“How about this one?”
“Ummm… licorice maybe? Kinda earthy. Not sure.”
Here I was, a few weeks out of sinus surgery, hoping to regain my sense of smell, which had gradually dwindled over the last few years until it was completely gone. With it, my sense of taste had left as well. At times, this was an advantage, as I no longer minded dealing with the garbage and the dog poo cleanup. Sometimes it just sucked, as the joy of eating good food has diminished, and some of my favorite smells – the moist autumn leaves under my bike tires, and the sweet aroma of the Russian Olive tree in the springtime – had become merely memories. And at times, it was awkward, since farting in my office while I’m alone didn’t really register with me, but seemed to have a different effect on my clients who might cock their heads a bit as they entered.
Now my loving wife was holding different bottles of essential oils under my nose, while I kept my eyes closed. We’d read that it helped to practice smelling and identifying smells to help one regain the olfactory sense. It was a mixed bag. I was thrilled that I had a vague sense of smell, but I just couldn’t place this particular scent. I didn’t have the words. Perhaps like someone blind from birth suddenly seeing the colors of our world for the first time, I was in new terrain, and didn’t have the vocabulary. I could feel myself grasping for the right words, wanting with a keen desire to label this smell.
Somehow I thought that if I could label it, then I would have succeeded. But then, in my mind, I backed off a bit, and found myself enjoying the momentary pleasure of smelling anything, and not needing the label. Its richness filled my nose and my delightfully open sinuses. This wasn’t a smell I encountered often, yet it came with a nostalgic feeling that was kind of like seeing a faded polaroid photograph from my childhood, tangled up in other senses and other memories.
I’m often asked what I do for work. Sometimes, just the right words roll off my tongue. But more frequently, I lack the perfect vocabulary (or perhaps the concise vocabulary) to explain how it is that I point people in the direction of the inside-out nature of life so that they can see for themselves how we create our experience of life. Understandably, those with whom I’m talking try to match it up to something they already know – “is it like cognitive behavioral therapy?”; “is it like organizational development on steroids?”; “do you help people take charge of their lives?”
Just like my experience of wanting to “get” the name of the smell under my nose, the focus in these conversations is on the label. “What, exactly, DO you do?” But the focus on the label can miss the beauty of the experience itself. How can I capture the experience of someone seeing through the illusion of their daily experience and grasping that we are always watching a movie of our own creation. How do I explain that moment when someone slows down their mental speed and suddenly has an insight that lifts the weight of the world from their shoulders? What words can possibly do justice to the dynamic of reminding someone of their connectedness to the source of all things?
Not sure if Shakespeare had come back from sinus issues, too, but it seems he’s familiar with my smelling game: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.”
So, as it turns out, the scent was cloves. But I no longer care what it was. The word “love” doesn’t capture the experience of LOVE. Love is beyond words, but wow do we know it when we feel it.
And the words “The Three Principles” or “I’m a life coach” don’t begin to capture the experience, the joyful feeling, of making the invisible visible, of seeing how the nature of thought is behind our experience of life, of the lightness we feel when we see how it is only our thinking standing between us and being in the moment, of the ease that settles into our lives when we see the utter ordinariness of moods and changing states of mind.
My sense of smell is returning, a smidgen more each day. Exploring the vocabulary of smell has helped me to see beyond getting the label right and moving on to the next one. I love that they’re called “essential” oils, as I’ve now taken up the challenge to see if I can detect the “essence” of each scent, and not simply its name. There’s a simple joy that awaits in looking beyond the words.