A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Monday, 6 September 2010

A Matter Of Taste

See me, feel me, touch me, heal me. THE WHO Tommy

Unusually for me I feel a little under the weather. I woke up in Plymouth last Thursday, the final day of my south west coast walk, with a sore throat. At home later that evening the boringly familiar symptoms of the common cold made their unwelcome appearance: coughing, sneezing, headache, a general feeling of lassitude and a complete lack of sympathy from anyone else in the house. Nothing unusual there, you might think. What is he complaining about?

Well, actually I'm rarely ill, and the last time I was unwell - the only time since I began blogging over three years ago - was also when I'd just returned from a long hike. (I blogged about it here.) Could there be a connection? Any theories, anyone? Myself, I believe that multi-week trekking can be hard work, and can be stressful, even if we don't fully realise it when we're transported by the strangeness, the beauty and the freedom of it all; and this, plus the sudden, depressing jolt back into routine reality when the trip's over and done, can trigger an adverse reaction. (Then again it's probably simply down to the prosaic germs of a virus - there are always hundreds going around, especially at this time of year.)

However the real point of this post is not to gripe about a minor ailment affecting millions at the moment, or even to crave a smidgen of sympathy from cyber-buddies. No, the motivation behind the piece is to say: let's all be gratefully aware every minute of the day for our five senses of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell - and the sixth 'sense' of our mind, which coordinates them all! Because of my cold I've temporarily lost two of these - the interlinked senses of taste and smell - and I miss them acutely. The savour of food and drink, the scent of a late summer breeze in piney woods, the bitter tang of woodsmoke, the redolence of herbs, the taste of tarragon chicken, lamb with rosemary, garlic-roasted vegetables - all these things are lost to me. Why is it we often seem to need to lose things - our health, our senses - before we can really appreciate what we have and take for granted?

(Awareness going out to all those who have either temporarily or permanently lost the use of either one or more of their senses.)

(Zen exercise: try to imagine what it must be like without first one, then two, then three etc, then finally all your senses.)

(Nowadays we recognise many more senses than the traditional five senses: eg the sense of pain, of balance, of motion and acceleration, of time, of temperature, of direction etc.)


gleaner said...

Hmmm, as some-one who always enjoys entertaining theories I can't think of one at the moment for your current situation. I'll have a coffee and return if I think of one.

What about making yourself some especially strong onion soup or chicken soup with lots of garlic and some chilli. Make up a good supply to last a couple of days and then just relax (maybe not the right word) into your symptoms.

Hoping you have a speedy recovery!

ksam said...

When smell & taste gone or out of kilter, like yours are now, I usually seem to notice I'm alternatley in a stuffy sort of cloud or sensory deprivation mode, except for light and temp. They seem suddenly huge. Light - eyes water...heat and I'm gasping for air... Ack! I'm practically making myself feel ill here...Truly hoping you feel better soon...& perhaps what Gleaner said...Onion Soup or Chicken soup...or pickles...they still taste...when all else is naught!

Bonnie said...

Perhaps a cold was the only acceptable way for you to cry a bucket-load of tears because the hike was ending? The virus is there - it is stress of some sort that depresses our immune system. Hope you regain your senses soon! :0)

I will try your zen exercise. I try to find a moment each day to acknowledge my body/mind for the functionning of my senses. During meditation (or a shower) I thank every organ I can think of for doing its amazing work for me. There is so much communication between cells and systems going on within, I decided long ago I would participate in the conversation by at the very least expressing gratitude.

George said...

What can I say, Robert? You could have signed my name to the post as well, since I am in the same shape with the same concerns — mine having lasted for three weeks thus far. The interesting thing is that I was in the best health of my life after returning for the coast to coast walk. It is almost as if the universe needed to give me a whack to remind me of how much I have to be grateful for and how little I can take for granted. I have assured the universe that the little lesson has been learned and that it is now appropriate to return that little infection to its cage. Thus far, however, I have yet to make more than just a little progress.

Anonymous said...

"Grateful awareness" against "taking for granted" says it all. Perhaps it is a yoga of life as well as the walks and pilgrimages and illnesses to learn these lessons and gain these insights.

Good to have you back,


The Solitary Walker said...

Bella & Karin - thanks for your good wishes, and I'm definitely going to try the onion, garlic and chilli purgative. It might be just the thing I need to jump-start those sluggish senses.

Bonnie - I'm sure I'll be back to some kind of normal sooner or later. Though didn't Rimbaud write that a disorientation of the senses can be good for you?

George - Oh, heck, 3 weeks? I've only endured 1 week so far!

Andy - Oh yes, oh yes - the agony and the ecstasy of pilgrimage, the cutting flints underfoot as well as the soft, springy turf, the faith and the challenge to faith... all the yoga of life.

fireweed meadow said...

Your post made me very hungry and reminded me, happily, that I am expecting a phone call soon from the farmer down the road to let us know our annual lamb is ready for butchering. Mmmm . . . lamb with rosemary. I have always theorized that the exertions of long distance walks, multi-day canoe trips, etc. take a lot out of you, especially if the elements don't cooperate. The fact that these trips are so enjoyable doesn't change the fact that they are physically stressful, putting a damper on the immune response. It's well known that athletes in training have depressed immune systems. If the bug is out there and finds you at that particular time, the consequences must be endured. My husband got a cold after we finished the Cubmria Way two years ago; he hadn't been sick for years before that and hasn't been sick since.

The Solitary Walker said...

What a fantastic response to my piece, Fireweed! Such well-expressed rational sense backed up by experience. (Pity the distance is so great that you can't invite us over for those lamb cutlets and scrag-end stews... yum, yum, yum...)