When I once undertook a fast, I discovered that while walking around the city, my sense of smell had become sharper. A night bakery became a place of wonderment, luxurious with the scent of baking bread; an underpass took on an otherworldly feeling, with smells diverse as roasting kebab meat, cigarette smoke, and human excretions. The city was alive with vivid odors, which I inhaled as though they could sate my appetite. In the end, I am not sure the fast did much for me, but the walks allowed me a new perspective on places I thought I already knew well.
We tend to over-rely on sight to guide our path. But what if we mapped our neighborhood using smell?
Take a walk with the intention of seeking out interesting scents and mentally noting their location. Some may be ephemeral, like a lawn of fresh-cut grass, while others may have more longevity, like the scent of seawater, or factory fumes.
Consider the nature of scent. Is there a ‘bad’ smell? What makes it bad? What associations do we have that might make some odors distasteful, while others are inviting? Is it the sensation that’s bad or good, or is it the association we bring to it that we interpret as repellant or attractive?
Be sure to pause and experience what you find, and consider if it’s likely to recur next time you pass, or if the smell is only of the moment. No need to note what you discover anywhere but in your mind; the object isn’t to gather data, but to bring awareness to the fleeting sensation. Such is the transient nature of our experience, fading from our memory like steam from a warm bun.
For more mindfulness exercises, have a look here.