want them. If we have chosen the way of falsity we must not be surprised that truth eludes us when we finally come to need it!”
Intense words for a blog about aromatherapy. But in my experience, no imbalance or disturbance is ever settled without an honest appraisal of the situation or ourselves.
We can feel truth and the lack of it in our bodies. When we are the source of it or when we experience it from others. The signs are easy. Truth feels calm, even when it’s challenging to claim or accept. There is a certain peace of mind and resolution that lands in the gut, so to speak. A lie feels quite the opposite, regardless of who the author is. It creates noise in the mind and disturbs the gut. Like a foreign object in the eye, it irritates.
In the practice of aromatherapy for the soul, we are continually being guided to find what is true within ourselves, which in time makes the false unbearable to tolerate. When working with certain oils, when we take the time to get to know how they work within us, what they might inspire, we become curious of the source and root of disquiet in the mind and body. This is the beginning of befriending our true self. When we befriend our true self and resist the desire to emulate some other poet, some other saint* for some perceived sense of gain, we find peace. Please note, this isn’t about good vs. bad but merely honoring, integrating, and giving voice to all the “real” parts of ourselves for what they are – perfectly human pieces of a whole divine being.