Mindfulness Meditation and the Five Senses

Getting in touch with the present moment.

Taste and smell are two of the five senses that come into play in the meditative practices of mindful eating and cooking. Mindful Frontiers offers classroom programs that include mindful eating which is quite popular with students of all ages. During meditation retreats, it is common to experience meals in “noble silence” where participants do not speak so as to enjoy food in its full sensory glory.  

My mother was French and really loved to cook and since she had traveled a fair amount in her life she would prepare dishes from Morocco, India, Pakistan, and of course, New Mexico. She used to cook meals for visitors who stayed at vacation homes in Taos as a way to earn a living. I remember a story about the time a policeman let her off after she ran a red light because he smelled the delicious food she was transporting in the back of her car. She also got away from paying a commercial kitchen fee when she delivered a slice of her delicious Bûche de Noel mocha yule log cake to the EPA director. Looking back, it’s as if the kitchen was her meditation studio. 

The visual arts are another sensual mindfulness activity. Carefully paying attention while engaged in creativity adds to artistic enjoyment. Again, a memory of my mother comes to mind. She was quite the artist and her favorite medium was clay. In a day or two of intensive creative flow, she was inspired to produce about six or seven clay statues depicting religious figures that were important to her: Mother Mary and St. Francis. She told me she was really “in the zone” that day which is another way of describing the kind of present-moment awareness that is mindfulness.

Coloring mandalas and labyrinth finger walks are sensory projects that families can do together as a meditation practice. Both of these engage the brain’s attention centers and the body’s relaxation response using the senses of sight, touch, and hearing. Families will need printouts of mandalas or labyrinths which can be easily downloaded freely on the Web. Choose designs that are age-appropriate in their complexity for your participants.

Mandala and Labyrinth Mindfulness Practices – This is a two-part activity.

– Pass out a mandala to each participant as well as coloring supplies such as crayons or colored pencils. Make sure each person has a few colors in front of them so that the activity can be done in silence. Calming acoustic background music is a good idea to encourage relaxation and focus. (Piano, guitar, or harp are nice).
– When everyone is ready, we start coloring in silence. This can take anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes (or more), depending on the complexity of the mandala design. Getting in the zone is important as that’s when the thinking mind lets go. Encouraging breath awareness is also important for relaxation.
– After everyone has completed their mandala, a group discussion can ensue to share how the activity felt, what colors we were attracted to, and if there was any inspiration gleaned.
– Next up is the labyrinth finger walk and everyone gets a printout. We use fingers instead of drawing/coloring implements to “walk” the labyrinth and we are reminded that it isn’t a maze; there is only one way in and out and no hidden passages.
– Background music without lyrics is helpful to create a relaxing atmosphere. Apparently, music without a beat is best for labyrinth journeys.
– When everyone is ready, they start following the labyrinth path with a finger. The first time through to the middle and back can be with a dominant hand and finger. The second time participants do the finger walk, a non-dominant hand, and finger are encouraged.
– The goal of a labyrinth walk is not to get to the center first; it is to join the eyes and fingers in a state of gentle focus and relaxation. And if we get “lost”, we just start the path over. Remember to notice breathing and be sure you aren’t holding your breath.
– When everyone has been a couple times to the center and back, the group discusses their journey. What was it like to walk with a finger along a meandering path? Did anyone get lost and have to start over? Was one finger or hand easier than the other to follow the path? Either of these activities can be done anytime children need a little quiet time to regroup or focus. It’s a good idea for classroom teachers and parents to have some printouts ready for use.

Originally published in The Taos News, February 9, 2023

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