Introduction: The Smell Of The Sensuous

Below is the draft introduction to my emerging book;working title ‘The Smell Of the Sensuous”.  The book will explore my experience of our society as someone with a visual impairment.  As you’ll see from the introduction.  My impression is that we could be enjoying much richer, deeply fulfilling lives.  If we give ourselves the time and permission to go beyond the immediate and superficial and open ourselves via  full array of senses to really experience what is going on around us and our relationship with it.


I welcome any thoughts, observations and feedback you may like to share about this and the subsequent chapters as they emerge.





I am visually impaired. There was a time when I could see. I learned the world on visual terms. The inner landscape on which my version of reality rests is a visual one. The methods and techniques for forming and retaining relationships I learned were primarily vision dependent. My appreciation of nature was formed around its visual qualities: My wonder at the diversity in form colour and size of trees for example, had much to do with their appearance and reflected little of other more subtly sensual attributes they might have possessed. I also, with 2020 hindsight realise how much of my relationships were, of course founded on visual communication. As I reflect upon this further I realise that my recollections are predominantly visual. I recall very little in the way of background sounds or smells to accompany those memories. And that word ‘background’ reveals so much about the unconscious sensory hierarchy that is at play in our society as we interact with the world. That said, there are those moments of transportation triggered by a piece of music or fragrance that instantly relocate me into another place, time and emotion, more completely and powerfully than any visual recollections ever do..     


As my sight has diminished over the years I have begun to discover that in a vision centric society, our sense of belonging, of affirmation, even existence, is chiefly founded on the conscious and often unconscious formation and reinforcement of visual feedback loops. For example, the act of making eye contact with someone for the first time is an act which contains infinite possibilities. This single instant of mutual connection holds within it every possible outcome for a human relationship.  Life long friendship, romance, musical collaboration, social enterprise or indeed mutual enmity, all and more of course could evolve from this single moment, but at it’s least, this instant will ratify for both parties the assurance that they have a presence in the world. And from this point on, a new relationship has been seeded, with the capacity for propagation towards blossoming into its fullest potential, at any time and place in the future, just through the reestablishment of eye contact .


What I’ve learned is that this process seems to be an entirely mutual one. That is to say, both participants have to complete the connection in order for the relationship to be established and/or re-established. Visual congress is essential to open connection.  In my experience, even though I might be in the same crowded room with someone with whom I have connected previously, it is often the case that although we might both be happy to reconnect, a reconnection does not occur. For although the act of making eye contact is both simple and apparently casual, it is this that makes it such a powerfully dominant ingredient in making relationships. For unlike physical contact or conversation, eye contact enables people to effortlessly. establish an intimate connection despite obstacles such as distance, crowds and noise. And in our society at least, it appears that it is the effortlessness of eye contact that promotes it above other ways of initiating connection. The impact of this cultural protocol is that for those of us unable to reciprocate in making eye contact, our sense of belonging, of affirmation, and existence is challenged.


But this isn’t an expression of self pity on my part. Whilst I do believe I experience a heightened sense of isolation due to this effect, my real concern is for the health and wellbeing of our society as a whole. For whilst unconscious isolation and exclusion of the unsighted is an unfortunate consequence of a vision-centric society. I fear that the visually impaired might ultimately just prove to be preliminary casualties of a culture sleep walking its way towards a sensory precipice.    


It seems to me that the pace of technological progress in the industrial and post industrial societies of the world, has driven their populations through a process of rapid sensory adaptation. Our creation of complex artificial physical and increasingly pervasive virtual, environments, has moved us away  from a society  who’s prosperity wholly depended upon an intimate relationship with the natural world. Where once we Relied upon our ability to draw on all our senses to survive, we are now forced to think and act at increasingly rapid speeds. The effect of this has been that we have had to defer responsibility to those senses that provide us the most information in the shortest time. Whereas our predecessors would have called upon combinations of senses to inform their best course of action; observing clouds, feeling the wind direction and scenting the breeze for critical clues about approaching weather for example, conditions in the modern world just don’t permit such sophisticated and comprehensive sensory data collection. Instead, we see, we act. And whilst in many situations this level of sensory awareness is quite adequate, it’s dominance at the expense of our other sensory abilities is, I believe leading us into deepening unconsciousnessturn can only diminish our appreciation of the bigger picture and the impact of our individual and collective actions upon it.


But this is more an invitation than a warning. For if we are aware of the limitations of vision as a means of understanding our complex world. We are then gifted the opportunity to engage our full array of sensory abilities to truly experience what is happening around and within us and the relationship between the two..  As Dr Wayne W Dyer offers; When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.’    




In gratitude

Andy Shipley 



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