Using your senses to keep memories alive
There’s this thing I do when I’m on holiday or somewhere nice on the weekend.
I find somewhere to sit quietly, and deliberately engage my senses to capture a moment that means a lot to me. Using my eyes, ears, mouth, nose and hands to experience a point in the day gives me something to reflect on when I’m back in the thick of everyday life. I call it memory catching.
I start by taking a quick mental photograph of my favourite scene. For me, it’s often the waves rolling across the shore on a big-blue-sky kind of day.
You might focus on a particular aspect of the view; the houses, the nature, weather. I’m big on colour, so I love to focus on the different hues that bring that moment to life.
I capture the white sea foam, curling at the edge of the waves.The subtle shades of blue washed across the sea and sky.The colourful beach umbrellas and the ‘blingy’ shine of pebbles and shells.
Then, I inhale deeply and enjoy the smell of the moment – in a different memory, this could be the wonderful aroma of just-brewed coffee and a fresh batch of chocolate croissants.
It’s been said that smell is the strongest of all the senses. In fact, it’s especially good at evoking memories — so some part of my brain will remember a certain whiff and send me down memory lane.
It might even last some days, months or years later, when a strong coffee is brewing or someone brings a plate of Pain au Chocolat to the table.
Interestingly, there’s a strong link between smell and taste —and both have the same effect for me in my memory-building exercise.
I listen out for sounds in a moment too. Sometimes, it’s as simple as the sound of cicadas in the bush, or the wind whistling through the woods.
When it comes to sensing sounds, I’ve found that music has the strongest draw to another time and place. I remember hearing Johnny Cash and Roger Whitaker audio tapes over and over when our family took a camper van around the UK when I was six. Hearing any of their music now, decades later, transports me straight back to that trip and all the sights and smells that went with it.
And then, there’s touch — often, just the warmth of the sun, or the feel of the boardwalk under my bare feet is enough to freeze a moment in my mind.
Sometimes, I’ll remember the gritty texture of a pebble I’ve pocketed from the beach or the smooth, damp wall of a cave.
I take my time when I consider the feel and touch of these things, so I can recall them when I’m miles from that moment…
… and then, much later, when I’m sitting in my office, absorbed in a project or meeting, I go back to that moment. I can relive the things I saw, smelt, tasted, heard and touched as part of one very real memory. That way, it’s not such a distant moment after all.