Friday, August 13, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 15: Smelling Yourself

It’s been said that women don’t sweat—they glisten. I don’t buy it. It’s a polite way of avoiding the awkward truth that we all smell, women and men alike, and sometimes that odor isn’t very pleasant. So why is it that we have such an aversion to the natural smell of body odor? I guess for the obvious—it isn’t a very agreeable smell and offends our noses.

In fact, a whole industry exists for the elimination of bodily, human smells. Body washes, deodorants, body sprays, colognes and perfumes have been designed to wash away, protect against and cover up our natural scent when we sweat. These products are not always successful but they do a pretty good job of masking the discomforting, stinky smell of b.o.

When I smell myself--after I’ve worked out, gardened, or been in my un-airconditioned car too long (yeah, it’s now on the fritz—great timing with this blast of scorching, drenching heat!)--I can’t wait to take a shower or douse myself with body spray. My initial reaction is to quickly eliminate the odor my body naturally emits from sweating. (Or did I mean, glistening?)

That reminds me of the tendency I have to cover up other issues of my life that I find embarrassing—things like my sensitivity to criticism, my over-reaction to blame, my pettiness. The emotion that ties these two reactions together—the reaction of smelling myself and my “stuff”—is shame. Shame is self rejection; it’s the reaction of self-embarrassment, self-loathing, the need to hide.

We all stink, inside and out. Wouldn’t it be much healthier to accept the earthy, human smell of ourselves than quickly and anxiously try to cover it up? (I'm not advocating a deodorant-less free-for-all!)

So, here’s an unusual spiritual practice I bet you've never tried: the next time you catch a whiff of yourself, instead of running off to take a shower or re-apply your deodorant, why not smell yourself. As you breathe in the odor of your own sweat, ask God to help you fully accept your humanity, your body, your earthiness. Open yourself to be loved and embraced by God in your own stink.

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