Help me be more sensuous.
November 8, 2009 8:28 AM   Subscribe

What suggestions do you have to help me be more sensuous?

My sense perceptions are less refined than I would like. Some things I'd like to be able to do are to identify specific ingredients in the foods I am eating through taste, to distinguish one instrument from another in the music I am listening to, to judge distance more accurately by sight. As it is now, my perceptions are blunt. I taste food enough to know if I like it or not and can identify spiceness and can identify an overwhelming ingredient, but anything more subtle is lost on me. The same is true in music, distance, etc. I should mention that this lack of refinement is not due to a lack of experience nor any disfunction of my sense organs. What suggestions do you have?
posted by Pineapplicious to Society & Culture (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Are you a non-taster? That might explain some of it. You can check your tastebuds and find out with some cheap kits or blue food coloring.
posted by cmgonzalez at 8:40 AM on November 8, 2009

Wine-tasting classes. Music appreciation classes (I personally recommend world music/ethnomusicology, where you can be exposed systematically to the range of human musical aesthetics). Any sort of instructional setting where you are forced to verbalize your experiences of the physical world. You learn a disciplined approach to describing sensation, and you learn to navigate the space between what you taste/hear/see/feel/smell and what you can abstract from those experiences.

Stating that your senses are "blunt" strikes me as less than helpful. Your sensory apparatus is what it is, and probably less than it was (as we age, key senses decline). You cannot actually heighten your senses (other than prosthetically), from a neurobiological perspective; what you can do is enhance your ability to become conscious of and able to abstract from the onslaught of sensory experience that is every moment of life. The sensorium is both embodied experience and its elucidation in discourse. Learning to articulate your sensory experiences allows you to categorize future experiences with more granularity, to remember them more reliably and systematically, to compare them with more precision, and to enjoy them more, maybe.

But I'd be careful about the last one. Sometimes you can know too much about what you're experiencing to enjoy it holistically.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:48 AM on November 8, 2009

Thanks fourcheesemac for your response. But as a point of clarification, I didn't say my "my senses were blunt," I said "my perceptions are blunt."
posted by Pineapplicious at 8:55 AM on November 8, 2009

With the music aspect of your question, I recommend going to see more live music - I've started to see a lot of live music over the past few years, and I am regularly surprised to see how music I've heard on albums is made (or at least reproduced) in a live setting. It's definitely enriched my experience of hearing recorded music to be able to connect it back to what I've seen in live performances.
posted by extrabox at 8:58 AM on November 8, 2009

to distinguish one instrument from another in the music I am listening to

For me, I find this to be much easier when I'm watching live music, and I can look at the individual musicians. Maybe it's because I'm a primarily visual person, but that allows me to pick what they're playing out of the crowd. It also works for choirs.

So maybe make a point of that the next time you're at a concert, and use it as practice to improve this skill in general?
posted by you're a kitty! at 9:02 AM on November 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have some ability to do the picking out intsruments thing and most of that aility came with my history of jazz class; So perhaps learn a little about the sound of a particular instrument listen to it unaccomanied or showcased like jazz does it.
posted by Rubbstone at 9:23 AM on November 8, 2009

With food, I find that a glass of wine always wakes up my taste buds and my nose. Everything has an enhanced taste and smell. BTW, a glass of beer usually only wakes up my stomach.

With music, if you sit in the middle of the performance hall, because of the accoustics of most rooms you will get the fullest sound but have difficulty distinguishing individual instruments. Try sitting off to one side and looking right at the performer or instrument you are trying to hear. If you can see the fingers move you can sometimes make the association with which notes belong that instrument.

To judge distance better, try walking familiar routes with a pedometer. You'll be surprised how far or how short some things are. Better yet, walk a golf course. Most courses are marked with yard markers telling you the distance to the center of the green. The markers are everywhere - sprinkler heads and plates in the middle of the fairway. It's a taught sense but so what?
posted by birdwatcher at 9:52 AM on November 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

Pay more attention. Slow down, and try to live in the moment a little more. Consume more stuff, and a wider variety of it. Be mindful.
posted by box at 10:12 AM on November 8, 2009

With food, practice. And the practice is delicious.

