Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What Will You Gain if You Lose?

Who doesn’t derive pleasure from spectacular sights, fragrant aromas, lip-smacking tastes, harmonious sounds, and tantalizing body contacts? The five senses originating from visual, olfactory, gustatory, auditory, and tactual stimuli provide the foundation for the human mind and body to function. Senses afford us freedoms: freedoms that deepen life experiences, allow us options, and broaden our perspective -- freedoms most humans with fully functional senses take for granted.
Visually speaking, we enjoy viewing landscapes, reading, watching movies/TV, and appreciating art, among other things. Could you imagine what the lack of visual perception could do to you?

Ray Charles could…but he didn't let blindness get in the way of his ascent as one of America’s “genius” musicians. Born into extreme poverty in Georgia in 1930, his only childhood companions were trauma and a growing musical interest. As a young boy of four, he witnessed his sibling drown in the laundry pool. Glaucoma struck Ray when he was five, and by age seven he went completely blind. Then his parents enrolled him in the state-supported boarding school for the deaf and blind, where he learned to harness his hearing and sense of touch to make up for his sight loss. He became adept at reading, writing and arranging music in Braille, listening to the radio, scoring for big bands, and playing a variety of instruments. The cruel winds of fate blew his way again in 1945 with his father’s passing, followed by his mother. (Source)
So there he was—blind, poor, African American, orphaned, and looking to build a musical future in the deeply segregated South where opportunities for someone like him were bleak, if not non-existent. However, Ray’s superior musical talent transcended racial and physical boundaries, and before long he was signing recording contracts with the greatest record labels of the time, such as Atlantic Records. In a music career that spanned nearly five decades, Ray won numerous Grammys and other accolades, released songs in various genres, produced albums with fellow musicians of the time, started his own record label, opened a studio, acted in films and TV shows, and even appeared in commercials.

Though he endured several sucker punches at a tender age, Ray Charles emerged a winner—an individual who embraced the thorny experiences of his life and created an art form that would inspire musicians for generations to come.

Let's consider our sense of taste, perhaps the most challenging sense to contain. Few are receptive to the idea of portion control or eating in moderation. We like our food customized—with the appropriate amounts of fat, salt, sugar, spices, lemon, and herbs—to our taste. We are willing to drive to the end of town to check out a new restaurant. The U.S. has about 925,000 restaurants, and at least 8,000 are added each year (Source). For food, we are willing to forsake, negotiate, threaten, even kill. Food is central to all occasions, pleasant and unpleasant, in nearly every world culture. We arrange parties and celebrations on a whim.

What if we suddenly lost our gustatory ability?

Ask American chef Grant Achatz. At age 32, a rising star who’s restaurant Alinea in Chicago had won awards and was rated among the best in the nation, Grant Achatz, in an incredible twist of fate, lost his ability to taste after being diagnosed with stage 4 tongue cancer! He immediately launched an aggressive campaign of chemotherapy and radiation, which surely saved his life, but it also seared his tongue and destroyed his taste buds. His cancer went into remission and his taste buds gradually returned one flavor at a time. Ironically, Grant (Source) found the whole cancer experience rewarding and educational as it allowed him to gain a deeper understanding of each flavor, its origins, the chemistry of flavor interactions, and the synergy involved in creating a dish. This radical new self-awareness helped him redefine culinary standards at his restaurants that have now expanded to three in number, and subsequently earn numerous new awards and accolades.
Ahh… the sound of sweet music! What if our ability to hear vanished one day?

Hellen Keller, the great American author, lost both her hearing and sight, when she was about two years old. What followed was a childhood fraught with challenges, until Anne Sullivan walked into her life and taught her the word for “water” by thrusting her palm under running water. Helen’s radical new aptitude had far-reaching consequences. She quickly began learning the names of other familiar objects in her world. It gave her a sense of determination. She became proficient at using Braille and reading sign language. She began communicating with her family. She attended several schools for the deaf and blind for her initial education. At age 24, she graduated from Radcliff College (now incorporated under the Harvard University umbrella and called Radcliff Institute for Advanced Study with a Bachelor of Arts degree—the first deaf blind person to do so. Helen went on to become an author, publishing 12 books and several articles, a lecturer, speaker, and political activist! Helen Keller is a national treasure and continues to inspire people everywhere. The world is undoubtedly a richer place because of her brief interlude.
The point is that we take so much for granted -- senses, things, people, situations. Especially with our senses, we neither grasp nor appreciate the freedoms they afford. We eat until our stomachs hurt. We neglect to attend to our bodily needs in a timely manner. Our emotions supplant our sense of humor at family gatherings. We frequently take our freedom of speech for granted. We make nasty comments, criticize others, and view everyone with judgmental lenses. While we can't go back and erase the unpleasant parts of our lives, we can move forward with a deeper sense of self-awareness and gratitude that will serve to ground us in the present moment, help savor every nugget of experience, and help brighten the lamp of compassion.

1 comment:

  1. Great reminder to be grateful. Thanks for the detailed article.