October 3, 2016
By:  Jane Bishop Halteman

Complete sensory experience:  small group treats five senses to restoration

Reading a Slate article this week about election anxiety (bearing the subhead “Therapists and their patients are struggling to cope amid the national nervous breakdown that is the 2016 election”) made me realize that now, more than ever, we all need ways to relax and walk away from the chaos, even if just for a short time. 

How we choose to find rainbows in the midst of the storm probably depends on our personal inclinations and interests.  Here’s what came to my attention this week.  From Parker Palmer:  “Every morning—after reading the news from the human world and becoming a bit disheartened—I visit Nature 365 at http://nature365.tv.

“There, I find a brief video that takes me to the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota—or to the prairie of southwestern Minnesota—unspoiled natural places that I love.

“I watch the video, expertly filmed by one of the world’s most celebrated nature photographers. Then I say to myself, ‘This, too, is happening in our world today...’

“I come away reminded that there is beauty as well as ugliness in our world, light as well as dark, and I start the day better able to see life steadily and see it whole...”

Lisa Scandrette, a contributing writer to the blog Godspace’s September Creative Prayer Theme, offers this in her September 28 post:  “When I begin to feel anxious about the events of life, I take out my knitting. The yarn, warm and soft, glides through my hands, rhythmically making one loop after another. I may not be able to solve my daughter’s health puzzle or take away a friend’s tragedy, but I can make loop after loop after loop. As I do, my shoulders relax, my breathing slows, my mind slows down. My love and prayers flow from my heart, down my arms, out my knitting needles and into the fabric. Sometimes I need this process over and over and over.”

Back in July, Ten Thousand Villages’ blog site Mosaic offered a post entitled 3 Simple Ways to Reach Relaxation.  According to the article, “You can create a retreat for yourself in nearly any environment by using any combination of these three techniques for relaxation:  complete sensory experience, mindfulness, embracing even the smallest pleasures.”

Suggesting that setting up a location where all five senses—sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell—can be awakened is an easy place to begin, the post recommends creating a complete sensory experience by surrounding oneself with art, subtle sound like wind chimes, an enjoyable drink, the pleasant touch of something nearby, and fragrant growing things.

“Take your senses a step farther and promote each one of them with a mindful activity,” the article advises, and finally “put a positive spin on everyday experiences” like setting a table by starting “with a nice tablecloth, even for simple meals…even for takeout.”

Our small group potluck picnic Sunday night, the first event since we took a summer break some months ago, felt like a respite from the storm, a reconnecting with people we care about, people who care about us.  (See collage above for sight samples…you can imagine the remainder based on these!)  In the beautiful surroundings created by hostess Marceil, nature-loving host Don shared about the personal restoration the outdoors brings him, then invited us to share how we experience creation as a place of respite.  We named the night sky filled with stars, the daytime sky with cloud formations, water, flowers, trees, birds, and animals as restorative parts of our everyday lives.

This blog post at Voice and Vessel, A Writing Studio, is entitled Four Autumn Rituals to Fire Up Your Creative Spirit.  Intended to help writers center themselves as they enter a new season, I couldn’t help but think these pointers also might benefit the rest of us as we seek ways to relax by “recentering creative intentions, trying a new soundtrack, using changing colors to tune attention, falling for some new poetry.”

This video of a children’s choir singing Shenandoah warmed my heart this week, after I found a link to it in The Mennonite.  Check it out if you are weary, distracted, anxious.  What other prayer practices or spiritual disciplines refresh you when you need a change of pace or scenery?  How do you meet the Divine in the midst of the chaos life brings?

I can quickly lose myself in a painting like this one, Peter Paul Rubens’ The Landscape Rainbow, as discussed by Spirituality and Practice here, or walking a labyrinth or sitting with an icon.  May you find a place of rest and relaxation with the Divine as you journey in the coming week. 

Peter Paul Rubens' The Landscape Rainbow