If you eat spice-heavy cuisine, say Lebanese or Ethiopian food, you can practice by remembering particular spices, and actively trying to pick them out. Things like cumin, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and curry are easier to pick out. Just put something like a bite of pumpkin pie in your mouth, and cycle through a mental list of spices to see what you can find in it. Or even an actual physical list.
posted by jabberjaw at 10:22 AM on November 8, 2009

This is going to sound like weird conjecture, but for me personally, I find when I stop doing things passively--watching TV, staring at the internet all night--and instead engage my whole body in the outer world doing something like, say, walking outside on a beautiful day, swimming in a natural body of water, or napping in a pool of sunlight my senses "wake up" and I can smell and taste and feel things my sense are normally deadened to. If you're in the northern hemisphere, this is a good time of year for these sense-awakening experiences too; go apple or pumpkin picking, smell the leaves, go for a sunny drive into the countryside, hike a forest, drink some real apple cider.
posted by ifjuly at 10:50 AM on November 8, 2009

Pretend until you can't tell the difference any more. It works.
posted by eccnineten at 11:44 AM on November 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you interested in pursuing this as a project, you could make yourself a curriculum to gain the knowledge bit by bit. For example, in foods: look for a recipe containing multiple seasonings. Then, for each seasoning, look for a recipe that emphasizes ONLY that one. Make each of those single-flavor recipes, paying attention to the flavor and aroma. Then make the complex recipe - can you still locate each individual flavor? Maybe find a recipe using only 2 of your seasonings, then 3, then the complex one.

Same with music - maybe a bit harder, but I find that if it is an instrument that I have played, or heard in a live solo performance, I can pick it out better. So - music lessons of one semester per instrument? Or find performances (or friends) of small groups that emphasize one instrument until you get that one, then move on to another one, then on to groups and then a whole orchestra.

And with distances: pick one distance that you want to learn, say 100 yards. Mark it out, use a pedometer, go to a football field, etc to get the gist of it, then practice: I'm standing on this street and I predict that 100 yards would be that stop sign on the corner. Then measure it out to check your answer. Repeat until you've got that one, then learn another.

So, I guess my answer is: don't try to learn all the bits at once, but pick one item out of your goal and learn it first, then another and another until you've built up a good repertoire of skills.
posted by CathyG at 12:46 PM on November 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Whenever you cook, get in the habit of smelling each spice before you add it.

When you listen to music, listen for each melody in the piece. Try to identify something simple about it, such as whether it's in a major or minor key, or whether it's a wind instrument or string instrument. (I like to listen to vocals in pop music and decide if they've been autotuned or not.) Also, if you're having trouble with music, you might need a better set of speakers, especially ones with better tweeters.
posted by zinfandel at 1:16 PM on November 8, 2009

One day I decided to try out all the weird spices in my parents' spice cupboard by putting them in omelets. I'd try one per omelet, a couple shakes, with salt and pepper. This gave me the 'base spice' flavour. This kind of gave me a mental image of what each spice was and I think it has made my cooking and tasting better.
posted by hydrobatidae at 2:02 PM on November 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I like the idea of learning "bit by bit," and would also add two things:

1. Set aside time to acquire the "bits," and in those scheduled appreciation-dates, go slow. Learning to appreciate new flavours? Eat really slowly, smelling and looking at what's before you. Music? Lay on the floor with your eyes closed, with no distractions, and really let it permeate you. Trip to the art gallery? Don't see everything, but spend a long time on the pieces that grab you, really thinking about what there is to appreciate.

2. Knowledge can enhance pleasure: Consider taking courses that interest you, or practice sensuous appreciation with a friend. You don't have to be chatty in the moment of appreciation (in fact, I might discourage that) but talking about a shared experience can be a way to relive it through a second set of senses, and you might start to enrich your own perspective by paying attention to what other people appreciate. Also, talking about what you've experienced might help translate ephemeral experiences to a vocabulary of perception that could help 'frame' and elucidate later experiences.
posted by Bergamot at 10:30 PM on November 9, 2009

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