Engaging ALL of the Senses – By Design

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We’ve spent these last five weeks taking apart and looking more closely at each of the senses. Now, it’s time to go back to the beginning and reassemble all the bits and pieces that we have uncovered.

Moving through these senses once again, the reminder to open your sense of Smell to receive the odors that are around you and allow them to stir the memories associated was also the call to reach back and keep those memories of joy and comfort continually alive and vibrant while creating new ones. Mark the change in the seasons using your sense of smell. The smell of Fall flowers and burning leaves are vastly different from the flowers of Spring. And the fires of wood in a fireplace in the Winter have a deeper aroma than those of burning leaves. The smell of your lover’s freshly washed body and the odor of sweat from a challenging work-out stir our emotions and draw us more deeply into awareness of the present moment.

The sense of Sight is what drew you to this blog and series of writings. Something you saw attracted you to read more and the words on the page stimulated within you a curiosity to know more. Taking in the sights, means exactly that! It is a way to connect and become part of what is occurring and evolving as you witness the glory of the event. Many people are uncomfortable with making eye contact. I find it to be the most enjoyable of experiences. There is so much you can learn about a person by looking them directly in the eyes. There is so much they can glean from you if you do not look away. Eyes are one of our most expressive of features so allow them to take in and express what is being seen. Allow yourself to react and respond to what you are seeing. Our minds are capable of holding many images; each serving as a reference point for a specific set of or singular experience. Open yourself up to adding purposefully to that storehouse and at the same time expanding your own world-view.

Perhaps one of the most important of the senses, Touch is the opportunity to merge and co-mingle with another human, animal or an object. In our current society, touch has many layers of meaning and we get lost in the analytical nature. Technology has created a type of disconnect that is masked by the perception that we are actually more in “touch”. In reality, what is grossly missing from that equation is the personal “in the presence of” moment where you can physically reach out a touch that (those) individual (s). Don’t waste a moment of “in the flesh” time to embrace, greet or otherwise touch. As humans we thrive on this type of interaction.

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and every snack in between is a chance to indulge (not necessarily high caloric- LOL!) and take our sense of Taste on a grand culinary adventure. This is the armchair traveller at his/her finest. The seas of flavor and countries of gastronomic origin await our visit each day. The key is being mindful of the sensorial experience and offering the presence of gratitude and awareness of what we are sampling on this journey. As humans, we are privy as no other species to a banquet of foods each having their own specific signature of texture and taste. As Americans, food is in such abundance that we often forget the origins and hard work that went into its planting or feeding. Which, is why there is nothing quite as satisfying and flavorful as food we have grown ourselves or cooked from scratch.

The sense of Hearing and being heard are gifts we can give to ourselves and to others. Really listening; not just taking in the sound is a skill that requires development. Hearing requires paying attention and in the case of dialogue with another, engaging sight to give further detail to what is being heard. Being heard is what we desire. Being heard means that someone else is “really listening” to what we are communicating and is giving of their time and energy in being fully engaged in the conversation. As you go through your day, make note of how many opportunities presented where you could have “really heard” what was being said. And, then make note of how many of those times you seized the opportunity for a deeper connection. Do the same sort of analysis regarding how often you felt that no one was listening to you. And, how disconnected and isolated you felt by that experience.

I return to the thoughts I offered about the purpose of this blog and the call to embrace everything that is held in a physical existence…..

“This blog is meant to be that reminder as we look at the gifts of everyday experiences and cultivate the tools to strengthen these so the beauty and magick of the ordinary can become the gifts and tools of the extraordinarily Divine.”

By Design

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Living fully present means engaging all of the senses in all of your endeavors; even if this is not a pleasant process. Changing a baby’s diaper is not always a pleasant olfactory (smell) experience, but the love and tender care you are offering overrides this. The other consideration is that when you are familiar with the normal smell associated with this task, anything out of the ordinary can give you a heads up on an upcoming illness.

