So the old tunes float in my mind,
And go from me leaving no trace behind,
Like fragrance borne on the hush of the wind.
— Sara Teasdale, Old Tunes
As we gently (I hope it’s been gentle!) return to our regular routines following our reading deprivation, I am inviting you to slow down the process by taking sensory breaks during your day. This is to help us keep some of the cleared, more sensitive awareness that we’ve created during our week off. Perhaps in so doing, the seeds of deeper changes will have a chance to take root and grow.
The sense of smell is our oldest, most primitive sense. The way that our brain is constructed, smell is the most powerful and direct trigger of memory. With our first breath of life as we emerge from our mother’s womb, to our last exhalation, it is with us throughout our lives. When my mother was in the final minutes of her dying, the attending nurse encouraged me to stroke Mom’s hand, but also lean close, because even after she might no longer feel my touch, she would smell my scent to the end.
In her exquisite book, A Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman notes, “Through all the lather of one’s life, each breath passes air over our olfactory sites. Each day, we breathe about 23, 040 times and move around 438 cubic feet of air. It takes us about 5 seconds to breathe – two seconds to inhale, and three seconds to exhale – and in that time, molecules of odor flood through our systems.”
She also points out that, “Etymologically speaking, breath is not neutral or bland – it’s cooked air; we live in a constant simmering. There is a furnace in our cells, and when we breathe, we pass the world through our bodies, brew it lightly, and turn it loose again, gently altered for having known us.”
But, as author of The Creative License, Danny Gregory, points out, “We are always masking and varying scents with others. Piney freshness, ocean breeze, lemony this and orangey that. Smells designed to confuse and dull our senses further. The more our sense of smell is overwhelmed and confused, the more likely it is to shut down, to ignore new input. Eventually, we stop relying on—or attending to—this vital sense.”
So for today’s sensory playtime, list ten smells you can clearly remember: memories like the smell of your daughter’s hair when she was little; your mother’s latkes sizzling; the smell of Mr. Bubble bubble bath; the damp basement rec room of your grade school best friend; playing third base in the middle of summer; the first day of school. As you recall them, roll those memories around in the back of your mouth and cheeks; I bet you can almost taste and smell some of them.
Then, sometime today, give your nose a treat. Visit a cheese shop or bakery; maybe a pet store; pop into a department store and cruise down the perfume counters; wander through the lumber section of your local home improvement or hardware store; sample each and every bouquet at a florist or the floral section of your grocery store.
Note the obvious scents, but let your majestic, magical nose also relay to you the subtle nuances, delicate variations between one thing and another. Pick out each individual smell. Take home a souvenir – a flower, cat toy, or tissue that has been spritzed with perfume.
Are you noticing a hidden agenda in these exercises? Tomorrow, I’ll reveal my other motivation behind these suggestions. Can you guess?