Welcome to our fifth blog post from our friend, Torri Shafer. Spring is in the air and it’s time to open your senses. Enjoy!
Opening Your Senses to the Natural World
Spring can be a sporadic blossoming of the senses. As the sun shines one day, the snow erodes to reveal wet soil speckled with vivid clumps of green grass. The air is dripping with the smell of earth – decay and new life mingling as one. Birds sing and the soul takes a deep breath. The next day, the clouds roll in, the wind has a harsh tone, and heavy snow smothers everything. It is a silent pause that makes the delights of the next warm, sunny day richer and headier.
Unfortunately, our busy lives mute much of this symphony of the senses. We are cocooned in our cars, houses, and offices. Distracted by our demanding thoughts and driven by our schedules, we often miss this lush awakening of life.
Instead, we live in artificial environments that do little to excite our senses but are saturated in mental stimulation. We mechanically eat food with little thought to its taste or origin. We sit for most of the day focused on something man-made, whether it be our computers, televisions, desks, or houses.
The little time we spend walking is done in a crisp, robotic fashion where our legs move, but our attention is elsewhere. We mimic the dormancy of winter, our senses hibernating under the blanket of our preoccupied minds.
What difference would it make to our hearts if we could wake up from this dream state and open our senses to the opportunities spring provides—even if we only do so in the brief time it takes to walk to our cars? How would even that brief awakening change the complexion of our day? If we could, for a few minutes, put aside the “what if” or the “what could have been” and relish instead feeling secure and absorbed in the natural world around us, how would that change our feelings of discontent?
It takes no more time to walk in a state of awareness than it does to walk juggling a score of different thoughts! So, for this mini retreat, we are going to focus on opening our senses to the beauty around us in the outdoors. Try to be aware – whenever you walk outside – even if it is just for a few moments and even if the weather isn’t as cooperative as you would like.
As you focus on the outer world, also be aware of your inner world. How do you feel as you open yourself to the clean energy and miraculous beauty of nature? How do you feel as you look at your neighborhood with fresh eyes and full senses? Enjoy leaving your cocoon at last and spread your wings to the Spring!
Walking with Your Senses Open
In every walk with nature, one receives more than one seeks. ~John Muir
To truly feel the re-awakening of Spring, one has to leave man-made confines and witness the thousands of miracles emerging in nature. Pick a beautiful, natural spot for this walk.
As you begin to walk, notice how your body feels. Does it feel light and relaxed, or tense and jerky? Take a few moments to become aware of your posture and the way you are carrying yourself. Without changing the way you are walking, simply observe how it feels. How do your hips feel, your buttocks, your feet? About 200 muscles are engaged in the simple act of walking—it is a miracle of locomotion that we rarely give credence to. So, for a few minutes, acknowledge the amazing complexity of simply being upright and moving forward.
Then, move your attention outward. Start to notice the brilliance of color around you—colors that you cannot even put a name to, colors that carry an eye-watering sharpness or are soft, luminousness, ever-changing in a liquid flow of shadow and light. What exactly is the color of the sky or of that flower in the grass? Notice shapes, both defined and undulating.
Now, what sounds are you hearing? Without getting caught up in thinking about the objects making the sounds, take a moment to be aware of them as though they are just coming and going in your field of awareness. Stretch your ears from the sounds that are close or obvious to those that are more slight or distant.
For the next thirty seconds or so, turn your attention to smells, some of which might be pleasant and some not so much. Sometimes the air is such a subtle bouquet in which it is hard to detect any one particular aroma. If that is the case, just breathe them all in deeply. Notice how the mind habitually wants to create a story out of each of the smells – how it reminds you of somewhere, something or someone. For example, the smell of lilacs instantly transports me back to my grandmother’s back yard where there were several lilac bushes. I can feel the cold dirt under my bare feet, and the light tickle from the cloud of flowers that cradled me and I can, for a moment, recapture that childish enchantment.
Finally, make a point of noticing any physical sensations or feelings. Feel the warm flush of sunshine on your skin, the cool stroke of the breeze. Feel your feet touching the ground and use this connection as your base of awareness. Come back again to the rhythm of your body that anchors you in the present and connects you to everything around you. Feel the calmness that comes from focusing on the cadence of walking.
Relishing Nature Meditation
Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts…There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter. ~Anton Chekhov
While walking in nature can be a soothing balm to our chaffed souls, sitting in nature can provide an even deeper experience. So, as you walk, be on the lookout for a place to rest and reflect.
Once you find a suitable spot, get comfortable and, if possible, kick off your shoes. Let your feet connect with the earth. Feel the coolness of the soil, the tickle of grass or the prickle of pine needles. Close your eyes and sink into the experience. Think of the earth, a universe beneath your feet, with millions of living things surviving amidst the dust of the dead that has collected for millions of years.
The earth is both our womb and our tomb, and it calls to both our infinite and finite consciousnesses. Can you feel the connection it has to our deepest levels?
Reach down and run your fingers through the dirt. What is its texture like – is it grainy or silky? Rub it on your hands – then bring them up to your nose and breathe deeply. Feel its healing energy radiating down your body.
Take some time to absorb this place with your eyes, not looking for anything in particular, just allowing whatever you see to touch you. Then look down and pick up the first object that captures your attention. Look at it closely, with the curiosity that a child might have. Notice its fragility, its beauty, its impermanence. Even stones change, wearing away.
Hold this object in your hand as you close your eyes and listen, letting your mind expand to the furthest sound, so that your attention is open and receptive. Do not judge the sounds you hear or try to place them—just enjoy them as part of the cadence of this moment.
Feel the sun on your skin, breathe through every pore of your skin. You are sharing life with the trees, your breath giving them life and vice versa. Can you feel the intimate relationship you share with the environment—the insects, grasses, and birds? Notice any shifts you are experiencing in your body and thoughts as you rest embraced in the vastness of this beautiful spot.
You may be small, but you are also woven into an infinite energy. Fill your body with that sustaining power.
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This blog is an excerpt from “Romancing the Soul”, a wonderful book by Torri Shafer, focusing on self-care and love. It is a collection of 24 mini-retreats arranged by the seasons; each month, there are two retreats, complete with a meditation, mindful walk, journaling prompt and at-home spa treatment. Torri’s book is available for purchase here.