Day 10 – the smell of success

Posted on October 20, 2009

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Warning: New Age-y post ahead.   Exercise caution.

Today, let’s try to make sense of scents.  🙂

Specifically, my guided journal suggests thinking about the smells in your life – which ones do you love, and which ones do you hate?  Do they trigger memories or feelings?  I must admit, this prompt made me nervous about blogging.  Not because I have traumatic associations with smell, but because I couldn’t figure out how to connect a smell exercise with my search for a calling.  But at this point, 10 days into my 40 days, I’m still exploring.  This is a time for opening ears, eyes and heart, for being open to messages, both open and hidden.  So I’ll accept the possibility that I may not make a connection between smells and my quest for a calling and hope you, clever readers, will forgive the lack of thematic consistency.

Smells can open a doorway to discovery.  Smells are an important component of my perfect day.  Your ability to smell is seated in that most primitive, reptilian part of your brain.  And smells can evoke memories and emotions in a way that no other sense can do.  Marcel Proust wrote about how the smell of madeleines reminded him of childhood memories.  Proust’s piece, which I read many, many years ago in a French class, has stuck with me, even though I could not remember a single French word of it (other than madeleines), it stuck with me for the emotion and the sensory experience.  And so with the activity of recording loved and unloved scents.  Suspend disbelief and accept that thinking and writing about smells and memories will awaken and perhaps amplify that mysterious and elusive internal voice.  Hello?  Internal voice?  Wake up, dangit, we got company.

Quick exercise: write down 5 smells you love and 5 you hate.  What memories do you associate with those smells?

I could write forever about the smells I loved, ranging from lavender to citrus to bacon! to baking turkey to onion and garlic sautéing to fresh laundry to great coffee to warm husband.  I could write for somewhat less time about smells I disliked, from portapotties to cat boxes to mold/mildew to stale rooms without circulating air to nursing homes to heavy perfume/cologne.  But what I found as I wrote was that the memory of the smell itself was fleeting, the memory of the emotion and the experience attached to the smell remained.  I remember feeling an epiphany when one of my dearest high school friends told me, “I love the smell of a man’s sweat.”  Whoa!  The idea that one could love a smell that was not cookies or flowers or perfume was so eye-opening to my teenage mind.  The suggestion that, maybe, all the commercials about being hyper clean, sterile, and smell-less might not accurately depict the ideal astonished me.  Today, I wonder if our emphasis on cleanliness and sterility, in ads for deodorant, mouthwash, toothpaste, an entire universe of feminine hygiene products, and antibacterial everything threatens to weaken our instincts about our own health and true natures, replacing it with anxiety about our smell. I learned many years ago that some doctors will use their noses as part of their evaluation of patients, perhaps checking to see if a wound is healing properly by its smell.  What revolutionaries – to get closer to their patients, to touch and smell them, rather than simply reviewing charts and numbers to make a diagnosis!

I know from personal experience what a difference smell can make on mood and comfort.  Pregnant women develop supersonic noses, and things must smell just so or mama will not be happy.  I remember burying my nose in a jar of lavender balm when I was in labor – thankfully I remember that more than I remember the pain of having a baby.  Have you ever walked into a new friend’s house and the smell alone just made you feel so comfortable and at home?  What did it smell like?  How about walking into a home where the smell made you uncomfortable?  Realtors often recommend that people trying to sell their houses use vanilla to make their homes smell like baking cookies in order to make buyers feel comfortable.  On the flip side, hospitals can make me uncomfortable, partly because the jarring mix of smells of cleaning fluids, antiseptic and urine or sweat.

So, what can we make of all this?  (drumroll please)  First, I think I will work on infusing my home and work spaces with the smells that make me feel focused and happy.  This means making sure the air is circulating freely and the area smells clean and fresh, perhaps a very light citrus smell (citrus is supposed to wake you up).  Second, I will continue to explore those memories and feelings that smells bring up, to see what insights and lessons I derived.  Hopefully the process of exploration will energize my intuition, which will move me further along in my search for my vocation.

How about you?  Have you experienced any strong emotions or memories involving smell?  Take a look at an excerpt (English) of Proust.  It’s a lovely and short read.  Francophiles can try this version.

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