One way we become and stay frazzled is by letting ourselves “fly off the handle,” throwing away those experiences that are unpleasant and painful one sense at a time in rapid succession: close your eyes – don’t see it, cover your ears – don’t hear it, hold your nose – don’t smell it.
We know that beath helps us center and can help bring us back into our bodies, so too it is with our other senses. We should practice using our other senses to reclaim ourselves. To be me, I need to accept the good, the bad, and the ugly. If they’re part of me, I need to own them.
One sense we can work is the sense of smell since it’s usually less threatening. Let’s begin by working with the good smells and then progress to integrating the bad before we tackle the ugly and really ugly.
We can start by reaching back and integrating the good, old stuff: smells from our childhood like fresh baked cookies, weekend brunches, or crawling in bed (when we were kids) with our parents Sunday morning. Maybe camping out, taking a hike – simple excursions that we may remember or come across in an old snapshot.
Grab five quiet minutes in a comfortable place and bring that image to mind. It’s just a moment in time but since it was alive then, there’re sounds, colors, and smells that were there then. Close your eyes and find yourself back there. Ask yourself what are you smelling – breathe deeply and then take another deep breath. Let the breath expand into your mind: what did you smell? If you were at an ocean beach, can you smell the salt in the air; at a freshwater location – mud from the banks, or trees and grass from the surrounding area.
If you’re home, fresh bread coming out of the oven, cookies on a sheet cooling, bacon frying. Lots of smells on a winter walk. I can still smell the skunk my kids thought was a pretty cat when we took a New Year’s Eve walk along the RR tracks. (No, they didn’t get to pet the cat.)
As an exercise, I try to reclaim those forgotten memories. It’s not too difficult to work with the ones we’d all call good. Practice first with the good ones and learn how to reintegrate them. It’s cool being a kid, rubbing leaves between your fingers to see what they smell like or picking up other things from the street, empty lot, or field. Bring back the good smells, hunt for your memory chest whether it’s stored away in the basement, attic, or hidden in the back of a closet.
Next, we can work with those smells that are not so pleasant – perhaps like that skunk that I mentioned above.
I hated being sick as a kid. If I threw up, yuck, those were horrible smells. Just as bad if a flu pushed things out the other way. I can own them now. Back then I thought they were ugly, but now know they’re part of life. We just assigned a “value” to it.
I have a beagle, a not so lean, mean eating machine, who, at least when we’re out walking expands her sense of smell to find things that can be chewed or swallowed without any thought as to whether it’s even edible. Later – yup – she may throw up. I go yuck; she goes so what, spends some time sniffing it, and sometimes is even willing to give it a second try. But for her, the yuck smell is just part of life – no good, no bad, no ugly, and no disassociation.
So, stick with the program and go back to the easy ugly smells. Bring them back and own them. Then let it all go. No one says we need to rub our noses in them. Just don’t run from them.
As I was writing this I realized that there are some really ugly smells that I’ve been spared. I never was in
A combat zone or at the scene of violent deaths. To say this is a challenging experience is an understatement. But there a similarly rough places in everyone’s life. And hopefully, by breathing into them and owning the smells we can learn to accept and live with them. Hard work, but we know we can start easy and go slowly.
They will not come up smelling like roses but we can own them and avoid getting stuck on the thorns. We can do this together. It just takes practice and hard work. Kindness and goodwill are our not-so-secret weapons. I’m confident we can all become whole again.
Ken was a Professor of Mathematics, a ceramicist, a welder, and an IBMer until downsized in 2000. He taught yoga until COVID-19 decided otherwise. He continues writing, living with his wife and beagle in Shorewood, Wisconsin. He enjoys chamber music and mysteries. He’s a homebrewer and runs whitewater rivers. Ken is a writer and his literary works can be found at https://www.kmkbooks.com/
He welcomes feedback on his articles and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.