Lately I’ve noticed what powerful emotional triggers certain sensory experiences – especially my sense of smell – can be. My dentist tells me (I know, a dentist?) it’s all about the aging process, but I’m not so sure. I think I’ve always been what people who know about such things call a Super Receptor: the hearing of a bat; taste buds that seem a little too responsive to extremes of sweet and sour; and a reaction to certain smells/aromas/fragrances that can send me floating up into fluffy pink clouds, or hurling into a vortex of panic.
Yesterday, for example, I was heading into a Sephora as a person was coming out. I looked up, as I always do, to smile a ‘thank you’ (it’s official: younger people of all genders are now holding doors for me), while catching a subtle whiff of her instantly-recognizable perfume. A very sweet floral: the same scent that my beloved maternal grandmother (so influential in my life, until she passed at age 91) always wore. My breath caught in my chest, and for a minute I spaced-out as to what I’d come there for. The fresh flowery fragrance instantly took me back in time; so comfortable in the presence of someone I loved dearly. My grandmother’s smile came back; the house in the country came back; parts of me, came back to myself, as I stood before the store’s maze of goodies.
My dentist is involved in this mix because I’d recently shared with her how the odors of certain chemicals and diabolical medications they use (hospitals and doctor’s offices as well) freak me out. Which is why, I suppose, she felt she had to offer that, now that I was “older”, I should consider sedation for dental procedures, so that I wouldn’t “feel stressed”. That actually scared me more than medicinal odors do. Thankfully, most of the memories that come back to me via certain scents are really happy; even blissful.
I look forward to hauling-out the sweet and savory spices that I use in dishes when the weather turns colder. Their aromas bring recollections of cooking lessons, in my early years, from now-passed family members that I still sorely miss.
The smell of spring blossoms on my lemon tree can put me into a trance of re-visiting Sicily; sweet cherry blossoms, and I’m longing to return to Japan. But some sensations trigger memories that I’d really rather forget. I get mixed-messages from lilacs: the sprays were everywhere, at my mother’s funeral. The smell of a hospital (as well as the sounds) brings back the visceral fear I felt, as my son struggled with a life-threatening illness. A view of the setting sun, from a mountainside perch I’m still drawn to, brings longing for the happier times in my marriage.
Our sense of smell, so I read from experts, is one of humankind’s most primitive and potent vestiges from our ancient origins. I sometimes wonder if it’s part of Nature’s Wisdom, the fact that so many people in their 80’s and 90’s seem to experience a diminished sense of smell and taste. Being able to avoid reminders of Life’s darker moments might not be so bad.
Decades ago I had a friend, a medical doctor, whose specialty was Companion-Medicine. He traveled to many different countries, learning unconventional ways, alternative methods, of treating physical and psychological dis-ease. David’s interest and focus eventually became releasing and completely erasing deep sadness, even trauma, through Breathwork. Healing through certain types of breathing, combined with visualization, is even more widely-used today. I’m here to say, if done correctly and consistently, it does work.
Having lived a bit of Life, however, and so being acquainted with the spectrum of mild unhappiness all the way up to debilitating grief, I also have to say that Step One (for me) is being Ready to Forget. Despite what I knew would happen in my heart when it bloomed, I planted a lilac bush in my yard a few years ago. And, I’m still not ready to stop going to that special mountain spot, to watch the sunset and recall Love’s bitter-sweetness. In fact, I think I’ve decided that I actually like being a Super Receptor of the sights, sounds, and smells that sometimes, literally, take my breath away and rock my emotions. They make me feel alive, sparking appreciation and gratitude for every moment, and its eventual memory, that I might hold on to.