My word for 2021 is “Present.” (I know, I know — I’m just as cheesy as everyone else who chose a word for the year).
As I begin to explore being present in the moments of this year, I have found that focusing on my five senses helps me appreciate the things around me. This practice helps me to lasso my sprinting brain and drag it back (sometimes kicking and screaming) to the here and now. And, as an added bonus, it has brought me a renewed appreciation for the intricacies of, well, everything.
I love stopping to listen to the trickle of the outdoor fountain, smelling the leather of my shoes as I tie their laces, and feeling my body in space as it conforms to my desk chair. All of these things not only bring me just a little bit of happiness but also help me stop stressing about the future and/or regretting the past.
Just try it. Humor me for one moment and focus on each of your senses one by one. What do you smell? What does your body feel like in space or next to your clothes? What do you hear? Maybe it’s the distant sound of a bird chirping or the hum of your heater? What does your tongue taste like? And what do you see? Really examine whatever you are looking at. How many red lines on your water bottle? What does the font look like on the chapstick on your desk? You get the idea.
I guarantee that, after a few minutes of this kind of observation, you will find yourself just a little less stressed and just a little more appreciative of the present. And I’m not the only one. Attention to the five senses is also a method used by many therapists for dealing with anxiety. I don’t know about you, but I could use a little less anxiety in my life.
A similar exercise involving the five senses is detailed by the Mayo Clinic. They suggest slowing down your breathing and then counting down — five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. I tried this method as soon as I found it and it worked like a charm to momentarily cage my monkey mind. It almost felt like . . . meditation.
Yes, I try to meditate, but I royally stink at it, so even the word itself makes my toes curl. However, rather than attempting to clear my mind, the five senses exercise helps me focus— one observation at a time. Rather than focusing on focusing on nothing, my brain becomes a veritable Eye of Sauron and I can enjoy where I am and what I’m sensing without chastising myself every 20 seconds for losing my focus on my breath.
So yes, by focusing on my five senses, I do participate in a kind of meditation (of sorts), but one that is easier and more enjoyable for me than most. And even a little meditation can help super spazzes like me. A study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience states that “even brief meditation improves the allocation of attentional resources in some novices.” And, after all, one of the main purposes of meditation is to . . . you guessed it — bring you back to the present moment.
Annnnddddd we’ve come full circle, folks. Listen, I’m no Zen master, but when I relish the feeling of the La Mer on my face, I like my life a little more. When I listen to the kooky cadence of my kid’s laughter, I appreciate it more. And when I watch the letters scroll past as my fingers magically make them appear on the screen, I am slightly awed. And, most importantly, I am present.