On Smell Cultivation

2 minute read

A few years back I started paying attention to smells more. It started with the roses in the neighborhood around where I worked. I would go on daily walks to stretch my legs and focus or clear my mind, and one day I decided to stop and smell the roses. I have always enjoyed the smell of roses – my grandparents have a nice little rose garden in their front yard and I remember liking them as a kid. But this was different… this time, for some unknown reason, I really paid attention to the smell of the roses. I took many deep breaths, fully inhaling their scent. Taking time to bask in the essence of the smell.

Ever since then, I started paying more attention to smells. I’m not sure if it was conscious or subconscious (or more likely both), but since then I think my sense of smell itself has actually improved. I used to think that I had a relatively poor (maybe 25 percentile) sense of smell, but now I’m not so sure that’s true. I notice 1) smells more often than I used to 2) more intensity and vibrancy in smells

I can go for runs and catch whiffs of nearby flower gardens and it almost catches me off guard sometimes. It’s so powerful that sometimes I stop and just reel in the delight of it. Sometimes it’s a simple grin and extra deep breaths as I jog on by.

It’s not all roses though, sometimes this change is negative. I have a roommate who enjoys smoking weed (legal where I live) and I’ve found that just the smell of it on her breath from across the couch is enough for me to want to get up and leave the room. Burning rubber or the smell of tar and other urban pollution smells have a similar effect.

One thing that I think is particularly interesting about this is that the change seems to be facilitated only by attention. Just by focusing, even with only small amounts of effort, over a longish period of time (6 months) I changed the way I sense and interact with the world in a non-trivial way. Not life-changing, but non-trivial.

I wonder what else would change with more attention?

I also wonder how well I could train my sense of smell if I really tried and used “formal techniques” (if that is even a thing).