Our senses are seven free gifts from nature.
This is an extended* column from the York Press, Monday August 25th, 2014
What were you doing on Wednesday, August 11th 1999?
The date may mean little to most of you. But if I said that it was the day when a total solar eclipse could be seen in the UK, you may remember where you were when it happened. Perhaps you were in the south-west of England, where the total eclipse was seen? Perhaps you were in Yorkshire where it was only partial?
Did you experience the Tour de France cycle race in Yorkshire over the weekend of July 5th and 6th? I wonder if you’ll remember that date in fifteen years time?
I was fortunate to experience both events. One created by nature, one by man. The actual events, passed in seconds. It was ‘blink and you’ll miss it’. Or was it? The naysayers were heard, as usual. Those people for whom the experience was a purely visual one and who wondered what all the fuss was about. But for many, those using all their senses of sound, touch, taste and smell, as well as sight, the events were so much more. A full sensory experience that lasted for much longer than a few seconds. A few minutes, hours, maybe a day.
Our twelve-year old niece was staying with us in 1999. I decided to take her to the top of the White Horse on Sutton Bank. I shall never forget how slowly all around us became chilled and quiet. I was fascinated by how much light came from a tiny sliver of sun.
After the eclipse, a man wrote to the York Press, complaining about the ‘non-event’. As if it was something that had been organised by a human organisation. I had a response published. I wrote that it had been a full sensory experience, if one allowed it to be. Even more remarkable, it had been known about to the second, many centuries before and couldn’t be stopped by any human being, however important they thought they were.
Silence can be uncomfortable and not something we’re used to in these times of 24/7 noise. It’s only in the last few years that I can fully appreciate the space to think, that silence can bring.
*Living in the countryside, I'm surprised to find silence enjoyable, in a way that I could never before. The constant noise of city living can now feel an intrusion and I never thought I would feel like that.
*For many people, especially older people, the TV provides company and is on all day. When I was on my own, I had to have the radio on, generally with music. The radio is still my entertainment of choice with it's fantastic variety. We have a radio in every room. I've always been used to background noise. But now the birdsong, wind in the trees and sheep provide the background soundtrack to many of my days.
Using all our five senses, we can make those moments richer. A warning - using that time to misuse our imagination and ruminate on troubling thoughts can lead to depression and anxiety disorders.
Anything activity that slows down our breathing and helps us focus on the here and now, will help reduce emotional arousal and keep our minds calmer. Just five minutes will help. The latest activity is called Mindfulness. A useful, free technique, using simples resources we have been given as human beings.
Choose somewhere to be silent. Breath in and out slowly. Be aware of all your senses at or in that moment. Feel the difference.
Two other senses are important in life too. Common-sense and a sense of humour. Seven free gifts of nature. Often underused. Value them all.
* I took my ten-year old grandson to a seaside village last week. The tide was in and we couldn't do the walk along the beach that I'd hoped. We sat on a sea wall and used our senses. We each chose three things to see (easy), smell, hear, feel and taste. We managed it and it was a fun way of spending thirty minutes. I'd never before thought about all the different sounds waves make, as they roll into shore. We accept so much around us, without actually thinking about it. We were being mindful and living in that moment. Then the smell of a lunchtime chip fryer wafted our way...