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.