A Lesson in Awareness from Starbucks and the Sex Panther

In my recent travels to the States, I came down with a bout of flu – no fever or headache, which was positive, but lots of sinus and chest congestion, making it hard even to sleep at night. So I broke down and bought a bottle of nasal decongestant spray at the local pharmacy. It did the trick within minutes but not without a significant side effect, or so it seems, although it took me a few days to catch on.

A principled coffee drinker

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a coffee lover and also a bit of a coffee snob. I insist, whenever possible, on fresh and locally roasted coffee beans, not the oily beans you usually see in the bean hoppers of Starbucks’ machines.

Coffee beans, once roasted, have a “fresh” life of only about 30 days, after which the oil from inside the beans starts to come out, increasing acidity levels dramatically, making coffee undrinkable without sugar of milk, both of which I do my best to avoid. Starbucks, and really any global coffee chain with a massive supply chain, just can’t get beans roasted, delivered and into a machine within 30 days.

I often travel with my own beans, grinder and coffee machine, but there are times when I have no choice to buy a Starbucks. Earlier this month, in Texas, was one of those days when, running some errands and feeling a bit jet-lagged, I broke down and bought an americano from the local Starbucks. By this point I was a couple of days into my congestion recovery. About half way through the drink it occurred to me, for a split second, that the coffee didn’t actually taste bad (i.e., didn’t have its normal acidic Starbucks americano taste). Note, however, I didn’t say the coffee was actually good – I simply assumed I’d gotten lucky. I failed to take the time to notice that it wasn’t that the coffee didn’t taste bad – I had lost my sense of taste, but was still unaware.

Completely clueless

I’m quite sure that I had been operating on this basis (i.e., no sense of taste or smell) for at least 24 hours when this initial incident occurred, but I continued to live unaware in the land of denial. It wasn’t until the next day when, once again with a Starbucks americano (having now been lured into a false sense of belief that it would not be a bad coffee), I intentionally sat down with a piece of dark chocolate and made a point to enjoy the taste.

I had been in a bit of a hurry that afternoon so I made the point, finally, of wanting to enjoy my chocolate and coffee. Taking my first bite I waited to savor the taste – but nothing. I tried again not tasting a thing, and then frantically ripped the plastic lid off my americano hellbent on finally smelling the coffee. Again – nothing!  Still a bit in disbelief that I could have been living for at least two days now without the senses of taste or smell, I needed one more piece of evidence to confirm the apparent utter lack of awareness to my senses.

Encounter with the Sex Panther

Being in Houston, I walked into a local “western wear” shop, headed to the cologne section and asked the attendant wearing a cowboy hat to let me sample their strongest cologne. He pointed me to a bottle of “Sex Panther” (first time I’d hear of this one, but it’s real). Hoping this might benefit me in ways beyond just checking my sense of smell, I sprayed it liberally on my neck, arms and hands. The man in the hat warned me that the smell might be a bit strong to start with but he assured me that after a bit of time it levels off and is one of their more popular scents.  I brought my hands to my nose, ready to finally learn what a sex panther would smell like, only to have my fears confirmed – I couldn’t smell a thing.

For the next few days, try as I might, I could not taste or smell coffee, food or anything else, pleasant or unpleasant. My wife and I had a couple of nice dinners planned with friends and it was a shame that I couldn’t taste or smell what I was eating (although it made it easier to skip desert). It did, however, make me appreciate the texture of food, and I was reminded that this is very much part of the joy of eating.

Back to myself

I’m happy to say that my ability to smell and taste did return after a few days, and now,  more than a week later, I can say that I still intentionally savor and appreciate the smell and taste of food (and coffee, even if it’s from Starbucks) at every meal.  And although I’m ashamed to admit that it took the Sex Panther to make me fully realize that I had been living at least two days without noticing I had lost two of my senses, I do now have a new and full appreciation for what I taste and smell throughout the day.

Living with a heightened and full sense of awareness of course goes beyond the senses of taste and smell. Are there areas in your life you could be more aware of? Or, like me, are there areas where you simply need to come out of denial?

Chris Saye
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Chris is a family office executive, coach and writer. He is a former partner with both Arthur Andersen and Ernst & Young, and currently manages MarcWhittaker, a network of family office advisors in Singapore. He is a fluent Russian-speaker, having spent 15 years living and working in Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. Chris has been married to his wife Galina for over 20 years and together they have three children and two grandchildren.

1Comment
  • Kent Crago
    Posted at 23:46h, 21 August Reply

    Glad that you did not have a real encounter with a Sex Panther.

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