Does life seem dull to you? Are you experiencing each day as a sensory feast or has everything lost its zing? Often, as we age, our five senses—taste, touch, sight, hearing, and smell—lose some of their potency. I remember a friend’s father who lost his sense of smell in his eighties, and as a result lost most of his ability to taste food, since smell and taste are intricately related.
You can reawaken senses that have become dulled and once again enjoy life to its fullest.
If you’ve ever watched an infant for any length of time, you’ve seen how totally it embraces each new experience. A baby stares at your face as if it were the Mona Lisa, a work of total wonderment. A sudden noise produces a startle effect. The introduction of each new food can provide a circus-full of smelling, touching, and tasting. And babies are so tuned into vibration that the touch of a stranger can make an infant shrink away.
But adults are so busy thinking, caught up in solving problems and reaching our goals that we tend to ignore the information coming from our senses. We may eat in a rush standing up in the kitchen, or be totally unaware of what we’re tasting as we sit on the couch in front of the TV. We are also under constant bombardment from computers, televisions, smart phones, and a whole host of electronic machinery, as well as noise from the environment like airplanes going overhead or street traffic, so it’s natural for us to shut down to protect against sensory overload.
To enter once again the joy of your sensory kingdom, you can practice returning to a state of child-like innocence. One way to do this is through mindfulness practice. Mindfulness is an awareness of the present moment. You become less attached to thoughts about the past and stop worrying about the future, so you are Here and Now with whatever is in front of you.
Take a moment to try being mindful. Focus your attention on your breathing. Keep your eyes open and breathe normally. Whenever your mind wanders, which it will, keep bringing your attention back to the way the breath feels as it enters and exits at the tip of your nose. Concentration brings your mind into focus and helps to eliminate mental chatter. Mindfulness is beyond concentration. It is a state of awareness, a “presence” of mind. Once you have the idea of bringing yourself into the present moment, use that ability to sharpen your senses—one at a time.
- Seeing without labeling: Pick up a familiar object and look at it as if you had just stepped onto another planet and don’t yet have a name for whatever it is or any idea of its function. Observe it. Look at its color and shape. You will feel a heightened sense of “nowness” when you practice conscious observation. Another way to heighten your sense of sight is to pay attention to your peripheral vision instead of focusing on just one small area at a time. And to really awaken your power of observation, start to consciously note what is being said by other people’s body language.
- Listening from the place of silence: We are usually not aware of all the noise pollution we live with. We are tuned into the sounds that capture our attention, like cell phone ring tones, but manage to block out the sounds of planes, cars, kids playing in the park across the street (unless they are your kids, of course). Sit quietly, still your mind, and mindfully focus on the sounds you hear—birds in the trees, the traffic from a distant freeway, leaves in the wind, someone playing clarinet. If you can include the sounds in your awareness, you won’t be as upset about “noise.”
- Tasting the yumminess: When was the last time you really savored your food? The American palate is bombarded with so much sugar and salt that the subtler flavors are wiped away. Food may seem tasteless without more ketchup or hitting the salt shaker. Prepare a simple meal of fresh unprocessed food. Think about where each food originated and how it made it to your table. Sit down to eat with no distractions—no TV or computer or book or music—and chew each bite slowly to see what flavors are released. If you really want to be shocked, have a friend help you do a blind taste test.
- Smelling the roses: Your sense of smell is a direct route to your most vivid memories. You walk past a bakery and inhale the scent of fresh apple pie, and there you are Grandma’s at Thanksgiving. Pick up a lover’s forgotten shirt and you’re likely to bury your face in it to inhale his scent. Take the time to really experience the fragrance of the shampoo or soap you use, or the scent of different herbs or flowers. Try not to clutter your home with artificial aromas; use scented candles or incense instead of air freshener, open windows to air out rooms. Wake up your awareness of what you are breathing in. There’s a reason that another word for inhalation is inspiration.
- Touching the core: Touch is one of our most vital sources of information about the world around us. Even the most mundane activities can become a journey of discovery if you pay attention to your sense of touch. For example, try washing the dishes mindfully and a chore can turn into an exhilarating experience!