According to Psychology Today, mindfulness is, “a state of active, open attention on the present. When you're mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”
Awakening to experience. What a powerful thought! To me, this is what life is all about. Yet, living in the present is not easy. Life often requires planning and preparation. As such, it is necessary to spend some time learning from the past and contemplating the future.
How, then, do we remain “awake” to our experience, in the moment, and not dwell too long on the life behind us or in front of us?
I find this question challenging and invigorating. It keeps me motivated to discover new practices to find, maintain, and get back to (when I fall out of) this “awakened,” in the now, mindset.
A little over a year ago, I wrote a piece about practicing mindfulness and gratitude by engaging our senses. Because our senses are readily available to us, they are a great tool to awaken to our experiences. By pausing our thoughts and tuning in to what we are seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling, we open the door to a connected and conscious life.
What follows are the grateful and mindful examples I captured, over a year ago, as I contemplated each of my senses. I thought it would be fun to share them again, as a reminder of how easy it is to reconnect to the beauty around us and enjoy what we are experiencing right now.
What do I see? Recently I was having a bad day. My patience was wearing thin regarding the wait we've endured for children, and I thought to myself, “I don't know if I'm going to pull out of this funk.” In that moment, I pushed the pause button on my thoughts. I looked around at the beautiful mountains and I realized that we would not be living in Oregon, where we are incredibly happy, if I hadn't reassessed my priorities as a direct result of our challenge to have children. Amazingly, that was all it took. In less than one minute, my sadness about the situation dissipated. I felt a sense of peace and gratitude, as I enjoyed the amazing scenery of the Rogue Valley. That peace reminded me that I was exactly where I needed to be in that moment.
What do I hear? A short time ago I was visiting my sister's family, and one night I couldn't sleep. My mind was racing with a variety of things. Once again, I needed to pause. As my thoughts quieted, I realized the rain outside the window was hitting the bamboo leaves and making the most beautiful sounds. I just laid there and listened to it. It was the type of calming rain sound people pay for on iTunes to help them sleep, and there I was with a front row seat at nature’s live concert. Mindfulness and the sounds of nature never disappoint. I relaxed so much, I fell right to sleep.
What do I smell? After a recent rain, my husband and I ventured up to a local ranch to buy some organic eggs and tomatoes. When we arrived, the air was damp, fresh, and cool. The ground was covered with pine needles. When I got out of the car, I tipped my head back, looked at the sky, and took a minute to inhale the fresh air. It smelled incredible. It was a mix of pine, fresh cut grass, and that wonderfully indescribable scent after it rains. As I took several deep breaths, I felt so grateful and blessed that we live in an area with so much natural beauty and so little pollution. In addition to feeling awake and alive in that moment, I feel calmer now, just thinking about that experience.
What do I taste? Turkey stuffing on Thanksgiving is one of my favorite dishes. Growing up, my Mom made the best turkey stuffing, and eating it (or just smelling it) each year at Thanksgiving makes me so happy, even giddy sometimes. I find myself saying “yummmm” over and over as I eat it, because the flavors mix and mingle in my mouth, like party-goers at a hopping soiree. It is so easy to eat food every day without giving it much thought. It turns out, mindfully savoring this tasty, Thanksgiving treat, and chuckling with my husband as I continuously say “yummmm,” is a delightful way to awaken to the present moment.
What do I feel (touch)? I absolutely love to wear scarves, especially in the fall, as the temperature cools. I love how cozy they feel around my neck and how their warmth mimics the feeling of being bundled up in a blanket on a cold day with a cup of tea. Scarves may seem like a very simple thing, that don’t or shouldn’t require so much thought, but they keep me warm and make me smile. Each time I acknowledge the things that me happy, I feel a surge of enjoyment and I like the idea that I’m sending little bits of positive energy out into the world.
As I see it, these small moments of presence serve two purposes.
- They provide practice. The more I practice mindfulness, the easier it becomes to break away from my default thinking, which is to live in the future.
- These little moments of worry-free bliss add up. Each moment I’m enjoying the scenery, peacefully listening to the rain, smelling the fresh mountain air, savoring a tasty meal, and reveling in the warmth of a scarf, I’m not worrying. I’m not contemplating something I fear happening or not happening. I’m not missing out on something that can bring me happiness right now, because I’m thinking about something that might bring me happiness in the future.
The best part: our senses, the amazing mindfulness tools that make this possible, are free and readily available. There is no fee to pay, no book to buy, and no class to take. They are available right now. No waiting. Sprinkle in a little gratitude and we have ourselves a complimentary, first class ticket to awaken to our experiences.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: CAROLINE CLAVIN
Caroline is the Founder of Chief Gratitude Officer. To read more about Caroline and why she started CGO, CLICK HERE.
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