“If every day is an awakening, you will never grow old.
You will just keep growing.”~Gail Sheehy.
There is something special about watching a child develop. The helpless baby that soon learns to roll over and explore, the toddler that figures out how to push buttons on a remote, the pre-schooler that begins to write and draw and mimic adult behavior. I am always reminded of how man evolved from being grunting, hunting, instinctive survivors to being inventors and creators, discoverers and designers. I remember, in the months before my mother died, she seemed to be amazed that people could keep coming up with new ideas. ‘How do they think of these things?’ she would ask, as if somehow she thought that we would run out of new ways to do things.
This week I heard a discussion about a condition known as anosmia. It means being unable to smell. In medical terminology, the prefix ‘a’ or ‘an’ means without, or none. So it is easy to remember – without a nose! But the reality is no laughing matter. Because our sense of taste is limited to very few flavors – bitter, sweet, sour, salt, and my favorite – umami (a Japanese word meaning delicious – associated with the savory taste of things like meat). It is through our sense of smell that we are able to differentiate many more flavors, to be able to pick out individual spices like thyme, or try to figure out what is the special secret addition to someone’s perfect Jamaican black cake (although the rum may drown out other flavors!).
We experience the ‘blah’-ness of food when we have a bad cold. But being permanently unable to detect the pimento and cinnamon in your favorite jerk sauce, to walk into your house and not be able to smell the oxtail simmering on the stove, that must be cruel indeed. But the person being interviewed pointed out that there is another aspect of the disorder that may be even more distressing. For many of us, aromas are a trigger, they are associated with a memory and bring a reminder of our childhood, or a person, or a place. For me the smell of lavender takes me back to my aunt’s home – she kept sachets of the dried flower in the drawers of her dresser. Nutmeg takes me back to my first taste of cornmeal porridge. That salty smell of wet sand takes me back to childhood visits to the beach in North Wales.
While we may have sympathy for someone who has lost their sense of sight, all of our senses are important for our full enjoyment of life. But how much attention do we pay to the information that our senses provide? Often we only notice when something isn’t working, or when pain receptors remind us of aging joints or abused bodies. We go through the day so preoccupied by all of the thoughts inside our head, that we fail to listen to the real messages our body is sending us. So instead of recognizing how tense a situation makes us, instead of feeling how we are holding our shoulders tight, or maintaining bad posture, it is only when that tension headache kicks in, or our back begins to ache, that we realize we have done it again.
I know I am guilty of all of the above. The acclaimed author Brene Brown reminds us that we often tell ourselves stories about events, instead of reacting to what actually happened. We are able to read into the tone and expression of another, making assumptions about their true feelings, instead of responding to the actual words. There is a beautiful ad on at the moment, about a group of office workers who are expert at passive-aggressive behavior. When the boss stops by and tells them ‘You’re doing a great job guys,’ they immediately are suspicious. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
Paying attention to the messages our body can provide us with is not limited to our immediate surroundings. The current political climate has been overheating for some time. We should not be surprised at the degree of ‘ism’ that the Republican nominee (he who shall not be named) has tapped into. When polite society lives behind a mask of civil behavior, when laws are on the books to protect human rights, when an African American is elected president, we may be lulled into thinking that progress has been made. But below the surface, this pocket of hatred and entitlement has been heating up. And this season it has bubbled up to the surface.
It is important to be awake to our environment, both internal and external, and take corrective action before situations deteriorate completely. When we take note of warning signs early, when we take preventive measures, we can remain healthy, both as individuals and as a society. Sometimes the interventions have to be drastic, an abscess has to be lanced and drained before healing can take place. I am hopeful (yet fearful) that once this election season is over, there can be a more honest conversation in the US that will allow healing to take place.
So on this beautiful cool South Florida morning, and by cool I mean in the low 70’s, I hope you wake up awakened, aware of all the information your amazing body provides you with, sensitive to all of your senses (including the most primal, the sixth sense that most of us ignore). Let us also be sensitive to others, even those whose opinions we do not share, for we will have to demonstrate greater compassion and understanding to lay the groundwork for healing to take place. And medicine usually does not taste good!
Have a fabulous weekend, Family!