Think of all the ways that your body experiences pleasure:
-feeling the intimate touch of a lover; the sensation of your tired body sinking into a hot bath; a relaxing massage or foot rub.
-hearing the sounds of birds singing in the spring; the ringing of children’s laughter; or your favorite song on the radio.
-seeing a beautiful work of art; a garden in full bloom; or the sun sparkling like a million diamonds on the water.
-smelling the first cut grass of the season; freshly baked cookies right out of the oven; or the milky sweetness of a baby’s breath.
-tasting ice cream on a hot day; that first sip of your morning coffee or tea; or savoring your favorite dessert.
Feeling. Hearing. Seeing. Smelling. Tasting. The way that your body experiences pleasure is through your senses. Tuning in to your five senses is not only a way to experience pleasure however, it is also a powerful tool for grounding you in the present moment.
I recently completed a course in Mindfulness Meditation, and one of the strategies that I learned for dealing with emotional distress is a technique called the 5 Senses Meditation. In my 25 years of practicing Psychology, this simple exercise is the most powerful tool that I have ever used with my clients. In as little as five minutes, I have witnessed clients go from a state of distress, high agitation or profound sadness, to a state of well-being.
Before I tell you HOW this miraculous technique works, I will guide you through a simple exercise. Five minutes is all it will take, so get comfortable.
Stop whatever you are doing right now and take a look around you. (This exercise is best done outside, but it will work in any room.) What grabs your attention? Is it a certain color? A picture? A glimpse of nature? For about one minute, focus your full attention on what you see around you. If you find your mind wandering, that’s ok. Just let your thoughts go, and bring your attention back to your sense of seeing.
Next, take one minute to tune into the sounds around you. Close your eyes, if it is possible, to better able you to focus your attention on your hearing. What do you notice? The ticking of a clock? The sounds of traffic? Birdsong? Just listen. Do not judge these sounds as good or bad. Just be aware of them. If you find your mind drifting, that’s ok. Just gently bring your attention back to the sounds around you.
Now take just one minute to tune in to your sense of touch. Pick up any object that is next to you and explore it with your hands. How does it feel? Smooth or rough? Cool or warm? Heavy or light? Prickly or soft? As you explore this object, also become aware of how your body feels right now. Quickly scan your body from head to toe, looking for places of tension and relaxation. Do not judge these feelings as good or bad. Just notice them. If you find any areas of tension, allow your muscles to relax. If your mind drifts away, gently bring it back to the activity.
Take one minute now to close your eyes, if possible, and focus your awareness on your sense of smell. If you are close to a scented object such as a candle, soap, or a food item, you may want to bring it to your nose to fully experience your sense of smell. Breathe it in deeply. What do you notice? How does this scent make you feel? Can you identify certain undertones, such as flowers, citrus or spice? Focus fully on your sense of smell, and if your mind wanders, gently bring it back to this exercise.
For the last part of this exercise, you will need a small food item: a raison, a candy, a cookie or a piece of fruit works well. Put the food in your mouth and for a few seconds, just roll it around, and experience how it tastes and feels on different parts of your tongue. Does the taste change depending on where it is located in your mouth? Now slowly bite into it. Sense how the flavor is released as it mixes with your saliva. What do you taste? Is it sweet? Sour? Salty? Bitter? Notice how the texture changes as you chew it. Make it last for as long as possible before swallowing it. If you find your mind wandering just gently let go of your thoughts and bring your full attention back to the taste of your treat.
That’s it! Exercise is complete. Were you able to turn off your thoughts and tune in to your senses?
I had a client last week, a 16 year old girl who came to me in a state of high agitation and distress. She told me that her father had been in a bad car accident a few months ago and he is still in the hospital. Her eyes filled with tears as she relived the day that she heard the news. She recounted how her mother had cheerily picked up the phone, but then her face went pale and she fell to her knees, clutching the phone as she heard the bad news. She cried as she told me how she, her mother and two brothers hugged into each other and prayed that her father would still be alive when they got to the hospital. Then her thoughts shifted to the future. She will be graduating from high school next year and she wondered whether her father would be well enough to attend her prom. She then went on to wonder if he would even be around to dance with her at her wedding. With each “what if…..” she became more and more agitated.
After letting her talk for about 40 minutes, I guided her through the above exercise. The transformation was instant! Her sadness, worry and fear vanished before my very eyes, and in its place I saw a young girl at peace. She even laughed a little when she tuned into the sounds of her classmates in the adjoining room.
When the exercise ended, she said, “Wow! I feel ok for the first time in a very long time.”
“That’s because you just spent 20 minutes in the past, reliving your father’s accident, and in doing so, you experienced all of the pain and sadness of that event. Then you went to the future for 20 minutes as you worried about the “what ifs” of Dad not being around. But you spent the last 5 minutes in the present moment. The present moment is where you find peace.”
It is as simple as that! Most of the misery and suffering that we experience is because we allow our minds to go into the past and relive the hurt and trauma of loss and suffering. OR we project into the future and worry about the many bad things that might happen. Not every moment is a good moment……..but most of them are. Many times however, we take these perfectly good moments and make ourselves miserable by getting caught up in our thoughts. We can easily stop this needless suffering by simply bringing our attention to the present moment by focusing on our senses. All it takes is 5 minutes a day for you to access the Power of NOW!