How Studying Religion May Save My Career

The greatest tool I’ve acquired in my business of selling and educating about essential oils came from the study of world religions. Guidelines for inter-faith dialogue offer insight into healing divisions within varying communities – even in the field of aromatherapy.

As I admitted in a previous post, I really didn’t know why I studied religion in college other than I found it more interesting than most other things. I was simultaneously beginning a career in massage and alternative therapies with the dream of creating a healing center someday. This past August, that dream became a reality as the Upward Spiral Center expanded to include a retail store featuring our own line of essential oils. Within a month of opening a new store, I found that one of the first lessons I learned in the study of religion was also an invaluable tool in aromatherapy education and sales.

I grew up surrounded by essential oils and aromatherapy, and they were really part of my everyday life. My mom founded one of the first and longest running aromatherapy schools in the country just a few years after I was born, and had studied and worked with essential oils for ten years prior. Earlier in my adulthood, I followed my own career path, but I have recently committed myself to a dedicated study of aromatherapy with the dream of continuing and expanding my mom’s intellectual legacy.

An important part of her mission is educating practitioners on safety. On the outside, one may not realize the intense battle that has been occurring for decades concerning the best guidelines for the safe use of essential oils. When I was younger, my mom, in her passionate nature, would be all fired up some days about some essential oil company that was teaching a practice where undiluted essential oils are dropped on a client’s back. To my mom, this was blasphemous! All of her experience had shown her that using undiluted essential oils on the skin created a greater chance for burns, irritation, and sometimes an irreversible allergic reaction (called sensitization). She spent a great part of her career working to correct certain beliefs that essential oils are universally safe – self-proclaimed “superior quality” oils included – emphasizing that they are even less safe when used in high concentrations and can be extremely unsafe when used in “pure” or undiluted applications.

For those of us in the aromatherapy community, this can be an area of contention – one that divides us, for sure. The example above is just one, but there are more. There is no universal agreement on proper safety for using essential oils and the disagreements on proper practices are vast.

I recently had an interaction with a woman in our new store that showed me how bad things can be when people from opposing “schools of thought” in aromatherapy start to talk. I won’t recreate the entirety of the interaction here – which concerned our opposing positions regarding certain uses of essential oils – but let’s just say that I ended up feeling defeated. I decided that if I am going to contribute anything of significance to this field, it is going to be finding a way for real conversations to go beyond “proving” one side as right or wrong. It seems clear that this is what our world is lacking.

These types of interactions and conversations may specifically pertain to the field of aromatherapy, but the issue here is universal. Contrary beliefs are dividing our community just like contrary religious beliefs or political beliefs are dividing communities around the world today. But, one of the most invaluable tools I received from my Religious Studies degree came from the first reading in my first class (Introduction to World Religions): a two-page document called the “Dialogue Decalogue.” It spelled out the “ten commandments of inter-religious, inter-ideological dialogue” – and brilliantly, I might add.

I can recognize that the conversation I had with the woman in my store ended the way it did because I was so stuck in my own perspective – especially since I was identifying as an educator – that there was no room for dialogue. Obviously, I wasn’t the only one stuck in a perspective, but I can only take charge for my own actions and responses.

The “Dialogue Decalogue” defines a dialogue as “a conversation on a common subject between two or more persons with differing views, the primary purpose of which is for each participant to learn from the other so that s/he can change and grow.” I know that as I engaged with the woman in my store, I was not dialoguing with her. I was far more concerned with being able to bring the “truth of aromatherapy” to her so that she could change and grow. But, as the first “commandment” states, the reason one enters dialogue is so that one can change and grow, not change the partner’s point of view. And just that simple shift can create a major breakthrough. When we allow ourselves to learn and grow from what our partners say, then our attitude towards them changes, which totally changes the interaction.

I also broke another one of the commandments when I unfairly compared my ideals about what is “right” to what this customer told me about how she practices with her essential oils: consuming them in her water every day. Though I believe this is unnecessarily risky, I could have just diffused this tension between us by instead comparing the difference between the ways we both consume the essential oils. The “Dialogue Decalogue” points out that “we must not compare our ideals with our partner’s practice, but rather our ideals with our partner’s ideals, our practice with our partner’s practice.” Comparing ideals to practice, or vice versa, is unfruitful because it immediately invites judgment, which inhibits a rewarding and thoughtful engagement. Individuals don’t want to be told that they are doing something wrong, especially when they are doing something to improve their health or the health of those around them.

