You Must Be Present to Win – Sensual Living
May Swenson said, “Not to be fully aroused to the potentialities of one’s senses means to walk the flat ground of appearances.” What this means is You Must Be Present to Win. Stay with us today for some thoughts on using your senses to bring the richness out of your story. The best and most interesting stories are full of rich detail. Not only is this an important technique in writing in order to take your reader where you want them to go and to help them recreate the scene in their own minds, it becomes an important part of living your own story – being fully present and aware within your own life, being in the present is required to take home the prize.
Stories are our lives in language. Welcome to the Love Your Story podcast. I’m Lori Lee, and I’m excited for our future together of telling stories, evaluating our own stories, and lifting ourselves and others to greater places because of our control over our stories. This podcast is about empowerment and giving you, the listener, ideas to work with in making your stories work for you. Story power serves you best when you know how to use it.
There is always the fine print on the bottom of the ticket that tells you that if you wander off before the drawing for the K2 skies, the facial, or the trip to Costa Rica, the loot will not fall into your hot little hands.
Years ago I had a large wooden sign – I mean big – it was six-feet long, and it read “You Must Be Present To Win.” I hung it proudly on my dining room wall. There were a variety of interpretations, but my reason for having it there was to remind me that every moment that my mind was not fully attentive to the present experience – the smell of my son as he sat on my lap so I could read him a book, the tightness of my arms paddling across Tony Grove lake in my canoe, the feel of the breeze across my skin as I speed down a mountain path on my bike, the brilliant intricacy of a flower when I look at it in detail – every time I let those details go unnoticed I lose. I lose the opportunity to take with me what that experience offers. I lose the opportunity to be most fully alive. I skim the waters of living instead of getting deep and real.
Our senses – sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing and I add intuition – these are the filters through which we get to interpret the world. Our senses help us connect with what surrounds us. There is a great deal of brain that is dedicated to our senses. This relationship between our senses and our brains is subjective – for example, it’s been proven that to some people cilantro tastes like a delicious herb, and to others it has a soapy flavor. The receptors in our taste buds work differently for different people, and though it’s only been in the last 30 years that scientists have figured out how smell works, it is scientifically proven that everyone smells things differently. Sight takes up a large portion of the brain, but what we see and how we see it is often influenced by our fears, our stories, our perspectives. Our senses are our link with the world around us. But when we go on auto-pilot, there is an awful lot that goes on that we miss because we aren’t paying attention. This is where the richness is found or lost. This is where you win or lose the prize.
A few months ago I was in a group coaching meeting where a woman confessed that her life was good, she wasn’t having any problems, except that because things were running smoothly she was bored and felt life didn’t hold very much for her at the moment. Dulled and complacent she was numb. There is definitely a space in life where we are so used to stimulation, that without chaos or something extraordinary to get our chemicals flowing life feels dull, uncolorful, muted. This is not the only time we have proof of not using our senses. It also happens when we are moving so fast that we can’t take time to notice what’s going on around us. These are the moments when we are losing the now. These are the moments when we need to check in and actively get back in touch with the vividness of the colors around us, with the way the air feels on our skin or the background noises we’ve blocked out. These are the moments that we get to take a deep breath, breathe in and notice what there is to notice, or look deeply into a friend’s eyes, or hold someone’s hand and feel a moment of gratitude because you can see, feel, hear, smell, taste whatever is around you.
When I guide outdoor adventures I almost always stop my clients and we listen for a moment – actively. Sometimes we hear the leaves rustling in the wind, sometimes the buzz of insects in the air, sometimes a stream, sometimes the birds or something rustling in the undergrowth and sometimes cars on the road below. Sometimes we hear a plane overhead. I always encourage them to reach out and touch the trees – to feel the texture of the bark. Is it papery? Peeling? Thick and jagged? What about running your hands across the grasses or reaching out to feel the petals of a flower, their perfect softness. Or even a thorn. “Breathe deep,” I tell them. What do you smell? Can you smell the pine trees? And of course, please stop for a moment and look around you – see, really see the colors. There is a whole palette of greens, browns, blues and of course, depending upon where you are, any other number of colors. I do this exercise with them because more often than not when we hike, and even when we just live our lives, we are pushing against time. We have an end result, a destination, something to check off a list, a place to be, a thing to get done, and we focus so closely on that end result or our mind is caught up in some worry that the details go unnoticed. If we’ve forgotten how to engage with the sensory aspect of life we miss the sensual details along the way – the stuff that adds the actual depth to living.
On a late night hike in the Tetons, moving through the moon soaked dark, I met with a herd of bolting elk. They came out of nowhere their chosen trail no more than ten yards in front of me and I couldn’t see any of the. Stampeding through the Wyoming night their shadow shapes pounded past my eyes. I froze in amazement when I should have ran. I was on the edge of fear at the closeness, but their power was a magnet. In the dark I was only able to hear the force of their movements as they vaulted a fence that stood in their way. I felt the vibration of the ground as their hooves pummeled it. I could see the outline of their bodies in motion, just barely, but most potent was their smell: the smell of raw elk, of sweat, of wild animal. It held me captive in the moment, mesmerized; then they were gone. After they passed I stood taking deep breaths, trying to keep that smell: the smell of that powerful fleeting experience, of the wildness of elk. I stared hard through the darkness after them.
