Journal Idea #4: Five and Beyond–A Sensory Journey

Allegory of Taste by Gerrit van Honthorst (1592-1656)

Most of us learned in grade school that we had five senses, but much has been written about how we may have more than three times that number, depending on what you count.

David Hiskey, founder and editor of the website Today I Found Out and creator of The Brainfood Show podcast, argues in a post on Hella+Health that we have eighteen.

A journal devoted to exploring and savoring different types of sensory experiences provides numerous opportunities to practice description and increase your personal awareness of your body’s sensory receptors.

Hiskey’s list includes sight, taste, touch, pressure, itch, thermoception (heat and cold), sound, smell, proprioception (awareness of body’s position), tension, nociception (pain), equilibrioception (balance and body direction and acceleration), stretch receptors, chemoreceptors, thirst, hunger, magnetorecption, and time.

Take time to listen to Julian Treasure’s 2011 TED Talk (“5 Ways to Listen Better”), where he argues that we are losing are listening.

Try out Treasure’s five tools for improving your listening. Record your experience with each of his suggested activities and then consider how you might attempt similar activities with some of your other senses.

In literature, descriptions of sensory experiences are called imagery. Visual imagery captures what one experiences through sight. Auditory imagery describes sound. Olfactory imagery takes its name from the olfactory nerve which conveys our sense of smell to the brain. Tactile imagery describes what we feel through touch. Gustatory imagery is the name for taste descriptions. Kinetic imagery is the name for descriptions of motion.

One could easily spend a year exploring their senses and practicing using the description techniques of naming, detailing, and comparing. Naming focuses on your choice of nouns and verbs. Detailing utilizes adjectives and adverbs. Comparing utilizes similes and metaphors.

My college composition professor Dr. Ottilie Stafford emphasized repeatedly the importance of concrete and specific writing. Concrete writing focuses on sensory words as opposed to abstract words. The more specific your word choice, the more vivid the imagined experience for your reader or listener.


Which sensory experience brings back your Christmas memories?

For many it’s a fragrance that brings a memory fully to mind. Does the scent of evergreens, peppermint, mulling spices, or mothballs unwrap the holidays of the past for you?

Or is the feel of glitter, velvet, ice, or the deep warmth of a fire that makes you recall?

Which gustatory delight takes you back with its taste? Popcorn balls, chocolate covered cherries, or hot cocoa?

Is it the sound of bells, the shattering of ornaments, the tinkle of a music box, or the hoot of a toy train that harkens you to a certain moment?

Or is it the sight of glistening snow, tinsel strewn trees, or mountains of crumpled wrapping paper?

Whatever the sense, savor the memory and write it down.