Episode 6: Smell and Memory

An article by on October 31, 2017

Smell is a powerful sense. In fact, psychologists and neuroscientists believe it is the most powerful of all the senses to evoke emotion and memory. This is because the olfactory bulb, which starts inside the nose and continues along the lower part of the brain, touches two areas important for processing emotion and memory: the amygdala and hippocampus. The other senses do not run the same course, so they do not have the same impact on memory and emotion. A smell is more easily linked to an event and the associated feelings of that event.

Often when I take my morning run in the springtime – when lawns have begun flourishing and the mowers begin their chore, that first whiff of freshly cut grass blasts me with a flood of emotion and memory like nothing else can. I am transported back to my childhood home on Cornell Avenue and the times I would flip and cartwheel gymnastics on the lawn as I dodge the chord and mower my dad is pushing. They are beautiful memories of home and family and love and anticipation of summertime.

Smell is a powerful sense. In fact, psychologists and neuroscientists believe it is the most powerful of all the senses to evoke emotion and memory. This is because the olfactory bulb, which starts inside the nose and continues along the lower part of the brain, touches two areas important for processing emotion and memory: the amygdala and hippocampus. The other senses do not run the same course, so they do not have the same impact on memory and emotion. A smell is more easily linked to an event and the associated feelings of that event.

Just as smell can trigger a memory of something beautiful or special, it can also trigger memory of negative events. And several studies confirm that we have a special talent for remembering negative events in far greater detail and intensity than positive ones. This is precisely why mindfulness of smell is especially important for healing and well-being, for the possibility to remain open to God’s truth to speak, God’s love to saturate and dwell within.

In the Song of Solomon, the groom sings to his bride “How sweet is your love, my sister, my bride! how much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than any spice!” 4:10 and the bride to the wind, “Blow upon my garden that its fragrance may be wafted abroad. Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits.” 4:16 In John 12:3 Mary anoints Jesus with oil “and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” Jesus’ presence filled the house, the mutual love between Jesus and Mary permeated the space. We are the aroma of Jesus to God among those we encounter today (2Cor2:15).

So let us be mindful of smell today by using a similar method we used for seeing, but this time sitting with each of 5 fragrances, searching for 5 distinct odors.

Begin by breathing, but only paying attention to your breath. In and out steady, unrushed. Notice each inhalation. Sense the air moving through your nose and exhale.

Now with your next breath, as you inhale notice what you smell. What is the first fragrance you notice? Is it a strong odor? Or familiar? Is it pleasant or foul? What does it remind you of?

Take in another breath and as you inhale notice a different odor. Is it familiar? Perhaps you haven’t really noticed it before? Does it change your perspective of the 1st fragrance?

You may need to move around, perhaps go for a walk, unless you have a bag of food to go that has plenty of fragrances from which you might distinguish. Take a third noticing breath in. What do you smell? Does it make your mouth water? Or turn your stomach?

2, 1 . . . How does it make you feel? Notice other sensations in your body as you inhale. Perhaps it is an allergic reaction?

Notice. And throughout the day, practice mindfulness of smell and be thankful.

 

As always, resources used in these episodes, along with the transcript can be found on my website: eirenicole.com

And today, may you walk at the pace of grace.

 

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About Nicole

Nicole Oliver Snyder’s expertise lies in the areas of leadership, gender issues, and mindfulness practice as it affects both. Leadership, particularly in an urban setting, requires community-relations skills, and an ability to clearly convey justice issues as they relate to felt, spiritual ones. Dr. Snyder is author of Leading Together: Mindfulness and the Gender Neutral Zone, and specializes in teaching mindfulness leadership development, formative spirituality, counseling, and Old Testament theology (emphasis on justice issues). She has a diverse background in international community-relations work combined with volunteer work in multi-ethnic communities, and with local institutions. She is an ordained Clergy; holds a BS in Human Development and Family Studies, w/Education Certificate, an MA-Counseling, MDiv Equiv., holds a Doctor of Ministry and Advanced Certification in Formative Spiritual Direction, and is a Licensed Professional Counselor (MI).

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