When we were created, we were given five senses & each of these senses experience creation in a unique way. Our senses were designed to inspire gratitude for our Creator at a foundational level. Worshipping & thanking our Creator, not ourselves, for our gifts is the key to joy and peace.
Gratitude can be seen as the bridge between trauma and healing. It takes the part of our brain that is hardwired to look out for danger and lights up a path to a positive thinking pattern. In a self-centered world, gratitude helps us to look outside of ourselves, easing some of the strain of depression and anxiety. By paying attention to our senses and being grateful for them in every way, we set ourselves up to live in a constant state of gratitude.
Let’s explore each of the five senses and how we can not only process our emotions through them, but how they help us experience and stay in a place of gratitude!
Let’s start with touch. Our relationship with touch is dependent upon a lot. Some people by nature are not so “touchy-feely” just because of their personalities. Some people have deeper reasons why they do not like to be touched, stemming from crossed boundaries, abuse, or shame. It is important that we set boundaries for ourselves and know what type of touch we are comfortable receiving, and the type of touch that we do not want to receive. Our bodies are sacred and we need to be as selective as we can with who we let touch us.
This in no way refers to those who are survivors of sexual assault or abuse. When someone else abuses their power over us, that is not us removing our boundaries, but is an attack on our person. In this case, I am speaking of not giving ourselves to people who do not care for us in the highest way. Touch is powerful. Our spirits are more valuable than we will ever know. Not everyone should have access to touch us on their terms. Becoming more and more comfortable with putting up boundaries and distancing ourselves from people who do not deserve us is paramount.
On the other hand, there is healing power in touch. We’ve seen the studies that show the amount of hugs we should be receiving a day & most of us adults probably don’t even come close to our hug quota. If you feel comfortable with it, I highly recommend getting therapeutic massages. Finding a therapist that you are comfortable with and trust can be life-changing.
Then there is the issue of us loving and speaking life over our own bodies. In our culture we see the prevalence of eating disorders, cosmetic enhancements, body dysmorphia, and a general dissatisfaction with our appearances. It makes me so sad, and I fully empathize with any woman experiencing this.
We hardly recognize our own beauty.
I think this begins on the inside and dealing with shame, insecurity, or unresolved issues. But what if we stopped for a moment. What if we decided to speak life and positivity over our bodies? What kind of change would this bring?
Sometimes what I like to do is just sit on my bed, stretch, and run my hands up and down my arms, rest my hands on my belly and thank God for my amazing, resilient body. I might say something like, I love how I was created with incredible _____ that helps me to _____ (fill in the blank).
How often do we even think to do something like this? Even just looking at parts of your body and marveling at the intricacies you have been blessed with can change your view of your body.
We have to take time out to give thanks for our bodies, care for them, and speak life over them.
Your body hears everything your mind says too, so practicing gratitude in your thoughts is so crucial. You’ve lived in your body since birth, and will continue to do so until the day you pass on to the next life. We might as well get used to, get grateful for, and fall in love with the beautiful bodies that were created for us.
Another exercise would be to practice grounding. When the weather permits, allowing yourself to be barefoot on grass or dirt. You are able to feel different sensations that you normally don’t experience and gives you a new type of appreciation for creation.
Being able to enjoy savory foods and sweet beverages is such a gift. We are comforted by the warmth of a hearty meal or frothy hot drink or refreshed by a crisp salad or cold smoothie. There are so many nuances to taste. However, it’s important not to derive all of our comfort and security in what we eat or drink. Balance in this area is key.
Let’s look at our relationship with taste and how we can get even more enjoyment out of this sense and how it can cultivate gratitude in our lives!
One way that eating and experiencing taste can inspire gratitude, is by simply giving thanks for our food before we eat. We rush around so much in our society that we leave out gratefulness and living from a thankful heart. If there is one area of our lives that we should seek to change, I think it would be living from a heart that is thankful. Simply thanking God for your food, the company surrounding you, and the day that you are having changes your mindset completely.
