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Experiencing Life Awaken

Complementary Health based on the work of Rudolf Steiner
Located in Byron Shire, Australia

The Twelve Senses

Founded on the anthroposophical understanding of the human being

These articles where written for Developing the Self Developing the World and are complemented by the book A Spirit-led Community by Lisa Romero

Smell Sense

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 differing scents. It is difficult for them to keep themselves separate from the aromas that they don’t desire and do desire which would allow them to perceive the fragrance for what it truly is and develop social tolerance, rather than the aroma and social mingling having the effect of overpowering 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 or 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. 

Hypo sense of smell

A person with a hypo sense of smell has difficulty experiencing variations in aromas; all scents may seem similar. They may notice strong scents, but not the gentle scents. And they could put something right up to their nose to identify the smell, possibly taking a few days before the smell of rotting food in the refrigerator starts to bother them.

To smell and to socialise is to mingle, and a person with hypo sense of smell generally do both without discernment. Lack of discernment could lead them down the garden path if they were to follow their nose.

How to harmonise and support the development of the smell sense

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? 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.

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.

Keeping natural aromatic oils or scents for medicinal purposes and to balance a space where needed, allows the opportunity to come to know changes in the day and life verses death. 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. 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. An inner resource library becomes discerning of the truth.