The Fragrance of Life
Breathing in the World
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"To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts." ~Henry David Thoreau, Walden
I entered this May project in sensory delight with a simple enough intention: to pay attention through my senses and to delight in my experience of attention. Our senses exist to take in and experience life and, yet, it can be far too easy to notice little at all. And when I notice little, I’ve discovered, I delight in little.
This past week I journeyed through life via my sense of smell. Smell is a personal and unique experience—good smell versus bad is very much a matter of opinion. How does gas smell? Or a skunk? Perfume? Coffee? Ask yourself and your friends and it’s likely some of you will agree, others will not. What is a pleasant smell to one will be unpleasant to another. When the Department of Defense asked cognitive psychologist Pamela Dalton to develop a stink bomb, she discovered that people often completely disagreed on what actually stank.
And did you know that one minute of deep breathing can cause a smell to recede? Smell then, like sound, comes in waves and apparently the first wave is the strongest. One of my favorite smells is coffee—when my husband brings me a morning cappucino, the first thing I do before I sip it is take a big breath over the steaming cup. I love walking into a coffee shop or the coffee aisle in a grocery store where they have a bean grinder available and taking in the warm, full-bodied fragrance. Yet, if I worked as a barista, apparently within a few months I’d barely notice that smell at all.
And so it is with life. Smell, like all our senses, can become so rote that we stop noticing the aroma of our world. Yet the moment a less common smell comes through, particularly one with a memory association, we are called quickly to attention.