A medium-bodied red blend with aromas of violets and macerated plums; the flavor profile offers blackberry jam and hints of dark chocolate. An elegant description that beautifully encapsulates three of the five major senses and describes the glass of wine I recently enjoyed. Certainly some may view these words as pedantic and esoteric. Expressing a wine tasting experience reserved only for oenophiles; the rest of us left to gulp our wine and proclaim, "Mmm... that's good."
So what is the secret to tasting the hints of vanilla and fruity undertones in our favorite wine? Well, years of studying the science of wine tasting and developing our palate through sampling a selection of fine wines doesn't hurt. However, unquestionably the number one ingredient for savoring the intricate flavors of a superb glass of wine is the ability to be completely and utterly in the only moment that ever exists -- the present moment. The capacity to shut out thoughts of the past and ignore our mind's pull toward the future can help heighten our senses and allow us to see things that ordinarily escape our perception. Present moment awareness can not only help us appreciate the subtle flavors of a glass of wine, but it can help us perceive the multitude of beautiful colors in a sunset and hear the sweet and diverse sounds of a melodic sonata.
However, mindfulness is not just about appreciating the more gratifying experiences in life. Mindfulness can also help us deal with difficult and painful situations. We have all felt the stinging pain that comes from the death of a loved one or the end of a long-term relationship. Everyday life can also serve up much more mundane agitations that in the moment feel seemingly as painful. We have all felt the frustration from sitting in traffic or waiting for an inattentive waiter. We have experienced that sharp twinge that comes from a hurtful word from a friend or the guilt and anxiety that follows an action we are admittedly not too proud of.
We instinctively flinch from those uncomfortable feelings and seek shelter in some alternative moment. We look to food, television, or other distractions to help remove us from the present moment so as to avoid the pain we are feeling right now. Yet ironically, it is only by anchoring ourselves in the now that we can truly free ourselves from our suffering. If we genuinely sit and non-judgmentally accept the present situation, in a surprisingly short amount of time, those mind-made thoughts will dissipate as easily as a pile of leaves blown apart by a chilly autumn wind. However, sadly, we are rarely able to sit long enough in our pain to allow this oxymoron to be realized.
Mindfulness and meditation are tools we can use to learn to be with those seemingly unbearable feelings. By spending at least five minutes a day focusing on our breath or being present to whatever task we are performing, we can help rewire our brains to make this state of equanimity more natural. It can help us get out of our heads and be in the present moment. We can lessen the amount of time we are ruminating over what took place in the past and reduce our sometimes obsessive worrying about what lies ahead in the future. Whether it's reading this article, walking down the street, or brushing our teeth, every moment in every day provides us with an opportunity to practice this important skill. Practicing mindfulness can be viewed as a veritable dress rehearsal for the inevitable pain to come or the ephemeral and awe-inspiring experiences we surely don't' want to miss. However, this mindset can be a trap. To view this practice as a process toward some higher state of consciousness where we will be "good" at being mindful would be a mistake. We would be simply striving for some future moment and losing sight of what is happening now; regardless what form the moment takes.
We are all naturally born with this innate ability to be present. Something that we can become less connected with as the years unfurl. As infants, if we are hungry we cry to be fed. If we are not, we neither think about our last feeding nor do we worry about the next one. We simply smile and coo at the silly face in front of us. We are all drawn to that familiar spark of presence when we see it in a small child or an adorable puppy. Some try to reclaim it with dangerous or dramatic activities such as skydiving which naturally forces our attention into the present moment. However, what is evident is that the only time we can ever capture that precious moment of awareness is right now in this very moment.
So I raise my glass of wine, view its burgundy hue, and smell its hints of fruit. I raise it to my lips and savor its sweet taste and encourage you to, without judgment, take notice of all that life offers in this moment. For present moment awareness is the only thing that can allow us to claim unequivocally and without a doubt that we are truly experiencing life.