Do You Smell That? Rediscovering My Sense of Smell

Danny and I love watching all different kinds of movies.  We don't follow television, so as a result we don't see movie previews and commercials, which limits our exposure to upcoming releases.  The other night, after scouring lists of top rated movies, Danny picked one out for us to watch.  It was called Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, from 2006.  It had topped someone's list and the reviews seemed promising.  According to IMDb, the main character, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, was "born with a superior olfactory sense, creates the world's finest perfume. His work, however, takes a dark turn as he searches for the ultimate scent."  Obviously, from the title, the audience anticipates that the "dark turn" is murder and we quickly see how creepy the young man gets.  The strangest and most notable aspect of the story, however, was Jean-Baptiste's outrageous sense of smell.  He could catch the scent of someone passing and pick them out, anticipate the movements of others through smell, and based much of his interactions with the world on the smells that surrounded him.  He had the uncanny ability to recreate perfumes without formulas or measurements simply by smell.  He came to see people and things as nothing more than the smells they exuded.  (Danny commented that it was "like he has ADD for smells," which was a perfect description.)

Because I didn't know the title of the film, and therefore didn't anticipate what was coming, until the first death, I did not want to believe he was a killer.  Jean-Baptiste was most certainly unusual, aloof, and a little off, but he seemed almost innocently simple; in my mind, I initially likened him to Lennie from Of Mice and Men.  Soon, however, it became clear that he was no Lennie.  The first girl he followed the scent of, a beautiful red headed young woman, became justifiably off-put when he came up behind her, smelling her hair.  And although I have perhaps gotten into too much detail regarding the film, I had never before seen someone so involved in their sense of smell and it made me think about how often--meaning how little--I use, rely on, and appreciate my own.

In the change of the seasons, in the first few weeks after winter ends, I notice a specific smell I associate with Buffalo's springtime.  Some of my loved ones' homes are full of scented memories. And because I love to eat, I definitely take note of the scents of delicious foods.  Overall, however, in my daily life, I ignore my sense of smell almost entirely.  While trying to write this post, thinking of fabulous scent/ smell synonyms, even the word choices are fairly limited (especially to those with a positive connotation)--implying to me that perhaps I am not the only one who underutilizes this sense.

It's almost like much of my life I feel like no scent is present unless it is extremely pleasant or terrible.  That film, on the other hand, indicated that can't possibly be the case.  I know that people say many women have a heightened sensitivity to smells while pregnant.  From what I've heard though, this seems to imply that unpleasant scents make them sick, but not that they are more sensitive to wonderful smells.  Is it also the case that while pregnant women smell agreeable scents more prominently?

One thing I know for certain, which PBS reinforces, a dog's sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times stronger than a human's.  The same article states that James Walker, former director of the Sensory Research Institute at Florida State University, provides this vision analogy: "What you and I can see at a third of a mile, a dog could see more than 3,000 miles away and still see as well."  Unbelievable!  I know from my girlies, dogs are able to pick out many distinct smells that humans cannot detect.  Not only can they smell other dogs' scents on people, but walks are always an exciting rush from one smell to the next and they relish dirty laundry sorted for the wash (Chloe even steals socks for cuddling).

So, if there are so many smells around us, why we don't pay more attention to them?  Are we lazy?  Untrained?  I know how important breath is to health and how deep belly breath can help us to feel our calmest when we need it most, so how have I missed one of my five senses--one so intertwined with breathing?

Danny and his nose--I tried to crop noses from pictures to no avail, so here is a fun one from 2011

In terms of mindfulness, I think it would be cool to experiment with this today and this week.  What am I missing by ignoring the nuances of smells in my daily life?  How can I be more mindful of the subtle differences in scents from one passing minute to the next?  Remaining still or walking, odors of all sorts surround us at all times and I intend to discover what I've ignored.

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