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Sight, smell, touch, sound, and taste: all of our five senses provide unique pathways to presence and happiness. We spend a few minutes being mindful of each one.
How to Do This Practice:
Find a comfortable place where you feel safe. Close your eyes or soften your gaze. Take a few deep breths, noticing the sensation of the air as it moves through your nose, into your lungs, and back out again.
Sound: For a few breaths, pay attention to the sounds around you. Notice where they are in space.
Touch: Put one hand on top of the other. Notice the sensations you feel in your hand as your fingers’ knuckles touch the other, like temperature and texture.. Shift your attention to your cheeks, noticing temperature and the feel of the air.
Taste: Now, pay attention to the taste you are experiencing on your tongue. There may be no taste or the taste of saliva.
Smell: Move your focus to the smell around you as you take a breath. See how many odors you can identify.
Sight: Finally, focus your gaze on a point eight inches in front of you for a few seconds and see what colors, forms, light, and shadow you notice there.
Take a few more deep breaths here and notice if any of your senses feel heightened.
More resources from The Greater Good Science Center:
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We’re living through a mental health crisis. Between the stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, burnout — we all could use a break to feel better. That’s where Happiness Break comes in. In each biweekly podcast episode, instructors guide you through research-backed practices and meditations that you can do in real-time. These relaxing and uplifting practices have been shown in a lab to help you cultivate calm, compassion, connection, mindfulness, and more — what the latest science says will directly support your well-being. All in less than ten minutes. A little break in your day.
I’m Dacher Keltner, welcome to Happiness Break, a series by The Science of Happiness where we take a little break to take care of ourselves.
Today we’re going to focus on our different senses – sight, touch, sound, smell and taste. The simple idea is to gain some awareness and control of our attention. The philosopher William James said that attention, what we think about, and what we’re conscious of, is our character.
In some sense, this practice gives us a sense of freedom, in what we attend to and who we might be, in the fast moving stream of consciousness that is our world today.
And what the science shows is that these ways of gaining some agency and control over our attention are actually really beneficial to our health. They enable the prefrontal cortex to kind of gain a little bit of control over the amygdala, the threat region of your brain.
So I’m gonna call this practice the Five Senses Meditation, and we’re gonna just slowly move into a pattern of breathing and then shift our attention around to the different senses. So let’s get started.
So what I’d like you to do is to find a comfortable place, preferably that’s quiet, where you feel safe. If you can find a place outdoors, that offers a lot. And, I’d like you to sit down and close your eyes or soften your gaze. Take a nice belly, expanding, deep breath in. And as you breathe out, follow the air through your lungs and your nose.
Take another nice deep breath in. And as you breathe out notice the sense of your body, how this breathing, activating the vagus nerve, hopefully, calms the body down a bit.
And now as we breathe in, focus your attention on what you hear around you. Breathing out. Notice the sounds, their location and space. Continuing our breath. Notice just the pattern of sounds where you are. If you’re outdoors, you may notice all kinds of sounds interacting together.
As you breathe in I’d like to turn to touch and I’d like to invite you to put one hand on top of the other, the knuckles of the middle fingers touching. This is actually a meditation of Suzuki from the Zen tradition. Just notice what sensations you feel in your hands. One finger’s knuckle touching the other. You may notice the temperature in your hands, maybe a little sweat.
Now, I’d like you to shift your attention to your face, into your cheeks, and as we breathe in, notice the temperature around your cheeks. If you’re outside, you may feel a cool breeze or the sun. Just notice the temperature on your cheeks. This may broaden into a sense of just the temperature around you, your whole body.
Now we shift to the incredible sense of taste. Just notice what tastes you might be experiencing on your tongue. What taste do you sense? There may be no taste or a metallic taste or the taste of saliva.
Now we shift to taste’s relative, the sense of smell. As you breathe in, see what you can smell, what scents do you smell around you? Particular smells out there.
Obviously such a rich experience. And finally, and this is a technique taught by Alan Wallace coming out of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, really now focus your attention on your gaze or what you see, focus your attention on some point 8 inches in front of you.
And as you look to that point and notice the space around it, you may have a sense of light or lines or even little colors, fragments of colors, whatever you’re looking at, eight inches in front of you.
All right, let’s wrap up our sensation-focused meditation. Drop your eyes down, you can relax your hands. This kind of practice really gives you the sense of having a little bit of control over your attention, what you are directing your mind to what you’re conscious of. And this practice gives us some freedom in where we can attend to, and what we attend to, and who we might be.
I’m Dacher Keltner, thanks for taking this Happiness Break with us. If you have any reflections on today’s Happiness Break, we’d love to hear from you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or use the hashtag happiness pod. Happiness Break is a production of PRX and UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.