For me living in this sensorial way is to live by purposeful design. The tapestry of my physical experience is woven using the many threads that include tactile, sensorial, mental, emotional and more. The more I weave of this tapestry I am able to differentiate between what is common ground and what is disparity in my relationship with others and in the way I chose to live my life. The more I engage the physical tools I have to assess and categorize my experiences the greater the ability to determine a reaction or to response to similar experiences. And, ultimately the more I contribute to the design that is woven the more fully human I become.

End Note About This Series:

I hope you have enjoyed this exploration of the Senses and have gained some deeper insight on how to enhance and actively use them. Be sure to take a look at the collaborative posts in The Sacred Vessel Blog. As always, I welcome comments and suggestions about how I could have made this series more information.

 

Companion Post: Available Next Week

The Sacred Vessel
Sensing the Subtleties in ALL of Their Expression

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Join me for the Next Series beginning mid-August:

Acts of Contemplation
Exploring Focused Awareness, Stillness and Meditative Action

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Engaging the Senses: The Sense of Taste

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Part 4 of 5

The Sense of Taste

Food can be used to express our deepest emotions. Foods lovingly prepared by your child and presented on Mother or Father’s Day morning in bed are cherished and steeped in sentiment; regardless of burnt toast and underdone eggs. Chocolates given can express deep love or be the prelude to a sensual evening with your lover.

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A basket of fruit of fresh fruit can be just what the doctor ordered to brighten up (and support the healing process) for someone who has been sick. And a tray of aromatic spices can take you to cities exotic and mysterious without having to leave the confines of your kitchen in New Jersey.

We use food, and subsequently the sensation of taste to win, woo and wow those we love or wish to impress. And, ultimately, we engage the sense of taste as a way of bringing those things that surround us into our being. The very act of tasting something brings it’s energies into intimate communion with our bodies. It is this sense that keeps us alive and healthy. It is the sense that provides pleasure both at the level of physical sensation and at the more subtle levels within the physiology of our bodies. Just as with the sensation of touch, when we taste something we are making physical connection to whatever is being tasted.

The Key Ingredients

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Most things we taste can be broken down into four basic sensations that occur as a result of what our taste receptors (buds) come into contact with. These will repel some, entice others and go completely unnoticed without maximum enhancement (the natural occurrence as we age and our sensation of taste decreases).  In fact, the premise of Ayurvedic Medicine is based upon the naturally occurring predominance of these subcategories as the fuel for the 4 specific doshas (or body temperaments) and achieving a state of balance through a variety of protocols, including diet:

“Overall health and disease are believed to be directly related to the balance of these life forces in relation with each other. When the body fails to adapt well to changing conditions, it will display abnormal patterns of activity in the forms of excesses or deficiencies, which can manifest as illness. “excerpted from Ayurvedic Medicine by Dr. Weil.

Read more here: Ayurvedic Medicine

I wholeheartedly believe in the natural intuition of the body to heal and regulate itself. Long before I had known about the system of Ayurvedic and predisposition towards certain foods as balancers of too much Fire, Water or Air in the body, I would at certain times have specific cravings for foods that I did not normally eat and a distinct dis-taste for some I was overindulging in. If I listened to these cravings, I would generally feel better. If not, eventually I would feel out of sorts. When I came across Ayurveda, it was interesting to me that based upon my body’s dosha, the foods I was craving were those that were needed to offset and return to balance the primary energy my body naturally thrived on.

The Anatomy of Taste

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The tongue is a muscular organ in the mouth. The tongue is covered with moist, pink tissue called mucosa. Tiny bumps called papillae give the tongue its rough texture. Thousands of taste buds cover the surfaces of the papillae. Taste buds are collections of nerve-like cells that connect to nerves running into the brain.

The tongue is anchored to the mouth by webs of tough tissue and mucosa. The tether holding down the front of the tongue is called the frenum. In the back of the mouth, the tongue is anchored into the hyoid bone. The tongue is vital for chewing and swallowing food, as well as for speech.

