July 23, 2015

Expedition Stories: Making Sense With the Senses


When I participated in Knowledge Expedition 5, it was during a particularly cold snap so I was frequently applying Orange-Ginger skin lotion to combat the raw, cracking skin that was a fitting accompaniment to the climb. At a point in the expedition I observed the lotion’s scent established itself as a potent anchor for being on the journey. When I applied the lotion, and the scent registered, I was transported over to camp, back into the whole experience of the Expedition.

Olfactory memory is cited as the most powerfully formed. We modems have a scent vocabulary that far outstrips our need for it, with the possible exception of the fortunate few who actually get paid to exercise their olfactory acuity. For me, that scent anchors me in my KE experience; as I apply the lotion now, I can access a rich set of connections and constructs than I can account for with my neo-cortex. Transfixed by some molecular magic, the complex amalgam of cognition, emotion, and kinesthetic experience, combined with the conscious inquiry that is part of the KE — all that comes present in the present and provides an access, a foothold, toward enhanced sensemaking capacity.

One feature of a Knowledge Expedition is this anchoring of experience through these sensory pathways. In camp talk often turns to sharing sensory experience. We talk of strong coffee with yak butter and rare vodka served from a block of ice; I’ve never had those things,  but as another shares about them, my imagination fills in the space and creates the sense of earthy richness, an ineffable spiciness. Now I have those faux-flavors, and more importantly, I’ve reinforced my cognitive capacity to create sense-awareness. Now I can own and develop that capacity. It’s real and lasting growth.

For a Knowledge Expedition to reach its full potential – to serve as a platform for personal expansion in the context of broader conscious growth – we need to be willing to immerse all of our selves. Fortunately I pieced this together and it had a major impact on my perspective, and it represents a major expansion of my capacity to make sense, which is an important gift from the community that served up this wonderment to begin with.