The sensory development notes published on this website are prepared in collaboration with an on behalf of Developing the Self Developing the World and to accompany the book “Spirit-led Community – healing the impact of technology” by Lisa Romero. The complete document complementary to the book can be opened here.
There are what is called four middle senses (of the twelve senses) and they are – smell, taste, sight and warmth. They all help us relate more deeply with the world. The first four senses (the lower senses) help us to relate to our own body. And the ‘higher senses’ relate us to other human beings.
The sense of smell is the first of the four middle senses and the first sense that takes us outside ourselves; we relate to the environment through this sense. With the sense of smell we come into contact with the external world. When we smell we are brought into close contact with matter through the gaseous or airy medium.
When the sense of smell is matured we are taking in the environment and learning about it without placing our opinions or our feelings upon it.
Hyper sense of smell
When a person has a hyper sense of smell they have a heightened ability to distinguish between different scents. It is normal for them to know the difference between their body odour and something or someone else, but could be easily disturbed by either, or infatuated by either. They may regularly smell themselves to be with something familiar rather than foreign or because they really like their own scent, even though it may not be so attractive to others. They can lose themselves to the smell of something that they favour, or the smell of someone or something could stop them wanting to know more about them. If they feel an unwanted odour has penetrated them, they might desire to wash or rub it away. If they enter a room and smell something new, they might seek it out as a priority. The smell of a particular food or flower could make them dry retch; if a food is off they will be the first to say so. If a classroom has been cleaned with antiseptic and doused with artificial smells, the introverted child might not say anything but they sit quietly ‘in pain’, unable to complete their task. An extroverted child might disturb the whole class by making a big deal of it but still be unable to do their work properly.
They have to build resistance to be able to keep themselves separate from the aromas that they don’t desire and do desire so they can perceive the fragrance for what it truly is and develop social tolerance, rather than the aroma overpowering them.
Hypo sense of smell
A person with a hypo sense of smell has difficulty experiencing aromas. All scents may seem familiar. They are likely to put something right up to their nose and have a good deep sniff. They may not notice the smell of rotting food in the refrigerator. To smell and to socialise is to mingle, and a person with hypo sense of smell is generally not put off much by either. They may notice the strong scents, but not the gentle scents. Lack of discernment could lead them down the garden path if they were to follow their nose. Impulses to smell themselves may be connected to assisting them to identify themselves and keep themselves out of trouble.
How to harmonise and support the development of the smell sense
When we smell something for the first time, we can meet it anew and wonder what it is; what makes it like this? If an adult tells a child that an aroma is good or bad or places a judgment on it, this can hinder the child having an experience for themselves. Aromas educate us about the world, and we have to use this sense to guide our way like we do the other senses. We may enjoy what some scents do to our inner life more than what other scents do, but if we place this judgment aside we can ask, what can we learn about the other through this aroma?
Wondering what is cooking or what is in the garden are day-to-day possibilities to refine this sense and be prepared to meet the world. If a child needs extra refinement, introduce games that involve being blindfolded to match a smell to the name of an object.
Keep natural aromatic oils or scents for medicinal purposes and to balance a space where needed. On a normal day the smells of health and illness, and changes in the season and the day can then reveal our inner bacterial cell life and the outer world. This builds our inner resource library.
It is helpful to let a child learn to trust their sense of smell so that they can discover the truth for themselves. It is healthy if a child can tolerate aromas that are naturally occurring and belong to health, and shield themselves from things like toilet deodorisers and nicotine.