In this modern era of intense focus on self-help, it’s hard to find the ability to change without depending on the support of others. There is such a strong connection between people, that it is hard to isolate ourselves and to find meaning in life that isn’t shared with others. We look to others for help and if we do not, we feel defeated because we rarely consider ourselves to offer the help we seek.
The ideas swirling around today are intended to help the individual focus on themselves and on their abilities before involving others. This is not something to detach people from each other, rather, it is a transition that lessens the leeching we have learned over time. So much of culture and community comes from the way others can help us or in the idea that there is no success without a village. Those are strong sentiments but they come after the abilities people are supposed to learn about caring for themselves and meeting their own needs before contributing to the larger world. Moreso, people are learning not to take from others when their own warmth is seemingly extinguished. Slowly, this newer movement is teaching people to replenish themselves first.
But this is not so easy. Like the patchouli plant, there is such a fine balance in the way something lives and its survival. Patchouli thrives in hot, tropical weather but struggles in direct sunlight. Similarly, like the patchouli plant and its leaves, if it withers from a lack of water, it can recover well when treated with water. Patchouli is a simple, yet lasting metaphor, for the autonomy we all need in life. There are certain parts we require, some help from our environment or another source but for the most part, we can be trusted on our own.
Yet, we are more complex than a plant. We have a greater variety of thoughts, emotional connectedness, and a greater sense of fragility just because of our awareness. Haruki Murakami is able to embody these ideas of isolation and of the self in his memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. In It, Murakami writes that “solitude is, more or less, an inevitable circumstance. Sometimes, however, this sense of isolation, like acid spilling out of a bottle, can unconsciously eat away at a person’s heart and dissolve it…a kind of double-edged sword. It protects me, but at the same time steadily cuts away at me from the inside.”
In this way, people have learned that there is a simultaneous process, in isolation and in the company of others. For years, people have continued to add and develop the importance of relationships but may not have done the same in focusing on life as an individual. People have not equally committed the time required to ensure that they receive the same nourishment from the self that they do from others, making a climate that is focused on overcorrecting and returning to what can be seen as a selfish act.
People need warmth, we need a certain fire to be ignited at all times. This is something that can be done easily but it also requires greater substance. A flickering flame is not enough to serve all the needs of daily life and many people do not know how to properly raise and nurture that flame. Further, this flame is not something that can come from an external source or person. If it does, then it suffers from a lack of individual control.
We all need control over our own licenses. We need a fuller sense of our abilities as autonomous beings. This is not to say that we take from others or that we do not give when we are in excess. This control – this self-indulgence – comes as a method for living our fullest lives as individuals so that we may contribute a similar effect to those around us. The warmth that comes from a fundamentally secure place is much stronger than a warmth struggling to maintain itself.
The patchouli scent has long been connected with personal need and solace. It is an earthy aroma that can be overpowering but also extremely inviting. A simple scent like this allows for greater focus on concentration, further giving people a place to re-center their needs. By finding warmth in a simple object, we draw closer to creating and establishing that warmth within ourselves.