Technology is apart of our life in so many ways, at all times of the day. Try eating at least one meal a day without technology in front of you. That means no tv on, no podcasts playing, and no scrolling through social media. For just one meal a day at least.
Information and sensory overload while our bodies are eating and digesting takes away from the gratitude factor. We don’t give our bodies time to enjoy food slowly and to contemplate how thankful we are that we have been blessed with another meal.
Aromatherapy. We hear so much about it and so many people speaking about essential oils. But how exactly does it work?
The sense of smell is the most primitive of all our senses and it is linked to some of the oldest and deepest parts of the brain. As we breathe in the aroma of the essential oils, it can trigger emotional and even physical responses and allow vivid memory recall of people or places. When we breathe in aromatic molecules, they travel to the top of the nose where the molecules come in contact with specialized nerve cells called olfactory cells. These cells have tiny hairs which recognize a specific aroma through the ‘lock and key’ process. This means each hair will only recognize a specific aroma. This process produces nerve impulses which travel to the limbic system, the part of the brain which is most concerned with survival, instincts and emotions. It is thought by scientists that the activity of the nerve signal passing through this region causes mood change by altering brain chemistry.
So how are essential oils absorbed?
Inhalation of essential oils allows them to be internally absorbed. This is especially effective within the respiratory system as their antibacterial and antiviral properties make them ideal for maintaining a healthy respiratory system. This includes the sinuses, throat and chest and also to help relieve symptoms of infections and allergies.
There are various ways to inhale the benefits of aromatherapy even when you're on the go. For a moment of balance and peace during a tough day, try applying essential oils to your pulse points. Make sure you are using only high grade essential oils. Read the directions on the bottle as some need to be mixed with a carrier oil like coconut oil before applying to the skin. If you are at home, an essential oil diffuser works wonders.
The molecules in the essential oils are small enough to allow them to penetrate through the skin. The molecules travel through the epidermis (the top layer of skin) reaching the dermis (a deeper layer of skin) and to the blood vessels allowing them to circulate through to all body areas. Most essential oils have antibacterial properties; some are antiviral, anti-fungal and/or anti-inflammatory. Essential oils also contain antioxidants which help to prevent cell damage and protect against the build-up of toxic waste in skin cells, thereby helping reduce signs of aging.
Here are some of my absolute favorite oils and their use:
Frankincense- Frankincense mixed with grapeseed oil (light enough that it will not clog pores) and applied to the face at night at least three nights a week has tremendous anti-aging effects. It also works as an all-natural scar eraser. Simply apply this mixture of 15 drops of frankincense to half an oz of coconut oil to fresh scars three times a day.
Cedarwood- I put a little bit of cedarwood behind my ears (doesn’t need to be mixed with an oil at all!) when I am brainstorming, writing, and creating.
Eucalyptus- When mixed with coconut oil and rubbed on your chest, eucalyptus acts as a powerful respiratory cleanser. An all natural Vick’s substitute. Perfect for respiratory and sinus issues.
The holistic use and purpose of essential oils bring connection with the mind and body. This helps us to focus on the present, remaining mindful and grateful.
“Art does not reproduce what we see, it makes us see.” Paul Klee
Creating space & time to be a witness to beautiful things is transformational.
One of my favorite things to do is wander a museum for hours on end. Maybe your idea of heaven is hiking through emerald forests or exploring the endless textures of a warm beach. Whatever is beautiful that we love looking at and immersing ourselves in, we need to do more of that. It spurs on a natural gratitude and a normalized level of dopamine. Art and nature have the ability to elevate our emotions, calm our nervous systems, and can promote healing.
