The Compass That Calibrates Itself
Ought there not to be such a thing as a water connoisseur? Somewhere in this wide world, I can imagine that there are indeed a collection of individuals, perhaps banded together over the internet from remote corners of the globe, who share a deep devotion for an appreciation of the simple aspect of imbibing H20.
If true it would strike us all as a curiosity, no doubt, if only because pure water is thought to be an odorless, flavorless substance. In and of itself it has no taste, no texture, no color, no viscosity, yet it serves as the base by which all other liquids through the introduction of some other component do take on those characteristics.
Nonetheless, let’s imagine what it would be like to be a connoisseur of water.
What first comes to mind are some more obvious modes by which to entertain the enjoyment of this precious life-giving liquid. For instance, the novice water connoisseur could begin by discriminating between regular water and carbonated water. We might see this as akin to the basic distinction between wine and champagne in the world of vino. As in the case of the sommelier (another fancy French word) though, such macro distinctions don’t capture the real spirit of what it would mean to be a true water connoisseur.
Immersing ourselves further, no pun intended, we next turn to a difference between tap and bottled water. Within those taxonomies there would be further sub categorizations. For instance, tap water may be delivered filtered or unfiltered. Then there’s geography. Tap water in New York is fed from certain reservoirs whereas tap water from Los Angeles will be fed by others. Can the discerning water connoisseur taste a difference? We imagine so.
Then within bottled water you will have similar distinctions to be made. Was the water purified through reverse osmosis, triple filtration, or some other method, and if so how might that affect our astute aficionado’s perspective on the qualities of said water?
For that matter, we can also ponder what those qualities are that the more initiated water connoisseur will recognize in a cold glass of aqua fina and be able to articulate back from his or her senses, to which the rest of us are otherwise oblivious. Bitter? Bland? Floral notes, or hints of sediment? The connoisseur could at once detect whether the bedrock out of which a spring flowed was composed of granite, quartz, or contained calcite, such would be the delicacy of their palate.
Impossible you say?
Have you ever drank a bottle of Coca Cola’s Dasani water and felt as though it had a bad taste? You might have, and if so, that would be because Dasani actually contains four ingredients. Aside from tap water, those other three are magnesium sulfate, potassium chloride, and salt. For some though, the effect may be so small as to be imperceptible, while for others it will trigger an awareness, and at the end of the day, the difference is real.
By the same analogy, what if what it took to become a seasoned water connoisseur the likes of which we have already described, was the refinement of your sense of taste down to the level of a micron from the average persons?
Whether or not this could actually be achieved, in essence would be a matter of sensitivity.
The word sensitivity some would say bares a negative connotation. A sensitive person is generally thought of as one who has thin skin and is easily hurt (psychologically) and therefore weak. While that may be true in some cases, there is also a positive and deeper sense in which to understand what it is to be sensitive.
Think back to when you first learned to ride a bicycle. When the training wheels came off, you were forced to pay attention to the slightest shift in equilibrium or you would fall. Learning to balance yourself on a bicycle without assistance meant developing an inner sensitivity to the movement of the bike below you operating at a speed. You learned to recognize the first signs of leaning too far left or too far right, and how to compensate your body to bring yourself back into balance.
Graduating to adulthood, how then is a sommelier for example, able to become keen and subtle enough in their sense of taste so as to identify the most minute, fine-grained characteristics in a glass of pinot grigio, such as its age, level of acidity, the climate or geography in which it’s grapes were grown, and so forth?
Such a sensitivity must be assiduously developed. It isn’t wired from birth. Rather, the capacity to cultivate such sensitivity is available to everyone, everywhere, at any time, if you aren’t afraid to fall and will simply begin.
By that token, while you may not have been born with a gift for music, if you succeed in developing a sensitivity to it by absorbing yourself in it fully, through listening, playing, and paying it your undivided attention as you experience it, then that sensitivity is your gift and out of it a musical inclination will arise. The same could be said of any other talent to which your heart is drawn.
Inner Sensitivity and Psychological Change
Outwardly there may exist certain limitations imposed on our senses by the body and our physical universe. In the case of a water connoisseur, that could be the amount of particulate in a given drink of water or the number of taste receptacles in the tongue to detect it, which may differ from person to person.
But inwardly, are we limited in the degree to which we can become sensitive to our own minds, our thoughts, behaviors, feelings, dispositions, and processes?
If you discover for yourself such a limitation or barrier exists, then that is the very thing to which you must become sensitive if there is any hope of going beyond it.
For sensitivity to flourish there has to be observation without the interference of thought, which is full of prejudice. Thought is based on memory, which is the collection of facts we have already cataloged about the thing we are learning. In the moment of observation, when the observer’s attention is turned to the memory of a thing and not to the thing itself, then the opportunity to discover something new and thus expand one’s awareness around it may be lost.
Psychologically, developing sensitivity is rather like calibrating a compass, in that you are improving the very ability of the instrument itself, which is the brain, to refine its own accuracy.
This, I believe, is the importance of self awareness, which one can begin to cultivate simply by observing how that beautiful instrument interacts with the world – by noticing how you greet the store clerk; what is going on in your mind when you tie your shoe, or roll over to look at your wife or husband; or the thoughts that arise when you are sitting alone.
The subconscious mind is full of content which for most of us barely registers as a trace, yet that content may come to the surface in our daily interactions in ways which we aren’t fully aware or don’t understand.
Like the water connoisseur, to develop a greater awareness of our own hidden desires and motives can seem on the surface an impossible task, but in actuality it may only be a matter of developing the sensitivity, which is available to all of us.
The world that we create on the outside, through relationship – whether it is with our significant other, our young ones, a neighbor, or the man on the corner – will never be any more than a reflection of what we already are on the inside. That is why great men and women have always said that to change the world you must start with yourself. For this reason, it is no small matter to become a connoisseur of yourself, and for that honor you need only inquire within.