Harvesting awareness

Use your eyes as if tomorrow you would be stricken blind. Hear the music of voices, the song of a bird, the mighty strains of an orchestra, as if you would be stricken deaf tomorrow. Touch each object you want to touch as if tomorrow your tactile sense would fail. Smell the perfume of flowers, taste with relish each morsel, as if tomorrow you could never smell and taste again.

–Helen Keller

Are you a sleep walker? I’m not talking here of those who walk about rather than lie in bed when they sleep. I mean the way many of us live our lives, asleep to what goes on around us. Not surprisingly, we lose out on life’s conversation.

As sentient creatures, we’re able to respond to stimuli in the guise of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Think about it! Just take away any one of them and you get the picture. While losing your sight or hearing are surely impacting losses that severely limit, so is the loss of other sensory capacities. Imagine what it would be like being unable to relish mashed potatoes with gravy or the pleasure of your tongue indulging a chocolate ice cream cone.

My favorite poet has always been John Keats, poet extraordinaire in his sensory awareness. Reading a Keats poem is something like being locked up in a bakery. The one thing he feared was death, which he viewed as horrible in its annihilation of the senses, an end rendering us but sod. But we don’t need to die to forfeit awareness. Some of us are downright zombies in the here and now.

We live in a world now pervasively scientific and technological. They have their place in helping us live more ably and comfortably. And yet they often fail us when we live only for the quantitative or functional. We are not simply physical or material creatures. We are spirit, with the capacities to not only think, but to feel and choose. What would our world be like if we didn’t have music, or image (art/photo/film), smells of freshly cut hay, dinner on the stove, or garden roses? What if we couldn’t feel that soft velvet, the clasp of warm hand, the softness of the beloved’s cheek?

More than ever, we live in a world that can so busy us that we can become callous to what really matters. Each day simply repeats yesterday’s routine. Tomorrow promises more of the same.
Life is brief and tomorrow shouldn’t be assumed, for we live in a random universe. Our heaven lies in the Now.

Here are some tips that may help you increase your awareness and, consequently, your pleasure in life’s rich tapestry:

Keep a journal or blog

I can’t think of a better way to improve my awareness of what happens around me, or within myself for that matter, than keeping a journal or maintaining a blog: who, what, when, where, how. Writing this blog is a prime example. I’ve been writing on myriad topics for almost a year. Thinking about a topic has kept me on my toes, forced me to think about what I hear, see, or do. Good journals and blogs can be on anything, but simply centering in doings is more like keeping a diary. It’s not going to grow the senses. Select like you would at a gourmet restaurant, choose according to your palette, but choose wisely. Write not only about what matters, but why it matters.

Find space

We all need moments for ourselves. I find some of my best times are when I’m outside, working in the yard, the world very far away. My senses are kindled, and the birds, rustling leaves, and even the lowly worm, get noticed. Though I’m raking leaves, I’m alive, my mind a bubbling stream.


I’m still working on this. Health authorities increasingly cite research, indicating a host of benefits in its alleviating stress and consequent anxiety, those salient features of modern life. Ironically, letting go or emptying ourselves leads to replenishment of awareness as we become absorbed in our breathing rhythms and are reduced to the sensory essentials. You can meditate anywhere with no equipment needed. Yoga, especially hatha yoga because of its slow pace and easy postures, affords a wonderful way to purge life’s pollutants and yield not only relaxation, but a reduced heart rate, lower blood pressure, better sleep, and improved moods.


Become an omnivorous devourer of books, quality magazines and journals. Reading stimulates and prompts new conversations. But choose wisely. Some books are meant to be read; others, to be chewed; some, to be spat out. Some magazines, pulp publications devoted to stardom and gossip, are better left in the rack.


Reacting is fundamental to achieving improved awareness. When you read, go to movies, converse with others, see or listen to the news, ask questions, make associations, think about the validity of underlying assumptions, reign in generalizations. Be wary of too much TV. It breeds passivity, dulls the senses, makes the mind lazy, steals time for better things. Socrates wisely tells us that the unexamined life isn’t worth living. Don’t be a sponge. Be a hose.

Change your routine

Waking or driving, do you take the same route to work or school? Try a different one.

Always eating at the same restaurants? Go for adventure. At home, why not try that new recipe?

Always watching the big three: football, basketball, baseball? Why not take a peek at soccer, lacrosse, or hockey?

I think you get my meaning. Routine dulls the senses. Hey, it happens in relationships, too. Take heed!

Author: RJ

Retired English prof (Ph. D., UNC), who likes to garden, blog, pursue languages (especially Spanish) and to share in serious discussion on vital issues such as global warming, the role of government, energy alternatives, etc. Am a vegan and, yes, a tree hugger enthusiastically. If you write me, I'll answer.

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