A common enough thing in its own right, sense memory infuses our daily lives with its rich and sometimes shocking presence. The often reminisced upon scent of a favorite childhood meal, how the taste of cheap milk chocolate conjures up images of brightly colored eggs and anthropomorphic bunnies, the way a too often drunk liquor can stick with you for years afterwards as that one bad night where too many poor choices were made, or even the scent of a loved ones skin or the taste of their lips you can recall fondly or heartbreakingly for months after. Sense memory is a tie to the past that can either haunt us with terrors of traumatic moments, cause visceral responses of lust or sadness deep in the pit of your stomach, bring ephemeral delight and transcendental joy, and everything in between.
The trick, you see, is that oftentimes we experience these triggers on a daily basis without warning and sometimes without desire either by a scent or a taste or even a string of words or melody. Sensory overload happens constantly to the point of developing a way to dull out the chatter we wish not to engage with. However, such practices, while useful, can often be detrimental to experiencing the richness and textures of our day to day lives.
Well, then, how do we control this?
Ultimately, unless you are a master of bodily and mental control this will be nearly impossible for most things, but we can intentionally introduce sensual experiences into our daily lives to encourage a certain moment to bubble to the surface. I would wager you already do this now, with a favorite song to engage a mood or a particular fragrance to bolster your confidence.
We explore our senses through aesthetics- to the degree by which we engage our surroundings and curate them or explore them in their natural state. Aesthetics within the Decadence movement of the late 19th century practices this very thing, with elaborately hedonistic and indulgent ends to be sure, but also with the aid of artifice. They wanted to move away from nature to a more human-made artificial existence highly curated to their extravagant ends. And yet, there is something to be said for embracing this desire to control and manipulate our surroundings and what we explore with our bodies and our senses through more natural means.
Decadence is seen as a luxury, so oftentimes exploring the ways we can be decadent with ourselves is shamed. Alternatively, we see it now marketed as self-care, offering ways we can allow ourselves to not feel guilty of the indulgence we crave. And yet, moments of indulgence in a busy world can offer a respite from a troubling job or an overwhelming situation. To bring a bit of peace or joy or quiet.
The secret (that isn’t such a secret after all) is that these moments can be cultivated—if we know how to engage with them. We can intentionally work with our bodies and our senses to ensnare ourselves and work a kind of enchantment. We can reclaim our own power by way of our own sensuality.
Try and notice throughout the day things which may appear to you in unexpected places. For me, it shifts seasonally. The scent of freshly layered mulch on the entryways of local businesses harkens spring, and the excitement of new life to bloom while the rich and invisible wafting of woodsmoke is a clear indication of the turn into cooler months and a deep restful sigh that life is slowing down.
But, let’s try for some more elusive ones, eh? The smell of freshly ground coffee mixed with cinnamon and cardamom bring me right back to an apartment I used to live in where a dear friend and roommate at the time would occasionally brew Turkish coffee—a treat not too often made. I can close my eyes when I smell the spicy invigorating aroma and am immediately back there; an experience that simultaneously brings me delight and also a wistful sadness for a time and place now gone. But, I can recreate it with the right formula.
So, my curious darklings, what senses stir up memories for you? How can you recreate them? That is something only you can truly discern but once you have it, the opportunities are endless to creating your own cabinet of sense memory and also developing new ones.
Scent and taste and visuals and sound are profoundly intimate, but it is an experience and way of experiencing this world in which we all share. And luckily, they are not exclusively relegated to the past. Why not try a brew meant to evoke the powerful longing of things strongly desired to better explore how that sensation turns up for you or experience a taste of natural decadence at a moment’s notice?
The possibilities to explore the senses in intentional ways are endless. Your senses are your ally, so why not treat them to a little enchantment now and again?