I recently starting rereading Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses, which I read for the first time approximately two years ago. The book is an exquisite and vivid journey through our five senses and how they guide and influence our interactions with the world around us. It’s a beautiful piece of writing that serves as a reminder of the importance of literally stopping to smell the roses. Today, I did that. After a morning session of restorative yoga in the planetarium that left me with an almost unbearable desire to pack up the car and drive straight to the Badlands or Moab to be alone with my senses, I settled for a three hour solo hike into the forest and canyons at the base of the Flatirons. The air, earth, and plants were still damp with the heavy spring rain that soaked the whole region on Friday. Such a rich humidity on a rainless day is rare treat in Boulder, as is the sound of rushing water and a nearly empty hiking trail only 15 minutes outside town. The luxury of the experience filled me with emotion and also got me to thinking about how my own senses have been heightened and tantalized since I removed myself from a relationship that was breaking my soul and forcing me to suppress a desire for rich experiences in order to simply get by from day to day. Restorative yoga helps you be present in your sense of self, but the other five senses are every bit as important. Here is what has been influencing mine lately.
Smell: We’ll start with the sense that affected me the most today, smell. The pine trees of my hike. The new growth and dampness. The mud. Even the rock. But mostly the pines. So many pines. Out there alone in the woods, I was compelled to stop in my tracks time and time again to breathe deeply through my nose, taking in more air than I thought my lungs could hold, desperate to capture those scents. I needed them to fill me over and over. It is a wonderful and fortunate circumstance to live in Boulder and a shame not to take advantage of it more often, because all the manmade creations in the world cannot best the olfactory heaven of a forest laden with spring rain. I love my little Sanctuary, but my heart saddened a little as the sun fell behind the peaks and I knew I had to leave.
Touch: I’ve been involved for the past few weeks in an unnervingly overwhelming and emotionally destabilizing affair, the intensity of which has caused me to break almost all the rules for dating that I created for myself the last time I was single. But I regret nothing. The sensation of someone mapping your body, carefully exploring, studying, gauging your reactions to specific instances of touch is the pinnacle of pleasure. The glide of fingers, brushing and crushing of lips, a whole body enveloping you with long limbs and longer desire is an unparalleled delight in this world, even more so when it is new and you’ve been deprived of anything similar for so long. The mere anticipation of this touch makes me exhale until there’s nothing left, inhale jauntily, catch my breath, and start again. The nerve endings in human skin serve us well in many capacities, but this is unquestionably their most wonderful purpose.
Taste: I’m not much for cooking and when I live on my own, I tend to survive largely on a diet of cold cuts, salads, and canned soup. I take pleasure in the flavors of food—fine food, street food, spicy food, homestyle food, Ethiopian, Italian, Thai, all food—but not enough to want to spend my time cooking it. So it is at the risk of sounding like an infomercial that I will say an Instant Pot has changed my eating habits and brought more daily satisfaction to my taste buds and warmth to my insides. It takes the need for technique out of cooking and allows me to make soups, sides, and entrees without juggling four different pans and stove temperatures. And there is also the added bonus of the scents of a home-cooked meal lingering in the house for hours after.
Sound: Both silence and music in equal measure. Let’s start with silence. My ex talked a lot. Upon meeting him, many of my friends and acquaintances felt compelled to comment on his garrulousness and how odd it was that someone as quiet as me could tolerate it daily. But now, living alone means living in silence. I am in the middle of town and yet I hear almost nothing from inside my Sanctuary except squirrels running across the roof and the occasional car door shutting. It’s so peaceful. I can decompress after spending a day at work, talking and interacting for eight hours, a strain on the well-being of any introvert. But there’s also music. Living alone also means that I pick the music, every time, and it’s always exactly what I’m in the mood for. Music I haven’t listened to in years is back on rotation, the lyrics coming forth from the folds of my brain and onto my lips, my interpretation of them slightly different from the last time they were heard out loud. The sounds are familiar and happy and make me feel like me.
Sight: My plants for this year’s garden—I see so much progress in just two weeks. Last year, most of my garden came from seedlings. This year, most will come from seed. I wake up every morning and inspect them, and am delighted to find new shoots sprouting up and old shoots getting bigger and stretching toward the sun. I am watching the world come into existence. I already have tomatoes, peas, lettuce, carrots, and five different herbs bursting from the soil, getting stronger and more prepared for the outdoors. Also, I got new glasses. When your life changes in a big way, making smaller changes to reinforce that new reality can be affirmational. I see the world differently now, brighter, happier, and so full of possibility. I like seeing that through frames that belong only to this life.
This is a new life. A sense and sensation rich life.