My 5-month-old son sat in his high chair watching my every move—the flash of the knife as I sliced through juicy fruit, my hand reaching for a paper towel, the delivery of a strange item to the plastic tray before him. He picked up the slippery wedge with two hands, brought it to his mouth, bit and chewed, his eyes wide, first with curiosity and then with pure delight. Watermelon! After a short lifetime of nothing but breast milk and water, here was something entirely new and wonderful—sweet, wet, pink, delicious! In one brief moment, my son's world grew bigger and so much more interesting.
Babies meet the world entirely through their senses—sniffing, tasting, touching, looking and listening with their whole beings. But what about the rest of us? Sensory pleasure is available to us too, in every moment of the day. Yet how easily we forget!
"Most of us take our senses for granted," says Diane Ackerman, author of A Natural History of the Senses. "We're goal oriented, we're problem solvers. Indeed, those are two of our finest attributes. But we often overlook the textures and processes of life. We need to rejoice in our senses and allow them to reacquaint us with the pleasures of being alive," she says.
The senses carry food to the soul. Delight the senses, nurture them, and the soul thrives. Bombard the senses, overload them, and the soul starves and shrivels. Every day the world clamors for our attention—through computers, television sets, headsets, radios, fax machines and telephones—and our senses have to take it all in. We eat on the run, plow through our to-do lists, yet we miss what is delicate, pure and lyrical.
The exercises that follow will help you see, feel, touch, smell and hear with all your awareness.
Feast your Eyes
Look around the room you are in right now. What do you see that pleases your eyes and soothes your spirit? We navigate the world according to what we see: a red light at an intersection, dirty dishes in the sink, a friend in the checkout line. But the visual world affects not just our actions but also our feelings. When we are surrounded by forms and colors that feed our souls, we bask in contentment.
Create a little altar for your eyes: Arrange one small space so it is exactly to your liking. Begin with a vase full of spring boughs on a tabletop and go from there. Set a favorite photograph beside it; add a pretty rock or feather, a bowl of plump cherries, a special note card from a friend.
Choose one window in your home to be your "frame" on the outside world. The view should have something in it that lifts your heart—a cherished tree, a patch of sky, a neighbor's potted geranium. Grow familiar with your view in all its intimate detail and look out on it for a moment or two at a different time each day. Watching this living landscape as it changes yet remains constant through the seasons, you may find you are led to your own quiet center. Explaining her return to the same spot on the coast of Maine for the past 20 years, columnist Ellen Goodman writes, "There are two ways to live—wide or deep." Our sense of sight allows us to live deep, thanks to our profound powers of observation.