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image: webMD

The four common tastes are sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. A fifth taste, called umami, results from tasting glutamate (present in MSG). The tongue has many nerves that help detect and transmit taste signals to the brain. Because of this, all parts of the tongue can detect these four common tastes; the commonly described “taste map” of the tongue doesn’t really exist.

 Color:

A Rainbow of Visual Temptation

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We are naturally attracted to specific colors of food.  The Green Eggs and Ham of Dr. Seuss fame would be great scrutiny as eggs are generally yellow with green possibly being an indicator of spoiled food. Fruits and vegetables that are vibrant in color are most attractive and appealing. While dull grey colored fruit would be discarded. Before we arrive at the sense of taste, our sight factors and weighs what foods are edible and which are suitable for the trash. Current thought among dietitians is that to remain our healthiest we should eat a rainbow of foods. The color of the food, giving clue to some of the nutritive values and if included in the diet, providing the necessary diversity to receive those nutrients. These of course would be foods in their natural state and devoid of dyes and color enhancement that normally permeate many processed foods to make them more appealing.

Texture:

Neural sensitivity

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The Texture of the foods we eat and things we taste stimulates the neural system in a sensory game of receptor and distributor. Variety of texture as we experience the pleasure of tasting gives a tactile sensation that engages the physical act of tasting something in a broader spectrum of experience. Texture, coupled with color engages kinesthetic and visual qualities.

Aroma:

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 What’s the connection between smell and taste?

Most of your sense of taste is really about your sense of smell. Do you think that the spaghetti and meatballs you’re eating taste delicious? Much of the reason is because you like their smell. In fact, you’re doing a lot of sniffing. Not only are you smelling before you take a bite, but while you are chewing, odor molecules from the ground-up food inside your mouth float upwards taking that remarkable smell journey.

And, finally, we arrive at the place where the “nose knows”.  Wine, cheese and coffee tasters as know of the pleasure and benefits of having an accurately and healthily working sense of smell. The first line of test before something enters your mouth for tasting is how it smells. You can often discern whether what is cooking will be bursting with flavor and taste just as good as it smells as you are walking through the door at dinner time.

Excite the Palate Practice:

Taste Testing – A Tasty Experiential

A simple exercise to use to heighten your awareness and sensitivity to taste is to select a variety of food items.  Choose some that are different in texture, spiciness, smell, color , etc…

In a relaxed setting, lay out the foods you want to sample.

For the first round:

With your eyes open select a food, place it in your mouth and slowly savor its taste and texture.  Spend several minutes with each piece of food.

For the second round:

Now, beginning with the first food sample you took, take another piece and after you place it in your mouth, close your eyes as you savor the morsel.  Again, spend several minutes with the food.

Do you notice any difference in the sensations?

Was there stronger flavor when you had your eyes open?

Or, did the sensations intensify without the visual distraction?

For the last round:

Select another piece of the food. As you taste it open yourself to connect to the process that went into its making. If it is a fruit product, imagine the process of planting the seed for tree, bush or vine. Try to taste the sunlight and rain that helped it to mature and ripen. Imagine its journey from picking to the place in which you purchased the product. Now, give thanks to nature and all who helped to bring this bounty to your table.

Be sure to record any impressions.  This is a good way to begin a gustatory journal, exploring taste and broadening your palate to be inclusive of a variety of foods. Enjoy!

Companion Post: Next Week

The Sacred Vessel
The Subtleties of the Senses: Taste (Gustatory)

 

Resources:

Any good cook book, market and your sense of adventure and gratitude.

Taste What You’re Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good by Barb Stuckey

Taste Buds and Molecules: The Art and Science of Food, Wine, and Flavor by Francois Chartier

 

Next Post: “Engaging the Senses”
Part 5: The Sense of Hearing

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About This Series: 

This five-part posting will take a closer look at each of the senses that are part of our greater learning and growing experience. Each of the five senses plays a significant role in how we process the information of our human experience and these lessons serve as the foundations of our use of sensation in ephemeral and spiritual experience. Each contributes a specific energy and working collaboratively they offer the keys to memory, expansion of consciousness, engagement in the physical world and doorways to the inner planes of wisdom.

