A friend posted the cutest picture of a little girl smelling a sunflower, not that sunflowers have any scent that I’m aware of. She had her whole face right in the sunflower and she was giving all she had. That’s the way kids approach most things. If adults approached life that way, wouldn’t we enjoy life more than we do?
The photo message said, “Life is for inhaling,” which immediately caused my brain to get in gear thinking about the five physical senses. I found some other pictures to illustrate each of these. Here goes:
Life is for tasting! Besides the normal meaning of “put food in your moth to judge the flavor,” the meaning of taste in general is to sample something. This reminds me that I need to broaden my experiences, keep trying new things. I don’t have to like them, just try them. The idea is to continue to explore, much the same way a baby explores his world by trying to put it in his mouth.
In terms of food, I think I’ve tasted a lot of things that many residents of the Midwestern United States have not. How many of them have eaten octopus or squid? Or eel? (Tastes like chicken.) Or shark-fin soup? (My friend Mrs. Ishihara told it was good for my bones every single time we ate out at a Chinese restaurant.)
Life is for seeing… in new ways! There are lot of things worth a second look, and it’s never a bad idea to look at something from more than one perspective. Looking at the earth from close to the ground and looking at it from space give us two different ways to appreciate it, each of them as important as the other. I had some experience of seeing things from a different angle when I lived in Japan, and I came away with the idea that there is always more than one way to do everything. No one way is necessarily best for everybody.
I had one special experience with “seeing things” while I was living in Japan. A friend of my mom’s had been diagnosed with cancer, had undergone radical mastectomy, and had been told that her cancer had returned, this time in a different location. She knew she wouldn’t be able to spend much more time with her daughter, and she had the money to spend, so she and her daughter came to Japan and I took them sightseeing in Osaka, Kyoto and Nara. Most tourists bring cameras, and I thought she might at least want to record her trip for her daughter to enjoy, but no, they decided not to take any pictures. They just enjoyed what they saw in the moment. Sometimes we are so busy saving or analyzing the moments of our lives that we miss experiencing them fully. I never forgot that lesson.
Life is for listening! When I taught English in Japan, I was often asked what was the difference between the verb “hear” and the verb “listen.” If you think about it, you hear because you have ears. The only time you don’t hear something is if you are deaf. When you bring intention to your sense of hearing, you are actually “listening,” so I told my students that listening is “hearing on purpose.”
There are a lot of sounds that people tune out these days. When I taught beginning reading, there was one really cute basic storybook that told a story of three kids, one who liked to listen to the radio, one who liked to listen to the stereo, and one who liked to listen to the TV turned up loud. The mother tells the kids to turn off their devices and asks them to listen. They identify a number of sounds in their home and in their neighborhood. I always hoped the kids might remember that story and do some creative listening at home, but they say that the one who learns the most is always the teacher, and in any case, the lesson was for me.
It’s important to learn to listen to others. Most people don’t listen as carefully as they should. I know many of my students weren’t listening to my directions, because they worked ahead and did things the way they thought they should be done, rather than the way they were asked. The lesson, for them, was to learn to listen. Sure, there are lots of ways to do something, but when the whole point of the lesson is to listen, there’s no other way to show that you’ve learned it except to do it the teacher’s way. I always acknowledged their efforts, but I also gave them another chance to do the exercise.
We often fail to listen to each other because we make assumptions about what the speaker is going to say. We don’t like to admit that we actually believe that others’ thoughts and ideas are worth less than ours, but that’s exactly the way we behave. Sometimes we fail to listen because we are lost in our own thoughts. This is something I do a lot, and now that my hearing is getting worse, I have to remind people to get my attention first before they start speaking. I often wonder what might have gone differently in my life if I had listened more carefully.
One thing I’ve learned to hear better is God’s voice, which is expressed in many different ways. (No, God doesn’t sound like James Earl Jones.) It comes in pictorial form, sometimes, or a nudge, often an inner sound. Because of my spiritual training, I have learned to identify an inner sound that is always present, and which stays at the same volume whether I have my hearing aids on or not. That is the Sound of God, and we hear it with our inner ears. It is a pure information stream, the Audible Life Stream, which can be downloaded and then opened like a zip file, to play out as it will in our lives.
Life is for touching! One of the neatest experiences in my life was taking a group of kids to the Children’s Museum in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota. There were no “Do Not Touch” signs in the place, and the kids touched absolutely everything. It was a reminder to me that life is a hands-on medium. We need to dig in and “get our hands dirty” in order to experience the full measure of life.
Another great experience in life has been watching people play in the snow for the first time, especially when they are from very warm countries, where it never snows. No matter how old they are, it seems that they are able to revert to their child self to play in the wet, cold snow.
My favorite experience of touch was petting my cat, Baby, and although she was a little leery of me at first, having been abused by former owners, she came to love being petted and groomed. My favorite time of the day was when I could take her up on my lap and just pet her and talk to her. My second favorite was when she jumped on my bed and nudged me with her forehead or tickled me with her whiskers. I would stick out my hand while lying there for a few extra Z’s, and she would walk back and forth, rubbing herself against my hand, back and forth, back and forth. When she began to purr, I couldn’t hear it, but I could feel it.
I haven’t had that much experience with being touched in my life, but I have always loved getting a massage, and I’ve had a lot of different kinds, including the “walk on back” type. (The masseuse used her knees, rather than her feet. It felt great.) Sometimes there was pain first, especially with shiatsu, or finger-pressure massage. An older Japanese woman was massaging me one time, and every time it hurt, I said “ouch” (itai in Japanese). At one point, she said, “I know you’re feeling better because now you only say, “ouch, ouch,” instead of, “ouch, ouch, ouch!” I had to laugh – she was right.
Life is for inhaling! Smell is our most basic sense, and many of our most precious memories are encoded in certain smells. We can smell our mothers long before we can say, “Mama.” I love the smell of warm bread from the oven, soup on the stove, and popcorn. I love the exotic smell of sandalwood, the soothing scent of lavender, and the spicy aroma of white ginger. Cinnamon is another favorite, which is why I used to buy the Esteé Lauder perfume called Cinnabar regularly. (A tiny bit will go a long, long way.) That’s why I love to drink chai latté at Starbucks, too.
Whatever sense we are using, we must live our lives with passion. No holding back. No sitting on the sidelines. We must be present in every moment, and savor it.
In my spiritual path, we believe that Souls come into physical life again and again in different bodies, in different times in history. Each lifetime is precious, it’s elements (our gender, race, family of origin, culture we are born into, etc.) chosen carefully for us in order to learn exactly what we need to know to become a useful Co-worker with God. No matter how many times Soul comes here, each lifetime provides new experiences for us. Indeed, the reason we keep coming back is to experience as much as we can. At some point, we leave the physical world behind for other lessons in the Inner Worlds. And when we have learned those lessons well, we will be back here to assist others.
Life is for living! 🙂