Two More Senses

Smell and Taste

“Memory is the most elemental thread of which the tapestry of experience we call reality is woven.” ~ Maria Popova, Brain Pickings

Memory is such an interesting topic. It’s one of the things that makes us human. Our particular memories tell the story of our life and shape everything we do in the present - our behaviours and what we know and believe about the world. 

Earlier this year, we practiced becoming more aware of some of our physical senses, particularly, listening and touch. Embodying our experience through the senses helps us to see more clearly. This week, we’ll focus on two senses which are closely tied to memory - smelling and tasting.

Smell

“Our eyes can distinguish several million colors, our ears can distinguish half a million tones, but our noses can distinguish well over a trillion different odors. Humans can detect virtually all volatile chemicals ever tested. We outperform rodents and dogs in detecting certain odors, and we can follow scent trails. Smells feature in our choice of sexual partners and in our ability to detect fear, anxiety, or aggression in others. And smell is woven into the fabric of our memories.” ~ Merlin Sheldrake, Entangled Life

Like sounds, there are so many different smells that we encounter throughout our day - some pleasant, some not. Even so, our sense of smell often takes a backseat to the other senses and it can be underdeveloped. However, we can practice cultivating our sense of smell and noticing how we feel about certain smells.

Ernesto Collado was an actor who lost his sense of smell briefly and experienced it as a crisis. He had to learn to smell again and became obsessed. Now he is a fragrance maker and runs smelling tours in Spain. 

“Smelling has a power that none of the other senses have, and I must tell you now, it is molecular, it goes to the essence of the essence.” (NY Times

Taste

“Taste, or gustation, happens when chemicals stimulate receptors in the tongue and throat, on the inside of the cheeks, and on the roof of the mouth. Taste receptors have a short life span and are replaced about every ten days. For a long time, researchers believed in the existence of four tastes: salty, sweet, sour, and bitter. Recently, researchers have suggested the presence of a fifth taste called umami. The spice monosodium glutamate (MSG) has an umami taste, as do many protein-rich foods. Taste is also strongly influenced by smell.” (Senses Sparknotes)

One way we savour life is through our sense of taste. And, it’s something we experience every day since we all have to eat. 

I live in a town with many wineries and craft breweries where tasting notes are common. A well-written note describes the soil (or terroir), the type of grape (or hops), and other fruits or florals present. Climate conditions for the vintage or year it was created are also determining factors, as well as the maker’s process, and herbs and spices added in the aging and bottling process. Tasters swirl and smell and taste slowly before describing their experience. How does it feel in the mouth? What is the texture? Is it soft and creamy, or tart, or juicy? What lingers on the tongue afterwards? 

Practice

  • Obviously, food is a great place to start. This week, turn your meals into sensory experiences. Smell and taste all the ingredients that go into a dish, and then practice eating a little more slowly and mindfully. Chew your food well and note these types of taste - sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami (Ajinomoto). Maybe you could write tasting notes for your day or for a meal.

  • Walk after a good rain. One day I went out for a walk after it had rained for a good solid forty-eight hours. I could clearly smell the dampness and the mustiness in the air. The rain had soaked into and refreshed everything.

  • Walk with a dog and let them lead with their nose. It was my dearly departed dog, Daisy, who taught me to appreciate ALL fragrance. Notice what smells you like and what you don’t and consider why. Are there any smells or tastes you’ve learned to like?

  • What else can you taste this week that’s not food-related? How about the air, the rain, saltwater, your toothpaste, or someone's skin or lips? 

What unexpected associations or memories come up when you open yourself to smell and taste? Some of these memories could be painful ones so be gentle with yourself. Mostly, you just want to be aware of what you’re experiencing at the moment when it comes to smell and taste. 

Resources

14 Smells that Remind you to Breathe, Orion Magazine

The Poetics of Smell as a Mode of Knowledge via Brain Pickings