There are collaborative posts speaking to the Spiritual overlays of each of the senses in the Sacred Vessel Blog that may be accessed the week after this posting.

Engaging the Senses: The Sense of Smell

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Image: Artist: Mirte Driessen 

This five-part posting will take a closer look at each of the senses that are part of our greater learning and growing experience. Each of the five senses plays a significant role in how we process the information of our human experience and these lessons serve as the foundations of our use of sensation in ephemeral and spiritual experience. Each contributes a specific energy and working collaboratively they offer the keys to memory, expansion of consciousness, engagement in the physical world and doorways to the inner planes of wisdom.

Note: There will be collaborative posts speaking to the Spiritual overlays of each of the senses in the Sacred Vessel Blog beginning next week.

Part 1 of 5

The Sense of Smell

The sense of smell is what draws us to our mother’s breast as newborns to feed. Before the other senses jump into gear, the instinctual drive for sustenance is accomplished through recognizing and bonding to the smell of our mother. As we grow and develop, our sense of smell forms a complex and vast library of connections and triggers that help to stimulate and engage the other senses.

Your sense of smell can transport you to another place and time. Memories of cookies baking in your mother’s kitchen and the loving care with which they were made. The smell of a baby having been freshly bathed and the joy in caring for this new life. The smell of the concert hall and stage area where you made your musical debut. Or the smell of flower beds in the backyard. The fragrance of damp earth and sweet aroma mingling in your nostrils takes you from the physical location of your workplace and you find yourself once again in the process of planting or walking on a forest path just after a Spring shower.

Foods are often eaten or abandoned simply by virtue of their smell even before we have a desire to taste. Similarly the sense of smell can bring immense satisfaction as you enjoy a carefully prepared and fragrant meal. This is one of the reasons for inclusion of spices when cooking. The aromatic enticements they offer in addition to the taste factor- which, as we know rely one on the other- can be the stuff of lasting memories and a satisfied belly.

We are literally bombarded by thousands of smells daily; with most going unnoticed as we tone down one sense in deference to another. Working to be fully present in what smells are surrounding you brings a deeper level of engagement in whatever the activity, place or person is. We have only to look to the creatures of the wild to see the impact of scent on their survival and the continuation of the species. The markings of urine left ward off predators, distinguish territory and in the right season beginning the mating cycles.

As humans, our sexual attraction is largely influenced by smell as well. We know our partner by the smell of his/her body. These are often enhanced by perfumes or colognes or minimized by deodorant and personal hygiene products, but the underlying scent that one human has is always present despite its masking. Associations are made through these smells and what was attractive and pleasantly associated in positive light can soon become distasteful and noxious if the attitude and emotional connection is lost.

The association of smell with emotional response is not a new one. We hear the adage- “you could smell the fear”. The chemistry of the body does indeed change with stress, fear, anger, joy, etc. The endocrine system secretes the appropriate hormones in response to these emotions and the body responds by producing odors that seep from porous skin. Anyone who consumes large amounts of garlic knows this to be true. The skin takes on the odor of the garlic, not just by way of breath but also creating its own culinary perfume. Fish oil often has the same effect as do many other foods that are ingested. We are continually sending the message of what we have consumed, our emotional state and the levels of our desire and readiness to procreate by how we smell.

Because of the huge impact of smell on our health and well-being scent is used in many ways to restore balance or to amp up a particular physiologic and emotional response by way of aromatherapy.

 The Healing Arts and Aromatherapy

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“Aromatherapy is the practice of using volatile plant oils, including essential oils, for psychological and physical well-being.”

The practice of aromatherapy has been around for centuries (although not designated in this way). Lavender has long been known for its calming qualities, just as peppermint excites and stimulates. Frankincense historically was used in churches as a disinfectant at times when plagues, disease and hygiene was less than sufficient and the routine death toll was high. Rose oil and the fragrance of the rose proper was a powerful aphrodisiac and vanilla wafted visions of opulence and luxury.

