January 26, 2021

Remembering my Senses

water by M. Rasch

As a child I was not really aware of my five senses; I functioned more by instinct and growing intellect. As time went by, I realized how closely the reactions of my body led me to the very essence of life. The senses are nature’s road to explore the world; sometimes in horrific or painful ways, but most remarkably, to give and receive pleasure. In fact, the bliss of the sensuous lead me to a spiritual realm closely connected to such moments. Gradually, I began to understand that it was through the senses that my memories were created.

As a writer, my five major senses, smell, touch, hearing, sight, and taste, guide me to more poetic language.



When I smell a lily, I am immediately taken back to my early childhood. One hot Christmas Day, at my grandmother’s home in New Zealand, I was drawn towards the perfume of a large vase of white lilies, picked from her garden that morning. As I smelt them, an unknown but delicious sensation quivered all through my body. It was only when I was older that I realized the perfume from the lilies’ overblown corollas had stirred my sexuality, storing in my memory a personal symbol of fertility.

Smell is the most precise sense. It is directly connected to breathing. I would die if I tried to stop smelling. Yet it is the mute sense. I am often tongue-tied when I try to describe a smell. Maybe the emotion a smell creates is just too profound for my language centers.



After my first baby was born I always gave her a massage after her bath. My daughter lay naked with her legs up in the air and gurgled. A broad, bubbling smile flashed on and off when I rubbed the soles of her feet and caressed her body. I had read that babies could not survive without being touched, but there was so much more. As a mother, I was discovering the emotions of maternity. Touch taught me that life has depth and contour.



Hearing is the writer’s sense, just as much as the musician’s. The word poet comes from an Aramaic word that denotes the sound of water flowing over pebbles. I have a major stumbling block in writing a description about the sound made by water. There is a wooden bridge that spans the Sarine, a mountain stream in the Oberland Bernois, which is a special spot for me. I like to meditate there. I concentrate on the dancing water’s voice and search for words to describe the melody. I shut my eyes because the flashing sunlight playing upon the stream’s translucent depths distracts me. I still have not found the right description for that water song.

Hearing is my most delicate sense; for example, the unusual sounds made by a music therapist stir my soul and allow me to vagabond in peace and plenitude without moving from my relaxed position on the floor. But I react in a strong negative way to noise and love the “sound of silence”. The world is full of sounds beyond those made by human beings and I am awed and sometimes frightened when I listen to the mighty language of the earth and its creatures.



The eye loves novelty and can adapt to almost any scene, even one of horror. Unlike smell, which has weak physiological links with the language centers of our brain, language is steeped in visual imagery.  Every now and then I give myself a test. What was that person wearing? What was the color of his eyes, hair, skin?

I am usually very attentive to what goes on around me, including the news seen on TV. When I take my glasses off, the rest of the world disappears into a hazy background. This is my way of symbolically escaping the world’s traumas. Sometimes there are just too many terrible visions to absorb.

Light and color are part of sight, however color occurs in the mind and not in the world. Color-blind people are born without the necessary eye equipment to convey color sensation. They will never see a rainbow in all its glory. But my son who is color-blind takes vivid black and white photos, lingering lovingly on detailed form. He sees differently. This is the common miracle of the human body. To some extent we all make compensations for what is weak or missing in our senses.



I adore the taste of good chocolate. The creamy caramel flavor, which oozes around my lips, then inside my mouth, and slowly down my throat, is a culinary delight. My taste buds inform me if my food is eatable or poisonous. They tell me if it is sweet, sour, salty or bitter.  Taste is what stimulates me to prepare meals and carries me beyond the paradox of life killing life in order to survive. Human beings “sanctify” events with food. Yet the body’s quest is not for truth but for survival. It takes mechanical energy, like the taste of chocolate, and converts it into electrical energy so that the brain, which is blind, deaf, dumb, and unfeeling, can analyze the object.


Using My Senses in Writing:

I try to keep my senses clear of weeds. Imagination helps. When daydreaming, I linger with one or the other of my senses. That way the unconscious spills over into the conscious. It is easy to write: “When I was a little girl I was entranced with my mother.” But if I float a little longer with memories of my mother, I see, smell, hear, feel and even taste her intimately. She had thousands of freckles all over her arms and legs where she had been exposed to the tropical sun.  After using all my senses to bring my mother back to life, a memory returns that allows my writing to become unique.

One day my homework consisted of learning to count up to one hundred. I could not get the abstract sense of so many numbers.

“May I count your freckles?” I asked my mother. She held out an arm smelling of verbena and lavender.

“Go on darling, count them. But they’re not freckles. They’re sun kisses,” she said laughing and I really believed she was beloved of the gods.


  1. Hoan says:

    Jo Ann,
    Thank you for this beautiful invitation to rediscover our senses and the treasure trove of memories they will evoke in each of us! I love especially the little vignette about your mother. The whole portrait of a person captured in one little image.

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