Do you hear what I hear? The sounds of chaos, complaining, and capitalism. Mostly the complaining is coming from me, to be fair. I really do love Christmas, but some parts of everyday life seem harder during this season. There are more plans, but less time. More to get, but less money. And so on. I get tired.
This year, I was ready to heartily endorse a no frills Christmas, skipping the décor and all of it. It is so much hassle. Then my daughter, my sweet daughter, told me how she has looked forward all year to using the tree decorations she picked out in last year’s post-Christmas sale. And my heart melted. Heather and I assisted her in getting the tree up and she created a beautiful product in no time.
And my creative and sensitive son helped me do some shopping. He recalled such specific aspects of loved ones that the shopping felt fun and inspired. We breezed through it.
Then my brilliant wife set up a gift wrapping system that had each item wrapped, under the tree or even shipped with no delay. So now I sit here, 12 days before Christmas, with no hassle left. I’m looking at a decorated tree with wrapped gifts under it and I’m full of gratitude.
I’m not grateful for the stuff, but for the reminder that relationships have the ability to help heal stress (and not just cause it). And, when I notice that, celebration is an overflow, not something I have to muster. I’m not trying to talk myself out of the hard because this season can be hard for me and many others. I just want to be capable of noticing the good, too. In this moment, I revel in the merry and agree that it is a wonderful life.
I am fascinated by how our brains process sensory stimuli, how that stimuli is associated with memories, and how we make meaning of it all. It is complex and beautiful and well beyond my understanding. Still, I ponder.
Of all the senses, I think we frequently get triggered, in positive and negative ways, by smell. Sometimes, certain scents assault me. I momentarily feel as if they actually want me dead. I also feel this way when the temperature drops below 40 degrees. Our beliefs about which smells should be called “bad” are so subjective, though. I strongly dislike the smell of leather, which many people seem to enjoy. These people are obviously wrong, but I struggle to quantify any proof.
I love, love the smell of coffee. It makes me feel warm and almost extroverted. Only almost. I associate it with happy memories from growing up, which definitely reinforces why I choose to call this a “good” smell. The strongest safe place image I can actually conjure comes from a real memory where coffee is a central character. Even as I type this, I can remember the smell and feel immediately content.
Coffee has always been most of the olfactory component of this memory, but there is this mysterious other unknown smell grouped in there. Well, unknown until recently. I was making coffee and perhaps passed an indelicate wind through the depths of my very dysfunctional digestive system. I was repulsed by myself, but then experienced the intermingling of the smells. And I placed the mystery smell of my safe place memory. Yes, coffee plus fart equals my most secure smell.
I was devastated for a minute because this is disgusting. However, then I realized I didn’t have to give way to judgment. For years, I had assigned a wonderful and comforting meaning to this smelly memory and then, in one second, I had allowed that security to be shattered. Because of an association that I don’t even know to be accurate. How often do I allow these passing experiences of self-judgment compromise what could remain powerful internal resources? And, if I don’t notice these judgments, how can I reclaim the experiences?
This time, I did notice. And I choose to focus on the coffee. This brings me joy and I need joy and I deserve joy. And so do you. What’s your coffee smell? And let’s stop judging the farts of our lives so easily.
Reflections on lessons learned from being a therapist and adoptive dad.