My resolution is to approach this issue in our field with the same care as a facilitator would an inter-ideological dialogue. My goal will not be to change the beliefs and practices of these groups that do things I do not agree with, but instead to work to understand them in order to understand myself and my own beliefs and practices better. Instead of trying to disprove their perspectives with hard science and countless testimonials of adverse effects, I will instead seek to understand the reasons why they believe certain things are safe. Perhaps with that openness they will seek the same understandings too. Accusing and pointing fingers doesn’t make friends nor does it solve problems, but being able to openly dialogue has the chance to. I believe that the point of educating is to encourage dialogue. All I need is that chance.

The awareness of this delicate dance of dialogue is something I owe to my study of religion, and it seems to be what’s needed in this divisive world – not just in terms of aromatherapy, but much broader issues as well.

Who could you initiate true dialogue with today? I’d love to hear about new ways you might apply the “Dialogue Decalogue” in your own communities or fields of study. Let’s dialogue about it here. Please leave a comment with your thoughts and observations!

Discussion and Comments

  1. Nyssa, I so appreciate your post. There is so much to gain from dialogue, even just realizing that things can be done in many ways is a great realization. In this case, it seems that you are really trying to help someone. I think there is probably a saying about helping those willing to take your hand. Likewise, you can’t easily help someone unwilling to listen or not asking for guidance. At least in dialogue, you open up the chance to build rapport and trust and then the opportunity to delve deeper. Great insight.

    • Yes, it is fascinating to me how much we desire to help and in that end up sometimes causing more distress rather than soothing it. I’m most interested in the position of still doing one’s best while in the face with opposition, how do we maneuver this terrain?

  2. I really appreciate your perspective. Sadly, I have had the experience of alienating a few people involved with MLM companies…good people, just misguided.

    • Sometimes we alienate without realizing it until we’ve had time to reflect. I know that one for sure. I’m hoping that continued reflection will yield a new way of communicating. What do you think you will do differently the next time you are faced with aromatherapy practices that don’t match your own?

      • Nyssa: Your mom sent me the Dialogue Decalogue as I am in beginning of communicating with a DoTerra rep. She is a wonderful person, a nutritionist, doula, loving and healthly. We have similar beliefs in pregnancy, birthing, food etc. but obviously different understanding about essential oils. She suggested that we get together so I could smell some of her oils. I wrote her back and said that if we followed the ground rules of the Dialogue Decalogue, I am very open and willing. Have not heard back from her but am blown away by the lessons in higher communication and respect that this Dialogue suggests. No matter if she is willing or not, this has changed me forever. THANK YOU!!!

    • Your comment just proves the point that there will be no dialogue “good people, just misguided”. No thanks

      • Jaymie, What you bring up is an astute observation. Yes, one comment did use this phrase you’ve highlighted and I think it shows how quickly, easily, and effortlessly we fall into these judgements. Personally, my goal is to continue to bring these judgements to light. I’ll offer myself as an example; as aware as I think I am to these issues, the scenario in the article highlights how I fell into the trap of righteousness – to the detriment of what could have been a fruitful conversation. What I hope to demonstrate is that it is the bringing to light how often we close off, really seeing it, that will allow dialogue effectively. I hope your comment generates dialogue among those who wish to travel the rocky terrain. Thank you for your insight.

  3. Hi Nyssa,
    How nice to read your entry, strangely I, too, was a Religion major, Comparative Religion. One of the things I have learned in my sixty years on this Planet, twenty-eight of them teaching, is that when we set about to educate others all we can do is present our material. Whether the other choses to digest, learn, grow, change from what we offer is not up to us, and really is of no consequence. All we can do, all that is our Karma, is to share our Truth. I will definitely look up the Dialogue Decalogue. Thanks again.

    • Yes, religion has a great way of teaching us about these issues, doesn’t it? I had no idea how incredibly applicable this field of study would be! Drawing on teaching of eastern religions, if we can share without attachment for the outcomes we are in the best place. Learning how to get there is another story…and a life long journey at that! Thanks for reading, Sally. : )

  4. Thank you! This is a brilliant article, and can be helpful in any number of controversial conversations!

  5. Nyssa Hanger, Bless you , you are wise way beyond your years. When we can all reach a place of peace within our selves, we won’t feel the need to correct (as we see it ) anyone else. We respect others by meeting them where they are at, as we would want them to do for us. You truly have a beautiful way of explaining it. If we have to lose friends because they don’t agree with our thoughts, we might need to look at ourselves. It has taken me way more many years to learn this, so glad you are sharing it with others. I wish you much success in your new business. With your mindset, you will do well.

  6. Well said. I look forward to reading more.