Matthew Fox said that the opposite of awe is taking it all for granted. He thinks we have taken too much for granted for too long. It’s why we’re bored, and we’re violent, and we don’t have reverence, and therefore a sense of the sacred toward the soil and water and the air. It may also be why we do not hold a sense of the sacred for the other beautiful every-day gifts in our lives. The smell of a delicious dinner. The green of the trees pressed against a summer blue sky. The way the water bounces off your skin in the shower. The joy of your favorite song, or the call of your child’s voice. A hug – the pressure of another’s body close and sharing. The wet kiss of your dog and the affection behind it. Looking deeply into someone’s eyes. Having someone’s hand to hold. The smell of a really wonderful soap. Your very favorite drink. The air on your skin. The beauty of your child just as they are. A flower – it’s brilliant and beautiful design. A kiss that means something. Your feet in the warm sand. The perfect song. A tender mercy.
Live a sensual life talking in all the detailed minutiae, and all of the sudden everything will have much deeper meaning. The world starts to come alive again, and gratitude for the small and simple springs up like a small plant in the fertile ground. Sometimes we overlook the little graces and beautiful details looking for some type of bigger sense of satisfaction. Looking for the big rush, the thrill. I know I have been guilty of this. Often still am. But perhaps that is where we most often miss the greatest depth. Every moment you are brave. Being present, without letting your mind wander to other things brings us happiness and this is something we can actually tie to scientific data.
Matt Killingsworth, on the TedX stage at Cambridge, shared his scientific research into happiness. Research into happiness has taken many forms over the years, but one thing that could never be done was the moment to moment monitoring of the details of what made people happy. Killingsworth designed an iPhone app – Track Your Happiness– that allows him to question people, via text, at random moments during their day with a list of questions that rate their happiness and what they are doing. He’s had over 650K real time reports over 15,000 people, all diverse demographically, and he’s found that we are least happy when we allow our minds to wander away from the present moment. He’s got all the data on how often that happens, and he’s looked thoroughly into the issue, but I’ll summarize it for you – NO MATTER WHAT WE ARE DOING, even if it’s something we hate, like commuting or hanging out with in-laws we are less happy if we are not present to the moment.
Ted Talk: Want to be happier – Stay in the moment: https://www.ted.com/talks/matt_killingsworth_want_to_be_happier_stay_in_the_moment
Matt found that people are less happy when they are not present because when our minds wander they wander into our fears, into our worries, our regrets, and our negative voices.
Now, this is fascinating because we know that fears are self-generated. We know that worrying about something does not change the outcome, but it does make us miserable, and we know that those negative one-liners (as we discussed in episode 6) are absolutely something we are trying to replace. And, it appears that a tool to happiness and to weeding out these things that are such a force within us for crippling our very existence can be pushed to the side by being present! Ha!! If you and I stay present, sensually aware of the things we are experiencing right now – the only time we have any control in anyway—we experience life more fully with a greater depth and richness, AND we will be happier! Scientifically proven.
Henry David Thoreau recorded in his journal, on January 6, 1858, the following: “…very little evidence of God or man did I see just then and life not as rich and inviting an enterprise as it should be, when my attention was caught by a snowflake on my coat sleeve. It was one of those perfect, crystalline, star-shaped ones, six-rayed, like a flat wheel with six spokes, only the spokes were perfect little pine trees in shape, arranged around a central spangle. This little object, which, with many of its fellows, rested unmelted on my coat, so perfect and beautiful, reminded me that nature had not lost her pristine vigor yet, and why should man lose heart? Sometimes the pines were worn and had lost their branches…these little wheels came down like the wrecks of chariots from a battle waged in the sky…we are rained and snowed on with gems.”
I recorded in my journal in 2008, during a backpacking yoga trip in Needles District in Canyonlands National Park, “There is silence in the desert that makes me want to shake my head just to hear something rattle. The wind stirs the junipers, but other than that the land sits vast and quiet as if we are in a void. I wonder as I sit atop a rock, how do you tell someone in the city about real silence? A void where your ears actually ring because they can’t pick up another sound and your primary sense becomes visual with the textures and colors– geologic journaling in orange, caramel, cream, and chocolate. Cliff bands, pillars, hoodoos, mushroom rocks, caves, and arches become the whole world in rumpled, smooth, shadow and color. And, the silence, when broken, is the swoosh of a raven wing, so loud it’s a big dog panting somewhere near, the wind hustling the leaves and nothing else.”
These are the moment of people who stopped, for a moment and tuned into their senses, into the present exactly where it was, exactly what it was. These are the moment of epiphany and connection. These are the moments we can have all the time.
I share these ideas with you today because as you write/live your life story I want to remind you that you have SOOO much control over the brilliance, the feelings, the scene, the experience. This is one of the story writing skills that takes lots of practice – always pulling yourself present. It’s why when you meditate you are supposed to pay attention to your breathing because it pulls you to the present. Right now, take a second and check in with every one of your senses. What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear? What do you sense? What can you feel against your skin – pressure, fabric, cold, hot? What do you taste? Your challenge this week is to come back to this – to get present, as often as you can. Because we all want to win, and you must be present to win!
Have a great week out there tuning in to your surroundings. Making your story richer and deeper because you are paying attention. Enjoy the depth and breadth and please go to www.loveyourstorypodcast and share one of your experiences. Also, don’t forget that we have the free mini e-book for you on the website—5 Steps to Reframing the Parts of Your Story that Feel Broken. See you next week and don’t forget to share this podcast with someone today.