Do you store your clean bed linens with lavender or feel a little revved up from the scent of grapefruit juice in the morning? Have you ever noticed how ancient Egyptian paintings always show pharaohs as far taller and larger than the images around them?
Well, it seems there is more here than just homey traditions or 5,000 year old public relations techniques. As Kevin Schoeninger discusses this week on Spiritual Growth Monthly, new research is demonstrating how height, cleanliness, and fragrance have a direct impact on the human brain, which then influences our perceptions and behavior.
At some level we all already know this. These influences are so imbedded in human culture that we recognize or use them almost automatically. Whether it is Mt. Olympus, Valhalla, or the Pearly Gates, humans tend to think of the divine as something above us, and Hades or Hell down in the fiery depths of the earth, with the remains of those who have gone before.
The use of stories and metaphors relating to physical sensations seems almost a part of our DNA. The book of Genesis describes Satan as condemned after “the fall” of human kind, to no longer stand upright like a real person, but to forever crawl on his belly on the ground. No surprise then that a cunning, unscrupulous person is called “a snake in the grass,” or other lowly, crawly life forms.
We say “cleanliness is next to godliness” and occasionally we are able to come out of a nasty situation “smelling like a rose.” And there is nothing like the smell of apple pie or our grandma’s cooking to make us feel loved, secure, and home.
According to the book, “Sensation: The New Science of Physical Intelligence,” (Atria, 2014) by psychologist Thalma Lobel, PhD., which Kevin continues to explore this week, these metaphors are more than just cliché’s. Our heads may be full of the maxims we learned growing up, but if we dismiss their importance as mere old wives tales, we miss the opportunity to use them to improve our lives.
Advertisers, politicians, and fashion editors don’t dismiss them. They use them to influence us every day, whether we recognize it or not. The more we know about these influences, the more we can be selective about which ones we allow to manipulate us, and which ones we use to become our best selves.
Sensations and women’s work
The less we rely on the media, the less we may be impacted by what people are trying to sell us. But women, I believe, are often raised with a myriad of platitudes drummed into our heads which rely on our unconscious reactions to height, cleanliness and scent. We are the ones who wear spike heels, not only to accent our calves, but to be as tall and powerful looking as the men in our lives. We are the purchasers or gift recipients of the greatest amount of perfume and scented candles…and in spite of decades since the “feminist revolution,” we are still the ones who clean.
Now Kevin didn’t mention this sexual bias thing…and maybe it’s not in the book…but any woman who has lived with a man who just doesn’t get what the housecleaning fuss is all about, knows what I mean.
I sometimes wonder if it is a kind of rebellion. Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a truly masterful picture of this refusal to be civilized on the part of boyhood kind. And just like Peter Pan’s desire to never grow up, it seems like the ancient call of the caveman is alive and well, as guys work hard, play hard, love to get grimy, and smell “like a man.” God bless ‘em. They usually do scrub up and allow themselves to be civilized, and most probably really like it that way. But it makes you wonder what internal, subconscious forces sometimes drive them.
In the first two weeks on this topic of sensations, Kevin explored Dr. Lobel’s chapters on the effects of temperature, texture, color and light. And height, cleanliness, and fragrance seem to tie right in with the rest. I had an experience this past week that made some striking changes in my mood and behavior, as these overlapping sensations hit me all at once.
My town made the national news as the coldest place in the United States. It was dark, gloomy, snowing, and bitterly chilling…and the drains in my bathtub and sink were frozen shut for several days. Now, I was able to carry my towel to another sink, dunk my head under the faucet and get clean all over one bit at a time.
But I couldn’t have a shower. I was miserable. I was crabby. I needed to feel the sensation of heavenly hot water cascading down my back from above. I needed to feel soapy, scrubbed down and clean. I needed sunshine, and a nice fresh scent, and to be surrounded by the shiny whiteness of the shower tiles.
Finally yesterday we had a little thaw, and life could resume as usual. That first shower was like a celebration, and I couldn’t help but be joyfully grateful for all the little, everyday luxuries that make life so good. My mood improved immediately, and all was right in my world.
Kevin’s article covers lots of fascinating territory that I have not even begun to discuss here. If you read it, you may discover, as I did, that as soon as you dive into this topic, all sorts of ideas and realizations pop into you head. I encourage you to experience it for yourself. In the meantime, keep looking up! All good gifts, they say, come from above.
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