Fragranced oils have been used for centuries in the making of candles. Some were simple beeswax candles that were rubbed with precious oils as part of the ritual process and others had the oils added directly to the candle making process to provide a specific scent that would be released as the candle slowly burned.

I routinely use fragranced oils to stimulate the action of memory. The Tunisian Frankincense and Myrrh oil is one I use for ritual work. When I apply it in a mundane use, my first response is one that something sacred is going to occur. This is a particularly useful attitude to cultivate as I move through my daily tasks and interactions. Being able to recall the anticipation of a positive experience with reverence and care often buffers what would be a reaction rather than response to a situation. I must confess that more often I use the oils simply because I love the way they smell and the rich and opulent feeling they invoke!

In modern times and with the advent of costly perfumes and secret recipes around production of these fragrances, man’s sense of smell has become a virtual goldmine for retailers. And more recent times, Aromatherapy has broadened into a vital component of the holistic movement. The quest for finding balance between mind, body and spirit found a natural ally in the use of plant material and oils to bring about this state of well-being. We now see the basic principles of aromatherapy and the seduction of the sense of smell in a full line of commercial products – Febreze, Glade, etc. and Yankee Candles is one of the forerunners in combining the principles of aroma and tapping into memories filled with scent.

“Aromatherapy is essentially an interaction between the therapist, client and essential oils, working together to bring forth the healing energy which will help the client regain their sense of well being and vitality.” Jade Shutes

The modes of application of aromatherapy include:

  • Aerial diffusion: to disinfection or to produce a specific ambiance within the environment.
  • Direct inhalation: for respiratory disinfection, decongestion, expectoration as well as psychological effects.
  • Topical applications: for general massage, baths, compresses, therapeutic skin care. In most cases, the oils used are diluted with a carrier oil. If used full strength they can be toxic at worse, or produce irritation, allergies and rash at best.

To find out more: The National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy

Pollen, Pepper and Other Irritants

One of the recommendations for nasal health is using a Neti pot. This is particularly useful if you have allergies, sinus problems or are prone to colds. Those who use it regularly report a lessening of allergies/colds or none at all. They used to be specialty item available only at health food stores, but are now widely used and can be found very reasonably in pharmacies and some super markets.

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In Ayurvedic practice, olive oil is also rubbed into the nostrils as a form of lubricant and cleansing. For more information: Oiling Rituals

And, finally, a trick my husband uses when having sneezing fits at home. Cup your hands under the faucet. Pool some water and then “snort” it up into your nostrils. And, blow it back out. He usually does this a couple of times, and it works like a charm!

Scent-sational Practice:

The goal is to become more sensitive to the smells that surround. Not just those that are pleasurable and aromatic, but also those that are less than appealing. These are all part of the experience of being fully present in your body and the gifts of its senses.

Select a variety of locations to turn your focus of attention on what you are smelling. Begin with those places that you frequent such as your workplace, a special park (or other natural setting), your car or public transportation and the various rooms in your home. Breathe them all in making note of your emotional and physical responses to these different smells.

Some questions to consider:

  • What memories do some of them invoke?
  • How does this smell stimulate you? Mentally, physically, emotionally or other?
  • What responses are brought to the surface?
  • Which would you enhance and which would you minimize?
  • Which of these aromas have you intentionally selected? (ie. candles, room fresheners, perfumes, etc.)? And, why?

You may be quite surprised at what your responses will be!

 

Companion Post: Next Week

The Sacred Vessel
Sensing the Subtleties

Resources:

A very interesting excerpt from:

SMELL:The Secret Seducer By Piet Vroon with Anton van Amerongen and Hans de Vries. Translated by Paul Vincent.
New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Aroma Web
(articles, supplies, etc..)

The National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy

Next Post: “Engaging the Senses”
Part 2: The Sense of Sight

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