I once had a friend who broke her arm at the beginning of summer. Her doctor ordered her to take the next six weeks off from work. She spent those weeks deliciously as she cared for her home, made stuff, and connected with friends and family. As those weeks ended, I remember her saying how she wished she could break her other arm. She wanted to continue living in ways she had come to appreciate.
You see where I’m going with this, as circumstances beyond our control have broken our collective arms. The strange thing is that they’re all broken simultaneously, that we all share in the pregnant pause of this current calamity. I wonder what we might learn from it. As we live through the uncertainty of these present days, I want to share a helpful technique I learned from Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love” and “Big Magic.” It’s a way to pull us back from the fearful dialogue and focus us into the present moment, which is the only space we can count on anyway. This technique, called 5-4-3-2-1, helps us place our attention on the Beautiful Now as it helps us connect with our five senses. Here’s how it works: wherever you are, turn off the talking heads and move away from all screens. Get alone with yourself and your surroundings. Breathe in and out, and take time to identify five things you see … four things you hear … three things you feel … two things you smell … and one thing you taste. It takes just a few minutes. It can be done in the comfort of your own home or in an outdoor space that you love. I promise you’ll be changed.
Although I prefer to employ this practice in my beloved nearby woods,
I am using it this very moment.
I see the morning light streaming through my dining room window, the backyard birdfeeder swaying in the wind, the pines waving their branches like ladies dancing, the dinner table before me where my family has shared meals for eighteen years, and the pleasing way these words appear in Times New Roman across the page.
Since I’m listening to the ethereal music of Ólafur Arnalds as I write, I hear the pleasing combination of cellos and electric piano, the rise and fall of notes in a way that causes my heart to slow, the grounding sound of the bass, and the lyrics, “Walk down to the water, stare out across the blue,” which set me on beautiful shores of Lake Michigan.
I feel the touch of my familiar keyboard on my fingertips, the spindles of my dining room chair against my back, and the warmth of my favorite sheepskin slippers on my feet.
I smell the lingering scent of rye toast made for breakfast and the cold air of my house that has yet to warm after a night’s sleep.
And finally, I taste the French roast coffee that I’m drinking, my favorite elixir.
And here I am, in this imperfect, perfect moment. Here with you. I’m thinking of how you might receive these words, hoping you might use them in your own imperfect, perfect days. And I’m smiling at the thought that we might emerge from this space in time somehow changed, somehow better. Together.
Eileen Button teaches Communication at Mott Community College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.