When was the last time you gave any consideration to your sense of smell and its importance to defining who you are? I have the feeling that my sense of smell do work overtime when it comes to certain scent and they do affect my behaviour, but I never really gave it any serious thought. That is, not until, I came across an interesting essay in a recent issue of the New Scientist , contending that “smells shape our moods, behaviour and decisions” and with the query that if such is the case, why do they barely register in our conscious lives?” A fair question I would think, and one that Lucky, our Border terrier, might also be interested to ask of his owners. He may even wish to suggest a few ideas of his own, especially since I tend to tug him along when he either lingers too long smelling or dashing after some invisible squirrel – while I mutter over his sharpened sense of smell! He would have a good laugh were he able to grasp the recent researches showing how human noses are more sensitive that we may wish to acknowledge.
Smells, in all their subtlety “can change your mood, behaviour and the choices you make, often without you even realising it.” Our fears, insecurities, aggression, sadness, excitement may be more tied up with our nasal passage and the mysteries therein that we may have given thought to. I suppose we humans have the live with the default habit of always prioritising things in terms of importance – even down to our senses and body parts. So while vision and hearing have been given greater agency, smell has been placed lower on order of things!
But what do we make of the fact that our noses carry around 400 types of receptor, albeit less than other mammals? And lest we forget, how about remembering that the nose is wired up to the brain, as well as, “intimately linked to its limbic system, which is involved in emotion, fear and memory”? And while some may have experience the loss of or the dulling of the sense of smell that may affect their overall perception, recent research is suggesting that what was lost or dulled can still be regained!
The point here is that smell is intimately tied up with the way we think and the way we act. No wonder some estate agents will suggest that if you wish your property to sell, try getting the fresh smell of baking baguette or a good homemade loaf and brewing coffee in the house. Business and companies know this and it is no wonder that they go out at great lengths to create the right smell for us to spend our money while they mint huge profits.
Do you suppose that there are insights here for faith, religious communities and our desire to stimulate good habits out of each other? Are there olfactory delights that the financial gurus can benefit from – that will bump us out of the rut of our present economic demise? I wonder what kinds of smell influence dry, rigid, exclusive and excluding God-talk. Are there particular smells related to the inability for us to trust the expansive generosity of God to be able to let go? What sort of smells do we need to break polarisations and impasse, and prompt renewal and redirection in our life together as a Christian community? Do certain smells work better for Protestants that will be dull for Roman Catholics, too dry for Pentecostals and largely alien for the majority of our population?
I can still recall the scent of fresh baking bread right out of the oven of a member of one of our churches and onto the communion table and again a loaf being baked during a service, and how this changed the mood of the whole service into real feasting! Can you smell the scent of freshly baked bread wafting across the gathered community and leaking through doors and windows? Or perhaps in our re-reading of that familiar story of the woman anointing the feet of Jesus, we can catch a whiff the perfume lingering on….
copyright © October 3, 2011
photo-credit – jagessar