As a mother, I have always tried to instill a love of the arts in my children as a means of learning about life, themselves, and connecting to the great pulse of empathy. I first found my way to this love as a very bored latchkey kid listening to my parents’ collection of Beethoven tapes, leafing through whatever Time Life picture books they owned, and watching whatever was on PBS. I wasn’t exposed to museums as a child as we lived in rural Iowa, so distance and expense seemed to keep us at the door of many cultural opportunities (though there were a few musical events that we enjoyed…stories for another time). This fall I had the pleasure of taking my mom to visit The Joslyn Art Museum for the first time at 80-years-old. She enjoyed it…I think. But I know she’s happiest with her flowers and sitting quietly with a cup of coffee watching the deer emerge from a North Idaho forest to nibble what’s on the ground. This is art, too.

We share certain sensitivity traits that popular trend brands as “empathic”. I could tell her this but it would make zero difference in her life when it comes to how she approaches her interior world or talks about it, which is a rare experience. Rather, she would tell me a story about how her teacher recognized she had a difficult time learning like her classmates and allowed her time and resources to perfectly color beautiful pictures, which, to my knowledge, she still has.

I was that student, too, when it came to reading. Reading out loud in class was torture and I suppose because I had a mind that wandered, keeping up with the flow of sentences was frustrating. I loved and was deeply moved by story, but the process of reading “at grade level” was challenging until I had a special resource teacher named Miss Fern who worked one-on-one with me every day to build my fluency and confidence. She probably had those certain sensitivity traits, too. (God bless Resource teachers.)

Maybe these stories strike a chord with those of you who also have certain sensitivities and you have your own examples of how you were finally “seen” and your gifts recognized and encouraged. (Take time to write about them today!)

As humans constantly finding our balance on wobbly legs, receiving this exterior acknowledgement is affirming, and on some days, stabilizing. We like to sit in a sunny spot and be watered and fertilized by others sometimes. And don’t we enjoy the chance to offer to another the same nourishment we’ve received? But ultimately, it’s up to us as individuals to hold the mirror to ourselves so that we may get to know and appreciate the totality of who is reflected. To turn the empathy inward.

Scent facilitates this process in ways that are equally ephemeral and scientific. Because scent connects us to memory and evokes mood, much like music, it has the power to grab our attention immediately and communicate something important or simply to show us something we may have forgotten or locked away. Whether we’re working with single notes or a blend in aromatherapy, we are learning the language of music. Top notes, middle or heart notes, and base notes. And with enough exposure and practice, perhaps you’ll hear a bit of Chopin’s Nocturne in bergamot, the deep cello thrum of Bach in sandalwood, or rose in Ave Maria.

Empathy is turning on the ear of the heart, listening deep, and connecting with the universal well of compassion which draws us to love ourselves and our neighbor. As Julian of Norwich wrote, “Where do we begin? Begin with the heart.”

Photo credit: Heather Hall Photography