Are your earliest childhood recollections like mine? Watching ever-changing cloud patterns, soaring skylarks and swooping swifts. Busy bees. Garden birds pecking. Chattering ducks. Industrious ants. Fluttering butterflies. Flowers in their great variety. The sounds of birdsong, voices and traffic. The scents of grass, hedgerows and cooking.
The world was a place of interest and fascination, observed in the moment. I reflected upon everything my senses told me about the world – and learnt from it.
But I grew up, and became absorbed by inner things: pondering problems, looking for inspiration, and being concerned for the future instead of the here and now. Busy-busy-busy! Each day spent in buildings and wheeled boxes, paying too little attention to the world around.
This year I resolved to notice and experience sounds, sights and smells, just as in childhood. This behaviour is the antithesis of shutting out the real world through slavery to mobile phones, portable music players and social media.
It helps to live on Goldsworth Park in Woking, where the abundant plant and wild life provide constant stimuli. I observed the first spring flowers emerge and then bloom. I spotted the first green buds on trees and bushes. For the first time in many years I patiently watched bees explore flowers.
I observed birds pecking for food, courting mates, repelling rivals and nest-making. I was fascinated and amused by fledglings, some still a mixture of fluff and feathers, as they learned where and how to feed and fend for themselves.
I explored Goldsworth Park’s many footpaths skirted with grass, wild flowers and plants escaped from gardens. I relaxed and watched clouds, planes crossing the sky and birds’ aerobatics.
I forsook music and listened to birdsong and background sounds which were no longer noise but instead an ever-changing audio landscape, full of sounds to be identified or explained.
These have been rich, relaxing and rewarding experiences. And now I’ve seen confirmation by experts that paying more attention to the world around you and to the present moment can improve mental wellbeing. Scientists claim it can reduce stress levels and improve moods.
Try it yourself: take time to relax, observe, listen to and smell the world around you. Savour and enjoy every sensation: don’t let them pass by unnoticed. Wherever you live, you’ll find it a fertile place to do it!
July 2015 (adapted and posted here August 2015)