I tested positive for COVID on Wednesday. I got tested because I realized I couldn’t smell the food I was cooking for Thanksgiving. I couldn’t taste it either. My grandmother used to say it was an ill wind that didn’t blow someone some good. This wind was definitely ill. My positive test meant no Thanksgiving with my family as well as no Bedlam game and the cancellation of several other things until I am out of quarantine. The same wind has blown some interesting thoughts my way, though.
We are familiar with the five senses, sight (vision), hearing (audition), smell (olfaction), taste (gustation), and touch (tactition). Aristotle is credited with first numbering the senses in his work De Anima, but neurologists would count, and agree on, at least nine senses. They would add to the well-known five: thermoception (the sense of heat), nociception (the perception of pain), equilibrioception (the perception of balance), and proprioception (the perception of body awareness).
Our senses are complex reactions of a region of our brain as it receives and interprets the signals from a group of sensory cells responding to a specific physical phenomenon. However, we rarely think about that. Instead, we just know that something tastes good (or bad), feels a certain way, sounds familiar, and so forth. Like so many complex things that we rely on but don’t understand, we often take our senses for granted, that is, until we don’t have them.
I was re-watching Deadpool (post positive), and something caught my attention that I hadn’t really noticed before. A secondary character who has gone through a mutation process and gained immunity to pain notes, “I no longer feel pain. In fact, I no longer feel anything.”
With senses, you must take the bad with the good. If we can smell a flower, we can also smell a skunk. I can remember many times when I wished I couldn’t smell something (6 kids and several dogs provided many noxious moments). Now that I can’t smell, I really wish I could, and not just nice smells. I would take a noxious one over none.
The eastern concept of yin and yang describes complementing parts that create a whole. Not so much good and bad, but rather, opposites. One side is off balance and undefinable without the other. Light is only really perceived in relation to dark. Heat is only meaningful if you have the comparison of cold, and so forth.
The problem comes when we try to control our circumstances and surroundings to avoid one side of the spectrum of opposites. This attempt is misguided. First, because it is truly impossible, and second, because it robs us of the comparative experience. It is in the comparison that we find interest and nuance and potentially joy.
I lost my sense of smell and taste to a virus, but we often compromise our senses when we don’t use them. Neurologists tell us that underused senses either atrophy or become over-sensitive, which in turn leads to many of the common ailments of today’s existence such as stress, anxiety, and depression. Think about that. When our senses aren’t being used fully to appreciate the whole spectrum of stimuli, the result is stress. I would have thought it was the opposite, but there it is.
Our senses are meant for our protection and advancement. Not being able to smell or taste has greatly impacted my appetite. I really haven’t cared to eat. I am taking in nourishment, but I am doing it mechanically and somewhat reluctantly (I haven’t eaten much other than ramen and oatmeal). Our senses season the world we are in and increase our appetite for it. Which leads me to my final thought….
I saw a gas detection truck working a mainline the other day. The equipment in these trucks is incredibly sensitive and can sense natural gas from a leak in a pipe underground while the truck drives at five miles per hour. The faster you move through sensory input (like a few molecules of gas), the more sensitive you have to be to detect anything. Conversely, you can sense much more with less sensitive equipment if you slow down.
Application: We miss a lot of what the world around us has to offer, across a very wide spectrum, because we are moving too fast. This is true for the physical world. How often do you take the time to notice a flower or watch the sun set or rise? This is true for the mental and emotional world. How aware are you of your own emotions and thoughts? This is true for relationships. How can you know and trust someone without time spent focused on them?
Losing my taste and smell right before Thanksgiving felt like I was being robbed. I missed tasting those wonderful traditional dishes we have every year. However, losing my taste and smell wasn’t an ill wind after all, because it blew me some good. It reminded me that I should be grateful for both the yin and the yang of the world around me and all it offers me to experience. It brought me to my senses, I guess, and being fully in my senses is good for me, good for those I want to serve, and good because it is The Kimray Way.