I remember a particular time in my life where I was feeling depressed. It manifested in a way where my senses were dulled and I felt pretty numb. One day, I took a trip to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago where I live. That place was (and still is!) one of my happy places. The artist Takashi Murakami happened to have a huge exhibit there the day that I went. Seeing that exhibit actually changed my life. The outrageous themes, and most importantly the invigorating colors, triggered my brain in a way that nothing had before. I felt like I was seeing color for the first time and my mind felt a joy it hadn't experienced in awhile. This may sound extreme, but it was absolutely transforming my mind and heart. It was almost like a had a new lease on life.
Rather than my brain receiving abnormal spikes in dopamine, Murakami’s art worked to warm my heart and mind and slowly infused my soul with joy and gratitude for the experience of color. I will forever be grateful for that day.
Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing said, “Variety of form and brilliancy of color in the object presented to patients are an actual means of recovery.” I love that she was a witness to the healing power of art. Take the time every single day to put before your eyes something that is beautiful and meaningful to you. Ponder it, give thanks for it, and just really take the time to explore why it has meaning to you. This is just another area where we are incorporating gratitude into our everyday lives.
“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable if anything is excellent or praiseworthy think about such things.” Phillipians 4:8
As important as it is to fill our mind with beauty, art, and creation, it’s also so important to be mindful of what we allow into our minds and our sight.
A lot of times I find that if I watch something that is graphic in any way or shows a lot of violence, I tend to be on edge and even more aggressive than normal. Our souls are sensitive. I like to suggest keeping track of how you feel after you watch different things. Sometimes we go about our day not realizing how or why we feel a certain way, but many times it can have a lot to do with what we allow to pass before our eyes. If you watch or read something that is graphic, be mindful of how you feel after. Do you feel more anxious, uneasy, confrontational, irritated? It’s important that we start connecting the dots of what we are watching and the effects it has on us. This goes for what we listen to as well.
Perception of sound begins in the womb. At just 16 weeks, we become acutely aware of vibrations and the outside world starts to connect to us. The eardrums and the skin—sensors of vibration—are the first sense organs to become active. For a developing fetus, the intrauterine world is largely a world of sound. Sound travels 5 times more efficiently through water than through air, and a mother’s stretched abdominal wall is an ideal membrane for transmitting sound.
In many respects, it is through sound that a gestating human becomes aware of itself.
In applying sound to healing, Dr. Jeffrey Thompson, a neuroacoustic therapist, has found certain types of sounds—the heartbeat, respiratory sounds, passage of blood through vessels, organic bodily sounds—register deeply in the human nervous system. These “primordial sounds” are immediately recognizable to any person regardless of gender, culture, race, age, or social status. (www.scientificsounds.com)
We were created to respond to sound and music. Music is linked to memories of all types, most of them wonderful. When we listen to music that we love it helps release endorphins naturally. One of my favorite things to do is see live music. The energy of the crowd, the surround sound, and all the memories made create a powerful experience.
Music inspires dance, one of my favorite forms of somatic healing. Telling stories with your body to music is an expression unlike any other. Take time out of your day, even if you aren’t a dancer, to move your body to music in a way that is comfortable to you. This inspires a connection of mind, body, and soul, and also connects you with something outside of yourself as you are being guided by the music. Just as it’s important to watch what we watch, being mindful of what we listen to is just as important. The lyrics of the music we listen to have an effect on us, and probably even more so than just words simply spoken. There is something about words that are sung or set to the tune of music that I feel settles deeper into our souls. I also love listening to classical music while I am writing, studying, or brainstorming as it has been known to strengthen your brain synapses.
Combining sensory awareness with somatic healing can have a drastic effect on our mental and physical health. Taking the steps to integrate different aspects, from movement to gratitude to cherishing our senses, creates a holistic pathway to health. The reason for delving into and linking all of these experiences together is to cultivate gratitude and immerse our lives in it. This leads to progress, authenticity, and ultimately, clear vision.
Take five days and focus on one sense each day. Write down every unique experience you have and what you may have observed for the first time. You may be surprised at what you discover and your mind and body will so appreciate the intentional connection!