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Mindful : April 2017
Smell operates across space—you can smell coffee brewing across the room or the smoke from a fire miles away. To produce a smell, a substance must be volatile enough to spray micro- scopic particles into the air. Molecules travel through the air into our noses, where five million receptor cells reside. They trigger impulses to the brain’s olfactory bulb. Smells warn us, telling us that something is burning or that our food has gone bad. Smells also delight us, bringing us the scents of each season: newly mown grass in the spring or mulled wine in winter. Smell can also reach across time, connecting us with the past. As Helen Keller wrote, “Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived." The nose transmits information about smells via the thal- amus to regions of the brain involved in learning and memory, which may explain why odors are so evocative of former events. Take a Sniff Down Memory Lane Here’s an exercise to help unlock the connec- tion between smells and memory: Make a list of 10 events, places, and times in your past. Then, while sitting quietly, contemplate how they smelled. Can you remember the smell of your grandmother’s kitchen or her garden? Do you remember the smell of the train station the first time you took the train? When your children were babies, how did they smell when you snuggled them? When you were growing up, do you remember how your dog or your guinea pig’s cage smelled? When you con- template these times and smells, what other memories or emotions are evoked? smell DID YOU KNOW? 1 Diane Ackerman wrote that “when we give per fume to someone, we give them liquid memory.” Mindfully smell different perfumes with your eyes closed, either in your own home or at a store. The sense of smell is controlled by the only cranial ner ve—nerves that emerge from the brain and control bodily functions including eye movement, hearing, taste, and vision—that can regenerate. FOLLOW YOUR NOSE 2 Put a small amount of various loose teas in glasses or small bowls. Close your eyes and smell each sample. You can do this with other foods and drink. Try wine or single-malt scotch. Or some herbs and spices. 3 Take a scent walk. Visit a garden or a forest where you can literally “stop to smell the roses.” In an evergreen forest, can you dis- tinguish between pine needles, fir, and juniper? More than with the other senses, metaphors relating to smell often have negative connotations. THE SWEET SMELL OF VICTORY THE SENSE LEXICON THE STENCH OF FAILURE WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE REEKS OF FAVORITISM THAT STINKS 46 mindful April 2017 discovery